What It Was REALLY Like Recording 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
One of the most iconic songs - nay, anthems - in music history needs no introduction.
Even when The Hip-E Club used to play it at 3.27am – you knew it, everyone knew it.
And not just the words, but the piano, the falsetto… and that guitar solo.
Topping the Aussie charts after its 1975 release, Queen’s 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was an almost-six-minute, three-part single made up of an intro, a ballad segment, opera, hard rock and a reflective coda.
It was bonkers and brilliant, and while we can scoff now, back then the band was told it would never be a hit.
Speaking to Joe.co.uk, Gary Langan, who was just 19 when he worked on laying down the track, opened up on what it was like to put together this masterpiece.
Langan recalled how, being an assistant engineer at the recording studio, there wasn’t much he didn’t do – from pretty standard stuff like setting up the studio and making sure everything worked, he also made tea and nicked out to by the band’s smokes.
But that wasn’t the “scary” part.
That came in the form of drummer Roger Taylor.
“I had to park Roger’s Ferrari for him,” he said.
“Try getting a Ferrari out of the gutter when all you’ve driven is a Ford Cortina. When Roger couldn’t be arsed to park it in the car park he’d just throw me the keys. Imagine that. It took me about half an hour just to get it going because I didn’t have the guts to get the revs up to 2000 before dropping the clutch.”
His first impression of Queen was that they turned up to the studio with more multitracks than he’d ever seen before.
“I was so shit scared,” Langan recalled.
“There was no room for expectations going in. I was a white boy from Wimbledon, a public school boy, and I’ve got Freddie Mercury and Brian May in the studio with me.”
But the song itself was an unusual beast and Langan said he was really only used to working on pop songs.
“Here was something that was six minutes long and I was lost halfway through the first bit.”
But that was nothing compared to the track’s actual recording.
You know the ‘Galileo’ section, right? What Freddie wanted was over 100 vocals to do it.
“I can tell you that Roger was there almost a week recording Galileos for that middle bit,” Langan said.
And while Mercury had a clear idea about what harmonies he wanted and that he wanted them to weave and interconnect. Thing is, Langan had the job of working out how to actually execute that with the technology he had.
“… how do you get that on 12 spare tracks. Because that’s all you’ve got. There are no more. And every time you use one and fill it up you then only have 11,” he said.
“Each of those little mixes that go together to make the opera section, all the mixes and the balances of all the vocal parts, each one of those was done with three or four of us working at the console at the same time.
“All those bits were pre-recorded and constructed in the same track. There was no automation, no computers. Roy [Thomas Baker] would be pushing some levels. Harmonies would have to be switched in and out to make it all happen and so Mike [Stone] would be doing that. Roy would be doing something else too. I’d be doing something else too and I’d be looking after the tape machines.”
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Langan’s said he knew the song was special when he first heard it in its entirety.
“You didn’t know exactly how special, or what type of special, but you knew it was a once in a lifetime moment,” he said.
“Sure, you can only make that statement retrospectively, but there was without a doubt something incredible happening when you were stood there listening to it that first time. I was incredibly proud of it and proud to have been a part of it.”
The Bohemian Rhapsody biopic is due for release in Australia on November 1.