Queen are as renowned for their musical versatility, multi-layered arrangements and harmonies, as they are for delivering epic performances, but did you know that their lyrics are also very meaningful?
5. Crazy Little Thing Called Love- Queen (The Game, 1980)
In 1979, Queen released an homage to Elvis with their single Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It is essentially a Rockabilly tune: an uncomplicated song about the emotional rollercoaster that love can sometimes be:
This thing called love, I just can’t handle it
This thing called love, I must get round to it
I ain’t ready
Crazy little thing called love
Cold feet or not, it’s only natural to want to make a good impression! Or perhaps you’d rather make a run for it…?
I gotta be cool, relax, get hip
And get on my tracks
Take a back seat, hitch-hike
And take a long ride on my motorbike
Until I’m ready
Crazy little thing called love
Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen
Whatever the case, it’s definitely crazy!
4. Under Pressure- Queen & David Bowie (Greatest Hits, 1981)
In 1981, the members of Queen, together with David Bowie, penned Under Pressure in just ONE evening! The song describes 1981’s modern society in a critical light, with particular emphasis on the stress that seemed to come as a package deal in this time period.
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you, no man ask for
Under pressure that burns a building down
Splits a family in two
Puts people on streets
The economic recession of the early 80’s, the cold war, and the unemployment epidemic didn’t seem to promise much of a future -at least for young people- resulting in an inescapable feeling of pressure throughout society.
It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
‘Let me out’
Pray tomorrow gets me higher, high
Pressure on people, people on streets
It wasn’t your daily, run of the mill pressure:
These are the days it never rains but it pours
Under Pressure – Queen & David Bowie
Reading the news today, it seems that our society is just as disquieted and under pressure as it was thirty years ago. This song is just as fitting today by carrying a universal theme that is relevant in every era!
3. Somebody To Love – Queen (Day at the Races, 1976)
In Somebody To Love, Queen (or perhaps just Freddie Mercury, who wrote this song) go looking for love and find it to be anything but easy.
Each morning I get up I die a little
Can barely stand on my feet
Take a look in the mirror and cry
Lord what you’re doing to me
I have spent all my years in believing you
But I just can’t get no relief, Lord
Ooh somebody (somebody)
Can anybody find me
Somebody to love?
Homosexuality wasn’t legalised in the UK until 1967 and at the time of this song, Freddie hadn’t openly come out as being bisexual yet. Considering the taboo around the topic at the time, I can only imagine how burdensome that must have been for him*. If the following lyrics are indeed a reference to Freddie’s sexuality, it remains rather subtle:
Got no feel, I got no rhythm
I just keep losing my beat (just keep losing and losing)
I’m okay, I’m alright (he’s alright, he’s alright)
I ain’t gonna face no defeat (yeah, yeah)
I just gotta get out of this prison cell
Someday I’m gonna be free, Lord
Somebody To Love – Queen
Eight years later, Freddie sang a very different track about a very similar theme. Cue song 2: I Want To Break Free!
2. I Want To Break Free – Queen (The Works, 1984)
When I Want To Break Free was released, it was the talk of the town. One of the reasons for this was the music video. In it, the four band members are dressed in drag, after which we see Freddie Mercury escape from the daily grind of the housewife existence.
This clip was a parody of the British soap Coronation Street, but not everyone understood (or valued) the reference. Its parodic character did not translate well in the United States and was even interpreted as promoting transvestism! It’s hard to imagine these days, but back then it was reason enough for MTV to ban the song from their channel.
As groundbreaking as the video was, the lyrics also broke boundaries and were of great meaning to the gay community. Funnily enough, the song wasn’t written at all with the intention of making a statement! John Deacon (who is heterosexual) wrote the lyrics. In an interview, Freddie spoke about its meaning:
“It has got nothing to do with the gay people at all. It is basically about everybody. It’s just somebody who has a very tough life and he just wants to break free from whatever problems he’s got.”
Even so, the meaning is often interpreted differently. For many it goes beyond just breaking out of a bad relationship or a rut.
I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You are so self-satisfied I don’t need you
I have got to break free
God knows, God knows I want to break free
The fact that the band members appeared in drag in the video could be interpreted as coming out. If that’s the case, then the following passage suddenly takes on another meaning:
I’ve fallen in love
I’ve fallen in love for the first time
And this time I know it’s for real
I’ve fallen in love, yeah
God knows, God knows I’ve fallen in love
In 1986 there was still a distinct lack of understanding for homosexuality; people were pressured to stay closeted. With the (undoubtedly) massive struggle that must have come with this, it’s easy for me to understand why these lyrics spoke to so many members of the gay community.
But life still goes on
I can’t get used to living without, living without
Living without you by my side
I don’t want to live alone, hey
God knows, got to make it on my own
So baby can’t you see?
I’ve got to break free
I Want To Break Free – Queen
Gay discrimination is (sadly) still happening, but at least in The Netherlands, it is nowhere near as big of a taboo as it was in 1986. This global hit almost certainly had an impact! 💪
1. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975)
Bohemian Rhapsody has been regarded as one of the most iconic songs ever written since it was penned. We at Nolala kind of have to end with this track as our number one, right?
This song doesn’t only have an incomparable sound (there aren’t many songs that have ballad, opera, and rock element whilst still sounding good!), but also a very special meaning. What are the lyrics about? Freddie Mercury didn’t want to say more during his lifetime than that the song was about ‘relationships’.
Roger Taylor, in ‘The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody’, says that they’re “fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle”. Let’s see:
Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
If you interpret these lyrics literally, the protagonist commits a murder and has to leave, or rather flee.
Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Then the ‘nonsense in the middle’:
I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
One of many theories states that Bohemian Rhapsody is inspired by the 18th century book Faust by the German writer Goethe wherein the main character makes a deal with the devil.
‘Scaramouche’ is a character in the Italian commedia dell’arte (improvised theatre) tradition and fills the role of a malicious clown. Scaramouche could then also be interpreted as a reference to the devil. The Fandango is an 18th century Spanish dance.
Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very fright’ning me
(Galileo.) Galileo. (Galileo.) Galileo. Galileo figaro magnifico
The thunder and lightning create a frightening atmosphere. ‘Galileo’ is a reference to Galileo Galilei, a brilliant astronomer who was persecuted by the Catholic Church for his revolutionary scientific discoveries. This not only lines up with Faust’s role in historical legend, but also with Freddie Mercury’s battle for the acceptance of homosexuality.
That ‘Figaro Magnifico’ is a reference to Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro should come as no surprise. Not only is this whole couplet written in an operatic style, but Mercury was a lifelong opera aficionado.
After this comes a sort of conversation:
I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
‘Monstrosity’ could be another reference to the devil.
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
‘Bismillah’ means ‘In the name of God’ in Arabic.
No, we will not let you go
(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go
(Let me go.) Will not let you go. (Let me go.) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh mamma mia, mamma mia) Mamma mia, let me go
‘Mamma mia’ literally means ‘my mother’ in Italian and, according to some, is a reference to Mary Austin, the woman who Freddie Mercury was with for years before he came out of the closet.
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me!
Beelzebub is a Hebrew word for Satan.
This rounds off the third couplet and leads into the fourth, in which the (internal) battle of the protagonist makes way for anger:
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby!
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here!
The song closes with acceptance (or is it denial?):
Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
Any way the wind blows
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
You could write a book about all the possible interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody’s lyrics, but the fact that not every line is able to be taken literally only adds to its charm.
Wherever it comes from and whatever it may mean, Bohemian Rhapsody hasn’t lost any of its value over the years. Take a look here how it can make 65,000 people move, even when it’s just being used as background music:
*Disclaimer: This came (quite) long before my time and I’m not an expert on the history of that era. If you think I’ve drawn a completely faulty conclusion, let me know in the comments!
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– Crazy Little Thing Called Love is written by Freddie Mercury © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC., 1980
– Under Pressure is written by David Bowie / John Richard Deacon / Brian Harold May / Freddie Mercury / Roger Meddows Taylor © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC., 1981
– Somebody To Love is written by Freddie Mercury © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC., 1976
– I Want To Break Free is written by John Deacon © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 1984
– Bohemian Rhapsody is written by Freddie Mercury., 1975