“Bohemian Rhapsody“. What words can I use to describe it?. Epic. Operatic. Dramatic. Theatrical. Performed by the legendary group Queen, this … masterpiece is like nothing you’ve ever heard. It sweeps through different tempos and stylings and vocals and levels. Excuse my French, but, it’s mother-fucking-brilliant! As such, this is one of those songs you think of as untouchable, not that others haven’t tried. But for most, they’d consider it sacrosanct – not to be tampered with, redone, reimagined, or covered. Except by The Muppets. Theirs is the only alternate version I would even deem worthy. It’s totally cute and hilarious and fun. But that’s it. Up until last week, that is.
During the season episode of the final season [ :-( ] of Sons of Anarchy, the ending montage begins – a variety of scenes with a musical underscore – I’m looking at the screen, and listening to the music. I hear the opening words, and they sound familiar, and I’m like “wait – what? No. No way; they did not do this” But yes, they did: they covered “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
The musical director for SOA, Bob Thiele, has always been incredibly adept about finding just the right songs for the show. They’ve redone a few other songs over the years, that I never thought I would like as covers and they’ve blown me away each and every time. This was no different. I was floored by the audacity, but it was so well done, and so appropriate, that I loved it.
As mentioned above, the cover done by The Muppets is a true joy. Not only do they cover the song, but they pretty much recreate the stance of the original Queen video. They do change the words in some parts to fit into the whole Muppets world, but it’s still pretty perfect.
In checking the internet, I also found another really fun one. It’s a parody version with a Star Wars basis. It’s well executed, with a lot of attention to detail. I’m sure it would go over big at any Comic Con.
The group Panic! At the Disco does a live version which, surprisingly, I actually like. I don’t think it has the same force and power as Freddie Mercury’s vocal with Queen, but it’s really, really good. And I’m not just saying that because the lead singer is shirtless, I swear.
Actor and singer Adam Lambert performs parts of the song on stage with the surviving members of Queen. During the performance they play major portions of the original video, then Adam and the band come back in. It’s very effective and captivating. It gave me chills.
Adam actually performed the song for his audition on American Idol. Leading judge Simon Cowell clued into his theatricality and flair, and seemed a little unsure of him being a good fit for the competition. He ultimately gave him a “yes” vote. As did the other 3 judges, enthusiastically, because Adam is a good singer. The drama and exuberance is just a thrilling bonus.
In addition to performing the song with Adam Lambert, the band also did a performance of it with Elton John, tackling the earlier, more ballad-like section, and Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose, taking on the later raucous role. They come together for the very end. I like hearing Elton’s voice. There’s a true respect and admiration for the material, the band, and Freddie that’s evident in his care with the song. Axl gives the later hard rock section his usual all-out frenetic gusto. It’s a respectable job.
A few years ago, a new hotel, The Cosmopolitan, was opening up in Vegas and they brought out a series of really … interesting commercials. (Their tag line was “Just the right amount of wrong”.) One of them featured the song, acted out, in a very dramatic way, using only the lyrics. The guitar riffs and whatnot were brought in at the end. I thought it was very creative and successfully done.
The most unexpected cover has to be the one from Jake Shimabukuro’s 2010 TED Talk presentation. On the ukelele. It’s unbelievably cool. This video is longer than the other versions only because they tack on a 3 minute Rolex commercial at the end. So, unless you’re seriously into Rolex watches you can shut it off after the 7:03 mark.
As they tend to be, cover versions done by William Shatner are usually pretty out there and have a strongly WTF? flavor. But this has to be one of the most batshit crazy things I’ve heard in quite some time. I think medication might be in order. For him, and for me.
I found a documentary on the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that you might also be interested in. It runs just under an hour.