This Saturday – October 31 – marks 40 years since Queen released ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the six-minute suite of rock-operatic genius that confirmed songwriter Freddie Mercury as one of the greatest of his generation. The boundary-pushing track has since inspired scores of bands, artists and comedians to attempt their own version – with mixed results. Here’s an appraisal of the best, worst and most ridiculous times people sang “scaramouche!“.
The Muppets’ Dr Teeth and co, 2009
Because something can’t be considered to be a piece of popular culture unless The Muppets cover it. This cover has been viewed over 47 million times – 47 million! – on YouTube, which goes some way to proving the continued popularity of both Queen and The Muppets. Led by the show’s backing band Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, this high-on-high-jinks version features many of the beloved puppets bopping their way through the song – but where’s Kermit?
Finnish street band in a VW Polo, 2011
The award-winning street band Polka Playboys – bear with us here, please – uploaded their cover to YouTube four years ago and received an astonishing response, clocking up nearly 1.5 million views, generating comments such as “wow..every organs [sic] in my body just stopped for six mins. This is totally amazing…” and “excuse me, WHO DISLIKES THIS???”, and giving Finnish street music the shot in the arm it needed (probably). It looks pretty cramped in that Volkswagen Polo, mind.
Panic! At The Disco’s ‘very special’ version, 2015
“This is a very special song; we just wrote it backstage,” said Brendan Urie, the card, introducing Panic!’s faithful rendition to the Reading crowd this summer. Urie’s vocals are certainly Mercury-like, while his backing band do their very best to match the high intensity of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody”s six sections. The only question is this: why, with four albums worth of material to choose from, did Urie decide to put this cover into the set? Had he heard that Adam Lambert’s job might be going?
Alan Carr attempts cover with Adam Lambert; mostly fails, 2015
Oh Alan: the Chatty Man, encouraged by the presence of Freddie Mercury-lite Adam Lambert on his show, decided to put his guest through the ritualistic humiliation of, er, having to duet with Alan Carr on primetime television.
“I thought we could do a little tribute and re-create the video live in the studio…” proposes Carr, to which Levine throws his head back and laughs in the most “please don’t make me do this”-fashion imaginable. And yeah, then this happened:
Kanye does Karaoke on the Pyramid Stage, 2015
Yeezus’ polarising headline set at Glasto this year had everything: a very public disagreement with his DJ, a cherry-picker and, of course, the outrageous claim that he was “the greatest living rockstar on the planet.” He even attempted a Bo-Rhap cover, initially (and rather wisely) letting the crowd sing the opening part before messing up the vocal key and forgetting the words. Not his finest moment.
Beyoncé messes up the lyrics in France, 2011
Yes, you did read that correctly: Beyoncé’s shot at covering herself in Queen-tinged glory fell rather short on stage in Nice at a 2011 gig. Where she most likely went wrong here was her decision to put her own personal spin on Mercury’s lyrics: “Now I’m gonna go away and face the truth” being one such interesting addition. People in the comments section have pointed out that Bey is not-so-subtly reading the lyrics from a sheet on the floor during the performance. It’s not exactly the smoothest cover version you’ll ever see.
The Looked-Good-On-Paper Versions
Elton John and Axl Rose trade vocal duties, 1992
At the mammoth Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert held at Wembley Stadium five months after the singer’s death, the remaining members of Queen called in music’s big guns to honour the singer. And, despite Elton seemingly unable to decide upon which octave to sing in and the Guns N’ Roses screecher (wearing a leather skirt, naturally) delivering an even more-pained-than-usual vocal, it’s still a rip-roaring performance from the band.
Wayne’s World rejuvenates the song’s popularity, 1992
By the time of the Mike Myers-fronted buddy comedy’s release in 1992, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ had fallen into a lull: radio stations either played an edited version of the song or had fallen out of love with it entirely. But the iconic headbanging scene in Wayne’s World changed all of that – the film helped the song reach number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US for five weeks in 1992, and won Queen Best Video From A Film at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
Hayseed Dixie’s bluegrass version, 2010
The original ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was a masterpiece of operatic musicianship. Hayseed Dixie are a bluegrass parody group who come across like Mumford & Sons’ embarrassing uncles. Their chirpy, banjo-heavy version is surprisingly fun.
Lee Evans sweats his way through it
If there was ever an official interpretative dance commissioned for this song, Lee Evans’ rendition would surely make the cut. The comedian claimed that he came up with the routine as a means of traversing the language barrier with his French audiences, and, despite it not being an actual cover (he doesn’t sing), it’s still well worth checking out.