Why Did Freddie Mercury Sing About ‘Galileo’ in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?
You know it by heart! The so-called operatic part of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is one of the best parts, with a variety of voices chiming in and the last name of Italian astronomer Galileo repeated by Freddie Mercury multiple times.
So how did Galileo come be name dropped in one of the most famous rock songs in music history? Well, that's still a bit of a mystery.
Who Was Galileo?
Galileo di Vincenzo Bonaiuti de' Galilei, or better known as Galileo, was born in 1564 and became known as one of the era's true polymaths.
His areas of expertise included physics, engineering and yes, astronomy.
He was dubbed the "father of observational astronomy," and is often credited with being one of the earliest developers of the thermoscope (a device that shows changes in temperatures), while also inventing various military compasses, telescopes and microscopes.
Albert Einstein would refer to Galileo years later as the father of modern science.
Why Did Freddie Mercury Namecheck Galileo in Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"?
While it remains a bit of a mystery, there are two prominent theories as to how Galileo came to be part of the popular Queen song.
The first centers around Freddie Mercury's relationship with his bandmates and wanting to throw a nod in to guitarist Brian May. May, while being one of rock's most beloved guitarists, also earned his Ph.D. in astrophysics. And it's said that the "Galileo" mention served as a tribute to May's passion for astronomy.
The second theory is one a little more analytical.
Those listening to the song likely caught a number of odd references in the operatic section, with the breakdown being dissected in music forums.
In one theory, it's explained that "Galileo was the name of Jesus Christ in Ancient Rome," and that the use of the phrase "Galileo Figaro Magnifico" is a slightly corrupted Latin phrase to signify "Magnify the Galilean's image."
So fans have taken that suggestion that the song's central figure is reaching out to Jesus Christ with a cry for help.
Other references between good and evil in this portion include mention of Bismillah, the Arabic phrase for "in the name of God," and Beelzebub, which is another name for Satan.
What Queen's Members Had to Say About "Bohemian Rhapsody"?
The one person who would truly know the mindset about what was included lyrically was Freddie Mercury, who remained tight-lipped on the interpretation of the lyrics over the years. Per the New York Times, other than to say it was about relationships, Mercury never let slip his lyrical motivation.
In a 2002 chat with Blender, guitarist Brian May noted, “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.”
As for the song itself, May revealed that it was Mercury's true vision. "He knew exactly what he was doing. It was Freddie’s baby. We just helped him bring it to life.”
Producer Roy Thomas Baker recalled of the operatic section, “It got longer and longer, and we kept adding blank tape. Every day we’d think we were done, and Freddie would come in and say, ‘I’ve added a few more 'Galileos,' dear.’”
The group reportedly spent up to 12 hours a day harmonizing just on that part, with May laughingly referring to themselves as "the sausage machine," given how good they got at churning out take after take.
A Queen Classic Is Born
"Bohemian Rhapsody" has become one of Queen's most storied hit songs. Upon its release, the track reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It would get a second chart run in the early '90s when it was featured in one of the more memorable scenes from the 1992 comedy Wayne's World. This time the song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
And it would get a rare third chart run in 2018 and 2019 as the band biopic, also titled Bohemian Rhapsody, would debut in theaters. This time, the song re-charted at No. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It's one of the rare songs that has achieved diamond status as a single, with over 10 million digital streams. Physical versions of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" single have eclipsed another million in sales.
Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
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