The Bohemian Rhapsody by British rock band Queen is an example of a through-composed song. The song does not follow the traditional structure of having verses and a repeated chorus. To demonstrate my knowledge and understanding I have to determine the structure of the song, an undeniably hard feat.
First, have a listen!
- Freddie Mercury, who wrote the lyrics for the Bohemian Rhapsody, included many words that appear in the Qu'ran (bismillah: "in the name of Allah", scarmouch: "a stock character that appears as a boastful coward). This was perhaps due to his experience with having to move from his childhood home Zanzibar to England.
- The backing track to the song came together quickly, it was the vocals that took a long time. Altogether there was 180 layered tracks, making the song too complex to perform live! It is also 5 minutes and 55 seconds long!
- The song was #1 for 9 weeks in the UK and the band's first Top 10 hit in the US.
- Bohemian Rhapsody is the 3rd best selling UK single of all time!
- As for the origin of the song title. Bohemian refers to a group of artists and musicians who lived 100 years ago. Artists and musicians who defied living standards, wanderers and adventurers who practiced unconventional lifestyles. A Rhapsody is a classical piece of music with distinct sections played altogether.
- The music video was shot in 3 hours at 3,500 pounds. It was simply the band members looking up into the shadows, based on their album cover.
There is definitely a drastic changing structure, with a ballad section, a hard rock section and an opera section. There is also a guitar solo. And because of these contrasting music genres, I think the structure is not based on verses and a repeating chorus, instead it's split into parts (lyrically more than musically)
- Part 1 through 3 is the ballad section of the song.
- Part 2 and 3 are almost similar in melody, or maybe its the dynamics and layout of the lyrics that's 'tricking' me.
- There's the guitar solo after Part 3, it then leads to the opera section in Part 4 and 5.
- The rock section is Part 6.
- The song makes use of change in dynamics and timbre. The layers of the vocals is amazingly frightening, especially at the opera section. The piano to rock guitar is quite the interesting addition.
- And then everything ends with two unexpected solos, the second one a giant contrast to the first one.
Doing some research, I found that the structure is not as unfamiliar as we think, at least that's what Andy, from Andything, says. The song follows a pattern that is found in narratives all around the world. With the overall story (or in this case, song) divided into the following parts (from Joseph's Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" (it's a little big, I'm afraid I can't make it smaller):
Part 2 and 3 is the realization of the mistake. Where the piano and ballad section is a representation of the man's confession. The guitar solo, after Part 3 is a continuation of this realization, an aspect that pushes the emotional aspect of the song forward. This solo is a bridge, connecting the piano ballad and the opera section together.
Part 4 and 5 reflect confusion and horror. Quite interestingly, this is the opera section... Weird, right? With the opening line of these sections ('I see a little silhouette of a man'), we immediately feel unwanted, like an outsider. He's dealing with his conflict, allowing a lead in to the climax of the song.
Part 6 is where the man reaches redemption, with a crescendo of the drumbeat and guitar part.This is the part where we finally feel a sense of freedom and empowerment, the problems are behind us and there's a new found sense of self-respect.
And when we transition in Part 7, the return, there is closure. The song repeats a phrase ('anyway the wind blows') and we know there's contentment, the end of the journey. Amazing! Isn't it?
Freddie Mercury was very smart. You see, he took a traditional structure (found in classic stories) and made a song out of it. He may have or may have not realized it, but he not only played with our minds but challenged our concept of reality. His song enables us, the listeners, to understand a story on a more emotion level. It's more than just the visuals and text, it's the music that makes us connect emotions to create a story. He's used extensive vocal harmony and layers upon layers of instrument tracks, to create emotion. Something that we see less and less of with the overbearing electronic-based music.
One last thing, the opposite of through-composed songs are called strophic songs. This is because the song reuses the melody (tune) with different lyrics (words for each verse (strophe).