“Bohemian Rhapsody” was such an unlikely song that became an even more unlikely hit.
The Queen biopic of the same name, out Friday, depicts the original story of how the rock-operatic single came to be, with a cameo from none other than Mike Myers.
In the film, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) threatens to walk out on the label if the record executive — played by Myers — refuses to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the first single off its album “A Night at the Opera."
Including Myers makes sense, especially since, in real life, he did just the opposite of the character he plays.
In 1975, “Bohemian Rhapsody” became Queen’s first No. 1 hit on U.K. singles chart, where it remained for nine weeks, a record for a British band. And it returned to that position in December 1991 after “Bohemian Rhapsody” was rereleased in the wake of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s death.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” had never been as big of a hit in the United States. It reached only the No. 9 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 when it first came out. That is, until Myers’s “Wayne’s World.”
The movie, released in February 1992, featured “Bohemian Rhapsody” in what’s become one of comedy’s most iconic scenes. The film based on the Myers-created “Saturday Night Live” sketch opens with Wayne, the rock-obsessed host of a public access show, getting picked up in a 1970s beat-up AMC Pacer.
“I think I’ll go with a little ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ gentlemen,” Wayne tells his buddies. “Good call,” responds Garth.
In goes the cassette, and the song begins at its midway point. They sing along, each taking their own “Galileo” parts, and when the break comes, they headbang like crazy.
Just like that, a whole new generation of Americans was introduced to “Bohemian Rhapsody” for the first time. It shot to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, surpassing its original high point,
“Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t just randomly end up in “Wayne’s World.”
"At that time, Queen had — not by me of course and by true hardcore music fans — but the public had sort of forgotten about them a little bit,” Myers said during a 2014 episode of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast. “Freddie had gotten sick. The last time we had seen them was on Live Aid, and then there was a few albums afterward where they were sort of straying away from their arena rock roots. But I always loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.' It was a masterpiece, and so I fought really, really hard for it.”
It was Myers’s first movie, and he found inspiration in his Ontario adolescence, when he, his brother and their friends would drive around and sing the Queen classic.
“If I took somebody else’s ‘Galileo!’ or somebody took mine, a fight would ensue,” Myers told Rolling Stone. “It’s just something that I always back-pocketed. ‘Wayne’s World’ was my childhood. I knew only to write what I knew.”
The song also conveyed a sort of silly abandon Myers wanted for his characters; plus, it would help make the movie feel as if you were not exactly sure what year it was, he told Maron.
But producer Lorne Michaels “was suggesting Guns N' Roses … because at the time, Guns N' Roses had a number one song,” Myers told Rolling Stone. “I said, ‘I hear you. I think that’s really smart,’ but I didn’t have any jokes for a Guns N' Roses song. I had lots of jokes for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ It’s just inherently comedic.”
Director Penelope Spheeris told Rolling Stone she did not “personally remember a big argument about the placement of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,' but my guess is that I was probably pushing for Guns N’ Roses.”
Then, at some point, Myers threatened to walk out of the movie altogether. “I said to everybody, 'Well I’m out. I don’t want to make this movie if it’s not ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ and they were like, who the F are you?” Myers told Maron. “And I said, 'I’m somebody that wants to do that movie, that’s the movie I want to do.”
Myers eventually won out, and they shot the cruising scene throughout an entire night.
Queen guitarist Brian May told Rolling Stone Myers gave him a tape of the scene and that he took to Mercury, who was sick at the time. “Freddie loved it,” May said. “He just laughed and thought it was great, this little video. The funny thing was, we always regarded the song as tongue in cheek ourselves. If it would come on the radio, we would all be headbanging when it came to the heavy bit as well, us as a group. It was very close to our sense of humor.”
The scene does not last for very long. But it is seared into the consciousness of entire generations. You cannot help but want to headbang when the song reaches its climactic point.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was included on the Wayne’s World” soundtrack and a new Queen anthology collection. A Los Angeles Times story at the time noted the song enjoyed a resurgence especially on Top 40 radio “where Queen has not been played regularly for years.”
KIIS-FM music director Michael Martin told the newspaper, “We’re getting kids calling up and asking for ‘Bohemian Rap City.' It’s a totally different audience than when it first came out.”
A music video that spliced together clips of the original, innovative promotional video with scenes from “Wayne’s World” won an MTV Video Music Award for best video from a film.
“Freddie would be very pleased,” Queen’s May said when accepting the award. “I think he would be tickled by the irony that the only thing that would resurrect this is a wonderful comedy film. But I think he would have a good laugh and I think it’s a worthy tribute, so thanks very much to Wayne and Garth.”
For his part, Myers said he never stuck to his vision because he thought the song would once again become a big hit.
“That’s not me being Nostradamus,” Myers told Maron in 2014. “That’s just me going, ‘Well what I do want to see? What movie do I want to see?’ I would want to see the movie where it’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ ”