Music

Behind the making of Queens iconic song Bohemian Rhapsody – original sound engineer reveals recording secrets

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Gary Langan helped create the original recording of Bohemian Rhapsody

The year 1975 was when one of the worlds most iconic songs hit the ears of Queen fans.

Radio DJ Kenny Everett did the honours, breaking promises to keep it private by teasing the track on his Capital FM radio show, creating a furore around the song before eventually playing the full 5 minutes 55 track 14 times over two days.

It quickly became hailed a masterpiece and Queens most famous song, and with good reason – it was one of the most complex and expensive recordings of its time as the band and the team involved helped Freddie Mercury realise the vision he had firmly wedged in his head.

Oh to be a fly on the wall during that creative process.

One man, Gary Langan, was, and at just 19-years-old. He was employed to work in the studio as a sound engineer, working alongside Queen with just 18 months experience in the business.

(left to right) Drummer Roger Taylor, singer Freddie Mercury (1946 - 1991), guitarist Brian May and bassist John Deacon of British rock band Queen pose in London, England in 1973. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Bohemian Rhapsody took three weeks to record (Picture: Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk about his experience, he said: The feeling was daunting. Up until then Id been a little assistant on projects and little singles for the Bay City Rollers, David Cassidy, pop singles. And then it was deemed this rock album was coming to the studio and I was going to be the assistant engineer, whoa.

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That was really frightening. I hadnt worked with any stars as big as Queen. So when they turned up on that first day and I spotted Freddies left hand, and his fingernails were all painted black, and I thought “I need to go and talk to mum!”

Bohemian Rhapsody was undoubtedly Freddie Mercurys baby and he kept a close eye on the entire process, with Gary revealing that Freddie was in the studio every day overseeing every single stage.

It was the song that was only in Freddies head, Gary said. All the other songs were collaborations with each other. In terms of Bohemian Rhapsody, it was always Freddie calling the shots.

Freddie Mercury had a clear vision for what he wanted to achieve (Picture: Steve Jennings/WireImage)

He was present every day, it must have been hard work for him.

But despite his clear vision for what he wanted to hear, Freddie was no diva, just demanding perfection.

He was never hard to work with, Gary admitted. They were demanding, they were perfectionists. So you couldnt accept compromise. None of the team members, the production members, the band, there was no compromise, it was always perfection. Thats a lot of hard work to achieve that, thats a lot of discipline.

Although there were no fallouts amongst the band as to how the track would be laid out, Brian May had a clear idea for his own part, refusing to play the melody and opting to take the risky move of playing his guitar solo entirely in one take. This meant he didnt play any guitar during the recording process at all, leaving his part until last.

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When asked if the band ever had any disagreements on the tracks creative direction, Gary laughed: If youre going to create something epic, its going to create epic discussions.

In terms of Brian, he wanted to approach his guitar work differently on this track. Previously hed be – to describe it easily – hed let his fingers do the playing, but with the solo and the guitar work on Bohemian Rhapsody he wanted to have his head to the playing.

Gary added: So for that reason, he waited until the end before he really put all the guitar work on. He didnt play any guide guitars when they laid down the original track. He was there but he wasnt playing along. He wanted to play his part when he really understood what was in Freddies head.

The solo is one take. Previously the way Brian would have worked he would have chosen the best bits from three or four different takes, but on this he wanted it to just be one take. And if you listen to it carefully you can hear little little mistakes, but theyre not mistakes, they enhance the whole performance.

(NETHERLANDS OUT) NETHERLANDS - MAY 17: AHOY Photo of QUEEN, Freddie Mercury and Brian May performing on stage (Photo by Lex van Rossen/MAI/Redferns)
Brian May refused to just play the melody (Picture: Lex van Rossen/MAI/Redferns)

Overall it was an absolute beast to make, with180 separate overdubs and using entirely analogue technology, meaning four people had to be sat at the mixing stages to create the mix. The operatic section was just as tricky, and ended up with over 100 voices. There were a lot of opportunities for it to all go pear-shaped.

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But someone was smiling down on Freddies baby as Gary said despite having very different technology to what would be used today, it all fitted together like a jigsaw.

When we constructed the opera section, I wont go into the technicalities but there were processes there that had they not got it right first time, it would have meant they would have had to go back and do it all over again, he said. Two three weeks later. The artistry was amazing because they were getting things so right so that in three or four weeks time when they put the bits together they all fitted, the jigsaw fitted.

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It was incredible, he continued. You could see you were working on this jigsaw, and it was all bits in a box but all the bits were perfect. All of the edges were beautifully cut and shaped. So when you came to put it back together again everything was seamless.

And it all came about because the band didnt want to fit the mould, with Freddie creating a song that has long since drawn debate over its meaning – with some claiming its about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and sold his soul to the devil. Others think its an insight into Freddies past traumas.

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They pushed all the boundaries as far as they could, Gary went on. They would twist the rules and change them. It was great to watch all of this, I didnt really understand until we got to the end and we understood what they were achieving. Years after it I was like “oh now I know how they did it, oh Ive worked it out now.”

At the time, Kenny was the only one who believed in the power of the song, with even Elton John asking if the band were fucking mad in thinking it could be the first single from A Night At The Opera. Had Kenny not gone against his promise to keep his copy to himself, perhaps the story could have been different.

As it is, a biopic movie, called Bohemian Rhapsody, is due for release on 24 October showcasing the bands meteoric rise to fame, with an insight into how this iconic song was made.

Ive seen clips of [the movie] Gary confessed. I think its going to be great, it cant be anything else but great, it has to be. The subject matter is so great itll be even greater.

Gary is appearing at the Festival Of Sound, the music and audio show at the Novotel London West, Hammersmith where he will be sharing behind the scenes stories on the creation of Bohemian Rhapsody.

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