“Secret of BoRhap revealed, by science!”

# Freddie top2000
Picture: Radio 2 Top 2000

“Confirmation of the iconic status of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ came on October 18, 1977 when the British Phonographic Industry gave it the Britannia Award as the best British pop single of the previous 25 years. But Queen knew that already!” The BoRhap has its own chapter in the ‘40 Years of Queen’ book, which explains all you need to know about this masterpiece. Except that recently, a group of scientists have actually studied the success of the song, as it’s still usually chosen the ultimate number 1 in every list.

The initiative for this investigation was taken by Radio 2’s Top 2000, which is the annual radio programme in the Netherlands, broadcasting the 2000 best songs of ‘all time’ non-stop from Christmas Day at noon till the exact end of the year. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody has been chosen number 1 by the public every year since the first broadcast at the end of 1999, with the exception of two years, when it reached the runner-up position. In 2005, Boudewijn de Groot’s song ‘Avond’ was chosen number 1, as a result of Radio 2 actively promoting this song. When in 2010 ‘Hotel California’ from the Eagles was chosen one place above Queen, it turned out votes hadn’t been counted correctly. So we love the BoRhap. But why?

Is it because it’s tradition to have the gong after ‘any way the wind blows’ as the first thing you hear in the new year? This was one of the questions in the scientists’ survey – I took part too. Personally, I said no to this, although I do love that it is also tradition now to start a year with Queen (and I wouldn’t be easily persuaded to go to a party where the Top 2000 is not on). It’s not the main reason to vote for BoRhap though, which is why the survey also asked about the listener’s feelings and responses to the song. One of the things they found out is that almost 84% of the Dutch know the song and they appreciate the ballad part best (when I had to choose I went for the rock part though).

The results were recently presented in a symposium about the BoRhap, where the scientists tried to explain its popularity. Although BoRhap is not the most catchy song, it does appear to have a ‘hook’, said Professor Honing. Furthermore, Professor Schreder (neuropsychologist) explained that: “one of the areas involved in processing and remembering sounds and rhythm is the insula. This is also the area of the brain which plays a role in fantasising and inner feelings that accompany this.” Interesting things happen in our brain while listening to this work of art. Besides this, we also show physical reactions to the song, said Professor Vingerhoets. “Appreciative listeners experience the song intensely, often showing facial expressions too”. It even raises our heartbeats!

It was also stated that those few who don’t like the song, are ‘reserved’ and ‘critical’, which I personally think is kicking in open doors. But no, of course not everybody is going to agree to like something, not even the BoRhap. Apparently, 47% of those who filled in the survey do think it would be nice to have a change of champion in this list. Surprisingly, maybe, those aged 45+ are now leaning more towards Hotel California. It’s the younger generation that’s supporting Queen most. So it was concluded that only if this group keeps voting, BoRhap will continue to top the list. Maybe next year again though, as it was recently announced that indeed the Eagles had a few more votes in the 2014 edition.

Although it’s not a secret I’m a huge Queen fan, I’m not going to complain about that. Not only because I also very much love the Eagles, I actually strongly dislike all those discussions about why the top 100 songs in this list are often very similar. It’s because it’s the list of ‘all time’, people. If you want to change it: vote next year. If you do and it still doesn’t change much: don’t listen. This is how democracy works. And apparently, most people in this little country are pleased with the outcome. In 2011, the edition opened by André Kuipers live from the International Space Station, 78% of us listened in. This yearly show, which was only intended to air once, is a huge success. Just like the BoRhap.

Because whether it’s number 1 or 2 and whether it’s scientifically proven or not explained: this song truly is a wonderful piece of art. (Although I personally have other favourite Queen songs too!) There’s no doubt about it: Bohemian Rhapsody changed the music scene. Queen took three weeks to record it, with 180 vocal overdubs. The technology of the ‘70s had never been used like this. It’s a single with everything in it: a ballad, a mini-opera and a full-on rocker. It’s a story, which Freddie never elaborated on any further, leaving us with our own interpretation (while Roger added it was ‘obvious’ what it was about – hah). It inspired so many across the world, while initially it was thought DJs wouldn’t play it. It was the first time a song lasted almost twice the length of the normal three minute songs and video clips hadn’t been ‘done’ yet back in those days. But fortunately Freddie was determined.

Some people may have perceived this as arrogance, but as Brian said at the time: “In fact, he’s only arrogant when he knows he can afford to be”. Happy New Year!

Source: ‘Radio 2’ and ‘40 Years of Queen’.