Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*: #240-231

If you own some of the songs in The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*, pat yourself on the back--you helped determine the list with your love of music!  We continue the special with this great song by Jimmy Dean leading off the next 10:

Big Bad John 
Jimmy Dean


"Classic song any day, any time."

"Awesome, amazing song."


Fantastic song!"

"Classic song that has lasted over 50 years and will last another 50."


"Great song."

We hope you're enjoying this monumental of all music specials, The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*.  We have showcased 10 songs per day and we are up to #240*.  If you have missed any songs, by all means catch yourself up by finding one of our handy Checklists* in recent days.

In 1961, this likable artist was in danger of losing his recording contract with Columbia Records, seeing as he had not enjoyed a hit in years.  As fate would have it, Jimmy Dean met an actor who was 6'5" at a summer play called Destry Rides Again.  Dean called him "Big John", and wrote this song around a character by that name.  Jimmy not only came up with that elusive hit; it would go on to become the biggest hit of his career.  

"Big Bad John" is one of the classic "story songs", in which Dean tells the story of a mysterious miner who was feared by his coworkers because of his size and an incident in which he killed over a Cajun Queen in New Orleans.  John kept pretty much to himself, until one day, one of the support timbers at the mine cracked.  The situation looked bleak for the miners, until John stepped up, grabbed the timber and stood there, holding it up while the other miners escaped to safety. 

Dean got Floyd Cramer to play piano on the song.  Jimmy released the song in September of 1961 from his album Big Bad John And Other Fabulous Songs And Tales.  While "Big Bad John" was running up the charts, it encountered obstacles in the form of "The Twist" by Chubby Checker, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by the Tokens, and "Can't Help Falling In Love" by Elvis Presley.

"Big Bad John" collected five weeks at #1 with 10 weeks inside the Top 10.  "Big Bad John" also presided for 10 weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart, making it one of The Top 100 Adult Songs of the Rock Era*.  And, it was an across-the-board winner with two weeks at #1 on the Country chart.  #2 in the U.K.

"Big Bad John" earned nominations for Record of the Year and Best Male Solo Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards.  The song went Gold, helped sell over one million albums, and has been played over one million times.

Dean recorded a sequel in 1962, "The Cajun Queen", in which Big John's Cajun Queen rescues him from the mine and marries him.  Jimmy's story concluded later in the year with the song "Little Bitty Big John", in which John's son learns about his father's heroism.  Dottie West recorded her sequel to the song called "My Big John", told from the Cajun Queen's point of view, where the female protagonist searches for her lost love, only to discover his death in the mine.


I'd Really Love To See You Tonight
 England Dan & John Ford Coley

"Love this song so much."
"GREAT song."
"One of my all-time favorites."
"One of the most melodic songs ever."
"An eternal classic."
"Great song for all-time."

This duo of Texans began when Danny Seals & John Colley were friends and classmates at W.W. Samuell High School in Dallas.  Seals is the brother of Jim Seals of Seals & Crofts fame.   

Seals and Coley joined their first band called Southwest F.O.B. (Freight on Board).  Seals acquired the nickname of "England Dan" because he was a big fan of the Beatles, and he often spoke in his best English accent.

The pair toured with the band throughout Texas, including opening for Led Zeppelin, and scored a #43 hit, "The Smell Of Incense", in 1969.  Seals and Colley also formed their own acoustic act during this time, originally called Colley and Wayland.  They changed their name to England Dan & John Ford Coley (with John changing the spelling of his name for ease of pronunciation.)  

 If you wanted to make it big in the music business, Los Angeles was a good place to be, and the duo moved there and signed a recording contract with A&M Records in 1971.  Their song "Simone" was a big hit in Japan and received airplay in France.

But success did not spread, and after three albums, A&M terminated their contract.  Dan & Coley kept their heads high and kept after it.  They found out about a song written by Parker McGee and recorded a demo.  While Dan & Coley played the song for Bob Greenberg, senior vice president of Atlantic Records, Doug Morris, A&R representative of Atlantic subsidiary Big Tree Records heard it through the wall in his office.  Greenberg voted "no", but Morris stepped up and signed the duo to Big Tree. 

That demo song was "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight", and England Dan & John Ford Coley recorded it and released the single in June of 1976 from their album Nights Are Forever.   

The pair was still relatively unknown, and they would have to get through some pretty known quantities if they were to score their first hit.  Other songs out at the time included 
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John & Kiki Dee, "If You Leave Me Now" from Chicago, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Say You Love Me" by Fleetwood Mac, "More Than A Feeling" by Boston, "Rock'N Me" by the Steve Miller Band, and "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney & Wings.

"I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" became the duo's breakout hit, going to #2 for 2 weeks, with 10 weeks in the Top 10.  It also reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

The single went Gold, and ranks in the top 100 in radio airplay for the Rock Era with over five million.

Dan & Coley went on to score several more hits in the decade, such as "Nights Are Forever Without You", "Love Is The Answer", "It's Sad To Belong", and "We'll Never Have To Say Goodbye Again".  After the duo split up, Seals went on to a successful career as a Country singer.

Higher Love
Steve Winwood

"Such a great song.  How can it not put you in a good mood!"
"What an amazing song.  A true classic."
"What a soulful, positive song that the world desperately needs."
"One of my favorites of all-time."
"Absolutely love this song!"


"Awesome song!"

The artist at #238* was something of a boy wonder.  He joined the Spencer Davis Group as lead singer, guitarist and keyboardist at the age of 15.  Four years later, Steve Winwood left that band and is responsible for the formation of the group Traffic.  Mixed in with all that, Winwood was a member of Blind Faith and Ginger Baker's Airforce. 
Winwood's first solo album in 1977, his self-titled release, didn't make much noise.  His next effort four years later very much did.
Winwood and Will Jennings combined to write this amazing song.  Steve recorded "Higher Love" at Unique Recording Studio in New York City--Chaka Khan provided the female vocal and Nile Rodgers, formerly with Chic, played rhythm guitar on the track  Winwood released the single on June 9 from his album Back in the High Life

Other songs current at the time of "Higher Love" included Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love Of All", "The Way It Is" by Bruce Hornsby & the Range, "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne & Friends, Madonna's "Papa Don't Preach", and "Walk Like An Egyptian" by the Bangles.

"Higher Love" rose to #1 for 4 weeks, and peaked at #7 on Adult Contemporary chart.

"Higher Love" has helped sell three million times, and ranks in The Top 100 of the Rock Era for radio airplay with over five million.

 Faith Hill

"Great song!"
"Such a beautiful song.  It truly inspires me."

"I sooooo love this song!"

"This song gives me chills every time."

"Wow!!!  Beautiful!!!"

"Incredible song."

"Awesome song from Faith..."

Audrey Faith Perry first performed at a 4-H luncheon when she was seven years old.  But seeing Elvis Presley in concert in 1976 provided a great inspiration to Faith.  When she was 17, Perry formed a band that played at local rodeos.

Audrey moved to Nashville at age 19 to follow her dream of becoming a country singer.  She auditioned to be a backup singer for Reba McEntire but failed.  To make ends meet, Perry sold T-shirts, worked at McDonald's, then became a secretary at a music publishing firm. 

In 1988, Audrey married Daniel Hill, a music publishing executive.  While at the firm, a co-worker heard Hill singing to herself, and when word got around the company about the quality of her voice, the head of the firm encouraged Hill to become a demo singer for them.  In addition, Hill began singing backing vocals for songwriter Gary Burr, who performed at the Bluebird CafĂ© in Nashville.

As fate would have it, Bob Saporiti, an executive with Warner Brothers Records, heard Hill at the Bluebird, which led to a recording contract.  Using the stage name of Faith Hill, she released her debut album Take Me as I Am in 1993.  Her song "Wild One" in 1993 became the first song by a female artist in 30 years to score a #1 Country hit of four weeks.  The album sold over three million copies, and Faith was on her way.

Hill divorced Daniel in 1994, but soon became heavily involved with another country music superstar, Tim McGraw.  The two were instantly attracted to each other, and married shortly thereafter.  After the release of her second album It Matters to Me, which also sold three million copies, Hill took three years off to begin a family.   

Hill returned in 1998 with the album Faith, which featured the song "This Kiss", and needed a strong follow-up album to capitalize on the success.    

Songwriters Stephanie Bentley and Holly Lamar contributed this winner to Faith Hill.  Faith released the single on October 4, 1999 as the title track from her album.

Although "Breathe" faced some amazing songs on its run up the charts--"Smooth" and "Maria Maria" by Santana, "I Knew I Loved You" by Savage Garden, and "Amazed" by Lonestar, the list of the Top 15 songs out at the time is weak compared to other songs in The Top 500*.
"Breathe" achieved a peak of #2 for 5 weeks, with 14 weeks in the Top 10.  It ranks as one of The Top Adult Songs of All-Time* with an incredible 17 weeks at #1.  And, it dominated the Country chart with six weeks at #1.  Another fine example of an across-the-board winner that we're beginning to see in the countdown. 

Hill had rung up six #1 songs on the County chart, but logically found the going much tougher on the Popular chart.  Only "Maria Maria" by Santana kept her out of the #1 spot.  "Breathe" also topped the charts in Canada. 

"Breathe" sold half a million singles and helped sell eight million albums.

Hill won Grammy Awards for Best Female Country Performance and Best Country Album, American Music Awards for Favorite Female Country Artist and Favorite Country Album, Billboard Music Awards for Country Female Artist of the Year, Hot 100 Singles Female Artist and Hot 100 Single of the Year.

The success of "Breathe" made Hill one of the top stars in the world, and opened many doors for her.  In addition to a successful tour with McGraw, Hill performed on a CBS television special, Behind the Music on VH1, VH1 Divas 2000, and was featured on the Intimate Portrait series on Lifetime TV.  Faith signed an endorsement with CoverGirl makeup, performed at the Academy Awards and Grammy Awards, appeared on the cover of several magazines, and performed the U.S. national anthem at the Super Bowl.  She also was named to Mr. Blackwell's 10-best dressed women of 2000, and sang the acclaimed song "Where Are You Christmas" for the great Jim Carrey movie Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown 
Jim Croce

"Croce was a great wordsmith."
"A great classic from an amazing talent."
"Great song!"
"This song is awesome."
"Coolest song ever."
"What a storyteller!"

This artist joined the U.S. National Guard in 1966.  He was sent for training less than two weeks after getting married to his wife Ingrid.  While in the service, Croce met a guy named Leroy Brown who he liked to sing with occasionally.  Brown was a sergeant at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.  Croce also met a private at Fort Dix, New Jersey who went AWOL, and when he came back to get his paycheck, he got caught.  Croce got such a kick out of the private that he thought he'd write a song about him, but he titled it after the sergeant at Fort Jackson.  That song is #236* for all-time. 

After his stint in the National Guard, Croce moved to New York City at the suggestion of Tommy West, whom he met in college at Villanova University.  Croce played folk clubs in the area, which led to a recording contract with Capitol Records.  But when the record flopped, Croce moved back to his native Pennsylvania.  He worked numerous jobs including truck driver and telephone lineman. 

Croce recorded six new songs and sent a demo to West, who by then had hooked up with producer Terry Cashman.  In 1972, Croce signed a recording contract with ABC Records, and his debut album went to #1.  He enjoyed the Top 10 hit "You Don't Mess Around With Jim", as well as the Top 20 "Operator (That's Not The Way It Feels)" before recording his second album that would include "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown". 

As for the reference to Leroy Brown being "meaner than a junkyard dog", Croce explained:

Yeah, I spent about a year and a half driving those $29 cars, so I drove around a lot looking for a universal joint for a '57 Chevy panel truck or a transmission for a '51 Dodge.  I came to know junkyards well, and they all have those dogs in them. They all have either an axle tied around their necks or an old lawnmower to keep 'em at least slowed down a bit, so you have a decent chance of getting away from them.

Croce released "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" in April of 1973 from the album Life & Times.  During its chart run, the song was played at the same time as Elton John's "Daniel", "Killing Me Softly With His Song" from Roberta Flack, "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence, "The Most Beautiful Girl" by Charlie Rich, "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round The Ole Oak Tree" from Tony Orlando & Dawn, "Let's Get It On" from Marvin Gaye, "Live And Let Die" and "My Love" by Paul McCartney & Wings, "Love Train" by the O'Jays, "Midnight Train To Georgia" by Gladys Knight & the Pips, Stevie Wonder's "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life", "We're An American Band" by Grand Funk, "Kodachrome" from Paul Simon, and Chicago's "Just You 'N Me".

"Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" reached #1 10 weeks before Croce died in a plane crash--#1 for 2 weeks with 8 weeks in the Top 10.  It also went to #9 on the Adult chart, received airplay on the Country chart, and also went all the way to #1 in Canada.

Croce was nominated for Record of the Year and Pop Male Vocalist at the Grammy Awards.  "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" went Gold and has topped four million in radio airplay.

Ingrid today operates Croce's Restaurant & Jazz bar in San Diego, California, where many patrons tell her they were touched by Jim's songs.

Tonight's The Night (Gonna Be Alright)
Rod Stewart

"Love this song!"
"My all-time favorite."
"Lovely arrangement, clever lyrics."
"Great song!"
"Masterpiece of a song, 10 out of 10."
"Timeless tune."

"Classic, sensual song."

A veteran of groups such as Steampacket, the Jeff Beck Group, and Faces, Rod Stewart began his solo career with the album Every Picture Tells A Story in 1971, while staying with Faces.  Stewart's 1976 album A Night On The Town marked the end of Faces and the solo career of Rod from that step on.  A Night On The Town yielded three hits, but none bigger than this song at #235*.
 Rod Stewart tried recording vocals at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, but couldn't hit a note, he says because of the smog.  Then Stewart and his entourage took their show to Caribou Studios in Colorado, but he had trouble there because of the altitude of 9,000 feet above sea level.  Finally, Stewart was able to finish the song at Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida. 
Stewart recorded the song at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section played on the backing track.  They began their own studio in 1969 after recoding at FAME Studios for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and others.  The track features a French spoken part by Britt Ekland, Stewart's girlfriend at the time.  The final vocals were recorded at Caribou Ranch Studios in Colorado.   
"Tonight's The Night" rose to #1 for 7 weeks against competition that included "Hotel California" and "New Kid In Town" by the Eagles, "Evergreen" from Barbra Streisand, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by Elton John & Kiki Dee, "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" by England Dan & John Ford Coley, "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, "Lucille" from Kenny Rogers, Chicago's "If You Leave Me Now", "Go Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac, "When I Need You" by Leo Sayer and "Southern Nights" by Glen Campbell.  The song also reached #3 in Australia and #5 in the U.K.
Similar to ABBA's Mamma Mia!, the musical Tonight's The Night, featuring Stewart's hits, opened in London in 2003.  It didn't do near as well as ABBA's, closing after one year.


I Have Nothing 
Whitney Houston

"Sooo great."
"A beautiful song, a beautiful voice, and a beautiful lady."
"Typical Whitney--awesome!"
"It always brings me on the verge of tears."
"An amazing song by an amazing talent."


By 1993, Whitney Houston had scored 20 hits, and incredibly, all but 4 went to the Top 10.  The enormous hit "I Will Always Love You" became her 10th #1 in just 10 years.  Producer David Foster and Linda Thompson wrote this great song for her.
This was Houston's third big hit from the phenomenal "The Bodyguard" Soundtrack.  Whitney released it on February 20, 1993 on Arista Records.

The song was immediately added to radio station playlists, as Houston's star was hot.  It contended with her own "I Will Always Love You", "End Of The Road" by Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson's "That's The Way Love Goes, "If I Ever Fall In Love" by Shai, and "A Whole New World" by Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle. 

"I Have Nothing" was stuck at #4 for 5 weeks in the United States on the Popular chart, but it racked up 11 weeks inside the Top 10, was #1 for 2 weeks on the more-important Adult Contemporary chart, and reached #3 on the Top 40 chart, and #4 on the R&B chart.  The song soared to #1 in Canada, #3 in the U.K. and #4 in Ireland.

"I Have Nothing" went Gold and helped sell over 22.5 million albums in the U.S. alone.  The song was recognized repeatedly at awards shows.  Houston won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, Billboard Awards for Top Pop Singles Artist, Top Pop Singles Artist--Female, Top Pop Album, Top R & B Album and Top R & B Singles Artist, American Music Awards for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Vocalist, Favorite Adult Contemporary Artist, Favorite Soul/R & B Female Artist, Favorite Pop/Rock Album and Favorite Soul/R&B Album, and World Music Awards for World's Best-Selling Overall Recording Artist, World's Best-Selling Pop Artist of the Year, World's Best-Selling R&B Artist of the Year, World's Best-Selling American Recording Artist of the Year, and World's Best-Selling Female Recording Artist of the Era.

"I Have Nothing" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television, Best Original Song at the Academy Awards, and Best R&B Single, Female at the Soul Train Music Awards.  It is one of the few songs since 1993 that have already logged over one million airplays.

Scarborough Fair (Canticle) 
Simon & Garfunkel


"Such a beautiful song and beautifully sung."

"Superb classic!"

"Awesome song."


"Great music--I love it so much."

"Ahh, what a great song."

"Scarborough Fair" and "Canticle" are two songs that are combined to create this next song.  The first and last verses are "Scarborough Fair", but lines from "Canticle" alternate after the first line of the other verses.  In other words "On the side of a hill in a deep forest green" and "Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested ground" are from "Canticle".

Scarborough is a small coastal town in the county of North Yorkshire, England.  In Medieval times, the "Scarborough Fair" was a popular gathering that drew traders and entertainers from all over Great Britain.  The Fair began August 15 and lasted 45 days.  Bards sang this song when they traveled from town to town.  Martin Carthy learned the song from a Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger songbook, and recorded it on his debut album.  Paul Simon heard Carthy's song and Simon & Garfunkel recorded it on their album  Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme when they returned to the U.S. 

This song tells the tale of a young man who instructs the listener to tell his former love to perform a series of impossible tasks, such as making him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well.  The man says that if the woman completes these tasks he will take her back.  Perhaps, this is the Medieval equivalent of saying "when Hell freezes over".  Often, the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving the man a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished.

As the verses talk about the exchange of these impossible tasks, some believe that it is about the Great Plague of the late Middle Ages.  "Scarborough Fair" seems to have lyrics in common with the Scottish ballad, "The Elfin Knight (Child Ballad #2)", which has been traced back as far as 1670.  In the Scottish song, an elf threatens to abduct a young woman to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task.  As the song spread, it was adapted and rewritten to the point that dozens of versions existed by the end of the 18th century.

Simon & Garfunkel did not release "Scarborough Fair" as a single until it was used in the Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate.

In March, "Scarborough Fair" encountered competition from  Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson", "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" by Otis Redding, "Love Is Blue" from Paul Mauriat, "Honey", "This Guy's In Love With You" by Herb Alpert, and "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles.

"Scarborough Fair" peaked at #11, but was #5 among Adults in the U.S.  It is one of a select few songs to never make the Top 10 to be included in The Top 500 Songs of the Rock Era*.  The reason is simple:  trade papers have never figured out how to include album sales into their calculations for the top songs.  Album sales long ago overtook single sales, and obviously people buy albums because they have good songs on them.  Inside The Rock Era factors in album sales (as any professional organization should), and according to our research, those album sales, as well as numerous other factors, show that "Scarborough Fair" is Song #233*.  The song also peaked at #5 in Ireland and #9 in the U.K.
It has helped sell 19.5 million albums.  "Scarborough Fair" is among the Top 200 songs of all-time in radio airplay, having been played over six million times. 

Janet Jackson

"Beautiful voice and a great song."
"I'm holding my tears."
"I love this song."
"This song will last through the years."
"Classic cut.  All time fav."

"Great music, great lyrics."

In 1992, Janet Jackson starred in her first movie, Poetic Justice, and she also recorded the song that closes the movie.  Janet also recorded a French version of the song that was included on the CD single. 
Originally, "Again" was a sound that producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis came up with.  Jackson loved the melody, but it wasn't until the producers from Poetic Justice requested a ballad that the trio turned it into a song, and Jackson wrote the lyrics around the melody.  The song was not on the movie soundtrack, but was released on the album janet.   

"Again" debuted on the charts in October, 1993, with competition coming from  "Dreamlover" and "Hero" by Mariah Carey, "All That She Wants" and "The Sign" by Ace of Base, Jackson's own "That's The Way Love Goes", "The Power Of Love" from Celine Dion, "Breathe Again", by Toni Braxton "I'd Do Anything For Love" by Meat Loaf, and "All For Love" from Rod Stewart, Bryan Adams, & Sting.

"Again" went to #1 for 2 weeks overall with 15 weeks in the Top 10, #4 on the AC chart, and #7 on the R&B chart in the United States.  It also reached #2 in Canada, #5 in Sweden, and #6 in the U.K.

"Again" went Gold and helped Jackson sell six million albums.  "Again" has been played over one million times.  Jackson won American Music Awards for Favorite Soul/R & B Female Artist and Award of Merit, a Billboard Award for Top Pop Album Artist--Female and a Soul Train Award for Career Achievement.  "Again" was also nominated for Best Original Song at both the Academy Awards and the Golden Globe Awards. 

Bohemian Rhapsody

"Brilliant music.  It doesn't get much better."

"I seriously love this song."


"Awesome song."

"Best song in the History of Best Songs!"

"One of my all-time favorite songs--love the guitar!"

"Best song ever.  Period."

Lead singer Freddie Mercury wrote the basics of this song, even the complex harmonies, on telephone books and scraps of paper.  It is his masterpiece, and, while most of Queen's songs were written in the studio, this one was all in Freddie's mind before they started.  The name "Bohemian" seems to refer to a group of musicians living over 100 years ago, known for defying convention and living without regard for standards.  Music scholar Sheila Whitely, in her book Queering the Popular Pitch, believes that "the title draws strongly on contemporary rock ideology, the individualism of the bohemian artists' world, with rhapsody affirming the romantic ideals of art rock." 

 In her book  Listening to the Sirens:  Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig, Judith Peraino feels:

that "Mercury intended... [this song] to be a 'mock opera', something outside the norm of rock songs, and it does follow a certain operatic logic: choruses of multi-tracked voices alternate with aria-like solos, the emotions are excessive, the plot confusing.

Many of the words in the song appear in the Qu'ran.  "Bismallah" means "in the name of Allah", "Scaramouch" refers to "a stock character that appears as a boastful coward", while "Beelzebub" is one of many names given to The Devil.  Mercury may have written "Galileo" into the lyrics for elite guitarist Brian May, who is an astronomy enthusiast.  Galileo was a famous astronomer who was the first to use a refracting telescope.

Mercury grew up in Zanzibar, but after government upheaval in 1964, he and his family moved to England.  May suggested in an interview that some of the lyrics in the song could be about Mercury's past:

"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."

According to bassist John Deacon, Queen recorded the backing track over two days at Rockfield Studio 1 in Rockford, Wales.  They then flew to London, and spent a good part of August and September of 1975 recording this classic at the Roundhouse, SARM (East), Wessex, and Scorpion Sound.  Recording featured 180 overdubs, and the vocals for the operatic sections took over 70 hours.  By the time Queen was done, the album A Night At The Opera was the most expensive album ever made at the time, and "Bohemian Rhapsody" surpassed even the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" as the most expensive single ever recorded.  Mercury played the same piano that Paul McCartney used on "Hey Jude".  

May told Q Magazine,

 I remember Freddie coming in with loads of bits of paper from his dad's work, like Post-it notes, and pounding on the piano.  He played the piano like most people play the drums. And this song he had was full of gaps where he explained that something operatic would happen here and so on.  He'd worked out the harmonies in his head."

May recorded his solo on one track with no overdubbing.  It is a great example of May creating a solo in his mind before playing it on guitar, something he did often throughout his career.  As May said, "The fingers tend to be predictable unless being led by the brain."

Because of the elaborate nature of the song, the different sections were recorded separately, with drum clicks used to synchronize the different parts.  May, Mercury, and Taylor recorded their vocals over three weeks, sometimes singing 10 and 12 hours a day.  It was a case where art had surpassed technology; with the limited 24 tracks available, the three vocalists had to overdub themselves many times and make sub-mixes. 

When they were done, the recording tapes had been used eight times.  Various sections of tape containing the desired submixes had to be spliced together (cut with razor blades and pieced together with adhesive tape in the proper order).  May recalls placing a tape in front of the light and being able to see through it towards the end of the process.

Record companies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean tried to cut the song.  Drummer Roger Taylor spoke to the authors of the book U.K. #1 Hits about the frustration the group felt:

We thought, 'Well we could cut it, but it wouldn't make any sense,' it doesn't make much sense now and it would make even less sense then: you would miss all the different moods of the song.  So we said no.  It'll either fly or it won't.

Queen encountered the same situation as many other artists in the Rock Era who had written masterpieces, only to have record companies tell them the song was too long.  That would be akin to telling Mozart that he didn't know what he was doing when he wrote his compositions.  Queen, however, came up with a strategy that should serve as a model to all artists who find themselves in similar circumstances.

Queen bypassed corporate ignorance and played the song directly for British disc jockey Kenny Everett.  Everett played the full song 14 times in two days.  When fans attempted to buy the song, they were told by record stores that it had not been released.  Meanwhile, Paul Drew, who ran RKO radio stations in the United States, heard the song on Everett's show.  He obtained a copy of the tape and began playing it in the U.S., forcing the hand of Queen's American label, Elektra Records.  It was a great situation where radio on both sides of the Atlantic broke a record that both record companies said would never get airplay!
Queen  released "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single on October 31, 1975, and, left with no logical choice to the contrary, the full version now had the approval of both record companies.

Other songs released at the time included "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" by England Dan & John Ford Coley, Elton John's "Island Girl", "Let Your Love Flow" by the Bellamy Brothers, "Take It To The Limit" by the Eagles, "I Write The Songs" from Barry Manilow, "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Theme From 'Mahogany'" from Diana Ross, and "Silly Love Songs" by Paul McCartney & Wings.

The song took listeners a bit by surprise, but by January they had warmed up to it.  It went to #1 for nine weeks and sold over one million copies in the U.K.  After Mercury's death in 1991, the song rose from the ashes to reach #1 for five more weeks.  "Bohemian Rhapsody" thus became the first song in the chart's history to go to #1 twice, and became the third best-selling single of all time in the U.K.  "Bohemian Rhapsody" also went to #1 in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the Netherlands, #4 in Norway and Switzerland, #5 in Australia, #7 in Germany, and #8 in Austria.

In the U.S., the song peaked at #9 for two weeks, but received significant airplay on the emerging Album Oriented Rock stations (AOR).  Re-released in 1992 from the "Wayne's World" Soundtrack, "Bohemian Rhapsody" jetted up to #2.  It is very telling that the song was kept out of the #1 position by "Jump" from Kriss Kross.  This reinforces the importance of competition, and why it is such an important factor in judging songs across different eras.

  "Bohemian Rhapsody" made it all the way to #2 in 1992 against weaker competition, but in 1976, when competition was strong, it stalled at #9.  "Bohemian Rhapsody" essentially tells us that a #9 song in 1976 is as strong as a #2 song in 1992.  And the song should never rank higher than what we have it in any all-time ranking if it couldn't get past Kriss Kross to #1.  That is a huge blow to its strength. 

The song was nominated for Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Arrangement for Voices.  Incredibly, it did not win.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is included in The 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 2004, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

It is estimated that "Bohemian Rhapsody" has sold in excess of six million copies worldwide.
Folks, it just doesn't get better than The Top 500*, 60 years in the making.  Year by year, thousands of songs have competed for your attention, and a few of the songs have been added.  In 2015, this is it--the culmination of all of that effort, as the greatest songs of the Rock Era are presented, side-by-side, back-to-back for your pleasure in one place--Inside The Rock Era.  Treasure the songs, and join us tomorrow, won't you?

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