While we're on the subject of Bohemian Rhapsody, here's a Record Collector article from 1998 all about the legendary blue vinyl variant.
Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was recorded in the summer of 1975 during sessions for their fourth album, "A Night At The Opera". The song's composer, Freddie Mercury, never revealed his inspiration for his lyrics except to say that they were personal, about relationships.
"It's one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it," he said in 1976. "I think that people should just listen to it, think about it and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them". According to Brian May, the song was "really Freddie's baby from the beginning", but the task of realizing his ideas fell to Queen's producer at the time, Roy Thomas Baker.
"Freddie was sitting in his apartment and had an idea for the song", remembered Baker. "He didn't have it all quite worked out, but the basic framework was there. Then he stopped and said, 'Now dears this is where the opera section come in!' And I thought, 'Oh God!'" The over-the-top operatic reverie that is the song's middle section was originally intended only as a brief interlude, but once recording began, "Bohemian Rhapsody" took on a life of its own.
Roy Thomas Baker would arrive at the studio each day, assuming that the song was finished. And then Freddie would arrive: "He'd walk in and say, 'We'll just stick some more 'Galileos' in here'! It got longer and longer, and we kept adding blank tape...!" Sessions for the song eventually stretched to nearly three weeks, with the opera section alone taking seven days to complete. The trio of Mercury, May and Roger Taylor sang their parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day, resulting in an astonishing 180 separate overdubs. Although detractors accused Queen of being pretentious, the atmosphere in the studio was the exact opposite - the group were in constant hysterics at the overt campness of the song.
The group were justifiably proud of the finished product, and wanted it released as their next single. However, at nearly six minutes in length, both EMI and Queen's manager, John Reid, were reluctant, maintaining that the radio stations wouldn't play it. A subtle editing job was proposed, but Queen were adamant that the song should be heard in its entirety.
Freddie himself had some doubts as to its potential as a hit single, and sought the advice of his friend, DJ Kenny Everett, sending him a promo copy accompanied by strict instructions not to broadcast it. Kenny knew it was a hit "from the first note", and disobediently played it a reported fourteen times on his two weekend shows on Capital Radio, claiming that "his finger slipped"! EMI was swamped with inquires the following Monday and realized they were onto something big.
Released on October 31st 1975, "Bo Rhap" entered the charts the following week at No. 47, climbing to No. 1 three weeks later, where it stayed for an incredible nine weeks, helped by a memorable innovative prop video.
Three years later, Queen had gone from strength to strength, creating stadium anthems such as "We Are The Champions" and "We will Rock You", but it was "Bo Rhap" that was remembered when EMI was awarded the prestigious Queen's Award To Industry For Export Achievement. Beating off competition from thousands of other manufactures, EMI's International Division won the title due to the massive increase in exports of records by British artists.
As EMI's International Sales Manager at the time, Norman Bates, explained: "The award was for EMI's records and pressing fees, with some importance to Queen, who were getting bigger and bigger at the time. What it meant was that groups like Queen were being shipped to markets throughout the world where there were no manufacturing facilities. So from Iceland to Zanzibar we were selling records where previously we hadn't." After compiling a portfolio for the Department Of Trade And Industry, detailing the increase in turnovers, EMI became Her Majesty's choice for 1978. "It really was a coveted award," Bates recalled. "We were over the moon to receive it."
Justifiably proud, Paul Watts, then General Manager of EMI's International Division, decided to commemorate the award with the release of a special single. The choice of artist was easy. "The award represented the way in which Queen were so much a part o the fabric of the company," he recalled. "They were central to what EMI was doing." "Bohemian Rhapsody" seemed the natural choice for the record, as it was such a milestone and had been the single that had catapulted Queen into international super stardom.
The then current vogue for colored vinyl seemed to the the ideal way to present this special edition of 200 copies: "We came up with the band's original colors - purple and gold, as on the 'Queen I' cover," Watts remembered. "These colors signified Queen in a way. We decided on a maroon and gold sleeve and a single in purple vinyl." But it wasn't to be: the project became a corporate event, with EMI Records Ltd (and not just EMI the label) getting in on the action. Paul Watt reluctantly relinquished control of the project to "the team upstairs", imploring them to "make sure you do it right!"
But as Watts had feared, there was a blunder: "Lo and behold, when the record came back from the factory, it wasn't purple at all, but blue! It was a cock-up, but as we only had 200, it wasn't worth changing it." At the EMI pressing plant in Hayes, Middlesex, Production Controller John Tagg had no idea that the vinyl should have been purple, and - acting on corporate directives - pressed the record in blue. "The blue granules were specially formulated for the project," he remembered.
Pressing the run of 200 blue vinyl singles from the usual minimum of 1,000 or 1,500 black vinyl records was no easy feat, with Tagg and his team having to isolate the special edition from the rest of their system. Getting a pure blue strain of vinyl was also time-consuming, and the Queen single took around three days to produce, costing an exorbitant £4 to £5 per copy, where the usual rate was 50p. To finish off the record, full-colour "Night At The Opera" crest labels were printed and each disc was hand numbered on the A-side and again on the back of the special purple-and-gold sleeve.
Although John Tagg claims that the record was "very much a limited edition" of only 200 and that all the materials associated with the pressing were destroyed afterwards, some unnumbered test pressings or end-of-run copies did slip out. These come with finished labels but no sleeves, and are currently worth around £500-£600.
EMI's International Division was formally presented with the Queen's Award To Industry for Export Achievement at a three-hour luncheon in the Cotswold suite at London's Sellfridge Hotel on Wednesday, 26th July 1978. EMI directors and management were out in force, but Her Majesty was absent, sending instead the Vice Lord-Lieutenant Of Greater London, Admiral Sir Charles Madden as her representative. the group themselves were also noticeably absent, being holed up in Montreux, Switzerland, recording the "Jazz" album and holding a typically extravagant party for Roger Taylor's 29th birthday (most probably attended by naked women on bicycles).
The initial quantity of blue vinyl singles was framed and given to the members of Queen's entourage and EMI big cheeses. Press kits were packaged in an 'EMI International Division' purple carrying envelope (complete with card handles) and sent out with luncheon invitations. The remaining copies were handed out to the luncheon guests, along with a pair of etched goblets in a blue silk-lined box and a blue silk scarf, both bearing the official award's 'E' export logo. Some sets also came with a commemorative brio.
Despite the pomp and circumstance of the occasion, EMI's Norman Bates remembered that the record giveaway was a bit of a mundane affair: "They were just shoved in a plastic bag and handed out. You didn't really know what you had until you got back to the office. Most people got either the record, or the glasses and the scarf. But I managed to get all three!"
What is left of your dream?
Just the words on your stone.
A man who learnt how to teach,
But forgot how to learn.