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Brian May Dissects His Iconic Riffs on Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and Bowie Collaboration 'Under Pressure'

'I remember saying, Oh, it sounds like The Who, doesn't it? He says, Yeah, well it’s not going to sound like The Who by the time I’ve finished with it!'

Source: Zumapress.com / MEGA

Brian May in the Windy City, October 2023.

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Brian May has revealed how he composed the guitar part for the climatic ending to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", admitting: "It was more Freddie's idea." He also spoke of tensions in the studio while recording the band's collaboration with David Bowie, "Under Pressure".

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Source: Zumapress.com / MEGA

Ladies and gentlemen, musician and astrophysicist, Sir Brian May.

In an extensive interview in the March 2024 issue of Total Guitar, May expounds on several classic Queen songs, dissecting his contributions to their structure. With regards to their 1975 opus, May noted that Mercury's penchant for not only composing on the piano but also hearing the riff in his head, could be problematic when it came time for the "Bohemian Rhapsody" guitars to be recorded.

"I just worked off that and slightly adapted it to the way a guitar needs to play it," the 76-year-old said, adding "It’s not a riff that a guitarist would naturally play. And that's a double-edged sword. It's difficult for the guitar to get a hold of it, but once you have got hold of it, it's very unusual. And to be honest, I still don't find it easy! I can play it at home okay, but in the heat of the battle, if you like, when we're playing it live, and there's huge adrenaline, it's the climax of the show and that riff comes along, it's not the easiest thing to play."

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The guitarist, who earned a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College in 2007 and was knighted in 2023, touched on his input to several other classic Queen hits - many of them noted for their unusual timing or chord structure. However, he reserved his strongest opinion for the group's 1981 collaboration with David Bowie, "Under Pressure."

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Source: ℗ © Tintoretto Music, Queen Music Ltd / Queen / David Bowie / YouTube

Queen Under pressure (Official Music Video 1981)

"It was put together completely off the cuff," he said. "And David brought this technique in where everyone would go in and sing the way they felt the song should go without thinking about it. When it gets to 'Why can’t we give love', we were all working on it together, and it sounded like The Who. It sounded massively chord-driven. And I was beaming because I liked The Who. I remember saying to David, 'Oh, it sounds like The Who, doesn't it?' He says, 'Yeah, well it’s not going to sound like The Who by the time I’ve finished with it!' You know, in a joking kind of way."

So for the first time in his career, May bowed out of the final mixing process, letting Bowie and Mercury fight it out in the studio. "What happened in the mix was that most of that heavy guitar was lost," he said. "What they used was the acoustic bits which were done first as a sort of demo." He realized that the session was essentially driven by Bowie to achieve a certain sound, one that May was not hearing to his liking.

"I never liked it, to be honest, the way it was mixed. But I do recognize that it works. David was an awesome creative force. But you can’t have too many awesome creative forces in the same room. It starts to get very difficult! Something has to give."


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