When it was originally released in 1975, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was an oddity: A flamboyant, operatic, tempo-shifting epic that felt like several songs fused together. The band’s record company figured the nearly six-minute song was too long for the radio and would never be a hit. They were wrong on both counts: The song was a number one hit in the U.K. and cracked the Top 10 in the U.S. But by the early ’90s the song had been mostly retired to a quiet life of occasional appearances on classic rock radio and little more.
Then, in 1992, Mike Myers used “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the rambunctious centerpiece of the indelible opening scene of the film, Wayne’s World, which had been adapted from a Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, and gave the song and the band behind it an unprecedented second life. Wayne Campbell’s simple act of popping a cassette in the tape player of his friend Garth Algar’s AMC Pacer, not only returned “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the radio — it would eventually rise to Number Two on the pop charts, despite the fact that Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS less than three months before the film’s release — and made it a staple on MTV, it also introduced the song and the band to a new generation of listeners. The gleeful scene has become iconic itself, a cultural touchstone that’s been parodied, copied and celebrated almost since the moment of its release back in 1992. Here, the creative forces behind the scene and the beneficiaries of its influence tell the story of how all that happened and how it almost didn’t.
Mike Myers (writer, “Wayne Campbell”): I grew up in Scarborough, Ontario of British parents. I’d gone to England in ’75 with my family and heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio. We were obsessed with it. Me and my brother, our friends’ car was a powder blue Dodge Dart Swinger that had a vomit stain on the side of it that someone chiseled in the shape of Elvis Presley. We’d drive down the Don Valley Parkway, listening to Bohemian Rhapsody. We would time it to enter the Toronto city limits when the rocking part would kick in. I was “Galileo!” three of five. If I took somebody else’s “Galileo!” or somebody took mine, a fight would ensue. It’s just something that I always back-pocketed. Wayne’s World was my childhood. I knew only to write what I knew.
Penelope Spheeris (director): All of us, it was our first studio movie.
Myers: I wanted it to sort of reflect a kind of spirit, a time in your life before you had to do adult things and pay taxes and all that stuff. If the TV show was restricted to the basement, I wanted “Wayne’s World” the movie to be as cinematic and in the world as possible. I thought “Bohemian Rhapsody” would be a great way to introduce everybody.
Spheeris: I thought it was an odd choice because if you are headbangers that wouldn’t be your first choice to slam to in the car when you’re cruising.
Myers: I fought very, very hard for Bohemian Rhapsody. At that time, the public had kind of forgotten about Queen a little bit. [Producer] Lorne [Michaels] was suggesting Guns N Roses—I don’t even remember the song—because at the time, Guns N Roses had a number one song. I said, “I hear you. I think that’s really smart,” but I didn’t have any jokes for a Guns N Roses song. I had lots of jokes for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” It’s just inherently comedic.