I find this week’s prompts for Song Lyric Sunday very interesting. Our host, Jim Adams, has given us ‘Musical and Opera’. I had to think, was he asking us to find those words in the title or lyrics as usual, or did he want us to submit our own choices for opera and musical?
My first though was Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen as that was a mini opera all by itself. I have been a Queen fan since they first appeared on the scene. So unique and talented and I never tire of hearing them. If you haven’t seen the movie, well, you must!
My other thought was to bring you a musical with the word opera in the title. The Phantom of the Opera. I found a video with Sarah Brightman and featuring Antonio Banderas (unmasked) as the Phantom. I hope you enjoy both videos.
Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics, and there has been a lot of speculation as to their meaning. Many of the words appear in the Qu’ran. “Bismillah” is one of these and it literally means “In the name of Allah.” The word “Scaramouch” means “A stock character that appears as a boastful coward.” “Beelzebub” is one of the many names given to The Devil.
Mercury’s parents were deeply involved in Zoroastrianism, and these Arabic words do have a meaning in that religion. His family grew up in Zanzibar, but was forced out by government upheaval in 1964 and they moved to England. Some of the lyrics could be about leaving his homeland behind. Guitarist Brian May seemed to suggest this when he said in an interview about the song: “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.”
Another explanation is not to do with Mercury’s childhood, but his sexuality – it was around this time that he was starting to come to terms with his bisexuality, and his relationship with Mary Austin was falling apart.
Whatever the meaning is, we may never know – Mercury himself remained tight-lipped, and the band agreed not to reveal anything about the meaning. Mercury himself stated, “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.” He also claimed that the lyrics were nothing more than “Random rhyming nonsense” when asked about it by his friend Kenny Everett, who was a London DJ.
The band were always keen to let listeners interpret their music in a personal way to them, rather than impose their own meaning on songs, and May stated that the band agreed to keep the personal meaning behind the song private out of respect for Mercury.
Mercury may have written “Galileo” into the lyrics for the benefit of Brian May, who is an astronomy buff and in 2007 earned a PhD in astrophysics. Galileo is a famous astronomer known for being the first to use a refracting telescope.
The backing track came together quickly, but Queen spent days overdubbing the vocals in the studio using a 24-track tape machine. The analog recording technology was taxed by the song’s multitracked scaramouches and fandangos: by the time they were done, about 180 tracks were layered together and “bounced” down into sub-mixes. Brian May recalled in various interviews being able to see through the tape as it was worn so thin with overdubs. Producer Roy Thomas Baker also recalls Mercury coming into the studio proclaiming, “oh, I’ve got a few more ‘Galileos’ dear!” as overdub after overdub piled up.
Was Freddie Mercury coming out as gay in this song? Lesley-Ann Jones, author of the biography Mercury, thinks so.
Jones says that when she posed the question to Mercury in 1986, the singer didn’t give a straight answer, and that he was always very vague about the song’s meaning, admitting only that it was “about relationships.” (Mercury’s family religion, Zoroastrianism, doesn’t accept homosexuality, and he made efforts to conceal his sexual orientation, possibly so as not to offend his family.)
After Mercury’s death, Jones says she spent time with his lover, Jim Hutton, who told her that the song was, in fact, Mercury’s confession that he was gay. Mercury’s good friend Tim Rice agreed, and offered some lyrical analysis to support the theory:
“Mama, I just killed a man” – He’s killed the old Freddie he was trying to be. The former image.
“Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead” – He’s dead, the straight person he was originally. He’s destroyed the man he was trying to be, and now this is him, trying to live with the new Freddie.
“I see a little silhouetto of a man” – That’s him, still being haunted by what he’s done and what he is.
Queen made a video for the song to air on Top Of The Pops, a popular British music show, because the song was too complex to perform live – or more accurately, to be mimed live – on TOTP. Also, the band would be busy on tour during the single’s release and thus unable to appear.
The video turned out to be a masterstroke, providing far more promotional punch than a one-off live appearance. Top Of The Pops ran it for months, helping keep the song atop the charts. This started a trend in the UK of making videos for songs to air in place of live performances.
When the American network MTV launched in 1981, most of their videos came from British artists for this reason. In the December 12, 2004 issue of the Observernewspaper, Roger Taylor explained: “We did everything we possibly could to avoid appearing in Top Of The Pops. It was one, the most boring day known to man, and two, it’s all about not actually playing – pretending to sing, pretending to play. We came up with the video concept to avoid playing on Top Of The Pops.”
The group had previously appeared on the show twice, to promote the “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Killer Queen” singles.
Lyrics Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide No escape from reality Open your eyes Look up to the skies and see I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy Because I'm easy come, easy go A little high, little low Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me, to me Mama, just killed a man Put a gun against his head Pulled my trigger, now he's dead Mama, life had just begun But now I've gone and thrown it all away Mama, ooh Didn't mean to make you cry If I'm not back again this time tomorrow Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters Too late, my time has come Sends shivers down my spine Body's aching all the time Goodbye everybody I've got to go Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth Mama, ooh (anyway the wind blows) I don't want to die I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all I see a little silhouetto of a man Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me Gallileo, Gallileo Gallileo, Gallileo Gallileo Figaro, magnifico I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me He's just a poor boy from a poor family Spare him his life from this monstrosity Easy come easy go, will you let me go Bismillah! No we will not let you go, let him go Bismillah! We will not let you go, let him go Bismillah! We will not let you go, let me go Will not let you go, let me go (never) Never, never, never, never, never let me go No, no, no, no, no, no, no Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me For me For me So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye So you think you can love me and leave me to die Oh, baby, can't do this to me, baby Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here Ooh yeah, ooh yeah Nothing really matters Anyone can see Nothing really matters nothing really matters to me Anyway the wind blows Writer/s: Freddie Mercury Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind
This song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical follows the title character’s obsession with a beautiful young soprano at the Paris Opera House, where his deformity forces him to skulk in the shadows and hide behind a mask. The lyrics, written by Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, reflect how he woos her with his otherworldly voice and haunts her dreams.
Running for over 30 years, The Phantom Of The Opera is one of the most popular musical productions of all time, but its literary predecessor didn’t fare as well. The story by French author Gaston Leroux was originally published as a serialization in the Le Gaulois newspaper from September 1909 to January 1910 but did not draw much attention. Its low sales even forced it out of print several times until it was adapted for film in 1925. Taglined as “The Greatest Horror Film of Modern Cinema,” it starred Lon Chaney in the title role and Mary Philbin as his love, Christine.
Not long after this song was released, Webber was sued by a songwriter named John Brett, who claimed that Webber copied his 1985 composition “Farewell Song.” Webber vigorously denied the accusation. He said that his song was written before Brett’s, and that he even supervised a demo recording of “Phantom” sung by Mike Batt and Sarah Brightman in 1984. Brett dropped the case in 1991, at which time Webber stated: “It was monstrous that this matter was allowed to run and run for over five years. I am delighted my name has been cleared.”
In 2004, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote and produced his own version of Phantom for the big screen and picked Joel Schumacher, the brain behind the widely reviled Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, to direct. Webber said he chose Schumacher because he was impressed with his 1987 vampire flick The Lost Boys. He told Wild About Movies: “I thought it was extraordinary the way Joel used music with visuals. I thought that opening sequence, when you see the fairground, was genius.
Webber remembers picking up the novel at a book fair and being intrigued by the dark romance. He tells Piers Morgan: “I just wanted to write a high romance, and I thought this is high, Gothic stuff.” When he started writing the music, he envisioned the title theme as “sort of a dark rock song.”
This song was originally performed onstage by Sarah Brightman (Webber’s wife at the time) and Michael Crawford, the first Christine and Erik/Phantom. It appears twice in the show – in Act I between “Angel of Music” and “Music of the Night,” and in Act II at the end of “Notes/Twisted Every Way.”
Courtesy of Songfacts.
You can also find the Phantom of the Opera lyrics here