"Bohemian Rhapsody" Through The Ears of a Child
Image via. Most assuredly not the original. Still, we think Freddie would approve.
Puscifer, fronted by Tool and A Perfect Circle's Maynard James Keenan, have just released the adorably named EP Donkey Punch The Night. On it, there is, for some reason, a cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody." You might be expecting Maynard to do something a bit industrial with it, but no, it's pretty much a straight-down-the-line cover version, multi-tracked vocal harmonies and all. You could easily mistake it for the original if you hadn't heard the original very much. The problem is, who hasn't heard "Bohemian Rhapsody" to death? Well, my 13 year old stepson, for one. Fresh off his somewhat controversial internet-igniting review of Dark Side of the Moon, I wondered if Lewis could tell the Puscifer version from the Queen version. By way of frustrating him, I chose to play two much sillier versions of Bohemian Rhapsody in the middle.
First up, Puscifer.
Lewis didn't even recognize the opening of the song. When everyone's favorite novelty pop-culture call-and-response kicks in, it dawns on him what the song is, and further convinces him that this is the real version. In fact, by the end he was "fairly sure it's the Queen one." Up until the famous part he "didn't expect Bohemian Rhapsody to be Bohemian Rhapsody. Does that make sense?"
Then, the distraction techniques. You'd be amazed how many covers of Bohemian Rhapsody there are.
The most famous recent one is of course the Muppets' YouTube-conquering effort.
So, onto that, which at first Lewis thought was a remix. I was, of course, telling him that of the four versions I was going to play for him, he had to guess the real one, so he was taking this entirely seriously until Animal's, er... verse, at which point he began to suspect something might be up.
Then, Rolf Harris' version.
Rolf Harris is kind of the UK version of Bob Ross, a TV presenter who teaches people how to paint. More than a little eccentric, Harris also carved out a bizarre student-baiting musical career as a singer of ballads and player of the wobbleboard and didgeridoo. Of course, he is in fact Australian. His version is... well, I'm not sure. Judge for yourself.
Lewis thought that Rolf's version was not only "Texas style" but insincere. "It didn't feel like he meant it, he was just singing. That's definitely not the original." It might have been the wobbleboard solo that gave it away.
Distraction techniques aside, could Lewis tell the real McCoy?
He was extremely unsure. He thought, musically, they sounded exactly the same. There was much soul-searching. He spent some time on the floor in deep concentration. I have never seen anyone think so hard and so long about "Bohemian Rhapsody." But, concentrating on just the voices, he reckoned he could pick out the, as it turns out, pop-culturally all-encompassing voice of Freddie Mercury in the last one, and eventually that swung it his decision. So, a 13 year-old who has never heard most of Bohemian Rhapsody CAN tell the difference between the Queen and Puscifer versions. Which is pretty impressive on the parts of both Lewis and Puscifer, because at certain points I wouldn't be sure, and I grew up with a family that enjoyed the odd Queen singalong.
As a bonus, I asked Lewis what he thought the storyline of Bohemian Rhapsody was. Here is his answer.
"A poor child starting to grow up and his family is in a bad condition and he goes to try and help his family but he gets mixed up with the people he shouldn't. Then he does something that he's ashamed of -- kills someone, and his mother's really upset with what he's done. Then I'm not sure if he kills himself, but his life does end somehow. Is the Galileo bit about paintings?"