Everyone who knows even a little about the British rock band Queen knows the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” – their epic 1975 melodrama captured in a nearly six-minute masterpiece that now serves as the title of the recent film about the band and its late front man, the flamboyant Freddie Mercury, who died 27 years ago today (November 24, 1991).
But few know that “Bohemian Rhapsody” – the song with three distinct lives spanning four decades – has accomplished yet another feat. This week, on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart dated November 24, 2018, the 43-year-old song ties a record for any song released prior to November 24, 1991.
By returning to the chart last week at No. 33 – in the wake of the movie’s release – and by hanging on again this week at No. 40, “Bohemian Rhapsody” spends its 43rd cumulative week on the Hot 100. That ties a record for songs released prior to 1991, a record that was set by another British band – the synth-pop group Soft Cell – whose “Tainted Love” spent 43 consecutive weeks on the Hot 100 in 1982.
So now the obvious question: why is the November 24, 1991, date significant for being the line of demarcation for chart accomplishments?
Well aside from it being the day Freddie Mercury died, November 24, 1991, was also coincidentally the first day that Billboard incorporated (into the Hot 100) digital technology that tracks actual record sales and electronically monitors airplay, instead of the antiquated method of getting lists of rankings from store managers and radio station program directors, as it had done since the Hot 100’s inception in August 1958.
Under the current 27-year-old technology, songs are no longer encumbered by the artificiality of the old record store and radio station-provided lists where singles were often short-cycled by managers to make room for newer releases. Also, the advent of digital streaming and song download capabilities made tracking even easier.
So it’s nothing for a tune today to spend a full year or more on the charts, particularly as streaming and digital downloading of tracks makes for longer consumption periods.
For instance, the all–time chart longevity record holder (regardless of era) is “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, which spent 87 weeks on the Hot 100 from 2012-14, more than double that of “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Tainted Love.” At least ten other songs have spent more than 60 weeks apiece on the Hot 100 since 1991.
But us old-school chart followers like to distinguish between hits from the more modern era and those from prior to November 1991, when songs had to contend with tougher chart rules and the whims of those managers who ran the stores and radio stations that reported to Billboard. It’s therefore worth mentioning that only one other record released before 1991 spent 40 or more weeks on the chart (Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” in 1977/78).
Now Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” has added its 43rd week, thanks to three separate chart lives: the original back in 1976 (24 weeks); the second in 1992 (17 weeks) – thanks to its prominent inclusion in the film Wayne’s World; and now the current two-week run in 2018, resulting from its titular film about Queen and Mercury.
If “Bohemian Rhapsody” can hold on for one more week, it’ll have the “old-song” chart record all to itself. That seems unlikely given that Queen’s classic is losing momentum and Christmas holiday releases will soon start to invade the chart, pushing other titles aside. We’ll see next week.
In the meantime, it’s nice for us Queen fans to know that “Bohemian Rhapsody” now has another historic distinction to match its already iconic status.
And given the song’s fatalistic subject, to achieve this milestone on the anniversary of such a significant event in Queen’s history – Mercury’s passing – is even more poignant.
That November 24, 1991, also happens to represent Billboard’s transition to the digital tracking era that defines the Hot 100 chart to this day adds an unbelievable irony to this piece of Queen trivia.
Continue to R.I.P. Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991)
[11/29 Update]: On the chart dated December 1 (released this Tuesday), “Bohemian Rhapsody” held on for one more week – at No. 50 – to break the record for songs released before November 1991. It has now spent 44 total weeks on the Billboard Hot 100!