Freddie Mercury Auction Unearths Possible Earlier Title For Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody

Freddie drafted the chart-topping Bohemian Rhapsody on 15 pages of stationery from now-defunct airline British Midland Airways.
Queen's Freddie Mercury and Brian May
Queen's Freddie Mercury and Brian May
Bob King via Getty Images

An early draft of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody shows the rock classic was initially titled Mongolian Rhapsody.

Among these are never-before-seen copies of Freddie’s handwritten lyrics, which will be displayed at Sotheby’s in New York until 8 June.

The trove of original drafts includes Don’t Stop Me Now and Somebody To Love, both giant hits of their own.

But a highlight of the collection is Freddie’s Rhapsody, the 1975 hit still revered for its enigmatic swerves from the operatic to the electric.

The British frontman’s musing about the title was just one revelation.

Found in his London home, the early draft showed Freddie planned to sing “Mama, there’s a war began” — rather than “Mama, just killed a man”. Other words in the draft, including “matador” and “belladonna” never made it to the recording booth.

“The revelations in these pages include the extensive redrafting, which was part of his songwriting process,” said Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s books and manuscripts specialist, according to NBC News.

Bohemian Rhapsody, which remains the third-most popular UK single in history, was written across 15 pages of stationery from former airline British Midland Airways in black and blue ballpoint pen. The original title was crossed out.

The auction also includes various clothing items and jewelry Mercury wore.
The auction also includes various clothing items and jewelry Mercury wore.

The changes had an enormous cultural impact. Freddie sang “Mama, just killed a man” to 72,000 cheering fans at the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985. Years after Mercury’s 1991 death, Bohemian Rhapsody became the title of a posthumous biopic that won Rami Malek an Oscar.

“We felt it probably captured more or less all the types of moods that we were doing,” Freddie said a year after the song’s release, per Sotheby’s. “So, we thought: OK, this is what we want to present to the public — let’s see what they do with it.”

They went on to turn Bohemian Rhapsody into the most-streamed song of the 20th century — a landmark that coincided with the 2018 biopic. Universal Music Group, which represents Queen, said the song was streamed more than 1.6 billion times.

The auction also includes a leather jacket the frontman wore during his one and only Saturday Night Live performance in 1982.

Sotheby’s estimates the “autograph working lyrics” for “Bohemian Rhapsody” will fetch from $998,000 to $1.5 million. The lyrics to Don’t Stop Me Now are valued at up to $225,000, and We Are the Champions at as much as $370,000.


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