While I wasn’t exactly engaged in a bicycle race, this post was inspired by an activity I did yesterday. A few weeks ago, I finally brought my bike which had been languishing in my garage for several years and collecting dust, to a local store for a tune-up. Once I noticed the nearly 30-year-old bike almost felt like new, I decided to get a helmet in fashionable yellow. Yesterday, I took advantage of a picture-perfect sunny autumn day and finally did what legitimately could be called my first bike tour in a long time, riding about 10 miles in my area.
This brings me to Bicycle Race, a bit of an odd yet remarkable song by English rock band Queen. Written by Freddie Mercury, the tune was included on the group’s seventh studio album Jazz, which appeared in November 1978. Its complexity reminds me somewhat of Bohemian Rhapsody.
Bicycle Race was also released separately as the album’s lead single in October 1978, a double A-side, together with Fat Bottomed Girls. It climbed to no. 11 on the UK Official Singles Chart. Elsewhere in Europe, it reached no. 5 in The Netherlands, no. 10 in Ireland, no. 15 in Belgium, no. 21 in Austria and no. 27 in Germany. In the U.S., the tune peaked at no. 24, while in Canada and Australia it peaked at no. 17 and no. 25, respectively.
Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts on Bicycle Race, which you didn’t know you always wanted to know:
Freddie Mercury wrote this in France after watching the Tour de France bicycle race ride by his hotel. The band were recording Jazz in the French countryside mainly as a tax break – Roger Taylor claimed in the Days of our Lives documentary that they were being taxed as much as 98% on royalties on previous albums, hence why they defected to France and later Montreux in Switzerland to record future albums.
This was released as a double A-side single with “Fat Bottomed Girls.” They ran back to back on the album, and many radio stations played them together. The “Fat Bottomed Girls” are mentioned in this song’s lyrics.
Wherever Queen played, bicycle shops sold out of bells bought by fans who brought them to the show to ring them during this song. [You can’t make this stuff up! CMM]
Queen staged a bicycle race around Wimbledon stadium in England to promote the single. Sixty-five professional models were hired to race nude, with special effects hiding the nudity in the original video; a photo from the race was used on the cover of the single and images from the race were used for the video.
Queen rented 65 bicycles for the race. In a possibly apocryphal but often-repeated story, when the rental company found out what they were used for, they refused to take the bikes back unless the band paid for new seats.
The album contained a poster of the women in the bicycle race. It was left out of some copies for stores that did not want to carry it, but fans could mail order the poster if they desired. A bikini bottom was added to cover the bum on the cover of the single, and on some US releases a bra was also added.
At a 1978 concert in Madison Square Garden, Queen re-created the video by having women with very little clothing ride bicycles around the stage.
Queen had a lot of success the year before with another double A-side, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions.”
Be Your Own Pet covered this for the 2005 Queen tribute album Killer Queen.
The song features surprisingly complex instrumentation, and the Jazz album as a whole perhaps represents the apex of Queen’s experimentation. It features an imaginative solo played exclusively on bicycle bells, unusual chord progressions, shifts in time signature (from 4/4 to 6/8) and a whole host of pop culture references in the lyrics, including mentions of religion, the Watergate scandal, drugs, Jaws, Star Wars and Frankenstein.
And you thought Bicycle Race simply was a song about bike racing!
Last but not least, I would also like to take this opportunity to thank fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk, who in addition to being a talented poet and writer is an avid biker and who has encouraged me to revive my bike and get going!
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube