That discovery is one of many made at Sotheby’s, which will auction Queen and Freddie Mercury archives in September. These include never-before-seen copies of Mercury’s handwritten lyrics, which will be displayed at Sotheby’s in New York through June 8.
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 Mercury’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 Mercury 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 U.K. 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 changes had an enormous cultural impact. Mercury sang “Mama, just killed a man” to 72,000 cheering fans at the Live Aid concert in 1985. Years after Mercury’s 1991 death, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was 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,” Mercury 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 turned “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.
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.