From The Economist:
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The four members of British rock band Queen could be forgiven for asking themselves those questions on November 29th 1975, forty years ago today, when “Bohemian Rhapsody” became their first number one on the UK Singles Chart. At five minutes and fifty-five seconds in length, with distinct ballad, opera and hard rock sections—and a pensive intro and coda, for good measure—the song was not for listeners in a hurry. Nor was it an instant success. The song spent four weeks climbing through the charts before reaching the top. But there was one thing that was immediately obvious about “Bohemian Rhapsody”: nobody had ever heard anything quite like it before.
The single aroused mild curiosity in America, where it reached number nine on the BillboardHot 100. But British listeners were enthralled by the intricacy of the overdubbed harmonies, the energy of the climactic guitar solo, and the oddity of a multi-tracked chorus chanting the names of an Italian Renaissance astronomer (Galileo Galilei), a character from a nineteenth-century opera (Figaro), an Islamic prayer (bismillah) and an occult devil from “Paradise Lost” (Beelzebub). The original single spent nine consecutive weeks at the summit of the British charts, an achievement which no British band, including the Beatles, had achieved before. And the popularity of the song endured. The single was re-released in Britain in 1991 after the death of Freddie Mercury, Queen's lead singer, and spent an additional five weeks atop the charts, making “Bohemian Rhapsody” the first song to be Christmas number one on two occasions. And a year later, it enjoyed a revival in America, albeit at number two, after featuring in “Wayne’s World”. As of 2013, it had the third highest sales of any single in Britain (see chart).
The legacy of the song is indisputable. This was the tune that both inspired Slash, Guns N’ Roses' guitarist, to become a rock star, and moved Brian Wilson, the genius behind The Beach Boys’ finest arrangements, to call it “a fulfilment and an answer to a teenage prayer—of artistic music”.