"A little 'Bohemian Rhapsody'? " Wayne asks his friends at the start of a memorable car scene in "Wayne's World," the top-grossing film released so far this year.
"Excellent choice," declares Garth, as the cruising young hard-rock archetypes start their head-banging mime to the operatic Queen song.
Many pop music fans agree the choice was excellent, which is why the 1975 record is having a phenomenal second life--five months after Queen singer Freddie Mercury died of AIDS.
The song was a smash the first time around, reaching No. 9 on the U.S. pop charts and spending a phenomenal nine weeks atop the British charts. The record, with its colorfully elaborate blend of exaggerated vocals and melodramatic lyrics making it sound like Gilbert& Sullivan for the rock age, has remained a staple of rock radio ever since.
Not only is "Bohemian Rhapsody" No. 10 on the pop charts, but it's the main drawing card in two albums that have leaped into the Top 10: a Queen anthology titled "Classic Queen"and the "Wayne's World" sound track. Estimated sales of the two albums last week: 170,000 copies.
Jeff Pollack, president of the Pollack Media Group, which consults more than 100 radio stations worldwide, said "Bohemian Rhapsody" repeats a familiar pattern of movie exposure giving new life to old hits. Another classic example: the Righteous Brothers' 1965 "Unchained Melody" returning to the Top 15 after being played during the pottery scene in 1990's "Ghost."
"Match a classic song with wide appeal to a memorable moment in a movie and you have a very good chance of resurfacing and capturing a new audience," Pollack said.
What makes "Rhapsody" unique among such second successes is the song itself. In fact, "Wayne's World" star Mike Meyers and director Penelope Spheeris have said that it was chosen for the film because it continues to be perhaps the most distinctive and cherished song for rock fans, both young and now-grown.
"It's one of the highest testing songs (in programming research) of all time," Pollack said. "And now the kids are going wild for it, not just because of 'Wayne's World' but because it's an astonishingly different record. It didn't sound like anything else in 1975 and it doesn't sound like anything else now."
"It's obviously a whole new generation getting off on this song," said Ken Anthony, program director at L.A. rock radio station KLOS-FM, which had been playing the song about twice a week for many years before the movie. Now, Anthony said, he is playing it four or five times a week.
The resurgence of the song is even more dramatic at Top 40 radio, where Queen has not been played regularly for years. "We're getting kids calling up and asking for 'Bohemian Rap City,' " said KIIS-FM music director Michael Martin. "It's a totally different audience than when it first came out."
"And it's just getting started," said Hollywood Records president Peter Paterno, noting, among other things, the April 21 concert at London's Wembley Stadium, where stars including Guns N' Roses, Elton John and the surviving members of Queen will pay tribute to Mercury. The globally telecast event is certain to create even more interest in Queen's music.
Paterno was the subject of extensive industry second-guessing two years ago when he signed Queen to the Disney-owned company for an estimated $10 million. Though the 15-album Queen back catalogue, also acquired by Hollywood in the deal, was considered valuable, the group had not sold well in the United States through most of the '80s.
And with Mercury's illness--widely rumored but not publicly acknowledged--preventing the band from touring, its 1991 "Innuendo" album did not meet Hollywood's expectations, selling a quiet 500,000 copies. That relative failure has been cited among the reasons in industry speculation that Paterno's job is in jeopardy--speculation that continues despite the Queen resurgence.
Does he feel "Wayne's World" vindicated him?
"I never thought there was a problem," Paterno said. "The Queen catalogue was always selling. It's just selling more now. . . . And if it hadn't been 'Wayne's World,' it would have been something else (that would have boosted Queen's profile)."
Warner Bros.--which released the "Wayne's World" movie sound track--is planning to release another song from the film: Gary Wright's "Dream Weaver," the mid-'70s song that Wayne hears every time he sees the singer played by Tia Carrere in the film. Hollywood Records, meanwhile, is also planning another single to cash in on the bonanza: "Hammer to Fall," a fairly obscure 1984 Queen song that is in the anthology album, but not in the film.
Radio programmers say that "Dream Weaver" could ride the wave of the "Wayne's World"/"Bohemian Rhapsody".