There are, of course, many famous moments of the worlds of music and film colliding. That scene in Reservoir Dogs when someone’s ear is removed from their head to the tune of Stealers Wheel. Guardians of the Galaxy might as well be called Jukebox In A Bar: The Movie. Sometimes, it feels like Martin Scorsese’s oeuvre is a deep state conspiracy to make sure that Keith Richards gets residual checks from track placements.
However, there is one musical moment from a movie that stands above all others, a scene that brought a band to a new generation of kids, a scene that doubles as music criticism, a scene that is impossible not to recreate when you hear the song in real life. Of course, the headline has not deceived you, I’m talking about the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene from Wayne’s World.
In the unlikely event that you’re reading this without any knowledge or context, allow me to explain. Released in February, 1992, Wayne’s World is the movie adaptation of Mike Myers’ insanely popular “Wayne’s World” sketch from Saturday Night Live. In the sketch, and the movie, Myers plays Wayne Campbell, a 20-something goober who hosts a public access show from his mom’s basement with his best friend Garth Algar (played by Dana Carvey). The best sketch in the history of “Wayne’s World” was the one when Aerosmith (along with Tom Hanks, playing their roadie) appeared in Wayne’s basement.
In the early ’90s, with SNL doing the best it’d done since its ’70s heyday, they started making movies based on sketches (though technically the original Blues Brothers was the first SNL movie). Wayne’s World was the first movie of a whopping nine released based on SNL properties in the next 8 and a half years, and it was, by a vast margin, the most successful, doing more than $121 million in ticket sales domestically (literally $100 million more than Coneheads, the SNL movie after it did).
Which brings us back to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene. After an intro that drops you into a “Wayne’s World” episode (shout out the SuckCut) Wayne introduces the audience to his life, his nametag graveyard and his parents’ house. Then, he hops into his and Garth’s car, and movie history is made. To celebrate Vinyl Me, Please’s reissue of A Night At The Opera, on which “Bohemian Rhapsody” appears (you can grab it here), I nobly attempt to give a complete breakdown of the scene, which is embedded below. Let’s all remember how much Wayne’s World rules, and how much we have Queen to thank for that.
:02: I’m using YouTube because Wayne’s World is not available on Netflix, Hulu or any streaming service right now. You have to rent it from Amazon to watch it, which is absurd. If there’s not a streaming service I pay for that allows me to watch Wayne’s World, what’s the point of living in the future? This is the Dark Ages.
:08: According to this fairly comprehensive oral history of the scene in Rolling Stone, this was based on Myers’ childhood of driving around doing this singing routine to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” But it’s Carvey who’s the star of the next three minutes; he really captures the goofiness of someone singing in their car and believing they’re crushing it when they’re actually screwing up the words and look like a weirdo (unlike Myers/Wayne, who actually crushes his performance).
:016: The real generation gap might be between people who remember putting cassettes into cars they drove and people who don’t.
:19: The first thing you realize when watching this scene out of context is that it’s both shorter, and has more happening, than you remember in your mind.
:22: The scene starts about 3:05 into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is sorta a downer (you miss the first guitar solo) but also is secretly amazing, because in canon, this means that Wayne was walking around holding a tape queued up to the middle third of “Bohemian Rhapsody” while pretending like this was all to chance. This is what it was like to “live it up” in 1992.
:30: According to that Rolling Stone piece, each person being assigned a specific Galileo was from Myers’ childhood car rides, and I love how intensely he’s waiting for his turn. He so badly does not want to fuck this up.
:44: Like the non-Brian May and Freddie Mercury members of Queen (the Garth and Wayne of Queen, if you will) the performances of the actors in the back are unheralded: without them, they’re not able to recreate the cover of Queen II. So shout out to them. Especially the Deluise brother who was on SeaQuest.
:59: If you can make it through this Garth line without laughing, you are a statue.
1:01: If you can make it through this Wayne line without laughing, you might be dead.
1:07: The peak of American cinema.
1:18: One of the peaks of my childhood was being six years old, and having a birthday party for my younger cousin at Chuck E. Cheese’s, and my mom showing up from the mall (where she was buying said cousin a present) with a VHS copy of Wayne’s World. I must have watched the movie on VHS 100 times, and on DVD 15 years later 20 times more. It took until when I wrote this for me to look up that they are saying “Bismillah, no!” here. I don’t know what I thought they were saying prior to this, but it wasn’t close to what is actually being said.
1:27: LET ME GO!
1:29: LET ME GO!
1:36: So what is “Bohemian Rhapsody” actually about? It’s a song that rules, unequivocally, but I don’t know that anyone from Queen has ever really explicitly said, “Here’s what ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is about.” The most compelling theory I’ve read is that it’s actually a song about coming out, and Freddie Mercury having an internal battle with himself over being attracted to men, before ultimately deciding that if he’s doomed to hell for that, he’s gonna do what he wants in his heart. Mercury was playing three-dimensional chess, and y’all were playing Tic-Tac-Toe.
1:48: According to the Rolling Stone piece, the guys in the car did dozens of takes of this, to the point where all of them had sore necks. Imagine trying to explain that one to a chiropractor. “I injured my neck headbanging to Queen for the intro scene for a movie I’m making. Yes, I’m on TV.” It was a bad enough time that they all complained about it to Rolling Stone 25 years later.
1:55: This is the most iconic thing that happens in Wayne’s World and, ultimately, the biggest impact SNL has ever had on the public consciousness: Has anyone who’s seen this ever been able to listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” without the image of these dudes in the car headbanging to the song since? There are babies born today who will headbang to this section of the song because their parents saw Wayne’s World, or any number of homages to this scene. That, my friends, is what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. And this is where the scene also tips into music criticism: Has anyone written anything that describes the feeling of when this guitar solo starts better than this video?
2:00: No one has ever drummed better or harder than Mike Myers hitting the air drum fill there, my gosh.
2:05: Peace to White Castle, the No. 1 burger joint for burnouts in the Midwest.
2:21: A funny and true fact: I learned who Led Zeppelin were from this movie, when in a later scene, Wayne starts strumming “Stairway to Heaven” using that white guitar.
2:35: See what I mean? Long live Dana Carvey.
2:37: Is it possible that if someone made a movie today, featuring our cars from like, 2010, that when we watch it in 2041 they’d look as old as cars from the ’70s and ’80s in a movie from the ’90s look today?
2:55: This is secretly the funniest part of the whole scene, and maybe the movie: Dana Carvey, who would do so many takes of this song his neck would be sore, forgets the words — or, maybe, never even learns them — to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and just mouths along without ever mouthing the right words. While in real life Carvey just whiffed, in the movie, you can read this as Garth trying really hard to look cool and fit in, despite not knowing the words and just trying to impress his friends. As Sir Robert Bryson Hall II once said, who can relate?
3:22: The walk here is how I feel every time anyone Tweets anything positive at me.
3:29: And there we have it. The best scene using music in the history of modern film. A final anecdote: Wayne’s World finished shooting just a few months before Freddie Mercury died in 1991, and wouldn’t be released until after. But Mercury apparently got to see a clip, thanks to Myers sending it before the movie was complete, and apparently loved it. Queen credit the movie with introducing them to a new, younger fanbase, which was something that was in question when Mercury died. Queen probably would have endured anyway, but “Bohemian Rhapsody” vaulted the band back into the U.S. consciousness; it hit No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, 16 years after its original release, thanks to being on the soundtrack. By the power of Wayne and Garth, Queen entered the American canon in a different way, which bozos can still write extensively about 26 years later
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.