Queen: The Bicycle Race Video
In 1978, Wimbledon Stadium was the scene for one of the more risque music videos of the time. Queen released their “Jazz” album earlier that year and on it was the song “Bicycle Race.” It was released as a double A-side single with “Fat-Bottomed Girls” and broke into the top ten on the singles charts in France, The Netherlands, Norway, and Portugal, and reached number eleven in the UK, and number twenty-four on the US charts.
While recording the “Jazz” album in Montreux at Mountain Studios in 1978, lead singer Freddie Mercury was inspired by the riders in the Tour De France after they passed through the town during the eighteenth stage of the race and wrote “Bicycle Race” as a result. It was a fitting representation of the experimental nature of the album.
The instrumentals are complex and feature unusual chord progressions and a solo played on bicycle bells. It shifts from a 4/4 to 6/8 time signature and the lyrics contain various references to pop culture, mentioning religion, the Watergate scandal, drugs, Jaws, Star Wars, and Frankenstein.
Queen funded a bicycle race around Wimbledon Stadium to promote the song. Sixty-five professional models raced nude around the stadium. The band rented sixty-five bicycles from a local shop but had to buy sixty-five seats after the store owners learned what the bikes were being used for. Producers of the video used special effects to hide the nudity in the original video, and although it was edited further, several countries banned the video, including China. The cover art for the single was an image taken during the race.
Some copies of the album didn’t contain a poster of the models in the race, at the request of the individual stores, but fans who bought that version of the album could send proof of purchase in the mail and they’d be sent one. A bikini bottom was edited onto the cover of the single, and a top was added to some US releases.
Take a Backseat
In terms of notoriety, the “Bicycle Race” video takes a backseat to two other Queen videos. MTV launched on August 1st, 1981, playing “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles. Being the first video to be played on MTV is quite a distinction. So is being the first video banned from MTV programming, and that distinction goes to Queen’s 1982 video “Body Language.” MTV deemed the video to have “homoerotic undertones” and was kept off their airwaves. In 1984, a similar decision was made when the music channel refused to play “I Want To Break Free.” They claimed it “promoted cross-dressing,” even though the band explained it was made to parody the popular show “Coronation Street.” Maybe someone at MTV was a fan of the show
Guitarist Brian May has spoken publicly on NPR about MTV’s decision and the consequences it had for the band in the 1980s:
“I remember being on the promo tour [for 'I Want to Break Free'] in the Midwest of America and people's faces turning ashen. And they would say, no, we can't play this. We can't possibly play this. You know, it looks homosexual. I know that it really damaged our sort of whole relationship with certainly radio in this country and probably the public as well. That's probably one of the reasons why this sort of hole developed between us and the States, which was really a tragedy because so many of our hits would have fitted very well into the life of the States. But we didn't really get back in there until “The Show Must Go On” (1991) and “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” And even those weren't the hits that they were around the rest of the world."
Drummer Roger Taylor recalls: “MTV were very narrow-minded. It was Whitesnake, fucking Whitesnake, and then another Whitesnake track. And they decided they didn't think that men in drag was 'rock' enough, I guess. So they didn't play the video.”
As for the “Bicycle Race” video content, May suggests that he would likely decide against the idea today. You can watch the making of the video by clinking the link below.