This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #157: Radio GaGa by Queen.
“Radio GaGa” by Queen is a song that praises the power and importance of the communication medium known as “radio”. Radio, as a tool, has a much different meaning for people today, compared to those who grew up during the Second World War, for instance, as many members of Queen did as children. In those pre-television days, it was through radio broadcasts that families received their national news, it was how they listened to sporting events and it was how they listened to entertainment, in the form of live shows and through musical performances. Like many of you, I grew up in the age of television but, I remember hearing many stories told by my parents of them spending their youth, gathered around the radio in their living room or kitchen, listening to shows like “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast live from the gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens. For people in America, one of the most famous radio-related broadcasts was Orsen Welles rendition of the play, “War of the Worlds” which was so realistic that the thought of a Martian invasion caused actual panic in the streets. For people in the UK, it was via radio that many of them had their spirit rallied during The Battle of Britain by the speeches from the great orator, Sir Winston Churchill; especially, his famous lines about “fighting on the beaches”, “We will never surrender”, as well as, “…our finest hour”. It may seem odd, nowadays, to think that one communication medium should have such an emotional hold on the hearts of nations but, for those who grew up before the invention of television, the radio was absolutely at the centre of most homes. Its’ importance was unquestioned.
Flash forward to the early 1980s. Television had replaced radio as the primary means by which most people connected to the world around them. By then, we had watched JFK be assassinated. Man had walked on the surface of the moon, live on tv. In Canada, Paul Henderson scored “the goal that everyone remembers” from the other side of the world, live on the television which, by then, had replaced the radio in the centre of most homes.
The one aspect of communication where radio still seemed to hold some sway was with regard to the playing of songs. While it was true that The Beatles, Elvis and The Rolling Stones had all appeared on TV shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show”, the medium most people still turned to for their music was their radio. At that time, we still listened to music. The visuals associated with our favourite songs were the ones we created in our imaginations and in our hearts. If we wanted to see our favourite band or artist sing our favourite song, we tended to buy a concert ticket and watch them perform live. But, for the most part, listening to music was an auditory experience gleaned through the speakers of our radios. Then came MTV.
With the launch of MTV, our interactions with music started to transition from listening to music in our homes and cars, to watching music on TV. Music became as much a visual experience as it was an aural one. Projecting an appealing image on screen started surpassing one’s ability to play notes, as being the key ingredient in the success of an artist or band. At the same time as the likes of MTV were launching a full-scale attack on the last remaining bastion of Radio, those in charge of the medium, itself, reacted by playing songs that veered more toward novelty than toward substance. It got to the point that people started regarding the communication medium of Radio as being irrelevant.
The song, “Radio GaGa” by Queen is a warning shot by the band, across the bows of those who were in charge of radio broadcasting at the time. The song reiterates the proud role that radio had always played and offered a lament for its’ future should things continue on as they were headed. *(A few years later, The Smiths would mine the same material for their song, “Panic”, with its’ refrain of “Hang the DJ! Hang the DJ!”). This song was written by drummer, Roger Taylor, with Freddy Mercury polishing the lyrics just before the band recorded the song. As a bit of trivia, when “Radio GaGa reached #1, it meant that all four members of the band had written a #1 hit (drummer, Taylor, with “Radio GaGa”, Freddy Mercury, with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, guitarist, Brian May with, “Fat Bottomed GIrls” and bassist, John Deacon, with “Another One BItes the Dust”) making Queen the only band to hold such a distinction.
While the song, “Radio GaGa” is a good, solid song, what elevates it into the ranks of the all-time greats is, ironically enough, a visual performance during one of the biggest television broadcasts ever….LiveAid. In the mid-1980s, the country of Ethiopia was experiencing a great famine. Television news reports brought images of starving children into all of our homes. People wanted to help. A musician named Bob Geldof who, at the time, was best known as lead singer of a band called, “The Boomtown Rats” offered to organize a benefit concert. Long story short, dozens of A-list artists and bands signed up to perform. The concert was held at two stadiums on the same day…Wembley Stadium, in London and, Veteran’s Stadium, in Philadelphia. At the time of LiveAid, Queen was just coming off of a world tour in support of their album, “The Works”. As such, the timing of their performance at LiveAid meant that they were battle-hardened and musically, very tight as a group. The twenty-one minute performance they gave that day was declared as the highlight of the concerts and, more than that, many claim it to be the best live concert performance of all-time by any singer or group. The highlight of their set was “Radio GaGa” and, in particular, a live moment during the chorus when the audience claps and gestures in complete unison to the words of the chorus; the image of the masses so in sync with the song and the band, is amazing, to say the least.
Is there still a place for radio in our technologically-driven times? I don’t know about you but, I very rarely listen to live radio anymore. It holds little appeal for me. I prefer the control I get by creating/playing my own playlists of songs, rather than listening to whatever a radio station might be serving and hoping against hope that I like it. Perhaps you feel differently and that is ok if you do. My world was never centred around a radio, in the same way that it was for those even one generation older than me. But regardless, for Queen, the subject of the importance of radio and maintaining its’ relevance was important enough to write a song like “Radio GaGa” about it. The “GaGa” part of this song refers to, what they claimed, was the gibberish and drivel that was passing for music and other content during the early 1980s on the BBC, to be specific. One final bit of trivia…modern day star, Lady GaGa chose her stage name based upon this Queen song.
So, without further delay, here is Queen with their rendition of “Radio GaGa” from LiveAid. Is it actually the best live performance of all-time? Well, if you ask me, it might just well be. Take a look and judge for yourself. In any case, here are Queen at their finest. Enjoy!
The link to the video for Queen’s entire 22-minute Live Aid set, can be found here. In my opinion, this is the finest 22 minutes in live music history!
The link to the official website for Queen can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine can be found here.