Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Songs That Are Hits Right Now

For today’s post, I surveyed the following websites and looked at the songs listed on their Top 40 charts from this past week….BBC Radio 1, Billboard Magazine, Spotify, Indie88-FM & CHUM-FM (out of Toronto) and KEXP-FM out of Seattle. In all cases, I chose the song they had listed in position #5. There are some heavy hitters located in chart spot #5 this week, so without further delay, let’s find out about Today’s Top 40 right now!

Break My Soul by Beyoncé (BBC Radio 1 AND Billboard Magazine)

Beyoncé is far past the point of simply being another musician who happens to be releasing new music. For the past decade or so, Beyoncé has always released music that has been purposeful and strong and defiant. She has championed the role of females in our patriarchal society. She has taught a generation of Black people to take pride in their heritage, and to move forth into the future with heads held high. She suffers no fools in any regard. So, when the news broke last week that Beyoncé had new music ready to be released, it caught everyone’s attention.

Beyonce.

Her new album is called Renaissance. The first single to drop is called “Break My Soul”. The song is a glorious throwback to 90s House music tunes that were all the rage in the clubs back then. It has a driving beat and will surely be one of the dance hits of the summer. But, as mentioned, Beyoncé is known for making political statements with her music and “Break My Soul” is no exception. First of all, this song is a response to the experience of workers during the pandemic. The Covid-19 experience was bad for many different types of people in our society. In “Break My Soul”, Beyoncé comments upon what it was like for workers to be forced to expose themselves to dangerous work environments just so that the bottom lines of billionaires could increase. In particular, she sings about a movement/moment in time that has come to be known as The Great Resignation which details the wave of people who refused to go to work in person during and/or after the pandemic. In the bigger picture, The Great Resignation movement is one that is seeking to re-configure how work gets done in this Age of Information, which, when you start to think about it, impacts transportation, everyday things like personal wardrobes and the making of lunches, the use of private buildings, flexible work schedules and much, much more. And yet, “Break My Soul” is a throbbing, beat-driven dance tune that will get your toes a-tapping! Honestly, it is!

But, Beyoncé wasn’t content to merely comment on the nature of labour in our world. In “Break My Soul”, she lent her enormous influence to two people who were well known in the world of 90s House Music but not so well known in popular culture by sampling their work at key moments in her song. The two people were Robin S. and Freedia. The reason this is important…beyond the impact it has on the lives of these two performers…is that Beyoncé is allying herself with three social groups that are currently under legislative attack all across America. Robin S. is a Black female and Freedia is transexual. By including these samples, Beyoncé is making it clear that she supports Black people, females, as well as those who occupy any position on the gender identity spectrum.

Sometimes, a song can become leaden and burdensome when it attempts to make too many weighty statements beyond the mere musicality of the song. But that is not the case with “Break My Soul”. It is a peppy dance-oriented groove that will make you want to move. More power to Beyoncé for producing good music that is simply good music…but that is, also, more, too. ***The lyrics version of “Break My Soul” can be found here.

Hold My Hand by Lady Gaga (from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Top Gun: Maverick (CHUM-FM)

Every generation seems to have their Barbra Streisand or their Céline Dion. Today’s comparable artist would be Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta or, as she is better known, Lady Gaga. Germanotta chose her stage name based upon the Queen classic song, “Radio Gaga” and, in particular, Freddy Mercury’s outstanding performance of this song during the 1987 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London. *(You can watch that performance here). There are many who rate Mercury’s performance that day as being the single best live performance of all time. It was a moment in which Mercury and his audience were operating in perfect harmony. It was a powerful piece of music history. One of those in awe of it was Germanotta, who has devoted her whole life to attempting to bring that same spirit of Freddy Mercury to life via her career in music.

That Lady Gaga can sing is obvious. The lady has pipes! Right from the very beginning of her career, she has released all manner of songs in all manner of styles and had hits with them all. “Just Dance”, Poker Face”, “Bad Romance”, “Paparazzi”, “Love Game”, “Born This Way”, “Alejandro”, “The Edge of Glory”, “Applause”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (with Tony Bennett) and the Academy Award winning song, “Shallow” (with Bradley Cooper from the movie “A Star is Born”) are just some of her hit songs which, taken together, read like a musical soundtrack for the last twenty years in popular culture. Lady Gaga has sold over 170 million albums so far, which makes her one of the most successful musical artists of all time.

Lady Gaga.

As a performer, Lady Gaga is becoming as well known as an actor as she is a singer. Her work in “A Star is Born” may have brought her into the public eye, but since then, she has commanded the spotlight in movies such as “House of Gucci” and is now lending her fame to the new Top Gun movie as well. “Hold My Hand” is the first single from the movie soundtrack, and it is soaring to the top of the charts. It is a power ballad that showcases Lady Gaga’s extraordinarily powerful voice. She wrote the song as a power ballad because, as you may know, the song style known as the power ballad was popular back in the 1980s when the original Top Gun movie premiered. So, “Hold My Hand” is not merely a song that will tug on the emotional heartstrings of those who have watched the movie, but it is also a connective song that ties this movie with the original from the 1980s. Lady Gaga is one of the biggest musical names on the planet these days so it is no surprise that she appears near the top of this week’s charts.

***The lyrics version of “Hold My Hand” can be found here.

A Potion For Love by Aurora (Indie88-FM)

Norwegian Singer, Aurora

Ever since I discovered Aurora’s cover version of the Beatles hit “All Across the Universe” last year while doing the “Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History” countdown, I have been a huge fan. What a sweet, ethereal voice she has! In my mind, Aurora is the logical successor to one of my other favourite and highly original singers, Bjork! Like Bjork, Aurora hails from northern Europe, specifically, Norway. She grew up near a fjord in an isolated part of the country and likens her childhood to being like the one experienced by the children who went through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Aurora brings this childlike sense of magic and wonder to the music she sings. You can choose almost any song of hers from YouTube and you will find the comments section filled with emotional gratitude from people from all over the world who view her songs as possessing such a feeling of beauty and peacefulness in a time of such global stress and despair.

“A Potion For Love” is no exception. It is a song about heartbreak that reads like a novel. The lyrics are highly intelligent and speak to the experience of loving and letting go and the emotions of that connection that is never truly over regardless of what terms the relationship ended upon. If you have never listened to Aurora sing then you are in for something completely different and unique. There is no one who sounds like her today. She stands alone. I, for one, feel fortunate to have stumbled across her work when I did. I hope that you will feel that way, too. ***The lyrics version for “A Potion For Love” can be found here.

Bad Habit by Steve Lacy (KEXP-FM)

Steve Lacy.

I have often been accused of being a music snob by my wife. She and I have very different tastes when it comes to the type of music we like to listen to. She is on record as saying that every song doesn’t have to tell a story or have a deeper meaning to be a good song. My beautiful wife maintains that a song can be great simply because of how it makes you feel and how it makes you want to move. Not surprisingly, my wife is drawn to the genre of music known as Pop. On that basis, I am fairly confident that she would approve of “Bad Habit” by a singer named Steve Lacy.

This song comes from his new album called “Gemini Rights”. The closest comparison I have would be Phillip Bailey, the falsetto-sounding co-lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire. Lacy possesses an airy voice that brings a sense of lightness to his song. “Bad Habit” is a breezy, simple-sounding song that feels exactly right for playing at sidewalk cafes and outdoor patios on a summer’s day. If a breath of fresh air is what you’re after, then “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy is probably for you. Enjoy. ***The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Heat Waves by Glass Animals

Glass Animals.

And speaking of perfect Pop….”Heat Waves” by Glass Animals has been on the charts for over two years now!!! For many people, it is the perfect summer-sounding song. It is an earworm in the very best sense of the term. This song by English Pop band Glass Animals came out in time for the summer festival circuit prior to the onset of the pandemic…and, just like COVID, it has lingered all this time. Like many songs, its lyrics revolve around relationships and breaking up, but they are sung in such a sweet, melodic way that it appears as though “Heat Waves” has become woven into the very fabric of modern culture as we experience it today. The song is set in “…a summer day in June…”, which, when you think of it, is a clever ploy because of this wording. “Heat Waves” re-emerges every year in June like clockwork and fans fall in love with the sweetness of its sound all over again. I am sure that you have heard this song playing in the background while shopping or while driving in your car. It is a light and airy, very catchy tune. If you have never heard of it before then be prepared to thank me or loathe me for introducing it to you. Once you hear “Heat Waves”, you will always remember it. Whether that is a good thing or not I will leave up to you.

***The lyrics version of “Heat Waves” can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #104: Across the Universe by The Beatles (+) as covered by Aurora.

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.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #104: Across the Universe by The Beatles (covered by Aurora, too).

One of the greatest pleasures that I am deriving from doing this countdown is getting the opportunity to do a deeper dive into some of the music of groups that I have always loved but never really explored in depth before. This includes finding songs like, “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)” by The Rolling Stones the other day and now, finding “Across the Universe” by The Beatles. I believe that this is truly their loveliest song. It is like a lullaby for adults. It was written by John Lennon and it reads like poetry set to music; all delicate and whispery and unlike almost anything else in their vast catalogue of brilliant music. The funny thing about this….at least for me….is that I came across this song by accident. I wasn’t listening to Beatles music when I discovered it. Instead, I found it by way of a YouTube algorithm which suggested one of those, “If you like Song “A” then, you might like this song, too”-type of suggestions that pop up all of the time. The song they suggested was a cover of “Across the Universe” by Norwegian pixie, Aurora. Her version is really ethereal and, from what I have learned about the song from Lennon, himself, I believe that she has recorded the definitive version of this song. In any case, Aurora’s cover led me to John Lennon and then, to the story of “Across the Universe”, which I shall share with you now.

As you may know from our posts on The Beatles, most of their songs were written by Paul McCartney or John Lennon. In the beginning, the two lads would often sit and write together. But, as time went on, they began to write separately. When it came to this, the process would be that they would write alone at home and then, return the next day and present their song choice to the rest of the band who, at that point, would accept or reject the song. If accepted, the band would workshop the song until they felt it was ready to be recorded. In the process of recording the song, the magic would happen and these songs would be fleshed out into the wondrous final form that most of their songs ended up taking. Unfortunately, when The Beatles assembled to work on songs for the “Let It Be” album (which ended up being the final time their recorded together, as the songs for their final album, “Abbey Road” were cobbled together from the “Let It Be” sessions), the writing process was beginning to break down for the band. John was pulling away from the group. He was showing up later and later in the day to work on the album. In the void that John’s absence formed, Paul McCartney began taking more control of the sessions. This meant that his songs got more practise time given to them and, as a result, they became more polished and album-ready. With the rest of the band becoming fatigued from working so much on Paul’s songs, they had little energy to give any songs by John their due. One of the songs that John felt got short changed was, “Across the Universe”.

As lovely and quaint as “Across the Universe” is, it is really a song that was born out of sadness and loss. John wrote the song as his marriage to his first wife, Cynthia, was ending. The story is that they were arguing one night at bed time and John was tired of the sound of her voice so he tried tuning her words out as she spoke. However, instead of reacting with anger, as many spouses do when a marriage is ending, John turned to the lessons he had learned from his experiences in India with Transcendental Meditation so, he turned his thoughts toward peacefulness and harmony. As a result, his feelings toward his ex-wife’s voice manifested itself in the form of a poem which ended up forming the lyrics to “All Across the Universe”. John is quoted as claiming that “Across the Universe” is the finest song he has ever written (and, when you hear/read the lyrics, you will agree that they are very different from much of what Lennon wrote throughout his tenure with The Beatles).

So, John Lennon brought his new song to the band to be workshopped for “Let It Be”, only to find the band engrossed in Paul’s songs, instead. “Across the Universe” was only ever given cursory treatment by the band and, in the end, the song was given to the World Wildlife Federation (the original WWF of the world) for use in a charity album they were putting together. That version ended up having bird chirps added to it. The version of the song that The Beatles used always dissatisfied Lennon. He claimed it was symbolic of all that was going wrong with the band and he blamed Paul McCartney for sabotaging his song. In the end, after The Beatles broke up, Lennon asked the infamous producer, Phil Spector to work on the song. Spector added a symphony and a backing choir, which pleased Lennon. “Across the Universe” ended up being added on to the “Abbey Road” album but never turned out to be the song John Lennon had hoped it would be for the band.

In the decades that have followed the breaking up of The Beatles, many artists and bands have covered their songs. Thus, there is a whole category of music you can search for on the Internet that will organize these covers all into one place for easy access. For me, as I mentioned earlier, it was YouTube that brought me to this song because of their recommendation to try the cover of “Across the Universe” by Norwegian singer, Aurora. So, I listened to it out of curiosity and I am glad that I did. For my money, her version of the song must have been what John Lennon heard in his head when he first thought of those lyrics. Aurora has a soft, almost child-like voice. She reminds me of Bjork, in a way. She was born in Norway and grew up near a fjord that, she states, caused her to believe she was growing up as a child in Narnia. She has been singing professionally since she was sixteen, when she had a hit called “Runaway“. I thought she was Irish when I first heard her accent but, she is Norwegian (and a lovely, talented, eclectic soul, as you will soon see). Her version of “Across the Universe” is crisply sung; the notes seem to hang in the frosty air like ice crystals. I could almost hear the peaceful vibe Lennon was searching for, coming through in the softness of her song styling. In any case, I believe that her softer touch is more appropriate for the song than is John Lennon’s raspier voice singing those same words. As Dylan felt with Hendrix and “All Along the Watch Tower” and as Pete Seeger felt about The Byrds with “Turn, Turn, Turn”, sometimes, the cover becomes the definitive take on a song that was already good on its own. Is that the case with Aurora’s cover? I will leave that up to you to decide. You know that, for me, it is the best version, according to my tastes.

For now, let’s have ourselves a listen to a song that stands out as being more poetic than most when it comes to The Beatles catalogue. Here is John Lennon and the lyric version of “Across the Universe”, followed by Aurora, with her cover. Enjoy them both.

The link to the video for the song, “All Across the Universe” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “All Across the Universe”, as covered by Aurora, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Aurora, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting musical Titans, such as The Beatles while, at the same time, promoting rising stars such as Aurora. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.