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 #259: Freedom by Beyonce.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, 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. 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 #259: Freedom by Beyonce.

“Freedom” by Beyonce is not so much a song as it is an exorcism; casting out the historical demons of racial injustice, martial infidelity and lack of control for women. “Freedom” comes from her multiple award-winning album, “Lemonade”, which was rated as being the #1 album of the entire decade from 2010-2020. It is a declarative statement of belief in herself as a singer in control of her music, a woman in control of her place in the world, a wife who offers fidelity to her husband and accepts nothing less in return and, finally, as a person of colour in a world where that has, so often, been seen as signalling a flawed character.

The album, “Lemonade” is an intense affair from the first track to the last but, it is the power of her personal beliefs that she pours into each track that raises it up beyond the norm. Each track on the album is borne from her own experiences or else, those of the women in her life or those of “her people”….Black people. The songs on “Lemonade” include spoken word poetry, snippets of recipes from her family, samples from a variety of songs made famous by white musicians that were originally written by Blacks (such as the opening salvo from “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin), a combination of genres ranging from Funk, to Pop, to Soul and Hip Hop. I usually cringe when I hear an artist proclaim that their latest project is “deeply personal” but, in the case of Beyonce and “Lemonade”, she is absolutely correct and we are the richer for her having bared her soul as she had.

The impetus for this album came from her reaction to a bout of unfaithfulness from her husband, Jay-Z. The entire incident caused Beyonce to question her ideas about marriage and to examine, in her words, the inter-generational impact of racial injustice/slavery on the relationships Black men have with Black women. Needless to say, Beyonce did a lot of soul-searching in her past and her present and, as a result, she dedicated her future to being one where she was in positions of power, never weakness anymore. The song, “Freedom”, in particular, tackles the very notion of slavery, as a defining moment in American History but one that she refuses to allow to define her any longer. She performs this song with Hip Hop titan, Kendrick Lamar. He is Hip Hop’s version of a Leonard Cohen; a poet turned singer and musician, who speaks from the heart about concepts lofty and, at once, familiar to everyone growing up Black in America. The result of this collaboration is one of the most intense and ferocious songs you are likely to hear for quite some time.

The video that you will be seeing was when she and Kendrick Lamar opening the B.E.T. Awards. Beyonce, also, performed this song during her Half-time performance at the Superbowl. Afterwards, she found herself targeted by Right-wing media/talking heads for her support of Black Lives Matter, just as that Movement was starting to make its presence felt. Several Police Unions publicly called for a boycott of her album, “Lemonade”. They were unsuccessful. I doubt Beyonce gave their comments a single moment of her time.

Beyonce Knowles is, arguably, the most powerful and in control, woman in entertainment today. That she has risen to occupy that throne is not a fluke. She is a Queen in a singer’s clothing. Without further delay, here is one of the most incredible performances you are likely to see for awhile, “Freedom” by “Beyonce” from the album of the decade, “Lemonade”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Freedom” by Beyonce, can be found here.

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

Thanks to KEXP for, as always, helping to inspire the writing of this post. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History: KEXP- Song #435…All The Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) by Beyonce.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, 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. 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 #435: All the Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) by Beyonce.

As the 2000s have progressed, Beyonce Knowles has taken her rightful place at the very top of the music industry. Having achieved much early success as a member of “Destiny’s Child”, Beyonce was well-positioned to transition into her solo career. While “All The Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It”) was not her first hit as a solo artist it was, definitely, her first BIG hit!. This song established her as a musical force to be reckoned with. But, more than that, the theme of the song was such that it, also, sent a very clear message that, as a woman, she was not about to be trifled with by men, in an industry that is known for just that very thing. “All The Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It” is about men wanting all of the benefits of a relationship with a woman without wanting to make any of the necessary commitments. Beyonce makes very clear in this song that the days of “all play and no stay” for men were over.

The funny thing about this song was that, just prior to recording it in 2008, she had become married to rapper and music mogul, Jay-Z. Beyonce and Jay-Z were married in a private ceremony and this song was one of the vehicles they used to make their union public. “All the Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” was a #1 hit for Beyonce for four weeks. It was voted “Song of the Year” and the video for the song was awarded the title of “Video of the Year”, as well. As infectious a dance song as this is, there is no mistaking the message being broadcast. Women are demanding more respect from men, they are declaring their worth to the world with unabashed confidence and stating, with authority, that without a commitment and a willingness to engage in partnership of equals that, men are going to find themselves locked out of the lives they may wish to lead.

It addition to “All the Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”, Beyonce has produced many hit songs such as, “Halo”, “Crazy in Love”, “If I Were a Boy”, as well as, songs like “Formation”, which she performed at The Super Bowl and subsequently released solely on the streaming service, “Tidal”, which was run Jay-Z. As her career has gone on, Beyonce has produced albums and films that are allowing her voice to sing out in more complex and elaborate ways. She is embracing the responsibility of being a role-model for people of colour and for promoting the cultural importance of her heritage. Beyonce has grown into one of the most cultural and artistically-influential people of our era. “All The Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” was Beyonce’s first huge hit as a solo performer but, even though it sold many copies and earned many awards, its most important role was to act as the foundation upon which the rest of her career as an artist and her life as an icon was built. Beyonce will appear on this list again but, for today, here is “All The Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”. The video is noteworthy because there are no men at all on stage with her. It is an all-female performance. Enjoy.

A link to the video for All The Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) by Beyonce can be found here.

Beyonce has an excellent website that can be accessed by clicking on the link here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for helping to inspire the writing of this post. A link to their website can be found here.