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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #157: Radio GaGa by Queen.

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.