Queen’s Radio Ga Ga: How a song inspired by a swearing toddler proved the power of TV
It was Roger Taylor’s young son, Felix, who inadvertently planted the seed for the most iconic Queen song of the 80s. The toddler, son of the drummer and his French girlfriend Dominique Beyrand, strayed into a room in his parents’ house as they listened to the radio. Unimpressed by what he heard, Félix delivered a damning verdict: “Radio ca ca,” he said, using the French term for “merde.”
His father’s ears perked up. “Radio ca ca ?” That could make a good song title. Hisson’s view of the state of the music industry in the early 80s mirrored his own. Taylor Sr disliked how splashy music videos had supplanted radio as the medium of choice among pop kids of the time. The radio, he thought, needed to pull up his pants.
“The radio was the first place I heard rock ‘n’ roll,” grumbled Taylor. modern drummer magazine in 1984. “Today it seems that video has become more important than the music itself – too much, really. Music is meant to be an experience for the ears more than the eyes.
Queen were at their own crossroads at the time. disco heavy from 1982 warm space album had alienated much of their fan base, while a decade of relentless recording and touring pushed tempers and egos to breaking point. “We hated each other for a while,” Brian May later said.
The group had taken a long break from each other before reuniting in Los Angeles in the summer of 1983 for sessions for their next album, The works. When Freddie Mercury informed Taylor that the songs he had contributed for the record weren’t good enough, the drummer sequestered himself in a room at the Record Plant studio with a drum machine and synthesizer to work on a song. to go with what his son had pronounced: “Radio ca ca”.
He didn’t quite know how to use these fancy electronic gadgets, but he managed to fashion the bare bones of a song, with lyrics constructed backwards from the song’s title. When he performed it at Mercury, the singer’s commercial antennas were changed.
“I think Roger thought of it as just another lead, but I immediately felt there was something in it – really good, solid, salable merchandise,” he later said. Fortuitously, Taylor decided to take a break from the sessions to go on vacation. Before leaving, he told Mercury to “do whatever you want” with the song. The singer accepted his bandmate’s offer.
“Roger had all the ideas together,” said Mercury, who worked on the song with help from session keyboardist Fred Mandel. “But I felt there were building blocks that weren’t right. I pretty much took over the song.
The changes were not just structural. Realizing that no radio station would play a song called Radio Ca Cathe group renamed it Radio Gagaalthough Taylor later insisted that the song’s original title remained intact in his lyrics: “If you listen closely, this is what we sing: ‘radio ca ca.'”
For the same reason, the band’s new US label, Capitol, insisted that they temper the pessimistic angle of lines such as “You had your time, you had your power‘. Hence a verse that celebrates the radio as an “old friend”, warning that “We might miss you, when we get tired of all this visual‘.
The finished track was a masterpiece of mid-’80s pop-rock, part radio love letter and part metaphorical call for her to roll up her pants. It throbbed with an electronic pulse that contradicted his longing for a time when radio was king. Its terrace-anthem chorus was accompanied by a catchy double hand, but unusually for a Queen track, there was little Brian May guitar beyond a few licks towards the end.
The song’s criticism of MTV’s growing popularity didn’t stop the label from splashing out north of £100,000 on a striking promotional video to go along with it. Directed by acclaimed music video David Mallet and inspired by Fritz Lang’s classic 1927 German Expressionist sci-fi film Metropolisthe group cruised around a futuristic city in a flying silver car (funnyly, Mercury stashed a supply of vodka in the glove compartment to stave off boredom).
For the video’s iconic centerpiece, Mallet had the group, sporting bright red tops, stand in front of 500 Queen fan club extras, leading them in a choreographed mass applause to the beat of the song’s chorus. The idea was that the crowd represented the unthinking masses, but that prompted NMEever big supporters of Queen, to liken the scene to a Nazi rally.
“It was so absurd,” an exasperated Taylor said in the web series Queen The best. “It was supposed to reflect the film… the downtrodden workers. The Nazi thing is laughable. People will always find a program if they need it.
The video helped take the song to No. 2 in the UK. In the United States, it was a different matter. The single peaked at No. 16, its progression halted when Capitol was found to have been embroiled in a “payola” scandal a few years earlier. Independent radio promoters supported all current artists, including Queen. Radio Gaga dropped down the Billboard charts like a stone.
But Radio GagaThe hour of glory was yet to come. On July 13, 1985, Queen appeared at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium. After opening with an excerpt from Bohemian Rhapsodythey embarked on Radio Gagaand were greeted by the sight of 72,000 people mimicking the handclaps from the video.
“It became one of the first great proofs of the power of television,” May said in The best. “When we played it at Live Aid, everyone knew what to do.” Roger Taylor’s message had made its way, even if it was not in the direction he had imagined.