The inspiration for Radio Gaga came when Roger Taylor heard his son utter the words “radio ca-ca” while listening to a bad song on the radio while they were in Los Angeles. After hearing the phrase, Taylor began writing the song when he locked himself in a room with a Roland Jupiter-8 and a drum machine. He thought it would fit his solo album, but when the band heard it, John Deacon wrote a bassline and Freddie Mercury reconstructed the track, thinking it could be a big hit. Taylor then took a skiing holiday and let Mercury polish the lyrics, harmony, and arrangements of the song. Recording sessions began at Record Plant Studios and included Canadian session keyboardist Fred Mandel, who later on would work with Supertramp and Elton John. Mandel programmed the Jupiter’s arpeggiated synth-bass parts. The recording features prominent use of the Roland VP330+ vocoder. The bassline was produced by a Roland Jupiter-8, using the built-in arpeggiator.
Recorded in 1983 and released in January 1984, the song was a commentary on television overtaking radio’s popularity and how one would listen to radio in the past for a favorite comedy, drama, or science fiction programme. It also pertained to the advent of the music video and MTV, which was now competing with radio as an important medium for promoting records. Ironically, Queen had done much to popularize the music video with Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975 and the video for Radio Ga Ga would become a regular staple on MTV in 1984. It was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award that year. Roger Taylor was quoted:
“ That’s part of what the song’s about, really. The fact that they [music videos] seem to be taking over almost from the aural side, the visual side seems to be almost more important.
The song makes reference to two important radio events of the 20th century; Orson Welles‘ 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells‘ The War of the Worlds in the lyric “through wars of worlds/invaded by Mars”, and Winston Churchill‘s 18 June 1940 This was their finest hour speech from the House of Commons, in the lyric “You’ve yet to have your finest hour”. American pop singer Lady Gaga credits her stagename to this song. She stated: “I adored Freddie Mercury and Queen had a hit called ‘Radio Gaga’. That’s why I love the name.”
David Mallet‘s music video for the song features scenes from Fritz Lang‘s 1927 German expressionist science fiction film Metropolis and was filmed at Carlton TV Studios and Shepperton Studios, London, in November 1983. It features the band in a car flying over the title city, and later performing the song in front of the city’s working class. Freddie Mercury’s solo song Love Kills was used in Giorgio Moroder‘s restored version of the film, and in exchange Queen were granted the rights to use footage from it in their Radio Ga Ga video. However, Queen had to buy performance rights to the film from the communist East German government, which was the copyright holder at the time. At the end of the music video, the words “Thanks To Metropolis” appear.
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