A Commentary on Television Overtaking Radio’s Popularity

Still from Radio Gaga (David Mallet, 1983) music video

 
 

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. WellsThe 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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A Different Set of Jaws

 
 

The film starts with the screen fading to black and over-sized, disembodied female lips (inspired by the surreal Man Ray painting A l’heure de l’observatoire, les Amoureux) appear overdubbed with a male voice, creating the androgynous theme to be repeated as the film unfolds. The opening scene and song, Science Fiction, Double Feature consists of the lips of Patricia Quinn (who appears in the film later as the character Magenta), but has the vocals of actor and Rocky Horror creator, Richard O’Brien (who appears as Magenta’s brother Riff Raff). The lyrics reference science fiction and horror films of the past and list several film titles from the 1930s to the 1970s, including The Day the Earth Stood Still, Flash Gordon, The Invisible Man, King Kong, It Came from Outer Space, Doctor X, Forbidden Planet, Tarantula, The Day of the Triffids, Curse of the Demon, When Worlds Collide and The Bride of Frankenstein. The disembodied lips are featured on posters and other merchandise for the film, with the tag line “A Different Set of Jaws”, a spoof of the poster for the film Jaws, which was also produced in 1975.

As stated before, the song is made up of fragments from sub-genre horror and science fiction films and likened to that of avant-garde artist Tristan Tzara by author Vera Dika in her book, Recycled Culture in Contemporary Art and Film. Tzara would construct poems by taking snippets of words from newspapers and placing them into a bag to randomly draw from and arrange. Instead, the words in Science Fiction Double Feature are purposely made to rhyme with a set structure and set with phrases that create cohesion.

The original concept of the song for the feature film as indicated in the original script was to have film clips of each movie shown with a scratched aged effect overlay during the song and opening credits. The idea was dropped when it became apparent that the cost of acquiring the rights to these clips in 1974 was far too prohibitive.

 
 

FILMS REFERENCED IN THE LYRICS :

“Michael Rennie was ill the day the earth stood still, but he told us where we stand” (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Robert Wise, 1951)

“And Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear” (Flash Gordon, Frederick Stephani, 1936)

“Claude Rains was the invisible man” (The Invisible Man, James Whale, 1933)

“Then something went wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong, they got caught in a celluloid jam” (King Kong, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933)

“Then at a deadly pace it came from outer space” (It Came from Outer Space, Jack Arnold, 1953)

“Doctor X will build a creature” (Doctor X, Michael Curtiz, 1932)

“Anne Francis stars in Forbidden Planet” (Forbidden Planet, Fred M. Wilcox, 1956)

“I knew Leo G. Carroll was over a barrel when Tarantula took to the hills” (Tarantula, Jack Arnold, 1955)

“And I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid that spits poison and kills” (The Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham, 1962)

“Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills” (Night of the Demon, Jacques Tourneur, 1957)

“But when worlds collide, said George Pal to his bride, I’m gonna give you some terrible thrills” (When Worlds Collide, Rudolph Maté, 1951)

 

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