40 Years Ago: How a Swearing Child Inspired Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’
Somewhere in the early '80s, Taylor and his French partner Dominique Beyrand were at home listening to the radio when their young son, Felix, wandered in, who promptly declared what he was hearing as "radio ca ca," the French phrase for "shit." A light bulb went off in Taylor's head.
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Though inspired by a toddler, "Radio Ga Ga" was purposeful in its defense of radio, a form of media that Taylor felt to be dying in the '80s.
"Radio was the first place I heard rock 'n' roll," he told Modern Drummer in 1984. "Today it seems that video has become more important than the music itself – too much so, really. Music is supposed to be an experience for the ears more than the eyes."
A Music Video for a Song About Radio
"Radio Ga Ga" was recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles in August 1983 and despite Taylor's misgivings, a music video featuring scenes from a 1927 German science fiction film titled Metropolis, began taking form that fall. In a twist of poetic justice, it ended up earning a Best Art Direction nomination at the 1984 MTV Video Music Awards.
Watch Queen's 'Radio Ga Ga' Video
But low and behold the video would prove especially useful about a year later when Queen appeared at Live Aid, where they performed the song live for the first time. "It became one of the first great proofs of the power of television. When we played it at Live Aid, everybody knew what to do," Brian May said in Queen the Greatest, referring to the raised fists and handclaps from the video, which the audience mimicked at the concert.
"Radio Ga Ga," released as a single on Jan. 16, 1984, went to No. 16 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the U.K., and remained a part of every single set list until 1986. It also reportedly served as the inspiration behind Lady Gaga's stage name.
The irony of a nostalgic song about radio making it big thanks to a music video was not lost on Taylor, and yet, this seemed different to him. "We had a killer video, which we put a lot of work into," he later said. "And the whole just thing just felt good. It felt of its time, it felt a bit different. Felt modern and it was very fresh."
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso