Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I sort of assumed that this fourth album was going to be along the lines of Queen's Greatest Hits Vol 2, as its main throughline is: Songs By Queen From The 80s That I Loved That Don't Make Thematic Sense On The Final Album In The Discography. But, actually, the final album has more songs from Greatest Hits Volume 2 than this one, mainly because Queen's Greatest Hits actually encapsulates much more of their career than Volume 2, so some of these songs land on Volume 1, despite coming out much much later in their career.
If Flick Of The Wrist was an intro to their 70s AM radio style, and A Night At The Opera / A Day At The Races was their White Album, and Spread Your Wings is their Arena Rock album, then Radio Ga Ga is their fun, peppy album before they go dark. And the last album Will Be Dark.
A spaceship lands. Because this album is from outerspace. I mean, it has David Bowie on it. The song lands on the piano, of course, as Mercury invites us to Play The Game of love! Then more synth before the very May guitar riff lands. It's trademark Queen from beginning to end. With or without synths.
Hand clapping and bass lead us into the upbeat admonition to Don't Try Suicide. Every time I hear it, I think of the movie Heathers. But this is a way better song, informing you that Nobody's worth it and You're just going to hate it. Nobody gives a damn as a reason, hasn't aged well, but it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek. The breakdown in the middle of the song is amazing.
Sometimes, I put two songs together because it amuses me. That's why you get the stacatto bass and guitar, the synths leading you into Another One Bites The Dust. If you know me from slam in the late 90s / early 2000s, you know that I have a song based around an incident at my alma mater where a bunch of homophobes literally carved the word "Homo" into the back of a classmate who listened to Queen. I've refused to let that incident, or that poem ruin my enjoyment of this song. I love its unnecessary spaciness at the end, Mercury's echoey fade in and outs before the final verse. Unless you saw me perform it at my second Cantab feature, or at one of my last gigs on the Cape, you may not know that I wrote the poem precisely to the song, so that if you play the song behind the poem, any time I reference a lyric or sing, it's actually synced up timewise.
The space opera portion of the discography continues as we go to the only truly beloved song from Queen's Flash Gordon Soundtrack: Flash Gordon Theme. It's a predecessor for their also somewhat underwhelming Highlander Soundtrack: A Kind Of Magic, which appears on the next album. There are a bunch of clips from the movie, including silly laser sound effects to keep this song buoyant, despite its very spare lyrics.
From sci-fi we crash back into the fantasy realm where Queen lived in the 70s, as Dragon Attack ambles into a staccato territory somewhere between Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" and Guns N Roses's "Paradise City". It's basic message: heroin isn't a monkey on your back, it's a fucken dragon. It's inspired by the Chinese expression "chasing the dragon".
Next up, Vanilla Ice! It's the promised David Bowie duet, Under Pressure. Another of my absolute favorite Queen songs. If you've never seen Vanilla Ice explain his way around his outright theft of the bassline as a sample, check out Youtube. Totally worth it. I debated putting this on the next album, as it does fit, thematically, but I like having this on an album with less weight.
When the snapping fades out, the synths come back in, as Dr. May takes over the vocals for Sail Away Sweet Sister, which definitely sounds like a band sailing out of the 1970s very slowly. Weirdly, Queen never played this song live, but the aforementioned Guns N Roses have. It's almost good, but it quickly devolves into fucken terrible. I can't link you to it. You are unlikely to have offended me enough that this is suitable punishment.
Drums and synth crash through the outro waves for the title track, Radio Ga Ga. This is anthemic enough to have been on Spread Your Wings but it's such a mid-80s tentpole. The performance of it at LiveAid is considered one of the best live rock moments in history.
A synth robot from space intercedes to bring us into Invisible Man, a very unQueen like mix that takes pieces of The Flash Gordon Soundtrack and A Kind Of Magic and takes them to a pop single extreme.
Drums shatter the end of the song, as we go rockabilly with Man On The Prowl. This song would be out of place, except rockabilly is going to come back later. This is a feel good bouncy song about embracing your inner-turd and being a lazy cheat trying to get laid outside your relationship, despite not doing much work. Session keyboardist and pianist Fred Mandel absolutely slays the end of this song.
We hit a weird 80s soft rock dance zone for Backchat. It's a funk prog rock fusion by Deacon. It's by no means one of their most successful singles but it's the best non-Under Pressure song on Hot Space, and it's definitely worth the listen.
Hammer To Fall brings the Anthemic 70s rock back. There's a darkness to this song if you view this Radio Ga Ga album as an aware precursor to Was It All Worth It? which will be the final Queen album in the discography. As it's sort of about The Cold War, but more about waiting for the inevitability of death, which is the entirety of the next album.
The guitars stay heavy and classic Queen for I Want It All. It's another hedonism anthem demanding immediate and constant satisfaction. This is another song that could have easily been on Was It All Worth It? but the trilling breakdown in the middle just works better on this album. And the driving guitars at the end are too heavy for that album.
In addition to "All", I Want To Break Free. It's the final synth poppy cut on the album. I hate that it has made me think of sugar free Coca-Cola products now. On the plus side, the original video to this song is amazing, and it's where the cover of this Radio Ga Ga album comes from.
The rockabilly returns for Queen's first #1 American single, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It's an Elvis tribute that according to the band's mythos, was written by Freddy Mercury in under ten minutes, while taking a bath and playing guitar, which he sucked at.
Closing out the album we set Mercury in front of a piano again for Save Me, a Dr. May song about the ending of a marriage. It may seem odd to end their most 80s album with a ballad from the late 70s but I really like it as the final song before the band's impeding climactic album.
Really, I hope you enjoy this album, because, I can't stress this enough, the next album is filled with music I love but it's a major, major downer to end on.