Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia

Slate

What makes a song a smash? Talent? Luck? Timing? All that—and more. Chris Molanphy, pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts and shaped your memories forever.

Location:

United States

Networks:

Slate

Description:

What makes a song a smash? Talent? Luck? Timing? All that—and more. Chris Molanphy, pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts and shaped your memories forever.

Language:

English


Episodes

Thinking About Tomorrow Edition Part 2

1/27/2023
The story of Fleetwood Mac is an oft-told rock n’ roll tale: British blues-rock band sells poorly until two Americans join, bringing California vibes and lots of drama. Everybody fights, cheats, drugs, and boozes. Out pops Rumours and tons of hits. It’s more complicated than that. Those two Americans—Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—got all the media coverage and wrote many great songs. But the quiet lady behind the keyboards, Christine McVie, actually wrote more of the hits: “Don’t...

Duration:00:45:43

Thinking About Tomorrow Edition Part 1

1/14/2023
The story of Fleetwood Mac is an oft-told rock n’ roll tale: British blues-rock band sells poorly until two Americans join, bringing California vibes and lots of drama. Everybody fights, cheats, drugs and boozes. Out pops Rumours and tons of hits. It’s more complicated than that. Those two Americans—Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham—got all the media coverage and wrote many great songs. But the quiet lady behind the keyboards, Christine McVie, actually wrote more of the hits: “Don’t Stop.”...

Duration:00:51:22

Hits of the Year Edition Part 2

12/30/2022
Sam the Sham over the Rolling Stones? The Knack over Donna Summer? Wilson Phillips over Mariah Carey? Glass Animals over Harry Styles? On Billboard’s year-end Hot 100, upsets are quite common. Songs that seemed to dominate the chart all year are defeated by stealthily ubiquitous earworms. Sometimes the obvious song takes the prize: “Hey Jude,” “Every Breath You Take” or “I Will Always Love You.” And then sometimes it’s a one-hit wonder: Domencio Mudugno, Daniel Powter, Gotye, Glass...

Duration:01:39:34

Decoder Ring: The New Age Hit Machine

12/26/2022
Today, we’re excited to share an episode from Slate’s Decoder Ring that we think you’re going to love. For this episode, a story from Slate senior producer Evan Chung about how Yanni, John Tesh and a number of other surprising acts made it big in the 1990s. It’s a throwback to a simpler time— when musicians struggled to find their big break, but discovered it was possible with a telephone, a television, and our undivided attention. This story originally aired in 2019 on Studio 360 from PRX....

Duration:00:30:41

Hits of the Year Edition Part 1

12/16/2022
Sam the Sham over the Rolling Stones? The Knack over Donna Summer? Wilson Phillips over Mariah Carey? Glass Animals over Harry Styles? On Billboard’s year-end Hot 100, upsets are quite common. Songs that seemed to dominate the chart all year are defeated by stealthily ubiquitous earworms. Sometimes the obvious song takes the prize: “Hey Jude,” “Every Breath You Take” or “I Will Always Love You.” And then sometimes it’s a one-hit wonder: Domencio Mudugno, Daniel Powter, Gotye, Glass...

Duration:00:47:43

Angry Young Men Edition Part 2

12/2/2022
Punk was meant to be angry. But the so-called Angry Young Men of the late ’70s U.K. scene were secret sophisticates in punk clothing. They delivered withering lyrics and snarling attitude over melodies a pop fan could love. In so doing, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker helped transform a slew of back-to-basic styles—pub-rock, power-pop, post-punk—into the catchall category New Wave. It would take over the charts at the turn of the ’80s. But the launch of the MTV era forced these...

Duration:00:59:41

Angry Young Men Edition Part 1

11/18/2022
Punk was meant to be angry. But the so-called Angry Young Men of the late ’70s U.K. scene were secret sophisticates in punk clothing. They delivered withering lyrics and snarling attitude over melodies a pop fan could love. In so doing, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker helped transform a slew of back-to-basic styles—pub-rock, power-pop, post-punk—into the catchall category New Wave. It would take over the charts at the turn of the ’80s. But the launch of the MTV era forced these...

Duration:01:14:46

Give Up the Funk Edition Part 2

10/28/2022
In the ’70s, funk was pop—the cutting edge of Black music and the way listeners got their groove on, before disco and hip-hop. After James Brown taught a generation a new way to hear rhythm, and George Clinton tore the roof off with his P-Funk axis, nothing would be the same. Rising alongside blaxploitation at the movies, funk took many forms: Curtis Mayfield’s superfly storytelling. War’s low-riding grooves. Kool & the Gang’s jungle boogie. Earth, Wind and Fire’s jazzy crescendos. But when...

Duration:00:53:51

Give Up the Funk Edition Part 1

10/14/2022
In the ’70s, funk was pop—the cutting edge of Black music and the way listeners got their groove on, before disco and hip-hop. After James Brown taught a generation a new way to hear rhythm, and George Clinton tore the roof off with his P-Funk axis, nothing would be the same. Rising alongside blaxploitation at the movies, funk took many forms: Curtis Mayfield’s superfly storytelling. War’s low-riding grooves. Kool & the Gang’s jungle boogie. Earth, Wind and Fire’s jazzy crescendos. But when...

Duration:00:53:58

At Last, My Legacy Has Come Along Edition Part 2

9/30/2022
What do you call a song that bombed on the charts back in the day, that now booms out of radios and streaming apps nationwide? Chris Molanphy has a name for these songs: legacy hits. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Etta James’s “At Last.” The Romantics’ “What I Like About You.” Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” Many catalysts can change a song’s trajectory, from movie scenes to stadium singalongs, wedding DJs to evolving tastes. Sometimes the hivemind just...

Duration:01:09:12

At Last, My Legacy Has Come Along Edition Part 1

9/16/2022
What do you call a song that bombed on the charts back in the day, that now booms out of radios and streaming apps nationwide? Chris Molanphy has a name for these songs: legacy hits. Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Etta James’s “At Last.” The Romantics’ “What I Like About You.” Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” Many catalysts can change a song’s trajectory, from movie scenes to stadium singalongs, wedding DJs to evolving tastes. Sometimes the hivemind just...

Duration:01:03:23

Still Billy Joel to Me Part 2

8/26/2022
So, sure—Billy Joel’s first Top 40 hit, way back in 1974, was “Piano Man,” and the nickname stuck. But for a guy who became famous sitting behind 88 keys, few of his biggest hits are really piano songs. In fact, on all three of his No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, keyboards are not the primary instrument. The truth is, Joel isn’t the Piano Man, he’s the pastiche man. He has openly admitted to borrowing genre tropes, vocal styles, and even specific song hooks from his Baby Boom-era...

Duration:00:50:41

Still Billy Joel to Me Part 1

8/12/2022
So, sure—Billy Joel’s first Top 40 hit, way back in 1974, was “Piano Man,” and the nickname stuck. But for a guy who became famous sitting behind 88 keys, few of his biggest hits are really piano songs. In fact, on all three of his No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, keyboards are not the primary instrument. The truth is, Joel isn’t the Piano Man, he’s the pastiche man. He has openly admitted to borrowing genre tropes, vocal styles, and even specific song hooks from his Baby Boom-era...

Duration:01:04:56

Point of No Return Part 2

7/29/2022
After the so-called-but-not-really “death” of disco, dance music in the 1980s moved to its own beat. There was synthpop, electro, hi-NRG and house. But the scrappy genre that seemed to pull it all together was called freestyle—a breakbeat-tempo, Latin-flavored genre fortified with dizzying, proudly synthetic beats. Freestyle grew out of the clubs and streets of New York and Miami and briefly dominated ’80s dance-pop. Freestyle’s flagship artists were only medium-level stars: Shannon. Exposé....

Duration:00:52:52

Point of No Return Part 1

7/15/2022
After the so-called-but-not-really “death” of disco, dance music in the 1980s moved to its own beat. There was synthpop, electro, hi-NRG and house. But the scrappy genre that seemed to pull it all together was called freestyle—a breakbeat-tempo, Latin-flavored genre fortified with dizzying, proudly synthetic beats. Freestyle grew out of the clubs and streets of New York and Miami and briefly dominated ’80s dance-pop. Freestyle’s flagship artists were only medium-level stars: Shannon. Exposé....

Duration:01:06:21

A Deal with the TV God Part 2

7/1/2022
For decades, British alt-pop goddess Kate Bush had never had a Top 10 hit in America. Now, in 2022, she finds herself in the Hot 100’s Top Five—and television got her there. Her classic “Running Up That Hill” is featured prominently in the latest season of Netflix’s hit ’80s horror fantasy show Stranger Things. This puts Bush in a long lineage of hits spawned or made bigger by TV, dating all the way back to Davy Crockett and Peter Gunn, through Hawaii Five-O and Happy Days, and peaking in...

Duration:00:44:15

A Deal with the TV God Part 1

6/17/2022
For decades, British alt-pop goddess Kate Bush had never had a Top 10 hit in America. Now, in 2022, she finds herself in the Hot 100’s Top Five—and television got her there. Her classic “Running Up That Hill” is featured prominently in the latest season of Netflix’s hit ’80s horror fantasy show Stranger Things. This puts Bush in a long lineage of hits spawned or made bigger by TV, dating all the way back to Davy Crockett and Peter Gunn, through Hawaii Five-O and Happy Days, and peaking in...

Duration:00:58:21

Flip It and Reverse It Part 2

5/27/2022
What was in the water in Virginia Beach? Starting in the ’90s and peaking in the ’00s, Pharrell Williams, Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley and Missy Elliott—friends and family from the Tidewater Region—made nerdy pop normal on the charts. Their productions whirred, gurgled, pinged and rumbled—the handiwork of studio geeks—while their lyrics embraced the freaky: Missy demanding that you work it…Pharrell declaring he’s a hustler, baby…Timbaland bringing sexy back. Join host Chris Molanphy as he...

Duration:01:09:32

Flip It and Reverse It Part 1

5/20/2022
What was in the water in Virginia Beach? Starting in the ’90s and peaking in the ’00s, Pharrell Williams, Timothy “Timbaland” Mosley and Missy Elliott—friends and family from the Tidewater Region—made nerdy pop normal on the charts. Their productions whirred, gurgled, pinged and rumbled—the handiwork of studio geeks—while their lyrics embraced the freaky: Missy demanding that you work it…Pharrell declaring he’s a hustler, baby…Timbaland bringing sexy back. Join host Chris Molanphy as he...

Duration:01:09:47

Decoder Ring: "We Got Ourselves a Convoy"

5/13/2022
In the 1970s, a song about protesting truckers topped the music charts in multiple countries, and kicked off a pop culture craze for CB radios. In early 2022, that same song became an anthem for a new trucker-led protest movement in Canada and the US. How did C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” come to exist, and what had it been trying to say? For this episode, which was inspired by a listener’s question, we’ve updated a story that originally aired in 2017, but that could not be more relevant today....

Duration:00:35:03