Forums > Queen - Serious Discussion > "Radio Ga Ga"'s Lyrics rewritten by American Record Label?

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Daniel Nester user not visiting Queenzone.com
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Posted: 20 May 12, 20:15 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Just got The Complete Illustrated Lyrics, and boy, didn't know this little chapter from Queen's history.

A "rare and intriguing telex" (a precursor to fax), provided from Jim Mazza of Capitol Records, with suggested "new lyrical changes" to Radio Ga Ga's lyrics. Here's part of the top of the note:

These are by no means professional lyrics," the note reads, "only ideas, and do in fact change the sentiment of the song to one of a supporting endorsement [sic] of radio's future, rather and a predictor of its demise.

PLS understand that the American radio community is extremely concerned over the impact of video music is having on their listenership, thus our concern and recommended lyrical changes.

Then what follows looks to be, almost to the last word save a few differences, the actual lyrics to "Radio Ga Ga."

(One major difference "Like all good things on you we depend" is "Without you how could we pretend"; which, as I think of it, seems might actually have sounded less clunky!)

Anyway, some questions I have after looking at this, and I'd be curious to hear what people think, especially those who have the book.

1. Wow. Did Queen really change or revise the lyrics to "Radio Ga Ga" to please their American radio company? It looks like they did.
2. Did they do this to better their chances for U.S. airplay? (Even though it didn't work as well as they hoped.)
3. Might this be a rare moment of candor on Queen Productions' part, that they were open to changing lyrics of their new single? 
4. I wonder what the "old" lyrics read like? Besides the "ca ca" Roger's kid origin story of the song, I didn't know the first lyrics to "Ga Ga" were anti-radio.

Another note: here's some info on the signee, Jim Mazza: http://www.dreamcatchermgmt.com/jmazza.html>

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Posted: 20 May 12, 21:12 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Is that even ethical for a record company to try and force themselves into the writing process?

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Posted: 20 May 12, 21:14 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I know! And the image of the telex has a penciled-in edit on Queen's end, as if they just took and started working with it. So it seems the Queen Camp just took it and worked with it? I'm still processing, to be honest.


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Posted: 21 May 12, 07:50 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

When it came to commercialism, Queen never had any kind of backbone. That's also why they played Sun City, despite all the latter-day bullshit Brian May is telling about that.


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Posted: 21 May 12, 07:54 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

inu-liger wrote:
Is that even ethical for a record company to try and force themselves into the writing process?

Of course not. Then again, ethical record companies tend to get seriously screwed by their competitors. Most bands tend to fight this kind of interference off, but Queen seems to have valued money above all else.

(case in point: ESP-Disk', an alternative folk and jazz record label in the 1960s and 1970s, offered their artists non-exclusive contracts - any music they recorded for ESP remained theirs, so they were free to reissue it, or use it to get a better contract with another label.

ESP was later completely destroyed by large labels, who reissued music originally released on ESP, and then sued ESP for copyright infringement - and actually won!!!)


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Posted: 21 May 12, 08:07 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I think this also shows some more-than-previously-reported eagerness for Radio Ga Ga and The Works to crack America.


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Posted: 21 May 12, 10:23 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



inu-liger wrote: Is that even ethical for a record company to try and force themselves into the writing process?

That kind of depends on your point-of-view.  The obvious first thought would be no, but think of what would have happened to the careers of Whitney Houston, Rihanna, Katy Perry or even those boy bands of the 90s... without the record company churning out those songs, they would have been lucky to make it past Disney TV.  Although, Whitney could really sing above her peers... Try the Neville's Fiyo On The Bayou LP 1980.

The record company is basically putting up all the cash to get the record out there...  Established bands have a choice to self-produce, as Queen would have, but the power to market your product (until recently) was really left to the big labels.  I think that clearly gives them a right, the band really is working for them.

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Posted: 21 May 12, 10:46 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Whoah. Doesn't sound very rock and roll ethos-friendly though. My sense is they wouldn't have acceded to this kind of thing in 1977-1980 or even earlier -- we all know the "we won't edit Bo Rhap for airplay" story.

Perhaps this as much about making sure Roger has his first hit single?


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Posted: 21 May 12, 17:48 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

The less you've accomplished, the more you can risk (and not the other way around as loads of people think). In 1975, Queen had been a two-hit wonder in Britain (NIH didn't make it to top ten) and a one-hit wonder in other territories; both for them and for the record company, releasing Bo Rhap was a risk, but a calculated risk ... despite its 'weirdness', it still had many of the hit-single traits of the time (loads of vocals, powerful guitar solo, memorable melody), and songs like 'Hey Jude' and 'I'm Not in Love' had already been No 1 being longer than the average single.

A lot of people have, in retrospect, overstated loads of 'facts' about 'Bo Rhap' simply because the truth sounds far less spectacular and, as such, less appealing to loyal fans (e.g. the truth is that Everett played it on his programme FOUR times, NOT fourteen). Just read its Wikipedia article: inaccurate, but impressive.

Once an act has already made it, they become slaves of their own success. The more success you have, the more you're pigeonholed into that. How many tickets would've the Bee Gees sold on post '77 concerts had they dropped the disco-era set and focused solely on the (many) great songs they had before and after that?

Queen played before their largest audience ever in 1976, and played songs like Flick of the Wrist and You Take My Breath Away (the latter not even being officially released, and its recordings hadn't been completed yet). They were already famous thanks to Bo Rhap, Best Friend, Killer Queen and Seven Seas, but they weren't the hit-making machine they'd be ten years later (imagine them trying to succeed at Wembley playing FOTW or YTMBA and omitting the likes of Magic, Ga Ga, Dust and Break Free).


John hated HS. Fred's fave singer was not PR. Roger didn't compose 'Innuendo.' Witness testimonies are often inaccurate. Scotland's not in England. 'Bo Rhap' hasn't got 180 voices.
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Posted: 21 May 12, 17:54 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

So Sebastian, in this reading of their career, do you consider the relative flop of Hot Space as scaring them out of their wits, to the point where they'd change the words to the lead-off single to please their American label? 

I mean, picking only the hits for a set list is one thing, and even not cutting down a song for single release or for different radio formats is standard practice. But changing the words to a song to change the meaning?


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Posted: 22 May 12, 00:46 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Worst case scenario in '75: Bo Rhap flopped; not a big deal - they were still relatively young, they had offers (e.g. Brian had been invited to join Sparks), they'd never been in the top so they didn't know what they were missing on, there was still time for Brian to work as astrophysicist, John as engineer, etc.


Worst case scenario in January '83: Ga Ga flopped; huge loss of credibility (continuing with the HS fiasco), the end of an era of fame and success they'd grown used to and, remember, the more you get, the more you want.

Look at what happened with TCR: they'd been saying for years that they enjoyed playing together, they had the right chemistry, etc. Yet after just one album, they quietly dropped the collaboration. Do you think that would have happened if TCR had been multi-platinum?

The fact is, when the cash cow doesn't yield more golden milk, it's often taken to the slaughterhouse. In '75 there wasn't even a cash cow (only two relatively minor hits), in '83 it was huge.

Indeed that's what happened: Ga Ga's success in Europe represented a new fresh era of a reinvented band enjoying huge popularity, but in America it didn't do too well and it was all downhill from there.


John hated HS. Fred's fave singer was not PR. Roger didn't compose 'Innuendo.' Witness testimonies are often inaccurate. Scotland's not in England. 'Bo Rhap' hasn't got 180 voices.
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Posted: 22 May 12, 00:50 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Pretty interesting. I wonder how common this kind of thing was? By coincidence I read very recently of interference in Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight' where the head of the American label Atlantic Records made him add drums early in the song on the original single where there had previously been none until well in, over concerns about audience reception. In the case of Ga Ga the concern from the record company is reasonable enough given the potential impact on radio play, which could in turn be a reasonable concern of the band. Given that the fortunes of many people depend on the success of a record it's even possible an equally principled stance in an instance like this is not to dig in if little that is vital to the art is lost. Bohemian Rhapsody was worth the fight, but Ga Ga may not have been. At that stage of their lives and careers diminished fire for this kind of battle might have been predictable. Also, it was a song that had already been greatly altered by Fred from its original form. Maybe there just wasn't anybody to whom it belonged enough to be passionate about any of it.

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Posted: 22 May 12, 06:08 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I think it also depends on whether they feel the person suggesting the change(s) has a point or not. A three-minute Bo Rhap would be a huge loss compared to the 5.55 masterpiece it is; a Radio Ga Ga with a different take on the lyrics (but respecting its form, arrangement, etc.) wasn't such a radical change (for their standards).


John hated HS. Fred's fave singer was not PR. Roger didn't compose 'Innuendo.' Witness testimonies are often inaccurate. Scotland's not in England. 'Bo Rhap' hasn't got 180 voices.
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Posted: 22 May 12, 12:37 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Yes, that's a better of expression of much of what I meant when I said that where Bo Rhap was worth the fight, Ga Ga may not have been. Internally some songs can go through significant changes. Recall Roger saying on the One Vision studio clips that the song used to be about Martin Luther King, but he had no idea what it was about after all the lyrical changes made by the group. If as a matter of course songs often bear only passing resemblance to what they once were, then the offending issue here is that the changes came from the record company and not the artists. That seems to imply that artistic control should always trump every other consideration if the music is to have integrity. But really, if the creator of a song is open to having it altered, as Roger clearly was with this one given Fred's extensive reworking, then each alteration should be judged on its merits regardless of which cog in the wheel of getting a song from idea to market made the suggestion. Video was still new in 1984 and how radio would have to evolve to stay competetive was still unclear. The sensitivity in the birthplace of MTV is understandable in retrospect, and perhaps understandable to the band once pointed out at the time. 20 plus years later, things are clearer and more secure, and there's room now for songs like Springsteen's 'Radio Nowhere'.

Overall it's an interesting bit of history and an instructive insight into the workings of the business. I think this particular expedience benefits from the perspective of the quality and personal nature of much of Queen's catalogue and their history of fighting for freedom when it mattered - for Bo Rhap, from stifling management, among each other to wrench out the best from often very diverse instincts.

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Posted: 22 May 12, 13:07 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I can't be surprised that its Roger who's lyrics got messed with, he has been responsible for some of the worst lyrical atrocities in history....

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Posted: 22 May 12, 13:09 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

I wonder if Queen Productions et al realize what piece of band history they let us in on with including the telex in the book. Even if the song was not worth the fight, as we're saying here, and if the context had changed, it's still the lead single of a Queen album. And we know Brian had some issues with Capitol circa Hot Space. I just can't imagine they got this telex and said, "OK then, let's re-record the lead vocals for this."


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Posted: 22 May 12, 14:54 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

This is interesting actually. In the end youre only as good as your last hit. The Game was 1980 and the Works was 1984, thats the hugest lifetime in music terms waitinf for a hit single. And on the recent Queen documentary it said that Freddies advance for his solo album was larger than Queens for the Works. Queen had obviously fallen quite far.
But on the other side though Record Companies are always always interfering in bands art. Its nothing new at all. Maybe Queen read the teletex and figured it was a good idea

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Posted: 22 May 12, 16:35 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote



Daniel Nester wrote: I wonder if Queen Productions et al realize what piece of band history they let us in on with including the telex in the book. Even if the song was not worth the fight, as we're saying here, and if the context had changed, it's still the lead single of a Queen album. And we know Brian had some issues with Capitol circa Hot Space. I just can't imagine they got this telex and said, "OK then, let's re-record the lead vocals for this."

Yeah, I'm just wondering what their initial reaction was to that telex! Couldn't have been a pleasant one to start off with.

And here's an issue I have with that telex...the record company insists it's not professional lyrics by any means, right? HOWEVER, professional or not, they did not list name(s) of who made the lyrical changes, so I think that using those lyrics right off the bat could have led to a compromising situation down the line as far as royalty demands and litigation go. Hence my concern about the unethical quality of the telex.

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Posted: 22 May 12, 19:44 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Inu-liger, it's signed Jim Mazza, who's a big muckety-muck record label guy. So maybe he should get co-songwriting credit? :)


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Posted: 22 May 12, 21:07 Edit this post Reply to this post Reply with Quote

Just so I understand the sequence of events here...
By October 26th, 1983, "Radio Ga Ga" was close to completed, since it was a single at the end of January.
Jim Beach likely sent a copy of the forthcoming single's tracks to the Capital Records. Someone in Jim Mazza's office transcribed the lyrics for him, he made changes, telexed the changes back and Jim Beach noted a mistake ("my" instead of "the"), noted the line "And just don't care", and made a note to put this telex into the "Band Meeting File" (pencilled in at the bottom).
Presumably there was a band meeting and Mazza changes were discussed.
The thing is, what were the original lyrics sent to Mazza? Were they the same as the ones we know now? Were they different (more cynical) and Queen used Mazza's changes, adjusting them somewhat?
There's not really much else to go on.
If in the band meeting Roger felt Mazza had a point and was willing to change the lyric to something more optimistic, then that's his right. Maybe, after some consideration, Roger liked some of the new lyrics, once tidied up. If that was the case, he's still the songwriter, since it was his artistic decision to accept a change to what was probably still a work-in-progress.
What key here is that Roger had the right to refuse any changes. Capitol might have not liked the lyrics, but they had obligations set out in their contract with Queen. If they refused to release the single, they might have faced legal action or perhaps were required to release a different track as a single. It's hard to say without knowing the particulars.
And without Roger commenting on the impact that telex had on the song, we don't really know anything other than Mazza made a suggestion.