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Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia
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Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia

Author: Slate Podcasts

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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.


Want more Hit Parade? Join Slate Plus to unlock monthly early-access episodes. Plus, you’ll get ad-free listening across all your favorite Slate podcasts. Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts by clicking “Try Free” at the top of our show page. Or, visit slate.com/hitparadeplus to get access wherever you listen.

165 Episodes
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“Summer in the City.” “I Feel the Earth Move.” “Bette Davis Eyes.” “Whoomp! There It Is.” “Get Lucky.” “Espresso.” What do these big summer hits all have in common? None of them was Billboard’s official Song of the Summer. Wait…there’s an official Song of the Summer? Isn’t that something that just happens organically? Every year, it seems everybody has an opinion on this musical national pastime. But the Hot 100 often tells a different story. For every “Light My Fire,” “Bad Girls,” “Crazy in Love,” “California Gurls” or “Call Me Maybe”—a hot-weather hit that unites the charts and the punditry—there are confirmed summer smashes that no one would pick out of a lineup, from Zager and Evans to Iggy Azalea. Join Chris Molanphy as he traces the tangled story of how America came to decide there should be one victorious summer hit to rule them all. And he counts down the best Songs of the Summer by decade. Is it getting “Hot in Herre,” or is it just us…? Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
What does a music producer do? If his name is Quincy Jones, a little bit of everything: conducting, arranging, composing. Assembling teams of ace session musicians. Sometimes, even picking a catchy title and telling an artist to go write a song about it— would “Thriller” have worked as well if it had been called “Starlight”? Quincy Jones was pop’s Renaissance Man, and he could not be limited either by genre or by role. He played in jazz bands…produced teen pop hits…discovered young talent…scored Hollywood films…helped invent Yacht Rock and Yacht Soul…even released hit albums under his own name featuring cavalcades of guest vocalists. And he worked with so! many! legends! Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Little Richard, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan … and all that happened before he even met a former child star named Michael Jackson and helped him produce the best-selling album in history. No wonder only Quincy had the clout to wrangle the superstars for the recording of “We Are the World.” Join Chris Molanphy as he tells the story of the music man who truly did it all and is known affectionately by the letter Q. He made the world a better place for you and me. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Host Chris Molanphy Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
What does a music producer do? If his name is Quincy Jones, a little bit of everything: conducting, arranging, composing. Assembling teams of ace session musicians. Sometimes, even picking a catchy title and telling an artist to go write a song about it— would “Thriller” have worked as well if it had been called “Starlight”? Quincy Jones was pop’s Renaissance Man, and he could not be limited either by genre or by role. He played in jazz bands…produced teen pop hits…discovered young talent…scored Hollywood films…helped invent Yacht Rock and Yacht Soul…even released hit albums under his own name featuring cavalcades of guest vocalists. And he worked with so! many! legends! Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Little Richard, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan … and all that happened before he even met a former child star named Michael Jackson and helped him produce the best-selling album in history. No wonder only Quincy had the clout to wrangle the superstars for the recording of “We Are the World.” Join Chris Molanphy as he tells the story of the music man who truly did it all and is known affectionately by the letter Q. He made the world a better place for you and me. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Host Chris Molanphy Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Girl groups have long been underestimated—even by the producers and managers who created them. For women listeners, girl groups narrated profound emotions and expressed personal freedom—even when the singers were not so free themselves. For male listeners, girl groups provided inspiration, and a way to express matters of the heart. And for all listeners across rock and soul history, girl groups pushed music forward. In the ’60s, the Shirelles, Marvelettes, Ronettes and Shangri-Las kept rock afloat between Elvis Presley and the Beatles. In the ’70s and ’80s, girl groups from the Emotions to Exposé rebooted dance music. In the ’90s, En Vogue, TLC and Destiny’s Child fused hip-hop style with old-school soul—and the Spice Girls fired up a new generation through Girl Power. Join Chris Molanphy as we shimmy and strut through decades of bops to give girl groups the respect they deserve. You’ll love them tomorrow, because friendship never ends. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Want more Hit Parade? Join Slate Plus to unlock monthly early-access episodes. Plus, you’ll get ad-free listening across all your favorite Slate podcasts. Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts by clicking “Try Free” at the top of our show page. Or, visit slate.com/hitparadeplus to get access wherever you listen. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Girl groups have long been underestimated—even by the producers and managers who created them. For women listeners, girl groups narrated profound emotions and expressed personal freedom—even when the singers were not so free themselves. For male listeners, girl groups provided inspiration, and a way to express matters of the heart. And for all listeners across rock and soul history, girl groups pushed music forward. In the ’60s, the Shirelles, Marvelettes, Ronettes and Shangri-Las kept rock afloat between Elvis Presley and the Beatles. In the ’70s and ’80s, girl groups from the Emotions to Exposé rebooted dance music. In the ’90s, En Vogue, TLC and Destiny’s Child fused hip-hop style with old-school soul—and the Spice Girls fired up a new generation through Girl Power. Join Chris Molanphy as we shimmy and strut through decades of bops to give girl groups the respect they deserve. You’ll love them tomorrow, because friendship never ends. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Want more Hit Parade? Join Slate Plus to unlock monthly early-access episodes. Plus, you’ll get ad-free listening across all your favorite Slate podcasts. Subscribe now on Apple Podcasts by clicking “Try Free” at the top of our show page. Or, visit slate.com/hitparadeplus to get access wherever you listen. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
When you hear “boy band,” what do you picture? Five guys with precision dance moves? Songs crafted by the Top 40 pop machine? Svengalis pulling the puppet strings? Hordes of screaming girls? As it turns out, not all boy bands fit these signifiers. (Well…except for the screaming girls—they are perennial.) There are boy bands that danced, and some that did not…boy bands that relied entirely on outside songwriters, and those that wrote big hits…boy bands assembled by managers or producers, and quite a few that launched on their own. From Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers to New Kids on the Block, the Monkees to the Jonas Brothers, Boyz II Men to BTS, New Edition to One Direction, and…yeah, of course, Backstreet Boys and *N Sync, boy bands have had remarkable variety over the years. (In a sense, even a certain ’60s Fab Four started as a boy band.) Join Chris Molanphy as he tries to define the ineffable quality of boy band–ness, walks through decades of shrieking, hair-pulling pop history, and reminds you that boy bands generated some of our greatest hits, from “I Want You Back” to “I Want It That Way,” “Bye Bye Bye” to “Dynamite.” Help him “bring the fire and set the night alight.” Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
When you hear “boy band,” what do you picture? Five guys with precision dance moves? Songs crafted by the Top 40 pop machine? Svengalis pulling the puppet strings? Hordes of screaming girls? As it turns out, not all boy bands fit these signifiers. (Well…except for the screaming girls—they are perennial.) There are boy bands that danced, and some that did not…boy bands that relied entirely on outside songwriters, and those that wrote big hits…boy bands assembled by managers or producers, and quite a few that launched on their own. From Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers to New Kids on the Block, the Monkees to the Jonas Brothers, Boyz II Men to BTS, New Edition to One Direction, and…yeah, of course, Backstreet Boys and *N Sync, boy bands have had remarkable variety over the years. (In a sense, even a certain ’60s Fab Four started as a boy band.) Join Chris Molanphy as he tries to define the ineffable quality of boy band–ness, walks through decades of shrieking, hair-pulling pop history, and reminds you that boy bands generated some of our greatest hits, from “I Want You Back” to “I Want It That Way,” “Bye Bye Bye” to “Dynamite.” Help him “bring the fire and set the night alight.” Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Cover songs once had a simple playbook: Artists would faithfully rerecord a song—note for note and word for word. They might modernize the instrumentation. If they were feeling radical, they’d punch up the vocals a bit. Now it’s hard to say what a cover is anymore. If Ariana Grande turns “My Favorite Things” into “7 Rings,” does that qualify? When Drake says he’s “Way 2 Sexy,” is he covering Right Said Fred? The recent chart success of “Fast Car”—country star Luke Combs’ very traditional take on Tracy Chapman’s folk classic—has reinvigorated interest in cover songs. Sometimes, isn’t just remaking the song as-is enough? Join Chris Molanphy as he explains the chart considerations and artistic motivations that rebooted the cover song, and whether a straight-up remake will ever top the Hot 100 again. We’re long past the days of “Twist and Shout,” “Venus” and “I’ll Be There.” Podcast production by Olivia Briley. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Cover songs once had a simple playbook: Artists would faithfully rerecord a song—note for note and word for word. They might modernize the instrumentation. If they were feeling radical, they’d punch up the vocals a bit. Now it’s hard to say what a cover is anymore. If Ariana Grande turns “My Favorite Things” into “7 Rings,” does that qualify? When Drake says he’s “Way 2 Sexy,” is he covering Right Said Fred? The recent chart success of “Fast Car”—country star Luke Combs’ very traditional take on Tracy Chapman’s folk classic—has reinvigorated interest in cover songs. Sometimes, isn’t just remaking the song as-is enough? Join Chris Molanphy as he explains the chart considerations and artistic motivations that rebooted the cover song, and whether a straight-up remake will ever top the Hot 100 again. We’re long past the days of “Twist and Shout,” “Venus” and “I’ll Be There.” Podcast production by Olivia Briley. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Barbra Streisand: star of stage and screen. Oscar-winner, film director and TV producer. Culture warrior and meme generator. Yes, all that—but don’t get it twisted: Barbra’s legend rests in her catalog of hit songs—and that voice. Even as culture vultures consume her recent doorstop of a memoir My Name Is Barbra, what’s getting overlooked are Streisand’s awesome musical benchmarks, especially on the Billboard charts. All of those records Taylor Swift has been setting on the album chart, and Billie Eilish on the Grammys? Babs got there first. At a time when rock was ascendant and showtunes were on the wane, Streisand set her own pop agenda, scoring brassy hits that weren’t trendy but topped the charts anyway. She became a pop star, Broadway legend and box-office commander practically simultaneously. Join Chris Molanphy as he tells the story of the original Queen of All Media and explains how she racked up all those hits your mom loved (be honest, you know them too) and made “memories, like the corners of [your] mind.” Trust us: It’ll be like buttah. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Barbra Streisand: star of stage and screen. Oscar-winner, film director and TV producer. Culture warrior and meme generator. Yes, all that—but don’t get it twisted: Barbra’s legend rests in her catalog of hit songs—and that voice. Even as culture vultures consume her recent doorstop of a memoir My Name Is Barbra, what’s getting overlooked are Streisand’s awesome musical benchmarks, especially on the Billboard charts. All of those records Taylor Swift has been setting on the album chart, and Billie Eilish on the Grammys? Babs got there first. At a time when rock was ascendant and showtunes were on the wane, Streisand set her own pop agenda, scoring brassy hits that weren’t trendy but topped the charts anyway. She became a pop star, Broadway legend and box-office commander practically simultaneously. Join Chris Molanphy as he tells the story of the original Queen of All Media and explains how she racked up all those hits your mom loved (be honest, you know them too) and made “memories, like the corners of [your] mind.” Trust us: It’ll be like buttah. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Do you watch the Grammy Awards every year and groan, or even yell at the screen? Hit Parade host Chris Molanphy sure does. But he has a weird hot take: The Grammys are better off not trying to be cool. They should reward the popular stuff—especially younger people’s music. Where the Recording Academy actually goes wrong is rewarding the old stuff—legendary artists long past their prime, from Frank Sinatra to Eric Clapton, Steely Dan to Beck. The Grammy wins remembered most fondly are artists at the peak of their chart prowess: Carole King. Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson. George Michael. Lauryn Hill. Adele. Taylor Swift (and more Taylor…and more Taylor…and more…). When did the Grammys get it most right—and wrong? (Was the Toto win really so bad?) And how can they become more relevant? (Hint: much more rap.) Join Chris Molanphy as he offers a chart nerd’s take on the Recording Academy and offers guidelines for good Grammy governance, just before the 2024 awards. It’s an episode right in the Nick of Time. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Do you watch the Grammy Awards every year and groan, or even yell at the screen? Hit Parade host Chris Molanphy sure does. But he has a weird hot take: The Grammys are better off not trying to be cool. They should reward the popular stuff—especially younger people’s music. Where the Recording Academy actually goes wrong is rewarding the old stuff—legendary artists long past their prime, from Frank Sinatra to Eric Clapton, Steely Dan to Beck. The Grammy wins remembered most fondly are artists at the peak of their chart prowess: Carole King. Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson. George Michael. Lauryn Hill. Adele. Taylor Swift (and more Taylor…and more Taylor…and more…). When did the Grammys get it most right—and wrong? (Was the Toto win really so bad?) And how can they become more relevant? (Hint: much more rap.) Join Chris Molanphy as he offers a chart nerd’s take on the Recording Academy and offers guidelines for good Grammy governance, just before the 2024 awards. It’s an episode right in the Nick of Time. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In 2023, several hits from years ago—sometimes decades—made it to No. 1 on Billboard’s pop charts after falling short the first time: Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” The Weeknd’s “Die for You.” Miguel’s “Sure Thing.” And, most improbably but delightfully, Brenda Lee’s 65-year-old holiday bop “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” What’s going on here? A lot of it has to do with the ways streaming, YouTube and TikTok have changed the charts. But the truth is, the second-chance hit is as old as the charts themselves From David Bowie to Prince, Sonny and Cher to Guns n’ Roses, the Miracles to the Moody Blues, there are certain songs the music biz won’t give up on. To say nothing of all those holiday perennials, from “Monster Mash” to “Last Christmas.” Join Chris Molanphy as he explains why certain songs keep coming back and counts down a dozen favorite second-chance hits. If it first they don’t succeed, chart, chart again. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In 2023, several hits from years ago—sometimes decades—made it to No. 1 on Billboard’s pop charts after falling short the first time: Taylor Swift’s “Cruel Summer.” The Weeknd’s “Die for You.” Miguel’s “Sure Thing.” And, most improbably but delightfully, Brenda Lee’s 65-year-old holiday bop “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” What’s going on here? A lot of it has to do with the ways streaming, YouTube and TikTok have changed the charts. But the truth is, the second-chance hit is as old as the charts themselves From David Bowie to Prince, Sonny and Cher to Guns n’ Roses, the Miracles to the Moody Blues, there are certain songs the music biz won’t give up on. To say nothing of all those holiday perennials, from “Monster Mash” to “Last Christmas.” Join Chris Molanphy as he explains why certain songs keep coming back and counts down a dozen favorite second-chance hits. If it first they don’t succeed, chart, chart again. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
When it crash-landed on the charts in 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” felt new and old at the same time: a savvy, TikTok-fueled viral hit that summarized a century of cross-cultural collisions between R&B, rap and country. It was also unexpectedly huge—a record 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100—and controversial, as Billboard magazine pulled the song from its Hot Country Songs chart, prompting a reckoning on race and the very definition of country music. “Old Town Road” wasn’t just a reckoning—it was a culmination. As a hard-to-categorize hit, it called back to cross-genre experiments by everyone from Ray Charles and the Rappin’ Duke to Bubba Sparxxx and even Jason Aldean. As a viral smash, its antecedents date back to “The Twist,” right through “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Harlem Shake.” In honor of his new book Old Town Road (now in bookstores!) join Chris Molanphy as he walks through the many predecessors to “Old Town Road” and explains why can’t nobody tell Lil Nas X nothin’. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
In this special mini-episode of Hit Parade, recorded live on at Housing Works bookstore in New York City, host Chris Molanphy is joined by Dan Charnas—author of the New York Times bestseller Dilla Time, The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, and the acclaimed The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop. They discuss Chris’s new book Old Town Road—how he came to write it, what made the song exceptional, and how decades of chart and genre history led to Lil Nas X’s breakthrough. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
When it crash-landed on the charts in 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” felt new and old at the same time: a savvy, TikTok-fueled viral hit that summarized a century of cross-cultural collisions between R&B, rap and country. It was also unexpectedly huge—a record 19 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100—and controversial, as Billboard magazine pulled the song from its Hot Country Songs chart, prompting a reckoning on race and the very definition of country music. “Old Town Road” wasn’t just a reckoning—it was a culmination. As a hard-to-categorize hit, it called back to cross-genre experiments by everyone from Ray Charles and the Rappin’ Duke to Bubba Sparxxx and even Jason Aldean. As a viral smash, its antecedents date back to “The Twist,” right through “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Harlem Shake.” In honor of his new book Old Town Road (now in bookstores!) join Chris Molanphy as he walks through the many predecessors to “Old Town Road” and explains why can’t nobody tell Lil Nas X nothin’. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
HEY! HO! LET’S GO!! Is this chant: (a) a movement of disaffected hipsters, (b) walkup music for a baseball player, or (c) a really catchy bop? How about all of the above? The legendary New York nightclub CBGB was the birthplace of punk. But it was also the future of pop: the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie. To varying degrees, these acts either became hitmakers, tried to reshape their music for the charts, or influenced generations of future multiplatinum stars. Honestly? Their music was pretty infectious from the jump, even if it was too advanced for the ’70s hit parade. The music we called punk contained multitudes: the improvisatory jazz-rock of Television. The demented anthems of the Ramones. The quirky funk of Talking Heads. The stylistic eclecticism of Blondie—who scored four No. 1 hits in four different genres. Join Chris Molanphy on a journey back to New York’s dirty days to try to answer: When did CBGB punk morph into chart pop? Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
HEY! HO! LET’S GO!! Is this chant: (a) a movement of disaffected hipsters, (b) walkup music for a baseball player, or (c) a really catchy bop? How about all of the above? The legendary New York nightclub CBGB was the birthplace of punk. But it was also the future of pop: the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie. To varying degrees, these acts either became hitmakers, tried to reshape their music for the charts, or influenced generations of future multiplatinum stars. Honestly? Their music was pretty infectious from the jump, even if it was too advanced for the ’70s hit parade. The music we called punk contained multitudes: the improvisatory jazz-rock of Television. The demented anthems of the Ramones. The quirky funk of Talking Heads. The stylistic eclecticism of Blondie—who scored four No. 1 hits in four different genres. Join Chris Molanphy on a journey back to New York’s dirty days to try to answer: When did CBGB punk morph into chart pop? Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Comments (28)

Eric Raymond Igou

Born to Run peaked at #23. It just missed the inclusion criteria. But, in all honesty, is there a better legacy hit?

Oct 2nd
Reply

Eric Raymond Igou

I must admit, I have never heard of Biggy (but have recognized a song).

Oct 2nd
Reply

Al Bealing

Too many ads. Bye.

Feb 1st
Reply

Lucas Nasution

great podcasts!!

Sep 15th
Reply (1)

Rita J. Behm-Campos

I absolutely love ABBA. Just wished you would have done a whole segment on them.

May 12th
Reply

Danny Gette

Pandemic relief

Apr 4th
Reply

hatsumi

thank u,that was amazing

Apr 1st
Reply

Mary Mildred

Excellent! Loved this!

Mar 11th
Reply

Adriana Lombardi

I kind of hoped they would also talk about former Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips, who had his own string of successful progressive folk albums in the 70s as a solo artist.

Feb 7th
Reply

drora gibson

great episode , a must for you Brits admirers, good on you Chris! thanks

Dec 21st
Reply

Aaron Hartje

I've noticed a bit of verbal sleight of hand in other episodes, but to basically claim that the reason disco - an obvious music fad - died was because of a backlash against homosexuals, people of color and women is going a bit too far. It also kind of implies that women, homosexuals and people of color do not attend baseball games and did not participate in the occurrences that evening. I was around when this happened. As with other music fads, disco eventually became nothing but a parody and caricature of itself and it deserved the death it received. The good stuff survives, as is always the case.

Nov 8th
Reply

Jane Evangeline Antonia Feast

In the supermarket and guess what's on the radio?

Aug 17th
Reply

FRANCIS READER

That was a very interesting tale, the Stars On 45 part especially. One thing: Sparks are American, not British. Great podcast - please keep them coming.

Jul 26th
Reply

Tiffany Thornton

this episode is fantastic

Jun 25th
Reply

Sarah Cosgrove

Can u do a Queen trivia or the beatles trivia

Jun 23rd
Reply

Aaron Campbell

my wife and I look forward to every episode!

Dec 31st
Reply

Athena&TheOwl

and for all the predictions we voted for a no1 about Sausage Rolls!

Dec 23rd
Reply

Jeff Z

title = alt rock... spends a full third of the podcast talking about Mikey Cyrus. And then starts talking about hair metal. WTF?!?!?!?!

Nov 30th
Reply

One More Tune DJs

Absolutely fascinating. Every episode of this podcast is fantastic

Aug 16th
Reply

Tony Kearney

Love and Reccomend this 'Donna Summer' episode..

Jul 12th
Reply