Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia

Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia

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.

Episodes

June 15, 2024 50 mins
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 i...
Mark as Played
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, ...
Mark as Played
May 17, 2024 63 mins
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, ...
Mark as Played
April 27, 2024 62 mins
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 wro...
Mark as Played
April 13, 2024 64 mins
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 wro...
Mark as Played
March 29, 2024 46 mins
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 succ...
Mark as Played
March 16, 2024 57 mins
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 succ...
Mark as Played
February 24, 2024 40 mins
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...
Mark as Played
February 10, 2024 64 mins
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...
Mark as Played
January 26, 2024 52 mins
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 D...
Mark as Played
January 13, 2024 53 mins
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 D...
Mark as Played
December 29, 2023 54 mins
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 c...
Mark as Played
December 16, 2023 60 mins
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 c...
Mark as Played
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 defi...
Mark as Played
November 18, 2023 57 mins
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 ch...
Mark as Played
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 defi...
Mark as Played
October 27, 2023 64 mins
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 influenc...
Mark as Played
October 14, 2023 68 mins
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 influenc...
Mark as Played
September 29, 2023 41 mins
If an instrumental tops the charts, it’s probably an earworm: “Tequila.” “Wipeout.” “Dueling Banjos.” “The Hustle.” “Feels So Good.” “Chariots of Fire.” “Axel F.” You can probably whistle or hum several of those from memory. But do you remember the artists? All were one-hit wonders. By and large, instrumental hits throughout chart history were flukes. But there were exceptions: a trumpet player from Los Angeles who pretended to be...
Mark as Played
September 16, 2023 62 mins
If an instrumental tops the charts, it’s probably an earworm: “Tequila.” “Wipeout.” “Dueling Banjos.” “The Hustle.” “Feels So Good.” “Chariots of Fire.” “Axel F.” You can probably whistle or hum several of those from memory. But do you remember the artists? All were one-hit wonders. By and large, instrumental hits throughout chart history were flukes. But there were exceptions: a trumpet player from Los Angeles who pretended to be...
Mark as Played

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