56 episodes

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.

Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia Slate Magazine

    • Music History

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.

    I'm Your Whitney Tonight Edition

    I'm Your Whitney Tonight Edition

    Eight years after her passing—and 35 years after the release of her debut album—Whitney Houston is about to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Predictably, some rock fans have carped that Houston doesn’t belong in the Hall. But they are not the only ones who, historically, have complained about Houston’s bona fides. In the ’80s, at the apex of her success, black fans complained that Houston was courting white pop fans too eagerly, and forgetting her roots in gospel and R&B.
    On the charts, by contrast, Whitney Houston’s achievements are indisputable. But they also might be underrated. Houston’s chart records offer a window into exactly how she crossed over…and whether she deserved the backlash. In this episode, Chris Molanphy walks step by step through Whitney’s storied chart records—including a couple that have gone unheralded—that help explain why she was a seminal, singular figure among black female crossover stars, from Aretha and Diana to Beyoncé.
    Podcast production by Justin D. Wright.
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    • 1 hr 30 min
    The Bridge: Living in an Amish Paradise

    The Bridge: Living in an Amish Paradise

    In this mini-episode of Hit Parade, host Chris Molanphy is joined by Nathan Rabin, podcaster and writer of two books about “Weird Al” Yankovic. They discuss the most recent full-length episode of Hit Parade, a history of novelty songs on the Billboard charts culminating with the oeuvre of the most successful parody musician ever. Nathan shares the history of his Al fandom and eventual book-length collaboration, and Chris and Nathan theorize about the secrets of Al’s success.
    (Want to see Nathan Rabin talk about Weird Al in person? Join him in Los Angeles on Saturday, February 22, 2020, at 3:30 p.m. PST at Dynasty Typewriter—tickets here.)
    Next, Chris quizzes a Slate Plus listener with some music trivia, and the contestant turns the tables with a chance to try to stump Chris with a question of his own. Then, Chris teases the upcoming full-length episode of Hit Parade, which will look at the record-breaking career of the late Whitney Houston—now a Rock Hall inductee.
    While this episode is available to all listeners, our trivia round is open only to Slate Plus members. If you are a member—or once you become a member—enter as a contestant here.
    Want your question featured in an upcoming show? Email a voice memo to hitparade@slate.com.

    Podcast production by Asha Saluja.  
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 30 min
    The White and Nerdy Edition

    The White and Nerdy Edition

    Sped-up voices. Wacky instruments. Songs about cavemen, bathtubs, bikinis and mothers-in-law. From the very birth of rock-and-roll, novelty songs were essential elements of the hit parade. Right through the ’70s—the age of streaking, CB radios, disco and King Tut—novelty songs could be chart-topping hits. But by the corporate ’80s, it was harder for goofballs to score round-the-clock hits on regimented radio playlists.
    Until one perm-headed, mustachioed, accordion-playing parodist who called himself “Weird” rebooted novelty hits for the new millennium. A video jokester before YouTube, he just might have ushered in the age of the meme. So join Hit Parade this month as we walk through the history of novelty hits on the charts—most especially if M.C. Escher is your favorite M.C.
    Podcast production by Justin D. Wright.
    Follow @cmolanphy on Twitter


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    • 1 hr 28 min
    The Bridge: Legacy of the Elusive Chanteuse

    The Bridge: Legacy of the Elusive Chanteuse

    In this mini-episode of Hit Parade, host Chris Molanphy is joined by Rich Juzwiak, writer for Jezebel as well as Slate’s advice column How to Do It. The two discuss the most recent full-length episode of Hit Parade, a breakdown of how Mariah Carey’s seasonal hit “All I Want for Christmas Is You” finally hit No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, an improbable 25 years after its original release. Rich walks Chris through the history of Mariah fandom—both his own and her loyal “Lambs”—and how he appreciates her for her low moments as much as her pop peaks.

    Chris quizzes a Slate Plus listener with some music trivia, and the contestant turns the tables with a chance to try to stump Chris with a question of his own. Then, Chris teases the upcoming full-length episode of Hit Parade, which will look at the history of novelty and comedy hits on the charts. 

    While this episode is available to all listeners, our trivia round is open only to Slate Plus members. If you are a member—or once you become a member—enter as a contestant here.

    Want your question featured in an upcoming show? Email a voice memo to hitparade@slate.com.

    Podcast production by Asha Saluja.  
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 31 min
    Make My Wish Come True Edition

    Make My Wish Come True Edition

    Music fans in 2019 are gobsmacked that the No. 1 song in America is not only a Christmas song but a 25-year-old recording: Mariah Carey’s holiday perennial “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Even more amazingly, it’s the first Christmas song to top Billboard’s Hot 100 in 61 years, since “The Chipmunk Song” in December 1958. This leads to so many “whys”: Why were there no Christmas No. 1s for six decades? Why didn’t ’60s, ’70s and ’80s holiday classics like “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” “Feliz Navidad” and “Last Christmas” become Hot 100 hits? Why did Carey’s classic not chart in 1994, when it was released—and why did it only start charting in the 2010s and seem to get more popular every year this decade?
    In this special holiday edition of Hit Parade we answer all of these questions, and explain how virtually everything had to change about the music business for Mariah’s Christmas chestnut to reach No. 1: from Billboard chart rules, to digital music technologies, to even the tragic passing of a fellow music diva. It all combined to give Carey her incredible 19th No. 1 on the Hot 100—just one chart-topper away from the Beatles.
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    • 1 hr 14 min
    The Bridge: Queens Bey, Rih and Robyn Reign Different Kingdoms

    The Bridge: Queens Bey, Rih and Robyn Reign Different Kingdoms

    In this mid-month mini-episode of Hit Parade, host Chris Molanphy is joined by The Bridge producer Asha Saluja to discuss the most recent full-length episode of Hit Parade, an exhaustive analysis of the top-charting singles of the 2010s. Chris tells Asha why Beyoncé, indisputably one of the decade’s most influential artists, didn’t make it into the episode. Then Chris and Asha talk about a few of their favorite singles of the decade--some made it onto the Billboard Hot 100, and others didn’t. Chris quizzes a Slate Plus listener with some music trivia, and the contestant turns the tables with a chance to try to stump Chris with a question of his own. Then, Chris teases the upcoming full-length episode of Hit Parade, which will be a look at Christmas music’s record on the Hot 100--including a record that just might be broken this year if a beloved holiday tune by a certain chart-running pop diva hits No. 1. And finally, Chris corrects the record on some mistakes he’s made in Hit Parade this year. Anyone remember “meekrat”? 

    While this episode is available to all listeners, our trivia round is open only to Slate Plus members. If you are a member—or once you become a member—enter as a contestant here.

    Want your question featured in an upcoming show? Email a voice memo to hitparade@slate.com.

    Podcast production by Asha Saluja.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 26 min

Customer Reviews

Eliarand ,

My musical escape

I listen to mostly political and news podcasts. Hit Parade is my musical escape and is an absolute delight. I learn so much from every episode. It is extremely entertaining and well done. You don’t need to be a music nerd — I’m not — just someone who enjoys music and history. Highly recommended.

Evepop11 ,

If you love music history

Hit Parade has become my favorite podcast. It takes turns you wouldn’t expect and always with depth and intelligence. It’s also beautifully produced and Chris is an excellent, informed host. If you love learning about popular music history, the cultural trends and artists that made that history all done with smarts and humor, this is for you.

ACY SG ,

Pure Pleasure

This is my favorite podcast. Every episode theme is inspired, and each one is a fascinating discussion structured in such a way that I can't stop listening. As a fellow Gen-X-er, I find myself revisiting old songs with renewed insight and appreciation, and understanding more recent pop music better. Can't let changing times leave us aging hipsters behind! Bridge episodes are not as gripping, but overall I love this podcast, as others do, at an obsessional level.

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