Recorded in 1983 and released in January 1984, the song was a commentary on television overtaking radio's popularity and how one would listen to radio in the past for a favourite comedy, drama, or science fiction programme. It also addressed the advent of the music video and MTV, which was then competing with radio as an important medium for promoting records. The video for "Radio Ga Ga" would receive a Best Art Direction nomination. Roger Taylor was quoted:
That's part of what the song's about, really. The fact that they [music videos] seem to be taking over almost from the aural side, the visual side seems to be almost more important.
Taylor originally conceived of it as "Radio caca" (from something his toddler son once said), which doubled as a criticism of radio for the decrease in variety of programming and the type of music being played.
The inspiration for this song came when Roger Taylor heard his son utter the words "radio ca-ca" while listening to a bad song on the radio while they were in Los Angeles. After hearing the phrase, Taylor began writing the song when he locked himself in a room with a Roland Jupiter-8 and a drum machine (Linn LM-1). He thought it would fit his solo album, but when the band heard it, John Deacon wrote a bassline and Freddie Mercury reconstructed the track, thinking it could be a big hit. Taylor then took a skiing holiday and let Mercury polish the lyrics, harmony, and arrangements of the song. Recording sessions began at Record Plant Studios and included Canadian session keyboardist Fred Mandel, who later on would work with Supertramp and Elton John. Mandel programmed the Jupiter's arpeggiated synth-bass parts. The recording features prominent use of the Roland VP330+ vocoder. The bassline was produced by a Roland Jupiter-8, using the built-in arpeggiator.
Queen finished their sets before the encores on The Works Tour with "Radio Ga Ga" and Mercury would normally sing "you had your time" in a lower octave and modify the deliveries of "you had the power, you've yet to have your finest hour" while Roger Taylor sang the pre-chorus in the high octave. Live versions from the 1984/85 tour were recorded and filmed on the concert films Queen Rock in Rio 1985, and Final Live in Japan 1985. As heard on bootleg recordings, Deacon can be heard providing backing vocals to the song; it is one of the very few occasions he sang in concert.
"I remember thinking 'oh great, they've picked it up' and then I thought 'this is not a Queen audience'. This is a general audience who've bought tickets before they even knew we were on the bill. And they all did it. How did they know? Nobody told them to do it."
Queen played a shorter, up-tempo version of "Radio Ga Ga" during the Live Aid concert on 13 July 1985 at Wembley Stadium, where Queen's "show-stealing performance" had 72,000 people clapping in unison. It was the second song the band performed at Live Aid after opening with "Bohemian Rhapsody". "Radio Ga Ga" became a live favourite thanks largely to the audience participation potential of the clapping sequence prompted by the rhythm of the chorus (copied from the video). Mercury sang all high notes in this version. The song was played for the Magic Tour a year later, including twice more at Wembley Stadium; it was recorded for the live album Live at Wembley '86, VHS Video and DVD on 12 July 1986, the second night in the venue.
This song was played on the Queen + Paul Rodgers Tour in 2005-2006 and sung by Roger Taylor and Paul Rodgers. It was recorded officially at the Hallam FM Arena in Sheffield on 5 May 2005. The result, Return of the Champions, was released on CD and DVD on 19 September 2005 and 17 October 2005. It was also played on the Rock the Cosmos Tour during late 2008, this time with only Rodgers on lead vocals. The concert album Live in Ukraine came as a result of this tour, yet the song is not available on the CD or DVD versions released 15 June 2009. This performance of "Radio Ga Ga" is only available as a digital download from iTunes. It was again played on the Queen + Adam Lambert Tour with Lambert on lead vocals.
Roger Taylor performed the song with Spike Edney's SAS Band.
A heavily modified version of the song serves as the introductory number for We Will Rock You, a musical composed of Queen songs.
The song was covered in 2004 by Electric Six. The band released the song as a single against their wishes under pressure from their label at the time, although the song had been in their repertoire during the band's early Wildbunch days. The video depicts Electric Six frontman, Dick Valentine, as the ghost of Freddie Mercury dancing near his own grave. It was widely misinterpreted that Valentine (as Mercury) was dancing on his grave. He explains on his website's video section "Though some have claimed this video portrays me dancing on Freddie Mercury's grave, actually it's more like we are resurrecting Mr. Mercury for the duration of the song and his grave is the logical starting point."
American pop singer Lady Gaga credits her stage name to this song. She stated that she "adored" Queen, and that they had a hit called 'Radio Gaga'. "That's why I love the name", she said.