My wife got me a Kindle Fire for Christmas, and for my birthday, a Kindle gift card. So I went on a search for authors I like who might have reasonably priced books available on Kindle. I’ve made all sorts of fun finds (lots of P.G. Wodehouse hilarity, for example, often for less than a dollar each). I also found some Dave Barry. He has a new book, a collection of longer essays than we’re used to from him, but also an old fave; Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs. And I’ve been reading it aloud to my wife and my daughter.
Back in the 90s, when Barry was still writing his nationally syndicated humor column, he did a piece about popular songs one hears on the radio quite a bit, which suck. In other words, yes, they’re popular, yes they’re on the radio quite a bit, and usually the tune is quite catchy–often REALLY catchy–but the songs themselves are really terrible, in the sense that he, Dave Barry, hated them, and so, it turned out, did a lot of other people. And so he wrote a column about it, and tons of people responded with their least favorite songs, and that led to a second column, and a survey, and finally, a book. Which I just read aloud to my wife, and which we both thought was hilarious. As he points out, when Neil Diamond sings:
I am, I said
To no one there,
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair.
I mean, why should the chair be listening? It’s a chair. Or when Richard Harris wrote (and Donna Summer covered):
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
Because it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
We can either contemplate the profundity of that metaphor, and the anguish we’ve all felt when we left a favorite cake out in the rain, or . . . . we can laugh. In fact, MacArthur Park was selected the worst song in the history of pop music in Barry’s (completely unscientific survey). And yes, it’s a dumb song. I personally, would have voted for Honey, by Bobby Goldsboro. I’m not sure if anything can match Honey’s amazing mix of rank sexism and crass sentimentality. But MacArthur Park is plenty bad too.
But Dave Barry did his survey in 1992. There have been a whole lot of songs on the radio since then. So I thought I’d weigh in. What are some recent very popular songs that (and I mean this scientifically), really suck? What really awful terrible songs have become popular recently? Because bad taste is a constant, is it not? And bubble gum lasts forever?
I’m going to jump right in here: I think Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines is the worst song I’ve heard in the last ten years, a song that makes Baby, It’s Cold Outside or Only the Good Die Young (both of which it rather resembles) seem enlightened. Just a few sample lyrics:
Okay now he was close
Tried to domesticate ya
But you’re an animal
Baby it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate ya
You don’t need no takers
That man is not your maker
That’s why I’mma take a good girl
I know you want it
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it.
He’s doing her a favor, see. What a good guy.
And those are all from early in the song. Later in the song, he’s much more explicit:
Nothing like that last guy, he too square for you
He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that.
What a charmer.
Now, my link above is not to the seriously R-rated video, which I have not seen, but which, I’ve heard, takes the essentially rapey Neaderthal sexism of the song and Playboy-izes it to a considerable degree. The lyrics do suggest that the girl to which he’s directing his smarmy attentions either isn’t aware of them, or, more likely, has just decided to ignore the dirtbag. Still, this song is not just the moral but also the tactical equivalent of construction workers wolf-whistling passing female executives on nearby sidewalks; you’re just being annoying, guys.
Really, seriously, why was this repugnant song a hit? I really, genuinely don’t get it. This song has nothing going for it. At all. Nothing.
So Blurred Lines is sort of uniquely bad. But there are other songs out there nearly as bad. Which brings us to the Beebs.
I shouldn’t pick on Justin Bieber. Cute little massively marketed/modestly talented boys with high pitched singing voices have been fluttering the hearts of fourteen year old girls ever since David Cassidy, and indeed much much earlier. I’m going to argue for Bieber’s Boyfriend for my bad song list, not because there’s anything remarkable about it, but because it’s so generic. Insipid lyrics, a nice dance groove, a video showing JB being (preposterously) good at bowling, and a completely unnecessary and intrusive rap verse (by Ludacris, in this case), make this a standard variety 20-tween pop hit, undistinguished by melodic or lyrical interest of any kind. Also, it’s annoying. And ubiquitous. So it makes my list.
Turning my attention from modestly talented/massively marketed cute boys to MT/MM cute girls brings us straight to Miss Taylor Swift, and so I’m putting We Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together Forever on the list. Anymore, it’s difficult to distinguish between songs and the videos for songs, and Taylor’s video for this song combines cuteness with incomprehensibility. It’s Taylor, in a ‘sexy librarian wearing pajamas’ outfit, joined by large numbers of her friends, who, for some reason, have chosen to dress up like animals, as though they were already in the What Does the Fox Say video shoot and decided to drift over to the Taylor Swift shoot next door. I don’t know what to make of this song. Is it a ‘breakup anthem,’ Taylor Swift channeling her inner Alanis? But the extra two ‘evers’ in the title suggests that she’s not so entirely sure about this break-up thing; that she’s protesting over-much. So is it a ‘you’re bad for me, but you’re also super cute’ kind of ‘break-up wuss-out’ song? I think the end of the video sort of suggests that, yes. But the musical mood is strident. So it’s a strident wuss-out song? Boy, do we need more of those. Blarg.
I really don’t want to pick on Carly Rae Jepson, or on Call Me Maybe. If men can objectify women based entirely on physical appearance, why shouldn’t women do the same, or write songs about how fun objectification can be, when the shoe’s on the other foot? (Or when the attractively ripped jeans are on the other set of legs). If you take my meaning. And the tune is so maddeningly catchy, we’re pretty well all of us stuck with it for the rest of our lives. That’s what you’ll hear every day if, fifty years from now, you find a job in a nursing home. Room after room playing Call Me Maybe.
Hard and fast rule; do not, in your song, reference people more talented than you. I’m serious; it just invites unflattering comparisons. I’m looking at you, Maroon Five. Adam Levine; Moves like Jagger? No. Right Said Fred was not too sexy for his shirt, and you do not move like Mick Jagger. You probably sing a little better than he did. Mick Jagger never could sing. It didn’t matter. He was (and is) the greatest front man for any rock band ever, and the band he fronted one of the three best in the history of popular music. And all you front is Maroon Five. And lyrics like these:
Take me by the tongue
And I’ll know you
Kiss me ’til you’re drunk
And I’ll show you
Maybe one more? But who? I loathe Wrecking Ball, but have I already picked on too many female songstresses? And isn’t Miley Cyrus an easy target? I know some people are going to vote for Pharrell (Skinny Smokey the Bear) Williams and Happy, but I actually sort of like Happy. One Direction has Best Song Ever, in which the video is, quite possibly, more annoying than the Baba O’Reilly rip-off of a song, but once you pick on the Beebs, it seems redundant to pick on One Direction. Then I found this: Alison Gold’s Chinese Food. For one thing, Alison Gold looks maybe thirteen. And the entire song is . . . about how much she likes Chinese Food? Seriously, that’s the song. So, yeah, we have a winner. Even though I darkly suspect the song was done by the same people who gave us Friday and Rebecca Black.
I asked my daughter what she thought, and she responded “anything by Kendrick Lamar.” But I wasn’t about to listen to a whole bunch of Kendrick Lamar songs to figure out which one was the worst. (Poetic Justice?) So I asked her boyfriend, and he said “anything by Kendrick Lamar or Ke$ha.” I sort of like Ke$ha, though I find the mid-name dollar sign affectation unnecessary. But, then, she’s built her career on affectation. She was a straight A student, aced her SAT’s, and is a math nerd par excellence. But she’s from a dirt-poor family, and by playing the musical role of ‘hard-drinking party girl’ has become a millionaire. Power to her, I guess. So here’s TiK ToK; enjoy.
So what are your choices? I don’t mean to suggest that any songs today are quite as idiotic as MacArthur Park. ‘Someone left the cake out in the rain’ sets a standard it will be hard to beat. But there’s still a great deal of drivel being written, and recorded. So what songs drive you bananas?