In the Ghetto, Elvis Presley: No rock genre lends itself to
campiness and mockery more than the too-sincere social commentary. And The King
made the mother of all overblown, well-meaning anthems with this melodramatic
tale of an ill-fated "poor little baby child." In three neat verses, child is
born, becomes a gun-toting, car-stealing hooligan and gets fatally shot by the
Fuzz. What's worse: Elvis over-emoting ("And his Mam-a criees") or the whiff of
Yesterday, The Beatles: There are essentially three types of Beatles songs: the early, innocent fare (I Want to Hold Your Hand), the later, sophisticated stuff (think A Day in the Life) and Yesterday. The sappiness is here, there and everywhere: in the trite lyrics ("love was such an easy game to play"), in the yearning vocals, in the string-laden arrangement. Talk about your silly love songs. Hey, didn't McCartney write that one, too?
Wiggle, Wiggle, Bob Dylan: The worst song on Dylan's worst album (Under the Red Sky). Sample lyric: "Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup." Also: "Wiggle 'til you vomit fire." So it's not a kids' song, and nor is it spontaneously, charmingly weird. It's not even one of his incomprehensible yet possibly deep songs. It's just icky.
Angie, The Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger sings the whole song in a way that suggests someone's stepping on his fingers, than compounds the awfulness by whispering: "Angie, Aiiiin-jehhhhhh . . . " Plus, it's paced like a dirge. No wonder she left.
Blinded by the Light, Bruce Springsteen: Before The Boss found his inner Jersey, he was trying to be Bob Dylan. Not the Bob Dylan of Highway 61 Revisited, unfortunately, but the Bob Dylan of Wiggle, Wiggle. That's the only explanation for lyrics such as "Little Earlie-Purlie came by in his curlie-wurlie and asked me if I needed a ride." This song sounded better when people thought the line about a "deuce" was really about a French hygiene product.
Who's Zoomin' Who?, Aretha Franklin: Good rule of thumb: Avoid slang in song titles. What was the Queen of Soul thinking when she recorded 1985's Who's Zoomin' Who? It's hard to gauge just how bad this song is: Is it terrible on its own or just in comparison to the rest of Franklin's songs? Answers: Yes and yes.
Hello, I Love You, The Doors: An unusually large pimple on the band's library of hits, this song contains what has to be the cheesiest pick-up line ever muttered by a rock god ("Hello, I love you/ let me jump in your game"). And let's not forget the mind-numbing organ and monotonous bass. Yes, I think it's actually inducing a bad trip, without the help of any acid.
Shiny Happy People, R.E.M.: The alternative music legends' feel-good duet with The B-52s' Kate Pierson is so syrupy sweet that it is torturously annoying even on the first listen. (And don't get me started on that version with the Muppets.) At least in later interviews, Michael Stipe and company admit this is not their most stellar moment.
Numb, U2: Don't you love it when Bono doesn't sing? Didn't think so. This song on Zooropa basically consists of The Edge monotonously rapping over a very slight instrumental track. Yes, the Edge rapping. At the time, people probably enjoyed the avant-garde-ness of it all, but really, it's just kind of stupid.
You Are Not Alone, Michael Jackson: Here's a mystery Nancy Drew couldn't solve. Why was this piece of confectionery overkill a No. 1 song? It is the polar opposite of what is so energetic and catchy about Jackson's early music. No trace of Rock With You or Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. Not even a remnant of Billie Jean. Just a down-tempo ballad — bordering on creepy — with the lyric "But you are not alone/ For I am here with you" repeated enough times to make you wish you were alone.
Easy Skanking, Bob Marley: From the author of Redemption Song and Stir It Up (and Kinky Reggae, but, well, he's forgiven) comes . . . the pot head anthem! "Excuse me while I light my spliff, oh God I gotta take a lift from reality I just can't drift, that's why I am staying with this riff." Yes, staying with it on and on and on. And on. Until you co-opt his munchies and eat a whole bag of Doritos, just for the welcome oblivion.
My Ding-A-Ling, Chuck Berry: I know Chuck's trying to be all double-entendre-ish in this ode to a childhood toy that just happens to have the same name as . . . well . . . This is the kind of thing rowdy 6th-grade boys sing to gross out the girls at the bus stop. And I don't need to be reminded of that again.
Diamonds and Pearls, Prince: Right now, it's good to be Prince. But I'd like to go back to 1991, when his Royal Badness released this tepid, lazily written ditty of lurve. Can you explain why the genius who penned the brilliant line "I guess I should have known from the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn't last" was reduced to pap like "If I gave you diamonds and pearls, would you be a happy boy or a girl"? Ugh! It makes me cranky!
Something in the Way, Nirvana: There's nothing stellar about Kurt Cobain's lyrics, unless, of course, you're a fan of having the title of the song drilled into your head over and over again. Or unless you're fond of Kurt's musings about eating fish and living under a tarp.
Don't Wanna Miss A Thing, Aerosmith: Aerosmith is one of those bands you admire for its longevity, for its steadfast approach to rock, for recording a Diane Warren song. What? Yes, a cheesy, attached-to-a-stupid-movie, heavy-on-the-strings Diane Warren song. Only one thing to say: Yecch.
Student Demonstration Time, The Beach Boys: In the '70s, lead singer Mike Love, in one of the band's unsuccessful efforts to get its hip card punched, dreamed up this campus anti-war song and set it to the music of Leiber and Stoller's Riot In Cell Block No. 9. Love name-checks all the fashionable protest spots like surf breaks — Berkeley, Jackson State, People's Park. And can you imagine that nasal voice of his singing that the four Kent State victims "earned a new degree/ The Bachelor of Bullets." All of a sudden, "Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya" is sounding a lot better.
Living in America, James Brown: The fact that it is July 4th does not excuse this song. The fact that Mr. Brown is not exactly celebrated for his lyrical genius, but more for his unbridled enthusiasm, does not excuse this song. In fact, when considering the red-white-and-blue-adorned cheerleaders associated with the video, nothing excuses this song.
Ego Tripping Out, Marvin Gaye: The anti-Let's Get It On. On this disco-era track, the troubled soulman brags about being the "greatest in the bed" in a drawn-out, seven-minute schizophrenic duet with his spiritual side. At least the title is truthful.
Squeezebox, The Who: Is there anything worse than a weak double entendre about an accordion? I think not.
Part-Time Lover, Stevie Wonder: It's a close call for Mr. Wonder's worst song: I Just Called to Say I Love You and Part-time Lover are neck-and-neck. Though I Just Called to Say I Love You is a solid entry, I'll see your '80s keyboards and raise you the tired cliche of yet another song about an affair: "We are undercover passion on the run/ Chasing love up against the sun/ We are strangers by day, lovers by night/ Knowing it's so wrong, but feeling so right." Ick.
Songbird, Fleetwood Mac: Sure, it would be easy to trash one of Stevie Nicks' ponderous, shawl-swirling, incense-heavy Rhiannon-Sara songs. We don't know what they mean, but she's a poet in her heart, ya know? But the one song that brings the Mac's brilliant Rumours album to a crashing halt is this middle-of-the-road Christine McVie schmaltz-a-thon about a songbird that keeps singing . . . and singing . . . and singing. OK, we know the score. Stevie, all is forgiven!
Mother, The Police: 1983's Synchronicity is an album with great songs (King of Pain, Wrapped Around Your Finger, the awesome Murder by Numbers) and decent numbers (Tea in the Sahara, Synchronicity I) — and then there's Mother. Basically, it's Andy Summers warbling, "Is that my mother on the phone?" over and over. Hang up.
D'yer Mak'er, Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant steps over the line from cool to gross.
Tequila Sunrise, The Eagles: "It's another tequila sunrise and . . . " Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Happens every time.
Someone Like You, Van Morrison: Van The Man's Have I Told You Lately is one of the most nakedly honest love songs ever written. So he decided to make it again! Unfortunately, it turned out to be this boring photo negative. Plus, they named an Ashley Judd movie after it, never a good sign.
Fitter Happier, Radiohead: OK, OK, I know the "song" is actually a computer telling us about the emotional deadness that comes as we head toward a perfect society. But c'mon, when that freaky computer voice starts talking, you quietly, sheepishly, move ahead to the next song. It's OK to admit it. Fitter Happier is the one computer glitch on OK Computer.
Crocodile Rock, Elton John: Elton John, piano god, is a delightful eccentric who sings delightfully accessible songs, catchy and spirited. But Crocodile Rock is a little too catchy — especially when you've heard it for the 32nd time on your local adult contemporary radio station.
How To Be Dumb, Elvis Costello: Elvis really hit the bitter mother lode with this overbearingly scathing slap at former bass player Bruce Thomas. Elvis goes straight past clever sniping into a full-blown tirade ("Trapped in the House of the Perpetual Sucker/ where bitterness always ends so pitifully/ You always had to dress up your envy in some half-remembered philosophy"). Open ugliness usually makes the writer look worse than his target.
We Are The Clash, The Clash: Punk music's own pioneers try to recapture their raw-sounding glory days but end up sounding like a parody band on this self-gratifying anthem.
Trans, Neil Young: In the early 1980s, the always iconoclastic Young decided he'd like to try some new musical styles. But electronic music was beyond him. He used a vocoder to record a few of the tracks — as a result, the lyrics are really hard to follow. That might be a plus.
Ebony and Ivory, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder: "Ebony and ivory, live together in perfect harmony, side by side . . . " ARGHHH! No more, no more, I'll talk! I'll talk! I'll tell you everything!
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