Months ago, one of my old coworkers found a NPR podcast where they discuss the worst songs of all time. They do admit that all of these songs are really well known songs and divisive. Some people (even some of the panelists) love some of these songs. And many are by really well known, successful artists. But, in the podcast, they argue that when a great artist comes out with even a half-horrible song, it’s worse because of the expectation factor. The horrible songs by the unknown artists never get attention, because of course they’re terrible. That’s why those artists never got famous.
The song the used as an example?
And I totally get it. I don’t love this song. I really don’t love the weird synths and it does seem to go on and on and on. But if this were half as long and played on just a piano or organ? I think it wouldn’t get nearly as much hate as it does. I heard it once in a medley with John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). And it was great. They also mention (You’re) Having My Baby, which I’ve only heard because I couldn’t believe it was a real song when I heard it on Glee (I know this is a poor recording, but it’s the best one I could find that show’s her dad’s reaction)(remember, it’s a show about a high school glee club). It’s a dumb song. I think the only reason anyone remember it exists is because Paul Anka was well known and they can’t believe someone thought it was a good idea to release that song.
Then there are other songs that take themselves too seriously. Like We are the World and (excuse me while I throw up a little) MacArthur Park. They didn’t mention Cat’s in the Cradle or American Pie, but I’d put those in this category, too. They said Dirty Laundry takes itself too seriously, but while it’s not a great song, I really think they just don’t like Don Henley or the Eagles.
And of course there are others, like Blind Melon‘s No Rain or Starship’s We Built this City, which are iconic to their time period and I think they’re … well, not awesome, but not bad. They’re not the worst songs ever. Maybe We Built this City is overrated by some people, but it’s also underrated by a lot of other people.
They do say the consensus shouldn’t be misunderstood as a stand in for truth (which is true for so many things). One of the panelists started this discussion on his blog, and his intent was to get people to think about why they hate the songs they hate so it would hopefully get them to think about why they love the songs they love. I didn’t listen to this podcast when it came out (two and a half years ago), but I’m glad I did listen to it, if for no other reason than their little diatribe about accepting other people’s opinions without any actual thought. And yet, at least one of the panelists jump on the “hating the word moist” bandwagon. Anyway, the reason this podcast came back to mind (and I decided to write this post) was because of one of the last tunes they say they don’t like (which I don’t agree with): Toto’s Africa, which I reviewed last week.
They have a whole slew of songs that they hate just because of a correlation of things that happened in the panel’s lives. Song’s like The Beatles’ Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl or Fleetwood Mac‘s Don’t Stop. That’s not fair. Those songs aren’t bad. The guys in the studio just relate them to embarrassing times in their lives. Or they were simply overplayed. So I disregarded that whole section of the podcast. One song they mentioned in that section was Meat Loaf‘s Paradise by the Dashboard Light, which I don’t like for different reasons than what the podcast’s panel said. Like they don’t seem to like the Eagles, I don’t like Meat Loaf.
They also go into a rant against novelty songs, which I agree that as a general rule need to go. But they also throw Lou Bega’s cover of Mambo No. 5 in with novelty songs, which it isn’t. The Dámaso Pérez Prado original was a great cuban jazz tune, Lou Bega just sampled it and added kind of chauvinist lyrics. They brushed passed a whole realm of terrible songs without really addressing it: samples. Taking a riff from a song and looping it endlessly will make you hate both versions. Bringing it full circle, that’s half the problem of Paul McCartney’s tune. Repetition without variation, going beyond making you familiar with the hook and into a mind numbing stupor.
They do, however, talk a little about just waiting it out. Rebecca Black’s Friday in 2011. Gangam Style in 2012. The Harlem Shake and Let it Go in 2013. Shake it Off and Pharrell’s Happy in 2014. Uptown Funk and Adele’s Hello in 2015. I don’t know if there’s already been something comparable for 2016 and I just missed it, but the point is we’ve been plagued by songs like this even before the Macarena came out in 1995. I don’t think we should be forced to listen to songs that we just have to wait out, but I’m glad that just a couple of years later they’re forgotten and relegated to “Hits of the …” whatever genre/era they came from and the actually good songs will continue to be played freely.
What do you think are the worst songs ever written? Are they bad because of expectations? Are they super repetitive? Do they take themselves too seriously? Or are they just tied to a certain decade or just overplayed? If there are any songs you can’t stand, share them in the comments below.