Igor Stravinsky may have been right when he said, “Music is the best way to digest time.” But I’m sure the great Russian composer would have agreed that some music–particularly pop hits whose predictable melodies and insipid lyrics have a way of permanently implanting themselves in our minds–inspire nothing so much as a desire for regurgitation.
In Part One, we revisited such recorded catastrophes as Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey, Morris Albert’s Feelings and Charlene’s I’ve Never Been to Me.
Strong candidates for Part 2 included such stomach-churning charttoppers as Barry Manilow’s I Write the Songs (no, you don’t, not even this one, which was penned by Beach Boy Bruce Johnston), Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman (no, you’re not) and Starship’s We Built This City on Rock and Roll (no, you most definitely did not).
A carton of Maalox later, l submit the following tracks for induction into the Worst Hits Hall of Fame:
- Paul Anka with Odia Coates–You’re Having My Baby (#1, 1974–3 weeks). The former teen star, absent from the charts for 15 years, made a dramatic comeback with this cringeworthy male chauvinist opus–later voted the Worst Song of All Time in a CNN poll. And this was no fluke: in a nod to Stravinsky’s description of music as digestion, it was Anka who wrote–in the totemic My Way–“Yes, there were times I’m sure you knew/When I bit off more than I could chew/But through it all when there was doubt/I ate it up and spit it out.”
- Ohio Express–Yummy Yummy Yummy –Ohio Express #4, 1968. Bubblegum songs were not meant to be swallowed, never mind digested. But this cut is unlistenable not because it’s a bubblegum song, but because it’s a bad bubblegum song. As opposed to, say, this.
- Mary MacGregor–Torn Between Two Lovers (#1, 1976–2 weeks). This begins badly –“There are times when a woman has to say what’s on her mind/Even though she knows how much it’s gonna hurt”–and goes downhill from there. Writer Peter Yarrow said his lyric was inspired by the novel Dr. Zhivago. Mercifully, Pasternak didn’t live to hear it.
- Billy Joel–We Didn’t Start The Fire (#7, 1989). A list does not a lyric make, unless you’re Cole Porter.
- America–A Horse With No Name (#1, 1972–3 weeks). This nonsensical Neil Young sound-alike replaced the master’s Heart Of Gold atop the charts in 1972. Note the clever deployment of the oft-neglected noun “things” in the unforgettable line, “There were plants and birds and rocks and things.” Not to mention that most alliterative of phrases, “The heat was hot.”
- Jennifer Lopez–Jenny From The Block (#3, 2002). “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got/I’m still, I’m still Jenny from the block/Used to have a little, now I have a lot…” So humble, so down to earth.
- Celine Dion with Peabo Bryson–Beauty And The Beast (#9, 1991) Some film titles simply don’t cry out for theme songs with lyrics. Paul Simon scored, no pun intended, with Mrs. Robinson, not The Graduate. And how nauseating might a love song called Titanic have turned out? Here’s another indigestible film song.
- Mouth and MacNeal– How Do You Do (#8, 1972). This travesty inspired my Record World Magazine colleague Gregg Geller to bust his review copy into little pieces–after he’d listened and picked it to become a smash hit.
- David Geddes–Run Joey Run (#4, 1975) /Terry Jacks–Seasons In The SunBilly, Don’t Be A Hero (#1, 1974) /Kenny Rogers–Coward Of The County (#3, 1979) (#1, 1974–3 weeks) /Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods–I like a good story song as much as the next guy — David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and Eminem’s Stan can’t be beat. But the genre can also bring out the worst in pop hits. These sides are mega-melodramatic tales, full of crummy sound and provoking listener fury, signifying nothing.
- Les Crane–Desiderata (#8 ,1971). Bad beat. Couldn’t dance to it.
Of course, musical taste is subjective. Stravinsky himself endured concertgoers’ cat calls and rioting at the 1913 premier of his masterwork The Rite Of Spring. So if you are among the millions who loved these records, may the force–or is it farce?–be with you. But, as the old song goes…
Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.
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