Go ahead, bite the Big Apple

“New York, New York is so big, they had to name it twice.”

That pretty much describes the enormity of New York…which manifests itself in so many ways.

shutterstock_170076830So many films…so many TV shows…  So much of New York City — Manhattan, Broadway, Brooklyn — is ingrained in our popular culture, particularly for those who have never been there.

This is especially true when it comes to popular music.  Since at least the 1920s, New York has been a ripe field for lyricists.  If you look online at “songs about New York,” you’ll find more than 3,500 entries!

San Francisco has “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and Starship’s “We Built This City.”  Chicago has “My Kind of Town” and Graham Nash’s “Chicago.”  Detroit has J. Geils Band’s “Motor City Breakdown.”

But New York — holy smokes, the list is damn near endless.  Of course, there’s Sinatra’s “New York, New York”…  Billie Holiday’s “Autumn in New York“…  And for crying out loud, there are 125 songs about Brooklyn!   There are 80 that refer to Broadway … and 30 just about Coney Island!

So when I decided I wanted to write a blog entry about New York songs, I was immediately overwhelmed.  How, pray tell, can I whittle down 3,500 songs to maybe 20?

42nd_pic5It’s interesting to note that New York City may be the only city that has had entire albums focusing on its life, people and culture.  The Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP (1978), for example, makes many references to New York:

“I’ve been walkin’ Central Park, singin’ after dark, people think I’m craaaaazy…”

“What a mess, this town’s in tatters, I’ve been shattered, my brain’s been battered, splattered all over Manhattan, uh huh, this town’s full of money grabbers, go ahead, bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots…”

joejackson_photo_gal_36503_photo_1961803463Even British New Wave artist Joe Jackson recorded two LPs — the Top Ten success “Night and Day” (1982) and the uncharting sequel “Night and Day II” (2000) — that were entire song cycles focusing on New York City:

“Uptown, downtown, no one’s fussy, I’m a target, day, night, black, white, no one’s fussy, I’m a target…”

“It’s a hell of a town, steppin’ out in a bulletproof gown, so get 220px-JoeJacksonNightAndDay2out of my goddamn way, I’m walking here, I’m talking here…”

Since I write about tunes of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, that immediately helped me.  But even within that limited scope, there are still hundreds of songs to sift through.

But somehow, I’ve assembled a setlist of 20 selections of representative New York songs of that period.  Two Spotify playlists are found at the bottom of this blog entry.  The first covers the songs I featured in this blog entry.  The other offers songs from the “honorable mention” list.

And here we go:

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cover-large_file“New York State of Mind,” Billy Joel, 1975

Born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, Joel has been a New York booster all his life, and “New York State of Mind,” a dramatic classic from his 1975 LP “Turnstiles,” permanently installs him in the unofficial New York Rock Hall of Fame.  It has been covered by everyone from Barbra Streisand and Elton John to Tony Bennett and Alicia Keys.  He sings about the Rockies, Miami Beach and Hollywood, but ultimately, “I’m just taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line, I’m in a New York state of mind…” 

1999-1982“All the Critics Love U in New York,” Prince, 1982

Prince wasn’t yet the superstar that “Purple Rain” would make him in 1984, but his “1999” album was popular enough, and this rock tune from that album is worth checking out.  Its lyrics belittle New York rock music critics, saying they’ll love anything as long as  it’s outrageously different:   “You can wear what you want to, it doesn’t matter in New York, you could cut off all your hair, I don’t think they’d care in New York, all the critics love you in New York…”

New_York_Minute“New York Minute,” Don Henley, 1989

During The Eagles’ 15-year break (1981-1995), it was Henley who found the most success, mostly because his songs and recordings were far superior to his colleagues.  On his excellent “The End of the Innocence” LP,  which featured singles like “The Heart of the Matter” and the classic title song, “New York Minute” stood out as an unheralded gem, with a sophisticated arrangement and literate lyrics that played on the lasting metaphor about the fleeting nature of a “New York minute.”

art-garfunkel-a-heart-in-new-york-cbs-2“A Heart in New York,” Art Garfunkel, 1981

This song is a hidden beauty.  Garfunkel’s solo work did pretty well on the charts — the “Breakaway” LP in 1975 reached #9, thanks to the shimmering remake of the Thirties classic “I Only Have Eyes for You” and S&G’s reunion single “My Little Town.”  But this song, written by Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle, perfectly captured the feeling of New York, and was warmly received when performed during the iconic “Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park” HBO special and Columbia CD in 1981/1982.

600x600“The Boy From New York City” — The Ad Libs, 1964

A nobody duo of songwriters, George Davis and John Taylor, came up with this doo-wop classic, which ended up as a #8 song in late 1964 by The Ad Libs, produced by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, one of the great songwriting teams from Brill Building fame.  The success of this tune inspired the California-bred Beach Boys to write and record a response tune, “The Girl From New York City” in 1965, which noted, “The California guys can’t peel their eyes from that girl from New York City…” (Check out both songs on the Spotify playlist)

 

Bob_Dylan_-_Bob_Dylan“Talkin’ New York,” Bob Dylan, 1962

His first LP was wildly uneven, and showed very little of the magnificence that would come bursting forth in his 1963-1966 period.  But tucked onto that first record is “Talkin’ New York,” a ragged folk song that describes his arrival in New York from the hinterlands of Minnesota, with references to Greenwich Village (his early proving ground) and how he was originally received: “Come back some other day, you sound like a hillbilly, we want folk singers here…”  

new-york-groove-57e10f6732992“New York Groove,” Ace Frehley, 1978  

Originally a #9 hit in the UK by the British teen glam-rock band Hello in 1975, “New York Groove” later became the only hit (#13 in the US) that emerged from the four mostly lame solo LPs released by the members of KISS in 1978.   Ace Frehley, a native of The Bronx, was Kiss’s lead guitarist, and he has said he chose to record “New York Groove” because it seemed to accurately describe his time in the late ’70s when he was hitting on Times Square hookers.

images-10“New York City Serenade,” Bruce Springsteen, 1973

One of his finest dramas, from his incredible “The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle” LP (1973).   As a Jersey boy, Springsteen often looked across the river at the “Big City” and longed for the big stage.  He wrote “vignettes of urban dreams and adolescent restlessness” and this 10-minute track is one of the best examples of his early work, before he boiled his thoughts down to four minutes or less…

YardbirdsPR“New York City Blues,” The Yardbirds, 1967

If you’ve ever been to New York City, you know what I’m talking about, they got such pretty girls in that big town, make a man want to jump around and shout…”  The Yardbirds, then led by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, recorded many blues-based tracks, some of which went on to become substantial hits, but this deep track wasn’t one of them.  Lead vocalist Keith Relf wrote this one, which appears on their “Greatest Hits” CD (although, curiously, it didn’t appear on any of their original studio albums).

maxresdefault-3“King of the New York Streets,” Dion, 1989

Dion DeMucci, one of New York’s true native rock talents, called his band The Belmonts because they rehearsed in a Brooklyn house on Belmont Avenue.  His early hits “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer” and “Ruby Baby” defined him as a doo-wop specialist, but his 1968 tribute “Abraham, Martin and John” showed he was capable of more.  His impact on other greats who followed gave him the cachet to be reborn in the late ’80s with solid songs like “King of the New York Streets.”

JOHN_LENNON_BOB_GRUEN_NEW_YORK_CITY_SHIRT_1974“New York City,” John Lennon, 1972

John & Yoko’s “Some Time in New York City” LP in 1972 was full of heavy-handed protest songs about the issues of the era, but musically, the tracks were widely disparaged as weak and disjointed, especially from someone with the credentials of Lennon.  But the Chuck Berry-inspired “New York City” wasn’t all that bad, with references to the Staten Island ferry and the Max’s Kansas City nightclub.

1127a80db5b3bfdaf79a8aa2da726c71.1000x1000x1“Daddy Don’t Live in New York City No More,” Steely Dan, 1975

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the duo behind the wondrous Steely Dan, met in New York, and the city shows up in many of their songs (“The Royal Scam,” “Black Cow,” “Brooklyn”).  This infectious track from 1975’s excellent “Katy Lied” LP tells the sordid tale of a father crippled by alcoholism who shuns New York, preferring instead to “driving like a fool out to Hackensack, drinkin’ his dinner from a paper sack…”

…Nothing_Like_the_Sun_(Sting_album_-_cover_art)“An Englishman in New York,” Sting, 1987

The Police got bigger and better during their 1977-1983 period, but Gordon “Sting” Sumner, who wrote almost all of the band’s songs, headed out on his own in 1985.  By 1987, his multi-platinum LP “Nothing But the Sun” spawned numerous radio classics like “We’ll Be Together,” “Fragile,” “Be Still My Beating Heart” and Sting’s commentary on being a Brit living in the US, “An Englishman in New York.”

b-j-thomas-the-eyes-of-a-new-york-woman-vogue“The Eyes of a New York Woman,” B.J. Thomas, 1968

Houston-born Thomas went on to much greater fame with the 1968 hit “Hooked on a Feeling” (later made into a cringeworthy #1 hit by Blue Swede in 1974)  and the “Butch Cassidy” ditty “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.”   But to my ears, his greatest moment was “The Eyes of a New York Woman,” which peaked at #28 in 1968.  The lyrics say a lot:     “East side cafes, west side plays, uptown, downtown, I’ll be there, I’ll never have to look for more, I found what I’ve been looking for…  Deep in the eyes of a New York woman …

0828768957028“I Guess the Lord Must Be in New York City,” Nilsson, 1969

Early on, critics and rival songwriters alike (including John Lennon and Paul McCartney) sang the praises of little-known Harry Nilsson, a Brooklyn-born wonder who moved to LA and found fame with songs like “Everybody’s Talkin’,” “Me and My Arrow,” “Without You,” “Jump Into the Fire” and “Coconut.”  Before all that, he wrote and recorded this New York tribute song that mirrors “Everybody’s Talkin'” in arrangement and melody.

the-bee-gees-nights-on-broadway-rso-2“Nights on Broadway,” Bee Gees, 1975

The Bee Gees had been a hit pop group, Australia’s first, with hit singles in the late ’60s (“Holiday,” “To Love Somebody,” “I Gotta Get a Message to You”).  After “Lonely Days” (#3 in 1970) and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (#1 in 1971), producer Arif Martin suggested they retool their sound toward the coming disco craze, and the results brought astronomical fame and fortune.  “Jive Talking'” started the ball rolling, followed quickly by “Nights on Broadway,” helped along by Barry Gibbs’s newfound falsetto voice.

Simon_and_Garfunkel,_Bridge_over_Troubled_Water_(1970)“The Only Living Boy in New York,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1970

As Art Garfunkel began his acting career with the Mike Nichols film “Catch-22” being filmed in Mexico in 1969, Paul Simon remained in New York, writing more songs and preparing for what turned out to be the duo’s final album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  This stunning piece refers to Art as “Tom,” which was Art’s nickname when the duo marketed themselves as “Tom & Jerry” in the 1950s.  It was rather obtuse when released, but “The Only Living Boy in New York” all makes sense when you look at it years later.

R-7174503-1435398126-8836.jpeg“On Broadway,” The Drifters, 1963

You can’t possibly assemble a mix of songs about New York that doesn’t include this awesome classic, a rare collaboration of rival songwriting teams Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.  Together, they finished off a song that had been left uncompleted so The Drifters could record it within the imposed deadline.  The result was not only a #9 song, it was covered by five or six dozen other artists over the next 25 years, including The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra and Eric Carmen, and of course George Benson, whose jazzier cover version reached #7 on the US charts in 1978.

chicago-another-rainy-day-in-new-york-city-cbs-3“Another Rainy Day in New York City,” Chicago, 1976

Chicago brought a revolutionary, big brass sound to Top 40 radio in 1970, but by 1976, they had settled into a comfortable, light-rock sound that many fans found disappointing.  But the band still found themselves high on the charts with hits like this one from “Chicago X” (the chocolate cover), which also included the #1 hit “If You Leave Me Now,” rush-released after “Another Rainy Day” stiffed at #32.  Still, its lyrics paint an appropriate picture of life in the big city when the rains come: “Softly sweet, so silently it falls, as crosstown traffic crawls…”   

maxresdefault-4Arthur’s Theme (The Best That You Can Do),” Christopher Cross, 1981

If you’ve ever seen the film “Arthur” (and you really must), there’s no getting around the Oscar-winning theme song, sung by Christopher Cross and written by a songwriting team  comprised of Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager,  Peter Allen and Cross himself.  The film takes place in Manhattan, and the lyrics refer repeatedly to being “between the moon and New York City,” making it a no-brainer inclusion on this list.

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Honorable mention:

First We Take Manhattan,” Leonard Cohen, 1988;  “Paranoia Blues,” Paul Simon, 1972;  “Brooklyn Kids,” Pete Townshend, 1983;  “Wall Street Shuffle,” 10cc, 1974;  “Empire State,” Fleetwood Mac, 1982; “Funky Broadway,” Wilson Pickett, 1967;  “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters,” Elton John, 1972;  “Coney Island Baby,” Tom Waits, 1974;  “New York’s Not My Home,” Jim Croce, 1973;  “Looking for Love on Broadway,” James Taylor, 1977;  “Harlem Shuffle,” The Rolling Stones, 1985;  “Living for the City,” Stevie Wonder, 1973;  “Do Like You Do in New York,” Boz Scaggs, 1980.

Since 1990, New York hasn’t lost any of its lustre as a fertile ground for hit songs:

Marc Cohn’s “Ellis Island” (1998);  U2’s “New York” (2000);  Richard Ashcroft’s “New York” (2000);  Ryan Adams’ “New York New York” (2001);  The Cranberries’ “New New York” (2002);  R.E.M.’s “Leaving New York” (2004);   Elton John’s “Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way (NYC)” (2006);  Stephen Bishop’s “New York in the Fifties” (2009);   Taylor Swift’s “I Love New York” (2014).

 

 

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Can’t get much worse

Two years ago, “Hack’s Back Pages” addressed the volatile subject of “cringeworthy songs” — records that make you lunge to change the channel, or run screaming from the store, when they come on the radio.

maxresdefault-2It’s a provocative topic, because people can disagree completely on whether a song is trash or treasure.  For instance, I happen to like the music of the ’70s soft-rock band Bread.  It’s what some call a “guilty pleasure.”  Even the gooey ones like “If” and “Diary.”  Others want to throw up at the mere mention of Bread.  Personal preference is a peculiar thing…

Everyone can name at least a half-dozen songs that are like fingernails on a blackboard to them…even though others might enjoy these very same songs because they bring back fond memories of innocent times, or old romances.

In that November 2015 blog entry, entitled “I can’t stand it no more,” I singled out ten songs — all of which somehow reached #1 on the US charts — that I regard as truly cringeworthy:

2d3c3a20185d3fae6f10c3eb1d48f37a-1Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, 1974;  “My Ding-a-Ling,” Chuck Berry, 1972; “Something Stupid,” Frank & Nancy Sinatra, 1966;  “Afternoon Delight,” Starland Vocal Band, 1976;  “The Candy Man,” Sammy Davis Jr., 1972;  “The Night Chicago Died,” Paper Lace, 1974;  “Seasons in the Sun,” Terry Jacks, 1974;  “Winchester Cathedral,” 1966; The New Vaudeville Band;  “Convoy,” C.W. McCall, 1976;  “Honey,” Bobby Goldsboro, 1968.

This week — because, let’s face it, there are so many wretched songs in Billboard’s Top 40 history — I am revisiting this topic.  I have broadened my search to the 1960-1990 period that I typically write about, and didn’t limit myself to songs that reached #1.  I solicited opinions from friends and acquaintances, but ultimately, these 15 selections are my own, so if you have a beef (and you very well might), take it up with me.

A Spotify list appears at the end, but I strongly recommend you listen to no more than ten seconds of any song if you want to retain your sanity…

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ohio-express-yummy-yummy-yummy-1968“Yummy Yummy Yummy,” Ohio Express, 1968

Ranked high on the list of just about every “bad songs” lists ever assembled is this incredibly annoying piece of confetti, written by a guy named Joey Levine, who wrote far more commercial jingles than bonafide songs in his career.  Ohio Express, in fact, isn’t really a working band at all but a studio concoction, and a brand name Levine used to market the works of several different groups.  In other words, it’s all a hoax, pretty much.  Still, the US buying public sent this shlock to #4 in June 1968, making it the highest charting entry in the embarrassing (but thankfully short-lived) “bubblegum rock” genre.

rockyou“We Will Rock You,” Queen, 1978

Not so much a song as a shrill shout-fest, this quasi-rap abomination (before rap was a thing) evolved quickly into a sports arena anthem that drunken fans would scream at the top of their lungs whenever their team scored points.  You could easily make the case that the ridiculously simple “stomp-stomp-clap” beat with a cappella vocals and no instrumentation does not constitute an actual musical composition.  But Queen was smart enough to link “We Will Rock You” to the solid rock tune “We Are the Champions,” which shared the notion of sports fever for a winning team, and that made it a #4 hit in the US in the autumn of 1977 (and, apparently, ever since).  As for me, I refuse to listen to it when the radio plays it today.

dawn-featuring-tony-orlando-tie-a-yellow-ribbon-round-the-old-oak-tree-bell“Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Tony Orlando and Dawn, 1973

According to legend, soldiers in Civil War times (and in more recent military conflicts) would send letters to their girlfriends, asking them to tie yellow ribbons around trees in their yards if their soldier boys would be welcomed home upon their return.  Tony Orlando and Dawn, in an impossibly fruity arrangement, took a song with that lyrical theme and somehow turned it into one of the biggest selling singles of the 1970s.  How did this happen??  Lord, have mercy…

Physical_album“Physical,” Olivia Newton-John, 1981

Every exercise, jazzercise, “dancersize” and aerobics class of the early 1980s was apparently required to play this relentless “pump you up” track, which made Newton-John the Jane Fonda of the celebrity workout scene before Jane herself took over the following year.  In that setting, “Physical” probably served its purpose, but on the radio, it was insufferable and inescapable, perched as it was in the #1 spot for an interminable 10 weeks in 1981.  The video, with its sexual overtones and blatant body language, represented a real departure from Newton-John’s nice-clean-girl image up to that point…but musically, I’d just as soon never hear it again.

 

StyxBabe“Babe,” Styx, 1979, and “Lady,” Styx, 1973

Somehow, Styx gained an image as a progressive rock group, but to put them even remotely in the same category as Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd is laughable.  Styx clearly preferred a more commercialized sound, carried (and permanently marred) by styx-lady-rca-victor-6Dennis DeYoung’s truly excruciating vocals.  You needn’t look past two of Styx’s biggest hits, 1973’s “Lady” and 1979’s “Babe,” which demonstrate, without question, that this Chicago-based group is light years away from anything “progressive.”  I couldn’t decide which of these grated on more nerves more, so you get them both.

R-9123497-1475176507-8674.jpeg“Lovin’ You,” Minnie Riperton, 1975

Please, just turn it off.  Right now.  I don’t care if the ridiculously high vocal notes set new records for a hit single.  In fact, those notes — and the infuriating chirping songbirds heard throughout — are why I find this song unlistenable.  Riperton has said she wrote “Lovin’ You” with her husband, Robert Rudolph, as a way to distract their baby daughter when they wanted to be alone for a while.  Yeah, that sounds about right.  The fact that the baby girl in question grew up to be Maya Rudolph must be a source of endless embarrassment to her.

 

114864684“Sing,” The Carpenters, 1973

Joe Raposo was a songwriter who found his niche writing songs for children’s programs, including “Shining Time Station,” “Electric Company” and, most notably, the theme song to “Sesame Street” and Kermit the Frog’s “Not Easy Bein’ Green.”  And he wrote “Sing” in 1971, which was well received among the “Sesame Street” audience.  Okay, fine.  But that did NOT give Karen and Richard Carpenter the right to turn this piece of vapid fluff into a mainstream pop song.  The LA-based duo was already well known for puerile, smarmy-sweet songs like “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and although Karen had one of the most pitch-perfect voices in the history of pop music, their recording of “Sing” removed any hint of hip from their reputation.  Still, the American buying public sent the song to #4 in the spring of 1973.  Gag me.

One_Bad_Apple-The_Osmonds_cover“One Bad Apple,” Osmonds, 1970

In 1970, five brothers from Gary, Indiana thrilled audiences and listeners with their effervescent brand of pop soul, reaching #1 with four consecutive hits.  I’m talking about The Jackson 5, of course.  Out in Utah, someone thought they could duplicate the Jacksons’ accomplishments with a white-bread version of the five-brothers act.  If you consider the Saturday morning cartoon TV show “The Osmonds” as a sign of success, it worked.  But if you consider the quality of the songs they released, holy smokes, the difference is stark indeed.  Their debut hit, the irksome “One Bad Apple,” offers all the proof you need that The Osmonds were a very pale imitation at best.

3e339b808251630553f2256895844e2b“Muskrat Love,” The Captain & Tennille, 1976

Written as a lark (and originally titled “Muskrat Candlelight”) by Texas songwriter Willis Alan Ramsey for his 1972 debut album, it was inexplicably re-recorded by the acoustic rock trio America the following year and, against their record company’s wishes, released as a single.  It not only stiffed at #67, it irreparably harmed their reputation as a quasi-hip CSN copycat group.  Cementing the song’s place on many “worst songs” lists is the godawful remake in 1976 by the cheesy duo The Captain and Tennille, which somehow reached #4 on the charts. The track actually uses synthesizers to approximate the sound of muskrats mating.  Yikes, does it get any worse than this??

1200x630bb-2“MacArthur Park,” Richard Harris, 1968

Jimmy Webb is widely regarded as one of the great underrated songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s.  For the most part, his work is commercial (“Up, Up and Away,” “Wichita Lineman,” ) catchy and lyrically satisfying.  But even the best songwriters drive off into the ditch on occasion, and for Webb, that came early with the maudlin, operatic, sickly sentimental “MacArthur Park,” which became a huge hit for (wait for it) the “Camelot” actor Richard Harris!  Astonishingly, it went all the way to #2 in 1968, despite being bathed in syrupy strings and falsetto vocals, with insipid lyrics about leaving a cake out in the rain (“I don’t think that I can take it, ’cause it took so long to bake it”…).  Equally astounding is its second life as a lengthy disco hit in Donna Summer’s 1979 rendition.  Either way (but mostly the original), this is one of the worst songs ever, by far.

1354325“Torn Between Two Lovers,” Maureen MacGregor, 1977

The free love era spawned some strange practices, including couples swapping partners and open three-way relationships.  Of all people, Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary) co-wrote this smarmy love-triangle ditty that laments “loving you both is breaking all the rules,” and US listeners sent Maureen MacGregor’s recording of it to #1 in 1977.  Ironically, MacGregor has said the huge success of “Torn Between Two Lovers” caused strains in her own marriage because it kept her on the road, away from her family and tempted by other relationships.  It’s not a good song, not even close, despite the royalties Yarrow no doubt appreciates.

R-5984772-1480601550-4800.jpeg“Song Sung Blue,” Neil Diamond, 1972

 

My apologies to all the Diamond fans out there, for the guy certainly had some decent songs in his catalog (“Cracklin’ Rosie,” “Stones” and “Sweet Caroline” come to mind), but this borrrring ditty is not one of them.  “Song Sung Blue” sounds like he wrote it in about five minutes, lyrics and all.  It would fit very nicely on a setlist of the squarest tunes of the ’70s (some of which are listed here).  Diamond’s early promise as a Brill Building songwriter (“I’m a Believer,” “Solitary Man,” “Kentucky Woman”) eventually gave way to schmaltz like “Forever in Blue Jeans” and “Love on the Rocks.”  Such a pity.

2e8ceb7217f649be2849e45e16cd5121“In the Year 2525,” Zager & Evans, 1969

The abundance of brilliant classic rock music released in 1969 — “The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” The Stones’ “Let It Bleed,” The Who’s “Tommy,” Creedence’s “Green River,” the Crosby Stills & Nash debut — makes it all the more difficult to fathom the songs that spent multiple weeks at #1 on the singles chart that same year.  Most surprising, perhaps, is “In the Year 2525,” a lyrically bleak, musically melodramatic groaner that dominated the airwaves for six weeks, making it the #1 song of the year.  Seriously??  Denny Zager and Rick Evans took the subject of “technology over mankind” very seriously, as did many music listeners at the time, evidently.  But the words are so pathetically sophomoric, it’s mind boggling to think they were considered “deep.”  Spare me, please.

david-soul-dont-give-up-on-us-private-stock-4“Don’t Give Up on Us,” David Soul, 1977

Okay, wait a minute.  David Soul?  Where do I know that name?  Oh yeah, he was one half of the tongue-in-cheek TV cop drama “Starsky and Hutch” in the ’70s.  So you’re telling me he recorded an album?  Yeah yeah, well, so did William Shatner, and even Telly Savalas, but they never made a dent in the charts.  Soul, meanwhile, inexplicably reached #1 in April 1977 with this piece of dreck, then faded as the “one-hit wonder” he deserved to be.  British fans, with questionable judgment, gave him four more Top 20 chart successes after that, but US listeners apparently conceded their mistake and mercifully moved on.

MICHAEL_JACKSON_THE+GIRL+IS+MINE+++PICTURE+SLEEVE-38789“The Girl is Mine,” Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney, 1982

He may have written some of the best music of the 20th Century when paired with John Lennon, but Paul McCartney’s solo career is littered with inconsequential crap — “My Love,” “Silly Love Songs,” “Let ‘Em In,” “Ebony and Ivory,” etc — amongst the handful of really strong songs.  In 1982, he teamed up with Michael Jackson on a couple high-profile pop songs — “Say Say Say,” which appeared on his “Pipes of Peace” LP, and the cloying, irritating “The Girl is Mine,” the sole blemish on Jackson’s otherwise outstanding “Thriller” album.  Hard to believe maestro producer Quincy Jones had anything to do with this terminally cutesy duet.

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1620I found I needed to create a special category for Elton John, responsible for some of the most beloved and high-quality songs of his era (“Tiny Dancer,” “Your Song,” “Rocket Man,” “Burn Down the Mission,” “Levon,” “Friends,” “Candle in the Wind”).  However, he evolved into a writer of some of the most obnoxious songs of the mid-’70s, too.  “Crocodile Rock,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Island Girl” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (with Kiki Dee) may have been popular on the charts, but they drove some listeners (like me) to the brink of madness.

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Honorable mention (and there are SO MANY!):

Having My Baby,” Paul Anka, 1974;  “You Light Up My Life,” Debbie Boone, 1978;  “Cat Scratch Fever,” Ted Nugent, 1977;  “Rock Me Amadeus,” Falco, 1986;  “I Love a Rainy Night,” Eddie Rabbit, 1981;  “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” Culture Club, 1983;  “Sussudio,” Phil Collins, 1985;  “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” A Taste of Honey, 1978;  “YMCA,” The Village People, 1976;  “You Make My Dreams,” Hall & Oates, 1981;  “All Out of Love,” Air Supply, 1980;  “Truly,” Lionel Richie, 1982;  “I’m Not Lisa,” Jessi Colter, 1975;  “Crimson and Clover,” Tommy James & Shondells, 1969;  “Can’t Smile Without You,” Barry Manilow, 1978;  “Love is Thicker Than Water,” Andy Gibb, 1977;  “Mr. Blue Sky,” ELO, 1978.

I’m sure I’ve missed a few of your “worst favorites.”  Please bring them to my attention, and perhaps I’ll include them in “Cringeworthy Songs #3” sometime!