The things I’ll do for my readers…
It’s been a huge pleasure to seek out and write about all the great music from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s for this rock music blog.
What is NOT a huge pleasure is to look for the truly awful songs. I’ve subjected myself to this torture twice before, in 2015 and 2017. It seems appropriate, in this shitty year of 2020, to once again compile a short list of what I call “cringeworthy” songs. These are tunes that make you cringe whenever you hear them. They make you want to lunge for the radio knob and turn it off or change the channel.
A song might be considered cringeworthy for different reasons. It might be just inherently annoying. It might have idiotic lyrics. It might be too saccharine sweet, or too harshly noisy. It might just rub you the wrong way.
I asked a few friends to offer their cringeworthy candidates, and some mentioned songs I happen to like. Similarly, when I’ve played these songs at a party just to get a reaction, someone would invariably say, “Oh I love this song!!!” Go figure. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure…
Here are the songs I selected in my previous “cringeworthy” blogs:
“Billy 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.
“Yummy Yummy Yummy,” Ohio Express, 1968; “We Will Rock You,” Queen, 1978; “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Tony Orlando and Dawn, 1973; “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John, 1981; “Babe,” Styx, 1979; “Lovin’ You,” 1975; “Sing,” The Carpenters, 1973; “One Bad Apple,” The Osmonds, 1970; “Muskrat Love,” The Captain and Tennille, 1978; “MacArthur Park,” Richard Harris, 1968; “Torn Between Two Lovers,” Maureen MacGregor, 1977; “Song Sung Blue,” Neil Diamond, 1972; “In the Year 2525,” Zager and Evans, 1969; “Don’t Give Up on Us,” David Soul, 1977; “The Girl is Mine,” Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, 1982.
Sad to say, there are many more songs in the pop music catalog that qualify — probably enough for another ten blog entries. Today, I have selected a dozen more stinkers that you almost certainly won’t want to listen to (but I built a Spotify playlist anyway!).
I suggest you avoid these “songs” at all costs:
“Having My Baby,” Paul Anka, 1974
This one’s a no-brainer. It has appeared on, and even topped, many “worst songs” lists over the decades. It was voted the #1 “Worst Song of All Time” in a poll conducted by CNN in 2006. Feminists loathed the song because of its sexist theme and lyrics. It should be “Having OUR Baby,” they reasonably point out. Anka wrote the song only a few months after abortion was made legal, and he made no bones about the fact that the woman had a choice, which irked the pro-life crowd: “Didn’t have to keep it… Could’ve swept it from your life…” Despite all this, the song somehow reached #1, but Anka soon stopped singing it in concert. No wonder.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie Tyler, 1982
Some collaborations of artists from different backgrounds have proven to be artistically creative. Some, however, have not. Tyler, a Welsh singer who’d had a hit in the US in 1977 with “It’s a Heartache,” decided to team up with Jim Steinman, the songwriter behind the showy, Broadway-like “Bat Out of Hell” album by Meat Loaf. Steinman, prone to writing overly dramatic songs, went full Monty on “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which lacks any of the melodic flair that lifted the Meat Loaf material. That didn’t stop Tyler and her husky, inferior voice from recording it. The infernal, unpredictable US music-buying public made it a big #1 hit in 1983. BORING.
“Worst that Could Happen,” Brooklyn Bridge, 1969
There are two large stains on the reputation of otherwise brilliant songwriter Jimmy Webb (who wrote great stuff like “Wichita Lineman,” “All I Know,” “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” and dozens more). One is the already discussed “MacArthur Park,” the interminable 1968 tune where someone left the damn cake out in the rain, and the other is this treacly tune recorded by Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge. They took the tune exactly as recorded earlier by The Fifth Dimension (who loved Webb’s songs, even this one) and released it with even more melodrama, and watched it reach #3. What is wrong with people? Holy smokes, this is really bad.
“You Light Up My Life,” Debby Boone, 1977
Are you sitting down? This icky tune actually won the Song of the Year Grammy, and the Best Original Song at the Oscars AND Golden Globes. Inexplicably, it maintained hold of the #1 spot on the pop charts for TEN consecutive weeks. I don’t care about any of that. People are morons with no taste, evidently. I find this so cloying that I’m afraid of getting diabetes from listening to it. Debby Boone, the daughter of Fifties lily-white pop performer Pat Boone, doesn’t bear the brunt of the blame. That goes to Joseph Brooks, a sleazeball film director who wrote it, and was later charged with several “casting-couch rapes.” Well, isn’t that special.
“One More Night,” Phil Collins, 1985
A lot of pop songs repeat lyrics ad nauseam, especially in the chorus. Even acts as universally admired as The Beatles had some repetitive tunes in their catalog. But let’s get serious. In this sluggish ballad from Collins’s third solo album, “No Jacket Required,” he sings the title 26 times. By the third time you hear the tune, you’re screaming, “All right already, we get it! One more night without her! Get over it!” For a couple years in the mid-’80s, you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Collins’ voice. Solo songs, duets, Genesis tracks — he was inescapable. No one can survive that kind of overexposure, so a song like this was doomed to be on cringeworthy lists.
“I’m Not Lisa,” Jessi Colter, 1975
It’s monotonous. It’s annoying. Some guy used to date Lisa, who fell for someone else, and he can’t get over it, even though new girl Julie is more than ready to take Lisa’s place. The lyrics are kind of pathetic. All of this translated into a #1 song on the country charts and #4 on the pop charts in early 1975. It was written by the artist, Jessi Colter, and the record was produced by her husband, the great Waylon Jennings. WTF?? Too many strings, not a bad voice, but just a crappy song. The good news is Colter never had a chance to annoy us again, as she disappeared from the pop charts (although she had a couple more hits on the country chart).
“I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” The New Seekers, 1971
Over the years, there have been TV show theme songs that ended up becoming pop hits — “Happy Days,” “Welcome Back Kotter,” “Secret Agent Man,” to name a few. But there are only a couple pop hits, thank God, that got their start as TV commercials. In 1970, Coca-Cola came up with its iconic ad campaign “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” with people of all races, ages and ethnicities converging on a hillside to sing together “in perfect harmony.” Okay, all well and good. But then a vocal group called The New Seekers (a spinoff from the earlier Seekers) recorded the song without the product references, and it sold millions. Ugh. Really??
“Love Hurts,” Nazareth, 1976
Songwriter Boudleaux Bryant wrote numerous hits in rock and roll’s early days, mostly for The Everly Brothers (“Bye Bye Love,” “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Wake Up Little Susie”). Another one was “Love Hurts,” which The Everlys didn’t release as a single… but it was recorded by quite a few others, including Roy Orbison, Cher, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. None of these are any good except maybe Emmylou’s. Any chances the song had were forever ruined by the Scottish band Nazareth, who released an electric rendition with truly wretched vocals by singer Dan McCafferty. The UK and the US audiences dug it anyway, for reasons unknown.
“Ring My Bell,” Anita Bell, 1979
Well, isn’t that interesting: My research discovered the fact that songwriter Frederick Knight wrote this obnoxious ditty as a teenybopper tune about kids talking on the phone. When the intended artist, Stacy Lattislaw, signed with a different label, he changed the lyrics and arrangement to make it more of a disco number, and newcomer Anita Ward took it to #1 in the US and Top Ten in 15 other countries. People seemed to like the sexual suggestion as to what “ringing my bell” meant. Ward and Knight had disagreements and disco was on the wane, so she ended up a one-hit wonder. You’ll hear no complaint from me.
“Hooked on a Feeling,” Blue Swede, 1974
Here’s an example of a perfectly decent song that had already been a hit in its original rendition and should’ve been left alone. B.J. Thomas had a fun, catchy #5 hit with his 1969 version of “Hooked on a Feeling,” written by songwriter Mark James, also famous for writing “Suspicious Minds” for Elvis Presley and “Always on My Mind,” a 1978 smash for Willie Nelson. End of story? Nope. A Swedish outfit called Blue Swede recorded a full album of covers, including “Hooked on a Feeling,” on which they chose to use a relentless “ooga-chaka-ooga-ooga” chant that rendered the track unlistenable. I mean, UNLISTENABLE. It was #1 for a week in 1974. WHY?
“Float On,” The Floaters, 1977
I think the best way to illustrate the degree of bad we’re dealing with here is to show you the lyrics. The (spoken) verses introduced The Floaters and their zodiac signs and offered a couple lines describing their perfect woman. For instance: “Cancer, and my name is Larry, /And I like a woman that loves everything and everybody, /Because I love everybody and everything…” “Libra, and my name is Charles, /Now I like a woman that’s quiet, /A woman who carries herself like Miss Universe…” OMG…and it reached #2! Stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong felt the need to record the parody “Bloat On,” and needless to say, we never heard from The Floaters again.
“Rock Me Amadeus,” Falco, 1986
Johann Holzel, a popular Austrian singer who went by the name Falco, recorded mostly German-language songs, which made sense in Europe, especially his native Austria. In 1985, capitalizing on the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus,” Falco wrote the punky-techno tune “Rock Me Amadeus” about Mozart and his meteoric rise and fall. His producers felt correctly that the timing might be right for breaking into the US market, and sure enough, it reached #1. But go ahead and try to listen to it today. Go on, I dare you. It’s absolutely dreadful. Mozart himself would’ve laughed out loud at how abysmal it is.
“Cat Scratch Fever,” Ted Nugent, 1975; “Endless Love,” Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, 1983; “Kung Fu Fighting,” Carl Douglas, 1974; “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” Rod Stewart, 1977; “Another One Bites the Dust,” Queen, 1980; “Clap For the Wolfman,” The Guess Who, 1974; “Love is Thicker Than Water,” Andy Gibb, 1977; “Da Da Da,” TRIO, 1982; “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin, 1974; “I Believe in Miracles (You Sexy Thing),” Hot Chocolate, 1975.
The really sad thing is that I know and can sing in my head each of these horrible picks!
They’re called “earworms.” They get in your head and wiggle around in there all damn day!
I like the whistling on Winchester Cathedral, but I can only listen to that once in every ten years.
Yep. Every ten years is about right for any of these stinkers.
Maybe you included it last time but how about “Timothy” by the Buoys??
I love “Timothy”!! Reminds me of when we first started dating and I got my driver’s license, and it was on the radio fairly often for a month or two. Granted, the lyrics are about cannibalism… but the music is great.
One time I had to make up a list of bad songs for a fake television commercial. It was great fun coming up with titles, and I think we overlapped.
No doubt we did.
When anyone says “cringeworthy”, “Timothy” always springs to mind. True that the melody itself is really pretty good. I always like the reaction from people when I ask them if they remember the pina colada song.
File this one away for the next cringeworthy list – “Lovin’ You”. I wonder if Minnie Riperton has settled all of the lawsuits from people whose eardrums were punctured after that one.
thanks for writing, Marty T! Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” was covered in the second of my three “cringeworthy” installments, in 2017. “Timothy,” I concede, sometimes makes me cringe when I really think about the lyrics. Great tune though.
Bonnie Tyler had me on the floor laughing…… her voice is on the verge of grinding.