Nice ‘n’ easy does it every time

Most fans of rock music, even those now in their ’50s and ’60s, have probably forgotten (or maybe never knew) what the pop music scene looked like before rock and roll arrived in the mid-’50s.

This blog purports to look at “Musical Milestones, 1955-1990,” and I have explored virtually every sub-group from those three-plus decades:  early rock and roll (Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley);  the blues (Howlin’ Wolf, The Allman Brothers);  surf music (The Beach Boys, The Rivieras);  Motown (Smokey Robinson, The Supremes);  the British Invasion (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones);  folk rock (The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel);  garage rock (The Standells, The Troggs):  psychedelic rock (Jimi Hendrix, Cream);  singer-songwriter (James Taylor, Joni Mitchell);  country rock (The Eagles, Poco);  progressive rock (Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull);  disco (The Bee Bees, Donna Summer);  heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Kiss); reggae (Bob Marley, Peter Tosh); new wave (Blondie, Elvis Costello).

But up until now, I’ve neglected to explore the one genre that has endured, in one form maxresdefault-11or another, alongside all of these:  “Easy listening.”

The very name sends shudders up the spine of most rock music fans.  It conjures up images of straight-laced crooners singing saccharine-sweet love songs you might hear in medical building elevators or Vegas cabarets.

That generalization, like most generalizations, has truth in it, but it’s also quite unfair.  Let’s look at the record (or records).

FRANK_SINATRA_NICE+N+EASY-434057Before rock music arrived, almost everything on pop radio — or “the hit parade,” as it was called then — was what we eventually called Easy Listening.  It certainly wasn’t labeled as such, however; it was simply “popular music” — records that featured vocalists singing over orchestral arrangements, doing songs from the “Great American Songbook,” Broadway show tunes, jazzy ballads, romantic torch songs and post-Swing era standards.

The vocal stylings of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Doris Day, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Mel Tormé, Frankie Laine and Rosemary Clooney ruled the roost in the early 1950s.  Even after Elvis Presley and other rock and rollers elbowed their way onto the charts in the latter half of the decade, Sinatra and company were still large and in charge, their ranks bolstered by a newer crop of crooners — Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Vic Damone, Vikki Carr, Dean Martin and Barbra Streisand — who came along in the late ’50s or early ’60s.

And, as we shall see, this music had serious staying power.  Here’s a tidbit that will rock the world of you stoners out there:  The Mathis collection “Johnny’s Greatest Hits,”

Singer Johnny Mahtis On Ed Sullivan 1967

Johnny Mathis

released in 1958, spent an unprecedented 490 consecutive weeks on the Billboard top 100 album charts (that’s more than nine years).  It held the record for the most number of weeks on the Top 200 album chart in the US until Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” LP reached 491 weeks in October 1983.

The term “Easy Listening” was coined by radio formatters who needed a way to distinguish vocalists singing in the style established in the 1930s and 1940s from singers who adopted a style closer to rock and roll.  If you look at the best-selling artists of the 1955-1959 period, Presley was the only rock star in the bunch.  The majority were singers of the Sinatra/Mathis variety, along with instrumental/choral maestros like Mantovani, Lawrence Welk, Jackie Gleason (!) and The Ray Conniff Singers.

 

Unknown-15Indeed, Gleason — a comedian who enjoyed a remarkably potent side career as a songwriter/arranger — struck upon a quintessential “easy listening” formula he felt was inherently marketable.  His goal was to make “musical wallpaper that should never be intrusive, but conducive to romance.”  He saw how love scenes in the movies were “magnified a thousand percent” by the background music, and concluded, “If Clark Gable needs music to get the job done, a guy in Brooklyn must be desperate for that kind of help!”

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Doris Day

By 1960, white-bread teen idols like Brenda Lee, Bobby Vee, Connie Francis and Paul Anka made a significant dent in the charts for a spell, sometimes blurring the line between genres by favoring schmaltz (Anka’s “Tonight My Love, Tonight”) over young heartache (Vee’s “Take Good Care of My Baby”).  But even as R&B artists from The Miracles and Ben E. King to Chubby Checker and Jackie Wilson began adding their earthy approach to the mix, and Broadway show tunes and themes from film soundtracks periodically topped the charts, the Easy Listening artists hung on strong.

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Andy Williams

It’s not hard to see why.  Most of the pop music audience at that time was from a generation that liked their music traditional, melodious, nostalgic, even sentimental.  Rock and roll, and all that followed in its wake, was, to them, unpleasant, harsh, even non-musical.  Give them “Moon River” and “Mona Lisa” any day.

In my family household in the early 1960s, I remember hearing a lot of pretty music coming from my dad’s “hi fi” — a lot of Sinatra and Nat King Cole, plus Como, Mathis, Williams, Jo Stafford and Jack Jones.  Now and then, Dad would also play big band and swing music by the orchestras

Perry_Como_2_1956

Perry Como

of Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, but mostly I recall the gentle strains of romantic ballads with lush string arrangements.

But the burgeoning teen audience was on the rise, and when the arrival of the Beatles and the “British Invasion” in 1964 triggered a seismic shift toward rock in the makeup of the US Top 40, the Easy Listening crew began their inexorable downslide from chart success.

Although Easy Listening music waned as a dominant force, it was clear there remained a sizable audience for it.  The TV variety shows of that period — “The Dinah Shore Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Hollywood Palace” — offered occasional

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Barbra Streisand

appearances by rock groups, but for the most part, they still featured plenty of Vic Damone and Robert Goulet, and Streisand, and Vegas duos like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.

By the late ’60s, all these artists had pretty much vanished from the mainstream charts, with a few exceptions.  Sinatra still managed two big hits in 1966 — “Strangers in the

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Engelbert Humperdinck

Night” and “That’s Life” — and new crooners like Englebert Humperdinck and Bobby Goldsboro topped the charts in 1967 and 1968 with the cringeworthy “Release Me” and “Honey,” respectively.  Some vocalists like Mathis and Williams evolved, and started capitalizing on the popularity of the singer-songwriter movement, releasing albums of covers of contemporary hits by the likes of James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Carole King and even The Beatles (together and solo).

As the variety of radio formats mushroomed in the 1970s to meet ever-broadening tastes, Easy Listening music took on other names, ranging from “Music of Your Life” and “adult standards” to “Unforgettable Favorites” or, eventually, “Adult Contemporary.”  Regardless of the moniker, it was considered by most rock music fans as hopelessly square and outdated.

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The Carpenters

By the late 1970s, Easy Listening as a radio format had split into two camps.  The diehards could tune into Adult Standard, or “Beautiful Music,” which kept the decades-old classics alive.  A newer version of the genre known as Adult Contemporary featured the music of softer-sounding current artists like The Carpenters, Bread, Barry Manilow, John Denver, Seals and Crofts, Air Supply, Christopher Cross, Lionel Richie and Olivia Newton John.  And stalwarts like Mathis found new life by collaborating with new singers like Deniece Williams on the Top Ten hit “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” in 1978.

No self-respecting rocker would ever admit at that point to liking this stuff, but in secret, the fortitude of these artists to forge ahead in the face of critical lambasting was admired.  Indeed, in 1988, Bob Dylan stopped Manilow at a party, hugged him and said,

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Barry Manilow

“Don’t stop what you’re doing, man. We’re all inspired by you.”

Adult Contemporary still exists today, although it has further fragmented into smaller niches like “hot AC” (includes electric guitar and drums) and “soft/smooth AC” (stresses vocals and acoustic instrumentation) and even “urban AC” (black artists doing mellow music).

A personal aside:  I’m a rock music guy, with a fondness for blues and classic R&B, but I have a soft spot for some of these AC artists.  I consider some songs by The Carpenters, Bread and Christopher Cross (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Make It With You,” “Sailing”) to be guilty pleasures.  They’re melodic, well produced, and full of warm memories, and there have been times I have proudly cranked up the volume, and not just when I’m alone in my car.  Hey, even the most straight-laced artist has a great song or two in his/her repertoire.

In the mid-1980s, in the midst of New Wave and Madonna-type dance music, a curious thing happened.  As with fashion styles that make a comeback decades after they were 81wCLUf0TRL._SL1079_first popular, we witnessed a revival of the marvelous tunes of the ’40s and ’50s.  Country rock superstar Linda Ronstadt, who had been exposed to Sinatra’s music as a little girl and had always wanted to try singing the standards, rolled the dice.  She paired up with legendary orchestral arranger Nelson Riddle to release “What’s New,” the first of three albums featuring her luxurious covers of some of the best traditional songs of that bygone era — Gershwin classics like “I’ve Got a Crush on You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” and Rodgers & Hart classics such as “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “It Never Entered My Mind.”

Ronstadt recalled in her 2013 memoir, “Rock ‘n roll diehards in the music press wondered why I had abandoned Buddy Holly for George Gershwin.  The answer is that there was so much more room for me to stretch and sing, to mix my head voice and my chest voice.  And besides, I couldn’t bear the idea that such beautifully crafted songs would be condemned to riding up and down in elevators.”

Her gamble paid off handsomely.  These revivals were not only an unqualified success — “What’s New” reached #3 and went triple-platinum — but also inspired quite a few other rock-era artists to release copycat collections of once-shunned material over the ensuing years.

41BT27CF6SL._SX300_QL70_The first to follow Ronstadt’s efforts was the spectacularly popular (7X platinum) “Unforgettable…With Love,” Natalie Cole’s 1991 Grammy-winning album of standards, capped by a spooky duet with her long-gone father Nat singing the title song “together” in a bit of remarkable studio trickery.

Cole’s success seemed to open the floodgates as at least a dozen singers tackled the standards, with varying results.  Some were quite good — Carly Simon’s “My Romance” (1990), Boz Scaggs’s “But Beautiful” (2003) and Art Garfunkel’s “Some Enchanted Evening” (2007) come to mind.  Others have fallen flat — Bryan Ferry’s “As Time Goes By” (1999), Michael Bolton’s “Vintage” (2002) and Cyndi Lauper’s “At Last” (2003).

a5-stewartRod Stewart has made an entire second career of it, pumping out five such albums since 2000 with erratic quality but plenty of sales.  Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, two of the best songwriters of the past half-century, recently chose to offer their treatments of songs from their parents’ generation.  (McCartney had the voice to pull it off, but Dylan?  Not on your life.)

In the past 20 years, artists like Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Bublé have become the the new millennium’s version of Sinatra and company, offering credible covers and even a few original tunes that have kept Easy Listening music alive.  Before 320px-Duets_An_American_Classic_album_coverhe died in 1998, Sinatra produced two albums of standards called “Duets” and “Duets II,” which paired “The Chairman of the Board” with major contemporary artists like Bono,Gloria Estefan, Anita Baker, Stevie Wonder and Chrissie Hynde.  More recently, the ageless Tony Bennett has done the same thing, singing his generation’s classics with 21st Century stars like John Legend, Carrie Underwood and John Mayer, and Lady Gaga, with whom he collaborated on an entire album.

So the way we view “our parents’ (or grandparents’) music” has come full circle, from derision and disrespect to admiration and appreciation.  Not all of it, mind you; some of it will always be dismissed as mushy and trite.

I guess there are two conclusions I want to make:

1) There are musical styles to suit every taste.   I don’t care for opera, or hard-core country-western, or gangsta rap, but there plenty of folks who do, and I say, to each his own.  I do enjoy a range of genres, and I try to keep my mind open.  But often, sometimes The_Very_Thought_of_You_(Nat_King_Cole_album)too often, I find myself leaning on “the songs of my youth” because, well, they’re familiar, and they remind me of childhood, or young adulthood, and they make me smile.

Which leads me to:  2) There is always a place for The Oldies.  What constitutes an “oldie,” anyway?  That depends, I suppose, on when it was released, and how old you were when you first heard it.

Easy Listening?  It might be rather safe, tame, non-threatening and old-fashioned…but damn, it can be comforting.  And, by the way, easy to listen to.

 

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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!