What songs do you HATE?
Music is such a personal matter. The same song can inspire completely different feelings from person to person.
I was reminded of this last week while listening to NPR’s insightful, hilarious “All Songs Considered” episode called “The Worst Songs of All Time?”
It all started when a member of the “All Songs Considered” staff wrote a column called “Leave ‘We Built This City’ Alone!”
I’m not here to defend “We Built This City,” though I hardly think it’s the worst song of all time. Instead, I’m here to urge every music fan to dig deeper and interrogate his or her own definition of what makes a song terrible. I feel like we pile on “We Built This City” because it’s too feeble to fight back; because we as a community of music-lovers accept that it’s the worst song ever the way we accept that Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper or A Love Supreme or Blue orBlood on the Tracks is the best album ever. That is to say, we accept these opinions as truth because they’ve been accepted that way before most of us even got here.
I do think the aforementioned best-albums-of-all-time rank among the best albums of all time, just as I think “We Built This City” is kind of a lousy song — albeit too over-the-top silly to truly despise at this point. But I encourage people to interrogate their musical tastes and biases and feelings a little bit more aggressively. It’s easy to say, “The best album of all time is [an indisputably classic record].” But what’s your favorite album? What records do you love in your bones? What records do you turn to when you need to feel better, to feel centered, to feel human, to feel alive? Those aren’t decided by consensus; they’re personal and often based on who, what and where we were when we heard them.
The same process is useful when we analyze what each of us views as the worst music of all time. If everyone says, “Duh, ‘We Built This City’ is the most appalling song ever,” then the discussion is over, and we’ve stopped exploring what makes music obnoxious or offensive or unoriginal or otherwise bothersome to us. We haven’t just short-circuited a fun debate at parties; we’ve also skipped out on an important discussion of what makes us recoil and why.
“We Built This City” is bad, and I hate the fact that it’s now in my head.
But it’s not among my personal list of the worst songs of all time.
Nor are any number of songs by Michael Bolton, Chicago, Richard Marx, Creed and Nickelback. I just wanted to put them all on notice. 🙂
Taking Thompson’s lead, I’ll do my best to give some explanation of why I find these songs so terrible. The reasons are admittedly not always deep. Sometimes, you just have a gut reaction to a song, and it sticks.
Between Tom Petty’s voice and the chorus, “I’m learning to fly/But I ain’t got wings/Coming down/Is the hardest thing,” the song drives me insane. It sounds so dead on arrival, as if the soul was sucked out of it before it was even recorded.
I could really fill up a good portion of this list with songs from the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack. I can’t even recall anymore whether I’ve ever seen the movie in its entirety, but listening to the radio in the 80s, it was impossible to escape its soundtrack. “She’s Like the Wind” and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” both made me want to spontaneously combust, but for whatever reason “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen is the worst. Maybe it’s because I still hear it on occasion, while the other two have mostly faded into the ether. It’s also the hardest to get out of your head. The chorus has that earworm quality that can destroy a man. “With these hungry eyes/One look at you and I can’t disguise/I’ve got hungry eyes/I feel the magic between you and I …” I wish those hungry eyes would eat Carmen’s mouth and stop this song.
I don’t care for The Eagles, but Don Henley’s solo material takes my distaste to another level. It’s really hard for me to pick just one of his songs for this list. I mean, there’s “All She Wants to Do is Dance,” “The End of Innocence” and “Dirty Laundry” in his discography. But the song I had to listen to most was “The Boys of Summer.” The synth line mixed with the guitar noodling, which then leads to Henley’s voice, makes for a toxic mixture when it enters my brain. I just want summer to be over so these boys will go away.
I liked Genesis. I really did. “Invisible Touch” got a lot of play in my house. The “Land of Confusion” video fascinated me to no end. But then they released this abomination in 1991. It’s only in recent years that I’ve begun to forgive Phil Collins for “I Can’t Dance.” He’s made some great music in his career, but this one song almost eclipsed it all for me. It was always on the radio, and it was so bad. “I can’t dance, I can’t talk/Only thing about me is the way I walk/I can’t dance, I can’t sing/I’m just standing here selling everything.” What is he talking about???
I realize The Beach Boys are often credited with making one of the best albums of all time with “Pet Sounds.” But in the 80s they released a little song called “Kokomo.” It’s a place I never want to go, because I would not be able to shake this song. This tune makes me think of many things I don’t care to think about in my spare time: mindless sunbathing, Jimmy Buffet fans and old people copulating. No thank you.
I don’t think this song’s inclusion needs any explanation. It was a “Titanic” song that I could not avoid.
This song was released in my junior high years as my social calendar was beginning to heat up with all kinds of dances. Bryan Adams was a staple. In fact, I remember nights when “Everything I Do” was just put on repeat so as to not interrupt the slow dancing everyone wanted to do. While some young ladies were generous enough to dance with me, I still hated this song. It was corny to begin with, but it takes on a whole new level of absurdity when you’ve heard it a couple hundred times through no effort of your own.
It’s not just that I find this song embraces a sort of soulless patriotism. It’s that it always becomes popular during times when its jingoistic qualities are most pronounced, such as after 9/11 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I know this song has a profound impact on some people, but I find it cloying and unlistenable.
So this is where some readers will really begin to question why they read this blog at all. But it’s true — I don’t like “Sweet Caroline.” I’ve never cared for Neil Diamond. But this song has taken on a somewhat unparalleled status where you not only have to listen to it, but you’re also supposed to take part in a group sing-a-long if it is played. Of course, this just makes me dislike it more. Now, I’m not only on the outside for not liking the song, but the isolation is made worse by the fact that I cannot genuinely participate in the communal displays of affection for it. Yes, pity poor me. I’m the boy who never fell in love with “Sweet Caroline.”
If you asked any one of my friends to name a song that I cannot stand, they would all respond with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” When that piano intro starts playing, I shrink into the shadows. I know what’s about to happen. I’m going to hear that icky, full-thoated voice. And then everyone is going to hop on the midnight train and go crazy. I’ve disliked the song for as long as I can remember, but since it was revived by “The Sopranos,” it follows me everywhere. “Don’t Stop Believin'” is like the body I tried to bury, but the spirit of that city boy from south Detroit keeps haunting me. Just when I think I’ve put it to rest forever, the song appears again to torment my soul. As with “Sweet Caroline,” the fact that “Don’t Stop Believin'” is so beloved by so many just makes my distaste stronger and more isolating. It is not the obscure songs that you never really have to hear that you HATE. It’s the songs that you cannot escape that make you want to fill your ears with cement. That is “Don’t Stop Believin'” for me …