Why you ask, would I recommend reading a book dedicated to the worst songs written? For one thing, don't you want to know if any songs you like are in there? Or if you were right all along about that song being truly horrible? The main reason, of course, is that the great humor columnist Dave Barry wrote it, so it is guaranteed to be hilarious. I will state right off that I am notorious for loving bad songs, bad movies, and bad books. I'm quirky. And a huge fan of The Diamond.
This started in 1992 when Barry wrote a column complaining about the radio not playing any "good" songs any more. Then he really stepped in it when he wrote: It would not trouble me if the radio totally ceased playing ballad-style songs by Neil Diamond. I realize that many of you are huge Neil Diamond fans, so let me stress that, in matters of musical taste, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and yours is wrong. Consider the song "I Am, I Said," wherein Neil, with great emotion, sings: I am, I said/To no one there/And no one heard at all/Not even the chair. What kind of line is that? Is Neil telling us he's surprised that the chair didn't hear him? Maybe he expected the chair to say, "Whoa, I heard THAT.'" He got the expected hate mail from Diamond fans, but he received just as much mail from people who hate Diamond. Then he started getting mail from people telling him the songs they don't want to hear on the radio anymore. This one column stirred up more response than anything he had ever written before. He decided to do a Bad Music Survey and wrote two columns about it. But it wouldn't end. He kept getting mail from people mad that he left this song off, people's whose lives were changed by the survey (one woman was questioning whether to stay with her boyfriend now that she has realized what horrible taste in music he has), and of course mail from people he has offended. Why? Well, people feel passionate about music because it's personal. Music can trigger memories, good or bad, that are burned into our minds. The problem with a bad song is that once it's triggered, it will play in your head all day, but only those few lines of the song you actually remember. Dave believes this is because of our brain's memory system: Low priority (ATM number, blood type, location of car keys, names of people you have known for years); Medium priority (Totally useless information you learned in fifth grade); High priority (Commercial jingles for products that no longer exist); Ultimate Highest (Songs you really, really hate).
With all this mail, Dave decided to put it in a book and end this once and for all. There are some ground rules for his Worst Songs Ever Book. 1. The song has to have come out between the years 1960-1990, since the original survey was done in 1992 and for a song to be considered "bad" it should be out for at least five years (This book was published in 1997) There were plenty of votes for songs from the 1950s, Wagner, and one person noted that when you translate opera songs the lyrics are pretty stupid. 2. No novelty songs. No matter how tempting. Those songs were written to be bad. 3. No country songs (some of their titles alone could be a book all by itself).
And the number one song is...MacArthur Park, written by Jimmy Webb and originally done by Richard Harris. Even worse, just when this song was starting to die, Donna Summers came out with a disco version. Others have also done a version of this song for reasons that defy logic. Here is why: Someone left the cake out in the rain/I don't think that I can TAKE it!/'cause it took so long to BAKE it!/And I'll never have that recipe againnnn... If anyone can tell me what this song is about, I would really like to know. I'd never heard of this song until I read this book when it came out back in 1997. I would have to wait until the internet came out with youtube before I could listen to it (I sure as heck wasn't going to buy it) and when I did, I had to agree; this truly is the worst song ever. Years have passed and many, many bad songs have come out, but I still think this is the worst song ever.
The number two slot goes to "Yummy Yummy Yummy (I Got Love in My Tummy)", which was first done by Ohio Express. Yes, I have loved this song since I was a kid. This song was also done by actress Julie London (because no one was brave enough to stop her). There is a CD (Golden Throats) out there that we need to find and destroy every copy of, that includes her version of this song, as well as: William Shatner doing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"; Mae West (I love her, but no) doing "Twist and Shout"; Eddie Albert doing "Blowin' in the Wind"; and Jack "Dragnet" Webb performing a version of "Try a Little Tenderness" (which is a sacrilege).
Neil Sadaka swings in next with the hideous "(You're) Having My Baby", which contains the lyrics: You could have swept it from your life/But you wouldn't do it. Ugh. The next one is one not many may have heard of, but it does get the yuck factor. It's called "Timothy" recorded by the Buoys and involves a mining disaster and cannibalism. "My stomach was full as it could be/And nobody ever got around to finding Timothy". "Timothy", was written by Rupert Holmes who also wrote "Escape", also known as "The Pina Colada Song", which got lots of votes too.
In the sub-category of Bad Songs about horses there was of course America's classic "A Horse With No Name", where one person wrote: You're in a desert. You got nothin' else to do. NAME THE FREAKIN' HORSE. Also, an interesting point was made about the song "Wildfire" sung by Michael Murphey. The lines, "Oh, they say she died one winter/When there came a killing frost" was pointed out by a reader to be ludicrous. When a killing frost comes, you cover your flowers and vegetables. "A killing frost only happens when the sky is very clear and starry by night and deep blue in the morning--a fine day, if you don't have tomatoes. Nobody ever got lost in one who wouldn't get lost in July as well."
Some other songs that got a lot of mentions were: "The Candy Man" by Sammy Davis Jr.; "I Am Woman" sung by Helen Reddy ("I'm still an embryo with a long, long way to go"); "My Ding-A-Ling" by Chuck Berry; "My Sharona" by the Knack (Yeah, another fav); "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" by Chicago; "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" sung by Tony Orlando and Dawn ("..if we really want people to come home, perhaps we should not have this song playing"); "Signs" by Five Man Electrical Band; "American Woman" by Guess Who (Once I found out this song was a put down on Lady Liberty, I stopped listening, even when Lenny Kravitz sings it); "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot" (I love Gordon--I could listen to Sundown all day--but that song goes on longer than it took that freighter to sink); and "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler. Achy, Breaky Heart made it in on a technicality (that has a great deal of merit) and Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy" slid in just under the wire (of course I have a bizarre fondness for that one that I cannot explain).
I feel the need to mention something I discovered reading this book. One of the songs listed was "The Night Chicago Died" sung by Paper Lace. I listened to that song over and over again growing up. It was the coolest song about a kid who is sitting at home watching the clock tick by one night, while hid dad, a cop, is out fighting Al Capone's men. I mean a song about cops and gangsters, how cool! Then one reader wrote in objecting to this line: Daddy was a cop on the east side of Chicago. According to Yvonne Koyzis, "There IS no east side of Chicago; just an awfully, awfully big lake. Daddy would've needed scuba gear to walk the beat." I about fell off the couch laughing so hard at that. Geography has never been my forte. It changes nothing, though. I will always love this song.
There's a whole chapter on Bad Love Songs. Top of the list is "(They Long to Be) Close to You" by the Carpenters (of course I like them). The argument being why would you want birds to "suddenly appear", Hitchcock did a horror movie about that. There's also "Abracadabra" by Steve Miller (I love all his stuff, which includes this one). Barry lets him off the hook for "Take the Money and Run", which got votes (I mean he does insist on rhyming "Texas", "fact is", " justice", and "taxes". ), because he also wrote "The Joker". Poor Paul McCartney gets slammed for his songs "Silly Love Songs" and "My Love", which seems to run out of words ("Wo wo wo wo/ Wo wo wo wo/ My love does it good!). He wonders if Paul got taken over by aliens, because after writing the butt-kicking rocker "I'm Down", for some reason he wrote the, well, words cannot describe the depths of badness of these songs (I mean, even I despise them and want to perform a lobotomy on myself when they get into my head), "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", "Listen to What the Man Said", and "Let 'Em In".
The chapter on Bad Songs Women Hate is one not to miss. They include many songs that Gary Puckett seems to have also done a version of. Top of the list is the classic Glen Campbell song "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife". Then there's one of my favorite's, "Take a Letter Maria", where a boss is dictating a letter to his wife that he is leaving her (but the tune is really so darn catchy, I can't help but sing along when I hear it). One person wrote in wondering if this is where the song "Take This Job and Shove It" came from. Then there's Vikki Carr's song "It Must Be Him" where she sings "Let it be him/Oh dear God it MUST be him/Or I will stick my head in the oven again". And who could forget Little Peggy March going on and on in her song "I Will Follow Him". But those are nothing to the bizarre song "He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss) recorded by The Crystals, which features the lyrics: And when I told him I had been untrue/He hit me and it felt like a kiss/He hit me and I knew he loved me/If he didn't care for me/I could have never made him mad/But he hit me, and I was glad.
The chapter Songs People Get Wrong, was made for me. I am notorious for getting lyrics wrong. The internet has truly been a godsend for me. As Dave Barry say, he loves the song "Help Me Rhonda" by the Beach Boys, but has never known the opening lyrics (neither have I). The best he can figure is: Well since she put me down/There's been owl's pukin' in my bed. And he's on the money about Elton John. He probably is singing in a foreign language like Welsh (though I now know the lyrics to my favorite song of his "Goodbye Yellowbrick Road" and I really wonder what Bernie Taupin was smoking when he wrote that). And who the hell knows what gibberish James Brown is saying other than "Hey". The odd ones sent in, though were: from "Billie Jean" "The chair is not my son" (We don't know if this is
the same chair that refused to listen to Neil Diamond); "Sixteen Vested Virgins"; "I am the walrus, boo boo bi do"; from "Annie's Song", "You fill up my census"; and "Goombayah, My Lord".
It's important to note that we still remember these bad songs, while other songs seem to be forgotten completely. They evoke such passion in us that we break fingers, and radios, trying to turn the station when one comes on. One book, though, is not enough to contain them all. And more are being written every day, which may be enough to make you want to crawl under the covers of your bed and never come out. Me, I happen to love so many of them that all these people who wrote in hate. So, now, I'm going to maybe put on some Diamond, or "My Sharona", the "Pina Colada Song", "The Night Chicago Died", or "Copa Cabana" and jam out.
I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell