Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Random 11

The Lovely Becky and I had a recent conversation about what I considered to be the worst song of all time (a song which we had heard at the end of Zac and Miri Make a Porno, the first Kevin Smith movie that seemed like a real movie). Being someone who is obsessed with music and with lists in a Hi Fidelity sense, the Worst Songs of All Time list is one I take very serious. And very much like the character of Rob, I have some rules.

1) I never consider novelty songs as the worst songs of all time. If a song's intention is to annoy me, and it annoys me, it's a success, and something can't be the worst if it's a success. This also applies to antagonistic arty crap like Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music or anything by Laurie Anderson. You wanted to be unlistenable and you are unlistenable. Mission accomplished.

2)It has to be something done by a musician. The cast of Star Trek certainly could be brought before the Hague for musical war crimes, but even if Shatner is serious, Shatner isn't a serious musician. Likewise you could populate an entire list of terrible songs with selections from Bruce Willis or Don Johnson (warning: clip contains Dweezil), but that would be like populating a list of bad acting jobs with all of Prince's movies. Vanity projects don't count. I'm talking about performers who are trying to make a living from music.

3) The song has to have staying power. Most terrible music, however, goes unnoticed because it is terrible in a pedestrian sense. It takes a certain special quality for a bad song to become a legendary bad song. It's the difference between a stormtrooper and Darth Vader.

4) I exclude songs that I find awful but that I know are awful mostly to just me. For example, I hate Deep Purple, who (in my humble opinion) manage to combine the worst musical wankery with the IQ of a Hell's Angel coming down from a crank bender. But they have a legitimate place in rock history. It's not them, it's me.

There are certainly many songs to choose that fit these criteria. The maudlin ("Every Rose Has Its Thorn"). The lunkheaded ("I Can't Drive 55"). The saccharine ("Break My Stride" or anything by the Starland Vocal Band). Or Christian rock that's so bad, it's blasphemous (see Stryper or any modern Christian rock, which seems to think Jesus is a melodramatic 12-year-old who likes syrupy power ballads).

My runners-up would be "Ice Ice Baby" and "We Built This City." True abominations and a pair of songs that make deafness seem like a blessing.

However, the Brando Academy of Popular Culture and Phallus-Based Humor gives the award of Worst Song Ever to...Jermaine Stewart, "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off."

Why did the Academy select this song?
  • Musically, it exemplifies everything that is wrong with 80s music. I think the 80s get a bad shake because there was also a lot of great music made during that time. The worst of it, however, is really some of the worst shit ever recorded. Everything about the music here sounds like it was made on an assembly line: use the synth bass and drums for the frame, give it some synth horn wheels, and paint the whole thing with a fourth-rate Jackson 5 vocal. Oh, and don't forget to include the optional "Nah nah nah" backing vocal package.
  • It's catchy as hell. I hate, hate, hate, hate this song. Yet the simple act of linking to it guarantees it will be in my head for a week. All the worst songs are catchy. They are computer viruses that Norton can't scrub from your brain.
  • The final and most important element: the theme. We don't have to take our clothes off to have a good time. That seemingly innocent line goes against everything I believe rock and roll has tried to achieve.
It's not that music should be pushing kids to hump like rabbits (I'm looking at you, Whitesnake). However, rock music has always been about two things: sex and rebellion. Those two things are the source of its mojo. You could certainly write pretty compelling songs about the perils of teenage bopping (and even keeping your baby) and write sexy dance numbers that don't involve horizontal dancing.

The problem with "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" is that it's a public service announcement set to dance music. It makes no compelling argument for keeping one's clothes on, because let's face it, we don't have to take your clothes off to have a good time, but we often have more fun when we do. (See also: We don't have to drink to have good time, but we have more fun when we do). Scare me with some clever rhymes about STDs, offer a catchy dry-humping alternative, do something other than croon at me about cherry wine. I've seen chastity pledges that are more clever, and this song is so straightlaced, you could back it with a B-side of George Will rapping about not wearing blue jeans and not make it less cool.

So there you have it, my official criteria for music I hate. I'd love to hear some counterarguments in the comments. Now, let's play some (hopefully) good music.

1) "Epic," Faith No More. One of the few rap-metal songs that does not suck.

2) "Seen Your Video," The Replacements. Anti-MTV rants seem even more quaint than the idea of MTV playing videos.

3) "Radio Song," R.E.M. The one song from Out of Time that I don't think has aged well. Like "Seen Your Video," anti-radio diatribes seem so outdated. Yeah, radio still sucks, but these days, there are so many ways to experience music that it's not as much of an issue.

4) "Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)," Sufjan Stevens. This seems appropriate considering the 0-16 Detroit Lions are picking first in the NFL draft tomorrow and we've had our 24th consecutive week of hearing that the American auto industry may crash and burn like a Ford Pinto. There's a great off-kilter beat to this song that seamlessly flows into a funky breakdown in the middle.

5) "Hover," Rhett Miller. A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, a whole lotta good.

6) "Is She Really Going Out With Him," Joe Jackson. One of the more contemptuous love songs that manages to stay cool by adding a dash of self-loathing.

7) "Things Behind the Sun," Nick Drake. Pink Moon may be the most intimate album ever made. I always feel like Nick Drake is write there in the room, playing his guitar and barely summoning the breath to sing his lyrics. This album wasn't created, it was captured.

8) "Keep Hope Alive," The Crystal Method. The arena rock of dance music, which is probably why I like this so much. Huge drum beats that hit you like offensive linemen. Synthesizer leads played like guitar riffs. And just repetitive enough to groove without boring me like most dance music does.

9) "True Believer," Superdrag. Now here's some Christian music that I can rock to. They even work "transfiguration" into the lyrics—that takes some serious effort.

10) "Santa Monica," Everclear. One of my favorite songs from the 90s. It's not terribly original, sure: the soft-to-loud structure is paint-by-the-alternative-rock numbers. They get around that by turning the guitars up and playing hard enough that I don't care.

11) "Returning to the Fold," The Thermals. When I heard this bit of lapsed-Catholic-inspired indie rock, I thought maybe I'd started a band that I didn't know about, because this is the kind of song I'd write. But I still have faith, if I ever had faith. That about sums it up for me.

Have a good time this weekend, regardless of the state of your clothes.


zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I really really like the new Thermals album.

When I'm not screwing around at xtranormal, that is. They have some characters with fig leaves, Brando!!

Jennifer said...

We built this city... ugh. I'd rather listen to a loop of Jermaine Stewart... and can now, SINCE IT'S STUCK IN MY HEAD!

Does xtranormal include palms raised to the sky for our Christian rockers??

fish said...

Hey! Laurie Anderson can be great. I love O Superman. I agree that there was some really bad mojo in the 80's but I have to think that the 70's had it equally as bad. Two words: Brothers Gibb.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Can I make a case for "What I Like About You" as the worst song ever?

Yes, it's pretty catchy power pop, but the rapid sell out to beer companies and frat-boy assholes that made it omnipresent was the work of Satan, or at least Cheney...

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Jen, maybe Brando can post a Rush video to clean your mental palate...

fish said...

A Rush song must certainly be in the running for worst song ever written.

If you choose not to choose this song/you still have made a choice.

hbonfield said...

Tonight I read your post, chuckled and agreed with you, then moved on to other things... read some emails, checked out a friends site, got up and went into the kitchen for a glass of water. After a bit of time passed, I was compelled to come back to the computer and post a comment here. "Why?" you ask. To say this: THANKS A HELL OF A LOT, BRANDO. It's stuck in my head. That. God. Awful. Song. "And drink some cherry wine. Uh Huh." ACK! Okay. I'll go to bed now and hope that I don't wake up humming it. *sigh*

Righteous Bubba said...

I listen to Metal Machine Music. Over and over.

Brando said...

Oh, H, I am sorry. It is a terrible thing, this song.

Laurie Anderson can be great.Is there another definition of "great" that I am unaware of, fish? One that means the opposite of "great"? Seriously, I'm going to listen to someone modulate their voice like that, I'd at least like to hear Kanye supplying some beats to go with it.

gaderson said...

The "Norton for the Brain" is to hum--remember hum--(if you use lyrics those will get stuck) 'The Girl from Ipanema'.

Churlita said...

My most hated song is that James Blount/Blunt howeverthehellyouspellit's, You're Beautiful. I've been known to run out of buildings when I hear it. My daughter's can torture me just by singing it, and they often do because they're evil teenagers. Ugh.

fish said...

s there another definition of "great" that I am unaware of, fish?

Great like Jackson Pollock completely deconstructing the idea of a painting. Great like e.e. cummings blowing apart conventional poetry. Great like Philip Glass or John Cage. No, you don't turn it to 11 and air jam until your shoulders hurt, I don't expect anything by Anderson popping up on Rock Band: Avant Guard anytime soon, but when I hear O, Superman, I stop what I am doing and I listen. She definitely gets a nod of respect from me.

The Uncanny Canadian said...

While We Built This City is truly atrocious, it has been redeemed millions of times over by its butchering by Homer Simpson, and thus is an essential Smithsonianesque piece of American art.

Von said...

Arrgh!! Now the bad (worst) is stuck in MY head!!! Great post!

Brando said...

Is Rock Band: Avant Guard a game about being a body guard for experimental musicians?

I suppose my issue with Laurie Anderson is that she's famous for her visual performances as well as her music, and I can't watch her perform without feeling like the phrase "Directed by Christopher Guest" will show up in the credits.

I will also be the first to admit that I am pretty straightforward in my musical preferences. I don't mind being challenged, but I like my music to sound like music.

fish said...

Whoops! But in my defense, it is the same meaning in French.

Directed by Christopher GuestYeah, I will give you that one...

Stuff like this is almost conventional and, to me, fun to listen to.

She has also had some pretty successful collaborations with Lou Reed.

It is a different kind of thing, but I do like it sometimes.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Maybe if Laurie Anderson sang on a Rush song....

I liked Home Of The Brave

fish said...

I had forgotten she did Excellent Birds with Gabriel.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Maybe she just needs a VH-1 special...

Then Brando will change his tune.