The Worst Hit Singles Of All Time
If one does a Google search for the worst hit singles of all time, they will find a strange confluence of opinion, as if all the list creators huddled together and compared notes. Often some of the tracks cited aren’t really that bad. Overplayed, sure, but that doesn’t equate to “badness”. I’m not crazy about “We Built This City” either, but hearing it doesn’t make me want to blow my brains out. Achy Breaky Heart? Well, it at least has a good beat. On the other hand, one mega-hit considered a timeless classic grinds my teeth every time I have the misfortune to hear it. Musical taste is subjective.
When compiling my list of the worst hit songs of all time I lean toward treacly ballads. There’s nothing worse than a cloying lyric combined with a plodding melody; a song that aims to seize your heartstrings, but instead seizes your stomach. As a songwriter I marvel at the lyricist’s sheer audacity and cynicism. ”Oh, this’ll get ‘em!” he grins as he scribbles another vacuous line. “Hey! Be sure to add something about puppies!” his co-writer giggles. “And a dead lover!”
Yet these singles were number one hits. I wish I knew why. Certainly they are from a different time, perhaps a far more innocent time, but I was around then and I hated them. In the seventies one could not escape these songs. Our main entertainment source was AM radio — we had to listen to whatever the disc jockey (or program director) decided to play. My portable radio had a vertical wheel that had to be rotated to tune in to another station, and if my primary station was at 550 kHz on the dial and the next best was 1490, it was hardly worth the effort to change the channel. So I was stuck hearing “Rose Garden” for the 2,463rd time. Television was hardly better. A lot of variety shows were slotted into the networks’ lineups, and they needed musical guests. Who better to feature than some middle-of-the-road artist who wouldn’t offend the seniors? You know, I never saw Grand Funk Railroad perform on the Tony Orlando and Dawn Show.
This list is incomplete, because I’m certain there are more ghastly singles I’ve forgotten. I will add to the list as those come to haunt my dreams.
In no particular order:
(You're) Havin' My Baby ~ Paul Anka
Imagine sitting in a stuffy back office at your first job, with nothing but three desks bumped up against each other, a newly-minted supervisor who's trying too hard, and one other person your own age, and the work is so mind-numbing that the radio propped up on the corner file cabinet is your only tether to reality. The songs are pretty damn good -- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Sundown, Please Come To Boston, even Midnight At The Oasis.
Then this thing vomits out of the speaker, dripping with fake sincerity. And the lyrics!
The seed inside ya, baby, do you feel it growin'?
Apparently Mister Puppy Love is all grown up now, even though he still talks like a high school sophomore.
You're a woman in love and I love what's goin' through ya
Goin' through ya? As a woman who's given birth, let me assure you, nothing was "goin' through me." I have, however, had that happen to me once after I ate some undercooked chicken. Maybe that's what Paul meant.
Ya had a bad chicken sandwich
What a lovely way of sayin' how much you hate it
I could forgive Paul for simply choosing to record a horrible song and instead blame the writer, but he was the writer. Didn't Anka write My Way? So he obviously knows how to write a coherent lyric. Apparently along with his ecru belted leisure suit, Paul just wanted to be hip. Bad way to go about it.
Honey ~ Bobby Goldsboro
There are so many things wrong with this song, I don't know where to begin. Of course, there is a ripe history of pop songs about lovers dying, sometimes violently, like "Last Kiss" by J. Frank Wilson and the...Mumblebums...excuse me, the Cavaliers (had to look it up). Even that one, as maudlin as it is, doesn't come close to the backhanded compliments writer Bobby Russell bestowed on his fictional dead wife.
She was always young at heart Kinda dumb and kinda smart
Came runnin' in all excited, Slipped and almost hurt herselfAnd I laughed till I cried
She wrecked the car and she was sadAnd so afraid that I'd be mad But what the heck
So, a stupid, bad driver with an asshole husband who laughs at her injuries. No wonder she died. I'm not going to assume anything, but...
Then, to assure us that he really, really did love her, we add the angelic chorus.
See? I miss her! And I'm bein' good! Hardly any drinking or anything! Shame that I don't have anyone to laugh at now, but at least I've got that dumb dog she begged me for hangin' around.
I'm hardly the person to scream "misogyny" at the first hint of offense, but come on! Honey should have taken a cue from Martina McBride and burned the house down before she floated up to that immaculate kitchen in the sky.
Convoy~ CW McCall
Wait -- does this qualify as "a song"?
CW McCall, born Bill Fries, was an ad exec in the early seventies and apparently a good "talker". For some bizarre reason the CB radio craze hit around 1976, so I guess the sequence went: radio, stereo, eight-track tape, cassette, CB radio, CD, streaming. Who knew? Maybe the CB radio was a precursor to the smart phone, in that one could communicate with anyone who...oh, I give up. I was never acquainted with anyone who actually used a CB radio, but it became a mythical talisman to regular people and even to non-regular people like Merle Haggard, who wrote a few songs about gabbing on its staticky microphone.
I can't name one talking song I actually like. Music is supposed to be melodious. The poor women who were tasked with the singing part should've gotten a nice, fat royalty check.Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June
In a Kenworth pullin' logs
Cab-over Pete with a reefer on
And a Jimmy haulin' hogs
We is headin' for bear on I-one-oh
'Bout a mile outta Shaky Town
I says, "Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck
And I'm about to put the hammer down"
I would run this through Google Translator, but I don't know what language it is. Frankly, you could substitute any nonsense words and it would make just as much sense.Was the shark of the spoon on the sith of June
In a Kenmore chillin' dogs
Comb-over sheet with a pancake on
And a birdhouse wearin' clogs
We is pickin' pears on Eee-I-Oh
'Bout a smile outta Funky Town
I says, "Big Hen, I've got Rubber Pants"
And I'm about to put Grandpa down"
This CB flash was a fad, a novelty that mercifully died as quickly as it was born. I do remember that my dad for some reason fancied this song, and he generally had pristine musical taste. But maybe it was Dad's version of "Don't Worry, Be Happy". Just a thing -- the inconsequential thing of the moment.
Nevertheless, I couldn't abide it.
You Light Up My Life ~ Debby Boone
To be fair, the singer is good and the melody isn't awful. It's the lyrics. The recording has a sordid history -- it seems that the songwriter, Joseph Brooks (A man? Who could have guessed?) was too cheap to pay for a new instrumental track to be recorded, so he instructed Debby to sing over the original artist's rendition -- exactly. Maybe the bleeding through of the original singer is the reason for the awful flute flourish that's completely out of place.
How did I instinctively know this song was written by a man?
So many nights I'd sit by my windowWaiting for someone to sing me his song
Oh yes, all women sit in their windowsill at night, stare up at the stars in the night sky, hold their breath and cast a wish upon the wind.
In reality, a woman would wake up from a sound sleep, grumble, "Who the f*** is that singing outside my window? It's f***ing two o'clock in the morning!" Then she'd slide the sash up and drop whatever heavy object was handy.
Finally a chance to say, "Hey, I love you"
I love this! I, for one, always start my sentences with, "Hey!" Although I actually prefer, "How YOU doin'?"
It can't be wrongWhen it feels so right
Well, who said it was wrong? What's up with this guy? Is he half-human, half-mole rat? Is his skin covered in crusty scales? Our heroine seems unusually defensive.
I say, keep the singer, even keep the melody. Ditch the lyrics. Oh, and that flute. Then I won't hate it.
Skip A Rope ~ Henson Cargill
To be fair, I don't hate the melody, the production, nor the singer. But I was thirteen when this single was a hit. Picture a newly-minted teenager already drowning in a river of dysfunction awakening to the squawk of her alarm, stumbling into the bathroom to get ready for a school bus filled with taunting kids and a new school she despised, flipping on her radio and being greeted with this uplifting message:
Daddy hates mommy, mommy hates dadLast night you should'a heard The fight they had
And besides that, I had a little sister who was six and she played jump rope sometimes, but trust me, none of her little jump rope circle's chants involved taxes.
Cheat on your taxes, don't be a foolNow what was that they said about a golden rule?
The line that always got me, though, was, I guess, the epilogue. My best friend and I actually laughed about it:
Stab 'em in the back that's the name of the game
It was so incongruous -- so out of nowhere. Of course, we were thirteen and not yet completely jaded.
While, as I said, it's not the worst song ever (by far), it's not exactly a singalong. Nobody's choosing it for their wedding dance or a surprise birthday party.
This list is to be continued, but I'll confess right now to being a heretic. I am supremely irritated by a single that all the cool kids think is the shitz.
A couple verses? Sure. Three reels of the chorus? You bet. But eight minutes and forty-two seconds? That's just self-indulgent. You know, The Beatles' singles averaged two minutes and seventeen seconds. An almost nine-minute-long song is the mark of a man in love with himself.
And what does one remember about this song?
Bye-bye, Miss American PieDrove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dryThem good old boys were drinking whiskey and ryeSinging, "This'll be the day that I die"This will be the day that I die
That's it. Tack a couple of verses on, repeat the chorus, and you've got yourself a song. Numbskull. Play your vanity cut for yourself in your basement. Nobody else has the time nor the patience to humor you.
Stay tuned for more bad tracks. The possibilities are endless.
Michelle Anderson, Senior Country Editor