With the new year upon us, there has been plenty of catchup being done by music lovers across the world. All the freaking best of countdowns (like ours, if you haven’t read it) make one feel like they really missed a world of important music. Of course, it also brings out a wealth of anger when you see what passed for important. Even barring the vaguely/not vaguely racist Kanye discussions you’ve likely heard as you’ve spent the holidays with the people you try to avoid the rest of the year, there is a lot of legitimately questionable music making the top lists. 2chainz was inexplicably popular last year, for example. More relevantly, Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke managed to make personae so offensive to many that the sheer mediocrity of their respective hits was ignored, and many sites seemed to pick them up for best-ofs purely on their controversy. We could chat about all this at length, especially since in those cases we find an intersection of “art” and politic: issues of morality and ethics, sexuality and rape culture, exist to take our minds off the facile lyrics and music and awkward performance styles of these two main perps. Still, it all leads to a familiar chant: Worst! Song! Ever!
Now, I’m not going to defend either artist, or the numerous similar ones this year: “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” are terrible songs for a number of reasons. Worst ever, though? I think people simply love hyperbole. The internet age has taught us poorly when it comes to self expression, and worse when it comes to remembering history. There have been some songs over the years that have driven stronger men than I to tears. Songs that have single-notedly decreased IQs. So many songs that no one can claim to have a complete, accurate list. But I’m going to try. This year, I’d like to give you what may well be the top ten worst songs ever written. Because we can’t truly know happiness until we’ve tasted sorrow. And these songs will make you taste sorrow.
So what makes a song “the worst”? Well, to me, one goal has to be that it was heard by people in its time, and could hypothetically be heard by people now. Past that, it’s about that visceral anger and pain that happens when you hear it. “Blurred Lines” is danceable, being that it’s stolen from a Marvin Gaye song, and the only thing keeping it from being a forgettable mediocre dance track is how damn rapey it is. A truly awful song, however, makes ones skin crawl just in hearing it. It would be bad in a language you didn’t know, though the lyrics will often ice the cake. It’s not about personal triggers: the song itself is the trigger. Something about it cuts to the core of everything that makes you miserable.
“Hey, now,” someone is shouting, “Are you implying that Meat Loaf is the tenth worst song ever?” Good attention to detail, but no. He is simply an illustrative example. Let’s begin.
Mr. Loaf, to be fair, has a contender for 11th worst song in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” forever known to me as “the song played at my first married friend’s wedding that everyone knew and sang and I had never in my life heard before.” It takes the overdramatic bombast of Meat Loaf Songs and pairs it with a duet. It’s a step away from a Grease megamix. “…Anything For Love…” has none of this negative connotation. Oh, sure, the full version clocks in at around 12 minutes, and yes it ends in a duet, but there are some brilliant bits of drama in the song, and the cheese is fun cheese, not oily sad mounds of processed Velveeta. We remember the video, and wondering if Meat looked better with or without his mask on. We’ve all asked “what won’t he do?” (the answer, if you listen to the full version, is clear: he’ll never “sooner or later… be screwin’ around.” Or, put more simply, he won’t be unfaithful just for the sake of feeling love). And I will challenge you to a lie detector test if you claim you don’t sing “YOU BETTER BE-LEEEVE IT” in dramatic bursts when the moment comes around. It’s a big dumb blast of a song. I thought about it recently, and I made it imperative to sing it at Karaoke next time I had a chance. I just had to wrap my voice around it.
Now, Karaoke rolls around and I’m ill, but hey, to the victor go the spoils, so I blasted through the 7 minute extended single, with its awkward “never forgive myself if we don’t go all the way tonight” line and its many moments of awkward Karaoke silence. I soldiered on as my voice cracked with the hoarseness of cold recovery. Honest, I rocked that song so hard it fell out of the treetop. High fives were had by all. I am in no way being modest right now, eh?
I’d noticed, upon starting the song, the DJ (KJ? Are they Karaoke Jockeys?) had left his post. Made sense to me: Meat Loaf works with Jim Steinman regularly, and if there’s anything Steinman is known for, it is songs that well exceed the normal necessary bathroom break of a radio DJ. After what I can only call my riveting performance, however, he notes that “that’s the only time you’re going to hear that here.” At some point before the evening ends, he has edited the “Meat Loaf” page in his binder with a dramatic X and the simple epithet “sucks.” So there we have it. For better or worse, I debuted and retired a song in one evening. My friends laughed, we kept singing, life went on.
I bring this up because the incident has all the hallmarks of classic “worst song ever.” I may find something to appreciate in the song, and not understand how the overblown performance can’t leave a soft spot in the hardest heart, but our erstwhile jockey could not even be in the same room with someone else singing it. Nor, for that matter, despite no one having selected the man’s songs prior, could he handle the idea of ever hearing one again. It is entirely probable that the marks will actually draw more attention and get more requests to sing these songs, whether honored or not. The thought of it was too much to bear, though. The song inspired such revulsion that it needed to be banished along with its brothers (without anyone even sleepin’ on it!)
Over the next months, we will explore just what it takes to be that sort of song. I hope you’ll take the risk and join me, even if you find yourself needing to defend a fave along the way. After all, agreeing with 9 out of 10 ain’t bad.
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