While you’re sitting at the table next week about to chow down and you’re taking a moment to give thanks, don’t forget about music. Without music, our lives would be empty and unfulfilling. If there were no music, what would we listen to? Podcasts of sitcoms? Books on tape? Talk radio? It’s almost too upsetting to imagine.
On Thanksgiving, keep music in your thoughts.
Of course, not all music is equal. You should probably give thanks that certain music isn’t on the airwaves much, if at all. That’s more a form of negative giving thanks – being grateful that something isn’t in your life. Bad music is akin to e coli – the less we encounter it, the better off we are.
With that in mind, here are “10 Songs To Be Thankful They Don’t Play Much Anymore.” These are songs that have done more harm than good to music and its aficionados. These are songs that may have even been popular at one time, but have over the years generated mostly scorn.
These are not good songs.
Obviously, this is a giant category with thousands upon thousands of worthy nominees. So the following is simply a representative sample. If you want to give thanks that other songs that are not on this list are no longer being played on the radio or covered by other artists, feel free, because indeed this is the season to give thanks:
“MACARTHUR PARK” – Actor Richard Harris died in 2002. He had a long and distinguished career in films like “Camelot” and “Unforgiven.” Hopefully he’ll be remembered for those high points and not for mouthing the words to “MacArthur Park,” a Jimmy Webb composition released in 1968 that was voted worst song ever by Miami Herald readers in 1992. (Donna Summer covered it in 1978, but that was disco, and therefore its sheer awfulness was disguised by a pulsating beat.) The melody and arrangement are saccharin enough, but the lyrics really give it that extra oomph of gooeyness. The part of the chorus that goes, “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 again. Oh no!” might be the single worst combination of words in the history of music. CIA interrogators reportedly play this when waterboarding fails.
“TIE A YELLOW RIBBON” – It’s difficult to chart exactly when the practice of tying a ribbon around a tree to remember those who are away began. Some form of it has been around for decades. But Tony Orlando and Dawn immortalized the habit with their 1973 single, which reached No. 1 on both the U.S. and UK charts. It contains a toxic blend of bouncy pop rhythm and sappy lyrics guaranteed to burrow into one’s brain and produce insanity if played often enough. Orlando and Dawn had also recorded another mind-numbing single, “Knock Three Times” three years before, which itself was enough to cause listeners to tie yellow ribbons around oak trees in the hope that real songwriters with talent would once again return to the music business.
“SYLVIA’S MOTHER” – The late Shel Silverstein was a very talented man. In addition to being a writer and cartoonist for Playboy, he was a best-selling creator of poems for kids. And he wrote other popular songs, including “A Boy Named Sue” for Johnny Cash. “Sylvia’s Mother” was Silverstein’s sense of humor at work. It was a parody of teenage love songs, but unfortunately radio stations and listeners took it way too seriously. Recorded by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, it vaulted to No. 5 in the U.S. and No. 2 in the UK (nudged out only by “Puppy Love” by Donny Osmond; go figure) back in 1971. It’s about a lovesick guy trying to contact Sylvia, but her mother won’t let him talk to her because Sylvia’s ready to marry someone else. The line, “And the operator says 40 cents more for the next three minutes” drips with strained and artificial emotion. If you want to hear this but have trouble finding it, just stick a knife in your head. It’s almost the same sensation.
“EBONY AND IVORY” – Sir Paul McCartney is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant songwriters to ever walk the earth. Stevie Wonder is right there with him. So a collaboration between two members of music royalty theoretically should have produced something that was at least within the category of “listenable.” But this 1982 No. 1 single that uses piano keys to illustrate the need for racial harmony is so unbearably preachy that it’s a wonder it didn’t provoke mass riots. “We all know that people are the same wherever you go, there’s good and bad in everyone; we learn to live, we learn to give each other what we need to survive, together alive.” If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been alive in ’82 and heard this song, he’d probably deliver a speech called, “I Have Another Dream Because The First One Obviously Isn’t Coming True.”
“ACHY BREAKY HEART” – Billy Ray Cyrus became a trailer-park household name with this 1992 country crossover. The song, which reached No. 4 on the U.S. charts, divided the nation: country music traditionalists hated it, but it appealed to younger listeners who were more pop-oriented but also liked the country flavor. At its core, however, it’s simple and grates on the ears. Cyrus deserves to be lambasted for two reasons: the song sucks, and it also spawned a line-dancing craze in bars across the country, where people who couldn’t dance before still couldn’t dance, but at least now they had lots of company on the dance floor. Like he does with many songs, Weird Al Yankovic did a spoof of it. This one was called “Achy Breaky Song,” with lyrics that include: “But Mr. D.J. please, I’m beggin’ on my knees, I just can’t take no more of Billy Ray.” This is one of the rare times when the original is actually more ridiculous than Weird Al’s version.
“POPOZAO” – I have to admit a reluctance to include this cut from Kevin Federline’s album, “Playing With Fire,” on this list because let’s face it, the guy has enough problems lately. But Internet opinion seems to be almost universal that “Popozao” is right down there with the absolute worst music ever created by humans, and among the worst by apes. It’s reputedly in the hip-hop genre, although it also qualifies in the “construction noise” category and the “coyotes let loose in the exotic bird sanctuary” genre. The divorce rate in this country is unfortunate; about 50 percent of marriages end up on the rocks. However, there is a silver lining. In some cases, like the one involving Britney Spears and K-Fed, a split probably means it’s unlikely he’ll release any more songs like this.
“WE BUILT THIS CITY” – This is not only a putrid song, it’s an obnoxious one. It came out in the ’80s at a time when rock ’n’ roll was dying from corporate excess. So naturally Jefferson Starship felt the need to milk the last drops of integrity out of a once proud form of music in the pursuit of a buck, but it did so by making it appear as though it was celebrating a proud tradition. “We Built This City” sounds slick, overproduced, manufactured and manipulative, without an ounce of heart or passion. The lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s longtime songwriting partner. The really sad part is that Grace Slick, vocalist for the original Jefferson Airplane and one of the queens of the ’60s acid rock movement, really sells out here. Music like this should be piped into the solitary confinement wing at Guantanamo Bay.
“WHO LET THE DOGS OUT” – Released in 2000, this paean to horny males by the Baha Men contains the lyrics, “Who let the dogs out, woof, woof, woof, woof,” which indicates immediately that we’re not treading in Gershwin territory here. It only reached No. 40 in the U.S. but climbed to No. 2 in the UK, yet another indication that it was a really good idea to break away from that country. Kids and sports fans really responded to this song, as well as others with short attention spans and underdeveloped minds. It has been played often in sports stadiums and arenas as well as in movies. When the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez was with the Seattle Mariners, he requested this song to be played when he was being introduced. That might explain why the Mariners didn’t make much of an effort to keep him.
“I WRITE THE SONGS” – But sometimes we wish he didn’t. In this case, it was written by Bruce Johnston, who became a member of the Beach Boys after an ill Brian Wilson refused to tour. Generally speaking, Manilow’s music is ideal for preventing old ladies from slipping into comas, but not much else. However, “I Write The Songs” belongs in a special category of sensory assault. To his credit, Manilow initially didn’t want to record this because he was afraid it would make him look like an egomaniac for bragging that he writes the songs. He was talked into it by music industry exec Clive Davis, and it went on to become a No. 1 hit in 1975 and won a Grammy for Best Song of the Year. Over the years, it has been included on many “10 worst” lists. In retrospect, he should have called it, “Usually I Write The Songs But I Won’t Take Credit For This One.”
“FERNANDO” – I’m still not convinced that the members of ABBA are real people. They sound to me like Swedish fem-bots. Even the two guys. “Fernando” was a huge success in Australia and all over Europe, and reached No. 13 in the U.S. in 1976. ABBA member Bjorn Ulvaeus said that he once heard the name “Fernando” and built a fictional story around it about two men sitting on a porch reminiscing about a war they fought in in Mexico: “Now we’re old and gray, Fernando; since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand. Can you hear the drums Fernando?” You’ll notice Fernando himself doesn’t say anything in reply. He probably can’t believe the lyrics.