Worst songs have been a topic of conversation among Madison Bloggers in recent days (here and here), which got me thinking about how I would expand my recent mention of my feelings regarding the worst song of the 80's.
Namely: what would be my 10 worst songs of the 80's? But then this got me thinking about how something gets to be a worst song in the first place.
So you only get to be a worst song if you've reached some level of visibility in the popular consciousness. Like, the worst music I've actually heard in my life was from this band I heard once in graduate school called The Knievels, whose gimmick around Bloomington was that they would play any party in exchange for a case of beer. Sweet Jesus, did they suck. But, given the small number of people who ever heard them play, it's not like they inflicted widescale cultural harm with their music, and, besides, what's the fun of listing them unless I had some bootleg Knievels that I could post to the web for you to listen and wince at?
But then, if something is truly awful, how does it get to be so visible that it can make a worst song list? It could be a novelty song that some people, for God knows what reason, found appealing at that point in time but you never understood. If I was making a 90s list, Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy for This Shirt" would be a prime example of such a worst song from my perspective.
Besides novelty songs, thought, it could be a song that bespeaks the central pathologies of the age. As I was thinking back through sucky 80's music, I realized how much of it really pretty much begged for the rise of the angsty authenticity that became alternative music in the 90's--I mean, look at the top 100 lists for 1983-1987, the rise of Nirvana and Pearl Jam will seem like a historical inevitability--much less the subsequent, more radical, and more complete takeover of teenage popular music by hip-hop.
Within music that speaks of the pathology of the age, meanwhile, I think that the easiest way for something to become a worst song is for it to be something by an artist who is sufficiently established that their next effort is going to get onto radios regardless. Specifically, the worst songs to me are those where you get the sense of (1) artists having sufficient contempt for their audience as to think they can just serve up whatever uninspired drivel they imagine to think up between lines of coke as being something the audience will lap up, (2) A&R people at major record labels who share the same contempt for the audience and agree that the songs would make a great single, and (3) audiences that show themselves to be indeed worthy of all this contempt by indeed loving the song or at least loving it after they've heard it on the radio five zillion times.
The way for non-established artists to enter this pantheon, I think, is by getting their songs associated with movies or television shows that may be good movies or television shows, but which can launch songs into prominence that, in terms of the song itself, have no business being there.
Anyway, to my list.
Immediate selections (seriously, these are sure to be on the playlist of my no-off-button-and-eternally-charged-batteries iPod welded to my head in hell):
Glenn Frey, "The Heat is On" - what happens when one of the most overrated songwriters of his generation gives up any pretense of trying
Kenny Loggins, "Danger Zone" - what happens when one of the most overrated songwriters of his generation gives up any pretense of trying, for the sake of a soundtrack single
Billy Joel, "We Didn't Start the Fire" - what happens when one of the most overrated songwriters of his generation gives up any pretense of trying, and just relies on listmaking instead of writing lyrics
Def Leppard, "Love Bites"
Required some deliberation:
Beach Boys, "Kokomo" - a one-hit wonder novelty song disguised as a song by established artists
John Parr, "St. Elmo's Fire" - God, I hate this movie, and I hate the song entirely independently
Poison, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"
Ray Parker, Jr., "Ghostbusters"
USA for Africa, "We Are the World" - yes, I know it was for a good cause. That's how it got to be ubiquitous despite being so terrible
Cannot decide which of these should be the tenth:
Bobby McFerrin, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" - amusing the first time, painful thereafter
Club Nouveau, "Lean on Me" - anyone whose adolescence intersected the 80's should be ashamed of the popularity of the desecration perpetrated by this song
Neil Diamond, "Heartlight"
Oak Ridge Boys, "Elvira"
Honorable mention - song that today icks me out the most:
Extreme, "More Than Words"