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The worst song of all time

'See the tree, how big it's' -- groan

By Todd Leopold

Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey" was one of the biggest hits of 1968.


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Eye on Entertainment
Dennis Quaid

(CNN) -- I knew it was coming.

Every day, at the end of almost every hour, XM's '60s channel plays the top six hits of a corresponding week from that decade. As an aficionado of the Billboard charts -- I've got a bunch of the Billboard Top 40 and No. 1 books at home -- I knew what was going to be No. 1 when the countdown got to mid-April 1968: "Honey," by Bobby Goldsboro.

The Worst Song of All Time.

I sat transfixed in my car as it played, as if I were in the midst of an accident. The simpering melody, the tearjerking lyrics: God, how I hated it. And yet I couldn't change the station.

"See the tree, how big it's grown / But friend, it hasn't been too long, it wasn't big ..."

"Honey" wasn't just a hit -- it was No. 1 for five weeks in April-May 1968, one of the biggest songs of the year. According to a Bobby Goldsboro tribute site, songwriter Bobby Russell initially gave the song to Kingston Trio member Bob Shane; when Shane's version got off to a slow start, Russell (who also wrote "Little Green Apples" and "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia") allowed Goldsboro to release it, and the recording took off immediately.

(The Kingston Trio also did an early version of "Seasons in the Sun." Coincidence? I think not.)

I've always been at a loss to its success. Sure, it's about a "Love Story"-type romance, and those sorts of tearjerkers sell. But the narrator of "Honey" isn't even kind to his wife: He laughs when she slips, describes her as "kinda dumb and kinda smart" and mocks her for crying at the late show.

"One day while I was not at home / While she was there and all alone / The angels came ..."

And then there's her death. Even in 1968, what kind of jerk wouldn't be at his wife's bedside as she died? No doubt, the "Honey" narrator grew up to become the narrator of Harry Chapin's far superior "Cats in the Cradle," ignoring his son as he once ignored his wife.

But one man's offal is another man's meat, and "Honey" has its defenders.

"I cried when I first heard it as a child, and still cry as an adult. So what if it's sappy," wrote Fiona on Songfacts.comexternal link. "This song is [one of] the most touching and heartwarming songs I have ever heard, second being 'Iris,' by the Goo Goo Dolls," added Dawson.

Besides, it's foolish to single "Honey" out when there are so many other awful songs. I asked staffers what they thought the worst song of all time is -- and you'll get your chance as well.

Eye on Entertainment can't get them out of his head.


I only had two rules: the song had to have been a hit -- preferably the kind you hear on the radio so often you can't change the station fast enough -- and it can't have been a song that wore out its welcome through repetition. A really bad song is one you hate from the word "go."

Several people nominated Starship's "We Built This City," a No. 1 hit from 1985 that was also named Blender magazine's worst song everexternal link. CNN Pipeline copy editor James Dinan put it best: "I got a laugh when I read that the original intent of this song was to be a statement against cracking down on artistic freedom. I'd support such a crackdown if it means this song will never be played again."

The Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight" got a few votes, as did Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart," Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings" and Don Johnson's "Heartbeat." ("Broken Wings" succeeded "We Built This City" as No. 1 by a few weeks; obviously, late 1985 was a golden age for bad songs.)

A couple folks named "MacArthur Park," which also won a Dave Barry worst song contestexternal link several years ago. Barry himself can't stand "In the Year 2525," which he called "relentlessly ugly" in his book "Tricky Business."

Then there were the generalists, who nominated such things as "anything ever recorded by Celine Dion" and "the REO Speedwagon catalog."

Of course, there were the novelty songs -- C.W. McCall's "Convoy," Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy," Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" and the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" ("so bad as to veer toward evil," wrote a reviewerexternal link in apparent agreement). But it seems unfair to lump novelty songs in with works that insist on quality and earnestness. (However, it also may be unfair to assume the "quality" and "earnestness" of "Achy Breaky Heart.")

The submissions spawned their share of quarrels. One person intensely disliked Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," but despite its amateurish rap and clunky background, I find the song perversely charming. And as many people love Toni Basil's "Mickey" as can't stand it. (Rhino Records, never one to miss a trick, has a whole album of bad hit songs: "'70s Party Killer Classics" -- not to mention the classic "Golden Throats" collections.)

What do you say, dear reader? What do you think is the worst song of all time? Send your responses (and reasons, if you have them) to I'll compile them in a future column.

(Update, 11 a.m. Friday: So far, we've received more than 3,400 e-mails, and though I don't want to give away the leading vote-getters, let's just say that the annus mirabilis of 1974 is producing the lion's share of nominees -- a couple of which came up in discussions but were left out of this article to include other possibilities. Other suggestions, blissfully forgotten until now, have left me slapping my forehead going, "Oh, of course!" After which I have to take knitting needles and stick them in my ears. Repeatedly.

(If you'd like to hear some terrible songs, AOL Radioexternal link -- like CNN, a division of Time Warner -- recently launched a "111 Worst Songs Ever" countdown radio station.

(Finally -- if you dare -- click here for some of the nominations and comments. I'll have an expanded version next week. For now, keep those e-mails coming.)

In the meantime, I'll stick with "Honey." Or, at least, it'll stick with me ... like decomposing, stepped-in garbage on a hot day.

On screen

  • What do we care about more -- electing presidents or electing pop stars? "American Dreamz" combines the two, making a Bush-like president a judge on an "American Idol"-like talent show. Dennis Quaid plays the president, Mandy Moore is a singing hopeful and an almost unrecognizable Willem Dafoe is the president's right-hand man. Opens Friday.
  • In "The Sentinel," Michael Douglas plays a Secret Service agent accused of being a traitor. The film also stars Kiefer Sutherland and Eva Longoria. Opens Friday.
  • "Silent Hill," written by "Pulp Fiction" co-writer Roger Avary, features a woman looking for her daughter in another dimension. With Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean. Opens Friday.
  • On the tube

  • Helen Mirren stars as "Elizabeth I," 8 p.m. Saturday on HBO.
  • Now that Vito has been yanked out of the closet and into New Hampshire on "The Sopranos," the gang turns to something closer to home -- Artie's restaurant, which is threatened by a competitor. 9 p.m. Sunday on HBO.
  • Sound waves

  • Bruce Springsteen takes another interesting career turn with "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" (Columbia), a new album in which he covers a number of songs made famous by Pete Seeger and other folksingers. (I love the album cover; it's reminiscent of Bob Dylan and the Band's "Basement Tapes.") The CD comes out Tuesday.
  • "That's Entertainment" (Rhino), a box set collection of the best Hollywood show tunes -- drawn from "That's Entertainment" I, II and III -- comes out on Tuesday.
  • "The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living" (Vice), the new CD by the man who calls himself The Streets, comes out Tuesday.
  • "Reintarnation" (Rhino), a compilation of k.d. lang's pre-"Ingenue" country material (including the wonderful "Trail of Broken Hearts"), comes out Tuesday.
  • "Let Love In" (Warner Bros.), the latest by the Goo Goo Dolls, comes out Tuesday. (Watch the Goo Goo Dolls return -- 1:33)
  • Paging readers

  • Harlan Coben's new novel, "Promise Me" (Dutton), comes out Tuesday.
  • You can't beat the title "Riding Dirty on I-95" (One World/Ballantine), no matter what it's about. It happens to be a novel about a girl who becomes a drug dealer, and then a screenwriter. The author is Nikki Turner. The work comes out Tuesday.
  • Video center

  • "Match Point," Woody Allen's Hitchcockian return to form, comes out on DVD Tuesday.
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