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How to create a bad song

By Todd Leopold
CNN

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Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" helped a line-dancing craze -- and is despised by many CNN.com users.

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(CNN) -- It's not easy to write a hit song. It's even harder to write a hit song that people grow to despise.

How can you do it? At the risk of inspiring another "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" (in which Steve Goodman combined every country-song cliche into one verse) let us count the ways, based on CNN.com's informal worst-song survey:

  • Involve butterflies. Bob Lind's "Elusive Butterfly," Heart's "Dog and Butterfly," Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses," Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" and Mariah Carey (who's quite fond of butterflies) all earned votes.
  • Reference the Windy City. Chicago may have inspired "My Kind of Town," "Chicago" and the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight," but it also gave rise to Paper Lace's geographically challenged "The Night Chicago Died" (the "East Side of Chicago" would be Lake Michigan) -- which was highly ranked by CNN.com users -- and the band Chicago, whose songs "25 or 6 to 4," "Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?" and "Colour My World" were all nominated.
  • Engage in jingoism. Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler's "The Ballad of the Green Berets," Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" all made the list.
  • Have a stick of bubblegum. The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar," the Ohio Express' "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and "Chewy Chewy" and the 1910 Fruitgum Co.'s "Simon Says" all earned votes. Indeed, to many listeners bubblegum is so indistinguishable that they credited songs to the wrong bands -- though, as bubblegum pioneers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz could tell you, bubblegum groups pretty much were all the same band.
  • Sing it loud, sing it strong. Vocal acrobatics earned many listeners' enmity. They singled out Minnie Riperton's "Lovin' You," with its glass-breaking high notes; several Whitney Houston songs, notably "I Will Always Love You;" and, in general, Mariah Carey's indulgent melismas.
  • Blow it up good. If you truly want to be hated, use some pretentiousness and/or bombast to let everyone know you're aspiring to greatness, or art, or poetry, or something more than a little ol' pop song. Both versions of Jimmy Webb's opus "MacArthur Park" made the worst list (though Richard Harris' 1968 version is preferred), as did Don McLean's "American Pie," America's "A Horse with No Name," Neil Diamond's "I Am, I Said," a handful of Meatloaf's Jim Steinman-produced hits and Styx's "Mr. Roboto."
  • Try sentiment. Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey," Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" and Morris Albert's "Feelings" all go right for the heartstrings.
  • And, if nothing else works, be ripe for karaoke, singalongs and dance crazes. How else to explain the presence of Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping," Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart" and, above all, "The Macarena" in the submissions? When David Letterman needs to mock you constantly, you've got a bad song on your hands.
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