The worst song of all time, part II
CNN.com users pick their (least) favorites
By Todd Leopold
The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" -- tops in 1969 -- earned lots of support for worst song.
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
(CNN) -- Rosemary Clooney hated "Come On-a My House," one of her biggest hits. John Lennon loathed the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da." Parisians rioted at the first performance of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."
Play a piece of music, and it's likely someone won't like it.
That's true in spades of CNN.com users, who answered in droves our question about the worst song of all time. We received more than 5,800 entries, representing every decade of the rock 'n' roll era (1955-present).
Nominations were recorded for "Transfusion," Nervous Norvus' novelty of 1956; "The Ballad of the Green Berets," Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler's chart-topper from 1966; "The Night Chicago Died," Paper Lace's tale of "the East Side of Chicago" from 1974 (a golden year for unfavorite songs); "Morning Train," Sheena Easton's hit from 1981; "The Macarena," Los Del Rio's ubiquitous dance song of 1996; and "Hollaback Girl," the recent hit by Gwen Stefani.
Those songs are, and have been, easily mocked, and several of the leading vote-getters -- as you shall see -- are works that are legendary for their presence on worst-song lists, if nothing else.
What is perhaps more surprising are the oft-praised classics that also earned votes. The Tokens' 1961 "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," the Shangri-Las' 1964 "Leader of the Pack," the Beatles' 1968 "Hey Jude," Prince's 1986 "Kiss" -- all earned thumbs-down from at least one CNN.com e-mailer.
What could generate such antipathy?
Perhaps the best answers are in the metaphors users suggested for exposure -- or overexposure -- to their least favorite tunes.
"Makes me want to stab Q-Tips into my ears," wrote one correspondent. Another quoted a line about excrement from the film "Off Limits." "Renders me suicidal," offered a third.
And then there was the ever-popular "like [finger]nails on a blackboard," a simile that may be an anachronism in these days of dry-erase whiteboards and PowerPoint presentations. (If you want tips on writing a bad song, read this.)
At least one correspondent also wished to make a distinction between a bad song and a bad record, a distinction also made by the Grammy awards. (The former is a songwriter's award.)
"The worst record ever made is Whitney Houston's assault on 'I Will Always Love You,' " writes William W. "The song itself, written by Dolly Parton, is a lovely expression of quiet resignation in the face of romantic loss, a quality captured perfectly by Parton's original recording. Houston's version, on the other hand, is hideous, due to its barely disguised agenda: 'Whitney Uber Alles.' ... La Whitney's performance has nothing to do with tenderness and respect, and everything to do with the naked will to power."
Even with the number of e-mailers, the winning song earned less than 5 percent of the vote, despite some users sending in multiple nominations. That can only be testimony to the wide range of public taste ... or, perhaps, the number of allegedly bad songs out there.
The top five
OK, we'll cut to the chase. Here are the top five (see gallery as well), with peak Billboard chart positions and comments from their outraged, frustrated and weary supporters:
"The Night Chicago Died" and "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" were written by the same songwriters -- Peter Callander and Mitch Murray.
5. "Seasons in the Sun," Terry Jacks (No. 1 for three weeks, 1974): "A melody you couldn't play for your dog combined with inane lyrics" (Chris K.); "An all-time piece of dreck" (Darrell); "Having to listen to it is a season in hell" (Bonnie D.).
4. "I've Never Been to Me," Charlene (No. 3, 1982): "I want to punch out my radio when it comes on the air" (Larry W.); "Even the mush department at Hallmark would puke" (Eric and Linda); "I'm thinking that in her case, 'Me' probably wasn't such a fun place to go to" (Brenda K.).
3. "You Light Up My Life," Debby Boone (No. 1 for 10 weeks, 1977): "How can anything so insipidly slow light up anything?" (Bob B.); "[It] sounded like it was thrown together on a rainy afternoon by a lovestruck adolescent" (Jan R.); "The musical equivalent of being keel-hauled" (Michael R.).
2. "Muskrat Love," The Captain and Tennille (No. 4, 1976): "A song about aquatic rodents doin' the wild thing? Eeeeeew!" (Garland E.); "The name says it all" (Stacy D.); "I would pay good money to have its lyrics, tune, and even the fact of its existence erased from my memory" (Dave C.).
And the No. 1 worst song as voted on by CNN.com users:
1. "(You're) Having My Baby," Paul Anka (No. 1 for three weeks, 1974): It wasn't even close; Anka's hit beat out "Muskrat" by more than 50 votes, a veritable landslide under the circumstances. As our correspondents raved: "How can a person not be annoyed by lyrics like, 'You're a woman in love and I love what it's doin' to ya'?" (Shauna M.); " 'What a lovely way of sayin' how much you love me' -- If that isn't the most egocentric solipsistic revolting line of all time" (Stu S. and Andi S.); "I don't know a woman alive who doesn't cringe when it comes on the radio. I'm sure it's banned in most countries around the world" (Gord P.).
Gord, it's not, but perhaps someone will start a movement.
(What else did you say? Read some responses.)
"MacArthur Park," written by Jimmy Webb, was originally offered to The Association.
Other songs with sizable constituencies -- at least 1 percent of the vote -- included Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods' "Billy, Don't Be a Hero," Paper Lace's "The Night Chicago Died," Starship's "We Built This City," Richard Harris' "MacArthur Park," Morris Albert's "Feelings," the Starland Vocal Band's "Afternoon Delight," the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar," Billy Ray Cyrus' "Achy Breaky Heart," Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis," America's "A Horse with No Name," the Ohio Express' "Yummy Yummy Yummy," Los Del Rio's "The Macarena" and Don McLean's "American Pie."
(If neither "Honey" nor "We Built This City," two songs that inspired this story, hit the top five, perhaps it was because readers were already satiated with them.)
In reading these e-mails, one's heart has to go out to people in at least two occupations: retail clerks, who are subjected to loops of gloopy music all day long; and disc jockeys, who must play it. A number of correspondents in either job, as well as some hospital workers and restaurant servers, sounded like they should qualify for combat pay.
Not everyone was happy with a "worst song" poll, however. Some took umbrage at the very idea, noting that the definition of "worst" changes from generation to generation.
"Perhaps the author would do better by delving into the history of music -- and focus on the facets of music that are truly delightful. From Glenn Miller, to Barbra Streisand, to Tony Bennett, and the Buffalo Bills -- this music will live forever. What is cranked out today, for the most part, will be long forgotten in the very near future," wrote Mylon S. (For those who don't remember the Buffalo Bills, he's not talking about the football team -- they're best known as the barbershop quartet in the film "The Music Man.")
Besides, pointed out the good-humored Manolo B., even the most craven, commercial tune somehow, some way, strikes a chord.
"Compile as many songs as you wish: the truth of the matter is that even the most hated of the hated songs will touch at least one little fiber of your beating heart," he wrote, "and make you yearn."
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