Sunday, January 25, 2009

On the Worst Songs Ever

I crave Lunch. Publisher's Lunch. Not only for it's daily email newsletter on the latest industry scoop, of course, but for the book sale deals.

I know it's, what, masochistic? Not because I begrudge anyone the fabulous deals they made--oh no way! If books are getting purchased and publishers are humming along, I'm all for it.

No--what's masochistic is the constantly recurring thought that I am unable to suppress. And that is: oh--I should have thought of that.

Or worse: Oh, I COULD have thought of that.

We won't even discuss "I DID think of that, years and years ago, but didn't do anything about it" because that way lies true madness. (Two little words: Animal Planet.)

So I can only hope to express my deep depression when I read this on PL:

Colin Bowles's FLUSHED FROM THE BATHROOM OF YOUR HEART: The 100 Worst Songs Ever, a highly personal, deeply offensive, politically incorrect and humorous catalog of pretentious lyrics, bad rhymes and syrupy pap, including classics we love to hate such as 'Achy Breaky Heart,' 'Sometimes When We Touch,' and of course 'Ice Ice Baby' by the singular Vanilla Ice, .... for publication in 2010 ...

What a great idea! Colin, I bow to your hilarity, prescience, and connection with all of us.

I should have thought of it.

(Yes, I know the incomparable Dave Barry did an essay about it a few years ago--we almost couldn't air my TV interview with him because I was laughing so hard. What set me over the edge was Dave's response to the classic by the band America.

Dave said--with this air of incredulity and disbelief: "Name the horse! Why not name the horse? They have plenty of time out there in the desert!")

So because Colin is now under deep deadline pressure, and hey, what if he's only come up with maybe 50 of the top 100 in case the book didn't sell and he'd never need to figure out the rest--what do you think are the worst songs ever?

My votes? Even though I have a huge crush on the genius Paul Simon and he's my favorite, I'm not a fan of Homeward Bound. I think it's whiny. I mean, they're a famous band on tour. Who wouldn't want to do that? Why gripe? And then sing it on their tour?

Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey"--a tour of the home of a dead person? "See the tree how big it's grown, but friend, it hasn't been so long it wasn't big."

'Careless Whisper' in which George Michael declares: "I'm never gonna dance again; Guilty feet have got no rhythm." (Innocent feet do?)

I'm not counting meant-to-be-silly ditties like the Macarena. And its just not worth mentioning how silly it is that Jennifer Lopez sings that she's Just Jenny from the Block.

But Morning Train by Sheena Easton? "My baby takes the morning train, at night he takes it home again.." That's riveting. Having My Baby by Paul Anka."What a lovely way to say you love me.." That's embarrassing.

So this rant about good ideas turned out to be about bad ideas. (Ain't that just how it often happens.) But what songs do you think should be included in Colin's list?

ROBERTA: Oh Hank, this is hysterical. That "Honey" song has to be one of the all-time worsts. And by the way, I canceled my subscription to Publishers' Lunch because I couldn't stand the pressure. I do have a few possible contributions for Colin's book: How about "I think the worst is over now, yes, it's going to be all right, the morning sun is shining like a Red Rubber Ball.." That gem is by Cyrkle, for those not old enough to remember.

HANK: Oh, thanks Roberta. "Now I know you're not the only starfish in the sea..." that song continues. And it's now stuck in my head.

ROBERTA: And here's another one from the Archies: "Sugah, sugah, oh honey, honey, you are my candy girl, and you've got me wanting you!"

Is he going to list Jungle Red Writers in the acknowledgments???

HALLIE: I'm with Roberta on Publishers' Lunch. How to make yourself crazy...every day.

Hands down, my vote goes to that song "I...will It comes on and I start swaying and caterwauling along. I like my songs, like my prose, seasoned with vinegar.

HANK: But it was a good song when Dolly Parton sang it. Didn't she write it?
RO: She did...I love that song!

JAN: See, Publishers Lunch is one of the few publications that doesn't make me crazy - except when they announce multi-million celebrity book deals - but in general it reminds me that good ideas can still get attention.

On song lyrics. I play guitar and sing, and have a stash of lyrics and guitar tabs from the Internet. Let me tell you, there is nothing like practicing the same song 150 times to make you start to question the lyrics.

Neil Young, for example. Great music and from a guitar standpoint, pretty easy to play. The lyrics SOUND meaningful, but when you break them down...

"When you see me fly away without you, shadow on the things that come, feathers fall around you and show you the way to go. It's over....

I'm sorry, but if you sing these lyrics enough times, you start to wonder...did the bird (ex-lover departing) get shot by a hunter on his flight out?? Is that why feathers are flying around you??? And are they like breadcrumbs, showing you the trail???
Also, there's an Icelandic band called Sigur Ros that makes beautiful, haunting, somewhat eno music. They recently started to sing in a completely made up language, so the audience would find their own meaning in the lyrics. I find this incredibly amusing since generally sing in Icelandic. How many people understand Icelandic?

RHYS: That's so funny. How many people speak Icelandic? When I was a student traveling around Europe with a backpack my friend Ruth and I used to pretend we were Finnish when creepy guys tried to pick us up. We were language students and we knew that Finnish is a language pocket--i.e. not related to any other language. So we spoke this made-up Finnish and got pretty darned good at it.So maybe I'll now try made-up Icelandic.

And I no longer read Publisher's Lunch. All those good deals, nice deals--how about "and in a really crappy pathetic deal...."But--I do check my Amazon ranking way too often. Then I check Jackie Winspear, Anne Perry etc to see if they are higher. Then I'm depressed usually.How we torment ourselves.

HANK: Oh. Digression. Rhys, you never cease to amaze me. I always picture you--happy and satisfied, glowing and secure. If you check your colleagues to see how everyone's doing, I feel much better. Thanks, sistah.

Do you read PL? Well, of course you do. But how do you feel afterwards?

Do you have PL remorse?
RO: See, I never check any of that stuff, either I'm extremely confident or extremely clueless. There are people higher and people lower..what else do I need to know? Lest you think that I've obtained some higher state, I check my mailing lists stats every week - I LOVE it when someone signs up for my mailing list and I'm inordinately upset if someone unsubscribes!
Okay, my worst song ever...Band of Gold by Freda Payne. Some woman signing about, um..."last night on our honeymoon, we stayed in separate rooms. ...come back here and love me like you tried before?" Who bought this? And someone actually remade it.

HANK: Be sure to tell us your worst song ever!
Wednesday--Jordan Dane tells all!
Abd Friday--queries about queries? The guru of query letters answers is all for us!


  1. Too funny! And now there are a lot of songs playing in my head. Thanks a lot.

    Hands down, it has got to be Short People by Randy Newman.

    Paula Matter

  2. Hey, I love Red Rubber Ball! It reminds me of summer in New Jersey. And I like Homeward Bound too (and isn't "hello, lamp-post, what'cha knowin'" sillier?). Of course, for many of my formative years, I was listening to popular music on a crappy clock-radio, so I have to admit I don't know half the lyrics. Now when I listen to oldies stations, I find myself saying "Is that what they said?!"

    I enjoy PL. Lately I've been trying to figure out if fiction sales are lagging due to the economy, or whether it's just a slow time of the publishing year. And some of the book blurbs are works of art in themselves--you try to imagine how anybody ever pitched some of those ideas.

  3. Any song where someone talks in the middle. Ugh. The minute they start talking, my crap tolerance reaches its limit and my skin actually crawls. Too sentimental. Too self-indulgent.

    Except Barry White songs, which are just such high camp I have to love 'em.

    On that vein, my vote for the worst song ever: Sylvia's Pillow Talk and its fake orgasm. C'mon Sylvia, you can do better than that. Shut up and concentrate.

    I do love Publisher's Lunch, though. Since I teach media and publishing, I *need* to be reading it no matter my own book pursuits. My students read it, too. Great stuff last semester when I walked in to class and students were shrieking over the deal for How to Talk to Girls.

    I think of the Deals section as good information-forward on where interest lies and how the 'bought' culture is trending (good comparison 1-2 years later when we see how the 'boughts' pay off in sales). And I also think: "Oh man, I would so read that book," and make a list for future purchase. So yeah, I read it and Galleycat pretty much daily.

    And now I have Pillow Talk stuck in my head. At 8:40 in the morning.

    It's gonna be a long day.

  4. Whenever I meet anyone and the first thing they do is sing "Help Me, Rhonda?"

    Let's just say that it's the red flag of shallowness.

    BTW, I hate that Sheena Easton song, too.

    Mondays are a GREAT day to talk about things we hate. grrrrrr

  5. Hmm. Red Rubber Ball was written by Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley (although I'm not sure who did what re creating it), so that gives two items on this list to one of my all-time favorite songwriters. But maybe, just back from a tour, I can identify with the desire to be Homeward Bound, no matter how positive the reason to be away from it for a while.

    Still, I've never found anything he's done as silly as "Winchester Cathedral." It's always part of my arsenal whenever someone starts one of those, "Take this song and stick it in your head all day" wars.

    Fun topic!


  6. I'd have to include "My Sharona." Ever meet anyone named Sharona?

  7. I have several worst songs ever, most coming from my husband's big band collection with witty lyrics like "Cement mixer, putty putty" Yeah, that's pretty romantic, wouldn't you say.
    But when I was a teen there was a song called Teen Angel, all about a girl who has killed herself on the railroad track. Did not inspire me to fall in love any timesoon.
    "I pulled you out and you were safe, but you went running back."
    Creepy and not designed to help me fall asleep.

  8. Oh, year, earworm wars, Jan. How about "Its a Small World After All? Ahhhh....

    Poor Rhonda. Susannah, do you have that problem?

    And I do admit, I like Red Rubber Ball. I mean, I did, when I was singing along with it as a teenager. It's a nice bouncy teen-empowerment song. And I had no idea my idol Paul Simon helped write it.

    As for the actual lyrics, who even knows. That's another blog--like "scuse me while I kiss this guy" instead of "kiss the sky?"

  9. Oh, misheard lyrics are a hoot! My favorite: Creedence Clearwater Revival's "there's a bathroom on the right" instead of "bad moon on the rise."

    Paula Matter

  10. Oh Paula--I never heard that one!

    How about:

    The ants are my friends,
    they're blowin' in the wind
    The ants are a-blowin' in the wind

  11. That's a great one, Hank! I'd never it before.

    Cornelia Read had a good one on Murderati last Christmas. I'm looking it up to post here.


  12. I had a funny a thought - We all pretty much know of the whims of the publishing industry... but... as you cite these amazingly profound lyrics... imagine what it must be like to function in the entertainment industry????

    Fortunately and with great gratitude, I can't actually remember songs like that off the top of my head. However, all of you have brought back great memories.

    I too loved Paul and Art. Of course at the time I had lived in NY and was living in North Jersey. I could identify with them as they were college students at Columbia University. Paul was getting a masters in English and Art in math and me, a Bachelor in Engineering at Stevens Institute. So I could relate. At a performance in Forest Hills, Paul quipped something to the effect that Art was the sexy part of the duo. My girlfriend at the time swooned.... bummer.

    What I liked about them is that they were neighborhood kids from Brooklyn and started out as Tom and Jerry. I think "Wednesday Morning 3 A.M." was their first album together as Simon and Garfunckle. Can you imagine - Simon and WHO????

    The etheral sound of "To Emily, Wherever I may Find Her" haunts me to this day. There was simple elegance to the lyrics and I used to think - no wonder he writes so well - he's getting an MA in English!!! Of course, now, older, more wise, I do see things differently. I will say, after totally resisting the need, yes need, to play the guitar for 15 years I finally succumbed and started lessons at the old age of 30.

    Jan - I didn't know you were such a dedicated guitarist. Many years ago, I broke my guitar practice session into two sessions - technical practice - and then free form. In free form, I kept writing songs that reflected a spiritual basis for life. I got so annoyed that I couldn't come up with something so intense as "Red Rubber Ball" that I quit writing in protest.

    I wrote things like "Take This Train" a song about the journey of life and gratitude. "Leaves of Autumn" about growing older and not reaching for your potential.

    Then about ten years after I quite writing, I woke up one morning and something spoke very directly to me... and asked... "Why don't you simply accept yourself as you are... write what is in your heart... why do you think you need to be someone or something else?"

    Those were good questions and really cover all of us in all areas of life.

    And, while I'm at it, this is why I admire you all... including the commenters... as individuals you are all profound... and I love you all!!!

    I know you will all tell me to get a life, however, at the risk of that... I do find this blog enriching on many levels...


  13. Yeah, I hear 'O Susannah' sometimes. Okay. A lot.

    My favorite misheard lyric -- a radio respondent who misheard a line in a Whitney Houston song: "That's just an old fantasy," as "That's just an open-tuck seam."

    And somehow my mother thought ABBA's "Take a Chance on Me" was about a little cruise ship line. ("If you change your mind / on the first big line / Honey, I'm still free / Take a chance on me ..."

  14. There's a Macy Gray song with the lyrics "My world crumbles when you're not here." But the first time I heard it I thought she said "I wear goggles when you're not here." And that's all I can hear when the song plays! there's an actual word for the act of mishearing song lyrics but I can't think of it at the moment.

  15. I get "Rosemary's Baby" a lot. Oh that's hysterical. Did it take you long to think that one up?

    And My Sharona? When that song came out, I was dating someone who worked in a record store and we were invited to a record co. party on a boat. I heard that song and only that song for close to four hours. I felt like jumping in the Schuylkill River. Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-maaaayyyy Sharona!

    Misheard funny was that scene in Bull Durham when the sweet but dopey character played by Tim Robbins sings "she may get woolly" and Costner's character freaks? (She may get weary....from Try a Little Tenderness.)

  16. We'll have to do another whole blog on Simon and Garfunkel. (My husband worked with Art G at the SEC one summer. There's a fantastic story that..well, later.)

    I get Tommy James and the Shondells-- the Hanky Panky. And it is SO much fun.

    Anyway back to S and G: did you know the songs Wednesday Morning 3AM and Somewhere They Can't Find Me have almost exactly the same words? One's the slow version, one's the hard-driving version.

  17. Yes, Rhys, that Teen Angel song was pretty frightening, especially since it seemed to glamorize her death!

    MIke, you sound more methodical than I am. Although I took lessons for years, I am still a hacker. But I have lots of fun playing with my son, who actually has talent and is incredibly patient with me.

    I'm definitely one of those people who mishears the lyrics and then they BECOME the lyrics for me.

    Paula, I was certain that Creedance Clearwate Revival song was about a bathroom on the right.

  18. Jan, that's truly hilarious.

    MTV--you're so right! I wonder who decides that "No one heard at all not even the chair" is probably okay to be in the song.

    Digression, if I may. I have icons, shortcuts on my desktop. And sometimes, they just change places. WHY? Is it me??

  19. Hank - About the icons - You may have auto arrange turned on. Put pointer on screen desktop, Rt click, top pick -- arrange icons by -->. One pick is auto arrange - this may be what is doing it. Mine is set to "align to grid".

    That's from "I am I Said". When you're Neil Diamond, a former Tin Pan Alley song writer, you get to say what you want:-)!


  20. MTV--oh, I 'm trying that right now. Thanks. You mean--there's a system? That at least, makes sense.

    HOw about "...someone left the cake out in the rain..I dont think that I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it , and i'll never have that recipe again.."

    Yes, it's an easy one..

  21. Worst song ever: Janice Ian "At Seventeen."

    Teen Angel. In Marine basic training, we had to march while singing teen angel. Was the DI's favorite song. Fortunately, the other DI was crazy about "Edelweiss" (from The Sound of Music). You see, the traditional marching songs don't work so well for 90 young ladies.

  22. Wow! MacArthur Park, Hank! You are definitely reaching and need to be commended for that!

    You all have really come up with some atrocious lyrics.

    I feel that even the average population today has evolved in their appreciation of artistry.

    Am I deluding myself???
    Okay, okay excluding, some rap.

    Hey, here's what I know yo!
    I can read this blog and I can grow.
    I keep listen' for what you all know,
    And sure enough, there's a glow.
    Yet, some of the lyrics on this board
    Strike me funny, and I think, oh lord,
    Save me from this craziness.
    The sounds all rattlin' in my head.
    Makes me think some lyrics are just brain dead.
    Oh, mercy, mercy me - please give some artistry...
    Not this banal stuff that you cite,
    It's way too scary in its own right,
    Especially as I rush off to bed tonight!!

  23. ANon, how can you march to Edelweiss? I keep trying to imagine it..

    MTV, you may have missed your calling. Or again, maybe not.

  24. Since Teen Angel was such a memorable song for so many of you, I googled it. She runs back for the guy's high school ring. And not to be sexist, there's Tell Laura I love this one the guy is in a car crash and starts singing.."Tell Laura.."

    And of course the granddaddy of all teen death songs...Leader of the Pack.."whether he heard I'll never know....look out, look out, look out!"

  25. Oh Hank. Me, too.
    Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.
    All ideas can be reduced to three words.

  26. Hey Julie!

    But you--did it!!

    YOu should be singing a happy tune..

    And Ro:
    How about
    Sorrowful lead singer: I met him at the candy store, he turned around and smiled at me--you get the picture?
    Back up singers: Yes, we see!


  27. This was too good; thanks for the inspiration!

    (My own nominee for worst lyrics over the course of an entire song -- a slightly different category -- is "96 Tears." Egad. And now I can't get THAT out of my brain...)

  28. How about this classic by Millie Small:

    My boy Lollipop, you made my heart go giddy up.

    You are as sweet as candy, you're my sugar dandy.

  29. I loved Janis Ian's At Seventeen. It came out when I was 17 and all that angst, all that drama! It was like it was written just for me!

    Anyone remember the take-off of Leader of the Pack?
    Leader of the Laundromat.

    Paula Matter

  30. Chuck Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling" and Loudon Wainright's "Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road" are probably right up there on my list.

    Also -- the truly awful "She's Out of My Life," as over-sung by Michael Jackson, where his voice wavers and breaks.

  31. JES--wait. 96 Tears has lyrics? Oh yeah--cry, cry-cry cry.

    And Susannah, I so agree about My Ding a Ling. I really actively dislike that song. It's--disgusting.

    But um, I kind of like Dead Skunk. It's really fun to sing. "On a moonlit night, you got your dead toad-frog!" Okay, I see what you mean.

    And hmm. It's kind of interesting that some of the somes people truly loathe, others like. There must be some universal truth here. Which is...

  32. We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long. Anyone remember that classic?

    Different strokes, baby!!

  33. Ah Rosemary.

    You can have my gold.
    And my diamonds, too.
    All I want
    is a ring dang doo.

    Or how about:

    They say don't go
    To Wolverton Mountain
    If you're looking for a wife
    Cuz Clifton Clowers
    Has a pretty young daughter
    And he's mighty handy
    With a gun and a knife.

    Are your ears hurting? Relief is on the way. And back to books. Wednesday, the scoop and all the secrets of superstar
    Jordan Dane!

  34. Did anyone else come up with Seasons In the Sun? Ugh. Another dead/dying person song. And my sweet husband mixed an all-Laura songs CD for Valentine's Day one year and Tell Laura I Love Her was on it. I'm with Rosemary--double Ugh! But my All Time Favorite Worst is One Tin Soldier.

    I have learned to avoid Publisher's Lunch like the plague. It gives me hives unless I'm in it!

    (hugs from Laura who is all done with her tour except for LIM next week. Will everyone be there?!)

  35. Love this post!

    Hank: North to Alaska?? :-o

    What about Big John "Big Bad John"? or Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown?

    I'll let Janis know that its 50/50 on her song Seventeen. I much prefer the song she sang for a 70s Japanese disaster movie. She's a pal. :-D

    Got a whole short list of songs that drive me crazy - but can't bring one to mind right at this minute...

    Off to bed...

  36. Thanks, Marianne! I'm so delighted to finish this day singing Big Bad John. Or is it Mohair Sam?

    Love to hear from Janis Ian. She changed many peoples' lives. Give her a hug from us..and tell her thanks.

  37. Seriously, Society's Child...she rocked.

  38. Got to know Janis in 2001, right before 9/11. She's a huge Science Fiction fan and she writes as well. She and dear hubby trade Godzilla and music lore. Whenever Janis tours in Japan, she brings back 'many bags of toys. The airport staff must think she has 12 children!'. They are actually for her spouse who is a huge fan. :-D

    Her voice has a clear crystal quality that can give you goosebumps.

    It's been awhile, but let me see what she's doing...

    Meanwhile, here is an anthology you guys might be interested in:
    "Stars: Stories Based on Janis Ian Songs" (Paperback)
    by Janis Ian (Editor), Mike Resnick (Editor)


  39. Haven't been able to stop thinking about this. (Thanks so much. :)

    There's one old group which is kinda in a class by itself, lyrics-wise: The Moody Blues. The only way their lyrics hold together is if you sort of let your mind go all blurry. Whereupon they seem to be the works of genius. E.g., "Some try to tell me/Thoughts they cannot defend,/Just what you want to be/You'll be in the end."