Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow" by Parliament (1970)

This is perhaps the most tragic inclusion on this list. By all rights, this should be a drop-dead kick-ass song. Why? Well, let me count the ways.

Firstly, it's by George Clinton and Funkadelic, purveyor of much of the 1970s' best music. Secondly, it's got that name. George Clinton was a master at funky song titles, but never again after this did he come with a title both funky and iconic. It's the kind of Zen koan that ought to be inscribed on a tombstone somewhere.

Thirdly, En Vogue were, many years later, able to filch that song title and make a great piece of music out of it. Fourthly, the album for which this is the title track has one of the greatest, most clever and sexiest gatefold covers ever to grace and album. Lastly, critics rate it highly.

Well, scratch that last one; critics rate pretty much everything P. Funk did highly. It's neither here nor there.

I'm not baiting anyone. I really, really love George Clinton, and I went into this song with a world of high expectations.

What did I find? Um, feedback, other noises, religious gibberish... for ten long painful minutes. Normally, a long P. Funk song is cause for celebration (hello "Knee Deep"). But in the case of this particular bad trip, length is just another dimension of hell (kind of like the movie "Titanic"). Ten minutes is even more painful because it allows you to suffer through two, three, four, five minutes of the song figuring it's a kind of whacked-out 'introduction'... Nope. That's the song itself. It never does get better; the funk never does kick in. Just more religious hoo-hah.

So eternally disappointing.

Still, it's a hell of a great name.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys (1965)

By all rights, the entire music industry should have packed it in and went home in 1966. These days, we look back to this era as a kind of halcyon ‘golden era’. And with good reason too. By 1967 (the so-called ‘Summer of Love’), rock of the ‘heavy, dude’ persuasion had really taken over and destroyed much of what was wonderful in 1966, the year of “Revolver”, of “Fifth Dimension”, of “Blonde on Blonde”, of “Pet Sounds”...

Ah yes, “Pet Sounds”. It truly is as wonderful as everyone says it is. “Caroline, No” melts your heart into a tiny puddle. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” confirms to you that music can bring eternal youth. Even “Sloop John B”, strangely maligned, is in my opinion great.

But how “Pet Sounds” ever got made I don’t know. How it took until 1967 for Brian Wilson to eat his hat and fry his brain, I don’t know. If I were him, I would have crawled into that sandbox the moment this present atrocity was released as a single.

How humiliating it must have been for him. He had put his heart and soul into “California Girls”. Okay, let’s admit it, the lyrics are twaddle. But that melody, and that instrumentation. It was the great leap forward for the Beach Boys, from conservative surf-and-cars nonsense to greatness. Pushing himself as much as he could, Wilson retired from live performance to craft similar ‘teenage symphonies’.

The next one up, “The Little Girl I Once Knew” is, well, just all right. To hear people say it, the fact that there are seconds of silence in this song pretty much condemned it to failure (clearly an era before InXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart”). To be honest, the song isn’t a great leap forward on the scale of “California Girls” before it or Pet Sounds after it. But it wasn’t an embarrassment either.

When it stiffed, the record company put out this.

This, if you can stand to hear it from start to finish, is an insult to Brian Wilson, an insult to Beach Boys fans, and an insult to all lovers of good music. It came from a knock-off album meant to simulate a ‘Beach Boys Party’. All acoustic instruments, homey campfire-vibe, whatever. This is two minutes (three on the even more excruciating album cut) of off-key and off-tempo warbling, bummed notes, fluffed lines, knock-off crap. It would be the weak point of a bootleg record of ‘studio outtakes’. It’s already a terrible song, and they do a bad job of a terrible song.

More diabolically, they pronounce it “bobberann”. Incessantly.

Fans should have revolted. Brian Wilson should have quit in disgust. Radio should have refused to play any Capitol singles until they withdrew the single and apologized for the whole fiasco.

Instead what happened? Meatheads bought the pile of rubbish and drove the single to #2 on the charts, higher than “California Girls”.

When the record industry realized that finely crafted indelible compositions would sell less than knocked-off, cynical product – and here in 1966, the ‘golden year’ of music, they should have cried uncle and packed it up and went home.

Instead, a full generation later, we got “Kokomo”. For our sins.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

"China Girl" by David Bowie (1983)

More than one significant voice in online punditdom has declared Starship’s “We Built This City” the single worst song in the history of recorded sound. I have to admit that that song’s vacuity is tough to beat.

For me, though, I’m nominating “China Girl” as the worst song in the history of the universe. My particular hatred of this song has largely to do with the fact that it was created by the same human who had, just in the previous few years, created music as divinely transcendent as “‘Heroes’” and “Under Pressure”. Undoubtedly following Bowie through the years will always be a difficult task, not because of his stylistic jumps but because of his not-too-occasional lapses into toe-curling banality. It’s an ongoing thing. I mean, how to reconcile that the very album that contains the great “Rebel Rebel” and “1984” could actually be titled after the completely horrible “Diamond Dogs”?

Oh, and there was Tin Machine. In fact, there was the entire 1980s…

Bowie pissed all over the 1970s. His 1970s discography is such an embarrassment of riches that, by the time Scary Monsters came out, the fact that the album wasn’t up to much didn’t stop it from being a triumphant coronation. So much so that Bowie was able to hop from Elvis’s record company to EMI, the label the Sex Pistols had so recently decried. Eager to suck that corporate teat, Bowie suddenly put on a suit and bleached his soul of anything approaching ‘edge’, ‘passion’, ‘integrity’ or ‘enjoyable music’. He came out with an album called Let’s Dance. As Reagan and Thatcher celebrated recent victories, this new plastic-Bowie sold by the boatloads.

The album is, from start to finish, garbage. It’s all bathed in echo, with Bowie’s basso ridiculoso crooning/groaning over top, cheesy background vocals, cheesy guitar, and… shudder… 80s saxophone.

Is there anything more terrible than the sound of a saxophone honking on a song made in the 1980s? I have no real qualm with that particular instrument, and I love 80s music, but the two just do not go together. From 1980 to 1989, the saxophone almost consistently lowered the quality of songs it was on.

Oh, sorry, was I talking about “China Girl”? “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love”, the other two singles from this album, may well feature in the top ten of worst songs ever recorded. However, they don’t quite make my skin crawl as much as this song. Apparently, it’s a ‘cover’ of a song he co-wrote with Iggy Pop before his creative bankruptcy. I must admit having never heard the song. Iggy Pop acolytes claim it’s ‘subversive’. Maybe. Maybe the garbage lyrics are in some way a ‘statement’ on east-west relations when handled by Mr. Pop. However, in Bowie’s mouth, they are nauseatingly ridiculous, as he sings, completely without irony, that he feels ‘tragic like Marlon Brando’, that he ‘stumbles into town just like a sacred cow’ and that when he gets excited, his ‘little China girl says “obey me, just you shut your mouth”’. All with a little ‘Oriental’ guitar riff on top.

And it comes in service of a video featuring him pulling the sides of his eyes ‘Chinese-style” and, later, rolling around bare-assed on the beach with said ‘Chinese girl’. Whether all of this is meant to be sexy or merely repulsive is never made clear.

For Bowie, it scarcely got any better than this for a good ten years. If a sadder tragedy has ever been seen in the annals of modern music, I know it not.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Cream of the Crap

Welcome to an entirely accurate and not-at-all subjective list of the worst songs ever recorded to vinyl... The list could, and will, go on and on but for the moment here's the cream of the crap, so to speak...

Note: They're in order of age, not in order of horribleness. Note also that 1985 was apparently the worst year in history. George Orwell was off by a year. All of them are links to pages that exhume the songs in detail.
  1. "Johnny Get Angry" by Joanie Sommers (1962)
  2. "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys (1965)
  3. "Iko Iko" by the Dixie Cups (1965)
  4. "Mrs Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" by Herman's Hermits (1965)
  5. "Petunia, the Gardener's Daughter" by Elvis Presley (1966)
  6. "The Black Angel's Death Song" by the Velvet Underground (1967)
  7. "Helter Skelter" by the Beatles (1968)
  8. "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (1968)
  9. "Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow" by Funkadelic (1970)
  10. "Coconut" by Harry Nilsson (1971)
  11. "Mercedes Benz" by Janis Joplin (1971)
  12. "My Ding-a-Ling" by Chuck Berry (1972)
  13. "Squeeze Box" by the Who (1975)
  14. "Lay Down Sally" by Eric Clapton (1977)
  15. "Dreadlock Holiday" by 10cc (1978)
  16. "No One is Innocent" by Ronnie Biggs and the Sex Pistols (1978)
  17. "Breakfast in America" by Supertramp (1979)
  18. "What's Your Name?" by Depeche Mode (1981)
  19. "China Girl" by David Bowie (1983)
  20. "Born in the U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen (1984)
  21. "Illegal Alien" by Genesis (1984)
  22. "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer (1985)
  23. "Tears are Not Enough" by Northern Lights (1985)
  24. "Walk of Life" by Dire Straits (1985)
  25. "Girls" by the Beastie Boys (1986)
  26. "Hip to be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News (1986)
  27. "Bullet the Blue Sky" by U2 (1987)
  28. "Tom's Diner" by Suzanne Vega (1987)
  29. "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin (1988)
  30. "Got My Mind Set on You" by George Harrison (1988)
  31. "One in a Million" by Guns 'n' Roses (1988)
  32. "How am I Supposed to Live Without You" by Michael Bolton (1989)
  33. "I Love You" by Vanilla Ice (1990)
  34. "Barbie Girl" by Aqua (1997)
  35. "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)" by Toby Keith (2002)
  36. "American Life" by Madonna (2003)
  37. "Hollaback Girl" by Gwen Stefani (2005)
  38. "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas (2005)
  39. "We are the World 25 for Haiti" by Artists for Haiti (2010)
Please feel free, of course, to click on any one for a Youtube clip (if you have any terrorists you want to torture) and for a sometimes-lengthy explanation of just what makes the song so ear-bleedingly awful. And also, of course, feel free to check in later as this list grows. So that you could fill entire playlists with songs that even make Celine Dion gag with disgust...

Note: if you need something to cure your aching stomach after this blog, I also keep a blog of the best songs out there. It contains the following:

  1. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" by the Shirelles (1960)
  2. "96 Tears" by ? and the Mysterians (1966) 
  3. "Hot Burrito #1" by the Flying Burrito Brothers (1969)
  4. "Lodi" by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969)
  5. "If I Were Your Woman" by Gladys Knight and the Pips (1970)
  6. "A Case of You" by Joni Mitchell (1971)
  7. "Curley Locks" by Junior Byles (1974) 
  8. "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John (1975)
  9. "Marquee Moon" by Television (1977) 
  10. "Brass in Pocket" by the Pretenders (1979)
  11. "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins (1981)
  12. "Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners (1982)
  13. "Temptation" by New Order (1982) 
  14. "They Don't Know" by Tracey Ullman (1983)
  15. "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues (1987)  
  16. "Pump Up the Volume" by M/A/R/R/S (1987)
  17. "Troy" by Sinéad O'Connor (1987)
  18. "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" by Public Enemy (1989)
  19. "My Jolie Louise" by Daniel Lanois (1989)
  20. "Groove is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite (1990)
  21. "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" by P.M. Dawn (1991)
  22. "Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows (1994)
  23. "All that I Got is You" by Ghostface Killah feat. Mary J. Blige (1996)
  24. "Born Slippy .NUXX" by Underworld (1996)
  25. "Ojos Asi" by Shakira (1999)
  26. "Can't Get You Out of My Head" by Kylie Minogue (2001)