The debate has raged for years…just what is the worst song ever to make the Top 40? Everyone has said it at least once: “That’s the worst song I’ve ever heard. I HATE that song.” In fact, in the early 90’s, a couple of guys even put out a book called “The Worst Rock n Roll Records of All Time”. There were some real doozies in there, and they weren’t all that obscure either.
I really don’t think these guys were fair in their assessments. Translated: I actually liked some of the songs they listed in their top 50 worst of all time (who doesn’t think American Woman by the Guess Who kicks ass?). To be totally fair, you can’t just put songs on the list that you don’t like. I despise “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger, but that doesn’t make it one of the worst songs of all time, because a lot of people still like that song. These have to be songs that EVERYBODY hates. Songs that had no business being anywhere near the charts. Let me give you a few examples.
“American Pie” by Don McLean made it all the way to number one in 1971. To this day, I consider it a novelty song. The first two or three times you hear it, it’s kind of fun to try to figure out what McLean is trying to convey in his little rock music history lesson. But upon hearing it for the umpteenth time, you start looking at your watch after about 10 seconds thinking “I have to sit through this for another 7 minutes.” Even McLean is sick of performing it, and he even gets paid to sing it. I once saw Garth Brooks in concert (not by choice) and for an encore, he came out and did a few pop songs without his band…just him and his guitar. He did a Cat Stevens tune and “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel. Then he started going into “American Pie”. I got up out of my seat…my wife thought I was giving him a standing ovation, but I merely said “I’m going to the car…I can’t take 7 minutes of this.” Fortunately, he did the first verse and then said his goodbyes.
Another song that had absolutely no business being recorded, let alone make to the top of the charts? “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans, which I have included here as a public service (those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it). If you mention this tune to people under 30, they don’t really have a recollection of it. That’s because it was a hit, but then was deemed so BAD that it hardly ever gets played on oldies stations. Why? For God’s sake, just listen to the lyrics…they’re dismal! And the song just drones on and on with the same melody…they just change keys occasionally. If you were to find Denny Zager and Rick Evans today and asked them about the song, they would most likely deny recording it, and blame it on two other guys who stole their names. After all, they hold the distinction of having a number one hit…and never ever having another song make the charts.
There are many other songs that should make the list, but in my opinion, there is one song that deserves to occupy the top spot.
Jefferson Starship had all but broken up for good by the late 70’s. Even Grace Slick and Paul Kantner had left the band. So the leftovers recruited Mickey Thomas for lead vocals, and all of a sudden they hit big with “Jane”. Guess what? Grace Slick decided it was cool to be in a band that was happening again, so she came back into the fold. “Freedom at Point Zero”, the album that spawned the aforementioned hit, was ok for 80’s generic rock. “Modern Times” took them a little deeper into the muck…and then came “Knee Deep in the Hoopla”, the album that blessed the world with “We Built This City”. Due to Kantner owning the “Jefferson” part of the name, they could only call themselves Starship by this point. Even Kantner didn’t want this stain on his record. I remember hearing this song for the first time and thinking how embarrassing it must have been to even appear on this recording. It was so generic, so emotionless, so un-soulful, so BLEAH! I don’t think you can talk to any rational person and hear the words, “We Built This City…great tune!” I’m sure it gets its share of spins on the jukebox in Hell’s Diner.
As always, I want to hear from you. What do YOU think is the worst song of all time?