So there I was trolling around FacebookVille, minding my own business, when I spotted a post that jumped out at me like a political pollster desperate to engage two days before the election. It read:
In a time of bitter political divisions we need to find areas of common ground. And I say we can all agree that Danke Schoen by Wayne Newton is simply the most dreadful song ever emitted between 1950 and 1980. Can I get an amen? Surely this is not up for dispute. It is simply not feasible that ANY other song was as stupid as this one.
At face value this was a purely ridiculous statement. While no great fan of entertainer Wayne Newton, off the top of my head I could name five songs that are objectively—in the most subjective manner possible—musical expressions muuuuuuuch worse artistically than the 1960s song this post claimed was no better than any song ever written and recorded. The song is a trifle about a series of mediocre dates. Nothing more, nothing less. Hardly the stuff of legendary world-class musical distress.
Worse still, I know the guy who posted this truly misguided opinion. He is Dave Meurer, a friend of mine. Dave is an accomplished author and former legislative aid to a US Congressman from Northern California. Dave’s books are always funny, often insightful, and I recommend you chase one down and find out for yourself the top quality humor he regularly creates. But nowhere on his impressive resume does one find the words: Music Critic/Rolling Stone Magazine.
I reread my friend’s post, searching for trace amounts of irony or attempted wit gone awry. Finding neither, I felt duty-bound to dash off the following retort to my one-time writer’s retreat roommate.
Really now! YOU MUST BE KIDDING! Yes, men of good will can agree this song of yours with the vaguely-Hitlerian title was, indeed, a war crime against musical humanity. But, my friend, the reality is it doesn’t even crack the Top Five Worst Songs of all Time as compiled by the totally objective arbiter of all things good and bad taste—ME!
Requiring evidence to support my scholarly thesis, I laid out the Top 5 Worst Songs 50s-80s™®© with appropriate annotation. Even if you’ve heard these songs a thousand times—and if you listened to Top 40 music during these years you most certainly have—I encourage you to play them again and in order to receive the full impact of this oncoming train wreck of awfulness.
5. Billy, Don’t Be A Hero by Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods
Really? The big punch line punch line—the message the whole song builds to and is supposed to bring this ditty home to roost—is “I heard she threw that letter (dramatic pause) away“ REALLY? That’s all you got Bo? REEEEALLY? Let’s stitch that on a throw pillow and inspire a generation of anti-war protesters!
4. Seasons In the Sun by Terry Jacks
A dreary song about the slow death of one who tells everyone who will listen the sands of time are running out for him. We never learn what he’s got but it’s bad and most likely going to keep him from attending Opening Day at Yankee Stadium next April. Coming in at 2 minutes, 21 seconds you find yourself wishing he wouldn’t make it to Spring Training either if it shaved 30 seconds off the song.
3. Muskrat Love by The Captain and Tennille
First, who made this guy Captain and what were his previous ranks? I certainly hope he doesn’t try to con his way to the Military Discount on his roast beef sandwich at Arby’s, because I don’t see the appropriate bars and medals anywhere! Second, any song with synthesizer sounds that approximate the mating sounds of muskrats wooing each other is just . . . EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW.
2. MacArthur Park by Richard Harris
This is a song about someone who left a cake out in the rain. Yes, it’s supposed to be about o so much more, but that’s the enduring image songwriter Jimmy Webb implanted in our brains over 50 years ago and now it can’t be removed without a surgeon’s deft scalpel or a self-service ice pick. If this fella in the song doesn’t care how long it took to bake that darn cake then why should I? If he’ll never have that recipe again maybe he can call The Food Channel and see if somebody there has it. MacArthur Park is melting in the dark and not a moment too soon for my taste. Mmmmmm . . . good frosting, though . . .
1. (You’re) Having My Baby
There are no words, but that’s never stopped me. Yes, this is the worst song ever written and recorded. This song was sexist and misogynistic before those words were even in the lexicon.
Didn’t have to keep it
Wouldn’t put you through it.
You could have swept it from your life
But you wouldn’t do it
This is an intimate dialogue between two intimates. And that’s where this lyric should have stayed. What was Paul Anka thinking? “Well, I wrote the Tonight Show Theme that is played every weeknight on network TV so I’ll never need to work again. Maybe I’ll write a song about birth from a man’s point of view.”
What could possibly go wrong?”
While I can agree with the life-preserving implied principle therein, did we have to hear this all-too-private conversation 10,000 times before it left the airwaves for good? Really? REALLY?
Never, ever, EVER going to be a song this bad or misguided in my lifetime! Don’t believe me? Have a listen:
And so my dear Mr. Meurer—if that is indeed your real name—You cannot deny the historical and hysterical awfulness of this list. The sheer horror of the endless radio repetitions—the countless times we heard these songs play just so we could eventually hear a Beatles, Doors or Donnie & Marie tune—heightens the madness with which we now reflect on them. And this Top Five Worst list this doesn’t even include You Light Up My Life (What—Debbie Boone’s daddy didn’t do enough damage to pop music in the 50s?) or, oh my goodness, Torn Between Two Lovers, that insidious droning woman who confessed an affair to her husband, told her mate she was going to continue showing up at a hotel with the other guy, all the while claiming “But that doesn’t mean I love you less.” At best your nominee, Thank You Shane, sits in at #8. Actually, #8 is every song every recorded by Abba. If we do a bit of research Danke Shoen may not even be in the Top Ten.
A Self-Appointed Arbiter of Musical Taste
Understand, Dear Reader, finding the worst song of any era is the scavenger hunt of a fool, one that offers very little reward aside from the satisfaction knowing you’ve helped make the world a slightly better place. Most of you will listen to these songs and think, “I kind of like two of those. And I certainly know five songs worse than any song on that pathetic list.”It’s not just about one part of the song, though. You have to consider the totality of the work. Yes, the lyrics to Oliver’s Good Morning Starshine make very little sense:
Gliddy glup gloopy nibby nabby noopy la la la lo lo
Sabba sibby sabba nooby abba nabba le le lo lo
Tooby ooby walla nooby abba nabba
Early morning singing song
Kind of makes you homesick for Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da where the English language comes nominally into play.
But the melody to Starshine to me has always been intriguing and musically inviting. Infectiously uplifting. Of course this is all subjective, but to me the key to objectively deciding the most objectionable songs is this:
When the musician or singer hits the first note, is there terror in your heart? Is your very first thought “Save the children!” Do your legs want to pump quickly to flee the room but become immobilized with unexpected panic? Do you want to pick up the radio, iPod, speaker it’s playing through and bash your own skull in with it? THESE are the keys to finding the truly horrible songs of all time. I have more dents in my skull than holes on a front nine. And I sacrificed my cranium so you wouldn’t have to. Memorize these key points. You never know when the 60s will return with a vengeance!
Thank you for your kind attention. My work here is done.
PS: You probably agree with everything I wrote. But in the off-chance you don’t and have a different Worst Song of the 50s-80s in mind feel free to tell us about it. Or maybe you wish to take me to task for desecrating one of your favorites by including it in my list. Give us your reasons and provide a link to the song when possible. Thanks!