Colin Bowles has played lead air guitar in bands such as Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, AC/DC and Red Hot
Chili Peppers. He has been married ﬁve times, to Heidi Klum, Kate Beckinsale, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Scarlett Johansson. His interpretation of ‘Stairway to Heaven’, performed in the shower when he was just eighteen years old, remains a classic of rock music history. He has since become a legend in his own mind and these days divides his time between London, Berlin, New York and being treated for delusional fantasies at the outpatient department of Adelaide’s historic Home for People Who Think They’re Eric Clapton.
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I’ve been flushed from the bathroom of your heart
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I’ve been flushed from the bathroom of your heart
COLIN BOWLES ES
WORST SONGS EVER
First published in 2008 Copyright © Colin Bowles 2008 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act. Arena Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin 83 Alexander Street Crows Nest NSW 2065 Australia Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100 Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218 Email: email@example.com Web: www.allenandunwin.com National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry: Bowles, Colin. I’ve been ﬂushed from the bathroom of your heart : the 100 worst songs ever / Colin Bowles. ISBN 978 1 74175 634 0 (pbk.) Popular music—Analysis, appreciation—Humor. 781.64 Text design by Nada Backovic Designs Images: istockphoto/Donald Erickson; istockphoto/Milos Luzanin Set in 12/14 pt Esperanto by Midland Typesetters, Australia Printed in Australia by Ligare Pty Ltd, Sydney 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Music to my ears . . .
Music is part of our nature. Babies in the womb hear music, and mothers use lullabies to soothe their infants and put them to sleep. Birds use calls and whistles to communicate, and humpback whales sing sonatas to stay in touch with each other. Music is a way of relating to each other, to the world, and to ourselves. When we were toddlers, music was used to teach us the alphabet and rudimentary mathematics—remember Sesame Street? Music is used to ease stress in adults—that’s why they pipe music into aircraft during take-offs and landings and why they play muzak in elevators. (If they want to reduce stress, why the fuck do they play Kenny G?) At the other end of life, music is used to help people grieve. Cooperative Funeralcare organised the funerals of eighty thousand Britons last year, and almost half the music played was contemporary. ‘My Way’, of course, was the most popular choice, followed by ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ (which will feature prominently later), as well as more idiosyncratic choices such as ‘The Birdy Song’ and AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’. Other choices included The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ (the ideal cremation song—at least I always thought so), Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, and the Village People’s ‘YMCA’ (don’t ask). Other odd choices include Wham!’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, which strikes me as creepy, and ‘She’ll Be Coming ’Round The Mountain’. Music is powerful because it conjures emotion. At funerals it effortlessly evokes memories of the person we mourn; lovers will often adopt a piece of music as ‘theirs’, which is why some people get misty-eyed on hearing a
certain piece of music—‘he always played “Smack My Bitch Up” just for me,’ she said, weeping—because it evokes nostalgia for another time. Music bypasses intellect and mainlines for the gut. Which is why bad music can provoke such outrage and unreasonable displays of anger. Always has done. At its debut in 1913, for example, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), caused a riot in the streets of Paris. So in choosing the one hundred worst songs ever—well, in the last ﬁfty years to be more accurate—I know I’m playing with ﬁre. Some of the songs here have also featured on lists elsewhere of the best one hundred songs. Say something mean about a song someone else likes and you don’t just confront their opinions, you mess with their emotions. After reading this, some people may say mean things about me. Fair enough. I shall be saying mean things about other people. What are the criteria for a ‘bad’ song anyway? There aren’t any, really. On the face of it, it’s all subjective. What evokes euphoria in one person may induce nausea and vomiting in another. The argument over musical worth is encapsulated in the McCartney/Lennon polar axis: is a musician’s net worth the sum of his earnest commitment to revolution and profundity or is it okay, even preferable, just to entertain with ‘Silly Love Songs’? Then there’s the ABBA Principle: those guys never wrote anything deeper than ‘The Winner Takes It All’ but they were good songwriters. They never aimed higher than good pop but never fell short. They were pop music’s Mozart. The only thing I could be sure of when I’d ﬁnished this list is that not a single soul would agree with me completely. After all, Billy Ray Cyrus, whose ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ is almost universally derided, sold fourteen million copies
worldwide in a hundred different languages, yet not once have I ever met a single person willing to admit that they own a copy. Clearly, something is going on. There is perhaps an element of the emperor’s new clothes in musical tastes. We think something is good because we’re told it is good, and when something is fashionable we think it has value when in fact it’s just . . . fashion. Some music dates and some doesn’t. Why do we ﬁnd that Color Me Badd or MC Hammer CD in our rack? We only thought it was good back then because everyone else had one. Bad is in the nature of the music industry. Artists fulﬁl contractual obligations by clearing out their bottom drawer of songs they wrote in ﬁfth grade, while record companies think of their customers as a contemptible rabble who’ll buy anything if it’s packaged right and has a familiar brand name. Music executives are motivated by money, not music. Consequently, the car is driven while looking in the rear-vision mirror. Something original becomes a hit despite our best efforts to ignore it? Great! Let’s order a hundred more just like it! We don’t know if it’s good—hell, we didn’t even know it was good in the ﬁrst place! Low-budget project earned back ten times what it cost? Let’s increase the budget by a hundred times and it’ll earn back ten times a hundred the proﬁt! Right? Right? And so Mystikal says ‘thanks very much, put another few zeros on the end of that cheque’. In such a system—and by that I mean because we’re human—there are very few songs that are universally loved and admired, and remain that way: ‘Yesterday’, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘What’s Going On?’ spring to mind as examples of classic songs that have stood time’s ultimate test. Choosing the worst songs is much harder; it’s like making a list of all
those people Adolf Hitler didn’t like very much. However, there are some— like ‘Honey’ and ‘MMMBop’—that just about pick themselves. The list does not distinguish between musical form—for every Metallica there are ten Manowars, for every Michael Franti there are a dozen Jibbs and Soulja Boy. There is good and bad Black Eyed Peas, as there is good and bad Bob Dylan. There is Marvin Gaye and then there’s just plain gay, and plenty of it. It depends, too, on which generation you belong to as to how much real pain and angst any particular song may have caused you. You may, for instance, be fortunate enough to be too young to remember The Archies or the Bay City Rollers or the Macarena, but if you’re from Generation Y you’ll have memories of your adolescence being at least partially ruined by ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’. Compiling this list casts industry backslappers like the Grammy Awards in an unfavourable light. It is sobering to learn that Bob Dylan never won a Grammy before 1998, that Lionel Richie won honours over Prince and Bruce Springsteen, and that Milli Vanilli were deemed the best new artists of 1989. It’s also curious how often some of the best songwriters ﬁnd their way onto the list. McCartney, for instance, wrote both ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Mull of Kintyre’; Bernie Taupin wrote ‘Candle in the Wind’ but also penned ‘We Built This City (On Rock And Roll)’. But in his defence, as Taupin himself later pointed out, Tom Cruise starred in both Cocktail and Rain Man. I have attempted not to lean too heavily on country and western music, though this is of course difﬁcult when it has spawned such classic songs as ‘I Went to Bed at Two with a Ten and Woke Up at Ten with a Two’ and ‘You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly’. I’ve also tried to keep novelty songs and boy bands to an essential minimum. I didn’t want to populate the entire list with Westlife and the Teletubbies.
The unexpected thing that comes from all this is an insight into the mind of so-called creative people. Should it surprise us how many of them are truly and seriously messed up? Is it a precondition of being an artist, or is it a consequence of money and fame? I’ll let you decide. The only thing that is certain is that great artists don’t think like record executives, and that bad ones become record company executives. (Sit down, Fred, you’ll get your turn.) I have not listed the songs from worst to least worst; that would have been redundant. Instead I’ve placed them in chronological order, because a list of the one hundred worst songs in living memory is also a social history of western culture. It has to be. Music matters to everyone; it reﬂects our values and tensions. If it is, then, a signpost, where is our culture headed?
All this and Vietnam too
‘We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.’
Dec c a Rec o rd i ng C ompany re j e cting Th e B ea tle s, 1962
Walk Like a Man
(The Four Seasons)
So why did he sing it like a girl?
The Four Seasons’ ‘Walk Like a Man’ was produced under extraordinary circumstances—it was recorded in a burning building. According to guitarist Vinnie Bell, their producer, Bob Crewe, had locked the door to the studio, which was his standard practice when they were recording. After a couple of run-throughs, Frankie Valli and the boys smelt smoke and heard someone pounding on the studio door. Crewe refused to unlock it, even though plaster was starting to fall from the ceiling. He wanted to do another take. Water from the ﬁre hoses started to leak into the studio and the Four Seasons thought they’d reached the autumn of their lives. Electrocution, individually or en masse, became a real possibility. The session ended only when ﬁremen axed open the studio door, knocking Crewe to the ﬂoor as they rushed in. Perhaps that’s why Frankie sang the song like his pants were on ﬁre. Perhaps they were. Whatever the truth, ‘Walk Like a Man’ was the third US number one hit for the band. For others, like me, Frankie’s teenage-girl-on-a-rollercoaster wail just makes me wish the ﬁremen were on strike that day.
The Sounds of Silence
(Simon & Garfunkel)
The most pretentious lyric in musical history
‘The main thing about playing the guitar was that I was able to sit by myself and play and dream. And I was always happy doing that. I used to go off in the bathroom, because the bathroom had tiles, so it was a slight echo chamber. I’d turn on the faucet so that water would run—I like that sound, it’s very soothing to me—and I’d play. In the dark.’ (Paul Simon, Playboy 1984) Okay, so Paul Simon’s a genius. We didn’t say he was mentally healthy. Is this the man who wrote ‘American Tune’ and ‘Boy in the Bubble’? What is he doing on this list? Because this song is the musical equivalent of having a ﬁnger waved in your face. Still, there are plenty who’d disagree with me. It propelled him and his sixty-eight-octave-range mate Art Garfunkel to superstardom. Listening to ‘The Sounds of Silence’ is like being lectured on morals and the meaning of life by a teenager. It’s everything that is pompous and pretentious about sixties folk-rock. It’s Britney Spears trying to write a Dylan song. ‘Hear my words that I might teach you’? My reaction is always the same: a
two-word salute ending in ‘off’. Some songs make me angry, some songs make me indignant. But this is one of those musical rarities, a song that makes me angry and indignant. Hear my words, Paul: take this song and shove it. Simon has said that he wrote the song in response to Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. It appeared on the ﬁrst album that he and Garfunkel recorded together, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, which tanked, selling only about two thousand copies. So he and Garfunkel split up, with Simon touring folk clubs in England while Art practised shattering crystal with his C sharp. But their record company had a plan. Columbia Records producers Tom Wilson (who produced Dylan’s foray into electric rock) and Bob Johnson saw the folk-rock movement gaining popularity, so they added electric instruments to Simon’s acoustic track and rereleased it, unknown to Paul and Art. It became a massive hit and so Simon and Garfunkel re-formed. An album called Sounds of Silence was hastily recorded and released in early 1966 to capitalise on their success. ‘I Am a Rock’ and a song about various common garden herbs ensured the duo’s fame. ‘The Sounds of Silence’ was used in the ﬁlm The Graduate and played during the opening credits and the closing footage in Bobby. Despite its enormous popularity, it was voted the forty-second worst song ever by Blender magazine. Personally I prefer the real sound of silence to listening to it even one more time.
Queenie Wahine’s Papaya
Parker, Paramount Pictures and Presley Piss on the Paying Public
When Elvis sang ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ on the Dorsey Brothers’ Stage Show in 1956, his hip swinging raised eyebrows everywhere. He was sex on legs. He was white but his soul was black, and Elvis the Pelvis was on his way to becoming a household name. But the man who gave us ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and ‘Hound Dog’ was also responsible for some of the greatest musical travesties ever perpetrated on the paying public. There were in fact three Elvises: there was the ﬁfties rocker; there was the star of a bunch of cheap sixties production-line movies like Clambake and Kid Galahad; and later, when he succumbed to gluttony and pill-popping, there was Michelin Man Meets Maggoted from Memphis. By the end not only could he not gyrate his pelvis, he couldn’t see it. Elvis the Pelvis had become Eli the Belly, a giant mufﬁn in sequined ﬂares. Movie-star Elvis offered up only ‘Return To Sender’ from Girls! Girls!
Girls! and ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ from Blue Hawaii as worthwhile poprock. The good was far, far outweighed by the bad, like ‘He’s Your Uncle, Not Your Dad’ from Speedway, ‘Petunia, the Gardener’s Daughter’ from Frankie and Johnny and, of course, the execrable ‘Queenie Wahine’s Papaya’ from Paradise, Hawaiian Style. The ﬁrst lines, all about ‘She sells’ and ‘seashells’, alert us to the fact that this is not ‘Hound Dog’. Then it’s ‘Queenie Wahine’s papaya rates higher than pineapple, pumpkin or poy’. Could it get any worse? Was there ever a moment when he was singing this tongue teaser set to music that he thought wistfully about Buddy Holly and wished he’d been on the plane instead? Possibly not. Knowing Elvis, his only regret about all this pickled salad and pink popcorn was that he was not eating it while he sang it.
Tell Laura I Love Her
She’s only hot when she’s cold
In the late ﬁfties and early sixties, teenage death songs were as popular as a cheerleader in a men’s prison shower stall. Teen tragedy songs generally detail one half of a love match meeting an untimely end. Fast cars and motorcycles feature prominently, as they do in real life, but unlike the real thing, the end somehow gets romanticised. Note for aspiring lyricists: hard to tell anyone anything when you’re coughing blood. Perhaps the archetypal teenage death song is ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’, by Ray Peterson. In this one, a love-struck teenager named Tommy enters a stock car race so he can buy a wedding ring for his girl, Laura, with the prize money. He fails to consider two things: 1) if he can’t afford a ring, he probably can’t afford a mortgage, a bouncinette or a lawnmower; and 2) he knows nothing about cars. Consequently, he rolls it and it bursts into ﬂames. As he’s pulled from the wreckage with skin peeling off and coughing carbon, he whispers ‘Tell Laura I love her’ and expires. There was lots of this stuff around back then, or its variants, like motorbikes (the Shangri-Las’ near-hysterical but curiously erotic ‘Leader of the Pack’) or even sharks (the unintentionally hilarious ‘The Water Was Red’). The latter example featured a boy—Johnny Cymbal—walking along the sand
with his girl. They go in for a quick dip and he sees her lose some of her most fetching features to a white pointer. Johnny then dives into the water with his knife, cuts off the shark’s ﬁn and returns to the beach with it to show his girl how much he loves her. Unfortunately she has, by this stage, bled to death and fails to appreciate the gift. ‘Teen Angel’ is another personal favourite. If your car stalls on a rail track and the 12.15 express is heading on through, running back for your boyfriend’s class ring means that, well, you probably aren’t a massive loss to the gene pool. I’m also a big fan—for the wrong reasons, probably—of Dickey Lee’s ‘Laurie’, about a boy meeting a girl at a dance and then ﬁnding out later she was dead the whole time. In the last verse, the sweater he loans her turns up on her grave, neatly folded. Yes, but did he get a second date? Some songs attempted to parody the formula, such as ‘(All I Have Left Is) My Johnny’s Hubcap’, but none more successfully than Jimmy Cross’s hilarious ‘I Want My Baby Back’. In the song he assumes the voice of a teenager knocked unconscious in a car wreck—crashing his car into the Leader of the Pack no less—and when he wakes up he says: ‘I could see my baby over there, And over there, And waaaaaaaaay over there.’ He misses her a great deal, which leads to the song’s refrain: ‘I want my baby back’. In fact he wants her back so badly that after about three months he returns to the cemetery. The song ends with the sound of digging, then ‘Hot dang, pay dirt!’ followed by the sound of a cofﬁn lid creaking open, and the chorus ‘I got my baby back’. Hot dang. She may be cold but she’s still hot! The song was banned by the BBC.
The Laughing Gnome
We can’t be heroes all the time
Not all bad songs are written by bad songwriters, and not all bad songs are sung by bad musicians. Before the Thin White Duke began his career as Ziggy Stardust, before he gave us ‘Heroes’ and ‘China Girl’ and ‘Queen Bitch’, David Bowie laid a brick. It was called ‘The Laughing Gnome’ and it is truly one of the most embarrassing moments in rock history. In 1967, young David was desperately trying to ﬁnd a commercial breakthrough and was prepared, as many before him, to abandon all his musical standards to get it. ‘The Laughing Gnome’ was the result. It consisted of the singer meeting the creature of the title and having a conversation, with the gnome’s high-pitched voice (provided by Bowie and studio engineer Gus Dudgeon) delivering a number of puns on the word ‘gnome’: ‘Haven’t you got a gnome to go to? No, we’re gnomads . . .’ And so on. The song was appalling, even in a moment in history when Donovan and The Archies were dumping nightsoil on the public by the vatload.
Bowie had to wait two more years for his big break, when his spaceage ballad ‘Space Oddity’ reached the top ﬁve of the UK singles chart. He soon re-emerged as his ﬂamboyant, androgynous alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single ‘Starman’. Ironically, though, Bowie’s gnome song would be a hit when reissued in 1973, and made it to number six in the UK charts, much to the amusement of the music press and Bowie’s rival, Marc Bolan. Bowie’s career has been characterised by musical innovation, personal reinvention and striking visual presentation. He has sold an estimated 136 million albums, and ranks among the ten best-selling acts in UK pop history. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him thirty-ninth on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Which just goes to show: even the best of us have a gnome in our closet somewhere.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Beam me up, Scottie
Before you get indignant on me, the version I refer to here is not the one by the Fab Four but the cover by Cap’n Kirk of Star Trek fame, the redoubtable William Shatner. He released his ﬁrst album back in 1968, The Transformed Man, on which he performed dramatic readings from the works of William Shakespeare interspersed with even more dramatic readings of the lyrics of songs such as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘Mr Tambourine Man’. His interpretation of ‘Lucy’ is considered by many to be the worst musical rendition of all time, regularly winning ‘worst ever song’ radio station competitions. It was done at warp factor nine with enough intensity to make a Klingon cry. Shatner truly took a Beatles song where it had never gone before. A 2003 Music Choice poll voted it as the worst Beatles cover, beating off stiff competition from a pair of pink pig puppets as well as musical heavyweights like Bananarama and P.M. Dawn.
George Clooney chose Shatner’s ‘Lucy’ as one of the Desert Island Discs he would bring along if marooned—as an incentive to leave the island. He said, ‘If you listen to this song, you will hollow out your own leg and make a canoe out of it to escape.’ But Shatner is nothing if not indefatigable. In June 2005, he performed his own rendition of ‘My Way’ at the presentation of George Lucas’s AFI Life Achievement Award, backed by a chorus line of dancers in Imperial Stormtrooper costumes who picked him up at the end and carried him offstage. Shatner is not the only Trekkie to record music. Leonard Nimoy’s versions of ‘If I Had a Hammer’ and the children’s song ‘The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins’ are widely considered to be camp classics. In 1997, MCA Records released a single-CD compilation of Shatner and Nimoy’s collected music output, under the title Spaced Out. They should have called it Star Dreck.
‘Paul’s granny shit’—John Lennon
‘You can’t have The Beatles in a worst songs list.’ Hell you can’t. Don’t forget that one half of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team went on to write ‘Mull of Kintyre’ and perform duets with Michael Jackson (more of this later). ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ was a ska track recorded at a point during the White Album sessions when the producers had to sweep the studios for sharp objects to stop the Fab Four from slaughtering each other. The lyrics would embarrass a dyslexic chimpanzee. They tell the story of a couple named Desmond and Molly (the character of Desmond is a reference to ska and reggae legend Desmond Dekker). The verses are punctuated by shouts and yells in the background, possibly John trying to get out of the studio when the song was being recorded. When the verses are repeated, the names are switched around in certain places. McCartney described the switch as ‘a slip of the tongue’, but decided to keep them in, he said, because it gave the song an interesting and unexpected twist. The real truth may be that none of the other Beatles could be prevailed upon to do another take. Least of all Lennon. The ﬁrst time the line ‘Molly lets the children lend a hand’ is sung, it is
possible to hear two of the Beatles in the background singing ‘arm’ and then ‘leg’ instead of ‘hand’. The second time it’s sung, you can hear ‘foot’. Almost as if they were deliberately trying to sabotage McCartney’s lyric. As if. McCartney spent a great deal of time recording and overdubbing it. It’s said that John, George and Ringo got frustrated with him. Lennon particularly hated the song, and, as he did with a lot of McCartney’s later material, thought it was trite and meaningless. According to sound engineer Geoff Emerick in his memoirs Here, There and Everywhere, John called it ‘Paul’s granny shit’. After around sixty takes, Paul continued trying to record this as a ballad. On the fourth night, John was in the mixing room listening while taking a cocktail of alcohol and drugs—hard to imagine rock stars behaving like that, I know—and was basically maggotted. Stoned and frustrated beyond endurance, he burst into the recording room, pushed Paul aside and proceeded to play the piano track at twice the volume and twice the speed. The fast and happy recording on the landmark White Album is the result. The song’s title supposedly comes from a reggae band called Jimmy Scott and his Obla Di Obla Da Band. McCartney explained it this way: ‘A fella who used to hang around the clubs used to say in a Jamaican accent, “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on,” and he got annoyed when I did a song of it, ’cause he wanted a cut. I said, “Come on, Jimmy, it’s just an expression.”’ An edited cover was performed by the Australian comedy duo the Scared Weird Little Guys with the words completely replaced with morse code. This is the version I strongly prefer.
‘See the tree how big it’s groan’
There are some songs that are just a little bit irritating, and some songs that are stupid, but every now and then there’s a song that makes you want to grab a chainsaw and a shotgun and go visit the guy who wrote it. ‘Honey’, sung by Bobby Goldsboro in 1968, and still revisited by some easy listening radio stations (Stop Press: this is not Easy Listening, this is Stomach-Churning, Brain-Rotting, Agonising Listening, fellas), is one such song. This piece of maudlin dreck was written by a subhuman life form called Bobby Russell. Russell was a Nashville songwriter who was brieﬂy married to actress/singer Vicki Lawrence and wrote her 1973 hit ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’. He also wrote ‘Little Green Apples’ for O.C. Smith, in which he was able to successfully rhyme apples with Indianapolis. That alone should have assured him fame far beyond his years and creative gifts. ‘Honey’ appeared for the ﬁrst time on Bobby Goldsboro’s tenth album, released in 1968. The song’s protagonist mourns his dead lover, beginning with him looking at a tree in their garden, remembering ‘it was just a twig’ on the day that they planted it together, then reﬂecting on their relationship before turning to the day ‘the angels came’. Maybe it could have worked if
God had given the idea to, say, Eric Clapton. As it was, the notion for the song came to Bobby Russell. It was like giving a pump-action shotgun to a toddler. In one verse Russell rhymes ‘what the heck’ with ‘hugged my neck’. He mocks his dead ex for crying at the Late Show. And then there’s her death. Even in 1968, before the women’s liberation movement, what kind of insensitive prick wouldn’t be at his wife’s bedside when she died? Or maybe, reading between the ham-ﬁsted lines of the song, it was suicide: ‘Oh God, I can’t stand living any more with a man who writes lines like “Friend it hasn’t been too long, it wasn’t big”.’ Goldsboro’s delivery is cloying, and the whole syrupy mess went on to spend ﬁve weeks at the top of the US Billboard pop singles chart, making it one of the biggest hits of the year. ‘Honey’ also reached number two in the UK. He followed this up with the equally grievous ‘Watching Scotty Grow’, which thankfully vanished without a trace. In April 2006, CNN named ‘Honey’ the worst song of all time. They were being kind.
Yummy Yummy Yummy
(The Ohio Express)
Love in your tummy? How about a hand grenade instead?
The Ohio Express was a bubblegum garage band made up of studio musicians working out of New York—essentially as a front for producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz’s Super K Productions. The lead singer was the hideous Joey Levine, who as co-writer (with one Arthur Resnick) must bear much of the shame and hopefully horriﬁc punishment one day in hell for writing this dross for monetary gain. Ohio Express became the ultimate bubblegum band. Their biggest hit, ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’, was crappy, crappy, crappy beyond belief. What should they care? It sold ten million copies, as did their next big hit, ‘Chewy, Chewy’. During their heyday in the late sixties, the group released several albums and a shitload—I use the term advisedly—of singles for Buddah Records, including ‘Sweeter Than Sugar’, ‘Mercy’ and ‘Down at Lulu’s’. Kasenetz, Katz and Levine kept sticking together hit after hit for the Express ‘as its membership constantly mutated’—their words not mine.
They were pioneers in their way—the B-side of ‘Sweeter Than Sugar’ was called ‘Bitter Lemon’ and was simply the A-side recorded backwards. It is a frightening fact, but I regret to inform you that the Ohio Express are still performing, even today. (This is like discovering that Joseph Stalin is still alive.) From their website: ‘Three decades later the Ohio Express remains dazzling with their truly good time happy music. The lyrics sound just as fresh and the arrangements are as much fun as they were then when the Ohio Express topped the charts.’ And . . . ‘. . . the Ohio Express has a huge fan base in Europe as well as the United States and tour all over the globe.’ And . . . ‘On special occasions original Doug Grassel will also join the group.’ I don’t know. To me it sounded like a threat. If you’re not a Baby Boomer, it’s almost impossible to conceive of how bad they were back then. To think they are still dedicated to being just as bad now is truly a frightening thought.
Two Little Boys
No, Michael, we don’t think it’s a good idea you cover it
‘Two Little Boys’ was written by Theodore Morse and Edward Madden in 1902. It was originally recorded by British music hall legend Harry Lauder. The song is thought to have been inspired by the ﬁction of Victorian children’s writer E.H. Ewing, whose book Jackanapes was the story of its eponymous hero and his friend Tom, who, having ridden wooden horses together as little boys, ﬁnd themselves riding real ones on a Napoleonic battleﬁeld. There Jackanapes rides to the rescue of the wounded and dismounted Tom. Tom tells our hero to save himself. ‘Leave you?’ he shouts indignantly. ‘To save my skin? No, Tom, not even to save my soul.’ And then he gets shot and dies. Let that be a lesson to you: Fuck Tom. ‘Two Little Boys’ was revived in 1969 by Rolf Harris, the Australian singer/TV personality/painter who moved to Britain in the mid-ﬁfties and had a huge hit with the novelty song ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ in 1963. He’s now become a sort of national treasure in the UK.
In the late sixties Harris made a return visit to his native Australia and stayed brieﬂy with folk musician Ted Egan. Egan sang him the song, and Harris recorded it on tape. On his return to the UK he persuaded his television producer to let him sing it on his BBC variety show. But then he discovered he’d lost the tape and had to ring Egan, twelve thousand miles away, and ask him to sing the song over the phone to remind him of the words. He then played it at a concert and the audience went ape (for reasons unfathomable to me), and so he recorded it as a single. And the rest, as they say, is hysterical. It became the biggest-selling single of 1969. On Desert Island Discs, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher chose it as her favourite song of all time. It touched her to the bottom of her heart. Personally I was affected elsewhere, around the heart of my bottom, really. Harris later went on to record another hit single with ‘Stairway to Heaven’, the signature anthem from rock supergroup Led Zeppelin. He accompanied himself using a wobble board. More of that later. You have to hand it to the man. You just can’t tie him down.
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town
(Kenny Rogers & The First Edition)
A toe-tapper about sluts tormenting paraplegics
This song was written by Mel Tillis. He based it on a real couple who lived near his family home in Florida. The man had been wounded in Germany in World War II and sent to an inﬁrmary in England where he met and later married the nurse who took care of him. The couple moved to the man’s home in Florida, but his recovery was not complete and he was continually hospitalised for his wounds. His wife started seeing another man while he lay in bed with drips in him. I’m not making this up. Tillis changed the war to Vietnam, as he wrote it in the 1960s. It’s a catchy number about a paralysed man who sits home every night while his slutty wife, Ruby, puts on her strawberry lipstick and crotchless knickers and heads out for her date with Billy Joe or Bubba or whatever guy she can ﬁnd sitting alone in his bib and baseball cap in Sudsuckers. Our victim reaches for the Mid-West Solution To Every Problem but can’t reach the gun cabinet from the wheelchair.
In real life, the man Tillis was writing about actually could reach it—he shot his wife dead and then killed himself. This appalling song was originally recorded by Johnny Darrell, whose version was a country hit in 1967. It was also recorded by Waylon Jennings and Roger Miller, but it was best suited to Kenny Rogers’ growly-bear voice; Rogers’ band, The First Edition, had just had their ﬁrst success with ‘Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)’. ‘Ruby’ was a runaway hit for him in 1969 and by the end of 1970 had sold over a million copies. Go ﬁgure. This song and ‘Lucille’ typify everything that sucks about American country and western music. It turns guilt, co-dependence and emotional manipulation into high virtue, and Everywoman into Jezebel. Perhaps ‘Ruby’ was popular because the Vietnam War was raging at the time. Who knows? But you picked a ﬁne time to sing this, Kenny.
Diabetes set to music
In the late sixties ‘Sugar, Sugar’ was a number one hit single, released on an album called Everything’s Archie, supposedly by ﬁctional characters The Archies, who performed on the Saturday-morning cartoon show, The Archie Show. The group itself was never seen except as cartoon characters. They were actually a group of studio musicians brought together to help make the cartoon. Ron Dante’s lead vocals were accompanied by those of Toni Wine—or is that Whine?—who sang the falsetto ‘I’m gonna make your life so sweet’ on ‘Sugar, Sugar’ and will have to account for this on Judgment Day. Andy Kim and Ellie Greenwich are the other two defendants—or band members, whatever. The man responsible for bringing them together was a promoter and producer by the name of Don Kirshner, who also created The Monkees. He claimed he wanted to do the same thing with cartoon characters because they were much easier to work with than real people. Come on, Peter Tork wasn’t that bad. He was just drawn that way. ‘Sugar, Sugar’ was co-written by Jeff Barry. To be fair, he and Ellie Greenwich also wrote, among other songs, ‘Chapel of Love’, the brilliant ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, and ‘Then He Kissed Me’ with Phil Spector.
The song was the number one single in 1969, outselling songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and David Bowie. Archies members went on to bigger and better things. Dante produced ‘Mandy’ for Barry Manilow, Toni Wine wrote ‘Candida’ for the dreadful Tony Orlando, and Andy Kim ﬁnally recorded his own version of ‘Sugar, Sugar’ in 1980 under the name Baron Longfellow. In 2006, ‘Sugar, Sugar’ was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, as Kim is originally from Quebec. But then so is Celine Dion.
THE WORST COUNTRY AND WESTERN SONG TITLES THE RUNNERS UP
40 39 38 37 36 35 34
‘I Hate Every Bone in Your Body Except Mine’ Jimmy Velvit ‘I Still Miss You, Baby, But My Aim’s Gettin’ Better’ The Cordwood Draggers ‘I Went Back to My Fourth Wife for the Third Time and Gave Her a Second Chance to Make a First Class Fool Out of Me’ Reverend Bill C. Wirtz ‘She Got the Ring and I Got the Finger’ The Ridge Riders ‘There Ain’t Enough Whiskey in Tennessee to Drink the Ugly Offa You’ Yankee Jack ‘I Been Roped and Thrown by Jesus in the Holy Ghost Corral’ Bobby Bare ‘I Don’t Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling’ Thom Sharp
33 32 31 30 29 28 27 26 25
‘Swing Wide Your Gate of Love’ Hank Thompson ‘I Would Have Wrote You a Letter, But I Couldn’t Spell Yuck!’ Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs ‘Did I Shave My Legs for This?’ Deana Carter ‘Billy Broke My Heart at Walgreens and I Cried All the Way to Sears’ Ruby Wright ‘My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink, And I Don’t Love Jesus’ Jimmy Buffett ‘You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too’ The Statler Brothers ‘You Done Tore Out My Heart and Stomped That Sucker Flat’ John Denver ‘If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong, Do It Right’ Vern Gosdin ‘Welcome to Dumpsville, Population You’ Ace Troubleshooter
24 23 22 21
‘Hog Sloppin’ Time in the Hollow’ Chuck Mayﬁeld ‘If I Had Shot the Bitch When I Met Her, I’d Be Out By Now’ Jimmy Velvit ‘If I Had It To Do All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You’ Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks ‘It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long’ Cherry Bombs
The early seventies
Dawn of a new earache
‘I did a lot of wrong things, but I don’t think I’m a bad person.’
I k e Tu r ne r, who b i g amous l y marri e d Tin a Turn er a nd , a s he r au t o b i o g r ap hy re v ealed , vi ol e ntl y abus e d he r, poured hot cof fe e on he r fac e, b u r ne d he r li p s wi t h ci gare tte s an d m ad e h er pe rf orm w hile sick and p reg nant . H e sp ent $11 mi l l i on on coca ine an d w as m arrie d a t le ast thi rte e n ti me s.
Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep
(Middle of the Road)
Never a gun when you need one
Those belonging to Generations X and Y are lucky for many reasons: ATMs, computers, mobile phones, vibrating condoms—and they never had to listen to this fucking song. It was sung by a Scottish quartet called Middle of the Road, who gave even MOR a bad name. The song starts off with the victim claiming that she heard one of her parents singing ‘Ooh-wee, chirpy chirpy, cheep cheep’. The next morning said victim claims that her primary caregiver has disappeared. To the nutfarm, presumably. The rest of the song is an enquiry as to the whereabouts of both parents, to the endless repetition of bird noises. To call this song annoying is like saying that Jack the Ripper had issues around women. Even the band members hated it. Drummer Ken Andrew said: ‘We were as disgusted with the thought of recording it as most people were at the thought of buying it. But at the end of the day, we liked it.’ I guess the money might have had something to do with that.
Inexplicably, others liked it too. Aided by the patronage of the BBC’s Tony Blackburn—may he rot in hell—it became a massive hit. It reached number one in the UK for ﬁve interminable weeks in June 1971. Unlikely story: when lead singer Sally Carr attended the Isle of Wight Song Festival in 1985, she was recognised by a lady who was actually thrilled to have the chance to tell her how the song saved her life. Apparently she was very ill in hospital at the time of the song’s release, and had slipped into a coma. Her family played ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ incessantly at her bedside. She claimed that it was hearing this that brought her round—that or her brain burst back into life so that she could regain consciousness and turn off the tape player. PS: Sally Carr apparently brought the subtlety and deftness which graced much of her singing to other uses after the band broke up, gaining a certiﬁcate in bricklaying. But there is some bad news, and I’d rather you heard this ﬁrst from a friend. The band have re-formed. Apparently they’ve performed more live concerts since 1991 than they ever did in the seventies. They make regular appearances on TV in Germany. See them next on the Eurovision Song Contest. Singing ‘Franky Franky Furter Furter’ for Germany. And winning.
(Dr Hook and the Medicine Show)
Mrs Abria makes the right call
There was the hippie, there was the guitarist with the cowboy hat and the eye patch; it was like a Village People theme band singing Barry Manilow covers. They were responsible for ‘A Little Bit More’, which sounded like a love song written by a porn-addicted virgin for his sister. It was ear-achingly, toothrottingly bad. Yet somehow, surprisingly, ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ was worse. Surprisingly, because it was written by the excellent Shel Silverstein. Silverstein was a poet, cartoonist, screenwriter and children’s author who also wrote and composed a lot of Dr Hook’s better songs, including ‘On the Cover of Rolling Stone’ and that great seventies anthem, ‘Don’t Give A Dose to the One You Love Most’ (‘. . . Give her some marmalade, give her some toast!’). He also wrote ‘Boy Named Sue’ for Johnny Cash and ‘The Ballad of Lucy Jordan’ for Marianne Faithfull. So what went wrong here? Apparently ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ was intended as a parody of all those teenage heartbreak love songs, but somewhere along the line me and a few million others missed the satire. Instead, SM became just another bad example of the genre. Perhaps it’s Dennis Locorriere’s weepy voice. When you’re responsible
for ‘When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman’ how is it possible for anyone to know when you’re taking the piss? The lines become very blurred. Whenever I hear SM on the radio I want to tear the speakers out with my teeth. It’s a song about a guy ringing up his girlfriend to try and persuade her to come back to him, and her mother picks up the phone instead. Her mother tells him, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off because she’s marrying someone else. That phone call was a long time ago now. Sylvia is probably not only a mother herself now, but perhaps a grandmother as well. Her and the fella from Galveston way have probably had thirty-ﬁve very happy years together. I doubt if Mrs Abria is still with us. But if she is, I think Sylv should go round there with a big bunch of ﬂowers and say thanks. I think she made a good call. Bon Jovi covered ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ on their 2003 live album/DVD. Go ﬁgure; all that hair and not one ounce of shame.
The Candy Man
(Sammy Davis Jr)
Roald Dahl must be turning in his grave
Aubrey Woods—who played Bill the candy store owner—ﬁrst performed this stupid and irritating song in the 1971 movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Co-writer Anthony Newley was so appalled at Woods’ performance that he asked producers Stan Margulies and David Wolper to let him perform the role if they could reshoot the scene, but his offer was turned down. As the movie wrapped up production, record executive Mike Curb recorded an instrumental backing for the song with Sammy Davis Jr in mind. The former member of the Rat Pack didn’t like the song at ﬁrst—always trust your ﬁrst impression—but decided to do it anyway. The result: inexplicably, it became the biggest hit of Davis’s eight-decade career. It’s a song about someone who makes chocolate, for God’s sake. What the hell is so good about it? I would rather be strapped to a rack and forced to listen to Kenny G. Well, maybe that’s going too far. And I like Sammy Davis Jr. He did poignant songs about sad old drunks and being true to yourself. So what is so good about a song about making confectionery? I don’t get it. And Sammy’s not around to tell me any more.
The best song ever written about people eating each other
Who, in their right mind, writes a song about cannibalism? The answer, of course, is the same guy who writes a song about piña coladas. Back in 1971, before he made a rum-based cocktail famous, Rupert Holmes was just twenty years old and trying to make a go of things in the music world, ﬁnding work wherever he could arranging music, playing as a session musician, even writing shampoo commercials. He had a friend who was a sound engineer at Scepter Records and knew some guys from Pennsylvania with a bubblegum band called The Buoys. They persuaded Scepter to sign them to a one-single deal but Holmes knew they wouldn’t promote it. The only way to get them noticed, he decided, was to deliberately pen a song that the radio stations would ban. On his website Rupert explains how he was working on an arrangement for Andy Kim (you remember him: ‘Sugar . . . irritating riff—honey, honey— another irritating riff’) of the song ‘Sixteen Tons’. He was humming it to himself ‘. . . a coal man’s made out of muscle and blood, skin and bones . . .’ while watching a cooking show on television. It somehow occurred to this remarkable young man that it sounded like a recipe.
So he wrote a song about three coal miners, trapped down a mine shaft, who start looking round for a snack while they wait to be rescued. The Buoys recorded it to a bubblegum arrangement and sang it like it was a catchy CCR number. Holmes played piano on the track. Here’s a snatch of the lyrics: ‘My stomach was full, full as it could be, and nobody ever got around to ﬁnding Timothy, Timothy . . .’ Yep, if you like piña coladas, you’ll just love ‘Timothy’. As Holmes predicted, radio stations did ban it, thus saving it from obscurity and pushing it to seventeen on the Billboard charts. But in truth, it was really a song about a young guy hungry for success more than human ﬂesh. Rupert has since said that if he saved an entire orphanage from a ﬁre and carried the last child out on his shoulders, the ﬁrst news crews on the scene would rush up to him and say, ‘Aren’t you the guy who wrote “The Piña Colada Song”?’ While that song, penned eight years later, made him wealthy and famous, he described it to New Yorker magazine in 2003 as ‘the success that ruined his career’, drawing attention from his more serious and heartfelt musical works. Rupert has written several Broadway plays, written songs that have been performed by Barbra Streisand, Judy Collins and Britney Spears, created a television show called Remember WENN and written a novel called Where The Truth Lies. His works have won Tonys and Emmys. Despite all this, he whines, he’s best known for ‘The Piña Colada Song’ (or ‘Escape’ as it was actually called). Instead of bleating about the price of fame, Rupert might do well to remember that if people didn’t remember him for that song, they might instead remember him as the nutbag who wrote the only pop song ever about cannibalism. And The Buoys? They were never heard of again. Perhaps Rupert ate them.
Me and You and a Dog Named Boo
A man called wolf sings a turkey about a dog
This is about two hippies and a dog taking a cross-country road trip in an old car that runs poorly. And they say that nuthin’ never comes from nuthin’! The protagonists of this drivel get mired in the Georgia clay and are later caught stealing eggs from a farmer and made to work to pay it off. The farmer’s name is McDonald. This is the integrity of thought that went into this one. They end up living in Los Angeles, but the old car makes them want to hit the road again. Yes, for God’s sake, go! Do anything but sing about it. Its creator was Roland Kent LaVoie, a native of Tallahassee, Florida, who scored several soft rock hits in the seventies. He says that after he wrote ‘Me and You and a Dog Named Boo’ he sensed the song’s hit potential, which makes him almost supernaturally prescient in my humble opinion. LaVoie adopted the name ‘Lobo’, which means ‘Wolf’ in Spanish. I have always been intrigued with this song. What if the dog had been
named Spot, or Spike, or Fluffykins? What rhymes? Lucky for him it was called Boo. He followed this up with an album, Of A Simple Man, which contained much better songs and his biggest chart hit, ‘I’d Love You to Want Me’, as well as another top ten hit, ‘Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend’. By the end of the seventies, though, Lobo’s star was on the wane, as were those of the hippies he had written about—and Boo’s, I assume, as there are seven doggie years to one of ours. The Wolf faded into obscurity. However, his popularity in Asia, of all places, is having a resurgence and he has started touring there. Singing, presumably, ‘Me and You and a Dog Named Woo’.
Little Donny does his business everywhere
‘Puppy Love’ was written by Paul Anka in 1960 for Annette Funicello, for whom he had a similarly junior canine affection. Annette was one of the original Mouseketeers and perhaps she helped him raise his banner high, high, high. Twelve years later this drivel was revived by Donny Osmond, who took it to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and top of the UK singles chart for ﬁve weeks in the endless summer of 1972. Donny was a pop idol in his mid-teens and all washed up by the time he was twenty-ﬁve. Perhaps he regrets the song now. ‘Puppy Love’ is not a song a man can feel comfortable singing when he’s shaving on a more or less regular basis. Any self-respecting teenager shouldn’t feel comfortable about it either, but we’ll come to that. Donny was one of nine little Osmonds, born to George, a Mormon sergeant major, and his wife Olive in Ogden, Utah. Four of the older brothers formed a quartet called The Osmonds and appeared on the Andy Williams Show in the early sixties. They were Utah’s answer to the Von Trapp Family but were—if that is humanly possible—even more impossibly cute. When he was four, Donny joined them and became their frontman, or front toddler, which involved dressing as a miniature version of Elvis and
smiling a lot, a feat for which he was sublimely equipped as he possessed teeth with the radiance of an atomic explosion. Donny quickly became the most adorable singing dwarf on planet Earth. Forty-ﬁve years later, the memories are a little harder to cope with. He recently cried on a TV chat show when asked if he was angry about his father’s role in pushing him in front of the cameras at such a young and impressionable age. He said he wished he’d stayed in Utah. The song made him a teen superstar: he and David Cassidy were the biggest ‘cover boy’ popstars of the early seventies. Prepubescent girls chased him into restaurants and passed out in his presence, although he claims proudly that, being a good Mormon boy. he never slept with any of them, nor drank nor even smoked. Well then, Donny, what the fuck was the point? He claims that Jesus Christ and Elton John are his heroes. Over to you on that one, Elton. He has now settled into semi-famous obscurity, appearing as a ‘where are they now?’ item on TV chat shows, and hosting a website that sells Donny sandals. To protect the feet, presumably, in case one steps into any puppy love. He still performs THAT song occasionally. ‘I have a country version, a sexy version and a cheesy nightclub version,’ he told Britain’s Daily Mail last year. ‘I am trying to infuse it with maturity.’ You may well ask how one infuses a song about prepubescent infatuation with maturity. I have no answer for you. ‘I will never escape that song,’ he claimed recently, brushing away a tear. ‘I will always be Mr Puppy Love.’ That’s life, Donny. You fuck one donkey . . .
I Am Woman
The song that burned a thousand bras
‘I Am Woman’ is regarded as one of the most culturally signiﬁcant songs of the seventies, the anthem for the worldwide women’s movement that changed the face of sexual politics in the twentieth century. For some it represents a hymn to female emancipation; others despise it as a song about man-hating. It was performed by Melbourne singer/songwriter Helen Reddy, who’d already scored her ﬁrst US top forty hit with a cover of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ in 1971. Reddy has claimed that the song was divinely inspired. She remembers lying in bed one night and the words ‘I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman’ kept going over and over in her head. ‘I had been chosen to get a message across.’ The next day she wrote the lyric and handed it to guitarist Ray Burton to put it to music. Burton was twenty-six at the time and playing in Los Angeles with Aussie rock band The Executives. He has a different recollection of the song’s genesis. He told Sunday Magazine that he spoke to Reddy after she attended a series of regular women’s meetings at which, he says, they would ‘sit around and whinge about their boyfriends’.
‘I said, “If you’re so serious about the whole thing, why don’t you jot down some lyrics and I’ll make it a song?” And that’s pretty much what happened.’ Burton says Reddy scribbled down some lyrics on a piece of paper and he went home and wrote the whole song in three hours. He rewrote some of the words, and used a melody he’d already been toying with. ‘It’s not one of my better songs. I had commerciality in mind because I knew the women’s lib thing was going on. I ﬁgured it was a way to make a few bucks.’ Reddy, however, insists Burton didn’t change a word of hers. Whatever the truth is, the song almost vanished without trace on initial release. More than a year later, however, it was chosen to run behind the opening credits of the ﬁlm Stand Up and Be Counted, a lightweight Hollywood women’s lib comedy starring Jacqueline Bisset and Loretta Swit. On the strength of this, Capitol decided to release the song as a single. But it was too short, so Reddy was asked to write an additional verse and chorus. The extra verse inserted the song’s only reference to males (‘Until I make my brother understand’). It was the year that Gloria Steinem launched Ms in the US and Cleo ﬁrst appeared in Australia. The song was perfect for the zeitgeist. It reached number one on 9 December 1972, the week Reddy gave birth to her son Jordan. ‘I Am Woman’ earned Reddy a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and at the awards ceremony she famously concluded her acceptance speech by thanking God ‘because She makes everything possible’. The song was the launching pad for Reddy’s stellar career. She has sold more than ﬁfteen million albums and ten million singles worldwide, including
‘Delta Dawn’, ‘Ruby Red Dress’, ‘Angie Baby’ and ‘Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady’. Success brought with it unimagined wealth and ﬁnanced a gaudy lifestyle of mansions, limousines, jewellery and speedboats. In her tell-all Hollywood book, You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again, Julia Phillips claimed that by the time Reddy and her husband completed their acrimonious divorce in 1982 they’d blown forty million bucks. Meanwhile Burton, expelled from the US because of work permit problems, watched the song’s meteoric rise from a distance. For a time he says he lived on unemployment beneﬁts. He took legal action against Reddy in 1998 to recover a portion of songwriter royalties that he claims she’d withheld from him. The matter was settled out of court, and Reddy disputes all Burton’s claims. Ray Burton is still around, working mainly in jingles and movie scores. He still sounds a little bitter when it comes to roaring women, though. ‘Hey everyone has a cross to bear and it could be worse right?’ he told Songfacts. ‘At least I have a giant hit song under my belt. I get ribbed about it all the time by some of the guys I know but not all of them. The fact is I DO believe in equality for all. I wouldn’t mind my own little dose of equality though . . . Helen refuses to mention me in any of her interviews on TV, on radio, and claims that she wrote the songs.’ For once, anyway, seems a woman came out on top. Ironically this song would also ﬁnd its way onto my Top 100 Songs list— the Tex Perkins version, recorded for the 2007 No Man’s Woman compilation where he sounds like a constipated Tom Waite after mainlining acid. Huge.
Is it someone’s name or a condition?
This is a song about someone called Little Willie, who’s a good dancer but refuses to go home when requested. That’s about it, folks. That’s as deep as it gets, although he does perform something called a star shoe shimmy shufﬂe down. I’ve never seen this personally, though I would like to, given said opportunity. In the early seventies, The Sweet had secured a management deal with a newly formed, and unknown, songwriting team consisting of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Of course, they became very well known later, after they inﬂicted ‘Some Girls’ on us. The Sweet’s ﬁrst album appearance was on a ‘Music For Pleasure’ album—they had one side and a bunch of one-hit wonders called The Pipkins had the other. The album was named after The Pipkins’ only hit, ‘Gimme Dat Ding’. (The lyrics would have made Paul Simon bilious with envy: ‘gimme dat gimme dat gimme gimme gimme dat’ and so on.) The Sweet touched similar musical highs with Chinn/Chapman tunes such as ‘Chop Chop’ and ‘Tom Tom Turnaround’. It was the sort of stuff that would be too puerile for The Wiggles. Chinn and Chapman hindered the band’s chance of rock respectability
by bringing in session musicians, as had been done with The Monkees, even though the members of Sweet were competent musically. However, the band scored huge hits in 1972, with ‘Little Willie’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’—which from memory perpetuates racial stereotypes of native American Indians—and both peaked at number four on the UK charts. The band also capitalised on the glam explosion, rivalling Gary Glitter, T.Rex, Queen and Slade for outrageous costumes. But soon afterwards the relationship between Sweet and Chinn/ Chapman soured. The band members had grown tired of the artistic control the songwriters exerted over them and the bubblegum image they were asked to present. As a result, their B-sides got heavier with each release. But the dichotomy of bubblegum A-sides and heavy rock B-sides only confused their teenage fan following. Indeed, The Sweet’s live performances consisted of B-sides—they played at one of our school dances and they weren’t too bad— and various medleys of rock’n’roll classics. They rarely pulled out their Little Willie in public. The group ﬁnally decided to record without Chinn and Chapman and dropped their glam image in favour of a more conventional hard rock appearance. They concentrated on proving their musical talents with selfwritten, hard rock/pop album tracks. And so they disappeared.
Alone Again (Naturally)
You shoulda jumped
This particular song starts with the singer telling of his plans to commit suicide after being left at the altar subsequent to the death of both his parents. It’s truly music to slash your wrists by—even Charles Aznavour would have baulked at this one. O’Sullivan has said that the song is not autobiographical, as he was only eleven when his own father died, and didn’t like him very much anyway. Even so, he managed to capture the urge to self-harm really well. Is this a good thing? I ask myself. Born Raymond Edward O’Sullivan, he adopted the stage name Gilbert O’Sullivan in an attempt to get rich and get out of Swindon, both understandable ambitions. His eye-catching visual image comprised a pudding basin haircut, cloth cap and short trousers. Was it his eccentricity that helped propel this song to number three in the UK and number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the US? I would
like to think so, but I’d probably be wrong. Like many a horrible ditty before it, it earned him three Grammy nominations. He followed it up with another deeply introspective work, ‘Get Down’, which was a plea to his dog to get down off the furniture. At least he didn’t call it Boo.
Ode to a rodent
This is a love song from a boy to a rat. It was recorded by Michael Jackson when he was about the age of the boy he had pyjama parties with at Neverland. So I don’t think it is an understatement to say that for these two reasons this song creeps most people out. Don Black and Walter Scharf wrote it for the 1972 movie of the same name, sequel to a movie called Willard, which was about a pet rat that turns evil and recruits other rats to attack humans. It’s rumoured the song was originally written for Donny Osmond, who was specialising in small animals at the time (see ‘Puppy Love’), but he was unavailable. Don Black has written lyrics for many movie songs, including ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ and ‘Born Free’. At his 2007 induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, he commented on the making of ‘Ben’: ‘I said, “You can’t write about a rat.” I mean, I’m not going to use words like “cheese”. I thought the best thing to do is write about friendship.’ It was Michael Jackson’s ﬁrst number one hit as a solo artist, back in the days when he still had black skin and a nose. The song was used in a 1991 episode of The Simpsons, where Jackson guest stars as an overweight, white mental patient. Truth can sometimes be stranger than ﬁction.
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree
(Dawn featuring Tony Orlando)
. . . and hang me with it.
Remember Tony Orlando? He looked like the missing sixth member of the Village People. The other members of Dawn were Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, and together the band scored a string of hits, including 1970’s ‘Knock Three Times’, about a man falling in love with his beautiful downstairs neighbour, who he has never met but claims to be in love with. He asks her to knock on the ceiling three times if she wants to meet him, twice on the radiator pipe if she doesn’t. It has been called the ultimate stalker’s song. A yellow ribbon as a token of remembrance came from the nineteenth century when women wore a yellow ribbon in their hair to show their devotion to a husband or sweetheart serving in the US Cavalry. Yellow is the ofﬁcial colour of Cavalry insignia, and the song ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’, which later inspired the John Wayne movie of the same name, refers to this.
The song just does not seem to die. After its initial release in 1973, it had a fresh wave of popularity in 1981 in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis. More recently, in 2006, a viral video circulated featuring the Asylum Street Spankers performing a parody, ‘Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV’, mocking the yellow ribbon car magnets that showed support for American soldiers in Iraq.
Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)
A queasy uneasy feeling
It’s not that this number by Gary Glitter was such a bad song. It was just pop music. No, what makes ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me?’ so impossible to listen to now is what came later. ‘Do you wanna touch me there? Where? There! Yeah! Oh!’ Yeah well, Gary, that’s all very well, as long as a woman’s past the age of consent. When you’re sixty and she’s ten, the song starts to sound just that bit tacky. Where, Gary? There! Every single line! Yeah! Glitter—real name Paul Francis Gadd—was huge in the seventies with a string of glam rock hits including ‘Rock and Roll (Parts 1 and 2)’, ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am)’ and ‘Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again’. He challenged Sweet, Slade and T.Rex in the pop charts and has had twenty-ﬁve hit singles that have spent a total of 179 weeks in the UK Top 100. At the height of his fame he owned thirty glitter suits and ﬁfty pairs
of trademark silver platform boots. He’s still considered one of the most inﬂuential British musicians of his generation, his theatrical performance style becoming known as ‘panto pop’. At time of writing he is in jail in Vietnam for child sexual abuse. In November 1997, Glitter was arrested after child pornography images were discovered on the hard drive of a personal computer he’d taken to a PC World shop in Bristol for repairs. He was convicted for downloading four thousand images of child pornography and was afterwards listed as a sex offender. His segment in Spiceworld: The Movie was cut and he served two months in jail. So he took his act on the road. He attempted to move to Cuba in 2000 but was thwarted after the Cuban Consulate in London was tipped off with his picture and real name. From there he skipped to Cambodia and ﬁnally Vietnam. He was arrested there in 2005 and charged with raping a minor. (During interrogations by police, Glitter said he allowed an eleven-year-old girl to sleep in his bed after she claimed she was afraid of ghosts, attorney Le Thanh Kinh told Associated Press.) A charge of rape was dropped for, according to Glitter’s lawyer, ‘lack of evidence’. After having received compensatory payments from Glitter, the families of two girls, aged ten and eleven, appealed to the courts for clemency for him. Glitter was instead tried on charges of committing obscene acts, found guilty and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. However, Glitter it seems is not bad, just drawn that way. In May 2006, he gave his ﬁrst interview in more than eight years to the BBC. He said, ‘To my knowledge I have not had sex with anyone under 18’ and that ‘I know the line to cross’. He claimed he was ‘not a paedophile’ and said, ‘I felt after I left prison in England that maybe there was a slim chance I could put my life back
on track and have a career, but after some time, the people that surrounded me, lawyers and managers, said: “We don’t think so, the media have already made such a big deal about this.”’ He called the press ‘the worst enemy in the world’. See? It all makes sense. All you people out there read in the papers about a man already convicted of possessing child pornography and automatically assume that because he was sleeping with children in his bed he was also having sex with them. They would never let him touch them there. Where? There! Yeah? Oh.
THE WORST COUNTRY AND WESTERN SONG TITLES AND THE WINNERS ARE …
20 19 18 17 16 15 14
‘You’re Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without’ Gene Watson ‘Walk Out Backwards Slowly So I’ll Think You’re Walking In’ Bill Anderson ‘How Can a Whiskey Six Years Old Whip a Man That’s ThirtyTwo?’ Norma Jean ‘My Wife Ran Off With My Best Friend and I Sure Do Miss Him’ Phil Earhart ‘One Day When You Swing That Skillet, My Face Ain’t Gonna Be There’ Richard Hardwick ‘How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?’ Dan Hicks ‘She Broke My Heart, I Broke Her Jaw’ Rick Stanley and Lookout Mountain
13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5
‘Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed’ Kinky Friedman ‘You’re the Hangnail in My Life, and I Can’t Bite You Off’ Hoyt Axton ‘I’ve Got Tears in My Ears From Lying on My Back in Bed While I Cry Over You’ Homer & Jethro ‘You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly’ Loretta Lynn ‘Her Eyes Say Yes But the Restraining Order Says No’ Hit the Lights ‘I’m at Home Getting Hammered (While She’s Out Getting Nailed)’ Banjo & Sullivan ‘Get off the table, Mabel, the Two Dollars is for the Beer’ Bull Moose Jackson ‘Jesus Loves Me But He Can’t Stand You’ Austin Lounge Lizards ‘I Went to Bed at Two with a Ten and Woke Up at Ten with a Two’ Willie Nelson
4 3 2 1
‘I’m Messed Up in Mexico, Livin’ on Refried Dreams’ Tim McGraw ‘The Last Word in Lonesome is Me’ Roger Miller ‘If My Nose Was Running Money, I’d Blow It All On You’ Mike Snider ‘I’ve Been Flushed From the Bathroom of Your Heart’ Johnny Cash
The mid seventies
‘There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something, we’d all love one another.’
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(You’re) Having My Baby
The case for early termination
Paul Anka recorded his ﬁrst single, ‘I Confess’, at the tender age of fourteen. In 1957 he went to the Big Apple, where he auditioned for Don Costa at the ABC network, singing a verse he’d written to a former babysitter. The song, ‘Diana’, brought Anka instant stardom, rocketed to number one on the charts and became one of the best-selling 45s in history. From that point on, his fate, and ours, was sealed. He followed up with ‘Lonely Boy’ and ‘Put Your Head On My Shoulder’ and by the time he was seventeen he was one of the biggest teen idols of the time. He went on to write the theme for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Tom Jones’ biggest hit, ‘She’s a Lady’, and the English lyrics for Frank Sinatra’s signature song, ‘My Way’. If it was just these few minor transgressions, we could have forgiven him. But in 1974, when he should have been sitting on a yacht in the south of France sipping cocktails and having would-be starlets put their head in his lap, he instead teamed up with Odia Coates to record ‘(You’re) Having My Baby’.
It’s about a guy who knocks up his girlfriend and uses this as an opportunity to write a love song to himself. It stayed at number one for three weeks, so someone must have liked it. Women everywhere gasped in appreciation as Paul told his lover, presumably while she was dealing with water retention, stretch marks, and then birthing pains—that some women liken to being tortured by the Gestapo—that he really enjoys what his baby is doing to her body. Words drip like melted honey from this man’s lips. If he’d whispered these lyrics to his own wife in the labour ward she would probably have inserted one of his platinum records where the sun don’t shine. ‘What a lovely way of sayin’ how much you love me.’ No, Paul, it’s a child, with a soul and a destiny of its own, not ego gratiﬁcation. But why waste my breath? This is the man who wrote ‘Puppy Love’.
Horse With No Name
Songwriter with no intelligence
If you gave one of those guys who wear bicycle helmets on buses a guitar and asked them to write a song, chances are they’d come up with something like America’s ‘Horse With No Name’. Actually, there’s a very good chance they would come up with something better . . . So we brought the culprit in for questioning. Here’s a transcript. ‘Dewey? Dewey Bunnell. That’s your name? Really? Okay, okay. Let me put it to you this way. You’re in a desert. Then how come there’s so much stuff? Apparently in this particular desert there’s all this life to look at. Funny, because you know, usually that’s what deserts have a critical shortage of, on account of the fact that they are, well, you know, deserts. You say there were rocks and things. What things, bucko? Biros? 7/8 spanners? Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets? ‘There was sand—okay I got that, it’s a desert, gotta be sand, that ﬁgures. It’s the hills and rings that have got me confused. Rings? What are rings doing in a desert? What kind of rings? Like wedding rings? Bull rings?
Burger rings? I don’t want to be obtuse, but two lines in and I’m confused already. ‘Now this bit here, when you talk about the heat being hot, now this sounds existentialist to me. Are you one of them damned existentialists, Dewey? Is that what you are? Because if you are, I want you to fess up right now. Okay. So if the heat was hot, I guess that explains why the ground was dry. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Got that, I think. That, and it’s a desert, yes? Okay. I’m good now. But with this kind of lyrical complexity I want to make sure I have everything sorted in my mind before we move on to the air, which according to you, Dewey, was full of, you know, sound. What kind of sound? Like it’s a desert, right? So what sound? Pneumatic drills? Car alarms? This is like translating Shakespeare. ‘Wait, I think I see the problem we’re having here. You came to the desert because you felt that it would become easier to remember your own name. Are you having some sort of episode, Dewey? Do you have any, you know, conditions that we should be aware of? Just asking. ‘Sure, it’s a desert, you’re right, how could there be no one for to give you no pain in a desert? Is English your ﬁrst language, by the way? ‘Okay, so now the riverbeds are talking to you. Well, I told you to bring a hat. You realise there were people who thought Neil Young wrote this? Neil Young should sue your ass off for giving him a bad name. Well, I guess at least you gave someone a name. The horse you were with for nine days and you still couldn’t think of anything to call it. Does that sound to you like someone with a creative gift? ‘Yeah okay, I suppose you could say the ocean is like a desert with everything living below the surface, just like in the ocean. I’ll pay that one. Hold on to that thought while I go and get a doctor. By the way, just one more
thing while we’re getting the electrodes ready, you were in the desert nine days and you had nothing else to do. Why didn’t you take ﬁve minutes and give the fucking horse a name? ‘Okay, bite down on the rubber ring, Dewey. I promise you’ll feel much better afterwards. There’ll be no one to give you no pain, I promise. ‘Okay Schwartz, fry him.’
Having Fun with Elvis on Stage
The worst and most cynical record in the entire history of music
Does it qualify as a hit record if it sold a lot of copies and was pressed onto vinyl but didn’t actually contain any songs? Colonel Tom Parker obviously thought so. He wanted something else to ﬂog at concerts besides the usual T-shirts, programs and other junk. Presley’s contract with RCA Victor was watertight, giving them the rights to all his music, but the Colonel found a loophole— there was nothing to stop him from selling an album of Elvis simply talking. So he cobbled together thirty-seven soulless minutes of between-song patter from a number of Presley’s live performances, and the results were packaged on Parker’s own label, Box Car Records, as Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. Only it’s not fun. There are moments when the King talks about his early career which are fascinating and even moving, though somewhat exaggerated, but most of it consists of unfunny jokes, and asides to his band or audience that, taken out of context, are simply bewildering.
Many of these monologues are taken from Elvis’s forlorn public spectacles of 1974, when his career was at its nadir. Exhausted from constant touring, he once rambled for almost half an hour to a Las Vegas audience about his divorce, about drugs, and about his liver biopsy—and ﬁnished it all off by yelling ‘fuck you’ at a heckler. The rambling soliloquies on this record are not quite that bad, but they’re certainly not ‘fun’, and they might have even been Shakespearian in their tragic depiction of a man shambling through the dregs of his once-mighty career, if they’d been assembled in a coherent way. Instead, it’s like listening to your grandfather, pissed out of his mind on home brew, mumbling at long-dead mates from the war. At other times Elvis seems to be doing a bad impersonation of himself. It’s possible that the Colonel let his ﬁfteen-year-old nephew, high on weed and French existentialist poets, put together this album as a favour. It’s been described as the worst album of his career—of anyone’s career—and since it had competition from all those B-movie soundtracks this gives you some idea. Allmusic.com called it ‘an auto wreck that somehow ploughed into a carnival freak show’. The freak show was later repackaged and marketed by RCA as a legitimate concert album, with the only warning for the buyer being the words ‘A Talking Album Only’ on the cover. Elvis was apparently incensed at the move and thought it massively embarrassing, which it was. It was deleted sometime in 1975 and has not been reissued on digital. There is however a bootleg CD version circulating, as well as a bogus sequel, proving something that Parker already knew when he originally put together this piece of dreck: Elvis fans really will buy anything.
Seasons in the Sun
Too much sun is bad for you
For many Baby Boomers everywhere, Terry Jacks’ paean to misery and regret, ‘Seasons in the Sun’, remains an unsurpassed dog turd on the sole of the seventies. How did this song ever get to the top of the Billboard 100 for three whole insufferable weeks? Perhaps it was because of its perceived cachet of Continental cool. The lyrics, written by pop poet Rod McKuen, are a translation from the French ‘Le Moribond’ (‘The Dying Man’) by Jacques Brel. Brel was a hip crooner from the cabarets of Paris who had about him the air of nouvelle vague that led him to sometimes be compared to Dylan. His world-weary melodramatics were an inspiration for artists like a postLaughing Gnome David Bowie and the mahogany-voiced Leonard Cohen. Jacks claims to have discovered the song on an old Kingston Trio album and brought it along to a Beach Boys session he was producing. The Boys cut a demo but wouldn’t release it. God only knows why. So Jacks recorded it himself.
The master sat on a shelf in Jacks’ basement for over a year until a newspaper delivery boy heard Jacks playing it and asked if he could bring some friends by to listen to it. Their enthusiasm convinced Jacks to release it while still thinking it would go sink into the sunset. Instead it became the largest-selling single in Canadian history and sold over six million copies worldwide. For many it is the all-time stinker single, a dying man singing turgid farewells to his ‘trusted friend’, his ‘papa’ and ‘Michelle, his little one’, reminding each of them what fun they’d all had. Jacks rewrote part of the lyrics to ‘lighten them up’—not that hard—and cloud the issue over the reason for the narrator’s bad end. Is it suicide to escape drug addiction or cancer? References to a cheating wife were also removed. The record made Jacks an overnight star, which is about as long as his celebrity lasted. But the song itself has refused to die. It’s been covered by Bad Religion, Too Much Joy, Black Box Recorder, Pearls Before Swine, Alcazar, and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Almost predictably it was Westlife’s fourth single. Blink-182 have intentionally mangled it in their live shows. The Brooklyn francophiles Les Sans Culottes give the song a psychedelic lounge spin that goes frantic at the ﬁnish. Most curiously of all, Nirvana’s boxed set, With the Lights Out, along with its rarities and B-sides and previously unreleased material, contains a ghostly rendition of the song, which, ﬁttingly, comes right at the end. Kurt Cobain claimed that the Terry Jacks song was the ﬁrst 45 he ever bought. Not long after recording the song, he blew his brains out with a shotgun. Are these two facts somehow related? We will never know.
All together now: woah, woah, woah . . .
Jesus Christ. Words fail me. The notes beside my computer here deﬁnitively state that Barry Manilow has never recorded or performed this song. This astonishes me. The song is about as Manilow as it gets, and you must know enough of me by now to recognise this is not a compliment. The song is a party-killer of elephantine proportion, a funereal dirge about the singer’s inability to forget his feelings of love, which I believe is a reasonable subject for a song, if deftly handled. In this song, emotion is as deftly handled as a nightclub bouncer attempting brain surgery with garden shears. The man responsible for this crime against humanity was born Maurício Alberto Kaisermann in São Paulo, Brazil. In the early seventies, many Brazilian musicians were using anglicised names to try to break into the US market, so when he released his ﬁrst album, which featured ‘Feelings’ as the title track, he used the stage name Morris Albert. ‘Feelings’ sold over three hundred thousand copies internationally. But it was the endless covers by other artists that really brought the song worldwide fame, or notoriety, depending on your sensibilities.
Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis and Ray Conniff all battered us into submission with endless refrains of ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, FEEEEEEEEELINGS!!!!!’ until those of us who had somehow managed to retain control of our choking reﬂex were staggering blindly for the on/off switch on the radio. My favourite version of the song was the mouse on Sesame Street who expressed his opposition to cats in ‘Felines’. Interesting footnote: in 1988 the French songwriter Louis ‘Loulou’ Gasté sued Morris Albert for copyright infringement, claiming that ‘Feelings’ plagiarised the melody of his 1957 French café tune ‘Pour Toi’. Gasté won the lawsuit and was awarded a settlement of half a million dollars. What staggers me is that someone actually sued over ownership of a song like this. It’s like claiming Hitler’s Final Solution as your own original idea. The song frequently appears on lists of ‘the worst songs ever’ and was included on The Offspring’s 1998 album Americana, substituting lyrics about hate for the original ones about love. In a Doonesbury cartoon strip, two characters play recordings of ‘Feelings’ at top volume in a successful attempt to drive out the drug dealers living next door. Most recently the song made headlines in 1999 when an Indonesian army leader sang it at a formal dinner to describe his position on the unrest in East Timor. And that’s all I have to say about this particular song. I hope I haven’t hurt anyone’s feelings doing it.
Anything by The Bay City Rollers
Why the Loch Ness monster won’t come out of the water
The Bay City Rollers were a Scottish pop band of the 1970s. They were pure McBubblegum, tartan gimmicky outfits combined with music so bland it made elevator music sound like Metallica. But for a few mad moments in history they were compared to The Beatles. (Sigh.) The group, formed in Edinburgh in 1967, allegedly chose their name by throwing a dart at a map of the United States. The dart landed in the middle of Arkansas, but since ‘Arkansas Rollers’ might lead to problems with pronunciation—especially in a place like Scotland—they tried again and this time the dart landed near the community of Bay City, Michigan. (I still think the dart should have landed on Whisky Dick Mountain in Washington state. Or even better, on the town of Beaver Head in Idaho. Perfect!) Beginning with ‘Remember (Sha La La)’ in 1973, the Rollers’ popularity
exploded, and they released a string of very successful hits on the British charts. Following in succession were ‘Shang-A-Lang’, ‘Summerlove Sensation’ and ‘All of Me Loves All of You’. A cover of the Four Seasons’ ‘Bye Bye Baby’ stayed at number one in the UK for six weeks in the spring of 1975 and became the biggest seller of the year. The Rollers were the musical phenomenon of the age. Legions of BCR fans ﬂocked to their concerts in the distinctive Roller uniform of ankle-length tartan trousers, and tartan scarves. This means that somewhere out there are countless numbers of mature, intelligent women who have to this point led otherwise decent and worthwhile lives who have a dirty secret they are not telling their husbands and children—Rollermania. However, there were dissenting voices. UK radio DJ Johnnie Walker made somewhat derogatory remarks, calling the band ‘musical garbage’, which caused some controversy at the time and ultimately led to his departure from BBC Radio 1. The years have not been kind. Since the band’s quick rise to and rapid descent from fame, the members have endured numerous and varied struggles regarding disputed royalty payments, substance abuse and personal legal problems. Good.
Metal Machine Music
What, no bonus track??
This was the release that raised an interesting question: just because something is unlistenable, does that necessarily make it bad? Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, an album consisting entirely of guitar feedback played at different speeds, probably took this question one step too far, to the point where the sounds on it perhaps technically no longer qualiﬁed as music. It is said that Reed knocked it off in more-or-less real time—he just leaned a couple of de-tuned guitars against a couple of amps, ran the resulting racket through a battery of effects pedals, ran it through a four-track, split it into separate channels and cut it off 64:04 minutes later. Or, if you believe other sources, including Reed himself, he immersed himself in the project for months. In its original form, each track occupied one side of an LP record and lasted exactly 16:01 minutes. The timing on the fourth side read ‘16:01 or ’, as the last groove on the LP was a continuous loop.
It was foisted on a much more innocent time back in 1975. Rolling Stone called it ‘the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator’ or ‘like spending a night in a bus terminal in Hagerstown, Maryland’. Popular comedy website Cracked.com draws similarities between listening to MMM and ‘getting earfucked by a toaster’. Critic Billy Altman said it was ‘a two-disc set consisting of nothing more than ear-wrecking electronic sludge, guaranteed to clear any room of humans in record time’. Despite the intensive criticism (or perhaps because of it), MMM sold one hundred thousand copies in the US. These days it’s generally considered to be either a joke, a deliberate act of provocation, or a grudging fulﬁlment of a contractual obligation. Reed himself said, ‘I decided to make a piece of music that didn’t have lyrics and didn’t have a steady beat and concentrated on feedback and guitar not being in any particular key—playing with the speeds. I was serious about it . . . I was also really, really stoned.’ Talking to Pitchfork magazine in 2007, Reed also said that he really loved it. In the album’s liner notes he claims to have invented heavy metal and asserted that MMM is the ultimate conclusion of that genre. But for me, the real clue to MMM’s genesis perhaps lies in the touchingly naive lament in the liner notes: ‘I’d harbored hope that the intelligence that once inhabited novels would ingest rock. I was, perhaps, wrong.’ So was it purity of vision, or disdain, or self-contempt as big as Switzerland, to make a record that in any lesser mortal would have signed the death warrant on their career? Make no mistake, this was perceived by many as Reed going out of his way to antagonise and alienate anyone foolish enough to love him. It was the musical equivalent of showing up at your own wedding with a lap dancer. Rolling Stone called it ‘commercial genocide’.
Here’s just one possibility: feeling that he’d sold out his musical ideals since leaving The Velvet Underground for the adulation of a rabble of beerswilling morons, and sickened by the gaysploitation success of Transformer and ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, he grabbed his new fans by the collar and thrust their eager shining faces into Berlin, a grim shit-puddle of domestic violence, drugs and booze. He seemed surprised when it bombed. So what to do next? It’s not hard to imagine Reed—physically and mentally exhausted, drug-fucked and disillusioned, and with his record label demanding new product and demanding it now—walking into the RCA building in Gramercy Park and taking revenge on his record label, the world and himself. Reed hinted of such a Machiavellian plan to legendary rock critic Lester Bangs: ‘I’ll stick [it] on RCA when the rock’n’roll shit gets taken care of. Now most people can take maybe ﬁve minutes of it . . .’ Was he serious? Lou also claimed at the time—and with a straight face— that he wove in very brief passages from Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ and ‘Eroica’ into the feedback, that he’d been working on the piece for six years, that he brought his years of classical training to bear when composing it. Yeah right, Lou. Anything you say. Here, let me help you tie that tourniquet. These days it has become something of a prestige album among the anoraked professional bargain-bin sorters that inhabit the outer reaches of the musical universe. Metal Machine Music is a kind of musical Satanic Verses: music intellectuals want to own a copy but no one actually wants to play it. Still, the question remains. If a piece of music is just a perverse and clever way of saying Fuck the Lot of You, then does it make it bad? There will be as many different answers as there are people in the world. Maybe Lou should write a song about it. Just, please, this time, Lou—no feedback.
Run Joey Run
Eighteen with a bullet
This manipulative drivel by David Geddes is about the consequences of a girl with a father who’s either mentally deranged or a Christian fundamentalist— the terms are interchangeable—doing the wild thing with a boy called Joey. When he ﬁnds out they have ‘been together’, he goes after him with a gun. The hook to the song is ‘Run, Joey, run, ’cause Dad’s after you with a gun’. The song ends with both the girl and Dad ﬁnding Joey at the same time, with monumentally predictable results. Dad shoots just as she runs into Joey’s arms. ‘Daddy please don’t, we’re gonna get married . . . aaahhh . . . ahhhh . . . ahhhh . . . ahhhhh.’ Or should that be eeeeh, eeeeh, eeeeh? You know, because that way it rhymes, like the rest of the song. The song sounds like Neil Diamond having a psychotic episode with the London Philharmonic Orchestra—no, not good. With ‘Disco Duck’, Rick Dees intended to be hilarious. When you’re unintentionally hilarious, like David, you start to become a bit of a worry. His real name was David Cole Idema—an oedema in my dictionary is a painful swelling in the body, sometimes life-threatening—and under his real
name was the drummer/vocalist for the cult band The Fredric (also known as Rock Garden). He attended the University of Michigan, where he obviously learned nothing. This song reached number eighteen on the US Billboard charts in 1975. Now it’s the song they play in Hell—over and over and over again.
I Write the Songs
‘I Write the Songs’ was written by Bruce Johnston, a member of The Beach Boys, in 1975. He wrote it about Brian Wilson, who wrote most of the Beach Boys’ songs. Wilson had drug problems and struggled with his mental health, but was brilliant when writing and recording. But he refused to tour, which was why Johnston got the gig with the band. Teen heartthrob David Cassidy released the ﬁrst version. Then Clive Davis, who ran Barry Manilow’s record label, heard Cassidy’s version and thought his boy coulda been a contender and had him record it as well. Manilow was initially reluctant, rightfully concerned that his listeners would think he was singing about himself, and that he would come off as a giant egomaniac. Clive, like all men through history with dollar signs in their eyes, told him it wouldn’t be a problem. ‘Besides,’ Davis added, ‘you DO write songs!’ So Manilow decided to record it, and it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1976. It went on to win a Grammy for Song of the Year. Until then The Beach Boys, despite their legendary status, had never won one. Johnston, a ring-in for Wilson, became the ﬁrst. It became Manilow’s signature tune, but his initial fears proved justiﬁed,
for many people did think he was a giant egomaniac. ‘Whenever I heard the song in public,’ Manilow writes on the liner notes for a compilation album, ‘I felt the need to run to everyone who was listening and say, “You know, I’m really not singing about myself!”’ The claim does appear especially ludicrous when he’s responsible for a monumental deluge of sugary ballads so teeth-achingly bad—read ‘Copacabana’, or ‘I Can’t Smile Without You’—that councillors in the Sydney suburb of Rockdale recently announced plans to play Manilow’s music through outdoor speakers from nine till midnight every night in order to disperse gangs of antisocial teenagers from their streets. But then apparently the residents complained. They preferred vandalism to Mandy. Manilow once did a parody duet titled ‘I Wreck the Songs’ with Rosie O’Donnell on her TV show. At least the man’s got a sense of humour. I think I like him better as a satirist.
THE 10 WORST BAND NAMES
Toad the Wet Sprocket
‘We were together longer than we ever thought we’d be,’ said Toad the Wet Sprocket singer Glen Phillips almost apologetically when the band gave up in 1998. The California four-piece deﬁed the odds for twelve years. They were formed in 1986 at San Marcos High School just outside of Santa Barbara when singer/songwriter Phillips was only fourteen. He got the name from the Eric Idle monologue ‘Rock Notes’ on Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album from 1980. The band’s ﬁrst public appearance was at an open-microphone talent contest in September 1986. They lost.
Insane Clown Posse
Don’t be deceived. The name isn’t half as stupid as they are. They even have cult devotees called Juggalos and Juggalettes. The two members of the band, Violent J (Joseph Bruce) and Shaggy 2 Dope (Joseph Utsler), want to be black but can’t be because they’re white, so they wear facepaint to cover it up. They claim that a ‘dark carnival’ visited them one night, prophesied an impending apocalypse, and made them its messengers. Listen to their music and you’ll vote for an apocalypse every single time. More like a novelty act than a rap group, ICP uses music as a backdrop
for violent and nihilistic lyrics that are supposed to be funny and aren’t. ‘I could go back to school and get my diploma, I’d much rather bang your head on the wall until you get a coma.’ Yeah, where’s Armageddon when you need it? Rival Eminem, with whom they’ve had a long-running feud, evokes darkness but articulates his demons—repellent though they are—with some skill. ICP, by contrast, brag about killing cats and stufﬁng them in mailboxes. During the 20 August 1999 episode of The Howard Stern Show, ICP clashed with fellow guest Sharon Osbourne. She referred to them as ‘has-beens’ and Violent J told her that she can ‘buff his pickle’. Thankfully for Ozzy, she declined. Aside from ‘Santa’s a Fat Bitch’, radio won’t touch them. Like Vanilla Ice or the Spice Girls, ICP are all about in-your-face exhibitionism over musical ability. Their 2002 album The Wraith: Shangri-La was panned as ‘The Worst Album of All Time’ by Blender magazine. They themselves have been voted the worst band of any genre of music in various magazine polls, including Spin and Blender. In 2006, to prove he’d lost none of his lyrical prowess, Shaggy released his ﬁrst solo album. It was called Fuck the Fuck Off. They are also professional wrestlers.
Anal Cunt is a band from Arlington, Massachusetts, often referred to by their initials AC (written as AxCx), surprisingly enough. Their songs mostly embrace homophobia, misogyny, anti-semitism, racism, insensitivity to rape victims and misanthropy. Their songs have included hits such as ‘You Were Pregnant So I Kicked You in the Stomach’ and ‘Women: Nature’s Punching Bag’.
The name Anal Cunt came from founder Seth Putnam’s attempt ‘to get the most offensive, stupid, dumb, etc, name possible’. You’d probably think he succeeded. A common misconception is that the band is named after the song ‘Anal Cunt’ by GG Allin (we’ll be seeing him later), but in fact Allin’s song was written years after the band had started. However, they did later in their career pay homage to GG by recording a version of ‘I’ll Slice Your Fucking Throat (If You Fuck With Me)’, which was nice of them. Anal Cunt ﬁrst performed live in 1988 at Putnam’s mother’s house in front of his mother, his two little brothers and his grandmother, as well as some of his mother’s friends. Subsequent AC shows were more lively, and consisted of Putnam going into the crowd and punching people not only through drunkenness but to disguise the fact that the drummer didn’t know their songs very well. In October 2004, Putnam went into a coma for a month after overdosing on crack, heroin, alcohol and sleeping pills. Doctors thought that if he survived he would suffer permanent serious brain damage, but his mother demurred, saying no one would notice. In the ﬁrst comeback show, Putnam had to remain seated in a chair, still suffering the effects of paralysis. The typical Anal Cunt song, as you’d expect, is short and loud with extremely distorted guitars played randomly up and down the neck, nearincomprehensible screaming and blast beat drumming. Are they taking grindcore punk to its logical conclusion? Are they avant-garde humourists trying to make the point that political correctness is barren and stultifying? Or are they simply whacked-out dirtbags trying to get attention in the same way that a neglected three-year-old plays handball with its own shit? You decide.
Roger Whittaker The Butthole Surfers
Not only a terrible band name but terrible album titles as well: Hairway to Steven, piouhgd, Psychic . . . Powerless . . . Another Man’s Sac, Rembrandt Pussyhorse. Their lyrics have trampled this same unbridled path. In the eighties they played music for the disaffected and the seriously weird. The centre of the band has always been vocalist Gibby Haynes who has been known to sing through a bullhorn, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi to his surreal, acid-fuelled lyrics. ‘Cherub’ was called by one critic ‘a study in atmospheric feedback and psychotic ranting’, another album used the theme from Perry Mason, and in yet another Gibby got very intense about seeing an X-ray of a girl passing gas. But with a name like Butthole Surfers, I guess he would.
Lead singer Joe Elliott thought of the name Deaf Leopard while he was in school (presumably while failing something). He got the idea to alter the spelling from Led Zeppelin. Give the man credit for realising that ‘lead’ was spelled wrong. Their ﬁrst concert was in a room in a spoon factory in Shefﬁeld, England. Only six people went to it. If only things had stayed that way! Joe Elliott now lives in Ireland; the tax laws are much more favourable for entertainers there. Plus no one there can spell, either.
Mott the Hoople
Originally called Silence, they were renamed Mott the Hoople by their manager after a novel of the same name about a circus freak. David Bowie, a friend of the band, then convinced them that rock theatre was the only way for them to get rich and famous. So they became a glam band—but neither guitarist Mick Ralphs nor vocalist/keyboardist/lead songwriter Ian Hunter were by nature all that glamorous. Hunter was just competent as a keyboard player, and Ralphs was eclipsed in the seventies by scores of more gifted musicians, both technically and artistically. In the end they wrote derivative lyrics set to derivative music with a derivative image. ‘All the Young Dudes’ even sounded just like Bowie. Maybe we would have liked the name better if they were a really good band.
Doug Robb, the band’s vocalist, said when asked about the band’s name: ‘It’s really cool, it’s one of those old high school inside-joke words that didn’t really mean anything.’ Actually no, Doug. It’s not cool. It’s stoopid. If you’re going to name your band after a school in-joke, why not pick one that doesn’t sound like a playground name for shitting your pants? Chris Hesse, another band member, had a more coherent answer for the Orlando Florida Guide: ‘Doug’s brother is the vice president of BMW Motorcycles and lives in Germany. And there’s this street out by his house that is called Hooba Street or something like that, and before Doug could pronounce the
name he called it Hoobastank, and it was kind of a cute thing and his brother still teases him about it to this day. When we were looking for band names it’s almost impossible to ﬁnd a band name that hasn’t been taken. Anything remotely normal has been taken already. I don’t remember how it came up but someone said it and we were like yeah.’ So there: an insight into the creative mind of a genius. You heard it ﬁrst on this station.
30 Odd Foot of Grunts
Two possibilities: it comes from a phrase heard by Russell Crowe during postproduction on the movie Virtuosity—dubbing was required for a ﬁght scene and since time is measured by length of ﬁlm in the movie industry, Crowe was asked to provide the ‘30-odd foot of grunt’. Or, as Melbourne’s Herald Sun reported, it’s the combined height of the band members (literally 30-odd feet) and grunt refers to the ‘grunt’ in the band’s music. Whatever, it seems likely that Crowe came up with the name and the rest of the band members agreed, frightened that if they didn’t go along he might throw a telephone at them, or order a nearby Roman legion to attack them. This was the band that Crowe played lead vocals for since their formation in 1992 until he left to pursue a solo career in 2005. The band did not ﬁnd either critical or popular success. Their only claim to fame, other than Russ’s movie star status, is the Frenzal Rhomb song ‘Russell Crowe’s Band’, in which they’re described as ‘a fucking pile of shit’.
AND THE WINNER IS . . .
I’m cheating a bit because he’s not really a band, he’s a member of a group called Brooklyn Zu. The Zu are possibly the most pretentious rap outﬁt in history; they claim on their website to be not just a rap group ‘but a deep history of culture knowledge wisdom and understanding of the way of life’. This wisdom comes through in their songs (‘I drop science like girls be dropping babies’). Shorty is something of an enigma: all that’s known about him is he hails from the same family as two other Zu members, 12 O’Clock and The Zoo Keeper. I’ve seen photographs of the band but cannot see anyone who is either shorter than average height or has telltale faeces stains on them. But when they perform, he’s the one that gets down and dirty.
The late seventies
If you’ve never been to me, you probably weren’t there
‘I’d sometimes wake up with bumps on my head, blood on my shirt and something green coming out of my penis.’
I ggy Pop
I’ve Never Been to Me
Never been there? Take my advice and stay away
There are few songs that make you want to remove your own ears with a cheese grater, but this is one of them. It was recorded in 1976 by Charlene Duncan. The songstress was born Charlene Oliver in Hollywood in 1949. She grew up with a deep love of music. However, she changed her mind about that and decided to record ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ instead. The song was originally written, by Ron Miller, from a male point of view (‘I’ve been to China . . . and Asia Minor . . .’ Brilliant!) but he rewrote it for Charlene. The female version is sung to a housewife who wishes she could trade her everyday life for the exciting, fantastic life led by the singer. In response, the singer tells her some of the highlights of her life, but the tone is bittersweet and she says she wishes someone had told her what she’s telling the listener. She claims to have learned what’s really important in life, but now it’s too late. Charlene originally recorded ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ in 1976; in 1977 it reached number 97 on the US Hot 100 singles chart, and all would have been well. But in 1982, a disc jockey named Scott Shannon, then at WRBQ in Tampa, Florida, started playing the second version of the song, which has an expanded
bridge, over which the singer makes an impassioned speech about the nature of love and truth. It’s as nauseating and trite as listening to George Bush talk about democracy, but audience reaction was impressive, and the song was hurriedly reissued by Charlene’s record label. Charlene had meanwhile Been to Me and decided she didn’t like it, so she moved to England instead and, displaying her obvious afﬁnity for saccharine, was working in a sweetshop in Ilford, Essex. She was rushed back to the States on the Concorde for a promotional tour and the song was ruthlessly foisted once again on an unsuspecting public, like a slops bucket on a mosh pit. It quickly reached number three in the US, and number one in the UK. The song has been described as ‘post-disco hangover’, referring to its appeal to listeners who, in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, regretted leading hedonistic lives during the disco era. Though after hearing the song, expiring of any disease still seems to me an inﬁnitely preferable option. The melody itself is inoffensive and Charlene knows how to carry a tune. It’s the lyrics that have many rushing for the bathroom. For the ﬁrst two verses she sings about her wild and freewheeling lifestyle as a singer, in lurid detail (how she’s been variously disrobed by ruling monarchs and seen things which, she claims, a woman ain’t supposed to see, while leaving open to further discussion what those things might be). The story’s presented as a warning to the bored housewife, that even though she’s ‘a discontented mother and a regimented wife’ she should be grateful for whatever crap life is prepared to dish out provided she has a husband and children. The general thrust is that, in the end, being bored and unfulﬁlled is inﬁnitely better than a dissolute life that ends in loneliness. They both sound equally undesirable to me, but perhaps I’m missing something.
In interviews Charlene claimed the song appealed to her because she herself was a battered wife. At the risk of being politically incorrect, I maintain that her husband may have cited extenuating circumstances—‘For God’s sake will you stop singing that song! Whack!’ What are the things that a woman ain’t supposed to see? Having played football all my life, there are a few things I’ve seen in the men’s changerooms that I would rather not have seen, but these blokes’ wives and girlfriends must see them on a semi-regular basis so I contend that women aren’t that delicate. The only other things I saw that maybe a woman might not want to view took place with a sheep, some whipped cream and a dozen variety party balloons in a shed in Kalgoorlie, and if she was referring to that, it’s probably no surprise that she became a born-again Christian. Charlene was signed to Motown Records, but ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’ has blessedly been her only hit, save for a late 1982 duet with Stevie Wonder. But he’s blind; maybe he thought he was singing with Kiki Dee. The song, ‘Used to Be’, charted but failed to make the top forty. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, though, has proved remarkably endurable. It was featured in the opening to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), when it was mimed onstage by two female impersonators at the Imperial Hotel in Sydney’s Erskineville. The melody, set to different words, is—remarkably—often used as a wedding song in Japan; the chorus line ‘never been to me’ is replaced with ‘my love is true’. Apparently it works in Japanese. Personally, I’ve never been to me either. But I spoke to someone who has and they reckon it’s overrated.
(Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots)
The curse of the novelty song
We could probably ﬁll all one hundred places with novelty songs like this, but ‘Disco Duck’ stands out as the blueprint for banality, the iridescence of irritation. Combining a disco beat with a Donald Duck voice, the song is about a man at a party who’s overcome with the urge to dance in a duck-like manner, and is soon emulated by the rest of the crowd. It makes me nostalgic for Rupert Holmes. Dees recorded this while working at WMPS-AM in Memphis, Tennessee, but he was expressly forbidden by station management from playing the song on-air. Even AM stations have certain standards. He was later ﬁred on the spot simply for talking about the song on-air one morning. But Rick had the last laugh. ‘Disco Duck’ went on to sell over two million copies and reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song even made a cameo appearance in Saturday Night Fever, in a scene at a dance club in which some pensioners are learning to dance disco-style. The song was not included on the soundtrack album; otherwise Rick would have got a Grammy as well. Rick—full name Rigdon Osmond Dees III—did very nicely without it.
He established a syndicated radio show called Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 and was named Billboard’s ‘Number One Radio Personality in America’ for eleven consecutive years. He was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1999. Not bad for a duck. This annoying bit of ﬂuff ranks right up there with other novelty songs that have turned listening to any AM radio station into a mineﬁeld for the ears. Others include ‘The Birdy Song’ by The Tweets—a version of Werner Thomas’s Swiss accordion oom-pah song, a maddening tune which prompted displays of appalling dancing throughout the 1980s and has been voted the most annoying song of all time. The list also includes the Teletubbies, Vengaboys and Joe Dolce’s ‘Shaddapa You Face’. A curse on all their houses.
Drop Kick Me, Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life)
Christ tries for a Coleman Medal
The song has been described as the world’s only Christian football waltz, but as anyone who has ever tried to dance to this little ditty will tell you, it’s oh so much more than that. While not as well known as some of the other songs on this list, it earns its place as one of the worst songs ever recorded through genuine merit, not novelty factor alone. It was recorded in 1976 by a country and western singer with the unlikely name of Bobby Bare—and yes, that is his real name. BB was no onehit wonder. Although his name will not be instantly recognisable if you don’t wear a Stetson and drive a pick-up, he boasted a ﬁne pedigree before he got around to recording this turkey. His ﬁrst record sold nearly a million copies way back in 1962. It was called ‘Shame on Me’, a title that was to prove weirdly prophetic in light of later events. The following year he won a Grammy.
It’s true that by 1976 the initial ﬂush of success had faded a little and it was clear that BB was not to become the second Elvis Presley, but there’s still no excuse for what he did next. He’d recorded a respectable string of C&W hits, including a couple of numbers penned by Kris Kristofferson, but there was fair warning of the depths to which he would later stoop when in 1972 he recorded a cover of the Dr Hook horror ‘Sylvia’s Mother’. But there’s only so much country and western you can sing and record before synapses start to short out in the brain. He prepared for his destiny when he recorded a song with his ﬁve-year-old son—you guessed it, Bobby Bare Junior—called ‘Daddy What If ’. It reached second spot on the US country charts. As you would expect. If the question was ‘Daddy what if you wrote a song exhorting a Palestinian Jew who died two thousand years ago to kick you through the middle of two imaginary philosophical goalposts, would someone pay you to record it, and could you sell it in the United States?’, the answer to both questions, of course, is ‘yes’ and ‘yes’. For sheer imaginative scope, the premise is breathtaking. But does it work as a song? Speaking for those of us still living and in the possession of ears, you’d have to say ‘no’. In the song Bobby also makes a poignant request for all his long-dead ancestors to be placed in offensive positions in the metaphysical football team he’s planning to assemble. ‘I’ve got the will, Lord if you’ve got the toe.’ The song is all that you would expect from a fusion of the very best of American country music and mid-west Bible Belt fundamental Christianity. You will not be shocked to learn that it received a Grammy nomination, as many of the very worst songs do.
Mull of Kintyre
You left The Beatles for bagpipes??
In Gaelic, a ‘mull’ is used to describe something bare or dull. Which just about sums up this song: bare of true artistic merit and creative innovation, and dull to the point of tedium. In fact, when you ask people to name their worst songs, this one, by Wings, comes up surprisingly often. Sure, any post-Beatle group was bound to attract antipathy. And Paul disgusted many people when he put his wife in the band. Linda couldn’t sing and her musical ability was limited. As Norman Gunston once famously asked her when the band visited Australia: ‘Were you actually playing keyboards last night at the concert or were you just, you know, sitting behind a roll-top desk?’ But ‘Mull of Kintyre’, McCartney’s ode to the Scottish coastal region he had made his home during the seventies, became one of the biggest-selling UK singles of all time. In fact, all twenty-three singles credited to Wings reached the US Top 40. Yet Wings was treated with contempt in some quarters, derided as ‘the band The Beatles could have been’. McCartney became as despised as he was popular. Why? Paul’s silly love songs may have been vacuous, ﬂaccid, trivial and forgettable, but they weren’t devoid of merit. They were also unpretentious.
McCartney never pretended to be something he wasn’t. Was Paul just hated for not being John? John may have been the one who produced the more worthwhile music, but he could also be a self-important bore. He would proclaim himself a staunch ally to the feminist movement, then barely let Yoko complete an intelligible sentence—assuming she’s ever been capable of forming one—in interviews. He positioned himself as the spokesman for the politically correct avant-garde, reaching for rock’s equivalent of religious art. Paul just wants to write pop music and make a lot of money. So is that so bad? The average punter in the pub preferred mindless hummalong ﬂuff to anything John imagined, though they’ll all probably avow John as the better musician. People may admire Lennon’s social conscience but they can remember the words to ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’. One critic even suggested that McCartney set out to make mediocre music knowing that John would bleed from the ears when he saw his pop mega-banalities easily outselling Lennon’s angst-as-chord-progression. Could anyone be so perverse? I doubt it. Paul was just doing what comes naturally. And is there anything wrong with that? Paul was Paul, and John was John. They were ﬂipsides of the musical coin. If Paul had never made music with John, perhaps the critics wouldn’t have ever found him so irritating. Maybe. . . . And if he could have avoided duets with black musicians. . . . And if he could have avoided the temptation to marry angry onelegged women . . . And if . . . if . . . he could have avoided putting bagpipes on a pop record.
You Light Up My Life
The musical equivalent of being keelhauled
It is one of the best-selling singles of all time. Agreed. Yet there is a line in the song where Debbie Boone wails, ‘You give me hope to carry on.’ At this point, she took all mine away. Deb’s pedigree, unlike La Whitney’s, is not that ﬂash. Her father, Pat Boone, made a career out of taking the rhythm and blues out of rhythm and blues. He made Fats Domino sound thin and Little Richard sound straight. He then spent much of the eighties as the mouthpiece of heartland evangelism and later became an apologist for Bush’s war in Iraq. But the worst thing he did, in my opinion, was father Debbie Boone. ‘You Light Up My Life’ started out as a movie of the same name, written and directed by Joseph Brooks, about a girl trying to make it in show business. The lead role was played by Didi Conn, who played Frenchy in Grease the next year. Brooks needed a title song so he wrote this about halfway through the shoot, and it was sung by a jingle singer named Kasey Cisyk and lipsynched in the movie by Conn.
For over a year, Brooks had no takers for the ﬁlm. Finally a studio bought the rights and Brooks decided to re-record the song but approached Debbie Boone instead of Cisyk to sing it. When it was released as a single it became the runaway hit of 1977. It was number one for a staggering ten weeks in the US. Boone’s only previous singing experience was in a gospel quartet, and like her father she was a God-botherer of the ﬁrst rank. When asked in an interview who she was singing about in the song, her answer was ‘God’. Joseph Brooks took exception to that remark because that was not who he was writing about. He never asked Boone to record another song. This was Boone’s only hit. She was nominated for an Oscar the next year for the song ‘When You’re Loved’ from The Magic of Lassie. She didn’t win and consequently never lit up our lives again. But for this little black duck, once was more than enough.
Sometimes When We Touch
He was to emo what Iggy is to punk
This seems to be a song about a man with a small penis trying to get a woman to fall in love with his softer, feminine side. Some critics have expressed amazement that it has taken Death Cab for Cutie so long to cover it. If this is what it means for a man to get in touch with his feelings, then we can hold Dan Hill personally responsible for the backlash from Anal Cunt (see earlier) and DMX. Basically, Dan has trouble touching his girlfriend because he ﬁnds the emotions initiated by this procedure too scary. It makes him want to hold her until he achieves cardiac arrest or until they both start weeping uncontrollably, whichever comes ﬁrst. Or until he stops being frightened. He initially sees himself as a reticent boxer restricted by age constraints, but in the next verse it becomes clear that his introversion does not preclude feelings of violence, vagrancy, intense co-dependency and incest. The song featured on Dan’s 1977 album Longer Fuse, but after listening to it I developed a much shorter one, particularly when Dan reaches that ﬁnal
lyric: ‘till the fear in me subsiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iii-iiiiiiiiiii iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-des.’ At this point I confess to fantasising about all the different ways Dan might diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-iiii-iiiiiiiiiiiiiie. Dan hails from Toronto in Canada—another one of the bastards! Is there some sort of trend here?—and his only other major hit outside Canada was a duet ‘Can’t We Try’, with Vonda Shepard of Ally McBeal fame. I’m sure Dan’s not a psychopath, or a serial killer who likes writing songs to lone hitchhikers. So why does he try to sound like one?
Bad song, stupid lyrics, terrible guitar solo, hit single
Maybe I’m all alone here. So will somebody tell me, please: what is good about this song? Possibly an alumnus from the Bob Dylan Wiggle Wiggle School of Really Stupid Lyrics (see later), it also has possibly the worst guitar solo of all time. Ram a lam? Or Ram a lamb? Is this really about people doing things with sheep? Apparently not. Some sources claim the song is derived from an eighteenth-century marching song about a ﬂintlock musket with a blackpainted stock, the ‘bam-ba-lam’ lyric referring to the sound of the gunﬁre. The riﬂe was superseded by its ‘child’, a riﬂe with an unpainted walnut stock. In his book, The Land Where the Blues Began, Alan Lomax interviewed a former inmate of a Texas penal farm named Doc ‘Big Head’ Reese, who told him that Black Betty was a term used by prisoners to refer to the Black Maria—the penitentiary transfer wagon. The reference in the original song to a ‘hammer’ refers to the hoes used by prisoners to break up the ground in the cottonﬁelds. (In this case, be it duly
noted, the hoes are agricultural implements, and not the women who appear in rap videos.) The song was adapted by legendary black blues guitarist Huddie ‘Leadbelly’ Ledbetter. In his version, Leadbelly characterised the Black Betty as a woman with a child. He ﬁrst recorded it commercially in New York in 1939 for the Musicraft label as part of a medley with two other work songs: ‘Looky Looky Yonder’ and ‘Yellow Woman’s Doorbells’. In 1977, Ram Jam re-recorded the song. It became an instant hit with listeners—I know, beats me too—reaching the top twenty in the US and the top ten in Australia. It was their only hit. Ironically, the lyrics became the cause of a boycott by civil rights groups NAACP and Congress of Racial Equality, who claimed it insulted black women. Well, they were probably right, but that was not the fault of any member of Ram Jam, but Leadbelly himself. Then, in 2004, Aussie indie band Spiderbait resurrected it yet again and reached number one. Okay. Bam a lam. Enough already. In the interests of racial harmony and aural hygiene can we let this musical monstrosity die?
Lay your crap on me
Clive Wilson and Phil Fursdon were friends from the same school in Somerset and had a mutual interest in music. But they decided to forget about music and formed Racey instead. Originally they called themselves Alive ’n’ Kickin, a cruel irony, as many people soon wished they weren’t. They started off playing covers of The Eagles and Steely Dan, and their ﬁrst gigs were performed at a gay nightclub in Copenhagen, the Jomfruberet, where the clientele weren’t really bothered whether girls did or didn’t. Back in England they were discovered by music producer Mickey Most, who put them on the fast track to infamy. Their own songs were crap, so Most had them record a song originally intended for Blondie. Blondie went on to become part of the post-punk revolution. Racey didn’t. Instead they made an entire generation of post-punk nightclub goers want to pierce their own eardrums with knitting needles. ‘Some Girls’ shot to number one in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. And why not? With lyrics like ‘Now that I know you socially, obviously I’ll fall heavily’, people will queue up in wind and rain. It’s almost poetry. Racey went on to record other hits, such as ‘Lay Your Love on Me’ and
‘Baby It’s You’. Their album Smash and Grab went on to sell ﬁve million copies worldwide and became one of Australia’s best-selling albums of all time. Now the bad news: they are still performing. But there are two of them now, one featuring Wilson and Fursdon, the other featuring former lead singer Gower. Racey have, in fact, mutated and reproduced. It’s enough to give you nightmares.
Torn Between Two Lovers
The end of a promising career in advertising
This was a hit for a singer called Mary MacGregor in 1978. To her credit, Mary insists she never liked the song much. But hell, we all have to make a living. ‘There are just some songs I like, and some I don’t, and this is one of them,’ she told Superseventies.com. ‘I didn’t like “Torn” mostly because it was boring to sing . . . Peter thought it was a real statement, and he wanted it to happen. He wanted a woman to sing it, and he wanted that woman to be me.’ The Peter she’s referring to is Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Impressed with her double-octave range, he’d invited her to join him on a national tour as a back-up vocalist. She sang on Yarrow’s Love Songs album and this led to her ﬁrst solo endeavour, the fateful ‘Torn Between Two Lovers’. ‘I recorded the song in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, while standing in a bathroom. It was a room that was actually part of the studio, just sort of built-in there. They had a boom stand with a microphone on the end of it.
The boom was in the studio, and the mike kind of stuck in through the door, hanging over the mirror. It was a tiny little room, but I ﬁnally worked things around so I didn’t have to stare at myself singing. It’s a great place. You get a lot of natural echo in bathrooms.’ Mary was trembling when she recorded her big song, and not from the studio air conditioning. At the time she’d been happily married for ﬁve years, and just the thought of being unfaithful to her husband, Don, was traumatic. But then came stardom, and the hopes, pressures, fears and disappointments that come with it. In May 1978 she ﬁled for divorce, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’. Her next release—a ﬂop—was called ‘Memories’. MacGregor admitted in Fred Bronson’s The Billboard Book of Number One Hits that she hated her own chart-topper, chieﬂy because she had little sympathy for the song’s narrator, a woman who confesses to her husband that she’s having an affair but pleads with him to stay with her and accept the situation anyway. Still, some people have found the words and its sentiments very useful as a purgative. Mary said the song led to the breakup of her marriage—she became torn not between two lovers, but between her husband and her career. The song put her in the spotlight—brieﬂy—but ruined her career singing advertising jingles. ‘I never thought about being a success until “Torn”. I was trying to make a career out of doing commercials.’ She found she was too well known to return to being an anonymous singer for a bank or a car dealership, but not well known enough to get bookings. Mary ended up torn between two careers. And, like she said, she didn’t even like the damned song.
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy
Not really, Rod. Do you?
When Rod ﬁrst appeared on the scene no one thought he was sexy to look at. Rod’s unique talent and appeal rested with that voice; he sounded like he’d accidentally swallowed gravel after a night chain-smoking cigarettes and had tried to wash it all down with bleach and oven cleaner. The result was Godgiven for soulful blues and folk ballads, like ‘Reason to Believe’ and ‘Mandolin Wind’, as well as rocking numbers like ‘Maggie May’. ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ gained him many new fans but completely alienated most of his old ones, who would rather have jumped head ﬁrst into their own vomit than listen to disco. Most of the music for this song was written by drummer Carmine Appice, who’d only recently joined Stewart’s band. Appice told Rolling Stone: ‘We were in the studio and at the time “Miss You” by the Stones was a big hit. Rod was always a guy that used to listen to what was going on around him. He was always looking at the charts and listening. He was a big fan of The Rolling Stones, so when they came out with “Miss You”—disco was really big at the
time—he wanted to do some kind of disco-y song, something like “Miss You”, nothing like Gloria Gaynor. With the band, he would always tell us, “I want a song like this” or “I want a song like that”, so I went home and I came up with a bunch of chords and a melody.’ Stewart has always claimed this song was not about him, as it is sung in the third person. But he used the title as the name of his 1978 tour, he wore tight spandex and gyrated on stage, and when he sang the title line, hordes of women would scream back, ‘Yes!’ ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ is to those of us who once loved him the epitome of Stewart’s egotism and the nadir of his career. Once passionate and selfdeprecating by turns, he became a posturing purveyor of cheap tease, as authentic and sexy as a silicone boob job and a feather boa. But why would Rockin’ Rod care? The song won him yet another number one spot in the UK and the US charts. It paid for a Hollywood lifestyle that included a mansion in Los Angeles and more blondes than an ugly Scottish git has a right to imagine in his wildest dreams. As for the song itself, the distinctive riff was apparently lifted straight off an instrumental song called ‘Taj Mahal’ by Brazilian musician Jorge Ben. When Ben ﬁled suit, Stewart agreed to donate his royalties from the song to UNICEF.
10 WAYS FOR A MUSICIAN TO DIE YOUNG
Death by masturbation
Jim Morrison, the Lizard King, is widely rumoured to have suffered his fatal heart attack while choking the lizard in a Paris bathtub in 1971. He had, it was said, died by his own hand. It was a great story, but it wasn’t true. Ofﬁcially he died of a heart attack, though no autopsy was performed. And few people really believe that. In 2007 Sam Bernett, who in the early seventies ran a Paris nightclub called The Rock ’n’ Roll Circus, has described in a book called The End how he found Morrison dead of a heroin overdose in one of the nightclub toilets. But that was not the End, just the Beginning. Some of Morrison’s associates then drove his body back to his ﬂat and dumped him in the tub. I suppose we’ll never really know for sure. While on the subject of Doors, when INXS frontman Michael Hutchence was found hanged in 1997 on the door of his room at the Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, the coroner gave the cause of death as suicide. But friends and family, including wife Paula Yates, believed he was a victim of auto-erotic asphyxiation, the practice of heightening sexual pleasure by applied selfsuffocation. His partner at the time, Bob Geldof’s ex-missus Paula Yates, initially disputed the rumours about Hutchence’s death—‘he was not having
a wank on a door’—but then changed her mind; it seems he was having a wank on a door, after all, but instead of coming, he went. Just a bit of fun and rock lost one of its all-time great frontmen.
Eaten by fellow band member
The second most unusual way to die goes to Norwegian satanic black-metal band Mayhem’s frontman, the aptly-named Dead, who blew his own head off with a shotgun. It was rumoured his lead guitarist, Euronymous, cooked up Dead’s brain fragments in a stew with ham, vegetables and paprika—as you do—then chowed down. He later denied this, and we can’t ask him to be sure, because he was murdered a couple of years later by a one-man band called Count Grishnackh.
Death by drowning
This was the death of preference of Rolling Stones guitarist Lewis Brian Hopkin Jones, better known as Brian Jones. The founder of one of rock’s supergroups, by 1969 he was taking too many hallucinogens even for the liking of such notable drug ﬁends as Mick and Keef, and he was told he was surplus to requirements. Baby, you’re out of time, in fact. A month later he was found ﬂoating face down in his swimming pool. The 2005 British biopic Stoned painted his death as murder. There was some thought given to exhumation, which fuelled speculation in some quarters as to whether he might still look better than Keith Richards, even after thirty-eight years of being dead. Ironically, his most lasting musical legacy may be having the Brian Jonestown Massacre named after him.
Set alight in desert by road manager
Gram Parsons, one-time member of The Byrds, even invented a new way to expire. Initially, he just overdosed on heroin at the Joshua Tree Inn in Las Vegas. His body was ﬂown back to California for a private funeral, and then it all got a little bizarre. Gram had apparently once commented to his road manager, Phil Kaufman, that he wanted to be cremated in the Joshua Tree Desert, so Phil and a friend borrowed a broken-down hearse, stole the body from LAX airport and set it alight in the desert in a bungled attempt at openair cremation. It was an inspired move. Considered burned-out before the pyre stunt, his two solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, commercial failures at the time, soon became country rock classics. Gram’s remains—and I use the word advisedly—were ﬁnally laid to a well-earned rest somewhere near New Orleans.
Death by suicide
A favourite. Take Ian Curtis, for example, the tortured voice of England’s ironically named Joy Division. He suffered from grand mal epilepsy but hated the side effects of his medication, so he often didn’t take it. By 1978 he was even having seizures onstage and two years later he attempted suicide, only to be dragged from his hospital bed the next night for a gig. He could only manage two songs before collapsing again. The crowd rioted and Curtis suffered a nervous breakdown. Legend has it that on the eve of the band’s first American tour, he unwisely watched a rerun of Werner Herzog’s Stroszek and hung himself in the kitchen. A month later ‘Love
Will Tear Us Apart’ was released and became the band’s biggest-ever UK hit. Actually it was death, not love, that tore them apart. Without Curtis, Joy Division, never a happy bunch to start with, got really miserable and split. Kurt Cobain is probably the most famous music suicide of recent years. Grunge’s greatest icon was worth less than a million when he put a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Projected earnings from that point on are likely to level out at around one hundred million dollars. Cobain once wrote in his personal diaries that he detested the ‘rape of his personal thoughts’. Courtney Love sold his diaries for a reported four million dollars.
Death by drug overdose
Overdosing on drugs and leaving behind a high-earning corpse has become almost a rock standard, like the riff from ‘Smoke on the Water’ or wrecking hotel rooms. Jimi Hendrix was one of the early rock celebrities to choose this route. The left-handed guitar genius choked on his own vomit after a barbiturates overdose. His recording career lasted less than four years, but the man who once played the guitar with his teeth is now number ﬁve on Forbes magazine’s list of top-earning dead celebrities. The other celebrated OD is gravel-voiced Janis Joplin, who was still working on her solo debut, Pearl, when she overdosed in Hollywood’s Landmark Hotel at twenty-eight. In her will she left just two and a half thousand dollars behind for friends ‘to have a ball’. Four months later, Pearl topped the charts for nine weeks, and Joplin’s music has since been remastered on numerous greatest hits sets. Even her anti-consumerism song ‘Mercedes Benz’ was
licensed to the German car manufacturer in 1995 for a commercial. Janis would have died laughing. Alice in Chains lead singer Layne Staley locked himself away in his apartment and did drugs for ﬁve years, turning a bad habit into a lifetime hobby. He was only found two weeks after his death when his accountant noticed he hadn’t spent any money for a while. Eighties punk legend GG Allin (more of him later) built his musical career on dumping on his audience, sometimes literally. He once famously tried to have sex with a dead cat on stage, and expressed extreme disappointment when tested negative for AIDS. He promised his fans that he would commit suicide onstage but instead he just overdosed at home, the big tease. He was buried in a jockstrap embroidered with the phrase EAT ME.
Death in a plane crash
By far the most popular method of demise for performing musicians. It was certainly the death of choice for most of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who had their bad air day in 1977 when their chartered plane ran out of gas and crashed into a wooded swamp in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Frontman Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines were all killed, and most of the rest of the bandmembers seriously injured. Drummer Artimus Pyle ran nearly a mile with broken ribs to get help from a nearby farmhouse, but the farmer freaked at the sight of the bloodied drummer and shot him. Really not his day. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and ‘The Big Bopper’ (real name Jay Perry Richardson) met a similar end in 1959 when Holly chartered a plane for himself and two bandmates. Guitarist Tommy Allsup lost a coin ﬂip to Valens for the one remaining seat on the plane, and Holly’s bass player, future
country star Waylon Jennings, graciously gave up his seat to the Bopper, who was running a fever. This meant Jennings would have to take the bus. Holly said to Jennings, ‘I hope your old bus freezes up’, to which Jennings famously responded in a joking way: ‘Well, I hope your plane crashes.’ Which it did, shortly after take-off. Waylon was haunted by this the rest of his life. Otis Redding and his band, the Bar-Kays, also died in a plane crash. Redding had not yet ﬁnished recording his mammoth hit ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’ at the time. The whistling you hear on the recording was actually a placeholder for a third verse Redding hadn’t yet written, and, as fate would have it, never would. Folk music legend Jim Croce became famous two weeks after his death with the phenomenal success of his third album, I Got A Name. He’d just played a gig at Northwestern State University in Louisiana and planned to overnight nearby, but changed his plans at the last minute and climbed into a small twin-engined plane that hit a tree shortly after take-off. He did it the hard way for the very last time. Other victims of air crashes have been Randy Rhoads—Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist—whose coked-out pilot tried to buzz the tour bus in which Oz was sleeping and hit a nearby house instead; Rick Nelson, who was on a nostalgia tour of the American south at the time, trying to revive his career; Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan; and the commercially popular if critically derided John Denver, who did not leave on a jet plane but in an experimental single-engine aircraft he’d bought just a few days earlier. The most recent name on the honour roll is R&B princess Aaliyah, who hired a private plane to ferry her and her crew back to Florida from a video shoot in the Bahamas in 2001. MTV reported that baggage handlers complained her entourage had too much luggage, but nothing was done
about it and the plane took off well over weight capacity and crashed shortly afterwards. Autopsy reports apparently revealed that the pilot had traces of alcohol and cocaine in his system. He had been ﬁred by another air charter company four hours before the fatal ﬂight.
Death by shooting
Another very popular method. Soul legend Marvin Gaye managed to get shot by his father. Marvin, what’s going on? Ten thousand people attended his funeral, which featured a song from Stevie Wonder and a reading from Smokey Robinson. Selena, the twenty-four-year-old Spanish-language superstar, topped even that. Obviously Marv wasn’t that popular with dad, but Selena was shot by the president of her fan club, Yolanda Saldivar. Saldivar also managed Selena’s boutiques and Selena intended to ﬁre her for embezzling funds. The ‘I’m afraid we’ll have to let you go’ speech obviously did not go well. In 1997, ﬁfty thousand fans attended the improbably named Selena Vive! (Selena Lives!) tribute in Houston, Texas, featuring Gloria Estefan and Paulina Rubio. Ten years after her death Selena still managed the highest-rated Spanishlanguage show in US television history. The most famous shooting of them all was ex-Beatle John Lennon who was murdered by a stalker, Mark Chapman, in 1980. Chapman later claimed that he was trying ‘to steal his [Lennon’s] fame’. Mark who? Not that death stopped Lennon. His estate earned twenty-two million dollars in 2005 alone. Imagine! There’s also an airport named after him: the John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, UK (slogan: ‘Above us only sky’). Shootings are to gangsta rappers what heroin ODs are to rock musicians;
Tupac Shakur was just twenty-ﬁve when he was murdered in a drive-by. Like Che Guevara, death only served to immortalise him; he became a T-shirt and poster icon, and one of the biggest earners in music. In 2003 his estate brought in twelve million dollars. The Notorious B.I.G. succumbed to another drive-by not long afterwards—you don’t think these two dastardly acts are connected, do you, Holmes?—and his aptly named Life After Death album entered the charts at number one and went on to sell more than ten million copies. Bang-bang, you’re rich. The least salubrious shooting death is that of Terry Kath, a founding member of the soft rock group Chicago. Around ﬁve in the evening of 23 January 1978, after a party at a roadie’s house in LA, Kath, a keen gun enthusiast, picked up an automatic 9mm pistol, put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger, his famous last words being ‘Don’t worry, it’s not loaded’. But it was. One bullet remained in the chamber and killed him instantly. The circumstances surrounding his death earned him the distinction of being one of the ﬁrst celebrities to earn a Darwin Award, a dubious honour awarded to people who ‘do a service to humanity by removing themselves from the gene pool’. Finally, there’s Pantera guitarist Darrell ‘Dimebag’ Abbott who was the ﬁrst musician murdered onstage, shot repeatedly by a deranged gunman, Nathan Gale, in Columbus, Ohio.
Death by sandwich
Elvis was the undisputed Burger King of Rock’n’Roll, but from his 1973 divorce until his death four years later, his drug-taking as well as his diet reached epic proportions. His personal physician, Dr George Nichopoulos, wrote ten
thousand prescriptions in 1977 alone. In his ﬁnal years, Elvis was paranoid and clinically depressed, ﬁred revolvers into walls, handed out diamond watches to strangers, and once in 1976 used his private jet to ﬂy to Denver to buy a sandwich that consisted of a hollowed buttered loaf, ﬁlled with peanut butter, jelly and a pound of fried bacon. It was meant to feed eight: Elvis ate it all himself. He is worth as much dead as alive: Graceland alone draws six hundred thousand pilgrims a year; there are thirty-ﬁve thousand professional impersonators as well as several organised religions, including the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine. The Elvis industry is worth a conservative forty-ﬁve million dollars a year. That’s why Elvis lives on.
Death by irony
Beach Boy Brian Wilson wrote all those songs about surﬁn’ safaris even though he was terriﬁed of the water. It was brother Dennis, the one they didn’t want in the group, who was the surfer. It perfectly encapsulates the Beach Boys story—pure gloss on an elliptical truth. Sons to a violent and domineering father, Murry, the lives of the Wilson boys were nothing like the fun-in-the-sun personas their fans dreamed for them. Brian became a drug-addled recluse, tormented by psychiatric problems. And Dennis was a chronic alcoholic reduced in his ﬁnal year to bunking at friends’ houses or sleeping in cheap hotels, having squandered his fortune on good times and fair-weather friends. Rangy, wild and charming, Dennis never gave up the fast chicks and fast cars The Beach Boys sang about: he’d seen off four marriages; he’d been
banned from an upcoming tour because of his drinking; he’d once befriended Charles Manson and lodged him and his entire ‘family’ at his Beverly Hills mansion; and the year before his death he’d married Shawn Love, allegedly the illegitimate child of fellow Beach Boy Mike Love, which led to restraining orders to keep the two men from killing each other. The afternoon of his death he’d been diving in bone-chilling water off a boat slip in Marina Del Ray, in just a pair of cut-off jeans and face mask, searching for personal belongings that had fallen or been tossed over the side in the years his yacht had been docked there. He had been drinking heavily and, possibly also suffering from hypothermia, he never resurfaced, and drowned just feet from the marina. Perhaps ﬁttingly, the only Beach Boy who loved the water was buried at sea, his family still feuding during and after the funeral.
The early eighties
Yes, I really really want to hurt you
K i ss b ass p lay e r Gene S i mmons ’ re pl y w he n a sked wh at he looks f or i n a w om an
Yes, Dan, on this evidence you can play for the girls’ netball team
‘Longer’ came from a time when certain hippies were accused of spending far too many weekends getting in touch with their feminine side. Dan Fogelberg came to epitomise this New Age folk movement, which was not always a good thing. When the parents of two teenagers who’d killed themselves after listening to Judas Priest brought a lawsuit against their recording company, comedian Denis Leary claimed he was about to sue Fogelberg and James Taylor for turning him soft in the seventies. ‘Longer’ is one of those songs that gave rise to such jokes. It is like drowning in a vat of chocolate and strawberry syrup while listening to Dan Hill recite Hallmark cards. It makes Barry Manilow sound like Dr Dre. For instance: when you start singing about being truer than a tree, it’s time to check the old jockstrap, see if there’s anything in there. And how does a tree grow true? It grows up. It grows out. It can grow over your neighbour’s fence and drop leaves in his gutters. But how, exactly, does it grow true? And how can you love someone deeper than a ‘forest primeval’? Excuse my ignorance but I would have thought a primeval forest was full of
tarantulas and brontosauruses and ﬂesh-eating giant birds. How can you love someone—or ‘someone love’ if you follow Dan’s tortured syntax— deeper than a prehistoric self-sustaining ecological system? One is carbonbased and the other relates to subjective human experience. Wait a minute. What’s this line here? Hold the phone . . . did he really write about ﬂying through the seasons of the year with love on his wings? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Look, I’m as romantic as the next guy but we don’t have wings, Dan, because you’re not a goose. Well, allegedly. You’re a bloke. You’ve got balls. Hopefully. Dan, have you heard of the word ‘discernment’? It means we all think really dumb things sometimes but we don’t say them, and we certainly don’t record them in a sound studio and give them to people to listen to. This song is tantamount to social suicide. Dan was capable of writing good songs on occasion. Admittedly, this does not include the slightly edgy one about the horse (‘Run for the Roses’ always reminds me of the ﬁrst porno ﬂick I saw in Sweden, involving a stallion and a large bucket of lubricant). He was capable of writing much better lyrics, such as this, from ‘Ghosts’: ‘Death is there to keep us honest, and constantly remind us we are free.’ It’s really hard to say what was going through Dan’s mind when he wrote ‘Longer’. It was, of course, phenomenally successful and people played it a lot at weddings to prove they were truer than trees and deeper than forests. And good luck to them. Sadly Dan died of prostate cancer while this book was being written. He was just ﬁfty-four. The irony of it was that in the end Dan didn’t have that long at all.
Miss Clean talks dirty
There is a scene at the end of Grease where the wholesome and virginal Sandy is transformed into a cat-suited vamp; sweet Olivia tries to pretend that she wants sex for the ﬁrst time, even while she’s still smiling like she’s making a toothpaste commercial. I remember the look of utter disbelief on John Travolta’s face. This song is just like that. It is about sex, but when Olivia ﬁgured this out she became concerned about her image and had doubts about releasing it. Olivia is lovely, sweet and possibly the nicest person in the Australian music industry. She can sing stultifying dreck like ‘Have You Ever Been Mellow?’ with the cloying sincerity of a Jehovah’s Witness trying to save your soul for God. But for a moment in the eighties it seems she was possessed by Satan and recorded one of that decade’s more blatantly sexual songs, and then tried to deﬂect attention from the lyrics with a giggly ﬁlm clip featuring Olivia, dressed in a tight leotard, working out in a gym with several muscular young men who, despite her best efforts, continue to ignore her. The purpose of the video was to make people think the song was about exercise rather than sex. This was further emphasised by the twist comedy ending of the
video, when the men who had been oblivious to Newton-John’s advances are ultimately revealed to be gay. I always suspected Travolta was wasting his time with Sandy. This video conﬁrmed all my suspicions. Nevertheless, the song rose to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and stayed there for ten weeks, despite Olivia’s attempts to sanitise it; but they caught on fast enough in the Bible Belt, where it was banned on some radio stations, including Donny Osmond’s hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. (Didn’t they realise that ‘Puppy Love’ could be construed as suggestive in some quarters? Just check the net, fellas.) The song’s veiled sexual content got it banned in South Africa as well. This all just added to the song’s popularity. And me? Sorry, but I still think she’s a virgin.
Music from ‘The Elder’
Not really a kiss, more a raspberry
Kiss were the comet in the ﬁrmament of early heavy metal. Through shrewd merchandising and the creation of a carefully maintained if bizarre image, they have outlasted their imitators. Through the highs and lows of a thirty-year career they’ve always been entertaining. Paul Stanley, the lead singer, has cast himself as a sensitive poet with songs like ‘Rock Hard’ and ‘Love Gun’. And what about those unforgettable lyrics from ‘C’mon and Love Me’—‘She’s a dancer, I’m a romancer, I’m a Capricorn, and she’s a Cancer.’ Like Pablo Neruda, with face paint and a cucumber down his shorts. Drummer Peter Criss could sing lines like ‘I’m a hooligan, won’t go to school again’ without ﬂinching, and then there was guitarist Ace Frehley, who could—well, he could certainly hold his liquor. Then there was bass player Gene ‘Ooh baby, wanna put my log in your ﬁreplace’ Simmons, he with the tongue like a lizard and the morals of a tomcat with a packet of Viagra emptied into his milk. They cultivated the image of the
ultimate rock stars, two hours of playing music and twenty-two hours of sex, drugs and Satan-worshipping. Who cares if it was all bullshit? Maybe Gene’s really a grandfather who rides his mower round his backyard every Saturday morning. Maybe Paul likes drinking chamomile tea and train-spotting. They kept us entertained. But rock’n’roll is a hard mistress. The boys reached their peak and their nadir at the same time with the 1979 release of ‘I Was Made for Loving You’. It was a massive commercial hit worldwide but proved to be a double-edged sword. The bad boys of heavy metal became user-friendly and lost many of their hardcore fans. Aiming to re-establish themselves as credible artists, Kiss reunited with producer Bob Ezrin, who’d just had a huge success with Pink Floyd’s The Wall. He suggested they try a concept album. So in 1981 they made Music from ‘The Elder’, based on a poem that Gene Simmons wrote. As Paul Stanley told Hit Parader in February 1982: ‘We’ve done a lot of fuck me suck me songs and we thought we might like to go a slightly different route.’ It was intended to be the soundtrack to a movie that was never released, and instead became an album that was never purchased. Album sales were so poor that the group did not embark on a supporting tour for the ﬁrst time in their eight-year history, opting instead to make a handful of promotional appearances. These were four men who would paint their faces to look like stars and cats and wear platform shoes that were taller than they were in order to get attention. And they didn’t want to sing songs from this album in public because it was too embarrassing. Frustrated by the band’s new direction and Bob Ezrin’s production, Ace Frehley left the band. It’s said that when Ace got his promotional copy, he smashed it on the furniture and walked out.
Ebony and Ivory
(Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder)
Makes you want to take up racism
After The Beatles imploded, George went to the mystical East and got ﬁtted out for a robe, John moved to New York and went drinking every night with Harry Nilsson, Ringo moved to California and hoovered three-quarters of South America with Keith Moon, and Paul wrote deep and meaningful and insightful songs about racial harmony based on the stunning realisation that a piano has both black and white keys. Paul, what about Asians? What about native American Indians? What about . . . oh, never mind. ‘Ebony and Ivory’ was a 1982 number-one single in both the US and UK charts for Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. In it, McCartney and Wonder want the black and white races to get along as peacefully as the white and black keys on a piano—which, as has been pointed out, seems highly unlikely, since the white keys didn’t enslave the black keys for hundreds of years and make them pick cotton. The lyrics have long been thought to have been written by McCartney alone, but in a biography of McCartney, Many Years From Now, written by Barry Miles, it was revealed how Wonder contributed to the majority of the rhymes. McCartney claims in the book that Wonder was unsure just how successful
a tune with such a racial message would be if it was known that it had an African-American writer, and so asked McCartney to take credit. This song has being parodied in many US television shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Everybody Hates Chris. Its anguished idealism also inspired a Saturday Night Live duet between Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo: ‘I am dark and you are light, you are blind as a bat and I have sight.’ The original was named the worst duet in history by listeners to BBC 6 Music. They obviously hadn’t listened closely to ‘The Girl is Mine’. But we’ll get to that.
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?
Boy will be Boy
Lead singer Boy George wrote the lyrics to this song about his relationship with Culture Club drummer Jon Moss, a six-year affair that was kept carefully hidden from the public. The band came up with the soft reggae beat and put the song together when they found they had some spare studio time during a recording session for the Peter Powell show on BBC Radio 1. At ﬁrst, Boy George didn’t want this released as a single because it was too personal. But then they were invited onto Top of the Pops when Shakin’ Stevens fell ill, and the song took off. It reached number one not only in the UK but in twenty-two other countries. The group had a number of other hit singles, including ‘Karma Chameleon’ and ‘Church of the Poisoned Mind’, but George’s drug use begun to spiral out of control at the height of his fame and led to the group’s disbanding in 1986, soon after keyboardist Michael Rudetski was found dead of a heroin overdose in George’s home. Boy George’s struggles with addiction have been well documented in the media, but in recent years he has reinvented himself as a club DJ and fashion designer.
George has been unable to keep out of the public eye for long, usually for the wrong reasons. In 2006, he was sentenced to community service sweeping streets in New York after he admitted wasting police time by falsely reporting a burglary at his Manhattan apartment. Ofﬁcers who responded to the call instead found cocaine there. Boy oh boy. Do you really want to be that dumb?
The Girl Is Mine
(Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney)
This doggone song is crap
This is a song about two men arguing over a woman, and which of them she loves the most. It’s blindingly obvious that the doggone girl is mindfucking the pair of them, and that both of these wimps are going to get hung out to dry. Okay, in life, it happens. It might even make a good song one day. This isn’t it. It also seems to this little black duck that it’s a song written about love and about women by someone who knows so little of the subject he might as well be peering at it from Alpha Centauri through the wrong end of a telescope. The song was composed by the inimitable Whacko Jacko and released as the ﬁrst single from the best-selling 1982 album Thriller. The song itself is appalling and then gets worse, leading to a spoken debate at the end with Jackson speaking the now famous line: ‘Paul, I think I told you—I’m a lover, not a ﬁghter.’ Jackson released this as the ﬁrst single from the album, apparently afraid that an edgy song like ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Beat It’ wouldn’t give the album a chance. Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong. There were some reasonable songs on Thriller. This wasn’t one of them.
At the time it was merely a bad song. As we came to know more of Michael—living in an amusement park with chimps and the Elephant Man’s skeleton, cross-generational pyjama parties, the skin-whitening, the babydangling, the crotch-grabbing, the kiddie-cuddling—‘The Girl Is Mine’ starts to sound just a tad disturbing. And Paul agreed to be the other half of this rank duet. Had all sense of discernment been bled out by Desmond and Molly? Now I think I understand why The Beatles split up.
Total Eclipse of the Heart
Total eclipse of the art
Jim Steinman, power balladeer extraordinaire, tells a story of when he was in school, being called into the principal’s ofﬁce and being asked to explain why he had only achieved 8 percent for mathematics and 14 percent for English. ‘Well,’ Jim replied, ‘I guess it just shows that I have a lot more talent for English than I do for math.’ Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to like the guy. Well, I think so anyway. It’s also true that a lot of people do hate him, even though he’s written a lot of runaway hits and made an awful lot of money in the process. I guess two out of three ain’t bad. ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ was both written and produced by Steinman, and was originally performed by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler in 1983. It is probably Steinman’s most successful commercial composition ever, going to number one everywhere in the known world, if you believe Bonnie Tyler’s Greatest Hits sleeve notes. The song made Beethoven look like a jingle writer, weighing in at six minutes and ﬁfty-seven seconds in length. The
humble little version you hear on the radio is heavily edited, with cannons, Mormon choir, eighty-three-piece mariachi band, and the combined bands of the Coldstream and Grenadier Guards all edited out. In the song, Tyler complains that she’s tired of listening to the sound of her tears. It made me wonder what tears sound like. Plop? Perhaps. You got me with that one, Jim. The remarkable gothic video that accompanies this humble effort was directed by Russell Mulcahy and storyboarded by Steinman himself, who drew his inspiration from the ﬁlm Future World. It was shot at Holloway Sanatorium in Surrey. Bonnie is dressed like a soap opera actress, or Joan Collins, whichever comes ﬁrst, and the clip is populated with burning candles, teenage boys with football stadium lights instead of eyes, doves, a trio of dancing ninjas, and a rugby scrum. It’s like a Busby Berkeley production where everyone is high on crack-cocaine—and ends with an angel (yet another near-naked teenage boy with giant wings growing out of his back) wrapping his arms around a crying Tyler. There, there, it’s all over now. Go and collect your royalty cheque. Experimental Norwegian rockers Hurra Torpedo did a cover version on the Norwegian TV show Lille Lordag (‘Little Saturday’) in 1995 with their buttocks exposed, singing this song while destroying cookers, fridges and other whitegoods. Personally I didn’t know there was any other way to sing it. ‘Once upon a time I was falling in love, now I’m only falling apart.’ What is there not to like? He really did have more of a talent for English than he did for math.
Let’s show we have a social conscience by taking the piss out of Mexican immigrants
In the eighties, many rock bands discovered their social conscience. Sting discovered rainforests, Bryan Adams discovered whales, and Bob Geldof organised the Feed the World concert for Ethiopia. So what happened here? Did Phil Collins say: ‘I’ve got an idea, fellas. No one has done illegal Hispanic immigrant workers in the United States yet. Let’s do them a favour and draw attention to their plight by depicting them as freeloading degenerates!’ ‘Yes!’ say Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, the other members of Genesis. ‘What a great idea!’ Okay, well you tell me, then. How else could this have happened? ‘Illegal Alien’ was a single from Genesis’ self-titled 1983 release. The music video featured Phil in a toupee and sombrero putting on a fake Viva Zapata accent and drinking tequila. The second stanza of the bridge, in which the immigrant offers sexual favours from his sister in exchange for admittance across the border, was edited from the radio version, as well as from the video. Apparently some people were offended by it. Imagine that.
It’s over a quarter of a century since Phil and the boys recorded this turkey, and in all that time the song has rarely been heard on US radio stations because it’s thought to be so offensive. Sure, the lyrics are not meant to be taken seriously. But how would you feel if, as an oppressed minority and a good Catholic, some wealthy British rock star thinks it is amusing to suggest, in song, that you would sell your sister for a green card? Arriba, arriba! If Phil harboured any dreams of being knighted by the Queen, they disappeared with the sombrero. I wonder if they recorded a Spanish-language version?
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Because I don’t want to be late for court
This was George Michael’s ﬁrst ever hit, when he was part of the British glam pop duo Wham!. Michael, who was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou—this may give you a clue why he changed his name—had palled up with Andrew Ridgeley at high school. Michael says he drew inspiration for ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ from a scribbled note to that effect left for him by Ridgeley at a hotel. It was a change of pace for the duo, part of a makeover that included wider smiles, more colourful clothing and a more positive disposition. They’d spent the previous year singing songs about unemployment, young marriage and battles of will between parents and their children. They were earnest, they were honest and it got them absolutely nowhere. They decided instead to try and appeal to the buying public’s lowest common denominator, and they hit the jackpot. The music video that accompanied the song was ﬁlmed at the Carling Academy Brixton in London. It was essentially the duo performing the song to a teenage audience. Michael and Ridgeley, plus backing singers Pepsi and
Shirlie, wore Katharine Hamnett T-shirt designs saying ‘CHOOSE LIFE’ and ‘GO-GO’ that became the hot fashion items of 1984. If you weren’t around then—aren’t you glad? The song went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, and Michael followed it up with a solo single, ‘Careless Whispers’. It became one of the most played songs of the decade. In the video clip Michael kisses his female lead, and publicists fed the press the story that afterwards she had fainted dead away on the spot. (Later events proved this to be unlikely when he was caught in a classic ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ police sting in a Los Angeles public bathroom.) Wham! had three more UK number one singles and split at their height in 1986. Michael went on to enjoy massive global success with his unique brand of soul-inﬂuenced pop. He has since sold over eighty-ﬁve million records worldwide. Ridgeley was creative in other ways: instead of going into a downward cycle of drugs and alcohol after his career in music ended, he hooked up with a former Bananarama singer and went surﬁng and golﬁng in Cornwall. ‘Wake Me Up Before You etc etc’ is a ‘Laughing Gnome’ kind of song: it proves the theory that even great musicians have to crap sometimes. It was a case of art for art’s sake and money for God’s sake. George Michael could write chirpy-chirpy cheep-cheep when he had to—he just knew when to stop.
We Built This City
Grace gets a little too slick
If you didn’t have more than a smattering of English and only a passing knowledge of rock history, perhaps this song might not bother you. Yet it consistently ﬁnds itself on ‘worst ever’ lists. This song inspires venomous outpourings of bile and derision, and has done ever since it became a runaway stinker in 1985. Blender magazine called it ‘the truly horrible sound of a band taking the corporate dollar while sneering at those who take the corporate dollar’. And this is probably the nub of why this song is so universally despised: it’s not that it’s so bad, not for a ringtone anyway; but the lyrics stink to high heaven of hypocrisy and are sung not by some johnny-come-lately bubblegum band but by a revered bunch of rockers who are seen as sell-outs. Get the picture? The 1985 Starship were the mutation of once-mighty psychedelic rock music overlords Jefferson Airplane. Indeed, the lyrics of ‘We Built This City’ appear to glorify Airplane within San Francisco’s sixties rock scene. But by the eighties former leader Grace Slick, the sole surviving member of the original band, had handed artistic control to singer Mickey Thomas. The song was supposed to be an anthem to rock rebellion, yet sounded like it
had been written in a laboratory by a team of record company moguls with demographic charts and Moog synthesisers. Even Slick herself seemed embarrassed by it. ‘This is not me,’ she once famously said about it. It was actually the ﬁrst song Elton John’s songwriting partner Bernie Taupin wrote without the Sequined One. The lyrics were supposed to be a cry of rebellion against a corporation trying to ban rock’n’roll in an imaginary future; in fact they were written on demand for a music corporation trying to make money from one of the sixties’ great rock’n’roll bands by taking all the rock’n’roll out of them. ‘Who cares, they’re always changing corporation names,’ the lyric runs, a tad ironically, as the band itself had changed its name three times. Then there’s that moronic chorus: it starts ‘Marconi plays the mamba’. As has been pointed out, the mamba is a deadly black snake. How can a long-dead inventor play a black snake? Perhaps Marconi is a metaphor for the radio, and perhaps mamba is meant to be mambo, the South American dance. But it still doesn’t make sense. But those synthesisers sound good, don’t they, Grace? Criticism of the song came hard to Mickey Thomas. ‘It kind of hurts my feelings,’ he said. ‘I’m really proud of that song. For me it was a response to lost innocence. It was about rock music growing up and losing its idealism.’ Mickey is never going to get it, and that’s why the song is so derided. Rock music is all about not growing up, Mickey. That’s the point. (Sigh.)
THE 10 WORST SCANDALS IN MUSIC HISTORY
Girl You Know It’s Faked
Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus looked good. They sounded good, too, if you like bubblegum Europop trash. But the real horror of it was: it wasn’t even their Europop bubblegum trash. They had rippling pectorals, lots of hair, and one had a German accent and the other one had a French accent. If only they could sing. Suspicions about Milli Vanilli were ﬁrst raised when they were performing their big hit ‘Girl You Know It’s True’ at a Connecticut theme park, and the tape playing their vocals failed. Few people in the audience seemed to mind but questions were raised. They were dropped by their record label, stripped of their Grammy and sued for fraud. Not too long after this, their German producer, Frank Farian, admitted the vocals on the record did not belong to Morvan and Pilatus. In 1998 Pilatus was found dead in a hotel room in Frankfurt, from a drug overdose. Sad.
Some girls do—with other girls
Are they? Aren’t they? A lot of music fans—men mostly—were disappointed to discover that doe-eyed Russian teenage duo t.A.T.u. were not, as it turned out, gusset-nuzzlers. The pseudo-sapphism, apparently, was all for show, and the steamy lesbian make-out session seen on The Tonight Show—largely cut
by censors, unfortunately—and the all-female fantasy staged at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards was just that—staged. A cheap publicity stunt. How can these people mess with us this way? Madonna, never to be upstaged—not ever ever ever—got in on the act at the same awards by kissing both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Playing with ﬁre there. She was lucky one of them didn’t want to take her to Las Vegas and marry her for a while.
I don’t believe you can urinate on underage
‘I Believe I Can Fly’ was a huge hit for the R&B superstar R. Kelly and brieﬂy won him a lot of fans. But RK had an eccentric edge. In the spring edition of Hip Hop Soul magazine he compared himself to Marvin Gaye, Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King. Then in 2002 a twenty-seven-minute XXX-rated video surfaced, allegedly showing him giving golden showers to girls not old enough to own an umbrella. Charged with twenty-one counts of child pornography, Kelly insisted someone else was taking the piss. Was it someone else’s lemonade gun? The Chicago Tribune reported that the video allegedly features Kelly with the then fourteen-year-old niece of Sparkle, one of the singer’s former artists and protégés. His former lover then identiﬁed him as the man on the tape and claimed that he took a duffel bag of home-made kiddie porn with him everywhere he went. She also claimed that she and Kelly had had a three-way with the girl, who was still underage at the time. Although Kelly, the girl and the girl’s mother all denied involvement, no less than eleven prosecution witnesses identiﬁed them in court. One even
claimed to recognise the distinctive wood panelling of Kelly’s home by the knots in the wood. Kelly was acquitted on all counts. In an industry where image often means more than substance it is interesting to note that in the six years the case was in public view Kelly released ﬁve albums, a greatest-hits collection and completed several concert tours. But industry analysts think his last court appearances could signal the end of his career. Why? Because he showed up in court with his hair braided, and hair braiding just isn’t cool with the kids any more.
One of rock’n’roll’s earliest scandals saw the legendary Chuck Berry sentenced to three years’ jail in 1961 for transporting a fourteen-year-old prostitute across state lines for ‘immoral purposes’, in contravention of the Mann Act. Whether it was Chuck’s ding-a-ling or the colour of his skin that got him in trouble is still debatable. Jack Johnson, the ﬁrst black American heavyweight boxing champion, had also run foul of this controversial law: the prostitute that Jack allegedly tried to smuggle across state lines was his white girlfriend. For his part Chuck spent twenty months in prison with no particular place to go. Was Chuck the victim of legalised racism? In the good old US of A you never can tell.
The end of the beginning
On 1 March 1968, during a Doors concert in Miami, the Lizard King screamed ‘There are no rules!’ and showed the crowd the Morrison Johnson. Back in the sixties, rock stars couldn’t do that sort of thing. (Thank God those days are
behind us or Iggy Pop would be forced to sing onstage instead), and a Rally for Decency attracted thirty thousand people. As Mae West once famously said, a lotta issue over a little bit of tissue. But Jim was arrested and convicted for public indecency, and when it was all over, he skulked off to Paris, got fat, got in the bath and died.
Well shucks we can screw our underage cousins where I come from
The ﬁrst underage sex scandal—and as this brief history can attest, there have been more than a few—involving popular musicians hit the headlines in 1958 when it was revealed that rocker Jerry Lee Lewis had married his thirteen-year-old ﬁrst cousin once removed. Well shoot, it wasn’t like it was his sister or anything. Still, he was booed off the stage in the UK in 1958, and quickly went from performing ten-thousand-dollar-a-night concerts to playing in cheap beer joints. History has judged him less harshly. These days inside the industry it’s regarded as a foible rather than a sex crime: Jimmy Page’s lengthy affair with a fourteen-year-old groupie was chronicled in the 1985 Zep bio Hammer of the Gods. As the Beastie Boys sang in ‘The New Style’: ‘If I played guitar I’d be Jimmy Page, The girlies I like are underage.’
Is that a fish in your vagina, or are you just pleased to see me?
The Zeps were the quintessential heavy metal rock band. They characterised rock excess. One legend that grew around them was a curious episode where a dead ﬁsh was stuffed into a female fan’s vagina.
The band had checked into Seattle’s Edgewater Inn, a unique establishment on Puget Sound from which guests could ﬁsh from the windows of their rooms. In Hammer of the Gods, Stephen Davis describes how Richard Cole, their road manager, and drummer John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham were catching mudsharks when they were interrupted by some persistent groupies. One of them, a seventeen-year-old redhead named Jackie, told them she really liked being tied up. To oblige her they ordered rope from room service, even though it wasn’t on the menu. Jackie stripped and the Zeps tied her to the bed, at which point Cole introduced the nose of one of their catch to the girl’s private parts. ‘We caught a lot of big sharks, at least two dozen, stuck coat hangers through the gills and left ’em in the closet . . . But the true shark story was that it wasn’t even a shark. It was a red snapper and the chick happened to be a redheaded broad with a ginger pussy. Bonzo was in the room, but I did it. And she loved it. It was like, “Let’s see how your red snapper likes this red snapper!” That was it. It was the nose of the ﬁsh, and that girl must have come 20 times. But it was nothing malicious or harmful, no way! No one was ever hurt.’ Except maybe the snapper. Other stories that sprang up around the Zeps involved groupies getting it on with octopi and Great Danes. That really is a whole lotta love.
Till the hangover do us part
Marriage is a tough gig, and sometimes you just have to stick at it and try and work through the problems. Britney Spears and her high school sweetheart Jason Alexander certainly gave it their best shot, but sometimes there are just
irreconcilable differences. Brits gave Jason the best ﬁfty-ﬁve hours of her life but ﬁnally it was time to move on. They’d been married at 5.30 in the morning after partying all night on New Year’s Eve 2004. On 3 January, Britney ﬁled for an annulment, citing the fact that she ‘lacked understanding of her actions’. (Surely, then, she’d have to annul her whole life?) Jason, a twenty-two-year-old student at Southeastern Louisiana University, signed the papers, he later claimed, under pressure from Britney’s family—and a British tabloid alleged he was paid more than half a million dollars before he complied. This was not a mere mad moment. TV meltdowns, panty-free partying with Paris, a haircut that looked like she did it in her bathroom mirror with a chainsaw, and spells in and out of rehab were soon to come. Another student successfully graduates from the Whitney Houston School of Song.
Michael Jackson was, even in his Thriller heyday, a deeply disturbing man. On video he gyrated and moonwalked and grabbed at his own crotch; let out in public he whispered into microphones like a ﬁve-year-old at awards night accepting a diploma from the principal for School’s Shyest Little Boy. At forty-six, the King of Pop appeared in a documentary with the BBC’s Martin Bashir holding hands with a thirteen-year-old cancer survivor, claiming he was misunderstood. A year later, the same boy accused Jackson of showing him pornography and fondling his genitals during sleepovers at the Neverland Ranch. He also alleged that Jackson plied him and his brother with Jesus Juice—white wine laced with antihistamines
they drank from a soda can. It was the second time in a decade Jacko had been cited for child molestation. The trial turned into a media circus, with guest appearances by celebrity witnesses like Jay Leno and Macaulay Culkin, and Jackson once turning up at court in his pyjamas, which some thought appropriate. Although he was acquitted of all ten charges in June 2005, his image had suffered long-term abuse. He sold up and moved to Bahrain.
Ange, we’re only sleeping
No, Angie did not ﬁnd the Thin White Duke humping Jumping Jack Flash. Though we can dream of David Bowie in full glam rock glitter and platform boots getting Mick Jagger to eat a Mars bar out of him the same way Mick was rumoured to have worked, rested and played with Marianne Faithfull, it just didn’t happen that way. Apparently they were naked in the same bed but they weren’t doing anything. Perhaps they’d had a hard night and crashed, or perhaps the girls had already got up and gone home. For these and other salaciously vague titbits, Angie had a ten-year gag order placed on her after she divorced Ziggy Stardust in 1978. When it expired, she trashed him and their marriage in her autobiography. Apparently Bowie is bisexual. Wow, no kidding!
The late eighties
Don’t worry, be crappy
‘Passing the vodka bottle. And playing the guitar.’
K e i t h Ri chard s, o n be i ng as ke d ab out his f itn ess reg ime
No jacket, or thought, required
This was the ﬁrst track on Phil Collins’ third album, No Jacket Required, released back in 1985. Appearing on VH1’s Storytellers, Collins said that ‘Sussudio’ was an imaginary girl’s name and was meant to symbolise any girl. It’s about having a crush on someone when you’re young. Apparently, the genius behind this recording was accidental. Like all the songs on the album, it was recorded in Collins’ living room. He claims he’d set up his drum-machine pad and had worked out some chords and started to sing into the microphone. The word that just dripped like honey from his lips was ‘sus-sussudio’. So, there you have insight into the way a master storyteller and songwriter works. It’s intricate, I know, and difﬁcult to follow at times, but genius doesn’t come easily. It’s about a schoolboy crush, a drum machine and the ﬁrst doggerel that comes out of your mouth. I wonder if this was what it was like for Lennon, Cobain and Dylan? Despite reaching number one on the charts and its continuing popularity on adult contemporary stations, ‘Sussudio’ was ranked number twenty-four on VH1’s ‘40 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever’.
Critics lambasted Collins for the song’s similarity to Prince’s hit ‘1999’. Collins defended himself by saying that his original version sounded even more similar. You’ll be glad to know that Sussudio! is the title for a new musical based on the songs of Phil Collins, and is also the name of an Italian Phil Collins tribute band. ‘I’m sure there are twenty-year-olds all over the world with the name Sussudio,’ he said once, ‘so I apologise for that.’ It’s good that he’s sorry. But after all these years, he’s not nearly sorry enough.
Dancing in the Street
(David Bowie & Mick Jagger)
Jumpin Jack Flash lays a brick
It was a good song before Bowie and Jagger ruined it for us. They might as well have turned it into a tampon jingle for all the good feelings some of us have left about the original, which was ﬁrst recorded in 1964 by Martha and the Vandellas and became one of Motown’s signature songs. Originally produced as an innocent dance single, it was later adopted as a civil rights anthem during riots in urban USA. Some radio stations took the song off their playlists when black advocates such as H. Rap Brown played it while organising demonstrations. Then came Live Aid. It was almost as if Mick got on the phone to David and said: Look, what do you reckon we can do before the public ﬁnally turns on us? Bowie says, well, if we do a duet of one of rock’s greatest songs, ham it up in front of the cameras, sing it like we’re a pair of pissed Japanese businessmen at a karaoke night—that ought to do it! All right, Jagger says, you’re on. Five quid and Jerry Hall says we can get away with it.
The original plan was to perform a track together live, with Bowie performing at Wembley Stadium and Jagger at the JFK Stadium, until someone realised that the satellite link-up would cause a half-second delay that would make this impossible. As it was, it might have sounded a whole lot better. At the time Bowie was recording his contributions for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack at Abbey Road Studios, so Jagger ﬂew in from New York. A rough mix was ﬁnished in just four hours, and the pair went straight out to London Docklands to ﬁlm the accompanying music video with director David Mallet. In the 4 October 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Mick described it this way: ‘We banged it out in just two takes. It was an interesting exercise in how you can do something without worrying too much.’ And it showed. It was aired to much acclaim at Live Aid. The thin twins mugged furiously as if they were teenagers at a fourteenth birthday party, pissed on spiked rockmelon punch. But the public will forgive anything if it’s for a good cause, and when it was released as a single it topped the UK charts for four weeks, and reached number seven in the US. To be fair, all proﬁts went to Live Aid. But once the post-Geldof rush wore off, there was a critical reappraisal. Starvation had not gone away and we were still stuck with JaBo. The popular rock music discussion blog Rock Town Hall named this video ‘Rock Crime of the Century’. By contrast, on 12 April 2006, it was announced that Martha and the Vandellas’ version of ‘Dancing in the Street’ would be one of just ﬁfty sound recordings preserved for eternity by the Library of Congress.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
A fridge magnet set to music
Don’t you just hate it when people tell you to cheer up when you’re miserable? It makes me want to punch them in the face. And this song is just like that; I ﬁnd it astonishing that Bobby McFerrin is still alive and well and walking around even today without a bodyguard and largely unmolested. And there’s no music. The backing to McFerrin’s bizarre vocals is all ﬁnger clicking and humming, like he’s doing a duet with Elmo on Sesame Street. And what sort of sage, worldly advice does McFerrin offer? Well, try this: if your landlord is threatening you with eviction, because you have not paid the rent in months, you chuckle at him and shout: ‘Don’t wuhhhhh—rry, be yappy!’ in a joke Trenchtown accent. Sure, Bobby. That’ll ﬁx things. But you can fool all of the people all of the time. In 1988, it was the ﬁrst a cappella song to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, though possibly and hopefully the last. The following year it won Best Song of the Year at the 1989 Grammys. (To put this in perspective, Milli Vanilli won Best New Artists at the same awards.)
The song’s title is taken from a famous quote by Meher Baba, an Indian guru, which was printed on inspirational cards and posters in the sixties. McFerrin was originally going to name the song ‘Why So Mopey, Dopey’ and then came across one of these sayings and was, well . . . inspired. Is that the word? There were rumours that McFerrin attempted suicide after writing this song, and they’re not true. But even today, some people think he’s dead. This is all just wishful thinking. The novelty toy Big Mouth Billy Bass has this song as part of his repertoire, and does a far better job. He sounds like a ﬁsh singing, at least, and not Al Jolson trying to impersonate Bob Marley.
(New Kids On The Block)
Low on talent, high on really stoopid hats
The eighties will probably best be remembered for Madonna, Milli Vanilli and boy bands—and New Kids On The Block were the very embodiment of all that was bad about boy bands. The bedrock of their audience was hormonal pre-teens—girls mainly, but who knew?—and this 1988 effort was the nadir of a career that only ever featured low points. Somehow NKOTB looking ‘tough’ rang a little hollow— both singly and collectively they made Kylie Minogue look like The Incredible Hulk. They gave the impression of four-year-olds dressed like gangsta rappers for the preschool Christmas costume party. Look at me, Mum! When they growled ‘Don’t cross our path or you’re gonna get stomped!’, gay guys everywhere with one leg and no arms shook in their boot. Say, weren’t you the guys who were begging your girlfriend not to go a few months ago in voices that sounded like Martin Short sucking helium? They’d been assembled like Lego in 1984 by music producer Maurice Starr, in the way the Spice Girls were custom-made a decade later by Heart Management. Auditions were held in Boston, and over ﬁve hundred teenage boys were auditioned, among them ﬁfteen-year-old Donnie Wahlberg. He became the founding member and helped to recruit others—his younger
brother Mark, his best friend Danny Wood, and two former classmates, brothers Jonathan and Jordan Knight. To his eternal credit, Mark quickly became disillusioned with the band and became an actor instead. He was eventually replaced by twelve-year-old Joey McIntyre. The band were originally and mystifyingly called Nynuk, but when Columbia Records signed them up they insisted, quite understandably, on a name change. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1986, almost exclusively written and produced by Starr. It was bubblegum pop eighties style, and it ﬂopped, initially. They went back to the recording studio. But their next single, the ballad ‘Please Don’t Go Girl’, also ﬂopped and Columbia were planning to drop the new kids back onto the block. Then some fool in a Florida radio station began playing the song and it soon became the most requested song on their playlist. Consequently, Columbia started to promote it, and it ﬁnally reached number ten on the Billboard Hot 100. From that point on, we were all doomed. When ‘I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)’ reached number one, they decided to vend it like Beckham, and more than 140 products were licensed with New Kids On The Block trademarks. I have to tell you that at one point in mankind’s history you could buy lunchboxes, pillowcases, T-shirts or dolls in the likeness of this fabulous ﬁve. There was even a Saturday morning cartoon. This, folks, is western culture. This is why we ﬁrst ventured out of caves to take on woolly mammoths. But as a cynical exercise in marketing, it worked like a dream. The group went on to sell over seventy million albums worldwide, paving the way for even more terrible acts like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC.
For a year or two they were better known and better paid than even Madonna and Michael Jackson. But by 1991 we’d all overdosed on teen pop. (How did we ever get a taste for it in the ﬁrst place, you ask. I have no answer for you.) Derided outside their fan base, i.e. by those to whom tampons were no longer a novelty and zits were a fading memory, the boys split from their producer, changed their name to NKOTB and attempted a comeback in 1994. You can ﬁght public opinion but you can’t ﬁght time. Eventually they realised they just weren’t the new kids on the block any more. They looked like the old ones leaning out of the apartment windows yelling at fourteen-year-olds to turn the volume down, goddammit. Jonathan Knight went off to sell real estate, while brother Jordan cashed in on the teen pop revival of the late nineties. Joey McIntyre became a regular on the TV show Boston Public, and Donnie followed his brother’s footsteps into acting, appearing in Sixth Sense, Band of Brothers and the Saw movies. Danny Wood, however, prefers to stay out of the spotlight. It’s a good attitude to have, and we can only wish his colleagues and associates had thought the same back in 1984. But the damage is done now. Still, we survived the boy bands, even if we thought we wouldn’t. In the end, I guess, you just have to hang tough.
(The Beach Boys)
A cocktail made from shit and syrup
When this song was released, The Beach Boys’ best days were long behind them. But they had been one of the most popular bands of the long-ago sixties, and songs like ‘Surﬁn’ USA’ and ‘Little Deuce Coup’ had a fun-in-thesun theme, which is why they were asked by producer Terry Melcher to record a song for the Tom Cruise vehicle Cocktail. Brian Wilson is the creative force behind The Beach Boys, and mad as a two-bob watch, but he writes great songs, so it seems almost redundant to point out that he had nothing to do with this drivel. In fact, Melcher wrote this with the help of John Phillips (formerly of The Mamas and the Papas), Beach Boy Mike Love, and Scott McKenzie, who had a hit in 1967 with ‘San Francisco’. Instead of ﬂowers in your hair, this time you got a drink in your hand with an umbrella in it. The Beach Boys are best known for their vocal harmonies, which were sensational, but session musicians often played the actual instruments on their albums, which is why they weren’t renowned for their live concerts. By the time ‘Kokomo’ hooked around, nothing had changed: Jim Keltner was asked to play drums and Ry Cooder was hired for the guitar work. He’s
probably had tougher days at the ofﬁce than playing this gloop. The other session musicians were not even credited. ‘By and by we’ll defy a little bit of gravity.’ This line mystiﬁes me. Does this mean he promises not to develop a beer gut and her breasts won’t droop? Or are they planning to levitate? And why Kokomo? That’s easier to explain. Kokomo is a small resort owned by Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay, and was supposed to represent any tropical island that people think of when they think of a paradise escape. But it was Mike Love who added the line ‘Aruba, Jamaica, oooh I wanna take ya’, which I think proves why Brian Wilson was so highly regarded. The song, nursery rhyme, call it what you will, was released in July 1988, but was understandably ignored until Cocktail was released a few months later. Then it really took off, unfortunately for those of us who like to occasionally listen to the radio. It gave the Boys their ﬁrst number one since ‘Good Vibrations’ eighteen years before. The Cocktail soundtrack did well too, even though this and Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ were on the album. Since then, many resorts, restaurants and bars have capitalised on the Kokomo cachet, particularly in Florida. Why would you want to name your establishment after a really bad song? Beats me. What’s next? The Achy Breaky Brekky Bar? ‘Kokomo’ has appeared on several ‘worst song’ lists, including VH1’s ‘40 Most Awesomely Bad No. 1 Songs’. I have to admit, every time I hear it, I always feel like a strong drink and a nice lie down on a beach chair.
THE 10 WORST BANDS IN ROCK HISTORY
Legend has it that this LA acid-rock sixties band had smoked so much dope during the 1968 recording sessions for ‘In the Garden of Eden’ that keyboardist/singer Doug Ingle could only mumble the title. Many music fans thought ‘In-a-Gadda-da-Vida’ was a mystical Sanskrit saying, instead of a singer off his face on drugs. The unexpurgated seventeen-minute version of the song includes, as a special treat, a two-and-a-half-minute drum solo. The album it was taken from was the ﬁrst LP ever to be certiﬁed platinum. I bet these boys don’t remember any of it.
Mick Jagger allegedly nicknamed him Rock Wankman. Rick was the selfstyled keyboard player for Yes, possibly one of the most pompous and self-important bands in history. He wore a cape and spent much of the seventies producing solo theme records, like The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which sounded inexcusably bad even when you were seventeen and stoned out of your mind. Take my word for it. For reasons that he never made clear to anyone, he once performed it on ice. He had long hair and liked to play two synthesisers at once. If he’d been born in the eighties he would be working for Microsoft.
It is said that Canada’s worst musical crimes are Bryan Adams and Celine Dion, but this is not true. This eighties band played the sort of industrial anti-music that would make you want to rip your ear drums out with pliers. Two of the band members were called Kevin; they ﬁrst sampled their own genius by changing their names to cEvin and Nivek. This is all you need to know about them. That, and that cEvin once pretended to slice open his stomach on stage with broken glass. If they were Rammstein they would have done it for real. Still, if an audience is forced to listen to songs like ‘Dogshit’ there have to be some compensations. Their lead singer Dwayne—dWain, Enyawd . . . ?—completed the cliché by dying of a heroin overdose.
Crash Test Dummies
This is another MFC band—More Fucking Canadians. What is it with Canadians? This band claimed that lead vocalist Brad Roberts’ voice was so deep it could be heard by whales. As if being shot by a Japanese with a harpoon wasn’t bad enough. Their best known song was ‘Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm’. This is also probably their most meaningful lyric. In 2001, they released I Don’t Care That You Don’t Mind. We didn’t care. Did they mind? Well to be honest—I don’t really care.
La Toya Jackson
I have a confession to make. Until Michael replaced his nose with two airholes and a wart, I thought La Toya was Michael dressed as a woman. I really could
not tell the difference. Did she sing? I don’t remember. I saw his/her cleavage once in a photograph and it left me feeling profoundly disturbed for weeks. What if it was Michael? Mister Jackson, what did you do to these kids?
Air Supply were so bad I always wanted to cut their supply off. They made The Wiggles sound like Judas Priest. The band was built around two lovesick puppies called Russell, and peddled the kind of soft rock the lovelorn listen to as they’re picking the petals off daisies. Very plain-looking blokes who couldn’t dress themselves and became the most commercially successful Australian group in history.
There can be few more hated men in music than Kenny Gorelick. He singlehandedly turned the saxophone into the most feared instrument of torture since the rack. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Washington with a degree in accounting—and it sounds like it. He has since sold more than forty-ﬁve million albums of elevator-friendly instrumental slop. This is how music sounds after it’s been bleached and processed until all soul and meaning is gone. He once made the Guinness Book of World Records for holding an E-ﬂat note for an agonising forty-ﬁve minutes. My guess is that he then released it as an album. It conclusively proves that no sax is better than bad sax.
In these days of gangsta rap and lyrics like ‘gunna pop a cap in yo ass motherfucker yo doan gimme dat sugar on my big sorry-ass dick’, it can easily be forgotten what children of the sixties had to put up with. Donovan, for instance. This pubeheaded, dreary ﬂower-power minstrel penned moony nonsense that appealed to sixties hippies so out of it on hash that he once compared his inﬂuence to that of Hitler. He played la-la-land lullabies like ‘Jennifer Juniper’ and ‘Barabajagal’ and sang about mermaids and electrical bananas while dressed in a white robe surrounded by ﬂowers and billowing incense, and declared a messiah-like intention to lead America to a softer, quieter time. Well, not if Suge Knight can help it. These days Donovan would be lucky to make two bucks busking in a pedestrian underpass. Back then he was a legend.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
They shunned blues-based rock for pompously reinterpreted classical works to become one of the seventies supergroups, headlining concerts round the world. Shows included a massive Persian carpet, a grand piano spinning end-over-end, a rotating percussion platform, and a Hammond organ being thrown around on stage to create feedback (it was the same organ every time, called the L100, and it was repaired overnight for the next show). Their live shows were peppered with interminable solo spots, including a twenty-minute—twenty minutes!—drum workout by Carl Palmer that ended with him ringing a cowbell between his teeth. They had a live album called Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends, and with a twenty-minute drum solo it must have seemed that way.
These are the sort of lyrics you could have looked forward to: ‘Every day a little sadder, A little madder, Someone get me a ladder.’ Can lyrics get any badder? I don’t think so. LITTLE KNOWN FACT: Jimi Hendrix, tired of his band and wanting to try something different, expressed an interest in playing with the group. The British press heard about it and speculated that they would then be known as HELP, or Hendrix, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Hendrix died shortly thereafter, desperate to ﬁnd a way out of his predicament.
One critic called it ‘the worst music ever recorded by human beings’. (He obviously hadn’t heard Metal Machine Music.) True, this all-girl band was, quite possibly, one of the worst bands in the history of the entire world. But that doesn’t make them bad human beings—quite the opposite—and because of that there is something . . . magniﬁcent . . . about them. The band actually started before they were born. Their grandmother had gone to a palm reader who had predicted that her granddaughters would form a popular music group. So when they reached their teens, their father, Austin, withdrew the sisters from school, bought them instruments, and arranged for them to receive music and vocal lessons. It didn’t work. As Dot, who sang and played lead guitar, later said of him, without rancour: ‘He was something of a disciplinarian. He directed. We obeyed. Or did our best.’ He organised gigs for them, and then a recording session. The girls— Dorothy, Betty and Helen Wiggin—were reluctant but their father was ﬁrm.
‘I want to get them while they’re hot,’ he told the sound engineer. The band’s only studio album, Philosophy of the World, was released in 1969. The songs’ subjects (parents, a cat named Foot-Foot, Halloween) and lyrics (‘I’m so happy when you’re near, I’m so sad when you’re away’) were simple enough. The playing was something else. One critic wrote: ‘There’s an innocence to these songs and their performances that’s both charming and unsettling. Hacked-at drumbeats, whacked-around chords, songs that seem to have little or no meter to them . . . being played on out-of-tune, pawn-shop-quality guitars all converge, creating dissonance and beauty, chaos and tranquillity, causing any listener coming to this music to rearrange any pre-existing notions about the relationships between talent, originality, and ability. There is no album you might own that sounds remotely like this one.’ It’s kind of what Lou Reed was aiming for and missed. The Shaggs disbanded in 1975 after the death of their father, but the legend lived on. Frank Zappa called them ‘better than the Beatles’. In 1996, Rolling Stone named the album one of the 100 ‘most inﬂuential alternative releases of all time’. The Wiggin sisters meanwhile got on with their lives; they got married, had children, got divorced, taught school, the usual things. They don’t spend much time dreaming about what might have been. ‘Let’s face it,’ one of them is reported as saying, ‘as we got going we would’ve gotten better, and it seems as though people don’t want it better.’ She has a very good point.
The early nineties
The curse of the boy bands
‘I like to behave in an extremely normal, wholesome manner for the most part in my daily life. Even if mentally I’m consumed with sick visions of violence, terror, sex and death.’
C ourtne y L ov e
Ice Ice Baby
The Pat Boone of rap
This 1990 song by Vanilla Ice is about the singer’s outstanding skills as a music DJ, and a gunﬁght in which he took part on Beachfront Avenue in Miami, where the singer is forced to reach for his ‘nine’—his 9mm pistol. The album it was taken from—To the Extreme—was phenomenally successful and went on to sell over eleven million copies. It also won its performer ‘Worst New Star’ at the 1991 Golden Raspberry Awards. But more of that later. The enormous popularity did not arrive without a downside. ‘Ice Ice Baby’ used an extremely distinctive piano and bass hook riff from the 1982 Queen and David Bowie collaboration ‘Under Pressure’ without permission, without acknowledging credit and without paying royalties. In fact, as the lyrics are so utterly inane, you could argue that what was stolen was actually the only good thing about the song. But Vanilla claimed he owed no royalties, saying that ‘Theirs goes, Ding ding ding dingy ding-ding. Ours goes, Ding ding ding ding dingy ding-ding.’ What a difference a ding makes. Others did not agree. A suit was threatened and the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Members of the black Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity were similarly miffed. They alleged that their fraternity’s chant ‘Ice ice baby, too cold, too cold’ was also used without credit or permission. In his biography, Vanilla said that he ﬂipped his stage name in front of the chant and thought, hey, that’s cool! However, he later denied knowing anything about them. Which is not so cool. Vanilla’s real name was Rob Van Winkle, which may explain a lot about this guy’s attitude. When ‘Ice Ice Baby’ became a mega-hit, someone in Rob’s corner decided to cash in on his sudden fame and unwisely released an autobiography that chronicled an early life in the ghetto, attending a tough and mainly black high school in Florida and living a teenage life of crime and mayhem. But there were minor inconsistencies with the truth; for instance, the real Rob had never been stabbed, and the real Winkle was a nice white boy who went to a nice whiteboy high school in Texas. Seemed the only hardship he’d endured as a youth was his mother threatening not to cook his tea at night. Still, he made squazillions from ‘Ice Ice Baby’. It was the ﬁrst rap song to reach number one on the pop charts, a fact which made real rap singers reach for their nines. Motherfucker! Then there was the story that Suge Knight, the CEO and founder of Death Row Records, had dangled him by the ankles over a hotel balcony until he agreed to sign over royalties from the track. This did nothing to bolster his ﬂagging reputation while doing everything for Suge’s. The backlash against Rob turned him into a pariah in the hip-hop world. His fall from grace reached terminal velocity very quickly. Did he not see that coming?
From a Distance
The best place to hear this song
God apparently is not dead. But like a bystander at a drive-by shooting, He just doesn’t want to get involved. This song starts off promisingly enough, with a lyric about how the earth looks to someone watching from space. Gastric reﬂux only really sets in when it becomes apparent that the watcher is actually the Supreme Deity. Personally I don’t hate it that much, but an awful lot of other people aren’t quite as sanguine. The Bette Midler recording ranked thirty-seven on VH1’s list of the ‘50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever’ and number fourteen on Blender magazine’s list. It was written by singer/songwriter Julie Gold in the winter of 1985. She was working as a secretary in New York to pay the rent when her parents shipped her a thirtieth birthday present: the piano she’d played as a child back home in Philadelphia. Gold ‘hugged it and polished it’. The next day, she sat down and wrote ‘From a Distance’ in about two hours. Gold’s friend, Christine Lavin, introduced the song to Nanci Grifﬁth, who recorded it in 1987, making it Gold’s ﬁrst recorded song. Midler did not record her version until 1990. The song’s popularity coincided with the ﬁrst Gulf War, and it became the most requested song on Saudi Band
Radio and received a ‘Minute Man Award’ from the US Army for inspiring the troops. Midler’s version earned a Gold Grammy for Song Of The Year. Then Cliff Richard recorded it. Of course he did. It had God in it. It was also recorded by Judy Collins, Jewel, The Byrds, Simon Nicol (of Fairport Convention) and many others. It was performed at the start of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Nanci Grifﬁth’s 1987 version was even beamed as a ‘wake-up call’ to astronauts aboard the space shuttle. Up there in space, where no one can hear you scream. Gold said in an interview that she only wanted to write a song about the difference between the way things seem and the way things are, that a potentially harmonious world ﬁlled with hope and peace is only perceivable when one stands back and looks at things ‘from a distance’. Another interpretation is that because God is watching us ‘from a distance’ he cannot see, or respond to, hunger or need. She says that everyone can interpret it a different way. ‘Even a bowl of fruit might look like a litter of puppies to someone.’ Depends whether they’re looking at it from a distance or close up, I suppose. Julie hit her high note ﬁrst time out. She still writes and records but has never had a song as big as her ﬁrst. She sometimes compares songwriting to childbirth and perhaps she’s right. When the ﬁrst one out turns out to be a Nobel Prize winner, you look back later and think—maybe I should have stopped right there . . .
Don’t think twice—or even once
His real name is Robert Zimmerman. He adopted the name Dylan as tribute to the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, not, as has been suggested, the rabbit in the children’s show The Magic Roundabout, whose utterances are far more coherent. His Bobness has always been a complex character. Some have unkindly labelled him a poser of the worst kind. He used to tell journalists he was an orphan and had been travelling with a carnival since he was thirteen. When his parents once attended a concert in the early sixties they were surprised to read an interview the next day: ‘I don’t know my parents . . . I’ve lost contact with them for years.’ The man who David Bowie described as having ‘a voice like sand and glue’ has sold ﬁfty-seven million records—a lot of records. But less than the Carpenters. And like The Rolling Stones he has never had a number one. This is no never mind, of course. Dylan is a living legend, the voice of a generation, and one of the most important American musicians in history, but you know—been there, done that. So what happened on this one? Did he get tired of being brilliant? Did he start to suspect that he could write anything he wanted and Rolling Stone would think it was important
commentary on human relationships? Did he wake up one morning and think: I’ve got an idea, why don’t I record a whole bunch of really crappy songs that sound like nursery rhymes and see if the schmos out there in the real world will still buy it? After all, I’m Bob Dylan, right? I can get away with anything. Give me a dictionary and a blindfold. Let’s see what happens. What happened was ‘Wiggle Wiggle’ from 1990’s Under the Red Sky: ‘Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a rolling hoop.’ Well, that is profound. The rest of the song is very much like it; I have to admit that personally, I’ve never seen a ton of lead wiggle, but then I may have lived a sheltered life. But it does rhyme with ‘dead’. Is that the point? I have wiggled, as Bob sings later, until it comes, and that was quite okay, but I have never wiggled until I vomited ﬁre. Perhaps I should get out more. The album was dedicated to Gabby Goo Goo, which was his nickname for his then four-year-old daughter. So it may have been written for her. Or perhaps, as is more likely, the album was written by her. It was greeted with a disappointed silence. Dylan has since blamed the underwhelming critical reception on the fact that there were too many people working on the album, and that anyway he was very disillusioned with the recording industry at the time. Anything but admit that even his Bobness can sometimes write absolute tat.
Wind Beneath My Wings
Hell is not a place, it’s a song
Larry Henley and Jeff Silbar, you hereby stand accused of writing one of the cheesiest, most irritating songs in history. How do you plead? Oh, you admit it then? All right, are there mitigating circumstances? Look, I don’t care if the Divine Miss M recorded it, and that you got Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys in 1990. That is like going on trial for murder and boasting about your criminal record to the jury. Yes, I know it was from the soundtrack to Beaches. Yes, it also has not escaped the court’s attention that Sheena Easton, Perry Como, Willie Nelson, Roger Whittaker and Nana Mouskouri all recorded versions of it. Look, are you trying to make things worse for yourselves? Were you aware that, apart from providing almost every wedding for the last seventeen years with the longest four minutes of most people’s lives, that this song has now achieved the near-impossible and injected a difﬁcult moment into the majority of most funeral services? Don’t grin at me like
that, you pair of bastards! Have you no remorse for what you’ve done? No conscience? Well this court intends to show you no mercy. You may ﬁnd it cold there in the shadows, boys. You are hereby convicted of mawkishness in the ﬁrst degree. When you expire you are sentenced to go to that particular part of hell reserved for Tony Orlando and Dawn and anyone who has ever been involved in telemarketing. Oh, and Paris Hilton’s publicist.
Shiny Happy People
Rapid bowel movement
R.E.M. took their name from rapid eye movement, the reﬂex ﬂickering of the eyes that shows when a person is dreaming. Imaginative name, and it’s an impulse that has generally been reﬂected in their music. Not the worst band in the world by any means. So what frequency were you on when you recorded this stinker, boys? The lyrics could have been written by a chimpanzee with a typewriter— ‘Throw your love around, take it into town, put it in the ground, where the ﬂowers grow’—and it featured back-up vocalist Kate Pierson sounding as if she’d just taken some bad E. The song featured on the band’s 1991 album Out of Time and was released as a single in the same year. It peaked at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100, to date the last R.E.M. single to reach the top 10 on the chart, which demonstrates just what a shameful exercise it was for a band like this. Despite its commercial success, it was excluded from the band’s 2003 ‘Best Of’ album. It was reported that this was a deliberate decision by the band’s vocalist and leader, Michael Stipe. It may even have started out as a good idea. The title refers to a piece of Chinese government propaganda, ‘shiny happy people holding hands’, and
was written in response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But on the long and winding road from Michael’s brain to the MTV channel, a trenchant political statement somehow turned into a lollipop jingle. Critics just hated it. In 2005, Q magazine placed ‘Shiny Happy People’ in a list of ‘Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists’. It won number one position on AOL Music’s list of the ‘111 Wussiest Songs of All Time’. The song also appeared in Michael Moore’s anti-war ﬁlm Fahrenheit 9/11 over footage of George Bush senior visiting the Saudi royal family, the ﬁrst and only time the song achieved the perfect sense of irony that Michael Stipe was probably aiming for when he wrote the song. R.E.M. have written and recorded a lot of good songs. This just wasn’t one of them.
I Wanna Sex You Up
(Color me Badd)
They sang about sex but they couldn’t keep it up
Color Me Badd were a bunch of Oklahoma wannabes gyrating like they’d just graduated from pole dancing school with a C minus, and sounding like they’d just had phone sex with Jessica Rabbit. If you wanna be sexed up by a Venetian choirboy sweating like a Turkish sailor in a burlesque revue bar who’s been educated at the Barry White School for Wayward Girls, this is the band for you. Did you truly want to do it until you wake up (whatever the hell that means—are they promising to violate you in your sleep?) or score with a guy who’ll put a hole in your waterbed so you can do it till you drown? If you did, then CMB must have swept into your life like a zephyr through a Macedonian cheese factory in high summer. ‘. . . you and I both know tricks are for kids, so get the Dom Perignon outta the fridge.’ Inspired stuff. They rhymed kids with fridge! And Dom Perignon? Isn’t he the Frenchman who invented corkscrews? If your fantasy is anal sex on a tiger
print waterbed with mirrors on the ceiling and Enrique Iglesias with asthma slapping your rump with a wooden spoon, then you probably have a Color Me Badd CD somewhere at the back of your closet. And of course, of course, do I have to tell you, but the song contained the immortal line ‘I want to make love to you all night . . .’ Girls, you just know when a guy says ‘all night’ he means half an hour, tops. These guys weren’t just badd. They were deludedd. The members of Color Me Badd, in case the police ever ask you, were Bryan Abramss, Mark Calderonn, Kevin Thorntonn and Sam Watterss. Their debut album, released in September 1991, sold over six million copies worldwide. That’s a lot of girls who wanna do it till they wake up. Awards and adulation followed. But CMB didn’t have to be coloured badd: they really were already utter crapp. Three albums later they’d done it, and they’d drowned. Sam Watters went on to ﬁnd success as a record producer with Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, Anastacia and Natasha Bedingﬁeld. He married former American Idol contestant Tamyra Gray in 2006. Kevin Thornton has just released a new solo album fusing hip-hop with gospel. If only God rhymed with fridge! Mark Calderon works for an insurance company in Ohio. Bryan Abrams has appeared in a VH1 reality show entitled Mission Manband. He also plans to perform a song with the Insane Clown Posse on Psychopathics From Outer Space Part 3. I present this fact to you without comment. Final word of advice: should you ever ask a girl if she wants to do it with you till she drowns, and she knees you in the groin, don’t blame me. Blame Samm, Kevinn, Markk and Bryann.
Achy Breaky Heart
(Billy Ray Cyrus)
A mullet put to music
In every list of worst songs there’s bound to be differences of opinion. It’s a subjective thing. There’s going to be debate, raised voices, shots ﬁred. But one song always ﬁnds itself on everyone’s worst song list, and that song is Billy Ray Cyrus’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’. This is the song that made the mullet fashionable, reason enough to have the writer publicly quartered and ﬂogged. It was trite, it was inane, it was massive in the trailer park communities across the US. In fairness to Don Von Tress, the man who wrote this appalling drivel—if such a man deserves fairness—the original lyrics were ‘Achin’ Breakin’ Heart’ but were changed to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ by Billy himself in a moment of rare inspiration, if I may so characterise it. It came about when a friend of Billy Ray’s split up with his wife. Cyrus went to see him to make sure he was okay. When he asked him how he was feeling his friend said ‘My heart’s all achy, breaky’. It is from poignant true-life moments that true classics are written. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of those times. In the song Billy complains that if his pericardium should overhear
anyone saying that his girlfriend has left him, it might actually spontaneously detonate—a fate that would have been welcomed in certain quarters and was surely not undeserved. It also contains the immortal line, ‘Myself already knows that I’m okay’. As for me—well myself already knows this is the worst song I’m ever heard. As his debut single and signature song, it made him famous. Or notorious, depending on your point of view and your philosophical position on boot scooting. After this song’s release Von Tress toured with Cyrus for seven years, either for the joy of it or because his own personal safety depended on it. ABH—not to be confused with GBH, though the confusion is understandable—was nominated for ‘Record of the Year’ in the 1993 Grammy Awards, but in a rare moment of good taste and good judgment, it lost. ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic parodied the song, as you might expect, singing that he would rather be tied to a chair and kicked down a set of stairs than listen to ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ one more time, a sentiment shared by anyone without recourse to a studded shirt and bad hair. The worst thing about the song is the hook, which can eat its way into your brain like mad cow disease. It spreads like a computer virus—a single exposure via the blaring radio of a passing pick-up and an otherwise normal human being can ﬁnd themselves singing about potentially explosive cardiovascular systems for the rest of the day. It is the country and western equivalent of rendition. At least the haircut never caught on. Oh, wait a minute . . . Billy Ray never had another hit, but he’s still on the road recording and performing, though without the trademark mullet. He can afford to sit back and enjoy the ride. He’s made his mark on the world. From there the only way is up.
I Will Always Love You
The hairdryer’s greatest hit
I have to be honest. I don’t think the song’s that bad. But there’s an awful lot of people who don’t agree. It was written by Dolly Parton, who performed it as a poignant and bittersweet expression of resignation in the face of romantic loss, in her original recording way back in the seventies. She then re-recorded it in 1982 for the soundtrack of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It reached number one on the US country charts, making it the ﬁrst song by the same artist to ever reach number one twice. Whitney Houston’s version, however, is neither poignant nor bittersweet. It’s as understated as Germany invading France; all the tenderness leached out of it by her vocals, which are akin to standing six inches from the edge of a subway platform as an express train goes through. The song was taken from her 1992 soundtrack album The Bodyguard, which is itself one of the best-selling albums of all time. ‘I Will Always Love You’ is also the best-selling single ever by a female artist, with over ten million copies sold.
Houston, a former model, has a ﬁne pedigree. Her mother, Cissy, her ﬁrst cousin (Dionne Warwick) and godmother (Aretha Franklin) are all notable ﬁgures in the music industry. But Whitney has eclipsed them all. Her raw talent, powerful coloratura soprano and expansive range earned her the nickname ‘The Voice’. The Bodyguard launched a stellar career; she is the only artist to have a record seven consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number one hit singles, and she holds the Guinness World Record for the Most Awarded Female Artist ever. From there, unfortunately, the only way was down. At the height of her career she married former R&B singer Bobby Brown. Many in the industry thought that the New Edition singer, with his history of marital problems and drug and alcohol arrests, might be a bad inﬂuence on Houston. They were right. In the late nineties, she started showing up late for rehearsals and photo shoots, and cancelled concerts and talk-show appearances for no apparent reason. There were constant rumours of drug abuse and domestic violence that soured her public image, and after her highly successful 1998 album My Love Is Your Love, sales of her albums declined sharply. She became a staple of tabloid scandal sheets instead. A shockingly thin Whitney appeared at the Michael Jackson Thirtieth Anniversary Show in 2001, fuelling rampant speculation of drug use, anorexia and bulimia. In 2002, her father and one-time manager, John Houston, sued her for one hundred million dollars. Both of them appeared on television and traded insults. But he died the following year and the case was dismissed. She has recently undergone two rehab programs. After the second one in 2006, she divorced Bobby Brown. It appeared that she would not always love him. At least not without a bodyguard present.
Recently, she’s been making her way back into the public eye looking considerably healthier. But she has disappeared from the charts that she once dominated. But whatever happens, she will be remembered best for ‘I Will Always Love You’. It made number one on VH1’s ‘100 Greatest Love Songs’, while also appearing regularly on lists of songs that people despise the most. I think this is what is called polarising public opinion. Strangely, when the song is about a couple breaking up for good, people often use it for weddings. And in 2002 the Iraqi government held a referendum asking whether Saddam Hussein should remain as president. Saddam used the song in campaign advertising. And look what happened to him.
Fuck Wit Dre Day
A sorry case of the emperor’s new clothes
Dr Dre is the stage name of André Romell Young, who hails from the notorious burg of Compton in Los Angeles. He pioneered the use of hardcore profanity and gritty depictions of crime and street violence that later became known as gangsta rap. He was a member of the rap group N.W.A. (Niggaz With Attitude), whose music celebrated the hedonistic, amoral aspects of gang life. They were signed to Ruthless Records, owned by fellow bandmember Eric Lynn Wright, better known by the stage name Eazy-E. Wright was a former Compton Crip gang member who had allegedly used the proﬁts from drug dealing to start a music label. Disputes led to N.W.A.’s breakup in the summer of 1991, at the height of its popularity. Young thought that Wright and his business partner, Jerry Heller, were stealing money from the group. Young’s mountainous bodyguard, Suge Knight, somehow arranged to have Wright release Young from his contract. He helmed a new label using Dr Dre as his ﬂagship artist and called it Death Row Records. In the spring of 1992, Young began a collaboration with Calvin Broadus Jr, better known as Snoop Doggy Dogg, a young rapper introduced to him
by his stepbrother, Warren G, in 1992. Young released his debut album The Chronic through Death Row Records. To this point, rap had been primarily party music, like The Beastie Boys, or politically charged, like Public Enemy, with the music consisting almost entirely of samples and breakbeats. Young ushered in a new style of rap, both in terms of musical style and lyrical content, called West Coast G-funk, a style of rap music characterised as synthesiser-based with slow, heavy beats. It was set to dominate US rap charts from 1991 to 1994. The Chronic became a cultural phenomenon, selling eleven million copies to date, and is widely considered to be one of rap’s all-time classic albums. On one of the tracks, ‘Fuck Wit Dre Day’, he and his protégé Snoop voice their ongoing enmity to Wright by rapping about sexually assaulting him. For example: ‘It’s time for the doctor to check your ass’, and a memorable couplet where Young claims that his penis can ﬁt between Wright’s two front teeth, which critics have suggested is possibly the least impressive brag about dick size in rap history. Broadus then serves notice that his testicles are resting on Wright’s tonsils, which would give him the longest scrotum in human history. Is this a good thing? I ask myself. Broadus’s own career soon overtook Young’s. His ﬁrst solo album, Doggystyle, debuted at number one and sold more than ﬁve million copies, and he soon became the face of Death Row Records, now the most infamous label in the industry. In 1994, Wright was admitted into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles with what he believed to be bronchitis. It was instead discovered that he was suffering from AIDS in its advanced stage, and he died just ten days later, aged thirty-one.
Young meanwhile went on to oversee the careers of some of the biggest stars in rap music, including Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent. It soon became virtually impossible to hear mainstream hip-hop that wasn’t inﬂuenced in some way by Young. When he raps about thugs, there’s no question he knows what he’s talking about. In 1992, for instance, he broke the jaw of record producer Damian Thomas, which led to him being put under house arrest and required to wear a tracking device. Snoop was no stranger to violence either. In 1993, he was charged with homicide in the shooting death of a gangbanger. After a well-publicised trial he was found not guilty. Just as well. Even when you’ve got the largest scrotum in human history, you can’t afford a long stretch.
All For Love
(Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart & Sting)
Three mea culpas
Three fallen rock idols get together under a tattered battle standard featuring a large dollar sign to sing a greasy love ballad that would have been more appropriate for a movie called The Three Mouseketeers. How can we ever forgive them? Bryan, isn’t it time to ask for absolution before it’s too late? Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. Yes, my son. Talk freely. My name is Bryan Adams. In that case you must ﬂagellate yourself with an iron-studded whip for the entire period of Lent while fasting and wearing a camel hair jockstrap and . . . I haven’t ﬁnished. There’s more. (Sigh.) I agreed to write a theme song for a movie. It was called Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves. I remember it. It had Alan Rickman. He was very funny, and very dark. But the clip for the movie showed some anorexic male model playing a piano in the middle of a forest backed by a band that didn’t appear to have any power source for their electric guitars. It was terrible music, cloying, overly sentimental, derivative, clichéd . . .
I wrote it, Father. Jesus Christ! . . . Now look what you made me do! Anything else? That wasn’t the only movie theme I wrote. Oh, my God. Damn! No . . . Christ . . . I made so much money I decided to share. That’s a good thing, isn’t it, Father, sharing? So I got two of my rock star mates, Sting and Rod Stewart. I thought, you know, three good-looking blond guys singing together, it would be a good thing . . . Rod Stewart? Good looking? He’s not blond, either. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And I thought up these great lyrics: ‘If there’s someone that you know, then just let your feelings show.’ Father? Father, are you still there? I had a serial rapist and murderer in here this morning. He thought he was a really bad person. I’d like him to meet you; it will give him some sense of perspective. Go on. Well, I thought it was, you know, the best movie song since The Sound of Music. An epic. And it was, like, clever. Clever? You know, the Three Musketeers’ catch-cry, ‘One for all, and all for one.’ Only I changed ‘all’ to ‘love’. Get it? Brilliant. Yes, I thought so. But people have been really down on me and the boys for making it. They’ve been telling me I’ve prostituted myself for money. What’s my penance, Father? Just a moment, my son. (Calling off.) Bishop Flaherty, what should I give three good-looking blond boys for prostituting themselves? (Voice off.) Well, Father, between you and me, the going rate is a can of Coke and a Mars Bar.
Pumps and a Bump
U can’t afford this
When Stanley Burrell became a global pop-rap superstar in 1990, he did what anyone would do—he bought seventeen luxury cars, including a Lamborghini, a stretch limousine and a DeLorean, as well as thoroughbred racehorses and two helicopters; then he built a home in Fremont, California, with an indoor theatre, two swimming pools, tennis courts, basketball courts, a bowling alley, a baseball diamond, waterfalls, two million dollars worth of Italian marble ﬂoors, and a ﬂoor-to-ceiling grey marble ofﬁce with customised marble niches for awards. There was also a gold and black marble jacuzzi in the master bedroom which had a dishwasher installed for the purpose of ‘cleaning up after a midnight snack’. He leased a Boeing 727 and bought gold chains for his four pet rottweilers. And then he got himself an entourage large enough to successfully invade Monaco and put them on his payroll for a modest half a million dollars a month. Burrell had achieved superstardom with his second album, 1990’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ’Em, which included the smash single ‘U Can’t Touch This’, endearing himself to the music-buying public with his Rick James samples, neat dance work and trademark parachute pants.
But hip-hop was changing fast. By 1994 G-funk and gangsta rap were ruling the airwaves. Though known for being one of the few rap artists who didn’t use profanities and whose lyrics were not laced with sexual innuendo, he changed his name to Hammer and took an ill-advised stab at re-establishing his street cred on an album called The Funky Headhunter. On ‘Pumps and a Bump’ he freestyled about his love of women with big butts—‘you wiggity-wiggity wack if you ain’t got biggity back’—and managed to get the accompanying video banned from MTV when he appeared wearing just a banana hammock and sporting what appeared to be an impressive erection. It proved to be his last stand—well, on video anyway. Questioned about whether he had a sock down his swimmers, he famously responded, ‘That’s all Hammer, man.’ However, he did record another video—with all Hammer all clothed, claiming that he didn’t want to further the stereotype that all African-American males have large penises. But it was too late for political correctness. The cat had been let out of the banana hammock. By 1996 his career was in terminal tailspin. He gave up chubby-chasing, found Jesus and ﬁled for bankruptcy, thirteen million dollars in the hole. Pumps and a Bump? Take my advice—you can’t touch this.
Stairway to Heaven
Can you hear what it is yet?
Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, from the group’s fourth album, is the most requested song on FM radio stations in the United States and often tops radio lists of the all-time greatest rock songs. It has been covered by hard rock luminaries like Tiny Tim, and in 1993 the Leningrad Cowboys collaborated with the Red Army Choir to perform a cover. Pat Boone included it in his 1997 soft metal album In a Metal Mood. But perhaps the most notorious version is Rolf Harris’s wobble board interpretation, which also featured the inevitable didgeridoo solo. It was one of twenty-ﬁve different versions of the song performed live by guest stars on Andrew Denton’s early 1990s chat show The Money or the Gun. Rolf Harris was born in a suburb of Perth but moved to the UK in the ﬁfties and has become an iconic British TV personality and had massive hits with novelty songs like ‘Jake the Peg’ and ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’. His career started with television appearances in which he would paint pictures on large boards in an apparently slapdash manner, while singing nonsense songs interspersed with the phrase ‘Can you see what is it yet?’ When he was ﬁnished he’d turn the painting on its side or upside down and
the apparent mish-mash would become instantly recognisable. I remember watching him when I was a kid. He was great. When Rolf was on a visit to Australia, Andrew Denton asked him to perform a version of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for a special instalment of his show. Harris had never heard the song before, and had only seen the sheet music. He was blissfully unaware that a wobble-board version of a rock classic might offend some purists. Harris is even rumoured to have received death threats. But others—including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page—were just amused. By cementing Harris’s reputation for naffness, the song unexpectedly earned him cult status and the single reached number seven on the UK pop charts. It also led to a 1998 invitation to sing at the Glastonbury Festival. ‘I think they booked me as a joke,’ Harris said. ‘They put me on at ten on Sunday morning, thinking everyone would still be asleep. Instead, more than seventy thousand people turned up and sang along to every single word of my songs. There were women holding banners saying “Rolf, will you didgeridoo me?”’ He has now performed four times at Glastonbury, last year sharing the main stage with rock heroes The Prodigy, and was invited by Kate Bush to make a cameo appearance with his didgeridoo on her 2005 album Aerial. He’s even performed the Divinyls’ ‘I Touch Myself’ accompanied only by his wobble board for Denton’s Musical Challenge on the Triple M Breakfast Show. Some people loathed Rolf’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and I have heard many who have expressed a desire to insert his didgeridoo in the end opposite to that of his singing voice. Personally, I quite liked it.
ROCK’S 20 GREATEST ECCENTRICS THE RUNNERS UP
All rock stars have a touch of the diva in them. It’s not healthy for anyone to get that much fawning attention. Plus snorting too much womble dust can send you loopy. While touring Germany in the seventies, Elton is rumoured to have phoned his agent and demanded something be done about the wind outside that was keeping him awake. But much of Elton’s antics were for self-promotion. The following nominees had an unusual relationship with what the rest of us call reality.
Fleetwood Mac’s founding member is reckoned to be one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. But you know, too much acid really can do bad things to you, no matter how good you are. In 1970, after trying unsuccessfully to persuade the other band members to donate all their earnings to charity, he quit the band and grew his ﬁngernails so long that he would never have to play guitar again. He was arrested by British police in 1977 after he was alleged to have threatened manager Clifford Davis with a riﬂe when he tried to drop off a ﬁftythousand-dollar royalty cheque to his London home.
Gainsbourg was the songwriter who talked Jane Birkin through an orgasm in the 1971 megahit ‘Je T’aime . . . Mois Non Plus’, deemed obscene by the Vatican and the BBC. Other works included a collection of Nazi drinking songs he called Rock Around the Bunker, and ‘Lemon Incest’, a duet he recorded with his fourteen-year-old daughter. This song caused far less scandal in France than his reggae cover of the French national anthem which brought death threats and a newspaper editorial saying he should have his citizenship revoked. After suffering his ﬁrst heart attack in the seventies he was being stretchered from his apartment when he demanded that paramedics fetch a cashmere rug from his bedroom, as the regulation red and orange blanket clashed and photographers might be outside. Appearing on a French TV chat show with Whitney Houston, he told the host ‘I want to fuck her’. The host turned to Houston and said: ‘He said he wants to buy you ﬂowers.’ Gainsbourg got annoyed: ‘Don’t translate for me. I said I wanted to fuck her!’ This is when a girl needs a bodyguard. He described his life as a trilogy of Gitanes, girls and booze, and kept drinking even after two-thirds of his liver had been surgically removed. Hell, he still had a third left, and the liver’s a big organ. But it was a massive heart attack that got him in the end. Sadly missed.
The original spiky biker wore a trademark padlock-on-a-neckchain and couldn’t play bass guitar, even though he was the Sex Pistols’ bass guitarist. But he sure knew how to get publicity. He once carved ‘GIMME A FIX’ into his chest onstage with a piece of broken glass. He was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, in the Chelsea Hotel in New York. He died from a heroin overdose while on bail at age twenty-two. He certainly did it His Way. It was a short life, but an unhappy one.
The Who once famously sang on ‘My Generation’: ‘Hope I die before I get old.’ Drummer Keith Moon stayed true to the spirit of that song. He was the ultimate master of disaster. In his book, Moon, The Life and Death of a Rock Legend, Tony Fletcher describes how Moon would detonate toilets with ﬁreworks for his own amusement. Breakfast consisted of a bottle of champagne chased with a bottle of Courvoisier. It is also said that in 1967 he got The Who banned in perpetuity from every Holiday Inn in the world. He may, or may not, have driven a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool. One of the most enduring legends is that once, when the band were headed to the airport on their way to the next concert, Moon shouted: ‘I forgot something. We’ve got to go back!’ The limo turned around. Moon ran to his hotel room, grabbed the television and threw it out the window and into the swimming pool. He then jumped back into the limousine, sighing with relief: ‘I nearly forgot.’
On the 1973 Quadrophenia tour, Moon somehow ended up with a massive amount of ketamine in his system—ketamine is a horse tranquilliser, which is meant to be loaded into a gun and shot into a horse—and passed out during ‘Magic Bus’. Townsend plaintively asked the audience: ‘Can anyone here play drums?’ He is said to have once goose-stepped through a Jewish neighbourhood of London dressed in a Nazi uniform, and started a food ﬁght on an airliner then grabbed the PA and started singing the Lone Ranger theme to the other passengers. Another legend had him sitting down to dinner in a London restaurant with six call-girls, and announcing to the other diners: ‘And now, the astounding Moonio will perform his world-famous multiclitoral stimulation!’ He died, not from an overdose of clitori, but even more ironically, from an overdose of pills meant to help him beat addiction to alcohol.
Cynthia Plaster Caster
Born Cynthia Albritton in Chicago, she made hard-ons into icons and became the Michelangelo of the Mongrel. In the sixties she achieved almost mythical status by casting rock stars’ erections in plaster—including Jimi Hendrix’s intimidating six-and-a-quarter-inch-circumference Fender bender, making it the Pieta of Pop. She claims that at ﬁrst it was just a gimmick to distinguish herself from the other groupies, but her increasingly professional art became something of a legend in the post-Woodstock era and was the inspiration for the 1977 Kiss song ‘Plaster Caster’—written by Gene Simmons, whose schlong is nevertheless yet to be immortalised, conﬁrming what we have all long suspected.
Endearingly, Cynthia has never tried to claim profundity. Others have tried to ﬁnd social commentary inherent in her work. She herself says it was just her way to get laid by rock stars. Back in 1966, as a socially awkward nineteen-year-old art student and frustrated virgin, she was given a weekend assignment to make a plaster cast of ‘something solid’. It gave her an idea: she was looking for a dick schtick, her own stand-up routine, and this was it. Could you help me with my homework please, mister sexy-as-hell-leadguitarist? She didn’t succeed in casting that ﬁrst week, but she did lose her cherry to the lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the rest is art history. She experimented with wax, clay and aluminium foil—ouch!—before perfecting her technique with dental alginates. After moulding Jimi’s Star Spangled Wanger she got to meet rock legends from Keith Moon to Frank Zappa. Finally she even changed her name legally to Plaster Caster. Her technique requires three people: while Cynthia prepares the equipment, her assistant goes into the bedroom to . . . prepare the equipment. When all is ready he plunges his hard stuff into the soft stuff. She then pours plaster into the mould and cleans up the mess while her subject and his new friend head into the bedroom to make more. Cynthia is still at work, though in this more liberated time her work does not seem as shocking. A strange obsession? Perhaps. In a recent interview, though, she insists she doesn’t know what strange is any more. She claims one of her recent subjects, Jon Langford (of The Mekons and Waco Brothers), could only get an erection when his girlfriend simulated the sound of sesame seeds frying in a wok. ‘Is that strange?’ she asked.
Born Donald Glen Vliet he was and is considered a controversial and inﬂuential ﬁgure, said to have inﬂuenced everyone from Talking Heads to Tom Waits, Happy Mondays to the White Stripes. It is said that while recording 1969’s Trout Mask Replica, the sixties avant-garde blues man locked his Magic Band in a house, only allowing one of them out each week to fetch food. Meanwhile, they struggled to interpret the music he was ‘writing’ on the piano, an instrument he couldn’t actually play. When they were ﬁnally allowed out to perform, he gave them names to match the costumes he’d made them wear. Mascara Snake, his clarinet player, was the ﬁrst to quit. The album itself sounds like an elephant running amok in a music shop, twenty-seven tracks before someone manages to ﬁnd someone with a tranquilliser gun to make it all blessedly stop.
Brian liked the beach but he didn’t like the sea. He had a grand piano placed on a ﬂoor of sand so he could feel it beneath his feet while he was composing. But it’s said he was so terriﬁed of water he stopped bathing. He found an alternative recreation to the beach—hash, LSD and amphetamines may feel nice at the time but they’re really not that good for you. Meeting some kids backstage at a concert, he introduced himself, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Brian.’ ‘Yes, we know,’ one of them said, ‘we’re your children.’ Instead of picking up good vibrations, he started hearing voices and
feeling suicidal. He spent three years in bed eating steak and smoking cigarettes and ballooned out to 140 kilos, convinced that Phil Spector was coming to shoot him. Too much fun in the sun may be bad for your skin, but too much fun with amphetamines is far worse. The gentle soul who wrote ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ was seriously damaged. If only Daddy—someone—had taken his speedball away. Happily, in 2005 he went back on the road again, performing songs from his new solo career as well as classic Beach Boys standards. He has a new studio album coming out in 2008.
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis was a frenetic piano-playing rock’n’roll singer from the ﬁfties who, by the time of his twenty-ﬁrst birthday, had done time in the Big House, committed bigamy, and been thrown out of Bible College—this last event could not really have come as much of a shock. He then toured Europe and took with him his new bride, who was thirteen years old and related. He once accidentally shot his bass player. (Hell, it’s not like he was lead guitar!) He once poured gasoline over his piano at the end of a set and put a match to it, shouting at Chuck Berry: ‘Follow that!’ He lost one son to drowning, another to a car wreck. In 1983 wife Shawn died of a methadone overdose. He was ﬁnally bankrupted by the IRS. Great balls of ﬁre, indeed.
You probably remember him best as the frontman of the Dexys Midnight Runners and creator of ‘Come on Eileen’, the glorious double entendre song of the eighties. Back then he insisted his band get up early in the morning to go jogging with him, and he banned alcohol and drugs. A rock band with no booze and pills? You’re right, it couldn’t last. For those who knew him, Kev always had an edge. He once stole the master tapes to Dexys’ debut album to try and get a better deal with the band’s label, and as the legend goes, when the producer threw himself in front of the getaway van, Rowland shouted, ‘Accelerate, and damn the consequences!’ Kev disappeared for a while to re-emerge in 1999 with a new image. The new look ﬁrst appeared on his album of covers, with another say-thatagain title: My Beauty. On it he’s wearing a dark blue velvet dress, pulled down to expose his nipples. The dress is hitched up to reveal stockings and bikini briefs. He said he wanted to show his soft, feminine side. The album itself sounds like the opus of a man who has seen his dreams fall apart and is trying to claw his way back to sanity, and missing by some considerable distance. Some songs were not just covered but given a whole new set of lyrics. It ends with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It speaks of courage and honesty and transvestism, but was it music? The buying public, all but ﬁve hundred of them, didn’t think so. Still—nice dress.
John Michael ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne is supposed to be the archetypal brain-fried old rocker. Well, maybe. Not so brain fried that he hasn’t become one of the richest men in England. The hype has it that he has overdosed on just about every drug in the illegal pharmacopoeia, and survived to become the greatest reality-TV star in history. In The Osbournes he starred as himself, a drug-fucked zombie wandering round his LA home barely able to turn on a light. Having helped invent heavy metal with Black Sabbath, Ozzy is the stuff of legend. Once, on tour with Black Sabbath, somebody threw a live bat on stage. He thought it was a toy and ate it, but he said he couldn’t remember what it tasted like because he was pissed on cognac. The following year he bit the head off a dove while signing a deal with Epic Records. This time he spat the head out and was removed, with blood dripping from his lips, by a security guard. While in Texas, he urinated on the Alamo. He was arrested by local police. He married his manager, Sharon—‘Every other manager had fucked me—the difference with this one is that she kissed me while she fucked me.’ But his twenty-three-year marriage hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Once in Moscow, after a drinking binge, he tried to strangle her, saying, ‘We’ve decided you’ve got to go.’ He supposedly checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic by walking in and asking for directions to the bar. He also reportedly wanted to open his Live Aid set with ‘Food, Glorious Food’ from Oliver. He and Sharon are now one of the UK’s richest couples, worth a hundred million pounds, he has had dinner in the White House and has played for the Queen. Not bad for the dyslexic son of a factory worker. ‘Of all the things I’ve lost,’ he said once, ‘I miss my mind the most.’
The late nineties
The decade that got a bad rap
‘They can say I’m a fat old cunt, they can say I’m an untalented bastard, they can call me a poof, but they mustn’t tell lies about me.’
El ton J ohn
(Los del Río)
A song that became a dance that became a curse
There was a time in the history of the world when you couldn’t walk into a nightclub or a party without stumbling into a group of people doing a ridiculous dance that looked like a bunch of boot scooters with jock itch. The dance and the song, which disappeared as swiftly and mysteriously as it appeared, like the Ebola virus, was called the Macarena. The culprits for this abomination were called Los del Río, a Spanish music duo comprised of musicians Antonio Romero Monge and Rafael Ruiz, who’ve been performing since the early sixties but hit paydirt with ‘Macarena’, a song that VH1 ranked as the greatest one-hit wonder of all time. Los del Río specialised in Andalusian folk music, and for a number of years they made a living singing at private ‘jet-set’ parties at Marbella. However, in the summer of 1996, the duo watched in amazement as their multi-platinum smash summer hit ‘Macarena’ sold eleven million copies worldwide. ‘Macarena’ is a rather popular name in Andalusia, given its association with the Virgin of the Macarena, the patroness of Seville’s barrio La Macarena. The Virgin–Magdalene dichotomy may explain the rest of the lyrics: a song about the girlfriend of a recent recruit to the Spanish Army named Victorino.
She celebrates his drafting by hooking up with two of his mates. She has a weakness for men in uniform—what girl doesn’t?—and after making her breakthrough with Victorino’s buddies she spends the summer in Marbella and moves to New York City, where she gets herself a new boyfriend. The song ﬁrst became popular in Puerto Rico because of its use as an unofﬁcial election campaign theme song for then-governor Pedro Rosello. As many cruise ships called in there, tourists heard the song during their stay on the island. This perhaps explains how the song spread and become a smash hit in cities with large Latino communities in the US, like Miami and New York. This success led to the song being remixed with English lyrics, and then insanity took over. It spent fourteen weeks at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, the longest-running number-one debut single in American music history. It was the dance that launched the song on its superstellar journey. One Heineken commercial parodied it this way: a man hosting a party in his home goes to the kitchen to get a beer. He cannot remember where he left the bottle opener and proceeds to hold his hands out, check his shirt pockets, check his back pockets, put his hands up to his head in frustration, and then turn to his left to leave the room. His guests are watching his actions, which happen to be in step with the background music, and interpret it as a new dance: the Macarena. Craig Ferguson, host of The Late Late Show on CBS, has claimed that the Macarena was invented by Al-Qaida as a psychological weapon against the West. If he’s right, it worked.
Death by music
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want. Col, tell us what you want, what you really really want. I really really want the Spice Girls to fall down a disused mineshaft and never be seen or heard of again. That’s what I want, what I really really really want. In the early nineties, father-and-son management team Chris and Bob Herbert had the idea of creating an all-female pop group, in the style of boy bands like NKOTB and Take That, which were saturating the teen scene at the time like cockroaches over a dead rat. As Chris said, ‘I felt if you could appeal to the boys as well, you’d be laughing.’ They put an advertisement in The Stage trade magazine, looking for wannabes: ‘R U 18–23 with the ability to sing/dance? R U streetwise, ambitious, outgoing and dedicated?’ Hundreds of girls responded and the ﬁve they chose were Victoria Adams (she didn’t become a footballer’s wife until later), Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell and Michelle Stephenson. The ﬁrst name they were given was Touch, and they were moved into a house in Maidenhead, owned by the Herberts’ ﬁnancier partner Chris Murphy. They survived on unemployment beneﬁts.
The girls set to work on demos and dance routines. Stephenson was eventually replaced by Emma Bunton. But the girls were unhappy with Heart Management—the Herberts and Murphy—and, in what their biographer David Sinclair called an ‘incredibly self-serving and underhand’ ploy, they stole the master recordings of their discography from the management ofﬁces. They started touring other management agencies with their catalogue of demos and dance routines, and ﬁnally signed with Simon Fuller of 19 Management, who got them a deal with Virgin Records late in 1995. What the girls wanted, what they really, really wanted, was a hit single, and they got it, in the summer of 1996. ‘Wannabe’ was co-written by the Spice Girls with Richard Stannard and Matt Rowe, who also produced it. ‘They made all these different bits up,’ Rowe said, ‘not thinking in terms of verse, chorus, bridge or what was going to go where, just coming up with all these sections of chanting, rapping and singing. And then we just sewed it together.’ It went gangbusters, hitting number one in no less than thirty-one countries, becoming the biggest-selling single ever by an all-female group. They debuted at eleven in the US, beating the previous record held by The Beatles. Their reception on the pop scene drew comparison to the Beatlemania of the sixties. Their album Spice became the biggest-selling album of the year in both Europe and the US. In a poll conducted by Rolling Stone to identify the ten most annoying songs, this song was ranked eighth. Sputnikmusic.com ranted: ‘this track is built around an infectious keyboard riff, and is so profoundly annoying, you’ll want to rip your toenails off just so it will stop.’
The group embraced merchandising like a horny sailor over a bar girl after six months at sea. They became a regular feature of the British press. No amount of exposure was too much. They signed more than twenty sponsorship deals in total, but after the ﬁrst rush of popularity, depression set in, like coming down after a drug party. The girls drifted off to do other things. Posh spent the next decade marrying footballers and shopping. But on 28 June 2007, the group held a press conference in London, formally announcing their intention to reunite. Ticket sales for the ﬁrst London date of ‘The Return of the Spice Girls’ World Tour sold out in thirtyeight seconds. (Sigh.) I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want . . .
Can I Touch You There?
Otis Redding died for this?
He was born Michael Bolotin in 1953. For a while the future looked bright. He received his ﬁrst record label contract at the age of ﬁfteen and his band, Blackjack, once toured with heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne. He began recording in 1983 after gaining his ﬁrst major hit as a songwriter, co-writing ‘How Am I Supposed to Live Without You’ for Laura Branigan. But his ﬁrst major success as a singer came with his interpretation of the Otis Redding classic ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’. With his curly locks and toned abs, Bolton looked like the hero of a cheap bodice-ripper, Heathcliff with a microphone. This carefully constructed image earned him a fervent female audience for his over-the-top power ballads. Unfortunately, his greatest desire was to sing R&B oldies, which he went through like the German SS through Poland. Nothing in the R&B catalogue was safe. But Michael’s greatest success was with his own ballads, and his career reached its nadir, in this humble author’s opinion, with the release of ‘Can I Touch You There?’
No, Michael, you deﬁnitely cannot touch me there. And if you come near my sister, my daughter, my mother, my grandmother or my dog I shall take this sledgehammer and beat you to a pulp, you over-emoting bad-hair bastard. I’d rather listen to Rupert Holmes eating Timmy.
The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You
Ick factor ten
For years Bryan Adams had sounded like a balladeer for the Moral Majority, and then he tried to change overnight into Prince. This was the guy who’d said that when he was in high school he wasn’t interested in girls, only in music. Up to this point in history we knew what Bryan did, even if we didn’t like what Bryan did. When Bryan tells the female protagonist in the song that ‘there is only one thing that ﬁts me like it should’, it was like one of those moments when you see your uncle pinch your niece on the bum. Was this what he was thinking all along or is he doing it to try and regain his lost youth? Hard to know. In fact, I don’t think I want to know the answer to that one. Did he really write ‘We stick like glue’? A three-year-old would think that was a bit tired. Here, give me the CD—18 Til I Die, is that really what he called
it?—let me see if there’s anything else off this I might want to play instead. Wait a minute, there’s a track here called ‘I Wanna Be Your Underwear’. Bryan, sit down. Do you know what a ‘try-hard’ is? Can you understand it’s this sort of thing that gets you parodied on South Park? This is not to knock the guy himself. Adams was awarded the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia for his philanthropic work. He is a noted social activist; he was the ﬁrst western artist to perform in Pakistan, to raise money for underprivileged children; and in the mid nineties, he successfully campaigned for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. I know all this but . . . but . . . but Bryan—are you Al Gore or Gary Glitter? For God’s sake make up your mind. Because if one of those whales hears you singing ‘The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me is You’, you’re in big trouble.
My Heart Will Go On
The unsinkable Celine
Personally I don’t think this song is that bad, but it ﬁnds its way onto almost any ‘worst of’ list you care to name, and the French-Canadian balladeer herself is often the target for the kind of vitriol usually reserved for dictators and mass murderers. Chill everyone. She’s only a singer. Celine Dion was born in 1968, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that now. She was the youngest of fourteen children. If Mum and Dad’s game plan was to produce as many as possible, hoping that at least one of them must make some money, then the ruse apparently worked. When hubby-to-be René Angélil ﬁrst heard her sing he was moved to tears. He would not be the ﬁrst, though not always for the same reason. He became her manager and mortgaged his home to ﬁnance her ﬁrst record, and he backed a winner because she soon emerged as a teen star in the Frenchspeaking world. Recognition came after she won the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest, where she represented Switzerland, even though she was born in Canada. Worldwide fame followed three years later when she duetted with the ludicrously named Peabo Bryson on the title track to Walt Disney’s animated blockbuster, Beauty and the Beast.
But the song for which she is both world famous and universally loathed is the Titanic theme ‘My Heart Will Go On’. James Cameron’s ﬁlm broke boxofﬁce records around the world when it was released in 1997, and the love theme from the movie topped the charts everywhere and became Dion’s signature song. But, like the movie, it attracted its fair share of critics too. ‘If it had been played on the ship itself, it would surely have made passengers leap to their doom long before the iceberg did its dastardly deed,’ one critic wrote. The song contains the immortal line: ‘Love is when I loved you.’ Even this single lyric is a bit like a Rubik’s cube; you keep twisting it and shaking it but it just always stays that other side of fathomable. Even when it’s warbled by a singing stick insect it still doesn’t come out quite right. The lyricist is either into Zen or existentialism or acid. I still haven’t decided which.
(The Notorious B.I.G.)
Where’s the r-e-s-p-e-c-t?
You can walk like you’re carrying two heavy suitcases in order to look tougher. You can make a face at the camera like you’ve just woken up halfway through your colonoscopy. You can carry more metal round your neck than a battleship chain. You can punctuate every other lyric with ‘motherfucker’ and ‘pussy’ and drone on endlessly about your skills and proﬁciencies at ﬁghting, the frequency and diversity of your sexual conquests, and how much you hate the New York and Los Angeles police departments, and all their employees. But when you start writing lyrics about kidnapping and sodomising children, then perhaps music has lost its way and is no longer a force for rebellion or redemption but just a vehicle for gutterheads making fortunes with a penchant to shock, rather than musical talent or lyrical ability. Like this one from Notorious B.I.G. Another sorry case of the emperor’s new clothes. He was born Christopher George Latore Wallace in Brooklyn in 1972, but is more popularly known as Biggie Smalls, Big Poppa or by his primary stage name, The Notorious B.I.G. Abandoned by his father when he was two years old, he was raised by his mother, who worked two jobs to support them. He grew up during the peak years of the 1980s crack epidemic and started
dealing drugs at an early age. He’d already done jail time for dealing crack cocaine when he released his debut album, prophetically titled Ready to Die. Released at a time when West Coast hip-hop was prominent in the US charts, he—according to Rolling Stone—‘almost single-handedly . . . shifted the focus back to East Coast rap’. Biggie’s themes included street tales (‘Niggas Bleed’), his drug-dealing past (‘Ten Crack Commandments’), as well as showing off his soft, sensitive side (‘Me & My Bitch’). In ‘What’s Beef’ he boasts about his associates doing this to kidnapped and underage victims: ‘Fuck ’em in the ass, throw ’em over the bridge.’ Whoa. Wait a minute there, Bigs. I don’t care about your ﬂow or the rolling basslines or the backbeat. Is this music? Bragging that your colleagues and associates enjoy kidnapping children—even if it’s ﬁction, though with Biggie’s connections, that was never absolutely clear—sodomising them and disposing of their bodies by tossing them into a river? Biggie’s other themes included cutting off various body parts then mailing them back to their former owner. Almost inevitably, our Renaissance Man became involved in a quarrel between the East and West Coast hip-hop scenes and with Tupac, his former associate. Tupac accused Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs and Biggie of having prior awareness of a robbery that resulted in him being shot repeatedly and losing thousands of dollars worth of jewellery. The following year he released ‘Hit ’Em Up’, a diss song in which he explicitly claimed to have had coitus with Biggie’s estranged wife, Faith Evans. Shakur was shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, soon afterwards. Rumours circulated of Biggie’s involvement in the murder almost immediately. On 8 March 1997, he presented an award
to Toni Braxton at the 11th Annual Soul Train Music Awards in Los Angeles and was booed by some of the audience. After the ceremony, he attended an after-party hosted by Vibe magazine at the Peterson Automotive Museum; guests included Evans, Combs and members of the Bloods and Crips gangs. Later that evening he was killed by an unknown assailant in a drive-by shooting. His double-disc set Life After Death, released ﬁfteen days later, hit number one on the US album charts. His murder remains unsolved.
I’ll Be Missing You
(Puff Daddy & Faith Evans)
But the royalties will sure make your absence easier to bear
A little over three months after the murder of his best friend, The Notorious B.I.G. (see above), Sean Combs—or Puff Daddy or P. Diddy or Diddy or whatever the hell his name is—who was riding with him in the same car when he was shot, got it all off his chest by releasing ‘I’ll Be Missing You’, a stomach-turning cocktail of mawkish gloop that leaned heavily on someone else’s much better song for its marketability. Mix hypocrisy with major larceny in a tearstained mush and you have ‘I’ll be Missing You’. The song sampled—read stole—the melody of The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ from 1983. In fact, forget sampling. The track was down before permission was granted to use it. But Sting ﬁnally made a lot of money out of this, which is fair enough because his melody is the only thing this has going for it. As well as ‘Every Breath You Take’, the single also borrows from the wellknown 1929 spiritual ‘I’ll Fly Away’. Combs was sued as a result and had to settle with Albert Brumley and Sons, a gospel and country music publishing
company who owned rights to the song, which contains the line, ‘Some glad morning when this life is over’, which Evans sings in the chorus. In fact it’s alleged that the other words weren’t written by Combs at all, but by Sauce Money (Todd Gaither), a rapper from the Marcy Projects in Brooklyn who—naturally enough—got a Grammy for writing words that rhymed to someone else’s song but ﬁve years later was in court suing Combs for his share of the royalties. Fusing two songs written by someone else, with words written by someone else, in tribute to a guy who gloriﬁed violence and the criminal life? Is this creativity? Is this art? Tell me again—what is it about this song that’s to like?
Candle in the Wind 1997
The songwriter burned out before the legend did
Probably the most unusual song to ﬁnd its way into a worst one hundred, as it (the original version) is possibly also many people’s favourite song. And that may be the problem. The 1997 version annoys many people but for a long time it was politically incorrect to say so. So what is it about this song that is so . . . disturbing? Well, possibly because the lyrics have been written over the top of a song most of us already knew really well. It sounds as if it should be a parody and comes off instead a little like a snow job. Diana, like the original subject of the song, wasn’t that angelic. That was part of her fascination and allure. ‘Candle in the Wind’ was originally released in 1973, with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, a sympathetic portrayal of the life of the ﬁfties sex icon Marilyn Monroe. It did reasonably well. But the 1997 version, John’s personal tribute to Princess Diana, went gangbusters and became the biggest-selling CD single in music history. Yet it is the original version people remember most fondly. There’s no doubting John’s sincerity. He had a close friendship with
Diana and wanted to pay tribute to her in some way. There wasn’t time for him and Taupin to write a new song so they chose instead to rewrite the lyrics to an old one. He sang ‘Candle in the Wind 1997’ in public, for the ﬁrst and last time, at Diana’s funeral in Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997. Elton vowed he’d never play it again and has been true to his word, repeatedly turning down requests to perform it live. At concerts he only plays the 1973 version. But ‘Candle in the Wind 1997’ became the fastest-selling single in the UK, selling over one and a half million copies in its ﬁrst week. In the States it sold over eleven million copies. It’s estimated that at the peak of sales, almost six copies of the single were sold across the world per second. Elton’s participation in the funeral service was highly unusual, the participation of a ‘commoner’ (sorry, Elton) from Watford at a state occasion almost unheard of. He sat behind a grand piano to play the new tribute version which was relayed on television and radio to countless millions of people. Though meant only as a personal tribute, it was seized on by a public desperate to voice its sense of loss and to express its disapproval at the behaviour of the royal family, whose cool response to the death of the public’s darling had alienated them from mainstream public opinion. It turned ‘Candle 1997’ from tribute song into protest song. And it was a ﬁne personal tribute. Neither John nor Taupin proﬁted from it in any way: both artist and composer royalties were donated to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. But you just can’t burn the same candle twice. Which is perhaps why the song gets on my wick.
Sing along if you can remember the words
‘MMMBop’ was one of the biggest debut singles of all time; it reached number one in twenty-seven countries. The song originally appeared on the album MMMBop as a ballad but was reworked as an upbeat pop track by hit producers The Dust Brothers. The song’s lyrics talk, apparently, about the transient and unpredictable nature of friendship, referring to how friendships come and go in an ‘MMMBop’, meaning a short period of time. Fortunately, Hanson came and went in an MMMBop as well. The group was formed in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac Hanson. They originally sang a cappella but then older brother Isaac picked up a second-hand guitar, Zac borrowed an old set of drums, and Taylor became the keyboard player of what then turned into a garage band. ‘MMMBop’ began its dizzying ride up the charts in 1997 when the boys were sixteen, thirteen and eleven. The song earned the brothers three Grammy nominations, and the day of its release, 6 May 1997, was declared ‘Hanson Day’ in Tulsa by Oklahoma’s then-governor Frank Keating. But the boys turned into the archetypal one-hit wonders. They left their
record company due to a conﬂict with the producers, who felt their material lacked marketability. They now work under their own independent label, 3 Car Garage Records, named for the three-car garage in which they ﬁrst practised as a band. Like many songs that achieve extreme popularity, and are overplayed and over-hyped, ‘MMMBop’ has experienced something of a backlash. Delone Catholic High School in McSherrystown, Pennsylvania, for example, held a student fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina called ‘Stop the Bop’. The school played the song over the school PA system before classes began in the morning, and between each period. The playing of the song, the faculty was told, would only be stopped when the school raised $3000 for hurricane relief. In a 1997 episode of Saturday Night Live, Hanson appeared in a sketch in which Helen Hunt and Will Ferrell hijack an elevator at gunpoint and force them to listen to ‘MMMBop’ as they slowly go insane. I know how they feel.
It’s A Long Way to the Top
Head-banging for Jesus
I wasn’t going to include this, but God insisted. I know God didn’t like Pat Boone’s version of metal icons Acker Dacker’s classic rock anthem, because it said so in Foundation magazine, the organ of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association. The article was reporting on a two-hour telecast that Boone engaged in, on Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Praise the Lord, defending In a Metal Mood, an album he’d recently released in which he sang lounge lizard versions of hard rock anthems by Judas Priest, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and of course that song by AC/DC. The album was something of a departure for Pat, who was at the time host of a weekly cable television show, Gospel America, on which he often preached about the moral bankruptcy of heavy metal. So Pat’s decision to record the album was something like the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem recording Nazi marching songs in Yiddish. The grandfather of ﬁfteen even appeared on the cover wearing a leather vest and an earring. When he then swaggered up to the American Music
Awards in clip-on earrings, gold chains, rub-on tattoos and a dog collar, TBN was deluged with furious calls from the Righteous and the channel was forced to yank Pat’s weekly gospel show. They then aired another program where Boone defended his decision to make the album. Foundation magazine were alarmed that viewers might have been tempted to feel they’d misjudged him. Apparently Boone and the interviewer even found time to joke around, which, as everyone knows, is an abomination before the Lord. ‘Neither ﬁlthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting which are not convenient, but rather giving of thanks’ (Eph. 5:4). Why did Boone take the risk of alienating his traditional fan base for the reward of winning absolutely no new fans at all? If we look at his history it should come as no surprise. Forty years ago, when he was still just a schoolteacher in Nashville, he made his name by sanitising early rock’n’roll classics by Fats Domino and Little Richard, taking all the embarrassment out of ‘Ain’t That a Shame’ and the Frutti out of Tutti. He slowed down the rhythm, cleaned up the lyrics, made black songs white. It’s what he does best. The controversy and curiosity engendered by In A Metal Mood worked to Boone’s advantage, of course. It became the ﬁrst Boone record to hit Billboard’s pop charts in thirty-ﬁve years. His cover of ‘Crazy Train’ would later serve as the theme song for Ozzy’s Osbourne’s reality show, The Osbournes. So what’s next? Will Pat go hip-hop and sing ‘My Humps’ on the piano accordion with soft lighting? Will he do rap, taking Mystikal’s masterwork ‘Pussy Crook’ (see later) and turning it into a man saving a woman’s soul instead of tearing up her coochie lining? If he does, I don’t think God would approve. I don’t think the editors of Foundation would either. He has since apparently gone into celebrity-golf-tournament exile. Amen to that.
Personally I don’t think the song is so bad. It is so downright wrong in so many fundamental ways that I found it amusing and not at all irritating. Not everyone thought the same way. The song featured at number thirtytwo on VH1’s ‘most awesomely bad songs’ countdown. It was founded on a brilliant if twisted concept: take a best-selling child’s toy, morph it into some questionable sexual fantasy—‘you can brush my hair, undress me everywhere’— set it to the sort of synthetic bubblegum pop that would rot the tusks out of an elephant, and peddle it to prepubescent girls like happy meals. Even better, let’s get a bodilicious Norwegian chick with a voice like she’s been sucking helium through a straw, and hook her up with a very dodgy Danish rapper called René Dif who sounds like he should be Gary Glitter’s cellmate, call them Aqua, and you have the most questionable song ever to come out of Scandinavia, if not the whole of Europe. A sure-ﬁre hit. Barbie manufacturer Mattel sued, saying it violated the Barbie trademark and that it had turned Barbie into a sex object. Barbie a sex object? Surely not. They further alleged that the lyrics had tarnished the doll’s reputation and impinged on their marketing plan. MCA Records rubbed their hands together in delicious anticipation and countersued. The legal wrangling didn’t stop
‘Barbie Girl’ from going gangbusters. Quite the opposite, you’ll be surprised to hear. The song topped the charts worldwide and stayed at number one in the UK for three weeks. The lawsuit was ﬁnally dismissed by the lower courts, and the ruling was upheld in the US Supreme Court by Judge Alex Kozinski, who ruled the song was protected as a parody under the First Amendment and also threw out the defamation lawsuit Aqua’s record company had ﬁled against Mattel. Kozinski famously concluded his ruling by saying, ‘The parties are advised to chill.’ Really, Barbie was just a bit of fun. Can’t anyone take a joke?
A brilliant new talent uncovered
LFO were three seriously good-looking boys named Brad, Devin and Rich. You’d think they’d try to make a few bucks just using their looks and a few dumbass songs to impress prepubescent girls. But not these guys. They let their music do their talking for them. As their website was at pains to point out: ‘In today’s world of prefabricated, media-driven, and often disposable pop culture, it is surprising and reassuring to witness the evolution of great and promising young talent right before one’s eyes.’ Such is the story of LFO. They ﬁrst made their mark as the three guys who brought us the 1999 charttopping smash ‘Summer Girls’. The song, penned by the group’s founder Rich Cronin, blended his equally strong passion for both hip-hop and pop music while waxing rhapsodic about young persons of the female persuasion who wear clothes designed by Abercrombie & Fitch, originally an outﬁtter of sporting and excursion goods. LFO (Lyte Funky Ones) were one of the truly great bands of our time, though their music was largely misunderstood. In ‘Summer Girls’, for example, Cronin’s powerful use of symbolism and imagery, the multi-layering of metaphors, has now led to calls for its introduction into school syllabuses, particularly by kindergarten teachers.
The lyric thread starts with references to New Kids On The Block, which takes us immediately back to the boy bands of the eighties, and aren’t we all grateful that those days of hastily formed bands of well-groomed boys performing crap songs are behind us! The next line, which refers to the regurgitative qualities of oriental cuisine, not only throws us off balance with the effortless narrative grace of a Tom Wolfe or Norman Mailer, but it also rhymes! The listener knows immediately they can relax and leave their ears and emotions in the capable hands of a master. ‘Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnets.’ Some critics have been reminded of James Joyce’s Ulysses, the way Cronin uses stream of consciousness to get us inside the complex thoughts and emotions of an attention-deﬁcient seventeenyear-old whose passion for his lost love is constantly interrupted by thoughts of his favourite clothing, movie stars, food preferences and brand names. The love affair, its beginning and end are described in a single line of the lyric. This illustrates the genius of Cronin’s minimalist style. In just one line he tells us a story of passion, rejection and heartache, a poignant plea for men and women to communicate with each other. Like every great artist, Cronin has had to rely on luck to get where he is. His name, Rich, rhymes with Fitch! But every artist needs one lucky break. Later in the song, however, he reveals a darker side to his narrator’s personality, showing his deep understanding of the nature of dualism. He portrays himself as someone who likes girls only during one particular season of the year, then tells his new friend that he will steal items from her pantry as well as her bicycle. It seems that despite his despair over his girlfriend’s rejection of him, he is aware that he has a shadow side to his personality that eschews commitment and is not averse to petty larceny. Like Capote or
Bukowski, Cronin is not afraid of drawing criticism, and does not sacriﬁce honesty for political correctness: his girlfriend is a native of a Georgia where, in Cronin’s opinion, the sole economic activity consists of growing peaches and making lemonade, and they talk with a characteristic cadence, the implication being that they are all retards. He then segues effortlessly from a short aside on American history into the articulation of deeply personal emotion: he expresses his warm regard for the American patriot Paul Revere, and then tells his girlfriend that he has much greater recourse to the plentiful production of endorphins when she is near. Coincidentally, the way Cronin does it, these lines rhyme. Sometimes Cronin can be complex and even enigmatic: in telling us of his love of nature he eschews the use of ‘copse’, ‘forest’ or ‘wood’ by instead using the wildly innovative term: ‘a bunch of trees’. Some critics have suggested that this is only because he needs it to rhyme with ‘cheese’ (as in macaroni and), but scholars have rejected this as it would show his lyrics to be facile, in direct contradiction to the rest of the Work. Finally Cronin, with his usual sparse and economical style, almost in the manner of Hemingway, comments on the ephemeral nature of love, the poignancy of his own personal dilemma, and the contradictory nature of the dramatic arts: he realises the futility of calling her on his cell phone, because he likes Kevin Bacon but doesn’t like the 1984 musical that he starred in. As LFO’s website so poignantly predicted: ‘LFO have grown from pop boys to hot, cool young men and forces to be reckoned with in the world of popular music.’ Sadly, it was not to be. The world was not yet ready. Rich Cronin. Remember the name. One day, when historians reassess the nineties he may well be rediscovered and remembered in the same breath as Robert Frost or Lord Byron—who used to wear Abercrombie & Fitch.
ROCK’S 20 GREATEST ECCENTRICS THE TOP 10
According to legend, one of the low points of his childhood was his stepfather hitting him for singing along to Barry Manilow’s ‘Mandy’. (I would have got the strap for that!) He had an unhappy upbringing. Axl was arrested more than twenty times in his Indiana hometown for public drunkenness and assault before he was sixteen. After leaving home, he smoked cigarettes for eight dollars an hour for a scientiﬁc study at UCLA in an attempt to earn money. Despite achieving global rock hegemony with Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 Appetite for Destruction, Rose’s appetite for self-destruction was undimmed. He developed a reputation for arriving hours late at concerts, such as at Montreal in 1992 when he sang for ﬁfty minutes, then told the crowd ‘Thank you, your money will be refunded’ and walked offstage. A riot ensued which spilled out into the streets. Axl Rose stories are legion; he has hit his own fans with glass bottles, told Jon Bon Jovi to perform fellatio upon his own person, sensitively compared Indianapolis residents to inmates of Auschwitz, and cancelled concerts without warning. Critics have labelled him both racist and homophobic. Yet in the eighties this bandana-clad bad boy was a breath of fresh air in a rock scene all fogged up with hair spray rock and synthesisers. ‘Sweet
Child o’ Mine’, written for Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers, became a rock classic. These days he has become a virtual recluse in his Malibu mansion. The unauthorised biography by Mick Wall calls him ‘a Howard Hughes ﬁgure, bearded and sun-baked’. The New York Post says his long-awaited comeback album, Chinese Democracy, which has been in production for ﬁfteen years, may never be released. But when he does go out he still manages to live a normal quiet life; in 2006 MTV reported that he was arrested in Stockholm after an early-morning altercation in his hotel lobby in which he apparently bit a security guard on the leg. There are rumours that he is soon to get his own reality-TV show. But will he know reality when he sees it?
A voice like a choirboy, the face of an angel, the haircut of an SAS paratrooper, and the demeanour of a paranoid schizophrenic being chased through a mineﬁeld by aliens. As a child, her attitudes had been shaped by reform school and violent nuns. That tear running down her cheek in her cover of Prince’s ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ earned her a brief period of stellar fame which was punctuated by highly publicised outbursts in which she famously tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. After declaring that the Roman Catholic Church was the fount of all evil, she was ordained as a female priest for the breakaway Latin Tridentine Church and became Mother Bernadette Mary. God love her.
Rolling Stone called her ‘the most controversial woman in the history of rock’. The Guardian just said she looked as if someone had coloured her in and strayed beyond the lines. I think her own self-appraisal is the most winning: ‘I found my inner bitch and ran with her.’ She’s won a Golden Globe nomination as an actress, and her Riot Grrrl grunge band Hole earned worldwide acclaim. Their album, the aptly titled Live Through This, was lauded as Album of the Year by some of the most inﬂuential American music periodicals. Its successor, Celebrity Skin, was even more triumphant. Yet she remains in the eyes of the world just the drug-addled widow of Kurt Cobain. It probably hasn’t helped her cause that she has frequently been drugaddled and that she is Kurt Cobain’s widow. Her life has been a catalogue of rehab, assault charges, ill-fated affairs and custody battles, all played out in front of the popping ﬂashlights of the Hollywood paparazzi. Courtney has always been unconventional. While in boarding school, she joined a Bay City Rollers fan club. At twelve she applied to join the Mickey Mouse Club, but was rejected because, unlike other luminaries such as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, she chose to read Sylvia Plath at her audition. In one of her early bands she pioneered the Kinderwhore look—babydoll dresses, plastic hair clips, ripped stockings and overdone, smeared makeup—with Kat Bjelland. She met Cobain in 1989 at an L7 concert when they were both ﬂedgling musicians with burgeoning drug addictions. Courtney said later that they ‘bonded over pharmaceuticals’. Three years later, Nirvana had become one
of the biggest bands in the world, and just three years after that Cobain was dead. During the memorial service Love read from Cobain’s suicide note, on tape, then asked everyone to join her in calling him an ‘asshole’, which some of them did. During what she calls her ‘Letterman period’ she got out of it and ﬂashed her nipples at the Saturday Night Live host; later the same night she was arrested for tossing a microphone stand into a New York audience and was subsequently charged with reckless endangerment and third-degree assault. Her drug problem—she once famously described cocaine as ‘like, really evil coffee’ but I think that’s understating the case—was so acute that her former boyfriend and two of his associates got her to sign a power of attorney and siphoned off a mere twenty million dollars from her accounts thinking she wouldn’t miss it. During this period it is rumoured that Johnny Depp once revived her with CPR in the Viper Room. In 2005, she spent a month in lockdown rehab. These days she claims she’s clean and is trying to get back into Hollywood. Whether or not she succeeds, it’s unlikely they’ll ever ﬁnd a story for her quite as crazy as the real one.
He was going to audition for Frank Zappa but discovered he prohibited drug use. ‘I realised that I wanted to be a rock star,’ Frusciante said in Guitar Player magazine, ‘do drugs and get girls, and that I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was in Zappa’s band.’ The guitar prodigy instead joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but left at the height of their success in 1992 because they’d become too famous.
‘By the age of twenty,’ he told Rolling Stone, ‘I started doing it right and looking at it as an artistic expression instead of a way of partying and screwing a bunch of girls. To balance it out, I had to be extrahumble, extra-anti-rock star.’ He decamped to the Hollywood Hills and self-medicated on heroin to ease feelings of profound depression. ‘I was very sad, and I was always happy when I was on drugs; therefore, I should be on drugs all the time. I was never guilty—I was always really proud to be an addict,’ he said in an interview with Kate Sullivan in Spin. He released his ﬁrst solo album, Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt, because he needed drug money. The fact that he was using them excessively was already clear. One of the tracks is called ‘Your Pussy’s Glued to a Building on Fire’. He became, according to one journalist, ‘a skeleton covered in thin skin’, and the walls of his house were badly damaged and covered in grafﬁti. In 1998, he checked himself into rehab, was diagnosed with a lethal oral infection and had to have all his teeth removed. He renounced sex and drugs and teeth for vipassana yoga and complete sexual chastity. The Chilis, on the point of splitting up, invited him back to the band, and they—and Frusciante— enjoyed a triumphant return with Californication. He was ranked eighteen on Rolling Stone’s list of ‘The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’.
Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB)
Calling ODB a loose cannon is like calling Stalin mischievous. One of the founding members of hip-hop stars Wu-Tang Clan, ODB (real name Russell Tyrone Jones) had a bizarre but unique mic technique unlike anything before or since. Unfortunately ODB’s personal style was just as eccentric.
He once picked up a welfare cheque in a limousine while being ﬁlmed for an MTV special while his album was in the top ten charts. He rushed the stage at the 1998 Grammys complaining that he’d just bought expensive clothes in anticipation of winning the best rap album, in which he lost out to Puff Daddy. He ﬁnished his rant by shouting ‘Wu-Tang is for the children!’ before being escorted offstage. He was constantly in and out of jail for possession of crack cocaine, was once shot in the stomach by another rapper, and was arrested for failure to pay child support. In April 1998 he announced to the media he was changing his name to Big Baby Jesus but then seemed to forget the idea. He was shot again in a home invasion at his girlfriend’s house but the next day was well enough to shoplift a pair of ﬁfty-dollar shoes from a Foot Locker store even though arresting ofﬁcers found he had ﬁve hundred dollars in his pocket. In 1999, he was the ﬁrst person to be arrested in California for wearing a bulletproof vest while driving. With this and many other drug-related cases still pending he was then arrested for possession of twenty vials of crack cocaine, which he asked the police to ‘make disappear’. At trial he called the female district attorney a ‘sperm donor’, and then endeared himself to the prosecution by taking a nap. Critic Steve Huey said that ‘it was difﬁcult for observers to tell whether ODB’s wildly erratic behaviour was the result of serious drug problems or genuine mental instability’. He died suddenly two days before his thirty-sixth birthday. An autopsy found lethal amounts of tramadol and cocaine in his blood. We shall never see his like again.
In the nineties, as the mouthier half of Britpop sensation Oasis, he told The Observer that he hoped Damon Albarn and Alex James of rival group Blur would ‘catch AIDS and die’. He later poured oil on troubled waters by saying of Albarn: ‘I’ve got nothing against him . . . I just think his “bird” is ugly.’ Fame did not change Noel at all. He bought a number of expensive cars and a swimming pool, despite the fact he can neither drive nor swim. He named his house in London’s Belsize Park ‘Supernova Heights’, after his hit song ‘Champagne Supernova’. But it was his spats with other celebrities that attracted the most attention. He called Robbie Williams ‘the fat dancer from Take That’. Williams responded by sending him a funeral wreath: ‘To Noel Gallagher, RIP. Heard your latest album—with deepest sympathy, Robbie Williams.’ In public, Williams dismisses him as a ‘mean-spirited nasty little dwarf’. But Noel really dislikes Phil Collins: ‘People fucking hate cunts like Phil Collins, and if they don’t—they fucking should.’ Before the 2005 UK general election he told the Daily Mirror: ‘Vote Labour. If you don’t and the Tories get in, Phil is threatening to come back from Switzerland and live here—and none of us want that.’ He has said he thought the Backstreet Boys should be shot—fair call—and called Kylie Minogue a ‘demonic little idiot’. Elton John has hit back: ‘Noel looks like Parker from Thunderbirds.’ Though naturally left-handed, Gallagher plays guitar right-handed, which he claims is the only thing he can do with his weak hand. Well, maybe.
James Newell Osterburg shouldn’t be alive today. A quarter-century ago he was on his knees trying to snort the white lines out of a marble-patterned ﬂoor in the Redondo Beach Motel. This is the man who invented the stage dive, who used to roll in broken glass onstage, who raked drumsticks across his body until he bled, onstage, regularly got little Iggy out and slapped him on a speaker ONSTAGE . . . ‘He put his dick on the speaker,’ one fan recalled. ‘It was just vibrating around’ . . . who legend has it got a blow job from a fan ONSTAGE. He’s reported to have once panhandled in the ticket line to one of his concerts for drug money, shot up offstage, walked on, introduced himself and collapsed, waking up next day in the hospital. The Iggman perhaps owes much of his physical and ﬁnancial survival to long-time friend and collaborator David Bowie. In the late seventies, Bowie helped drag him out of the heroin addiction that should have killed him. He supported him through rehab, and when Bowie’s cover of Iggy’s ‘China Girl’ became a worldwide hit, the royalties made Iggy ﬁnancially secure for the ﬁrst time. Iggy is best remembered in Australia for a legendary performance on the nationwide pop show Countdown, when he tried to grab the teenage girls in the audience during his act and then, while being interviewed by host Molly Meldrum, jumped up and down on his chair repeatedly shouting ‘G’day mate’ in a mock Australian accent. He’s one of the few rock musicians to have been published in an established journal of classical scholarship: his article ‘Caesar Lives’ in the second volume of Classics Ireland (1995) considers the applicability of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to the modern world.
Iggy (named after his high school band The Iguanas) is today the grandfather of Punk, the World’s Forgotten Boy. He was ahead of his time and at sixty-one he’s still performing because the rest of the world has ﬁnally caught up. Here is our quintessential rock god; that heady cocktail of passion, rebellion, creativity, showmanship and hard drugs that takes one of us across the Styx and back again. His is probably not the life any of us would have chosen—but isn’t that why we love his music?
(Or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as an Unpronounceable Symbol, or just plain Prince Rogers Nelson, his real name.) A Jehovah’s Witness voted the world’s sexiest vegetarian, he has positioned himself as a sort of blatant love god to women, with songs like ‘Cream’, ‘Do Me Baby’, ‘Head’, ‘Orgasm’ and ‘Soft and Wet’, while his eyeliner, pencil-thin cocksucker moustache and bouffant hair made him look more like a gay biker’s stay-at-home bitch. He’s ﬁve foot two, has been known to wear ass-less pants and frilly blouses, and once wrote a song called ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’. So, despite the sex-hound posturing, his personal style is not always thought by mainstream heterosexuals as appealing. Opening for The Stones at the LA Coliseum in 1981, he was pelted with garbage while wearing bikini briefs, leg-warmers, high-heeled boots and a trench coat. A perfectionist who produces, arranges and performs nearly all of the songs on his albums, he catapulted to stardom on the back of his Minneapolis
sound. He’s also a brilliant composer—‘When Doves Cry’, ‘Raspberry Beret’— and has earned millions in royalties and a legion of admirers. In 1993, during a legal battle with Warner Bros over control of his output, he appeared in public with the word ‘SLAVE’ written on his cheek. He then changed his stage name to the Love Symbol, as a step towards his ‘ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains’ that he said tied him to Warner Bros. More recently, he’s threatened to sue his three biggest internet fansites for breach of copyright. There’s another lawsuit pending after a mother from Pennsylvania posted a clip of her baby playing while twenty-nine seconds of Prince’s ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ plays on a CD player in the background. The video is a home movie shot by a mother in her rural Pennsylvania kitchen. Prince’s lawyers demanded that YouTube take it down. It’s hard to know if these are genuine eccentricities or a marketing ploy. Perhaps he can be best summed up as the artist currently known as ?!@??.
Just because he freebased seven thousand dollars of crack cocaine every week for ﬁve years, wore lycra jumpsuits, and was convicted and jailed in 1994 for stripping and torturing two female crack buddies with a hot hash pipe, they called him crazy! Some people are so quick to judge. According to court records, twenty-four-year-old Frances Alley alleged that James also hit her in the face with a handgun and made her go south on James’s girlfriend. If only his music was as sensational. Best known for ‘Super Freak’ and MC Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’, James died in 2004 of an enlarged heart and pneumonia, caused by years of drug abuse.
AND THE WINNER IS . . .
Kevin Michael ‘GG’ Allin
One of the most notorious singers in punk music history, he routinely cut himself with glass, defecated and urinated onstage—he took laxatives before a performance—rolled in and sometimes ate his own excrement, stripped naked and invited members of his audience to perform fellatio on him, and frequently had violent ﬁghts with his own audience. Venues were often trashed. His music? Few people have ever heard of him. His father, Merle Allin Sr, told his wife an angel had visited him to tell him their newborn son would be the next Messiah, and christened him Jesus Christ Allin. His older brother was unable to pronounce ‘Jesus’ properly and kept calling him ‘Jeje’, which became ‘GG’. His mother later changed his legal name to Kevin Michael in order to give Allin a chance at a normal life. It didn’t work. He started off a standard punk rock frontman in the vein of Iggy Pop but became increasingly uncontrollable and vicious. Note to the jury: the bands he played in at various times were The Scumfucs, The Texas Nazis, The Fuckin Shitbiscuits, Bloody Mess & the Skabs, and Afterbirth. He became addicted to heroin and alcohol. He visited serial killer John Wayne Gacy several times in jail. His concerts were regularly stopped after only a few songs by police and he was banned from most clubs in New England. He was constantly hospitalised for broken bones or blood poisoning.
He was jailed over ﬁfty times, his rap sheet including one charge of rape and torture. He continually threatened to commit suicide on stage, thus boosting audience numbers. His last show was at The Gas Station in NYC in 1993. During a rendition of ‘Look Into My Eyes and Hate Me’, the power went out, so he trashed the place and walked the streets of New York naked, covered in blood and faeces, surrounded by fans whom he openly embraced. He went to friend Johnny Puke’s apartment and there overdosed on heroin. Party-goers posed for photos with him, not realising that he was dead. He was thirty-six. At his funeral his bloated, discoloured corpse was dressed in his black leather jacket and trademark jockstrap. His last wishes speciﬁed that the mortician was not to wash his corpse, which apparently stank. The funeral became a wild party. Friends posed with the corpse, putting drugs and whisky into its mouth. The video of his funeral is widely available for purchase.
The early noughties
The fallout from 9/11 continues
‘Osama bin Laden is the only one who knows what I’m going through.’
R . K e lly aro u se s sy mp at hy f or hi s pre di cam en t a fte r be ing cit ed on ch ild pornography charge s
God help us
‘Millennium Prayer’ is a 1999 charity single by Sir Cliff Richard. Richard had his ﬁrst hit forty-two years before, with songs like ‘Summer Holiday’ and ‘The Young Ones’ making him a teenage heartthrob in the late ﬁfties. He has sold more singles in the UK than any other music artist, ahead of The Beatles and Elvis Presley. By 2K most of his screaming fan base were on Zimmer frames—but they still loved him anyway. And among the post-Blair, pre-Iraq new Christians, Cliff had become the Justin Timberlake of God-bothering. Okay, so he didn’t make any money out of this song, but just because he didn’t record it for proﬁt doesn’t mean we should let him off the hook. Good people sometimes do very bad things. The song features Richard singing the words of the Lord’s Prayer to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The reasoning behind this bizarre concept is that people would want to buy it because it was not only released in time for New Year’s Eve, but the New Year’s Eve in question was 2000, the dawn of a new millennium. And you know what? He was right. Success, however, was not achieved without a ﬁght. Sir Cliff couldn’t
even persuade EMI, the record company he’d recorded with for more than forty years, to release it. They rightfully concluded it was just too dreadful, in idea and execution, even to foist upon a music-buying public who had over the years been asked to endure ‘The Birdie Song’ and ‘Gimme Dat Ding’. Undeterred, Richard did a deal with a small, independent music label called Papillon Records. But even then, the four main pop radio stations in Britain refused to play it, deeming it to be embarrassing and too slow. Good call. So Cliff decided to call in the big guns. He did, after all, have God on his side, or the Church of England anyway. His record company plugged the Millennium Prayer in the Christian Herald newspaper, and six hundred free copies of the single were sent to churches around Britain so the song could be played at Sunday services. A promotional campaign was also mounted on the Internet. This bizarre coalition of cyberspace and vicars, together with a fanbase high on loyalty and low on musical appreciation, meant the song began to walk out of the shops anyway. It sold 120,000 copies in its ﬁrst week of release. When it went to the top of the singles charts, Sir Cliff had achieved the incredible feat of having a number one song in ﬁve separate decades. It was, dare I say it, a miracle. Far be it from me to criticise Him, but it appears to me that though He may be Love, He is also Stone Deaf.
Who Let the Dogs Out
(The Baha Men)
Their bark was even worse than their sound byte
‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ was a song written and originally recorded by Anselm Douglas for Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival of 1998. It was re-recorded by The Baha Men, a pop group that played a modernised style of Bahamian folk music called Junkanoo. It found its way into Rugrats in Paris: The Movie and was then released as a single in 2000. It reached number forty on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US and number two on the UK Singles Chart. It was also a big hit in Australia, where it reached number one. The Baha Men thankfully faded back into obscurity soon after. ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ lived on as a sports anthem played at stadiums and arenas throughout the world. In June of 2000, the Seattle Mariners were the ﬁrst to torture their fans with it at a major league baseball game. This truly dreadful song became the Mariners’ team anthem, and even led to The Baha Men playing live at Safeco Field during a Mariners game that season. I won’t be supporting them, then.
The New York Mets—they changed the chorus to ‘Who Let the Mets Out’—claimed that they were the ﬁrst to adopt the song. This seems to me like two DJs arguing over who had been ﬁrst to play Mariah Carey. The virus—sorry, I mean song—even spread here to the NRL, Australia’s premier Rugby League competition, where the Canterbury Bulldogs played the song at home games. It was also parodied in The Simpsons, in ‘Large Marge’ with ‘Who Let Marge’s Jugs Out?’ So there we have it: The Baha Men, gone but not forgotten. And there we were, thinking all black guys were cool.
Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)
(Mariah Carey & Westlife)
How do you solve a problem like Mariah?
Any song by Mariah Carey would make most worst one hundreds, but let’s go with this one because she eroded her material even more by singing it with a boy band. A tune-butcher of the ﬁrst rank, she made her recording debut in 1990 under the guidance of Columbia Records CEO Tommy Mottola. Following their marriage in 1993, a series of hit records established her position as Columbia’s highest-selling act. According to Billboard, she was the most successful artist of the 1990s in the US. Carey has called the house she shared with Mottola ‘Sing Sing’, in reference to both the infamous New York prison and the only activity her husband ever wanted her to engage in. She says. He’s a music executive. What did she expect? True love? After their inevitable divorce, Mariah seemed to lose the plot, if not the whole cast of characters as well.
In 2001 she tried to revive her ﬂagging career with a movie and soundtrack project called Glitter. On its release the world was utterly underwhelmed. Halliwell’s Film Guide called it a ‘vapid star vehicle for a pop singer with no visible acting ability’, and The Village Voice observed: ‘When she tries for an emotion—any emotion—she looks as if she’s lost her car keys.’ And for mine this is the whole problem. The woman has a set of pipes on her, no question. Perhaps close to six octaves. In certain quarters she is known as the Range Rover for her ability to move effortlessly through alto and soprano. But being a great singer isn’t just a matter of hitting the notes. It has to do with the ability of a singer to connect with the emotion behind the sounds, and ﬁnd layers of meaning in the lyric. Mariah treats lyrics like they’re spikes and the song is a railroad. With or without Westlife she comes across as a peddler of saccharine garbage who thinks that emotion and warbling are interchangeable. She’s justiﬁably earned the moniker ‘the Princess of Wails’. ‘My voice is my instrument; it always has been,’ she once famously said. Some would say she’s right—an instrument of torture, and we’ve all suffered long enough.
He should be Hung
There is nothing bad about this song except the lyrics, the concept, the rhythm and the melody. It’s hard to love any song where the singer claims his heart is being hit like a drum. Could the writer have thought of any lyric more threadbare than this? ‘She looks like a ﬂower, stings like a bee, like every girl in history.’ Sorry, Ricky, but you obviously haven’t been to Penrith Leagues Club, because, all due respect, not every girl there looks like a ﬂower. Although a few of them do bang, that’s for sure. Though even if she did bang like a dunny door, it’s unlikely that Ricky would care. Still, that’s his business. But it does further erode the song’s credibility, if such a thing is possible. ‘She Bangs’ was a follow-up to the mother of all Ibiza nightclub tragedies, ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’. But ‘She Bangs’ manages somehow to be funny as well—even though it’s not meant to be. The producers of this monumental ﬂuffer nutter worked feverishly to save this one, with the desperate efforts of men trapped in a mineshaft that’s rapidly ﬁlling with water trying to claw their way out through granite with their ﬁngernails. There’s a horn section that sounds like every mariachi band
in Mexico had been hired for the day as back-up, a percussion section played with the enthusiasm and expertise of three hundred preschoolers let loose in a warehouse full of forty-gallon drums with wooden spoons, and a male back-up chorus that sounds like a Serbian Gun Club Choir drinking tequila in a Turkish brothel. But to be fair, even that couldn’t save it. Still, Ricky couldn’t care less. He’s sold almost forty-eight million albums around the world and charted twenty-one top ten hits on the US Latin Charts. And he’s not a bad person. He’s won many awards for his humanitarian activities, as well as being nominated on several occasions as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People magazine. But Ricky Martin is not the real story of ‘She Bangs’. Because in 2004, a contestant named William Hung, a UCLA student from Berkeley in California, earned brief fame after performing this song completely off-key—how could they tell?—on the third season of American Idol. ‘I want to make music my living,’ said Hung before he slid effortlessly into a comically appalling performance. As judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul tried not to leave puddles on the ﬂoor, judge Simon Cowell told Hung: ‘You can’t sing, you can’t dance, so what do you want me to say?’ Hung was gracious under this withering assault: ‘. . . you know, I have no professional training of singing and dancing,’ eliciting mock surprise from Cowell. Hung was not aware that his American Idol audition would be broadcast until it aired four months later. He was the ﬁnal auditioner on an hour-long episode of horror that showcased other would-be pop stars, all of them conspicuously lacking in talent. But Hung’s indefatigable enthusiasm and optimistic attitude disarmed
the watching audience and he rapidly gained a cult following. A William Hung fansite recorded over four million hits within its ﬁrst week. Hung subsequently appeared on several television programs, including Entertainment Tonight and The Late Show With David Letterman, and an online petition to get Hung back to American Idol gathered more than one hundred thousand signatures. He was offered a record deal from Koch Entertainment and dropped out of university. His debut album, Inspiration, sold approximately two hundred thousand copies. He has since appeared in TV commercials and even starred in a 2004 low-budget Hong Kong period comedy called My Crazy Mother. Hung has become more famous than many of the American Idol contestants despite being arguably one of the worst singers to grace the show. His innocent looks, endearingly positive attitude, and enthusiasm far in excess of his natural gifts have won him many fans. If only Britney could say the same!
Unravelling the mystery
This man shits poetry like Shakespeare scribbled sonnets. Take ‘Pussy Crook’, for example, from the album Tarantula. The song opens with a police ofﬁcer calling all cars to be on the lookout for our antihero who is notorious for dickin’ yo woman. Can the cops prevent him from placing this exceptional organ into yet another female by song’s end? He creates mood and tension in the opening lines by revealing that he is a cuss word expert, a point he demonstrates by juxtaposing the words ‘muthafuckin’ and ‘pussy’, which even Bono or Dylan never thought to do. However, despite his obvious charisma, his love interest is initially cool to his advances and displays a certain amount of reticence about removing her underwear and putting her legs in the air. Her tears and shyness seem at odds with the fact that she charges by the hour. Mystikal reveals the psychological motivation of our hero with an audience aside, reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third, enlisting the listener’s sympathy for his behaviour as he shouts, ‘Dick don’t fail me now.’ Does this imply the anti-hero fears sexual impotence and that this is the reason for his empty posturing and criminal record?
It is at this point he attempts to remove his love interest’s coochie lining. His motivation for this is unclear, but it seems that women in Mystikal’s world cannot get enough of having their vaginas abraided. He whispers to her romantically: ‘Fuck you like I ate my vegetables’, which shows that although he is perhaps oversexed, he’s a good boy at heart. In an unexpected twist, he then manages to get his penis caught somewhere. ‘Again’ indicates that this is not the ﬁrst time this has happened. However when he discovers that his amour is at the peak of her menstrual cycle, he decides instead to attempt some Funky Fire Boo Hole Pluggin, which apparently—and here the plot loses a little credibility—the woman claims she’s never before attempted. Deﬁciencies in the plot are more than compensated for by Mystikal’s brilliant use of language—though, as one literary critic pointed out, it is pertinent to ask how the heroine knew she had never tried Funky Fire Boo Hole Pluggin when this was the ﬁrst time all ﬁve words had ever been used in one sentence. This poignant tale ends with another APB; police ofﬁcers are warned to look out for a man armed with a penis and striking good looks. But as our story fades out it appears that law enforcement is useless in this case, as they will only ever apprehend his formidable appendage and not the rest of him. Mystikal has drawn a rich and detailed portrait in this song. The James Joyce of boo hole pluggin, his use of metaphor and symbolism are unsurpassed. It appears he has a complex relationship with himself and with women, keeping them at a distance emotionally, and is ultimately only interested in destroying the very thing he craves. Footnote: at time of writing, Mystikal is serving a six-year prison term for sexual assault.
Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American)
A boot in your ass, it’s the American way
If the United States had a Middle Ages it would be about now. 9/11 succeeded brilliantly because it transformed ignorance into blind hatred and turned America’s lazy Right into Hamas with hayseeds in their ears. And Toby Keith put the whole thing to music. Enraged by the Twin Towers attacks, he wrote a song so spiked with venom it made Mein Kampf sound like Peter Rabbit. Right-wing radio hosts called him a hero. Attacked from some quarters for disseminating hate— much like, erm, Osama bin Laden actually—Toby moaned, ‘It sucks ass that I have to defend myself for being patriotic.’ Which is another way of saying that he thinks his country is best because he was born in it. Toby was already something of a C&W institution at the time of the Twin Towers attack. His ﬁrst hit, back in 1993, was a country classic, ‘Should Have
Been a Cowboy’, which was played more than any other song on country radio during the 1990s. He wrote ‘Red, White, & Blue’ to play for troops on USO tours. He says he never intended to release the song on a CD, but then the Commandant of the Marine Corps, James L. Jones himself, told him it was his dooty as an American citizen to record the song. ‘It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops. If you want to serve, that is what you can do.’ Well, Jeez, thank you, sir. It sure beats the hell outta getting your balls shot off in Baghdad! As the lead single from the album Unleashed, ‘Red, White, & Blue’ peaked at number one on the country charts. But not everyone in the good ol’ US of A was enthusiastic. The song led to a much-publicised feud with the Dixie Chicks over both his song and the comments they had made about President George W. Bush. The Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, said that the song was ‘ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant’. Makes country music sound ignorant? Whew. Them’s are harsh words. Keith responded by displaying a backdrop at his concerts showing a doctored photo of Maines with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Maines then wore a T-shirt with the letters FUTK on the front at the Academy of Country Music Awards. While a spokesperson for the Chicks said that the acronym stood for ‘Friends United in Truth and Kindness’, the rest of us all knew what she meant. Big Tobes endorsed the re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004 and performed at a Dallas rally on the night before the election. Whatever his politics—he calls himself an embarrassed Democrat—his songs reﬂect the thoughts and opinions of the blue-collar, pick-up-trucking, country-twanging, hard-drinking, tough-talking American heartland. ‘As far extreme as I seem,
I’m probably catching the average Joe in the middle better than anybody,’ he said in an interview with 60 Minutes on CBS. He’s right, of course. If the song was just one crazy man’s rant, it probably wouldn’t worry anyone. Why so many people—not just me—loathe the song is that we know it’s real. George Dubya loves the guy. ‘Red, White, & Blue’ was used as a battle cry by US armed services in Iraq. Bombs were branded with it. So was one of the ﬁrst tanks to roll into Baghdad. What is scary about this song is that it’s not just a song: this is what the majority of the world’s most powerful country thinks.
Your Body Is a Wonderland
And you have breasts like the Gravitron
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, ladies: where have all the nice guys gone? You know, those smooth-talking bastards who will compare your thighs to a theme park, your tunnel of love to a shooting gallery? Well, meet John Mayer. The song is from a young man to his girlfriend. He tells her about how they will spend the afternoon in bed exploring her body, and compares it to a wonderland. Sure, if you look at the lyrics he sounds like that school caretaker who used to hang around the girls’ lavatories at recess. But look at that sunny smile, listen to that sunny acoustic guitar. How could anyone this cool and this nice possibly be creepy? Some people just love the song, others ﬁnd it sick and strangely disturbing. I fall into the latter category. And I love John Mayer. The man is an awesomely talented guitarist with a honeyed voice and he writes some great songs. This just isn’t one of them for mine. But he won a Grammy for it so I must be wrong.
It was wrongly believed that this song was inspired by his ex-girlfriend, the actress/singer Jennifer Love Hewitt, but he wrote the song in 2000, and did not meet Hewitt until two years later. So it must be about some other ride he went on.
Any track from Results May Vary
Yep, they’re all bad
Fred Durst apparently had the idea of naming his band after a game in which a bunch of lonely white teenagers stand around in a circle jacking off in front of a biscuit. The last guy to ejaculate has to eat it. They then intentionally misspelled their name, because that’s phat with the kids. Following on from the success of 2000’s Chocolate Starﬁsh and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (don’t ask), there was no stopping them. Buoyed with success, Durst feuded with Britney Spears, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist Zakk Wylde, came to blows with Creed frontman Scott Stapp, and slugged it out verbally with Eminem. Then a three-minute video appeared on the internet featuring Fred’s ample gut and a woman’s chocolate starﬁsh—proving that, though all evidence seeming to point against it, Fred has had sex with a woman, once anyway. At Woodstock 1999 Fred was accused of inciting the crowd to violence during a performance of the band’s single ‘Break Stuff’. His remarks about
women were also alleged to have resulted in several sexual assaults in the aftermath of the concert. But the shit really hit the fans during the Big Day Out in Sydney in 2001. Teenager Jessica Michalik suffered a heart attack when fans rushed the stage in the moshpit. It was alleged that Fred again incited the crowd and that he failed to attempt to calm the crowd after the accident. The senior deputy coroner Ms Milledge described Durst’s actions as reprehensible. He did not ﬂy to Australia in order to appear in court for the inquest claiming he was a ‘nervous ﬂier’ and ‘couldn’t ﬁt it into his schedule’. Segue to Chicago’s Hawthorn Racecourse and Metallica’s 2003 Summer Sanitarium tour where Limp Bizkit were the support act. An on-air feud between Durst and local shock jock Erich ‘Mancow’ Muller led to Durst being pelted with garbage and coins. Fred calmed the situation by telling the crowd that they could throw about as well as the local baseball team. At this moment he was struck in the testicles by a lemon. Sweets for my sweet. Fred stormed off but continued to harangue the crowd from the wings, telling them they’d just blown their chance to see the greatest rock band in the world, until the microphone was ﬁnally removed from his hands. Allmusic.com called him the worst frontman in the history of rock. Results May Vary, their fourth album, was considered a commercial ﬂop. Yahoo! labelled it ‘a frightening insight into the vacuous state of 21st century culture’. The results do not vary. It’s all crap. Fred is now vice president at LA music label Interscope.
THE 10 GREATEST MUSIC QUOTES
‘What will I be doing in twenty years’ time? I’ll be dead, darling. Are you crazy?’
F REDDIE MERCUR Y
‘So, where’s the Cannes Film Festival being held this year?’
CHRISTINA AGUILE RA
‘We’re in the dark ages if J-Lo can have a music career because of her ass. And let’s face it, that’s it.’
‘Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it you have it all over.’
‘I got rabies shots for biting the head off a bat but that’s OK— the bat had to get Ozzy shots.’
OZ ZY OSBOURNE
‘In rock stardom there’s an absolute economic upside to self-destruction.’
‘It’s all right leaping about the stage when you’re 20 but when you get to 25 it gets a bit embarrassing.’
BILL WYMAN, T HE R OLLING S TONES , 1967
‘I don’t have a problem with drugs. I have a problem with the police.’
KEITH RICHA R DS
‘I once told this journalist a story about how I met the guys in an elevator and found out we all had the same last name, so we decided to form a band.’
JOEY RAMONE OF T HE RAM ONES
‘A typical day in the life of a heavy metal musician consists of a round of golf and an AA meeting.’
The late double 0s
Hit me baby, one more time
‘I get to go to lots of overseas places, like Canada.’
US p op que e n B ri tney S pea rs
I love a girl who can spell banana
‘Hollaback Girl’ was written in response to a perceived slur by Courtney Love, who, in an interview with Seventeen magazine, referred to Stefani as a ‘cheerleader’. The song is what Stefani refers to as an ‘attitude song’, with Gwen as the school cheerleader who’s the victim of some slanderous high school gossip. Over the top of a jittery six-beat phrase carried by horns, Stefani raps out a disjointed challenge to someone who has been trash-talking her. She and her girls are now going to put down their pom-poms and do some serious bitchslapping instead. What’s clear is that she’s the shit. And the song is about her shit. She tells us this four times before she even starts singing. But her shit is also bananas, whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean. Does that mean you can peel Gwen’s BMs? Or that her shit is white? Or that it smells like fruit? Whatever it means, Gwen can spell it. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. Yep, she got it right, I checked in the dictionary. The song was one of the year’s most popular, and was nominated for Best Female Vocal Pop Performance and Record of the Year at the Grammys. Of course.
(Ja-Rule [feat Ashanti])
Da dirty doofus
Most rappers can’t sing—it’s why they rap. But Jeffrey ‘Ja-Rule’ Atkins took it to a new low with this one. To celebrate the new millennium, he metamorphosed from a doof-doof da-cluhhhb growler who sang about women as if they were disposable Kleenex to a tone-deaf yodeller who shed actual tears for his woman in his music clips. It was about as much as this particular little black duck could stand. Enter Ashanti Shaquoya Douglas, a back-up singer who featured on Vita’s hip-hop remake of Madonna’s ‘Justify My Love’. She and little Jeff teamed up for ‘Mesmerise’, 2003’s massive chartbuster. It was for this song that 50 Cent, typically letting bygones be bygones, would mock our little hero for being soft and ‘not a true gangsta’. How many people does he have to shoot to impress you, Fiddy? The chorus of the song is truly a mesmerising laundry list of female body parts, an anatomy check by a horny pilot making sure that everything’s there before take-off. ‘Your lips, your smile, your hips, those thighs.’ In the video he looks at Ashanti like an ostrich goggling at its own reﬂection in a brass doorknob. Nobody minds you having a thing for wanting to do her with her skirt on, Jeff. But isn’t there a classier, more imaginative, more musical way of saying it?
Making Memories of Us
Okay the guy is making nice with one of the most beautiful women in the world, so he must have something going for him. But my guess is Nicole Kidman must have been swayed, surely to God, by something other than his singing. Consider, if you will: ‘I wanna honor your mother, and I wanna learn from your paw.’ He goes on to say he would like to steal her attention. How would you do that, Keith? Well, like an outlaw, of course. A bad one. At ﬁrst I thought it was Bert and Ernie doing a send-up of Willie Nelson for Sesame Street. But no. This is Keith Urban, and ‘Making Memories of Us’. Jeez, Nic, what did your maw and paw think about your new husband when they heard that? Is there nostalgia for Lenny Kravitz? Or even, hush ma mouf, good old Tom. And tell me this—why, oh why, oh why, oh why, do cowboys always want to die in their girlfriend’s arms? Can’t they think of anything more constructive to do there?
Look, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because he was born in New Zealand. That can do strange things to you. Or maybe it was the Bolivian marching powder which he discovered when he went to Nashville. It’s not that he’s not talented. He’s well regarded as a guitarist and has been a session musician for Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels and The Dixie Chicks. In June 2006, he married Nicole in Sydney. I guess he stole her attention somehow. New Zealanders! Even when they’re good, they’re terrible.
(The Black Eyed Peas)
Who put the c in rap?
While researching this book I came across a site on the internet that provided translations for certain rap songs. This is how the author interpreted ‘My Humps’ by The Black Eyed Peas. ‘You will feel drunk with love/ Looking at my buttocks/ At my buttocks/ My buttocks and my lovely little breasts/ Pay attention.’ Now I may be alone in this, but I think this extrapolation has a certain poetic quality that the original lacks. ‘My Humps’ is the third single from The Black Eyed Peas’ fourth album, Monkey Business. It samples a section of the song ‘I Need a Freak’ by Sexual Harassment as well as the 1989 song ‘Wild Thing’ by Tone Loc. As a piece of music, it’s on a par with a Nokia default ringtone. The lyrics are so inane they would bore a three-year-old. The ‘humps’ in question belong to Fergie, who brandishes her ‘lovely lady lumps’ like a baseball bat at a street ﬁght. She boasts about how she uses her God-given gifts purely for the purpose of extracting money from men, and does it to a backbeat that sounds like a preschooler with his ﬁrst toy drum. It’s as subtle as a headbutt from a neo-Nazi, isolating portions of the female anatomy with all the sexual allure of a post-mortem. Men have been
inventing names for women’s bits since Cro-Magnon Man, but the best the writer of this song could come up with was humps and lumps. At least they rhyme. The lyrics—enough to make even Kevin Federline shudder—have become an obvious target for satirists. Peaches parodied the song in 2006, changing the title to ‘My Dumps’. A year later, Alanis Morissette did a cover, apparently as an April Fools’ Day joke, in which she performed the song slowly in the style of a Celine Dion ballad, with only a piano accompanying the vocal. Allmusic.com described the song as ‘one of the most embarrassing rap performances of the new millennium’. Another said it set feminism back forty years. Hua Hsu of Slate called it ‘a song so awful, it hurts the mind. It is one of the most popular hit singles in history. It is also proof that a song can be so bad as to veer toward evil.’ I don’t think he liked it. A poll conducted by Rolling Stone ranked ‘My Humps’ as the most annoying song of all time, pipping the Macarena, Baha Men and even Celine Dion to ﬁrst spot. Fergie—pay attention!
It actually means ‘big ass’ in Portuguese
I have nothing against Kevin Federline personally. I’ve never met the man. One reviewer said that he had the integrity of a walnut and the brain of a balloon. It seems harsh to me. Walnuts have integrity, otherwise they wouldn’t be walnuts. And give the man his due—while his ex-wife is in and out of rehab he’s the one doing the babysitting on a more or less permanent basis. Kev was a back-up dancer for a number of years for Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Gwen Stefani and even the dreaded LFO. But he is best known for his two-year marriage to singer Britney Spears. The couple’s divorce created a feeding frenzy for paparazzi and a custody battle for their sons. Kev forever after became known as Fed-Ex. He has at times said hip-hop is his ﬁrst love and it’s obviously unrequited if his ﬁrst album, Playing With Fire, is any kind of benchmark. In it he tried to radically redeﬁne the future of hip-hop by introducing themes like money, power, drugs, fame and sex. No one had ever thought of that before! Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Willman called it a concept album about squandering Britney Spears’ fortune. But back to ‘PopoZão’. Nothing can prepare you for how truly awful this song is. In it, Kev—as master rapper, K-Fed—raps about hitting on a Brazilian girl who may or may not be a skank. However, Kevin was married
for two years to Britney Spears, so draw your own conclusions. He asks her (the Brazilian one) to dance, and implies, in a very direct way, that he’d like to see her genitals and breasts. Maybe she hesitates, because he hits harder, as guys do in this situation: he tells her that he’s ﬂush with cash, because he’s a famous rap star. He then asks her again to dance and show him her best moves. My best guess is that Kev wrote this song because he’d learned a new word, possibly for the ﬁrst time since he was ﬁve, and what’s more it was a foreign word, that is, a word from a whole other language, which is why he repeats it endlessly, and I mean endlessly, throughout the song. A video of Kev, sitting in the sound studio, making strange hand movements and overdubbed with a song called ‘Peanut Butter Jelly Time’, became something of a phenomenon on YouTube. ‘Do It To Me One More Time’ is not the worst thing La Brits did to music. Kev is. Playing With Fire became one of the worst-received albums in recent musical history. And ‘PopoZão’ wasn’t considered good enough to get a start on it. I rest my case.
Chain Hang Low
Sesame Street is the shit, ya know what I’m sayin’?
‘Chain Hang Low’ was the debut single from the then ﬁfteen-year-old rapper called Jibbs from St Louis in the US. His hit is built around a chorus reworked from the children’s tune ‘Do Your Ears Hang Low?’ ‘Does yo chain hang low / Do it wobble to an fro?’ Yes, it is funny watching a ﬁfteen-year-old trying to look hard while singing a nursery rhyme. The children’s rhyme is itself a variant on the minstrel show song ‘Turkey in the Straw’, which was also known as ‘Zip Coon’. Jibbs claims he didn’t know the origins of the song and was only sampling Sesame Street and not deliberately making a complete idiot of himself by using a tune that was once used to ridicule his ancestors. The song went on to rack up more than twenty thousand ringtone downloads in a span of two weeks. It reached number seven on the Billboard 100 despite a genuinely ridiculous video clip where Jibbs tries to look like a gangsta while wondering if yo bling is platinum or gold, and if it hang low. Jibbs is from the same St Louis rap community that gave us Nelly and Chingy. Now we have Jibbsy. What next? A song about watermelons?
What a Mouseketeer thinks when he grows up
It appears obvious to me that you would like an alcoholic beverage you should have no further cause for anxiety if you keep my own supply from getting warm and take the tops off as soon as I walk in these other men in here do not know if I am the ﬁrst man or woman ever created—or not this is why they cannot prevent me from vocalizing a rhythmic yet complex string of rhymes and ﬁt them together in a logical and seamless manner And when the music stops you will go into cardiac arrest, and the accompanying sensations will be experienced vertically
If you understand what I am trying to tell you let me watch you try and comprehend that is what I am saying.
I have beautiful women everywhere in this nightclub you are conversing with one of the world’s great lovers and I have done it once before now I have returned with one of my most recent I thought you should know this I have beautiful women so reverse a little further and let me remove it.
CUT TO BRIDGE:
Sexually attractive, sexually attractive, sexually attractive perambulate with your physical structure communicate verbally with your physical structure My profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person (grunts) My profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person Excuse me! My profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person my love, Excuse me! I really like and admire the way you maintain that posture the two ﬂeshy parts or folds forming the margins of your mouth and that assist you in speech look very attractive to me similar to fairy ﬂoss
I would now like to make an improper suggestion allow me to escort you into the rear of these premises and perform a sexual act for which the male and female bodies were designed— sweetie. Then may I suggest that we go on a short excursion to a marshy outlet or lake, usually stagnant, in the lower Mississippi Valley I will allow you to be a police ofﬁcer who investigates crimes I am your person privately hired to do detective work, sweetie Sweetie, pay attention, sweetie, pay attention (FADE OUT)
A bridge too far
‘London Bridge’ is a pop/hip-hop song co-written and performed by Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas for her debut album, The Dutchess (2006). It was released as the lead single from the album and was her ﬁrst single as a solo artist. In her native America, Fergie has been a familiar face since she was nine years old; she was a member of the cast of Kids Incorporated, a show similar to the Mickey Mouse Club. She then had a brief relationship with another former child star, Justin Timberlake, and soon afterwards fell into depression, and if you’ve seen or heard Justin, that may or may not surprise you. Fergie got hooked on ecstasy and crystal meth. An American magazine reported that she knew it was time to quit drugs after she spent eight hours talking to a hamster. Was that true? a reporter asked her. ‘It wasn’t a hamster,’ she answered. ‘It was a hamper.’ In 2002, after she’d given up drugs and was working as a backing singer, she was invited to join an all-male hip-hop group called The Black Eyed Peas. It was a turning point for her and the Peas. She helped take them from an underground group to one of the biggest acts of the noughties. Their ﬁrst album, Elephunk, sold seven million copies and yielded ‘Where Is the Love?’,
the UK’s top-selling single of 2003. Fergie became the most recognisable member of one of America’s biggest bands. Although she is no Iggy or GG, Fergie once urinated on stage. The wellreported incident happened in 2005 at San Diego’s Street Scene. She is quoted by Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper as saying: ‘I had a few drinks before the show, but I didn’t think to go to the bathroom before we went onstage. We were jumping around—it was all very rock and roll—and my bladder just started . . . you know.’ But when you have nice humps, you can get away with things like that. Still, it’s all water under The London Bridge now. And London Bridge isn’t about number ones. It’s about the shit, it has to be because she says the word ‘shit’ thirty-two times in the song. On most stations, a radio edit changes the ‘Oh shit!’ to ‘Oh, snap!’ to prevent bleeping or blanking. This makes a stupid song sound even more stupid. And, and and and, he says breathless, the bridge featured on the cover of the single and in the video that accompanies it is not the London Bridge, but the neighbouring Tower Bridge. This is probably because the actual current London Bridge is of no particular signiﬁcance, and an ordinary bridge that doesn’t appear on postcards was perceived too hard for most Americans to understand. I like Fergie. It’s true she has nice lady lumps, but she also has a refreshing honesty in interviews. She defended ‘My Humps’ in the face of all evidence that it was a crappy song. She liked it. More power to her. And I like The Black Eyed Peas. But I am sick of hearing how Fergie is the shit. The music just ends up sounding exactly like that—shit. It typiﬁes the downside of contemporary music. Can we get back to the upside again?
You Shook Me (All Night Long)
Death by Divas
Words fail me. Give me a goddamned minute here. I think I just saw Celine Dion playing air guitar. This travesty appeared as a track on Divas Las Vegas 2002. I love this song. I never ever thought it would appear on a list of worst songs. But then I never imagined that I would ever hear, or see, Celine Dion doing an Angus Young impersonation then shouting, ‘Come on Girlfriend!’ over the power chords of one of rock’s greatest anthems. And then . . . and then . . . Sorry. Needed to take a swig from the Jim Beam bottle. And then . . . for the second verse on comes a woman in sunglasses and platform boots wearing some sort of ﬁlmy midriff top thing and . . . If you’ve ever accidentally swallowed Ratsak and you need to bring it up fast, take a look for yourself on YouTube. Three minutes of this and I guarantee nothing will stay in your stomach. Just try and hang on to the lining.
Music that’ll stick to ya
The self-proclaimed Teen of Da Souf (real name deAndre Ramone Way), Soulja Boy turned a monotonous steel-drum beat, a little marketing savvy and a crap dance into ‘Crank That’, the music phenomenon of 2007. His lyrics are facile, mindless and repetitive and almost impossible to understand, unless they’re written down, when it becomes clear that they are sexually offensive as well. And all by the time he’s seventeen years old. Well done that lad. Music has to be more than personalised sunglasses and oversized Superman sweatshirts and a dumb dance. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?? Or is he just a black urban Donny Osmond? Maybe. This is bubblegum rap. This is David Cassidy with chains and a ghetto roll. Only, Donny wouldn’t have supermanned his ho. Well, probably not. You don’t know what that means? Well, I’ll tell you and I’d rather you heard this ﬁrst from a friend. In the song, Soulja Boy’s girlfriend has refused to have sex with him. Probably because of his stupid sunglasses. So he waits until she’s fallen asleep, then, like the class act he is, masturbates until he ejaculates on her back, and sticks the sheet to his semen so that when she wakes in the morning—surprise! The sheet is stuck to her back like a cape.
She has been ‘supermanned’. You can probably now infer what super soaking is, which comes later in the song from the smooth-talking Soulja Boy. Maybe, just maybe, granddad was right and they don’t make songs like they used to, not in this genre anyway. All that’s left are wankers in sunglasses. Across all genres and generations, twenty-one carat solid gold crap now outsells quality every time. Perhaps, looking back through the book, it always did. Just the way the crap is sold is different. Soulja Boy’s rise is credited to websites such as MySpace and YouTube. He is the future. And the future does not look good; it is a teenage wasteland of repetitive loops, grunts, chants and dances with beats that have the grinding inevitability of an armoured assault. We are looking at a future time when ringtones replace music. As the artist known as Soulja Boy has pointed out: ‘When I did my album, I went into the studio thinking, I gotta have each song on here where it will be good as a single. I believe I came out with an album full of singles, so I’m good.’ What he means is an album full of ringtones. This song was twenty-one on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007, which indicates that magazine’s fawning irrelevance these days. Many other hip-hop fans ﬁnd him insulting to a style of music once deﬁned by skills, not corny dances and thinking that coming over a woman who’s already found you too offensive to sleep with is somehow supercool. But who cares about the lyrics? They only want to sell you the ringtone anyway. Wank-wank. Wank-wank. Sorry. Gotta go. That’ll be the phone.
SO HERE THEY ARE . . . THE 10 WORST SONGS IN HISTORY
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
ACHY BREAKY HEART—Billy Ray Cyrus HONEY—Bobby Goldsboro MY HUMPS—The Black Eyed Peas CRANK THAT—Soulja Boy THE GIRL IS MINE— Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney MILLENNIUM PRAYER—Cliff Richard DO YA THINK I’M SEXY—Rod Stewart SOMETIMES WHEN WE TOUCH—Dan Hill YOU SHOOK ME (ALL NIGHT LONG)—Celine Dion/Anastacia DROP KICK ME, JESUS (THROUGH THE GOALPOSTS OF LIFE) —Bobby Bare
INDEX TO SONGS
Achy Breaky Heart (Billy Ray Cyrus (Von Tress) Mercury 1992) 182 Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) (Mariah Carey & Westlife (Collins)
Columbia/RCA 2000) 1993) 190 250
All For Love (Bryan Adams/Rod Stewart/Sting (Adams Lange Kamen) A&M Records Alone Again (Naturally) (Gilbert O’Sullivan (O’Sullivan) MAM Records 1972) 52 Any track from Results May Vary (Limp Bizkit (Durst/Otto/Rivers/Smith/Ball/Barrier/DJ
Lethal/Snoop Dogg/Allen/Baker/Morales/Townshend/Ferrone/Grifﬁn) Flip/Interscope 2003) 262 Barbie Girl (Aqua (Noren/Mosegaard/Dahlgaard/Nystrom/Dif/Rasted) MCA 1997) 228 Ben (Michael Jackson (Black/Sharf) Motown 1972) 54 Black Betty (Ram Jam (trad) Epic Records 1977) 105 Can I Touch You There? (Michael Bolton (Bolton/Lange) Columbia 1995) 211 Candle in the Wind 1997 (Elton John (John/Taupin) Rocket Records/ A&M (USA & Canada) 1997) 222 Chain Hang Low (Jibbs (Jibbs) Geffen Records 2006) 276 Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (Middle of the Road (Stott) Phillips 1971) 36 Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American) (Toby Keith (Keith) DreamWorks Nashville 2002) 257 Crank That (Soulja Boy (Way) Collipark Music, Interscope, Stacks on deck Entertainment, HHH 2007) 283 Dancing in the Street (David Bowie & Mick Jagger (Gaye/Stevenson/Hunter) EMI 1985) 154 Disco Duck (Rick Dees & His Cast of Idiots (Dees) Fretone, RSO 1976) 95
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy (Rod Stewart (Stewart/Appice) Warner Bros 1978) 111 Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? (Culture Club (Culture Club) Virgin (UK) Epic (US)
1982) 1973) 132 57
Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah) (Gary Glitter (Glitter/Leander) Bell records Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin (Baba/McFerrin) EMI 1988) 156 Drop Kick Me, Jesus (Through the Goalposts of Life) (Bobby Bare (Bare) RCA
1976) 97 130
Ebony and Ivory (Paul McCartney/Stevie Wonder (McCartney) Parlophone/ EMI (UK)
Columbia (US) 1982)
Feelings (Morris Albert (Albert) RCA 1975) 73 From a Distance (Bette Midler (Gold) Atlantic 1990) 172 Fuck Wit Dre Day (Dr Dre (Young/Broadus/Wolfe/Spradley/Shider/Clintin) Death Row
Records, Interscope 1993) 187
Hangin’ Tough (New Kids On The Block (Starr) Columbia 1989) 158 Having Fun with Elvis on Stage (Elvis Presley (spoken words) Box Car Records
Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani (Stefani/Williams) Interscope 2005) 268 Honey (Bobby Goldsboro (Bobby Russell) United Artists 1968) 21 Horse With No Name (America (Bunnell) Warner Brothers (1972)) 66 I Am Woman (Helen Reddy (Burton/Reddy) Capitol Records 1972) 47 I Wanna Sex You Up (Color Me Badd (Dr Freeze) Giant Records 1991) 180 I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston (Parton) Arista 1993) 184 I Write the Songs (Barry Manilow (Johnston) Arista 1975) 82 I’ll Be Missing You (Puff Daddy & Faith Evans (Sting/Gaither/Evans) Bad Boy Records
I’ve Never Been to Me (Charlene Duncan (Miller) Motown Records 1977, 1982) 92
Ice Ice Baby (Vanilla Ice (Ice/Earthquake/Smooth) SBK 1990) 170 Illegal Alien (Genesis (Collins) Atlantic, Virgin, Vertigo 1984) 138 It’s A Long Way to the Top (Pat Boone (Young/Young/Scott) from In a Metal Mood,
Hip-O Records, 1997) 226
Kokomo (The Beach Boys (Phillips/McKenzie/Love/Melcher) Elektra 1988) 161 Little Willie (The Sweet (Chinn/Chapman) RCA 1972) 50 London Bridge (Fergie (Ferguson/Garrett/Harnett/Jones) A&M 2006) 280 Longer (Dan Fogelberg (Fogelberg) Full Moon/Epic 1979) 124 Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (William Shatner (Lennon/McCartney) Decca 1968) 17 Macarena (Los del Río (Romero/Ruiz) RCA 1995) 206 Making Memories of Us (Keith Urban (Crowell) Capitol 2005) 270 Me and You and a Dog Named Boo (Lobo (LaVoie) Big Tree Records 1971) 43 Mesmerize (Ja-Rule (feat Ashanti) (Parker/Lorenzo/Atkins/Creed/Bell) Def Jam 2002) 269 Metal Machine Music (Lou Reed (Reed) RCA Records 1975) 77 Millennium Prayer (Cliff Richard (Arch, Deal, Field, Skates, Wright) Papillon Records
246 MMMBop (Hanson (Hanson/Hanson/Hanson) Mercury/Universal 1995) 224 Mull of Kintyre (Wings (McCartney/Laine) Capitol 1977) 99 Music from ‘The Elder’ (Kiss (Stanley, Ezrin, Powers, Simmons, Carr, Frehley, Figg, Reed) Casablanca 1981) 128 My Heart Will Go On (Celine Dion (Warner/Jennings) Columbia, Epic 1998) 215 My Humps (The Black Eyed Peas (Payton/Adams) A&M Interscope) 272 Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Beatles (Lennon/McCartney) Apple 1968) 19 Physical (Olivia Newton-John (Kipner/Shaddick) MCA 1981) 126 PopoZão (Kevin Federline (Federline) Federline Records, 2006) 274 Pumps and a Bump (Hammer (Shider/Spradley/Hammer/Baillergeau/Clinton) Giant Records 1994) 192 1999)
Puppy Love (Donny Osmond (Anka) MGM 1972) 45 Pussy Crook (Mystikal (Lawson/Thomas/Tyler) Jive 2001) 255 Queenie Wahine’s Papaya (Elvis Presley (Giant/Bauman/Kaye) Paradise Hawaiian
Style, 1965, Paramount Pictures) 1969) 27 11
Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (Kenny Rogers & the First Edition (Tillis) Reprise Run Joey Run (David Geddes (Geddes) Big Tree Records 1975) 80 Seasons in the Sun (Terry Jacks (Brel/McKuen) Bell Records 1974) 71 Sexy Ladies (Justin Timberlake (Timberlake/Hills/Mosley) Jive.Zomba 2006) 277 She Bangs (Ricky Martin (Child, Afanasieff, Rosa, Monroig, Sierra, Lopez) Sony 2000) 252 Shiny Happy People (R.E.M. (Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe) Warner 1991) 178 Some Girls (Racey (Chinn/Chapman) RAK Records 1979) 107 Sometimes When We Touch (Dan Hill (Hill) K-Tel 1977) 103 Stairway to Heaven (Rolf Harris (Page/Plant) Vertigo 1993) 194 Sugar, Sugar (The Archies (Kim/Barry) Calendar Records 1969) 29 Summer Girls (LFO (Young/Brain/Cronin) Arista 1999) 230 Sussudio (Phil Collins (Collins) Atlantic/Virgin/WEA 1984) 152 Sylvia’s Mother (Dr Hook and the Medicine Show (Silverstein) CBS 1972) 38 Tell Laura I Love Her (Ray Peterson (Barry/Raleigh) RCA Victor 1960) 13 The Candy Man (Sammy Davis Jr (Bricusse/Newley) MGM 1972) 40 The Girl Is Mine (Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney (Jackson) Epic 1982) 134 The Laughing Gnome (David Bowie (Bowie) Deram Records 1967) 15 The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You (Bryan Adams (Adams/Lange)
A&M Records 1996) 213
The Sounds of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel (Paul Simon) 1965 Columbia Records) 9 Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (Dawn feat Tony Orlando (Levine/
Brown) Bell Records 1973) 55
Timothy (The Buoys (Holmes) Scepter Records 1971) 41 Torn Between Two Lovers (Mary MacGregor (Yarrow/Jarrell) Ariola America
Total Eclipse of the Heart (Bonnie Tyler (Steinman) Columbia 1983) 136 Two Little Boys (Rolf Harris (Morse/Madden) Columbia Records 1968) 25 Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham! (Michael) Columbia (US)/ Epic 1984) 140 Walk Like a Man (Four Seasons (Crewe/Gaudio) 1963 Vee-Jay Records) 8 Wannabe (Spice Girls (Stannard/Rowe/Spice Girls) Virgin 1996) 208 We Built This City (Starship (Taupin, Page, Lambert, Wolf) Grunt/RCA, 1984) 142 What’s Beef (The Notorious B.I.G. (Bacharach, Broady, Wallace, David, Myrick, Combs)
Bad Boy Records 1997) 217
Who Let the Dogs Out (Baha Men (Douglas) Edel Records 2000) 248 Wiggle Wiggle (Bob Dylan (Dylan) Columbia 1990) 174 Wind Beneath My Wings (Bette Midler (Henley/Silbar) Epic 1990) 176 You Light Up My Life (Debbie Boone (Brooks) Curb 1977) 101 You Shook Me (All Night Long) (Celine Dion/Anastacia (Young/Young/Johnson) VH1
(You’re) Having My Baby (Paul Anka (Anka) United Artists 1974) 64 Your Body Is a Wonderland (John Mayer (Mayer) Columbia 2002) 260 Yummy Yummy Yummy (Ohio Express (Resnick/Levine) Buddah Records 1968) 23
ADDITIONAL SONGS QUOTED
‘C’mon and Love Me’ (Kiss (Stanley) Casablanca Records 1975) 128 ‘Don’t Give a Dose to the One You Love Most’ (Shel Silverstein
(Silverstein) Columbia 1972) 38
‘Every day a little sadder…’, from ‘Still you turn me on’ ((Lake) Manticore
Records 1973) 167 ‘Ghosts’ ((Fogelberg) Dan Fogelberg, Full Moon/Epic 1981) 125
‘I could go back to school and get my diploma’, from ‘Another Love Song’ ((Mike E Clark/ICP) Insane Clown Posse, Island Records 1999) 85 ‘I drop science like girls be dropping babies’, from ‘Unique Ason’
((featuring ODB and Zu Ninjaz) unreleased) 90 ‘I want my baby back’ Jimmy Cross(Botkin/Garﬁeld) Tollie Records 1964 14 ‘I’m a hooligan, won’t go to school again’, from ‘Hooligan’ (Kiss (Stanley) Casablanca Records 1977) 128 ‘I’m So Happy When You’re Near’ ((Wiggin) Third World Records 1969) 168 ‘My Generation’ ((Townsend) by The Who released on Brunswick (UK) /Decca (US) 1965) 198
‘Ooh baby, wanna put my log in your ﬁreplace’, from ‘Burn Bitch Burn’ (Kiss (Simmons) Mercury Records 1984) 128 ‘The New Style’ ((Beastie Boys/Rubin) Def Jam/Columbia 1986) 147
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I’d like to thank Jude McGee, my publisher, for seeing what might be really good about what’s really bad. My heartfelt thanks also to Clara Finlay, my editor, who had the insane job of juggling the requirements of Editorial and Legal with the moods and prejudices of a temperamental author. I’d also like to thank Michael Wall and Thom Marchbank who both copyedited the manuscript and contributed their musical as well as editorial skills to the ﬁnished book. Thanks, guys. But any errors are, of course, mine and mine alone. No animals were harmed in the making of this book. When I played Mariah Carey and Hanson I wore earphones, so that my dog was not distressed in any way. All characters and events in this book are ﬁctitious. According to Zen anyway. Finally, a heartfelt plea to Nancy; forgive me sweetheart, for including the Bay City Rollers. I tried to do the right thing but in the end my conscience got the better of me.