Good singer, rotten song: 12 inexplicable musical crimes

Today, I’d like to indulge in two of my favorite hobbies: music, and complaining. Specifically, I want to talk about singers who are normally great, good, even excellent . . . until that one song. What the hell were they thinking, with that one song?


We’ll start with some low-hanging fruit: David Bowie’s “The Laughing Gnome”

Ha, ha, ha, hee, hee, hee indeed. My son points out that Bowie was young when he made it. Well, when I was young, I made poo poo in the potty, and that poo poo was a better song than “Laughing Gnome.”


And now for some high-hanging fruit: “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed, 1972

Fight me! It’s a bad song and it sounds bad. When it comes on the radio, I want radio never to have been invented. They will want you to believe that, just under an intentionally deceptive veneer of deftly-sketched urban optimism, this song quietly smolders with despair. But actually, it’s just a dumb little song that doesn’t make sense, sung unpleasantly by someone who has a very particular talent and definitely isn’t using it here. Nice violins, though. Geez. Fight. Me.


Honorable mention: “New York Conversation,” also on Transformer:

I loves me some Lou Reed, but sometimes he needs to stop.


Now back to something we can all agree on: Paul Simon’s inexcusable “Cars Are Cars”

It’s like a Paul Simon song that he forgot to put any Paul Simon in. It’s like when the recipe calls for  heavy cream and you use reconstituted Coffee Mate granules, instead. It’s like when my daughter woke up in the middle of the night because she had thought of the most amazing invention in the world, and it was going to change everything, so she wrote it down and went back to sleep, planning to dominate civilization in the morning. When she woke up, it said “bag of bees.” We’re not sure where all that confidence came in, but mistakes were made, Paul.


Next: I don’t know if Pat Boone counts as a singer who’s normally good and great and fine. I mean, I do know. We all know. Nevertheless, I absolutely had to include “Holy Diver,” one of many gems from his mind bogglingly ill-advised album, In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy:

I chose this one because of the video.


Hey, here’s a steaming hunk of faux-hippie feculence: The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.”

What an absolute turd blossom of a song. It’s pure poetic justice that this song has a bland, pointless, pandering American food chain named after it. Ruby Tuesday is the microwaved mozzarella stick of the rock and roll world, and I’m glad that, whenever I think of the Rolling Stones, I think of Ruby Tuesday, because the Rolling Stones are jerks.


How about “Obladi, oblada” by the Beatles?

It’s not actually structurally a terrible song, but why was it made? And what about when Desmond stays at home to do HIS pretty face, eh, eh? Blows your mind, don’nit, you PLEBE? Allegedly, this is the song that made John want out for good.


Honorable Beatles mention: “Run for your life”

Not a bad song musically, but, like many of my peers, I’m over the whole “let’s have another chorus of domestic violence” thing. Pass.

Of course the Beatles also put out a lot of absurdly self-indulgent nonsense toward the end, but they were trying to be terrible and daring you to be so un-stoned that it bothers you, so that doesn’t count. I’m also not including anything by Paul McCartney or John Lennon’s solo careers, because Lennon + McCartney = genius, but  McCartney alone is frosting without a cake, Lennon alone was just a whine in a bottle.


Now for a song that brings out my inner murderer: “My Ding a ling” by Chuck Berry:

I’m going to start my own country just so I can make a law against this song.


And just because I want to make some friends today: “Man in Black” by Johnny Cash.

Every time he says, “I’d like to wear a rainbow everyday!” I shout “NO YOU WOULDN’T!” He wore black because he liked to look awesome and cool and scary, and also very much because it’s harder to see ketchup stains on black. Nothing to do with the poooooor, or the hundred fine young men who died. Please. It’s actually a decent song, of course, because it’s Johnny Cash, but the penetrating, smarmy insincerity of it makes me want to get up and dismantle things with my teeth.


Ready to really suffer? Here’s the execrable “Delilah” by Queen

This song is new to me, and now I feel so envious of my past self. That pulsing synth makes me feel like I’m in a car with a flat tire but there’s nowhere to pull over. I guess it’s about a cat? Why doesn’t that make it better? I am filled with horror.


Finally, here’s a song that, in a just world, would have been taken out and shot: “Dancing in the Street” by Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

Now, I was actually around in 1985, and I remember how everything came ready-made with that “destined for a cheap car commercial” sound to it, but this song manages to stink so much harder than the rest because of how effortlessly these two shucked off their talent and integrity in favor of floppy clothes and loathsome hair. Oh my gosh, those prancing sneakers. Oh my gosh. There should have been a machine gun at the end, just as a palate cleanser.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a little bit of cosmic justice. Oh, internets.

How I wish every song on this list got the same treatment. Then I could die happy.

Now tell me what this list is missing, and how wrong I am about Perfect Day, and also how the tone of this post has you concerned about all my secret cancer.

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20 thoughts on “Good singer, rotten song: 12 inexplicable musical crimes”

  1. I’m a huge Queen fan and “Delilah” is especially painful, given how good the overall album is. The title track, “Innuendo”, is one of my very favorites. At least the drummer’s mid-70s ode to his race car, “I’m in Love with my Car”, was loud and heavy and rather hilarious.

  2. I never noticed before how much Perfect Day sounds like a Jonathan Richman song.

    Paul Simon wouldn’t make the list for me, because I don’t think he’s a good singer (by himself, anyway). And apparently, he’s not a very nice man.

  3. I like Perfect Day. for the contrast between the music and the lyrics. Because this perfect day is tinged around the edges with sadness. Because sometimes we need to be reminded of bright spots in the midst of melancholy. And I like it because it’s an amusing departure from songs about heroin and transgender prostitution – in other words it’s a nice little side trip taken within the context of his whole body of work. I realize my personal preference doesn’t make it a good or great song, but that’s what I got.

    Now let’s talk about Little Drummer Boy.

  4. I happen to think Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-A-Ling” is hilarious! My parents had an album when I was growing up called “Dumb Ditties” and that song was on it. As an adult I realize the innuendo of that song (and a lot of others on that album) but that actually makes me find it even funnier.

  5. I do love these sorts of posts; nothing gets your best similies flowing like things you detest.
    I gather Dave Barry still gets stopped in public, all these years after his Bad Song contest, by people telling him in impassioned tones about the songs they hate.

  6. Your passion for obscure music is admirable.

    I have no idea how you came across those songs. Your interest is intriguing.
    Rolling Stones? (Meh.) Bowie? (Maybe a sprinkling every three years) Beatles? (Once in a blue moon.) (Elvis? heh heh heh. No.)

    My parents refused to listen to all forms of contemporary music. All we got was classical music (and a bit of Radio Amor when my Mom would sneak a sexy listen in the Station Wagon.) Other than that, I had my little rasping clock radio bleating out tinny pop music. My sister, in the room next door could preempt any of my choices with her elaborate stereo system that she worked tirelessly at a burger joint and a doughnut store to buy. I liked the Cure but she played “Boys don’t cry” over and over and over again when she wasn’t playing “White Wedding” by Billy Idol. All of this was a step up from the Sex Pistols and various Punk Bands that she played just to piss our parents off or because she herself was generally, and usually pissed about vague affronts.

    I once did a report on Stairway to Heaven, exposing it as a Devil worship song in disguise. My Mom agreed to buy the single, so we could play it backwards and listen intently for devil stuff. We found the devil. Indeed we did. I do like that song.

    Given a stunted music background, I’ve been forced to go on instinct alone. Anything that sounds like it is being played in Las Vegas or a lounge is upsetting. I don’t care if Michael Buble has a nicer voice than Sinatra either. They are both suspected lizards. Andrea Bocelli too. I don’t know what happened to him. I DO like some of it, and some of the kitchy classical Brazilian stuff, but I get this faint and uneasy feeling that someone is trying to pull one over on me. Those PBS specials with the beautiful male tenors, the little opera stars and the Irish people have a similar game going on. They are self consciously F-ing with our emotions. Music shouldn’t be so manipulative.

    I added a Bob Dylan station to my Pandora account when he won the Nobel Prize, and I have to admit that I’m puzzled, as is my husband. Why? Is it like baseball? Does it require certain genes to appreciate it?

    My daughter added an Al Greene station to culture me up a bit. I meeeeeannnnnn okay. It’s pleasant a little but more times than not I’m pressing the forward arrow. I finally deleted the Drake station. And Celia Cruz. All the bad just didn’t justify the 10% I like. I still get some decent rap on shuffle mode with the contemporary hits station, and I get my Latin fix on the classic Latin station and another one that plays a lot of Spanish music from Spain and Argentina. Very cool. Other than that, I still like the Folksy stuff from Mumford, Fleet Foxes, Oh Hellos, Lumineers…All of that would have disgusted me 25 years ago, as would the classics from the 60s and 70s which I like now. And I still can’t believe how my kids have appropriated our 80s and 90s music. they think they’re so cool for playing Sade at their parties. Isn’t that cultural appropriation or something like that?

      1. Oh, I don’t agree with this. There is music that reaches you emotionally, and elicits feelings, memories, and wordless ideas, that isn’t manipulative.

        1. I think it’s like the difference between Picasso’s painting about the Spainishcivil war and propaganda posters showing dead children. Both have similar subject matter, but one expresses emotion, while the other its an obvious attempt to elict it.

          1. Well, you made my point. Lyrics, the turn of a musical phrase al meant to move you. Call it manipulation if you want, but it’s the same thin. If lyrics are written to garner sympathy, that’s the same thing. If something like the canons going off in the 1812 Overture puts you on the battlefield, that’s also the point. Most of the time, when a song moves us to a certain emotion, it’s because it’s hitting some feeling already within us. Buried, or remembered. Either way, the point of music is not supposed to be background music of our lives. It’s expression. It’s art. And it’s not always comfy cozy.

        2. I found this song on my daughter’s playlist. She was so little when we used to play it. It somehow stuck with her. I cried when I saw that she was listening to it again.

  7. “We’ll start with some low-hanging fruit: David Bowie’s ‘The Laughing Gnome'”

    That voice, though. It almost makes up for the song.

    1. Amen! When I worked for Walgreens that came on the radio at least twice every shift. I nearly crawled the walls after 12 years of it.

  8. I would have added “I Wanna Be Free” by Boyce and Hart, as covered by Davy Jones. I was/am a huge Monkees fan (Nesmith forever), but that song always made me want to jump out a window when I had to hear it on my cassette player. To think they also wrote the lovely “Last Train to Clarksville.”

    1. YES to this! My Monkees-loving friends and I (decades late – we picked up on them in the late 90s) felt the saaaame way about – well, a lot of the Davy songs, really.

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