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.

What did you dance to at your wedding?

No reason, just curious! We really wanted “I Walk the Line,” but with a music budget of zero, and in those dark pre-internet days, I couldn’t find a copy of it in time. It would have been a good pick, though.



My husband told his friends that we were planning to dance to “Under My Thumb” (and it’s possible that it even made it into the local newspaper’s wedding page this way. It also said that we honeymooned at the Hotel California. Ah, yoot).



Ho ho, very funny, ha ha, it is to laugh. (How did I miss that in my Looney Tunes post?)

Anyway, in real life we went with “In My Life” by the Beatles, which still gets me every time



because this guy still gets me every time.



How about you? What did you dance to? If you’ve been married for a few years, would you choose a different song for the theme of your married life thus far? Tell!

I think Taylor Marshall May Actually Be the Walrus

Look, I know Taylor Marshall is a good guy.  He is a courageous and clear spoken advocate for the faith (a little bit of “NFP is for when you’re schizophrenic or in a concentration camp” kookiness notwithstanding); and he has that wonderful, alt-universe-Johnny-Cash face:

But this aggression will not stand, man:  Marshall asks,  Did the Beatles Promote Abortion?

Marshall zeroes in the covers for the albums Sgt. Pepper and Yesterday and Today as evidence of the Beatles’ sinister influence.

Let’s look at Sgt. Pepper first.  Now, I will concede that the title song itself is neck deep in the hyper-self-aware, absurdist, non-specific smug condescension that dogged the second half of the Beatles’ career.  It’s technically a good song, but if I never heard it again, I would shed no tears.  Ditto for “She’s Leaving Home” (a “STFU, Paul” moment if ever there was one.)  “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” — meh.  But the rest of the songs are all good, some of them great.

But Marshall (oddly, for someone commenting on musicians) doesn’t mention the music.  Instead, he dutifully lists the names of all the people who appeared on that wretched cover:


Ah, the cover.  I’ve read a bit about what it’s supposed to represent, but I think what it really comes down to is a bunch of young guys who started playing in sleazy bars when they were teenagers, and abruptly got pushed around so much by their own talent that they needed to show the world that they’re done being cute.    I remember doing edgy, baffling montages like this when I was about 17.  You want to be taken seriously, and you’re hanging out with a bunch of arty types, and you feel like Making a Statement, even though you don’t exactly have anything specific to say, beyond, “I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!”

Only the Beatles had more money to spend, so this is what they came up with.  That’s the statement they’re making when they stick together Shirley Temple and Oliver Hardy and Aleister Crowley:  hey, lookit us!  It is not, as Marshall says (italics his),”a collage of intellectual poison” — although Marshall struggles manfully to describe everyone in the most sinister terms he can muster, including:

  • Mae West (occultist, actress, sex idol)
  • W. C. Fields (comedian/actor, alcoholic)
  • H. G. Wells (socialist, eugenist, [sic] author, advocate of the “World State”, open critic of Catholic Church)
  • Marlon Brando (homosexual, actor)
  • Lewis Carroll (author, alleged pedaphile) [sic]
  • Marlene Dietrich (bisexual, actress, singer)

“Marlon Brando, homosexual, actor?”   “Lewis Carroll, alleged pedophile?” I ‘m sorry, when you come up with descriptors like that, you gotta turn in your “I understand stuff” card.  I’m relieved, at least, that he didn’t come up with anything bad to say about Johnny Weissmuller.  I love Johnny Weissmuller.

The fact that Weismuller is included here, along with Shirley Temple, Tom Mix, Dylan Thomas and Fred Astaire, says one thing to me:  “Things!  And the other things!  We’re awesome and edgy because look at all the things, oh man!”  But in Marshall’s analysis, this is “an assembly of occultists, political socialists, eugenists, homosexuals, and sexual provocateurs.”

So here is your first clue that Marshall is not going to offer an especially perceptive analysis of the Beatles.  His list reminds me of someone who wants to prove that the American flag has its roots in Freemasonry because, as all scholars know, that odious color blue is so closely associated with Masonic ritual, duh. Never mind the red and white because holy cow, how can we overlook the obvious significance of blue?  Blue!!!

Moving along.  Marshall describes the cover for The Beatles: Yesterday and Today:

Marshall says,

The four Beatles are wearing white doctor’s coats covered with flesh and decapitated babies. John looks mildly pleased. And Paul looks happy, even delighted. Ringo looks depressed (“Am I really doing this?”). George Harrison looks straight up evil. I feel like George is giving me the bird with a dead infant’s head.

This is just gross.

Okay, I’m with him there.  It’s also naively executed.  They were trying a little too hard to be ever so shocky-wocky, leaving us feeling like Ringo looks.  Marshall continues:

Pause. What did this represent in 1966? John Lennon said it was a commentary on the Vietnam War. But I don’t see what physician smocks with dead babies has to do with the war. Yes people are dying in each, but still. Kinda weird.

For what it’s worth, the Parliament legalized abortion in the UK with the Abortion Act  of 1967 on 27 October 1967. Abortion was being hotly debated in the United Kingdom when this photo was taken.

Or, they are wearing butcher’s coats, and it is a commentary on the Vietnam War — something along the lines of “killing is bad; and yet we are rock stars.  Isn’t this edgy as crap?”  Oh, and Harrison looks “straight up evil” because that’s his face, circa 1966.  He had bad teeth and was not yet coked to the gills.

Marshall concludes:

My conclusion is that there is something really dark about the Beatles. It’s not just a happy “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Life Goes On” quartet. There is something sinister here. This album cover just screams it. It’s not normal.

I used to think that the great “evil minds” infecting the 20th century were men like Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michael Foucault. However, I think the biggest wrecking ball of Western culture might have been resting in every American’s record collection (or iPod) – John, Paul, Ringo, and George!

Okay. I actually agree with him, if not his analytical technique: as with 99% of musicians, playwrights, painters, poets, novelists, sculptors, and bloggers worth reading, there is something really dark about the Beatles, and some caution is a good idea. I encourage my kids to listen mostly to the earlier stuff, where their technical brilliance can be enjoyed unimpeded with the navel gazing muzziness that came later.  We have discussed how people in Hell are probably holding hands and singing “Imagine” right now; and I have taught them to identify the sitar, when played by a white man, as the sound of bullshit.

But . . . oh, I don’t even know what to say.  I’ve said it so many times, and I don’t know if there’s any way to persuade people who don’t already see it so clearly.  We’re Catholic. Our main job isn’t to apply “censor” bar across everything that doesn’t come straight from the Baltimore Catechism.  We take what is good. We’re supposed to beexperts at identifying what is good.  We’re not supposed to be screaming meemies who bite our lips and blush every time someone dips into a minor key.  We’re supposed to use sifters, not dump trucks, when sorting through culture.

My daughter says that most of her friends only know two Beatles songs:  “Yellow Submarine,” and “Eleanor Rigby.”  Lord, what a shame.  No musical education is complete without:

  • And Your Bird Can sing
  • Blackbird
  • Back In The U.S.S.R.
  • Can’t Buy Me Love
  • Drive My Car
  • Got to get you into my life
  • I feel fine
  • I need you
  • I’ll follow the sun
  • Paperback Writer
  • Revolution
  • You  never give me your money
  • You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
  • Something
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Taxman

So much heartache, so much loveliness, so many moments of pure music, written by people who are in love with music.  Did the Beatles confuse its fans and popularize bad ideas?  Sure. But they used their God-given talents to produce music which elevated the world in a real, valuable, irreplaceable way.  Everything that is good sings the praises of God, and the Beatles were good.  Really good.  As long as they were together, they worked in the service of the muse, and they produced something great.

I really do like Taylor Marshall, but I don’t like the world he seems to want to live in.