It’s summertime once again. This means that, with each three-day summer holiday weekend, radio stations throughout the country will be rolling out their big countdown shows. Here in the Philadelphia area, rock station WMMR has traditionally begun the summer with their Philly 500 countdown of favorite songs of all time (“d’ya think ‘Stairway to Heaven’ will be number one again this year, dude?”), as voted by the listeners. I don’t know if ‘MMR was the first station to do this around here, but now a whole bunch of stations feature “jamming-est, favorite-est, best-est songs of all time” countdown shows over Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day weekends.
These countdowns are especially designed for backyard barbecues since you can be assured of hearing a steady stream of the “all-time greatest hits.” Plus, trying to figure out what will be number one becomes a talking point for you and your guests. Of course, this is probably Casey Kasem’s doing. When I think “countdown” I immediately think of Casey intoning in that radio-friendly voice of his, “There you have it! The forty biggest hits in the land for the week of May 26, 2000. Don’t forget—keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”
To celebrate all the Memorial Day countdowns that will be happening on radio stations around the country this weekend, I’d like to present my own countdown. This is Rich Wilhelm’s countdown of his Ten Most Hated Songs of All Time!
It’s important that you know my criteria for such a list. This is certainly not an attempt at an objective list of the “worst” songs of all time. For example, Sammy Davis Jr.’s early ‘70s song, “I Am Over Twenty-Five But You Can Trust Me” is one of the worst songs ever committed to vinyl, but personally I love it. When Sammy sings the title line, then adds, “trust me ‘cause I trust you,” it’s one of those sublimely silly moments in pop music history, made all the sillier because deep down, you know Sammy meant it. If anyone was going to bridge the generation gap, it was going to be Sammy.
So if the following aren’t the worst songs, then what are they? These are songs that make my flesh crawl. Songs that will have me lunging for the radio before the first three notes play. These are songs that I never need to hear again in my life (I might cry if I thought I couldn’t hear “I Am Over Twenty-Five…” again). Songs that are, to me, Pure Evil.
Of course, this is all just my opinion and, as someone I used to know once said, “It’s only music.” If you read this list and feel inspired, let me know what some of your most hated songs are. And if you feel the need to defend one of these songs, please let me know that too! (Year date and chart position in Billboard's Top 40 are shown in parentheses next to the artist name.)
10. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” —Michael Bolton (1988, #11). Putting a Michael Bolton song on this list is such a cliché that I almost didn’t do it. A big, but empty, voice bellowing a melancholy soul-pop classic that begs for a gentle touch. Otis Redding’s widow reportedly said that this was her favorite cover of her husband’s masterpiece. I hope that’s not true. If it is, then I wish she had not said it. Bolton went on to desecrate other pop classics, but his obnoxiousness became so overwhelming that even people who like his voice usually preface their support by saying, “He’s a jerk, but I do like his voice.”
9. “Love The One You’re With” —Stephen Stills (1970, #14). This is Mr. Stills’ ode to “free love.” You know, “when the eagle flies with the dove, blah blah blah, love the one you’re with, etc.” It seems to me that Stills created a whole subgenre of terrible pop songs with this little ditty, what I like to call “free lovin’ hitchhikin’ good timin’” (FLHGT) songs. Although there is no hitchhiking in “Love The One You’re With,” the singer is clearly out there roaming the country, hoping to share free love with whomever he happens to meet at any given time.
I consider myself to be a fairly open-minded, generally non-puritanical kind of guy, but when I hear songs like “Love The One You’re With”, I just think “Yuck.” As you’ll see from numbers 8, 7, 5, and 4 on this list, I’ve definitely got issues when it comes to this type of song. Interestingly, I’ve got a live version of “Love The One You’re With” performed by Engelbert Humperdink that I actually think is pretty groovy. Humperdink takes a stab at rock’n’roll credibility by telling his audience, “Stephen Stills wrote this one,” but what makes his rendition great is that it reveals “Love the One You’re With” for the smarmy lounge tune it really is.
8. “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You” —Heart (1990, #2). This song is 90s era role reversal of the FLHGT song: in this case, the woman picks up a hitchhiking guy and convinces him to spend the night with her. They share free love and then she runs off, presumably leaving him either: a) broken-hearted; or, b) thankful for a good-rockin’ one night stand. The twist in this song is when she runs into him again holding the baby that was the result of their moment of free love. Turns out, she wasn’t looking for just a one-night-stand, she was looking for someone to anonymously father her child! It’s a godawful song on a number of levels, and it was accompanied by an even more godawful video.
7. “One Toke Over the Line” —Brewer & Shipley (1971, #10). Don’t have much to say about this song. Yet another FLHGT song, but I guess it’s about drugs. Whatever. Just don’t like it.
6. “Kokomo” —The Beach Boys (1988, #1). This may prove to be controversial choice, because it is a song that seems to be universally loved by children and how can you hate a song that kids like so much? I remember hearing cousins of mine singing it years ago and I certainly enjoyed listening to them. However, I just think this song is a generic little piece of fluff, and a far, far cry from any classic Beach Boys song you’d care to name. Besides, I think Beach Boys lead singer Mike Love is a little bit creepy.
5. “Take It Easy” —The Eagles (1972, # 2). I truly believe that the Eagles are the most overrated band of all time. Their first greatest hits album is the biggest-selling album ever, so 26 million people disagree with me, but I stand firm in my conviction. There are, I’ll admit, a handful of tolerable songs in their catalogue, along with some decent solo work by Don Henley and Joe Walsh, but generally speaking I can do without the Eagles and I really hate it when young “country” singers cite the Eagles as a big influence. The Eagles have about as much to do with country music as I do.
Anyway, of all the Eagles songs to hate, “Take It Easy” is the one I dislike the most. This was the highest charting FLHGT song and the one that’s most likely to pop up on your typical classic rock station even today. It’s yet another tale of a pair of happy hitchhikers sharing free love and good times and just, you know, takin’ it easy. This wimpy little song marked the beginning of the Eagles’ enormous career, which is reason enough for me to hate it.
4. “Chevy Van” —Sammy Johns (1975, #5). This song is the absolute worst of the FLHGT songs. Sammy’s all decked out in his bellbottom jeans and his clogs. He’s cruisin’ in his Chevy Van, you know, and he picks up this girl and, gee, she just knocks him out, and she loves the van and him so much that they wind up in the back where they share free love, and boy was it great and gee, as Sammy says at the end of the song, “it’s a shame I won’t be passin’ through again.” Fortunately, unlike the Eagles, “Chevy Van” was Sammy Johns only trip up the Top 40. It’s a shame he won’t be passin’ through again, but I think I’ll get over it.
3. “Old Time Rock’n’Roll” —Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band (1979, #28). Another controversial choice, as you can’t go to a wedding without hearing this one. My reasons for disliking this song are simple and complex at the same time. First of all, for a song that purports to be about rock’n’roll, it sounds hopelessly contrived to me. Maybe being forced to hear a song 50 bazillion times will do that, though.
I’ve got bigger problems with this song than its lame sound, though. I just don’t like what this song says, which is basically that today’s music is awful, not like the music being made when the singer was young. I’ve never liked the implied attitude that “music [or anything else] was SO much better when I was young.” It’s a form of reactionary nostalgia, and I’m just not down with it, as the kids say today. Personally, I really do not like a lot of current music that’s getting a decent amount of airplay but let’s face it, this music isn’t being made for me. The Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, matchbox 20, Korn—these people don’t care if a 34-year-old likes them or not, and that’s fine. This doesn’t mean that, in Seger’s words, “today’s music ain’t got no soul.” It just means that if I want to find current music that I like, I have to work a little bit harder.
Finally, these days, it’s hard to tell what someone listening to “Old Time Rock’n’Roll” is actually being nostalgic about. In its original incarnation, Seger is pining for the music of his youth, during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. When people hear “Old Time Rock’n’Roll” and adopt it as a rallying cry these days, are they being nostalgic for the same music as Seger was or are they pining for 1979, when Bob Seger was recording songs like this? OR, are they nostalgic for Tom Cruise dancing around in his underwear? In any case, it’s far too many layers of nostalgia for me to ever get anything out of the song. It reminds me of Grease—do people still love it because it reminds them of the “innocence” of the 1950s or because it reminds them of the “innocence” of the 1970s when we were all thinking about the innocence of the 1950s? I’ll get back to you on that.
2. “What’s Up” —Four Non Blondes (1993, #14). This song is the most heinous piece of music created during the 1990s. It features Linda Perry singing about how she gets up in the morning and steps outside. Breathing in the fresh air gets her real high, so then she starts pondering the meaning of life, ultimately asking herself, “What’s going on?” By the end of the song you realize that nothing much at all is going on, at least not with Four Non Blondes.
Back when “What’s Up” was a big hit, I heard Linda Perry tell a radio DJ that the band titled the song, “What’s Up,” even though the lyric is, “What’s going on?” because she didn’t want there to be any confusion between this song and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” You needn’t have worried about that, Linda.
I hate “What’s Up” so much, that when I made a version of this list a few years ago, I assigned it to all five of the top spots because I really didn’t think I could hate any song more than it. But since making that list, I’ve realized that there is one song I hate more than “What’s Up” or any other song you’d care to mention. And that song, my most hated song of all time, is…
1. “Cats In the Cradle” —Harry Chapin (1974, #1). I come from a family of Harry Chapin fans. My parents weren’t that into him, but my grandmother and some aunts and uncles of mine like him. He actually kissed my grandmother at one of his shows once. Harry Chapin had a place in popular culture and he was talking about world hunger long before it became fashionable. So, I don’t have anything personally against Harry Chapin.
“Cats In The Cradle” is Chapin’s song about a dad who is never home to spend time with his son and, of course, at the end of the song, his son has no time for him. I heard recently that the song originated in a poem Chapin’s wife wrote and left him when she thought he wasn’t spending enough time with his kids. I didn’t start out hating “Cats In The Cradle.” I bought the single back when it was a big hit in 1974. I was nine years old, and I don’t remember exactly why I liked it, but I don’t remember ever listening to it and thinking, “Wow, I can really relate to this song.” My dad has always been around when I’ve needed him.
Over the years, I’ve come to dislike this song because it paints such a gloomy and hopeless picture of father/son relationships. The song really seems to stick with people. I was at the gym once where I heard a guy say, “Yeah, that “Cats In The Cradle” is a great father/son song.” I wanted to scream, “NO, IT’S NOT!” but I just kept lifting whatever miniscule amount of weight I was lifting. Since Jimmy was born, my dislike of this song has become even more intense. I know there is supposedly a “lesson” to be learned from “Cats In The Cradle,” but hopefully this is one case where I don’t need a pop song to lead me to what’s important in my life. However, I will say that, if this song has shifted one father’s priorities, then it has served its purpose. But I still hate it.
And there you have it—Rich’s 10 most hated songs! I hope you have/had a great Memorial Day weekend and remember—keep your feet on the ground and . . . well, you know the rest.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)