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MUSIC THAT IRRITATES ME

Note to Readers
   There are lots of places one hears music in public - the radio, the PA system in stores and offices, even in public parks. Unlike the music I choose to play at home, for which no one but myself is to blame if I hate it, this public music is often inflicted on unsuspecting consumers by people with terrible taste. Someone ought to hold them accountable! So this special section is devoted to music I heard "out there" that raises my hackles.

"Who's That Lady?" by the Isley Brothers (heard on "Classic Soul 105")
   This is a fine song, with a lovely hook and a funky rhythm. My complaint is the guitar solo - who decided to let Jimi Hendrix's bastard son play in the wrong key for 10 minutes? Curse you for destroying a fine groovin' oldie!

READER COMMENTS

  • From CosmicBen: I happen to think "Who's That Lady" has the loveliest guitar solo I've ever heard. It's such a breezy tone, like a friendly synth, and Ernie Isley does amazing things with it. I've heard plenty of dumb, annoying guitar solos, but I can't figure out how this one bothers you. At the worst, I'd think you'd find it boring, not irritating.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Ugoogoo." Steve says: "While the playing is certainly interesting for the first ninety seconds or so, it's the tone that irritates me. I don't find it "breezy," I find it overprocessed and grating. They do something to the natural sound wave that makes it sound coldly distorted (not pleasantly overdriven) and hard on these ears. There's also the drenched-in-delay effect that makes the notes run together (I may be confusing this with other solos - as I indicated, I just heard it on the radio, now several weeks ago; but this is the impression I have.) Thanks for writing!"
  • From Erik Pierce: How are you? I just came across your website. I have a question for you. The first song on your list of music that irritates you is "Who's that Lady" by the Isley Brothers. You mention that the guitar solo is in the wrong key for ten minutes. That is not true at all. I agree with the reader review that Ernie Isley is an amazing guitarist. Yes, the solo can be a bit repetitive, but the solo IS in the CORRECT key. How can you say that it is in the wrong key? I study music, and in fact I am a music major. There is no wrong key played in this song. Please reply with your reasoning.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Dennis says, "Fawah." Abe says, "I'm gonna fight with swords all day - I mean, tickle everyone." Steve says: "As the proud possessor of my Michigan poetic license, I employ certain devices such as hyperbole for effect. Perhaps you're familiar with the concept. Thanks for writing!"

    "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" rendered by an unidentified duo (heard on the PA at Lowe's)
       I love this song - it's witty and soulful, and just plain beautiful. So whose brilliant idea was it to sing a "jazz" version, with a woman and a man scatting around the melody? THE MELODY IS THE POINT OF THIS SONG!!!! The lyrics only work if you sing them with exactly the same notes - otherwise the contrast is lost, and the wordplay becomes meaningless. Idiots!

    "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Rolling Stones (heard on "Cool Rockin' 94")
       Egad! If these guys are the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band then why can't they play a solo in the same modality as the rest of the song? Or keep from slaughtering this rhythm? Or sing the melody instead of belching out this crap? Atrocious.

    "With Arms Wide Open" by Creed (heard on the PA at J.C. Penney)
       Yes, the arrival of a child is a joyous experience, as the lyrics say. So why is the music still in grunge mode? And boring slow grunge mode at that? Do these guys only have one style?

    READER COMMENTS

  • From CosmicBen: "With Arms Wide Open" might be my least favorite song ever. The guy sounds like he's gargling molasses.
  • From Zach Smith: With arms wide open. aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them. Nice talking to you again.

    "Problem Child" by AC/DC (heard on "The Home of Rock and Roll 101")
       Two chords do not equal a riff. Repeating the title over and over does not equal a chorus. This recording is not a song; it's an instrument of torture designed to extract confessions from captured spies. ("You can cooperate, or we can put the CD on repeat." "No! Anything but that! I'll tell you everything if you'll just let me hear a V chord!")

    "Living on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi (heard at the "Concert for New York City")
       At both of the telethons for victims of September 11, Bon Jovi has performed this song in a new, dramatic arrangement, with violin and big leather drum. I'm glad he's doing his part, but I wish he would do it less obnoxiously. It was moderately tolerable as a hair-metal fluff piece - I loved the combination of voice box and wah-wah - but he apparently thinks it's some sort of anthem, the lyrics of which deserve careful scrutiny at the expense of all the interesting things (fast beat, cool guitar licks, four-part harmonies on the chorus) about the original arrangment. It's not.

    READER COMMENTS
  • From Jason Justian: "Take my hand and we'll make it I swear... It doesn't really matter if we make it or not." Such passion over something that doesn't really matter: that's the perfect adolescent anthem.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "1,2,3,4,9,10,18." Steve says: "Yeah, I remember once I wante d to kill myself because I didn't like my haircut. Those were the days. Thanks for writing!"

    "Your Song" by Elton John (heard on the PA at the mall)
       What is he blithering on about? He says, "I hope you don't mind that I put down in words how wonderful life is while you're in the world," and I wouldn't, if he had! Instead, he spends the whole song stringing non-sequiturs, filling out lines with nonsense rhymes, or just plain sucking up to the radio audience. If someone wrote this song for me, I'd break up.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Jessica (aka Mrs. Steve and Abe): Hey, Steve! I just wrote you a song! It goes a little like this, "I hope you don't mind that I put into words how wonderful life is while you're in the world". I think it's really catchy!! P.S. You can't separate our bank accounts. So don't even try!! :)
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Geewah." Steve says: "What a beautiful chorus - I think it's a wonderful sentiment. Now don't go kicking any moss on my new shirt. Thanks for writing!"
  • From Cole Bozman: Blame Bernie Taupin. he's responsible for all of Elton's banal and/or misogynist 70's lyrics. I like the song, but the words are really stupid.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Puh." Steve says: "I know Elton John didn't write the words, but I presume at some point, being a native speaker of English, he looked at them and deemed them acceptable lyrics for his melody. He could have sent it back with a note saying, "Thanks Bernie, but my audience demands more effort than this." He would have been wrong, of course. Nonetheless, Elton is responsible for foisting this claptrap on the listening public. Thanks for writing!"

  • From Jean: Steve, for some reason, I had overlooked your "Music That "Irritates Me" section, and while I agree with some (many) of your and Abe's assessments, I have to jump to the defence of “Your Song.” I am a great admirer of Elton, although there are some of his songs which thoroughly deserve a place in your Irritating category, but “Your Song” is not one of them.
    Elton was 20, Bernie was 17 when they wrote this song. You don't have to be young and virginal to appreciate the song, but surely even old cynics like ourselves (I exclude Abe here) should be able to appreciate the sheer innocent joy in the tentative words to a new (first?) love. And on behalf of the female half of the species, I can assure you that being told "how wonderful life is while you're in the world" would melt all our resistance.

    "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd (heard on Classic Rock 94) (for more, please see this note)
       Are they really trying to excuse George Wallace by saying he's not Richard Nixon? Well, I guess Ronnie Van Zant wasn't too much of a redneck - after all, he wasn't George Wallace.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Bobby Darin: In response to your bit on "Sweet Home Alabama" -- I myself don't know what to make of the lyrics. Certainly Lynyrd Skynyrd members were seen wearing Neil Young t-shirts even after writing this apparent dismissal of him. And the phrase "we all did what we could do" seems to indicate some kind of bemused exasperation, rather than support, for the political figures under discussion. But you know what? This is all beside the point for me. For me, the real lyrical import comes in the concluding verse, which abandons politics entirely in order to take up their true passion -- the Muscle Shoals band, one of the three or four best soul bands of all time. "They pick me up when I feel blue." That's what these guys care about -- tight, funky bands. And that's what is so attractive about this tune for me. The music. Lyrnyrd Skynyrd carries this wonderfully laid-back little loping groove -- peppered casually with on-a-dime stop-start moments just to show how bloody tight they are -- to a series of peaks, throwing in just about every wonderful thing about southern music -- the soul tone, the gospel backing vocals, the honky tonk piano, the 70s southern fried rock geetar solo. Everyone takes a kick at the can here, with a handful of short but memorable solos and a repeated guitar hook played so fluidly it's almost miraculous. Peak moments include the two plunging lead-in notes of the first guitar solo. That is the beginning of a ramp-up to the first climax and one of my favorite moments in small combo music -- the backing vocals begin to repeat that wide-open-blue-skies "Alabamaaahaaaaaahaaaaahaaaa", then breaking off with an abrupt, contracted, emphatic pronunciation of the same -- "Alabama!" -- at which point most of the band drops out to let us hear the return of that impossibly fluid guitar hook. Oh my, just describing it brings tears to my eyes. These guys may or may not be the dumb rednecks you think they are, but man can they play. See also "Down South Jukin", "I know a Little", "That Smell", "What's Your Name". Of course they also frequently fell victim to the bombastic afflictions that plagued many 70s hard rock/boogie bands. So I have to do my best to ignore "Free Bird", "Gimme Back My Bullets", and "Simple Man". It's too bad that radio overplay has numbed us to the little 3-chord miracle that "Sweet Home Alabama" is.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Daddy shoe." Steve says: "Please check out the link that puts this song on the 'Music That Makes My Day' page as well. It is a marvelous tune. Thanks for writing!"

    "Imagine" by John Lennon (heard on the radio briefly before I made Jessica switch it)
       How's this for a utopian vision: you give up your religion, citizenship, and assets, in return for "living as one" with The People. Sounds great, Comrade! Where do I sign up?

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Brad Langoulant: I just love the lines "imagine no religion" or "imagine no heaven". That's what does it for me.

    "Takin' It to the Streets" by the Doobie Brothers (heard on Nice 97)
       You have to admire the San Francisco scene for living up to their ideals of equality. I mean, where else would a guy with no teeth get to be a lead singer?

    "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by some unctuous singer or other (heard on the PA at the mall)
       I expect Christmas songs to be sentimentally nostalgic, historically questionable, and just plain corny. But condescending? That's going too far!

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Tony V: It may indeed be condescending but consider the context. It was written to be sung by Judy Garland to a child whom she is trying to uplift in the film Meet Me in St. Louis. It was never meant to be sung to anyone else.

    "Freedom" by Paul McCartney (heard in an NFL promotional ad during the Ravens' thrashing of the Dolphins - sorry, Ben)
       There's nothing in particular wrong with the song, but I found it an unbearable irony that it was backing a message by Ray Lewis, a man who enjoys personal freedom (i.e., the fact that he's not in jail) because he abused his constitutional rights to obstruct justice. Does the NFL think we don't remember?

    A song I don't know the title of by Rush (the one that goes "I will choose free will") (heard on Rockin' 101)
       There's a Far Side cartoon captioned "Gary's last day as a sound man" which shows a character turning up the knob labeled "suck". It's like that's what the producer did here. Every instrument is mixed so that the harshest overtones are brought out and the nice sounds buried: grinding metallic bass, cheap chorused guitars, and of course they put the microphone right up Geddy's nose - there's no other explanation for the sheer adenoidal fury. And about free will: it's a theological doctrine, not a philosophy. You're either born with it or not (depending on whether you believe John Calvin), but it's certainly not something you choose.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Tony Souza: This song is, in fact, called "Free Will". It's off the Permanent Waves LP.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Duhdahdah." Steve says: "Thanks, I knew someone would be able to identify the song. Thanks for writing!"

  • From Peter Vanderveen: Lighten up. When Neil Peart wrote the line "I will choose free will" he may have intended to be ironic and/or playful. But the line could be interpreted "I will choose to believe in the concept of free will and live my life accordingly" therefore making logical sense. At least the lyrics have some substance and intelligence, unlike some other 70's Canadian hard rock that you rightfully slag on this website.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Watch Elmo!" Steve says: "I've taken a lot of flak for this comment, so perhaps it's not as dumb as I think it is. It still doesn't improve the singing, though. Thanks for writing!"

    "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Willie Nelson (heard at the Olympics closing ceremony)
       Willie's famous for a lot of things, but soaring vocal showcases is not one of them. Was Art Garfunkel booked elsewhere? They could have gotten one of the athletes to do a better karaoke rendition than Willie's.

    "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger (heard on Classic Rock 94)
       Lord, every time I hear that opening riff I cringe. Is it the generational chauvinism? The completely unfunky drumming? Bob Seger's bellowing vocal confirming Ohioans' opinions of Michiganders as loud-mouthed nincompoops? Maybe it's the whole package, but I hear this enough at weddings, I don't want to put up with it in the rest of my life!

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Tony Souza: I hate, hate, HATE, this $#@*&! song.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Awahwah." Steve says: "Amen, brother! Thanks for writing!"

    "Head Over Feet" by Alanis Morrisette (heard on the PA at the Red Cross)
       Alanis Morissete is such an awkward lyricist she doesn't even know her cliches. It's "head over heels", as even Tears for Fears know (you see, the alliteration helps you remember!) And if she thinks that a guy who holds the door and asks how her day was is treating her like a princess, I can only imagine her doorman is getting a lot of attention. Plus, the worst harmonica playing to hit the Top 10 since "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35".

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Jessica (aka Mrs. Steve and Abe): You're cranky (dissatisfied Marge Simpson sound inserted here). I'm sure she knows it's "head over heels"! She probably changed it to be different. It's already been used by two groups I can think of (Go-Go's and Tears for Fears) and I, for one, am glad she went out on a limb.
  • STEVE AND ABE RESPOND: Abe says, "Mamamamamamamama." Steve says: "Well, if you can't be cranky in cyberspace, where can you? Thanks for writing!"

    "More Than Words" by Extreme (heard on Light 106)
       Even though I lived through them, I kept thinking of the early ‘90s as a bad dream long gone – but then this tune brings all the horrid memories flooding back. You know it’s trouble when Right Said Fred (“Don’t Talk Just Kiss”) address the same topic more cogently. Apparently, the qualifications to join Van Halen are writing slightly less dumb lyrics than Sammy Hagar.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Chris Willie Williams: Thank you for including "More Than Words" in the Music That Irritates Me section. It's an abrasive and drippy enough song to begin with, but the final refrain lands it squarely among my most hated songs of all time. When the singers go, "I alreadyyyyyyy know" for the last time, they perform the most incompetent, dissonant attempt at harmonizing I've ever heard, and I wince every time I hear it. Actually, it's really the sort of song you have to listen to with your eyes squinted in disapproval to begin with...

    "Been Awhile" by Faceless Grunge Band #11,204 (heard on Cool 104)
       A heard a radio report about a family that is suing the state of Maine to give them money for their daughter's Catholic school tuition, on the grounds that she "wasn't happy in her high school." This strikes me as a terrible idea, not only for the legal principles involved (if the government can be sued by anyone who's not happy, will there be anyone left out of the suit?) but for the economic ramifications: if not for kids who are unhappy in high school, would bands like this sell any records?

    "Breathe" by Faith Hill (heard at the dentist's office)
       If this is a song about watching a lover sleep, why is she belting out the chorus? Wouldn't that wake him up?

    "The Chili's Scat Song" by some fake jazz singer (heard repeatedly during television commercials)
       If it weren't for that pesky First Amendment, I would be leading the movement to outlaw scat singing, especially by clueless amateurs. Especially extolling barbecued food. Especially when you just want to watch some football. Especially when your coach opts to kick off in overtime. Especially when your team just gave up 10 points in four minutes.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Chris Willie Williams: Remember when we used to think that Wayne Fontes was a bad coach?...

    "Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band-Aid (heard on Magic 106)
       While I appreciate the sentiment, I don't appreciate the lyrics, especially as Bono sings in his most pompous voice, "Tonight thank God it's them instead of you." Why should I be thanking God that anybody's starving? And if Sir Bob is trying to propose that hunger is a zero-sum problem, I reject his notion utterly; there's enough food in the world, if only the governments would get out of the way and let the markets take the food where it's needed.

    "Good Lovin'" by the Grateful Dead (heard on Classic Rock 94)
       Leave it to the Dead to transform one of the great hard-charging tunes into the sort of ersatz mambo used in Disney cartoons to back up singing crustaceans. And how is it that in thirty years of trying no one in the band ever learned to sing?

    "Lightning Crashes" by Live (heard on Drive 95)
       Quoth Jessica (with a sigh), "This is the most uninteresting band ever." And later, "What the hell is this song about?"

    "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival (heard in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial)
       I think this is one of the great protest songs, and it's a disgrace the way they've edited it in this commercial, so that the only lyrics are "Some folks are born, made to wave the flag, they're red white and blue." First of all, who do they think they're fooling? Second, no matter how you slice it, this is a pretty damn angry guitar line, and it doesn't make me feel patriotic at all. Idiots.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Shaun Damon: I wrote a very agitated response to your review of The Wall, but I have to say your comments about this sick TV ad are totally on the money. If I were John Fogerty, I'd be writing ANOTHER vicious personal attack song about Saul Zaentz right about now. To steal someone's songs is one thing, to slice them till they are diametrically opposed to their original message in order to cash in on America's latest jingo jerk off... well, that's just not right!

    "A Thousand Miles" by Vanessa Carlton (heard on the Grammies)
       Someone should let the creators of Betty Boop know that she's using the voice without permission.

    "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel (heard on the Grammies)
       Simon looked embarassed – I don't know if he was embarassed for himself (cashing in on baby-boomer nostalgia by reuniting with a guy he can't stand) or the audience (forty years of songwriting and they want this piece of juvenile tripe). Meanwhile Garfunkel looked smugly satisfied, proving that you can knock down a big-haired high-voiced punk, but you can't wipe the smirk off his face.

    The collected hymns of Ralph Vaughn Williams (heard in church occasionally)
       Every time I see his name at the bottom of a hymn, I cringe. I just know it's going to be an odd melody, with strange intervals and weird spacing of the notes (his favorite trick is to cram several short notes between two long ones.) They might be fine instrumental works, but they're just not made for singing. The congregation always gets lost, even with the organ blasting away.

    "Sk8r Boi" by Avril LaVigne (heard on the PA in the mall)
       OK, if you're going to condemn a girl for not dating a scruffy skateboarder, fine (although how can you judge whether someone's good-looking except by, um, looking?). But don't do it by pointing out that he may be the next big rock star. Setting aside the fact that there are about 70000 skater-turned-convenience-store-clerks for every skater-turned-rock-star, who wants to marry a rock star?

    That "boot in your ass" country song (heard from a float in the Independence Day parade)
       Naturally it as a float urging us to "support our troops" (by the way, what does that phrase mean? If it means supplying them with food, uniforms and ammunition, well, I do that every April 15. If it means attending to their personal welfare, I'd venture they'd be safer and more comfortable on base in North Carolina than serving as sniper bait in Najaf, and feel more useful fighting actual terrorists. If it means I shouldn't criticize the president's foreign policy because it undermines morale, well, that's like saying I shouldn't criticize tax policy because it undermines the morale of IRS workers. If you're going to take it personally when a president of questionable legitimacy pursues a controversial invasion in the face of widespread protest, then you're just not tough enough to be in the army.) But whatever your opinion of our presence in Iraq, don't you think it demeans our gallant soldiers to reduce our country's mission to the level of a schoolyard fistfight?

    The Hours soundtrack
       All through the movie, it's "needle needle needle", false climax unrelated to the plot, then more "needle needle needle". I hope they didn't pay the guy for writing a whole movie score when he only wrote eight bars of music. Almost as irritating as the movie itself.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From Chris Willie Williams: A great big "Word" to you about your inclusion of Philip Glass's appalling score to The Hours in your "Music That Irritates Me" section. I thought the movie itself was decent, but Glass completely WRECKED more than a few scenes by wielding his orchestra with all the subtlety of the Kool-Aid Man bursting through a wall. And yet he got an Oscar nomination for it.

    "Grave Digger" by Dave Matthews (heard on MTV)
       Hey, Dave, you know when you're listening to other music, and there are little parts of the song that make you sing along? They're called hooks. Put some in your music.

    READER COMMENTS

  • From CosmicBen: Thanks for finally taking on Dave Matthews. His hooklessness has been bugging me for years. I think he first irked me in high school when I heard "Crash" – the line "Hike up your skirt a little more", etc. just struck me as so un-subtle (I admit now that it's a pretty song, but he should still learn to keep it in his pants). "Ants Marching" is a great tune. But I don't get the hype about the man. His music is boring. And I can't stand people who quote his lyrics!

    "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (heard on Classic Rock 94)
       Wow, Neil Young was so upset by the Kent State shootings that he wrote a whole verse and a half about it! (And still managed to mangle the syntax so that it sounds like he thought it was well past time for soldiers to shoot students.) Outrage at the indefensible is a cheap stunt for performers who want to shore up their images without actually committing to anything. But most importantly, why are stations still playing it (right before "Hit Me with Your Best Shot", no less)? Is there some epidemic of soldiers wantonly gunning down protesters I'm missing?

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