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In the long, long ago, when I sold audiophile gear at Christopher Hansen Ltd. and Cello Music and Film Los Angeles, one of the concepts that helped me sell the most high-end components was to try to illustrate the lifestyle advantages of listening to well-produced music on a high-fidelity system on a regular basis. Just like working out at the gym or eating a little more fish and veggies versus steak and potatoes, listening to a fine music playback system can improve your quality of life.
But that’s not what this article is about. This article is about the exact opposite: songs that make you see red when they come on the radio or satellite or, God forbid, your streaming services. I’m talking about the ultimate mood-killers. Songs so annoying they make you want to jam knitting needles into your ears so that the sound of your own rushing blood overtakes the agony of the music that you are having to endure. I can sense you working on your own list of such songs, and trust me, you’ll be given your chance to vent here in a bit. But before we get there, I need some help with a recent musical event in the car that I am not 100 percent over yet. The trip to drive my son to school is a short one, and I typically listen to the NHL Network for the three to five minutes each way to drop him off. But if the boys from north of the boarder are on a commercial break, I will skip around. On a recent trip back from school, I was cycling through my go-to channels on Sirius and stopped on “80s on 8” and to my utter musical horror, I was subjected to “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys. Oh, the agony.
Don’t get me wrong, I like me some classic Beach Boys. I like the Jan and Dean-inspired backup singing, the Malibu-surf vibe, and even the Theremin, but this song… this song is in a whole other category. I don’t feel as strongly about Jump the Shark musical moments like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” by Yes or even “Touch of Grey” by The Grateful Dead, as “Kokomo” which goes to a much darker, uglier place musically. Lyrically, it covers no new ground, as there had been city “call out” songs long before this musical abortion that are far more tolerable. James Brown’s “Night Train” (click here for video from the TAMI show) and Huey Lewis’ cheesier but still tolerable “Heart of Rock and Roll” both call out cities without engaging such a harsh musical gag reflex. I warn you before you click on the Beach Boys video (click here) that having an airplane barf bag nearby is a perfectly reasonable precaution as it is part live show and part clips from the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail.
Another concept that just sends me over the musical cliff is one-hit-wonder songs that come with a dance craze attached, like Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5 (A little bit of…).” Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with a good Mambo. Take a listen to The Mambo Kings soundtrack on Tidal or somewhere streaming if you don’t have it in your collection. Musically, it is fantastic, and the recording quality is pretty good considering the age of the movie and the attached soundtrack. Back to Lou Bega, though. Musically, I guess the performance isn’t the worst thing that I have ever heard, but the lyrics very possibly are. Could they be more contrite, simplistic, or insipid?
Shocking, the answer is actually “yes,” which brings me to my next song in the same genre: Los Del Rio’s “Macarena.” If you admit that you know how to do that dance, you should likely be banned from reading this blog for a long time. Once again, there is nothing wrong with Latin music; but this song goes down the wrong musical road from the first note. Its infectious beat is musical Ebola that should have you musically quarantined if you ever actually chose to play such a God-awful song by choice. (click here to see the original video). The only thing that could redeem this song is commentary by Beavis and Butthead.
Not to be a xenophobic jackass or anything (I might be a jackass, but I’m an equal-opportunity jackass), but such cultural ridiculousness isn’t limited to Latin music. The EDM backdrop of Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is actually much better than some of the aforementioned tracks, but the second this plight-on-all-things-musically-good opens his mouth, it makes me want to take a hostage. To know that this was one of the most downloaded videos in the history of YouTube.com and that this guy bought a super-luxury condo in the building that Michael Jackson once lived in makes me insanely jealous on top of outright musically offended. Now that I have you wishing that Kim Jung Un would point the rest of his missiles at South Korea to rid the world of the music of Psy, let’s take a closer look at music written right here in the old U-S-of-A. Once again, giving birth to a dance craze, Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” not only brings out the worst in both genres of music (that would be “country and western” as we learned in The Blues Brothers), but it does so with square dancing and a mullet. I don’t know what station you would be listening to that would somehow get this musical garbage on your radio but I would remind you that the ear-splitting sound of your airbags deploying might actually bring you actual relief when you wrap your Benz around a pole just to make the musical pain stop.
I promise I will stop. But why not do one more, just for fun (and catharsis)? This one dredges up pain from my childhood and prep school years. While I was never diddled by the wrestling coach (or anyone else for that matter), listening to vocally layer, doo-wop type music is up there in terms of musical pain, yet the blue-blood crowd that was part of my upbringing somehow loved the genre–especially when it came to Billy Joel. Granted, this is by far the best video, the best performance, best vocal harmonies, best composition of any of the songs on this unfortunate list, but it still makes me writhe in musical pain. Even a young Christie Brinkley pulling up to that faux gas station doesn’t make things right (have you seen Brinkley in her 60s? I am not sure the woman has aged at all!). The contextual references to Frankie Valli are obvious, but still don’t make “Uptown Girl” any easier to digest. And to add insult to injury, the bottom-lip-biting honky dancing at the end of the video makes me ashamed of my own culture.
Now it’s your turn to pile on. What songs make you wish you had one of those BMW convertible supercars that don’t have a radio? What tracks make you wish you never bought a pair of good speakers? We need to hear from you, because I’ve done enough damage above.