Donny and Marie: I’m a Little Bit Country
A cunning mix of saccharine country music clichés and wholesome aw-shucks terminal whiteness, with just a dash of proto-fascist jingoism tossed in to keep the evangelicals happy, this cheery little jingle fit for a deodorant commercial sneaks up on you and then gives you the shiv with Marie chirping:
I love my country with all my heart and soul!
All together now: USA!! USA!! Support the troops!!
Wait, what, nothing about pro-life righteousness? Pastor? Did they mean to leave that out?
Everybody’s favourite German thrash-metal outfit, Rammstein – pronounced RAHMMM-SCHTEINNNNN – has an absolutely gigantic following on both sides of the Atlantic. Try to listen to them without picturing a guy in a jet black uniform topped by a peaked cap with a skull and crossbones insignia, standing in the hatch of a Panzerkampfwagen V on its way to Kursk. The really curious thing is that the demographic of their fervent fan base skews heavily towards girls aged 14-18.
Just kidding!! The massive success of Rammstein is, of course, one of the most compelling arguments, in a very, very long list of compelling arguments, for taking all adolescent males and putting them off on an island somewhere until they can be properly socialized, failing which, well, there must be some use for them. Ballast on container ships? Forced labour? Maybe the folks at Purina could salvage their more nutritious bits?
Lee Greenwood: God Bless the USA
Where to start? Apart from everything else, there’s the tooth-drilling grammatical error of the sentiment I’m proud to be an American/where at least I know I’m free. Sorry, where do you live, Lee? I’m here in American!
Ah yes, sweet, down-home Murrican freedom, rah-rah and all that, you miserable redneck fuckwits.
This one is a lot like You’re Havin’ My Baby; it’s just such an easy, obvious “worst of” selection that choosing it feels lazy and almost inauthentic. And yet – how not to choose it? Everything that’s wrong with the version of America now being fought for, desperately, by a shrinking demographic of uneducated white people, everything that gave us Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, and Trumpism, is here wrapped up in a tidy little red white and blue bow. There’s a reason they play it over and over at Donald’s rallies. It’s their version of the Horst Wessel. It’s Deutschland über Alles for the Ford F150 crowd.
Billy Ray Cyrus: Achy-Breaky Heart
As long as we’re plumping for all the obvious choices…which leads us, inevitably, to:
Baha Men – Who Let The Dogs Out
…and thence, having abandoned all hope, straight to:
Aqua: Barbie Girl
Look, I’m sorry, OK? There’s no evading these choices.
Billy Joel: Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
Oooooooooooohhhhhh boddle ‘a red/Ummmmmmmmm boddle ‘a white…
Hey, let’s cut the guy a wee bit of slack here and acknowledge that it’s possible to be too hard on Billy. Yes, he abused us terribly with We Didn’t Start the Fire, a banal listing of four decades worth of headlines masquerading as penetrating insight, which inspired my brother Mark to add the immortal lyrics Harry Truman/Chairman Mao/Dropped the A-Bomb/Holy cow!. I’m sure, too, that we can all do without hearing Piano Man again as long as we live, or Just the Way You Are, or Uptown Girl for that matter. Still…Billy is, end of the day, a bit of a tunesmith, and we must be merciful to those who strive, however unsuccessfully, to fill the airwaves with memorable melodies. At least you can hum one of Billy’s hits in the shower. These days, that ain’t nothin’.
It’s also a plain fact that this selection, which I find silly to the point of hilarity, is almost universally revered within Billy’s still enormous fan base. If it was true that millions of people couldn’t all be wrong, that would count for something, and in any case it’s surprising, to me anyway. I expected the YouTube comments section to be full of vicious, slashing commentary, but instead it was loving tributes galore, all more or less like this one:
Well, MrChrispy777, due respect etc., but I can’t quite agree with anything after the words “This is”. I can’t listen to this epic, which strikes me as a weird sort of cross between MacArthur Park and Mack the Knife, without laughing myself stupid, especially the third symphonic movement about Brenda & Eddie, the popular steadies, and the King and the Queen of the Prom. That one always gets me. When Billy hollers rock & roll! at the beginning of the obligatory sax solo – priceless, gut-splitting stuff. Then the concluding poetic couplet That’s all I know about Brenda & Eddie/can’t tell you more ‘cuz I told you already, before the Big Finish!!! I tell you, it slays me!
The accordion is a nice touch, too. It’s, you know, atmospheric.
Richard Harris: MacArthur Park
Almost forgot about this one, until it came up in the prior entry! Close call, eh? Can you imagine a proper shit list without it? I’d have kicked myself ever after.
I’ve always wondered by what long, twisting road of fateful one-offs a non-singing English actor like Richard Harris came to make a pop album, how that album wound up including a seven-and-a-half-minute magnum opus like MacArthur Park, how anybody (whoever it was)* composed something like MacArthur Park in the first place, and how, after all of those almost inconceivably remote long shots managed to hit home, the cursed thing then went on to become a giant international hit. Maybe it was just one of those things. It happens, right? It’s just that sort of vanishingly improbable chain of individual misfortunes, the strings of flukes that are each entirely unlikely on their own, let alone in diabolical combination, that cause nuclear reactors to melt down and space shuttles to blow up. Such tragedies are damned near impossible, but not quite, and if you run any given scenario often enough, something like them can happen. So it did. That’s all. Right?
BUT THEN, as if to suggest that no, this was something more, no mere string of unhappy random events, but rather the culmination of some demon’s sinister plan, Donna Summer re-made the damnable thing – and the re-make was also a huge hit. The album version was a disco-fied “suite” over twice as long as the original. Yet it was recorded, pressed, and offered for sale in supposedly reputable retail outlets, and people bought it.
Go ahead and claim this doesn’t prove we’re already all dead and went to Hell.
*I looked it up and discovered, to my horror, that the composer was Jimmy Webb. I very much like Jimmy Webb. Galveston and Wichita Lineman are terrific songs, which somebody out there ought to re-record with more modern arrangements. Damn.
Donna Summer: Love to Love You Baby
Seventeen minutes and change of feigned orgasms, and she made a ka-billion with it. You gotta hand it to the woman, and the record company too. I never would have had the nerve to green light a project like this in 1975, and I bet there were a lot of naysayers at Casablanca Records, but head honcho Neil Bogart got a huge response from the revellers when he played it at one of his parties, and the rest is what passes for history.
I first heard this in my high school cafeteria, sitting there at the end of a long table with my fellow social outcasts Bob and Rod. It was piped in over the PA system, and as guys all over the room starting casting sideways glances at all the pretty young things with their Farrah-dos and sprayed-on Levis, you could feel the barometer rising. I just sighed, as was my wont.
Bob: I wonder how many virgins there are in this cafeteria?
Me: (sighing) Three.
Rod: You bastard.
Sgt Barry Sadler: Ballad of the Green Berets
Who’d believe, absent proof, that a political culture ever existed, anywhere, even in the pre-My Lai America of the mid 1960s, in which a combat unit of elite counter-insurgency troops could be the subject – and performers!! – of a sappy Top 40 tribute to death-techs? It spent four weeks in the #1 slot, beating out competition from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Simon & Garfunkle.