The Bridge to Hell

What’s the worst pop song ever?

So last night Mr. Slattern and I were having a rollicking game of Scrabble while working our way through a bottle or two of something or other. Since I was knocking the slop out of him (for a change), we decided to lighten the mood (his anyway) by adding a bit of music to the evening’s festivities. Not wanting to interrupt the flow of things, we just picked a random satellite channel and got on with the smackdown contest.


The name of the station was, I believe, “The Bridge.” I tell you this out of the goodness of my heart and to save you a world of hurt. Should someone you love, or you yourself, ever stumble upon this house of musical horror, turn around and return to the preceding station, or any other you can find, even if it’s the one with the all-Grateful Dead format, because let me tell you that spending the next few minutes with Jerry’s kids will be infinitely less painful than being subjected to the playlist of The Bridge, whose format is described on its website as follows:

Cross The Bridge to the softer side of rock. Stress-free music from Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison and Elton John. Nothing too hard, just great mellow rock.

Here’s how I’d describe it: A trip to hell featuring extended layovers in a string of audio re-education camps with entertainment provided by a mopey, poetry-writing high-school girl circa 1975. Listening to this station is about as pleasant as spending the second full day of your summer diet hungover and trying on woolen underwear at the Barney’s warehouse sale — with Barry Manilow singing Copacabana on an endless loop on the sound system.

Anyways, being rather absorbed in the game, we weren’t really paying close attention to the music, so when we heard the opening lurch of The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald we chuckled because Gordon Lightfoot in general, and this song in particular, have both become running jokes in our house. Listening to this stinker always makes me feel a bit queas-Y, like I’m barreling along with the God forsaken crew when the gales of November come ear-LY. Just thinking about this song makes me seasick. And always I ask myself the same question, Does anyone know where the love of God goes when this song turns the minutes to hou-ERS?

I find this performance particularly irritating because Gord sings it in Canadian instead of the regular English he used on the record. Maybe his jaw’s tired from all that emoting, or it could be he’s just too lazy to open up his mouth. Hard to know. Harder still to care.

“Ah know you’re in there, Vicki Lawrence!”
Via Huffington Post.

Too lazy to get up and reset the radio, we were both hoping this song would be the musical equivalent of a long overdue belch that clears the line and makes way for a cleaner, purer flow of sound. How wrong we were; what followed was one or another of Billy Joel’s nasty mid-career hits, all of which are putrid, but none more so than Piano Man. This was not the selection chosen by The Bridge; however, we changed the station immediately anyway, sensing a trend that could only lead to something far worse, along the lines of Billy Don’t Be a Hero or Brandy You’re a Fine Girl. Just the mention of one of those songs will create an immediate, soul destroying earworm that can last days, or even weeks. Many good people have cracked under less pressure than that. You remember what happened to Britney, who, I have it on good authority, was heard listening to The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia over and over right before she took a golf umbrella to that car.

The game ended and as we repaired to the living room for a nightcap, a lively debate about the worst pop song ever committed to vinyl soon began: Piano Man or The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald? Mr. Slattern, who is actually musical and therefore entitled to an opinion, takes the position that Billy Joel is the worse offender. He feels the faux Irishness, pretensions to crappy poetry (“a real estate novelist”) and limerick-y midline rhymes (“They sit at the BAR and put bread in my JAR”) make this song the worst one ever written. Further, he maintains, the instrumentation is insane and makes the cheesy lyrics and overwrought delivery indescribably worse, with a harmonica and an accordion locked in a fight to the death in the arrangement. Then of course there’s the wholly undeserved, smug, self-aggrandizing message (“Man, what are YOU doing here?”).

Listen, if you can bear it.

Now there are those who would not agree with Mr. Slattern that Piano Man is the worst song ever written. They might point to other notable entries in the oeuvre of the pride of Long Island, and they might be right.  Look:

Courtesy Fighting the Youth

In truth, I can’t find much to argue with here, but I still have to give the edge to old Gordon Lightfoot in the worst song sweepstakes.  Of course, now I’m in the lowest level of music hell. Not only am I hungover and sleep deprived after staying up all night watching bad music videos on YouTube, but I’ve now got the lyrics to Piano Man running through my brain to the tune of The Wreck of the Edmond Fitz-GERALD. Both are in waltz time, you see. And really, what is a pop song doing in three-quarter time anyway? It doesn’t make sense.

Any opinions out there this fine Labor Day weekend? Which song do you think is worse? Got any write-in candidates? I’m all agog.

About WSW

Writer, wife, mother. Toiler in the bottomless, black, soul-sucking coal mine of domestic life. Thank God for the portable bar.

Posted on September 2, 2012, in Commentary, Music, The Slattern Speaks and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. For me all of the worst pop songs come from that same dark musical time that spawned The Edmond (which is now in my head and bringing you terrible kharma, just so you know). But how can anyone pick Piano Man over Uptown Girl, which makes me bleed from the ears and led me to irrationally hate Christy Brinkley for years for inspiring it? I still don’t think I’ve completely forgiven her.

  2. I’m staying out of this debate, because my Billy Joel loving wife from Queens might do something rash against me. 😉

    Oh btw…it just so happens that the Glutton HQ is moving back to your neck of the woods soon.

  3. Aw, I feel so bad for Gordon Lightfoot and The Edmund Fitzgerald and the fact that you think he is actually singing “Canadian” in that version. I used to live in Sault Ste. Marie (close to the Fitzgerald’s final resting place), so it has a special place in my heart. And I have to say that Canadians, as a rule, don’t sound like that. Actually, most of us can’t really understand a word he is saying. I think he is trying to sound like someone from Newfoundland. They have a really cool Irish lilt to their speech.

    If I could pick some really sucky songs, I’d have to say anything by the Pointer Sisters, the Sisters Sledge, Juice Newton, Kool & the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, Alabama, Donna Summer, Lionel Ritchie, and Rick Astley. Ew, and anyone who keeps singing way past their expiration date like the Beach Boys and the Irish Rovers.

    I’m happy to see your return!

    • Eh, Gord’s doing OK. Between royalties and regular gigs at off-ramp Holiday Inn cocktail lounges he probably makes a tidy living. Sorry about the Canadian thing — I love accents, but there’s something about that one, that gives me a serious nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of feeling. As payback, I now have “The Unicorn” stuck in my brain. It’s going to take some quality time with Nirvana at mind shattering volume to blast it out. “There were green all-y-gators and long necked beasts, some humpy backed camels….” 😉

      • hahaha…I haven’t heard that song in yonks!! My countrymen might have my head for this, but I LOATHE the Irish Rovers. And now they are lodged in my brain. Ugh.
        The funny thing about Gordie…he’s from Southern Ont, not far from Toronto. Not quite sure why or where he adopted his singing accent–it’s kind of like a deep-voiced two year old trying to master the English language with marbles in his mouth.
        And your “payback” has worked against me…out damn unicorns, out.

        • You brought up the Rovers. I will spare us all the horror of a film clip, though they are readily available for the more masochistically oriented among us.

  4. It’s a 3-way tie between Seasons in the Sun, One Tin Soldier and Muh-Muh-Muh My Sharona.

  5. Well, I think you know how I feel about “Boogie Shoes.” Pure genius. But that’s music theory. Olivia Newton-John has some contenders in the ring. “Have You Never Been Mellow?” comes to mind. “There’s Got to Be a Morning After” by Maureen McGovern. And anything ever recorded by Lionel Ritchie or Andy Gibb.

  6. I’ve got two oldies stations one in Massachusetts and one in Hartford CT. As a rule they are benign and put me to sleep. Every now and then they get caught in playlist loops. The CT station is the milder of the two and the possibility of hearing The Archies looms large. The MA station is a bit more “edgier”, that means they play American Pie and excise shit and bullshit from Pink Floyd and anyone else who used bad words. To counteract this I’ve loaded cheap MP3 players with music I like and can tolerate. One coming up will have Tom Waits, Ricki Lee Jones, Chuck E. Weiss and Cat Power. Worst song You Light Up My Life. Ole Debbie warbles it in a commercial where she shills some facelift process.

  7. I’d like to also submit “MacArthur Park.”

    “Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don’t think that I can take it!
    ‘Cause it took so long to bake it!
    And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

    • That’s a contender, for sure. Personally I think Richard Harris must have been on the tail end of six month bender when he recorded that one, and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that hallucinogens were also INVO-O-O-OLVED.

  8. How about that ‘Horse With No Name’ endless song…

    • Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that one in years, but am certainly looking forward to having it stuck in my brain for the next few days. Of course, that means I might bet a break from Piano Man, though there’s a certain out-of-the-frying-pan feel to it all. Thanks for stopping in!

      • I am a BIlly Joel fan through even the dark years (only the good die young, I’m looking at you) so I’m gonna have to go with Gordy out of the two.. but humbly submit basically anything by Michael McDonald – or specifically ‘On My Own’ the duet with him and Patti Labelle.

        • You know we could open up a whole second category of duets. On My Own was certainly a nasty bit of work. My entry in the duet category would have to be Leather and Lace by our girlfriend Stevie Nicks and that lame-o Eagles guy. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen the Will Farrell/Dave Grohl cover, but it is well worth a look.

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