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
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.
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:
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.
So as you may have gathered by my recent absence and drunken exhortations to buy and consume fruit flavored rum, Mr. Slattern and I recently enjoyed a relaxing stay in the islands. We don’t really go in for the swim-up bar type of destination, preferring instead to do our drinking while decently clothed in the comfort of a chair or chaise, but we’ll make do with a stool when necessary. We found a charming little resort, the Cocodimama in Eleuthera, where we could do just that, and as an added bonus, we discovered that they have very good food and Sammy, one of the world’s great bartenders. Consider the Slattern’s seal of approval enthusiastically given.
So, all in all it was a delightful getaway with sun, sand, food and drink in copious abundance. Perfect, but for one small, wrinkly fly in our sunscreen: the islands of the Bahamas appear to be teeming with active seniors. Unlike the doddering species of domestic snow bird that infests Florida and other stateside environs (which has already been extensively and hilariously chronicled by my pal Cristy Carrington Lewis), the international retiree apprears to be quite adventurous and engaged with his surroundings and neighbors. Which frequently makes him/her a far larger pain in the ass.
Let me offer you a couple of examples from my recent experience:
Mr. Slattern and I encountered Baked Alaska and his lovely wife Mrs. Alaska in the hotel bar while we were engaged in a particularly contentious game of Scrabble – I know what you’re thinking, but we’re word people and the way we play Scrabble, it qualifies as a blood sport, well a drunken blood sport. Sort of like cockfighting without the chickens. Anyways, there we were, at a quiet table by the door, obviously engaged in some serious mental gymnastics while happily partaking of that oh-so-crucial third pre-dinner cocktail, when out of nowhere and completely unbidden, Baked Alaska appeared at our table, officiously peering over Mr. Slattern’s shoulder and effectively smashing both our concentration and our cozy rum glow to smithereens.
“Playin’ Scrabble?” he astutely queried.
We resisted the urge to slap back the usual snappy retort along the lines of, “Scrabble? Heck no, we’ve got a little cold fusion underway here, but no Scrabble.”
He then hovered for the next twenty minutes, interrupting us with the usual line of interrogation — Where you folks from? How long you staying for? What’s your line of work? Would you like to see my wife naked? OK, he didn’t ask us that last one, I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.
In the pregnant silences between his questions and our brief, monosyllabic responses, Baked Alaska offered a wealth of information about himself, including the fact that he was from Alaska, but since retiring had split his time between the tropics and his home base with occasional stops at an intermediate, layover property in Arkansas. And no, I didn’t ask why Arkansas of all the fucking places in the world. I wanted to know, but couldn’t have borne the lengthy real time recitation of the thought process behind buying a house in the middle of fucking nowhere as a stopover on a journey to the ends of the fucking Earth.
Eventually Baked Alaska and his deep golf tan drifted off to another table to pester another innocent pair of tourists, but not before he had so distracted and irritated me that I missed an obvious seven-letter word (INTRUDER into a triple word score) and instead played RUDE for twelve measly points. I still suspect Mr. Slattern of putting him up to it. The man will stop at nothing to win.
Not convinced? Think we’re just a couple of cranky, unfriendly sticks in the mud? Consider this:
Deaf Con Red
Later that same evening, our equilibrium restored, we were basking in the glow of a tasty fish dinner and trying to decide whether to have another rum drink with dessert or in place of it, when our space was once again invaded. Baked Alaska was, by this time, deeply involved in a discussion of irons versus wedges or some equally fascinating subject with the father of a family of eight from Arkansas (“Arkansas? Really! Gosh, we’ve got a place in Hot Springs….”), and Mrs. Alaska had long since dozed off at their table. Our sense of security, however, was as false as it was short lived.
We looked up from our menus expecting to see the friendly waitress all ready to take our order (two more Bahama Mamas and two pineapple pies, please — it was vacation after all). Instead we encountered the ruddy grinning mug of Deaf Con Red. The conversation went something like this:
DCR: “Hey folks, where you from?”
Mr. Slattern: “New York”
Mr. Slattern: “New YORK”
Mr. Slattern and me, screaming: “NEW YORK”
DCR: “Oh New York. Never lived there, but the wife loves to visit. Too noisy for my liking. I’m from Somefuckingplace (I’ll be honest, I had already tuned out, or passed out, I’m not sure which) in Iowa. How long you here for?”
Mr. Slattern (forgetting that our interlocutor was deaf, since like me, he had been ever so slightly over served by this point): “Just a week.”
I’ll spare you a verbatim recounting. Suffice to say the conversation went on like that for some little time, with Deaf Con Red asking questions and forcing us to repeat the answers two, three and even four times because he either wouldn’t wear a hearing aid or couldn’t be bothered to turn it up. I’m willing to wager that battery conservation played a role, but whatever the case, Mr. Slattern and I both woke up at four am on the beach in our dinner attire, hungover, eyebrowless and hoarse, because despite our clear lack of interest Deaf Con Red sat down with us and eventually his pal, Baked Alaska, drifted over too. At least that’s what I think happened. Once the rum starts arriving straight up and on fire, all bets are off.
Because God has a sense of humor, both sets of active retirees were on our homebound flight. It took us a while to puzzle out why they kept calling us Trixie and Froderick, and we were initially flummoxed by some of their comments about our professions, but as the trip progressed, the memories of the evening returned in sickening, lurid detail. On the positive side, apparently, even at this advanced age, I can still pass as a stripper and Mr. Slattern makes a convincing rap artist. Who knew?