Smashed Hits

From The Heights to the depths of bad TV songs

Only a few short years ago, when the word VJ simply meant the end of W.W. II, songs created for TV series or commercials regularly made the pop charts. The trend got its start in the Fifties, churned up a head of steam during the Sixties, and made listening to Top 40 radio more than a little dangerous throughout the Seventies and Eighties. But with a handful of exceptions (such as the success two years back of "Do the Bartman," spawned by The Simpsons), Nineties shows simply haven't kicked out the hits.

Until now. The Heights, a rip-off of Beverly Hills 90210 built around the fictional trials and tribulations of the planet's most putrid band, was created to exploit the synergy between TV and pop music. This cynical attempt at profitable cross-pollination failed on the programming side of the ledger -- the show's already been canceled -- but it's a jaw-dropping success at radio, where jocks made "How Do You Talk to an Angel," a tune featuring the actors from the series, the best-selling song in the nation.

While "Angel" clearly is the worst hit single of the year, it's nothing compared to some of the terrible TV smashes from the past. What follows is our tribute to the 25 worst. To qualify, the songs had to reach the Billboard Top 40 and be featured on a TV show or ad. Bad TV/movie-celebrity records, like those from Bruce Willis and Don Johnson, have been excluded.

So return with us now to the days of yesteryear -- and please touch that dial.

Pratt and McClain
"Happy Days"
First chart appearance: 4-24-76
Peak chart position: No. 5

Why did this ditty become a hit, while more memorable, if just as ridiculous, themes from sitcoms such as Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, and Cheers never dented the airwaves? Certainly not because of quality: Hacks Pratt and McClain, accompanied by a group dubbed Brother Love, render this lame, fake-Fifties novelty with all the rock-and-roll authenticity of Helen Reddy.

Rhythm Heritage
"Baretta's Theme (Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow)"
First chart appearance: 5-28-76
Peak chart position: No. 20

Rhythm Heritage tried to make a career out of covering TV series instrumentals; the group actually took its passable version of "Theme From S.W.A.T." to number one. Fortunately, this weak take on the music from the Robert Blake detective series put a quick end to a frightening trend.

The Monkees
"Words"
First chart appearance: 8-5-67
Peak chart position: No. 11

TV's completely fabricated version of the Beatles actually put out some fine pop songs, including "Last Train to Clarksville," "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone," and Neil Diamond's "I'm a Believer." This song, however, is a Davy Jones vehicle that belongs in Davey Jones's locker. Where was Mike Nesmith when we needed him?

Sam Harris
"Sugar Don't Bite"
First chart appearance: 11-3-84
Peak chart position: No. 36

Harris first came to an unwitting public's attention not as a part of a series but from repeated appearances on Star Search. He was rewarded with a recording contract for winning the show's male-vocalist talent contest, and this track is the result. Keep searching, Ed.

Chuck Mangione
"Give It All You Got"
First chart appearance: 2-16-80
Peak chart position: No. 18

The man who helped drive a stake through the heart of popular jazz, Mangione is best known for the inaccurately titled hit "Feels So Good." Almost as gruesome was "Give It All You Got," ABC's theme for the 1980 Winter Olympics. It was all downhill from there.

Waylon Jennings
"Theme From The Dukes of Hazzard (Good Ol' Boys)"
First chart appearance: 11-1-80
Peak chart position: No. 21

This tune and the moronic stock-car opera it accompanied made a perfect match. Jennings, who's certainly done good work elsewhere, didn't do it here. Moreover, the success of "Good Ol' Boys" is largely responsible for inspiring the stars of this show, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, to embark on recording careers of their own. Talk about hazardous.

The Archies
"Bang-Shang-A-Lang"
First chart appearance: 11-2-68
Peak chart position: No. 22

Many observers would be taking a shot at "Sugar Sugar" here, but not us -- any song good enough to be covered by Wilson Pickett (and sell six million copies worldwide) is not to be easily dismissed. Still, this prototype bubblegum act (actually a one-man band named Ron Dante who fittingly went on to produce Barry Manilow), the brainchild of Don Kirshner, churned out plenty of schlock. "Bang-Shang-A-Lang" makes Josie and the Pussycats seem like Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

The Bob Crewe Generation
"Music to Watch Girls By"
First chart appearance: 1-21-67
Peak chart position: No. 15

This conglomeration of studio musicians was assembled for no other purpose than to sneak this unbelievably insignificant number into the record collections of kids who'd already heard it a million times as the background music in a Diet Pepsi commercial. A trendsetter when it comes to bad "pop" music.

The Partridge Family
"Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"
First chart appearance: 7-29-72
Peak chart position: No. 28

The Heights of its day, The Partridge Family seemed dated the second it went on the air; even most of the eleven-year-old girls swooning over David Cassidy realized there was something really dumb about it. The music was even dumber: "I Think I Love You" was actually silly enough to provoke a giggle, but their cover of Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up" was worse than anything this side of Bobby Sherman. Listening to it is hard to do.

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