Songs You Hate to Love

Some years ago I compiled a list of what I consider the 100 worst hit songs of the rock era. But this countdown to mediocrity -- which began with Andy Gibb's "(Love Is) Thicker than Water" and ended with the unfathomably abysmal Paul Anka anthem "(You're) Having My Baby" -- told only half the story. After all, no one is ashamed to talk about smashes that induce nausea. Few of us, however, will admit that there are equally execrable cuts that we actually enjoy. Displaying such lapses in judgment is bound to lead to ridicule from peers who harbor similar secret faves but have the good sense to keep them a secret.

In the interest of honesty, I'm fessing up. Below is a very personal roster of extremely guilty pleasures -- tracks whose horrible quality doesn't prevent me from liking them. I've limited my choices to five each from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and the first half of the Nineties, and I've done my best to make them as embarrassing as possible. I didn't wimp out by citing, for example, a second-rate Beatles single; only the worst of the worst are on hand.

As a bonus I've also included five current tunes that should cause me to lunge for my radio dial when they come blasting out of my speakers but inexplicably don't. All of the nominees reached the Top 40 during their primes, and owning up to the fact that I occasionally sing along with them causes me a deep sense of shame.

The next time I hear them, I'll probably do so again, God help me.

The Sixties

"Spanish Flea," by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Date charted: April 9, 1966. Peak position: No. 27. A rinky-dink instrumental that was used for years as the theme song to TV's The Dating Game. It makes me feel as if I've got a one-in-three chance to score.

"Along Comes Mary," by the Association. Date charted: June 26, 1966. Peak position: No. 7. A song that is to rock and roll energy what Gump is to brain surgery. But the chorus is going through your head right now, isn't it?

"Take a Letter Maria," by R.B. Greaves. Date charted: October 25, 1969. Peak position: No. 2. I claim to be a feminist, and yet I dig this musical tribute to a married man who runs off with his secretary. What a phony I am. Mrs. Bobbitt, do your stuff.

"Black Is Black," by Los Bravos. Date charted: September 10, 1966. Peak position: No. 4. Four guys from Spain (and a fifth from Germany) spat out this unbelievably sweet, nutrition-free wad of bubble gum. Wish I had another one just like it right now.

"In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)," by Zager and Evans. Date charted: June 18, 1969. Peak position: No. 1. Even though the only acid these guys ingested back in the day probably came from a battery, their dippy sci-fi "epic" is a period piece par excellence. Like a drug trip with Henry Kissinger.

The Seventies

"Hooked on a Feeling," by Blue Swede. Date charted: March 2, 1974. Peak position: No. 1. Okay, okay: It's swill. It's treacle. It's pap. But I can't get enough of those ooga-chakas.

"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," by Looking Glass. Date charted: July 1, 1972. Peak position: No. 1. Admitting that I'm into this appalling story-song has already lost me the respect of about half of my co-workers. As if I had it in the first place.

"I Think I Love You," by the Partridge Family. Date charted: October 31, 1970. Peak position: No. 1. I never had any David Cassidy posters on my bedroom walls, and I'll kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise. I still kinda have a thing for Susan Dey, though.

"Black Betty," by Ram Jam. Date charted: July 23, 1977. Peak position: No. 18. This one-shot band turned a classic by folk/blues legend Leadbelly into rawk at its stoopidest. Worse, I'd rather hear this than the original any day of the week.

"Play That Funky Music," by Wild Cherry. Date charted: July 31, 1976. Peak position: No. 1. I prize first-rate funk as highly as I do any other music from the Seventies, so the fact that I also cherish this absurd excursion by a bunch of white boys from Steubenville, Ohio, can mean only one thing: I'm Caucasian.

The Eighties

"The Look of Love (Part One)," by ABC. Date charted: October 30, 1982. Peak position: No. 18. Dance-floor bluster complete with vocalist Martin Fry declaiming, "Yippee-yi-yippee-yi-yay!" like a dimestore Tom Jones. Whom I've always admired, by the way.

"Hungry like the Wolf," by Duran Duran. Date charted: January 22, 1983. Peak position: No. 3. My fondness for "Wolf," these lugs' commercial breakthrough, can be traced to its unintentionally hilarious video, which was among the first to show glass shattering in slow motion. What an achievement.

"Relax," by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Date charted: February 2, 1985. Peak position: No. 10. It's pretty hard to rationalize this one other than to say that I find it to be catchy, danceable, and mildly profane -- all pluses in my book.

"Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," by Journey. Date charted: February 5, 1983. Peak position: No. 8. I hate this band with every fiber of my being, and in a way, I hate this song, too. Because by thinking it's not so bad, I'm making my Journey hatred less pure than I wish it were.

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