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.
"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.
"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 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.
"Funkytown," by Lipps, Inc. Date charted: April 19, 1980. Peak position: No. 1. Dance music at its most idiotic: disco by way of Mister Rogers. But if it were on right now, you couldn't keep me in my chair with a straitjacket and a gallon of Super Glue.
"Shine," by Collective Soul. Date charted: June 4, 1994. Peak position: No. 11. How can I stand this weak imitation of Bad Company when I find most Bad Company tunes intolerable? The answer probably has something to do with severe head trauma.
"Personal Jesus," by Depeche Mode. Date charted: February 10, 1990. Peak position: No. 28. A song that's foolishly doomy, irredeemably portentous, and about as deep as a thimble. And when I'm in a foolishly doomy, irredeemably portentous, deep-as-a-thimble mood, there's nothing better.
"Free Your Mind," by En Vogue. Date charted: September 26, 1992. Peak position: No. 8. A blatant George Clinton knockoff that takes the guts out of one of his best lines; it's "Free your mind and your ass will follow," not "Free your mind and the rest will follow." Nevertheless, my ass still likes it.
"I'm Too Sexy," by Right Said Fred. Date charted: January 18, 1992. Peak position: No. 1. A single so moronic that you had to know it would show up in a TV commercial within months of its release (which it did). But being moronic can be a good quality. Or at least that's what I told all my teachers.
"Fall Down," by Toad the Wet Sprocket. Date charted: July 16, 1994. Peak position: No. 33. I had hoped I would be able to get through life without ever saying anything nice about Toad, one of the lamest acts currently in existence. My critical brethren will never forgive me.
"Big Bad Mamma," by Foxy Brown, featuring Dru Hill. Sampling so uninventive that you might as well listen to the original. But since the original isn't getting any airplay, this'll do.
"Here in My Bedroom," by Goldfinger. In my opinion there's too much pop-punk out there -- and there's way too much ska. So my liking this mix of pop-punk and ska makes absolutely no sense. Clearly, I need to have a long talk with myself.
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"Walkin' on the Sun," by Smash Mouth. If these guys ever have another hit, knock me over with a feather. Then give me a 45 of this while nobody's looking.
"Can We," by SWV. Generic R&B harmony act asks the musical question "Can we get kinky tonight?" and my pulse rate goes up. No more Spice channel for me.
"Graduate," by Third Eye Blind. It's got a hook, okay? A big one. So don't blame me for getting snagged by it. Blame them. Blame them!
Now it's your turn.
Are there any guilty pleasures that I've missed? And do you have the nerve to share them with your friends and neighbors? If so, send your picks to us via one of three methods: snail mail (address your correspondence to Guilty Pleasures, New Times, 2800 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33137), e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or fax (571-7678, attention Guilty Pleasures). The highlights may turn up in a future issue -- and anonymity will be granted upon request. Because some of you may need it.