Friday, January 25, 2008

Terrible Songs by Great Artists: Song 1

(IMPORTANT NOTE: On February 1, I will be CHANGING THE URL of my blog to: Why? For reasons unknown, I have decided that having my actual name in the URL may be professionally unwise and indiscreet. There will be a one-month transition period where I will have a link from the current URL to the new one, so no need to panic.)

The other night while sitting in a warm car on a rainy Los Angeles night waiting for the New Beverly Cinema to open its doors for its 7:30 showing of Citizen Kane (good movie, some 3rd act problems), I had a stimulating conversation about music with my moviemate. Specifically, we tried to think of songs that met the following qualifications:
1. The song had to be a beloved classic, performed by a beloved singer or band. If tragedy and death clouded over the life of the artist(s), all the better.

2. The song had to be familiar to even the most casual listener. Ideally, it should be part of the musical canon of the last 100 years.

3. The song had to be truly, irredeemably terrible.

4. The singer or band must be talented and capable of making great quality work but that, for some reason, they came up with one horrible piece of music. Qualitatitively bad singers or novelty acts or so-bad-it's-good songs won't fulfill this obligation.
You see, I had a conversation with someone else earlier in the week about a particular song that I believe meets all four qualifications. And, waiting in the rain, my photographer friend and I tried to come up with other songs that met these exacting standards. We mutually agreed on one song (see below). And we found it enormously difficult to think of other songs.

You see, popular music is a fairly democratic process. Good stuff (generally) gets played a lot. Bad stuff (generally) gets ignored. There are exceptions but just not that many. Since that rainy night (which has been followed by two more rainy days), I've only been able to think of two more songs that I thought were truly terrible songs by great artists, songs that clearly met qualifications 1 through 4. (Note: Beloved and overrated but not terrible songs by great artists don't qualify.)

I'm sure I'll think of more songs though. So today I present the first in the series:

Terrible Songs by Great Artists:

Kiss by Prince

I hate this song. I tried to pretend I liked it once. Because, you see, I like Prince. Everyone likes Prince. Once, at a party, someone I knew heard someone else say "Don't you just love Prince?" and the party guests (Minnesotans) all agreed.

Then, it occurred to me one day that this song was bad. It has no redeeming qualities. Here are a few of my reasons:

1. It's ostensibly a "funky" song but you can't dance to it. Really, try to dance to it. Stand in front of a mirror. Watch yourself. Compare Kiss to Prince masterpieces like Alphabet St., Let's Go Crazy, Gett Off, and, yes, Batdance. Besides, Prince was always a little overrated as a "funk" artist in the 80s, just as he overrated himself as a "rap" artist in the 90s. He's a pop/rock/soul genius though.

2. The lyrics. The first couple of verses are serviceable but hardly worthy of the man who wrote The Ballad of Dorothy Parker and The Ladder. But then we get to this verse:
Women, not girls, rule my world, I said they rule my world
Act your age, mama, not your shoe size, maybe we could do the twirl
U don't have 2 watch Dynasty 2 have an attitude, uh
U just leave it all up 2 me, my love will be your food
What? Okay, so women, not girls rule your world? Do you have to say it twice? Act your age, not your shoe size? Come on, PRN, you're better than that! People stopped saying that in '81 and you sang it in '86. Maybe we could do the twirl? The twirl??? Second laziest rhyme ever written (the laziest will be revealed in part 2 of this series.) In the interest of space, I'll ignore the Dynasty line and just say that "my love will be your food" isn't worthy of the man who, one album earlier, wrote:
There is a park that is known
4 the face it attracts

Colorful people whose hair

On 1 side is swept back
3. The frustration it causes me when people inexplicably love this song. I've had friends get all defensive when I tell them it's a terrible song (luckily someone agrees with me.) Bar patrons erupt in cheers when Kiss comes on the jukebox. Wedding DJs get livid when you ask them not to play it at your own wedding. Radio stations play it incessantly. Tom Jones covers it and subjects the world to two widely played versions.

All in all, Kiss is a truly bad song, written and performed by a great artist. No one has called its greatness into question until today. Sorry I had to be the one. If only there were blogs in 1986.

Don't believe me? Listen to it yourself. I'd link to it but apparently Prince (thankfully) has made it unavailable to the world in mp3 or YouTube form.


obscurapersona said...

I don't believe that any of your "beloved and overrated but not terrible songs by great artists" are overrated... In fact, they're all amazing classic songs completely worthy of their "beloved-ness." Except for Fire Lake... What is that? A little obscure, don't you think?

Jason B. said...

Okay, I love Fire Lake. Mostly because I've really only heard it a few times in my memory. But I'm sure I heard it plenty in the back seat of dad's gold Cougar. Ah, the '70s!

Do you ever find yourself, in this data saturated time, purposefully NOT listening to a song you like so that when you do hear it by chance you can listen with fresh ears and enjoy the serendipity? Is there a word or phrase to describe this experience?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the name of your list should be changed to, "Songs Which Are Generally Regarded as Classics, but which for Some Reason Rub Me the Wrong Way." 'Kiss' not a dance song? Puh-leaze!
- G-tobr