Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bad Hit

A while back, friend of OPC Gavin suggested we have a discussion here about this question: What's the worst song that appears on an indisputably great album? I considered throwing it open to the audience, but I didn't really have anything of my own to add, mostly because I just don't trust in my skills as a rock critic all that much.

I would be just fine with never again hearing "Within You, Without You," from the Greatest Album of All Time, but a lot of people like it. (Ringo, for one, thought it was fantastic.) I've always thought "Lovers Rock," from London Calling, was very weak. I don't think anyone ever listens to "Exit" from The Joshua Tree. But are those songs really that bad in most people's eyes? I don't know.

But there's a different way to spin that question that I feel suited to answer: What's the worst hit song by a legitimately great artist? I was thinking about this question while listening to Stevie Wonder, as I have been doing lately. But one song I have not been listening to is "I Just Called to Say I Love You," Stevie's Number One hit from 1984. It's cloying and obvious, bursting with cheesy synthesizers that sound only like something's that been synthesized, sung in a voice that sounds like Stevie is addressing a six-year-old who isn't even particularly perceptive for a six-year-old. I just called to say I hate it.

Stevie still maintained most of his powers at this point; the gorgeous "Overjoyed" came out two years later, so Wonder certainly knew his way around a quiet-storm ballad in 1984. And what the heck, he knew his way around a hit, too, since "I Just Called" went to Number One.

It's not the worst hit ever - it's no "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" - but Stevie Wonder is an all-time great, and it may be the worst big hit by an all-time great. It's as if the Rolling Stones' cover of "My Girl" went to the top of the charts. I'm sure glad it didn't.

8 comments:

Gavin said...

The song that originally sparked this train of thought, by the way, was "Factory" on Darkness on the Edge of Town.

"I Just Called to Say I Love You" is a pretty bad big hit by an all-time great, true--but I would submit that Chuck Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling" is worse. (And it's his only chart-topper!)

Kinky Paprika said...

Two words: "Hello Goodbye."

Gavin said...

Paul McCartney has a bunch of possible contenders: as they sometimes put it on Project Runway, there are "taste level issues."

T. Nawrocki said...

I initially thought of "My Ding-a-Ling" when I was formulating this post, then forgot to include it. The mitigating factor there is that at least Chuck Berry recognizes that it's a big joke. It seems a bit unfair to include a novelty song.

I still don't ever want to hear it again, though.

Kinky Paprika said...

To combine Gavin's and Tom's thoughts, another candidate for worst hit song by a major performer is "I'm Goin' Down" by Bruce Springsteen.

Does anybody remember anything about that song except Bruce singing "I'm goin' down, down, down, down, I'm goin' down, down, down, down" over and over again?

Denver Doug said...

Not number one in this country, but seemingly regarded as a hit - Queen's "Radio Ga Ga".

T. Nawrocki said...

I have a Springsteen live bootleg that includes a very long, hilarious tale that precedes "I'm Goin' Down," one in which a couple starts out cooing sweet nothings to each other and concludes with the line "How did I end up with someone as stupid as you!" They should have released that rap as a single instead of "I'm Goin' Down."

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