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.