Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Worst 200 Songs: An Introduction

*What follows is a simulblog with Tom May's site 'Where Shingle Meets Raincoat'.

Tom May: The Worst 200 Songs project was bo
rn several months ago, with David Lichfield and I noting just how similar many of our pet musical hates were, and sharing all sorts of odd, ghastly and hilarious YouTube videos.

The project developed into a list of 242 songs comprised of our nominations plus those of others who entered the fray. The rubric being that they ought to be big hits that most people would have heard of, with a far smaller number of curios and obscurities allowed, enabling a greater scope.

Four of us voted on all songs on the final list, on a scale whereby 10/10 meant ‘absolutely hate it, it’s utterly unredeemable’ and 1/10 ‘hmmm, I actually quite like this!’ 5/10 was, of course, an expression of neutrality – or, just a bare Gallic shrug of indifference. Everything that has made the Top 200 has garnered at least 24 points (mean average = 6/10), and is thus at least mildly despised by consensus decision.

I thank the likes of Ben Brown and Robin Carmody, who both nominated songs which have been voted into the Top 200, but are not commenting on the entries.

To kick off this subjective survey of dire music we begin with a short introductory piece from each of the main writers on this extensive project. Each will also nominate a song we despise which wasn’t hated enough by all four to get into the Top 200!

David Lichfield :
96 songs nominated; 76 in the Top 200

Some songs simply house the extra ingredient that makes them truly unbearably hateful beyond simple reason. Whether it’s an ubitiquous chart hit that repeatedly imposed four minutes of aural persecution on you, whereby simply turning off the radio or leaving the establishment in which it was being piped into was no option, or something that simply touches a nerve inside you, bringing forth personal associations and memories you simply can’t face, or a tacky novelty record with no redeeming features, it is hoped that spotting a despised record amongst this rundown along with some sort of caustic analysis will go some way towards soothing the feelings of utter hatred felt towards the offending 45. The 200 Worst Songs project is hoped to be one of the most comprehensive rundowns of bad pop music ever, taking in 60 years, a wealth of styles, numerous cultural movements, dodgy right-wing jingoistic ditties, 80s cocaine consumerism, cynical and self-serving charity numbers, inexplicable chart-toppers, banal melodies, lamentable cover versions, reheated and hackneyed pastiches, and any given number of unforgiveable lyrical howlers to unearth violent urges from even the most placid musical connoisseur. With a range of nominators having come forward to suggest their own personal bĂȘte noires, we're hoping to have left no turd unturned.

Song that should have been included in the Top 200:
Owl City – 'Fireflies'
As cynical a composition as you can imagine, this shameless Postal Service rip-off was depressingly profitable.

Alex Niven :
10 songs nominated; 7 in the Top 200

The pop song is the greatest art form we have. There are many reasons why this is true, but foremost is the fact that it offers the suggestion that, in the right conditions, every human being on the planet has the potential to attain to beauty, community, and empowerment. In other words, pop music is synonymous with democracy. If, as the following exhaustive list attempts to show, pop music is ailing, then this must mean democracy is also ailing. My fantastic hope is that in identifying the problem, we take the first the first step towards the solution of a revival of egalitarian culture, one that has at its centre the transforming, life-advocating, love-inducing metaphor of the Good Choon.

Song that should have been included in the Top 200:
Laura Marling – ‘New Romantic'
…is predictably, my nomination for the one that got away.

John Gibson :
14 songs nominated; 12 in the Top 200

Even now, there is still something in me that wants to reach for the digital remote and switch to the risible Radio 1 of a Sunday afternoon for yet another Top 40 countdown, a ritual I engaged in for several years as soon as the new chart could be compiled by the end of the week rather than midway through the following week. Oh, the excitement of Roachford climbing fully 25 places in a single week with “Cuddly Toy”. What joys.

Suffice to say that the intervening years have been less than kind. Whilst the singles chart is entirely meaningless in these days of instant downloads and X Factor nonsense, the current exercise has been a spirited one of exploring facile tat from across the ages, and acts as a useful reminder that for every Stones there was always a Peter Sarstedt, warbling inane chatter at the nation of a Friday eve. Rock and indeed on.

Song that should have been included in the Top 200:
Muse – ‘Time Is Running Out’
Diabolical, overwrought nonsense that hints at some kind of vague apocalyptical theme whilst protesting too much that it’s not a bad version of Radiohead really. Turd.

Tom May :
76 songs nominated; 66 in the Top 200

I do not undertake this exercise as a cynical moan against popular culture or pop music; indeed, I love much pop music and hold out hope for it. I love all manner of diverse and esoteric music yet there is little that can beat the compassionate delight I feel when listening to The Beatles circa 1964, the Abba of 1976 or Prince and Kate Bush of 1985; the KLF, indeed, in 1991. Recent years have seen ‘Crazy’, ‘With Every Heartbeat’, ‘I’m Not Alone’, ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Hello’: so clearly not all is lost. Supposedly ephemeral Pop can be eternal and unifying where little else is.

I approach this project with anger at what cynicism, idiocy and materialism can make of pop. Misogyny, bigotry, faceless globalisation, piety and plain old ineptitude rear their ugly heads in this roll-call of wrongness. Undertaking this project is clearly an epic ordeal; but we approach it both critically and emotionally – in the preposterous, futile hope that it can form a sacrificial bonfire of some excruciatingly awful music. To quote XTC: “Reign over good / Banish the bad”.

Song that should have been included in the Top 200:
Primal Scream – ‘Rocks’
I must, grudgingly, give old Jive Bunny a 'get out of jail free' card and propose David’s nomination of Primal Scream’s slab of reductionist ‘real rock’. This previously experimental band’s stultifying retreat into guitar-slinging machismo prefigured seemingly endless revivalism and retreats from others.

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