Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Worst 200 Songs, Part IX: #40-21

TOM MAY: From 40-1, we have increased the permitted character-limit to 500 (I said 400 initially, but that was just aspirational... like fairness is for George Osborne).

20-11 will follow next Tuesday. 10-1 will then be posted on the following Sunday evening in old-style BBC Radio 1 manner: to be accompanied by a podcast, counting down the top 40 with further discussion to round up the whole exhaustively partial project.

I also request a readers' list... While we have been slated on certain limited internet fora, there has been a heartening understanding from people I know in 'real life'. What do you want to see in the Top 20? Please post below or email me at: mysteryofthefence@googlemail.com

40. Mumford and Sons - 'The Cave'
(2009, #24, DL)

DL: One of the most irksome things about this funny banjo combo is that there’s music of this ilk around all the time, albeit in mostly superior form, but rather than dig for it (and with Spotify, 6Music, YouTube there really is no excuse) the general populace would rather wait to be spoon-fed it via the aisles of Tesco and heavy rotation. You’ll also find that it’s always the BBC taking the risk with such acts first before the commercial stations latch on to the burgeoning popularity of the artists, and reap the rewards. The tune itself: typically earnest annoyance with pastoral tinge, for festivals David Cameron would attend.

AN: After all is said and done (and indeed I have said quite a lot about these chumps), this is just a really flat, facile, weak tune.

JG: A divisive choice, this. Mumford and Sons have plenty of fans who see in them the same spirit as US folk rock contemporaries like Grizzly Bear and Songs: Ohia. But it is a fine line between there and Daniel Powter harping on about a bad day. And 'The Cave' is far too polished to have any real rustic charm. I don’t think it’s quite bad enough to be #40 on this list, though.

TM: The lyric is full of the ‘right’ signifiers and vague allusions but contains little discernible meaning. Their studied authenticity – ‘corporate-trad’ in Alex’s words – endears them to the most casual of music fans. Theirs is a ‘freedom’ that won’t rock or indeed float any boats, other than at country residences of Cleggs, Camerons and Fearnley-Whittingstalls.

39. Eric Clapton - 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot'
(1975, #19, TM)

DL: Ironic reggae grooves from the man who a year later drunkenly roused an audience thusly: "This is England, this is a white country, we don't want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don't want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards". Rather more than a simple slip of the tongue there. I think China Black’s version of a terminally dull standard might have actually been better.

AN: Sheesh. If they ever change the national anthem I really fucking hope they pick 'Jerusalem' instead of this.

JG: Has there ever been a more offensive pilfering of someone else’s entire musical culture than this? Clapton puts on a vile half-creole accent, reduces the volume of the bass (this being the entire point of reggae) and displays as much enthusiasm for his subject as only a wealthy anti-immigrant coke-addled cunt can. Still, 'Police and Thieves' was only 18 months away.

TM: Offensively wimpy reggae-lite from the not-God he. Whether beery rugger sing-along or earnest spiritual, I cannot say I am enamoured of the song – but Clapton’s sleepwalking version takes it to new levels of drear desultoriness. Also, recall his comments in 1976 praising Enoch Powell, which emphasised the need for ‘Rock Against Racism’. Why was this recorded?

38. Puddle of Mudd - 'Control'
(2002, #15, JG)

DL: Really was hoping that ‘She Hates Me’ would be P.O.M’s representation on the countdown, but yes, Nirvana really were responsible for some terrible bands. Gormless macho dirge so typical of what we once knew as nu-metal. Why do the lyrics have to be so childishly self-centred and brainless? Inarticulate, monotonous and whiningly adolescent.

AN: Hilarious!

JG: Second only to the dreaded Nickelback in terms of converting grunge signifiers into hyper-masculine cock rock, this is complete rat wank. Don’t they have electric chairs for this sort of thing?

TM: “Dude. Seriously... Bro.” Forgo the familiarity, fellers; your sort of predictable row makes Metallica sound like King Crimson. This possesses the sort of distinctively unappetising raunchiness that only lunkheaded pseudo-metal can quite evoke.

37. Bell and Spurling - 'Sven Sven Sven'
(2001, #7, RC)

DL: We’ve covered a lot of ground on the novelty football record front even without recalling the Embrace one, but this is certainly one of the worst. What is this unwritten law that when football and music come together, the results have to be cretinous? Who bought this, the lobotomised? It’s not just a bit of fun, it’s like holding up a mirror to the image of the national game. Who gave a fuck that he was from Sweden?

AN: This is – almost – defensible on grounds of sheer surrealism.

JG: 400 characters to spunk away on this? Jesus wept. Well, the fact that shit like this gets written after one anomalous thrashing of Germany perhaps says something about the general mental insecurities of the lad types that this cynical toss was clearly intended to appeal to. Plus, “don’t forget that he’s from Sweden?” Well, that McClaren chap from England did so much better, didn’t he?

TM: Jonathan Pearce’s stupid, partisan tones set the tone. His annoyingly bullish shrieks accompany the ‘comic’ gloating of Bell and Spurling, who sang at celebrity parties for such Worst 200 Songs perennials as Rod Stewart and Simon Cowell and went on to guest on Talk Sport. The diminishing chart returns of ‘We’re All Having a Darius Vassell Party (It’s Gonna Be Awesome)’ are not surprising – it reached #143. The success of this moronic, xenophobic tripe is a national disgrace.

36. WWF Superstars - 'Slam Jam'
(1992, #4, RC)

DL: I’m as happy to note the continuing presence of American macho bullshit in our chart as I was to oversee the numerous highly placed, phony landfill indie bands dominating last week’s chapter. Although I’m in trouble in the morning when the landlord sees this.

AN: A straight steal from Michael Jackson’s 'Black or White'; furthermore, a sly co-option of African American music as a whole (hip-hop specifically); furthermore: a total fucking travesty.

JG: There really is nothing to say about this early example of song-as-marketing. So I’ll simply note that one of my favourite episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm sees Larry David upset the sons of WWF wrestler Thor by informing them that wrestling is fake, not real. Jeff then gets caught letting down Thor’s tyres, resulting in an off-screen beating. Magnificent.

TM: This is musically clattering – about as subtle as WWF Wrestling itself but lacking any of the melodramatic absurdity which made it inevitably reliable kiddie-fodder. It is a dire sludge of synthetic percussion and horns, appended with unwelcome “whoah-oh-oh”s and random sampled catchphrases from the rogue’s gallery of wrestlers.

35. Michael Jackson - 'Heal the World'
(1992, #2, RC)

DL: I don’t think I nominated a single record from between 1987 – 1992 because I have a sycophantic devotion to almost all chart music released between those years, and was easily impressionable, too, at the time. However, bugger me sideways if this saccharine delight wasn’t the gateway song that led to the ‘facepalm’ borderline blasphemy Brits performance of 1996, perfectly punctured by Cocker’s arse.

AN: I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone try to defend this, though I haven’t read that Zero book yet, shamefully.

JG: It’s just too depressing, isn’t it? The most gifted musical performer of his time reduced to trite, childish nonsense like this. It’s as though Jackson had come to believe his own mega-maniacal myth as a magical figure able to transform the world to his liking with the click of a finger. No wonder he was reduced to sulking that 'They Don’t Care About Us' a few short years later.

TM: ‘We are the World’ Part II, but more omnipresent for me, being ten when it was released. The undeniable melancholy inherent in his naivety and isolation does not negate the malign influence of this slice of Disney pop. Alex’s point about liberal megastars holds here: vigorous protestations of caring can hide a terrifying void. There isn’t just one key change, but two.

34. Razorlight - 'America'
(2006, #1, DL)

DL: "There’s nothing on the TV, nothing on the radio that I can BE-LIIIIEEEVE IN!" ‘(Cynically Courting A Radio Hit In) America’ was thankfully the only chart-topper from Johnny Borrell’s Boomtown Rats tribute band whose long-threatened comeback is yet to come to fruition.

AN: Hmm, tricky. For some reason, despite being a die-hard Razorlight hater, and despite the fact that this is obviously risible, I have a soft spot for it. It somehow came along at the right time, and I quite like melodic, reverby guitar lines. Sincere apologies.

JG: Lunk-headed, appallingly crass attempt to break the country of the same name with FM-friendly Strokes-lite bollocks. Hardly 'I’m So Bored with the USA' is it? Having lost their committed early audience through sell-out nonsense like this, Razorlight have since quite rightly faded into complete obscurity.

TM: Infamously rubbish, but is that just in our circles? Maybe Borrell is regarded as a key player, a latter-day Lennon or Dylan; if so, we are doomed. Current British musicians never ‘get’ the concept of America right, always reducing it to simplistic and demeaning symbols. “There’s nothing on the TV, nothing on the radio means that much to me” – especially this sort of unmitigated shite.

33. DJ Otzi - 'Hey Baby (Uuh, Aah)'
(2001, #1, DL)

DL: Not quite football-related, but was re-recorded a year later with the lyrics altered 'appropriately'. We really do seem to be approaching whole new levels of mindbending gormlessness as we progress towards records we happen to see less and less merit in. Can I be arsed to bring up the ‘of course it’s fucking subjective’ disclaimer again? No. When I say "if you don’t like it, don’t read it", there’s probably a heavy irony in there I’m deeply proud of.

AN: Even though this was released at the peak of my teenage “poptimist” phase, I still thought it was one of the worst pieces of music I’d ever heard, and still think so.

JG: This is simply appalling and it isn’t even worth the effort of writing anything witty about it.

TM: The epitome of a lowest common denominator dance track. That’s why it isn’t quite as objectionable as the dross that surrounds it in this week’s list: while this is as guileless as it gets, such dance tracks are at least relatively harmless.

32. JJ Barrie - 'No Charge'
(1976, #1, RC)

DL: How the fatherfuck did this get to Number One? Apparently a country music staple documenting the unconditional love and altruism offered up by a mother in comparison to a supposed invoice sent to her by her son for performing various tasks. I feel the need to charge after three and a half minutes of that.

AN: Fuck, there’s something incredibly sinister about the lecherous Noel Edmonds in the intro to this. On the other hand, isn’t the song itself actually quite a cogent critique of capitalist exchange value?

JG: I would have preferred this song a little more if, instead of the boy welling up with schmaltzy tears at the end, he simply turned around and went “fuckin’ cough up man, will yer?” in a North Tees accent. At least it would have been amusing, rather than turgid.

TM: This was claimed by wrongheaded ‘Blue Labour’ types to represent the more social-democratic ’70s. This smug, insincere profession of warm-heartedness – “Great big ol’ tears in his eyes” – is as ‘socialist’ as Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum. “And, when y’ add it all up”, it is even more sickeningly cloying than the Paul Anka track we slated a couple of weeks back. If the sentiment was genuine, then why wasn’t it released without charge?

31. Shayne Ward - 'That's My Goal'
(2005, #1, TM)

DL: I’d yet to be sucked in to the Cunt Contest by this point (that came a year later through the ill-fated scenario of a Saturday night in and little else to do, so I missed this the first time round). I’m not even entirely sure that the standard winner’s single has improved since they started releasing covers. Actually Little Mix doing ‘Cannonball’ is maybe akin to having your entire being cleansed if you play it after this terrible, terrible record. These things are so identikit now that the plodding, inspirational ballad is almost beyond parody. But did it have a key change? I’m not listening to it again to find out.

AN: Bland dross. Not worth more than ten words of commentary.

JG: Is it just me or does this kind of overblown shite just get worse as time goes by? Ward sounds like he’s distracted by something as he sings, e.g. a pigeon having a shit on someone’s head, and the production is as low rent as a cardboard box. At least when people like Mariah Carey were doing this sort of thing it had a modicum of class and airiness about it, whatever else.

TM: Last Thursday, amid an epic pub-quiz triumph, a friend claimed to quite like ‘No U Hang Up’ as it was “slick”. Each to their own. I would be gobsmacked if anyone in 2012 finds this other than draining and dull. Yes, the key change is present; the "story", the "journey" and the "the heart and soul" are all gallingly correct. Go on lad; sing yet another culturally suffocating Cowellite ballad in return for a transient pat on the head. Desist British public; stop the rot.

30. R. Kelly - 'I Believe I Can Fly'
(1997, #1, TM)

DL: Isn’t it strange how the more I’m subjected to these apparently all-encompassing inspirational ballads, the more crushed and powerless I feel?

AN: A career lowlight for a man who has latterly become cool among hipsters, largely because he allows them to revisit with impunity the macho puerility of adolescence.

JG: That line at the start where R. Kelly sings about once feeling unable to go on – I don’t believe R. Kelly has ever felt like that. Plus the lyrics are back in 'Search for the Hero' mode again. Music for Emma Harrison’s theft of taxpayers’ money. I know I’ve used that line before but it bears repeating. Endlessly.

TM: This one is one of the first pop songs to have truly rankled with me. Why was the 1990s so hospitable to the chest-beating, self-motivational ballad? Something to do with ‘The End of History’; the move inwards from Reaganite bombast to Clintonian self-glorification? Gospel choir, key change, piss-easy rhymes and the teeth-grinding melisma of an utter exhibitionist: aye, it’s an R. Kelly ballad that’s worse than that infernal remix.

29. Geri Halliwell - 'Lift Me Up'
(1999, #1, TM)

DL: See #30. Utter blankness fills my ears.

AN: Geri Halliwell is an awful human being; really really horrible on every level. And unlike all of the other Spice Girls, she didn’t make a single even half-good record.

JG: Ginger Spice’s opening gambit in a failed attempt to be taken seriously as a sophisticated artist. Who the hell even remembers this today, let alone takes it seriously?

TM: There is a lot to be said for the initial Spice Girls singles, even if they were never as effortlessly brilliant as the All Saints. This is just tiring in its generically uplifting manner – even more so in the context of this week’s selection of lumbering ballads. Ah, and my best friend Mr Key Change... hello sirrah, pull up chair! MAKE IT STOP, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP.

28. The Supernaturals - 'Smile'
(1997, #23, TM)

DL: Perhaps the ‘Chelsea Dagger’ of the nineties. Possesses the entire opposite of its desired effect on this tired mind.

AN: Death of Britpop. Good riddance, certainly in this instance.

JG: Another pub-rock band with money hurled at them in the dark days of Britpop. The message here is no less trite self-help nonsense than M People. Hmmm, there’s a bit of theme emerging here. The worst songs are the ones in which we are all implored to keep calm and carry on.

TM: Joy unconfined: the Britpop hobby-horse hurtles into view! There’s an idiot grin on the face of the rider, who’s got that faraway, ‘am-I-being-ironic-here?’ look in his eyes. There is an inept Beach Boys pastiche unnecessary in the era of the Wondermints and the High Llamas. Emblematic of TFI Friday ‘pop’, which was so rightfully skewered by Luke Haines in his memoir Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in Its Downfall.

27. Jessie J. - 'Who's Laughing Now'
(2011, #16, TM)

DL: Needs to be watched with its accompanying video to be ‘enjoyed’ fully. Neurotic, moaning shite from the least authentic popstar of our age. Should have aged considerably well by the time YouTube is something we’re telling our grandchildren about. ‘Wa-bucca-wa-wa-bucca…’. I can genuinely say that bit in particular fucking riles me senseless. ‘Look at me now’ is a theme I’d like to blacklisted from popular music.

AN: Isn’t Jessie J sort of credible in some quarters? I’m puzzled as to why this is the case. Mechanised corporate stage-school evil.

JG: Yes, one can indeed shirk off one’s childhood tormentors when one has money hurled in one’s direction after being classmates with Adele at the BRIT School and have major entertainment companies queuing outside your front door. Frankly, this is a grievous insult to anyone who struggles with self-esteem issues.

TM: This song effortlessly defines maddening: from its ‘beat-box’ vocalising at the start to the unearned schadenfreude of the chorus. Ugh, and what of the verse with Ms. J’s vocals vacillating between sub-Lily Allen panto-cockney – “Let the haters HA-ATE!” and slick ‘soulfulness’? This is a barren calculation straight out of the BRIT School manual and a timorous low-ebb in the annals of British pop music.

26. Kasabian - 'L.S.F.'
(2004, #10, DL)

DL: Speaking of inauthenticity, this pseudo-Madchester nonsense has never won me over. Similarly to the legacy of Cobain, Ian Brown’s swagger and bravado has been re-appropriated by numerous goons over the years, with his intelligence and mystique side-stepped for an extra layer of inane lairiness that they’ve picked up from Liam fucking Gallagher. Utterly meaningless and, even when I watched them play a small gig for free in 2004, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t connect at all.

AN: Again, apologies, but this is the only tune I like by an otherwise irredeemable band. I just think that keyboard sample is pretty magic.

JG: Amazingly, Kasabian are like an even shitter version of the Lo-Fidelity Allstars, and the first incarnation was quite shit enough, thank you. Laughably, the opening lines to 'L.S.F.' directly pilfer the riff from The Beach Boys’ 'Kokomo'. That’s 'Kokomo', not 'Caroline No'. What an absolute shambles.

TM: “Step on it, ‘lectronic!” This foolery is akin to a lobotomised fusion of Primal Scream and the Stone Roses. There is a horribly obvious lift from ‘Once in a Lifetime’ at the start, beyond-banal ‘1960s’ organ and references to a “polyphonic prostitute” and tiresome drug chic. “Messiah for the animals”; Eric Burdon you most certainly are not. I am not necessarily any great shakes in the well-adjusted human stakes, but this lot are clearly unspeakable.

25. Ed Sheeran - 'You Need Me, I Don't Need You'
(2011, #4, DL)

DL: Isn’t Ed edgy? Not only did he not go to [you guessed it - ed] BRIT School, he sleeps on a couch. And his hero’s the defiantly Blunt-lite Damien Rice. All of this speaks volumes of uncompromising grit to me. Only it’s completely safe, pedestrian and embraced by the Brit establishment. Funny how he gladly accepted their accolades...

AN: Don’t worry friends: they shall not pass.

JG: If there’s one thing worse than manufactured pop, it’s singer-songwriters churning out self-valedictory toss about having written their own songs. Still, at least it’s not 'The A Team'.

TM: This chancer’s mug materialised on the 2011 Christmas Day TOTP and my brother’s withering expression said it all. This makes one nostalgic for the days of Craig David or Daniel Bedingfield. It is musically overly busy, prattling and trite in its name-checking of the greats of cutting-edge urban music: erm, Damien Rice... If this lad’s our brightest new hope, we’re fucked.

24. U2 - 'Elevation'
(2001, #3, TM)

DL: We’ve had U2 already of course, and this is to ‘With Or Without You’ and ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ what Heron Foods is to Waitrose. By this point, the magic had been absent from events for a full decade. Workmanlike and annoyingly ordinary.

AN: It makes me feel sick that U2 can get away with so much artistically and ethically pernicious bullshit and they still think they’re in some way a force for moral good. Somewhere therein is a parable of the root of all injustice.

JG: Rather than a mole digging up Bono’s soul, I’d rather it dug out U2’s tax receipts and published them so we can see just how far these earnest NGO-hijacking tits are squirrelling away.

TM: “A mole digging in a hole!” While they have made some good music, U2 are ultimately symbolic of their nation’s sub-prime ‘Celtic Tiger’ phase: globalisation run amok. Each album contains laughable silage like this that makes a mockery of ‘quality control’. This is a breathtakingly clunky turkey, and that’s being unkind to our friends in the Meleagris genus. As Yeats once stated: ‘Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone’. No U2-helmed “EX-CA-VA-TION!” please.

23. Travie McCoy feat. Bruno Mars - 'Billionaire'
(2010, #1, DL)

DL: Can’t believe we’ve got all the way up to #23 and we’re only experiencing the first appearance of Mr Mars, whose entire recorded solo output seems to have been penned from the hand of a particularly creepy stalker. I can’t say whether records like this make me feel older or simply less American.

AN: Yet another good call Dave. Definitely one of the worst tunes of all time. I would be happy to have this in the top (bottom?) 5, actually.

JG: When Christopher Lasch wrote his thesis The Culture of Narcissism not even he could have imagined that, thirty years on, he would be proven as right as this psychotic wank. Plus, Bruno Mars’s shit beard and beenie hat makes my blood boil so much I can hear the bubbles.

TM: ‘Cos that’s all it’s about for the majority of people: an unrealisable dream of riches, Forbes magazine covers and Angelina on tap. I don’t believe this is genuinely the case – I just hope we’d have less evidence to the contrary, like the success of this ghastly avaricious bauble.

22. Limp Bizkit - 'Rollin' (Air Raid Vehicle)'
(2001, #1, DL)

DL: There really was some appalling heavy rock music bridging the gap between the death of Britpop and emergence of The Strokes. Maybe records that completely infuriate you are indescribably hideous for a reason, leaving normally coherent commentators with little else to offer than Tourette’s-esque outpourings of cultural dismay.

AN: I don’t have any strong feelings about this. Turgid misogyny.

JG: This is utterly contemptible and I’m surprised it’s outside the Top 20. Fred Durst’s cynical and knowingly adolescent toy-throwing in all its horrible, detestable “glory”. One of the few times I’ve thought the patronising phrase “grow up” justified.

TM: “Old school soldiers”. Durst claims to have liked The Smiths and The Cure in his youth; his music bears absolutely none of their sensitive imprint. Instead, this is all too easy to imagine being used in Guantanamo Bay to torture prisoners in the name of freedom. This is knuckle-headed macho rock ripe for military appropriation; as Groucho Marx said, military intelligence is a contradiction in terms.

21. Chris De Burgh - 'The Lady in Red'
(1986, #1, DL)

DL: Basically the mid-eighties equivalent of a Scouting For Girls hit, without the embarrassing attempts at cheeky irony. Stomach-churning, though people have released similar guff under a thin veil of ‘credibility’ and that’s very worrying indeed.

AN: Ha, I wondered when this was going to crop up. A good old-fashioned absolutely fucking shit tune!

JG: Music for bastards who own big yachts. And that is all.

TM: Equally tortuous, though not as aurally assaulting as #22. Who would have thought that Chris De Burgh could ever constitute a comparative relief? Nah, this is an irredeemable decimation of the ‘singer-songwriter’ ideal. “Cheek to cheek” is justly derided. His straining vocals jettison all subtlety and the backing track is music for airports that not even JG Ballard could imbue with alluring weirdness.

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