I don’t usually do listicles here; I prefer trying to do some actual writing since I’m not getting paid for it and my only rewards are absolute sovereignty and self-indulgence. But for whatever reason I’ve been kicking this one around for a couple of years now. Well, I know the reason well enough. Some things bug me, and I want them to stop. That’s the job of the critic; to persuade and enlist the public in the important collective task of stopping horrible things.
Don’t misconstrue my intent. This is not about effeminacy or gender ambiguity. The list is long of androgynous, make-up-wearing male creatures I include among my musical heroes. That sort of thing counts as dash and bravery, even (perhaps especially) when the singer puts it out there and makes himself vulnerable. There is a distinct difference between that and being a passive, ineffectual lump of human pastry dough, a quality which knows no gender orientation.
It’s about not having an ounce of self-respect or pride, it’s about sniveling, grovelling, and whining. It’s about being excessively “pretty”, but not in a good way. Above all its about cheap sentiment, not the good old fashioned kind about Mom, or the Boys from the Platoon Who Didn’t Make it Back, or for the One True Love of your Life Whom You Haven’t Seen Since You Were Sixteen Years Old. We can all still get misty eyed over those things, I hope. I am talking about the dude who is blubbering about his current girlfriend. WHO IS STANDING RIGHT OVER THERE. Or for his own sorry ass which got dumped, which is fine fodder for a blues or country & western number, but less palatable when the singer sounds like the boy from Oliver! It’s not the note of blueness I deride. There were plenty of excellent singer-songwriters who could strike a sad note but retain a shred of dignity: Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, and Lord help me, even John Denver, if you go for that sort of thing. What I’m talking about is the tasteless, the cloying, the uninspired, the excessive, the shameless, and the repetitive. It’s all a matter of taste, I’ll acknowledge, we all have a different tipping point — my threshold of tolerance is a lot lower than a lot of other people’s.
So here are ten wimpy songs I just can’t bear. I call them the “most repulsive”, but really, who knows? I picked them out of a list of Casey Kasem’s end-of-year Top 40 Charts. They’re the ones that popped out as particularly heinous. And though I call it the “70s era”, it goes from 1971 to 1981. The order is strictly chronological.
“You’ve Got a Friend”, James Taylor (1971).
I’ve recently been trying to come to terms with certain artists who seem to be admired by others and are even critically acclaimed, but for whatever reason don’t speak to me at all. For example, I used to keep most of the “easy listening” artists in a sort of mental pen. I didn’t want any guilt by association, and I simply hated most of “that kind of music”. But a person shouldn’t be dogmatic, so I’ve been testing the waters by giving some of them another belated hearing.
That will never happen with James Taylor.
“JT” is my musical bete noir, with his Kermit the Frog voice, his soporific tempos and his icky touchy-feely vibe. He sounds like he probably wants to give you a shoulder massage with his clammy, fish-like flippers, reeking of patchouli.
This is a fine song, by the way. I love it when it’s coming out of the mouth of its writer, the unimpeachably great Carole King. But something about Taylor’s version makes him sound pathetic and lame, like he literally is waiting around for that phone call.
For a song on a similar theme with a little more grit to it I vastly prefer Billy Swann’s 1974 “I Can Help”. Now there’s a guy who’ll drop whatever he’s doing (because he’s actually doing something) and come over and fix the sink or kill the spider. Do you really want James Taylor’s help? I mean, the price tag is that it comes in the form of James Taylor. I mean, if I wanted to hang out with someone who reminds me of Bobby Beausoleil, I’d call Bobby Beausoleil.
“You’re Having My Baby” Paul Anka, 1974.
In 1974, (15 years after his most recent hit), Paul Anka, now a middle-aged, concave chested, necklace wearing Vegas dude, recorded this treacly peaen to the barefoot and pregnant. I don’t go for any song that has the word “seed” in it, you know what I mean? I don’t want to picture this ugly old dude doing it with his wife — and I’m way older and uglier than he was! And what’s all this about “HIS baby”? The woman is just the receptacle, I guess. This would be an excellent theme song for Michael Corleone in that scene in Godfather, Part II. You know the scene I mean.
“Feelings”, Morris Alpert (1974)
The song went to #6 on the pop charts but was a sort of national joke five minutes after it was released. The lyrics are so meaningless and vague. Feelings? WHAT feelings? Emotions are just by-products of events; one doesn’t go around HAVING them! (Which is the problem with almost all of these songs). The repetition reinforces the inarticulateness of the sentiment. I guess the guy is — sad? Sure, because he’s full of “woe, woe, woe — feelings!”
“All By Myself”, Eric Carmen (1975)
Now, this guy is undeniably talented; he’d been the main force behind the hitmaking teenybopper group The Raspberries before he went solo, and the tune of this song is purportedly adapted from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor. Which is impressive and it’s not. But whatever you think of his ornate piano filligrees, you must admit the sentiment of the song is passive, helpless, and whiny.
“Don’t Give Up On Us, Baby”, David Soul (1976)
Well do I remember the “very special episode” of Starsky and Hutch that hatched this too-sweet-by-a-half-cup-of-sugar ballad. It might be easier not to give up on you if you weren’t such a clingy creep!
“Dust in the Wind”, Kansas, (1977)
Oh I know I’ll get push back on this one. Hear me out! I don’t deny this tune is pretty – -a little too pretty, if you take my meaning. It sounds like what it is — a guitarist’s fingerpicking practice exercise that got adapted into a song….and (much like Paul McCartney’s Blackbird) remains a guitarist’s fingerpicking practice exercise, trotted out as a party trick by student guitarists to this day. I might have cut more slack for the song’s pothead lyrical ruminations if I didn’t imagine poor misguided teenagers marveling about them as though they contained actual poetry or philosophy. But that’s okay. I’m sure teenagers don’t do this anymore. Their grandfathers do, which is WAY more pathetic.
“Sometimes When We Touch”, Dan Hill (1977)
The cri de coeur of an emotional cripple. I find this one especially hilarious. I have to quote it at length:
Sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide.
I want to hold you ’til I die
Til we both break down and cry
I want to hold you til the fear in me subsides
So, what’s this guy do, just sit around and cry all day? I bet he wouldn’t if he HAD A JOB!
“On and On”, Stephen Bishop (1977)
Another one about a young man who “feels like crying”. The impression is reinforced by the fact that Bishop sounds like he has the sniffles throughout the track. Somebody hand this man a Kleenex! His nose is dripping! Especially unfortunate, given the song’s title, is that it does indeed seem to go “on and on”, or as Bishop pronounces it “awn and awn”.
“Longer” by Dan Fogelberg, (1980)
Sappy, saccharine, repetitive, and seemingly endless. Just a dreadful songwriter, he piles up line after line of sweet smelling manure until it reaches the roof of the barn. In fact, Fogelberg’s music is so very terrible that I have to list him twice —
“The Leader of The Band”, Dan Fogelberg (1981)
“His blood runs through my instrument“?! BLECHHHH!