At the conclusion of "Guilty Pleasures," an article that appeared in our October 30 issue, I invited readers to send along guilty musical pleasures of their own: awful songs that they can't help enjoying. I was simultaneously pleased and disturbed by the flood of responses I received. Your good-humored letters, faxes and e-mail messages revealed your tastes to be just as deeply flawed as mine.
Music, of course, is a subjective field--and the replies that came my way proved it in spades. When I was pulling together the original piece, for example, my wife nominated "Amie," a 1975 country-pop hit by Pure Prairie League. I told her that she had misunderstood the concept: "Amie," by my way of thinking, wasn't a good track by a terrible band, but a terrible track by a terrible band. However, two respondents disagreed, citing it as an underrated gem. Shows what I know.
I wasn't familiar with all of your candidates for guilty-pleasure status: Either I haven't heard 1959's "Uh! Oh! Part 2," by the Nutty Squirrels, 1975's "I'm on Fire," by 5000 Volts, 1981's "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)," by Chilliwack, and 1986's "Let's Go All the Way," by Sly Fox, or I've managed to successfully banish them from my memory. From the rest of your recommendations, I've culled thirty choices, which are catalogued below in alphabetical order. They are accompanied by data from their chart history as reported in Billboard magazine as well as by commentary from yours truly or from readers to whom I have pledged anonymity. The results are likely to unleash dozens of melodies you didn't know were locked inside your brain. Proceed at your own risk.
"Afternoon Delight," by the Starland Vocal Band
Date charted: June 5, 1976. Peak: No. 1.
Before he left this earth for a better place, John Denver--via his record label, Windsong--helped this irksome dollop of treacle become an unavoidable smash. Too bad he didn't take it with him.
"Baby Hold On," by Eddie Money
Date charted: April 8, 1978. Peak: No. 11.
Bar-band fodder from the Joe Palooka of rock and roll. One reader writes, "I've got one ticket to paradise every time I hear this song."
"Billy, Don't Be a Hero," by Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods
Date charted: May 11, 1974. Peak: No. 1.
Astoundingly, this inane abomination was the most suggested tune in our unscientific survey. One correspondent described it well: "Sorta like crossing Dylan's 'Masters of War' and Barney's theme."
"The Candy Man," by Sammy Davis Jr.
Date charted: April 15, 1972. Peak: No. 1.
I'll bet that when Davis scored the biggest hit of his life with this bit of goo, his eye popped out of his head.
"Chick-A-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It)," by Daddy Dewdrop
Date charted: April 10, 1971. Peak: No. 9.
How do you ensure that Madison Avenue types use your song in a lucrative advertising campaign? By making it sound like a commercial in the first place.
"Cry for Help," by Rick Astley
Date charted: March 9, 1991. Peak: No. 7.
In one of his compositions, singer-songwriter Nick Lowe rhymed "Rick Astley" with "ghastly." Good one, Nick.
"Dream Weaver," by Gary Wright
Date charted: January 31, 1976. Peak: No. 2.
I named this spacy single one of the worst 100 rock hits a few years ago--but when I heard it again a while back, I almost enjoyed it. Regard that admission as a cry for help.
"An Everlasting Love," by Andy Gibb
Date charted: July 22, 1978. Peak: No. 5.
Arguably the worst song by the least talented Gibb brother. But at least it landed him in the sack with Victoria Principal.
"Everybody Wants You," by Billy Squier
Date charted: November 27, 1982. Peak: No. 32.
A contributor claims that this stomper is the standard against which all other bad but likable tunes should be measured. My guess is that it's a guy thing--but since I'm a guy, I sort of dig it, too.
"Heat of the Moment," by Asia
Date charted: May 1, 1982. Peak: No. 4.
"I cannot even begin to explain myself!" acknowledges one participant. Well, if you can't, I'm not even going to try.
"Hot Blooded," by Foreigner
Date charted: July 8, 1978. Peak: No. 3.
The hook lines go: "Hot blooded/Check it and see/I got a fever of 103." Their I.Q.s are likely quite a bit lower.
"In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," by Iron Butterfly
Date charted: September 28, 1968. Peak: No. 30.
True story: I saw Iron Butterfly live in Grand Junction during the early Eighties. Went to take a leak at the beginning of the "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" drum solo--and upon my return, it was still going on. That, my friends, is rock and roll.
"Little Willy," by Sweet
Date charted: March 17, 1973. Peak: No. 3.
To me, this isn't a guilty pleasure. This is a damn good song, and that's all there is to it.
"Lonely Boy," by Andrew Gold
Date charted: April 16, 1977. Peak: No. 7.
A fan's testimonial: "When I was in seventh grade, feeling the alienation of being overweight, lonely and misunderstood, I took to this song and its mindlessly simple pounding piano opening like a cheerleader to Oxy 5." Oddly, this revelation makes me hate "Lonely Boy" even more than I did before.
"Magnet and Steel," by Walter Egan
Date charted: July 1, 1978. Peak: No. 8.
One impassioned reader was so taken by this long-ago blockbuster that he tried to write out all the lyrics from memory: "I something something--and you ought to know-ow/Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh (female backup vocals)/I something something something something ow-ow...For YOU ARE MAGNET/AND I AM STEE-EEEL." I agree; the song is really...something.
"Mandy," by Barry Manilow
Date charted: December 7, 1974. Peak: No. 1.
You're kidding, right? People couldn't actually like this epic teeth-grinder, could they? Could they?
"Mr. Bojangles," by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Date charted: January 2, 1971. Peak: No. 9.
A wise soul confesses, "When it comes on the radio, I always turn it up. By the time the song is through, I realize I've been had once again by its mawkish sentimentality. But I do it every time."
"One Night in Bangkok," by Murray Head
Date charted: March 23, 1985. Peak: No. 3.
Penned by lyricist Tim Rice and two members of Abba (see below), "One Night in Bangkok" is, by any decent standard, crummy. Evidently, my standards aren't the only ones that are indecent.
"One Toke Over the Line," by Brewer & Shipley
Date charted: March 13, 1971. Peak: No. 10.
Would anyone remember this track if it weren't about weed? Maybe--but not nearly as fondly.
"Poor Side of Town," by Johnny Rivers
Date charted: October 8, 1966. Peak: No. 1.
Rivers put out some entertaining material: "Seventh Son," "Secret Agent Man," "Rockin' Pneumonia--Boogie Woogie Flu." Couldn't you folks have picked one of those instead?
"The Rain, the Park & Other Things," by the Cowsills
Date charted: October 21, 1967. Peak: No. 2.
I've been praying that I wouldn't be forced into the position of conceding that I have a certain irrational fondness for the Cowsills. Thanks a heap, whoever you are.
"Runaway," by Bon Jovi
Date charted: April 21, 1984. Peak: No. 39.
Back in the Eighties, it seemed that Jon Bon Jovi's career would just keep growing and growing and growing. Now, though, he's reduced to making guest appearances on Regis & Kathy Lee. Time really does heal all wounds.
"Save the Best for Last," by Vanessa Williams
Date charted: February 15, 1992. Peak: No. 1.
If this number's title is to be believed, Williams will eventually put out something good--and then she'll die.
"Sugar, Sugar," by the Archies
Date charted: August 16, 1969. Peak: No. 1.
Let me tell you a little secret: Everyone likes this song. They may claim otherwise, but they're lying. Trust me.
"Take a Chance on Me," by Abba
Date charted: May 6, 1978. Peak: No. 3.
Among the most insidious songs in recent pop-music history. If the Soviets had found a way to use it for propaganda purposes, the U.S. would've gone Communist midway through the Reagan administration.
"U Can't Touch This," by M.C. Hammer
Date charted: April 28, 1990. Peak: No. 8.
Sure, it's pretty good; it's basically a remake of the Rick James funk classic "Super Freak (Part 1)." Now if only that Hammer guy wasn't on it...
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"Undercover Angel," by Alan O'Day
Date charted: May 7, 1977. Peak: No. 1.
I wonder: Will listening to a couple of Slayer albums finally force this song out of my head?
"Watching Scotty Grow," by Bobby Goldsboro
Date charted: January 9, 1971. Peak: No. 11.
My God. What is wrong with you people?
"Working for the Weekend," by Loverboy
Date charted: January 9, 1982. Peak: No. 29.
Best enjoyed while wearing a headband and red leather pants and sweating profusely.
"You Oughta Know," by Alanis Morissette
Date charted: 1995. Peak: No. 1.
The horrifying Morissette phenomenon is too recent for me to be able to see this song as anything other than the beginning of something really bad. Give me another ten years and perhaps I'll think differently. But I hope not.