Music News

Guilty Pleasures

Seven years ago this month, Westword published my list of the 100 worst hit songs of the rock era ("The Scum Also Rises," October 24, 1990). But this countdown to mediocrity, which began with Andy Gibb's "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" and ended with the unfathomably abysmal Paul Anka anthem "(You're) Having My Baby," told only part of the pop-music story. After all, no one is ashamed to talk about smashes that induce vomiting more efficiently than a finger down the throat or a glassful of Liquid-Plumr. But few of us will admit that there are equally execrable cuts that we actually enjoy. Displaying such a lapse in judgment is bound to lead to ridicule from peers who conceal similar musical secrets but have the good sense to keep their mouths shut about them.

In the interest of honesty, however, I'm fessing up. Below is a very personal roster of extremely guilty pleasures--tracks whose horrible quality doesn't prevent me from liking them on some level. I've limited my choices to five each from the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and the first half of the Nineties, and I've done my best to make them as embarrassing as possible. I didn't wimp out by citing, for example, a second-rate Beatles single; only the worst of the worst are on hand. As a bonus, I've also included five current tunes that should cause me to lunge for my radio dial when they come blasting out of my speakers but inexplicably don't. All of the nominees reached the Top 40 during their primes, and allowing that I occasionally sing along with them causes me a deep sense of shame. But the next time I hear them, I'll probably do so again, God help me.

Do you, too, savor some of the following? If you're brave enough, read on.

"Banana Boat (Day-O)," by Harry Belafonte
Date charted: January 12, 1957. Peak position: No. 5.

Somehow, the half-Jamaican Belafonte managed to make a Jamaican folk song sound like reconstituted Nat "King" Cole. But as director Tim Burton (who used it in Beetlejuice) understands, "Banana Boat" is pretty delicious anyway.

"Tiger," by Fabian
Date charted: June 22, 1959. Peak position: No. 3.
Perhaps the slickest and most shallow of all the Elvis ripoffs to emerge in the late Fifties. Still, even a fake Elvis is better than none.

"Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody," by Jerry Lewis
Date charted: November 24, 1956. Peak position: No. 10.
Who wouldn't be thrilled to hear Lewis belt out an Al Jolson chestnut in the same annoying, foghorn voice he uses during his annual telethons for muscular dystrophy? Plenty of people, I suppose. Sorry I mentioned it.

"The Twelth of Never," by Johnny Mathis
Date charted: October 14, 1957. Peak position: No. 9.
Flighty, melodramatic slop that makes me laugh hysterically. I'll do a really dreadful impression of it if you'd like.

"Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu (Volare)," by Domenico Modugno
Date charted: August 4, 1958. Peak position: No. 1.
I always loved those cars.

"Spanish Flea," by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
Date charted: April 9, 1966. Peak position: No. 27.

A rinky-dink instrumental that was used for years as the theme song to TV's The Dating Game. It makes me feel as if I've got a one-in-three chance to score.

"Along Comes Mary," by the Association
Date charted: June 26, 1966. Peak position: No. 7
A song that is to rock-and-roll energy what Pamela Anderson Lee is to brain surgery. But the chorus is going through your head right now, isn't it?

"Take a Letter Maria," by R.B. Greaves
Date charted: October 25, 1969. Peak position: No. 2.
I claim to be a feminist, and yet I dig this musical tribute to a married man who runs off with his secretary. What a phony I am. Mrs. Bobbitt, do your stuff.

"Black Is Black," by Los Bravos
Date charted: September 10, 1966. Peak position: No. 4.
Four guys from Spain (and a fifth from Germany) spat out this unbelievably sweet, nutrition-free wad of bubblegum. Wish I had another one just like it right now.

"In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)," by Zager and Evans
Date charted: June 18, 1969. Peak position: No. 1.
Even though the only acid these guys ingested back in the day probably came from a battery, their dippy sci-fi "epic" is a period piece par excellence. Like taking a drug trip with Henry Kissinger.

"Hooked on a Feeling," by Blue Swede
Date charted: March 2, 1974. Peak position: No. 1.

Okay, okay: It's swill. It's treacle. It's pap. But I can't get enough of those ooga-chakas.

"Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)," by Looking Glass
Date charted: July 1, 1972. Peak position: No. 1.
Admitting that I'm into this appalling story-song has already lost me the respect of about half of my co-workers. As if I had it in the first place.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts