For whatever challenges you may be undergoing right now, may you face them with the courage of a Klingon, the logic of a Vulcan, the cunning of a Romulan, the persistence of a Bajoran, the acquisitiveness of a Ferengi, and the drive of a Cardassian. I know I’m doing the best I can; let’s hope you all will too.
What’s the human defining characteristic? Self-delusion? Hypocrisy?
I’m a casual music fan by my standards—i can occasionally come up with an odd piece of trivia, but I don’t obsess. I listen to music when the feeling hits me, but it’s not an integral part of my day. That said, I also am amazed by how some songs not only exist, but become incredibly popular, reaching humber one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. So as a way of exploring this, I’ve decided to take a look at the number one songs for every year since the Hot 100 chart started in 1959 and list the most egregious songs, and hopefully provide a case for which one I think is the worst.
So to start, here’s the list of number one hit songs from 1959:
The Chipmunk Song by The Chipmunks and David Seville
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by The Platters
Stagger Lee by Lloyd Price
Venus by Frankie Avalon
Come Softly to Me by The Fleetwoods
The Happy Organ by Dave “Baby” Cortez
Kansas City by Wilbert Harrison
The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton
Lonely Boy by Paul Anka
A Big Hunk o’ Love by Elvis Presley
The Three Bells by The Browns
Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny
Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin
Mr. Blue by The Fleetwoods
Heartaches by the Number by Guy Mitchell
Why by Frankie Avalon
Now I know what you’re thinking—got to be The Chipmunks—and that’s one of my finalists, but it’s not the runaway winner you might expect, at least not for me. A quick digression: there are some truly epic songs on here. Sleep Walk is the song that you don’t know you know. Mack the Knife would be a better song if dudebros would stop ruining it at karaoke (same goes for every Frank Sinatra song ever). Kansas City and Stagger Lee are classics. But I’m here to argue for the worst of the bunch, and to that end, here are videos of the songs that I think suck the worst.
Alvin and the Chipmunks with The Chipmunk Song http://youtu.be/FYT_0f_ZfLk
Johnny Horton with The Battle of New Orleans http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CnPv_1SVh0
The Browns with Three Bells http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTkbj56bnYs
There’s a lot of whiny boy music in there as well—both Frankie Avalon songs are turds, as is the Paul Anka and the Guy MItchell—but none of it reaches the level of horrible in these three songs. So let’s start with the obvious. The Chipmunk Song is not only a novelty song, it’s a Christmas song as well, which is like being a libertarian who doesn’t smoke weed. Also, it’s the reason anyone with kids has had to know what the chipmunks are, which is a plague on parenthood right up there with boy bands and Alf. But I’ll give it this—it’s not offensive in any way (that I can tell), and Alvin’s insistence on asking for a present feels a little like a forerunner of Cartman singing O Holy Night where Christmas is a “time for CHristmas trees and pie.”
Johnny Horton’s The Battle of New Orleans is catchy enough to be a monster earworm with its martial snare drums and his folksy voice. It’s cutesy and saccharine and jingoistic, which is not all that unusual for 1959, but which definitely feels out of place to me now in 2014. One of my bigger pet peeves, as a person who grew up near New Orleans is the way he pronounces it—New Or-leenz—which is the way people from other places say it. (For the record, only a relative few locals call it N’Awlins. Most say it the way I do, more like New Or-lins.) Songwriters do that because it’s easier to rhyme the long e sound and stressing the last syllable makes for a more satisfying end to a line, but dammit, it’s not said that way.
The Browns’ Three Bells would be a more interesting song if it were a murder ballad, because at least then there’d be some tension in the song. It reminds me of the William Wordsworth poem “Lucy Gray,” which is a morose poem about a little girl who gets lost in a snowstorm and whose body is never found. It’s depressing when it starts and depressing when it ends and depressing all the way through the damn thing. The only redeeming thing about this song is that the Browns do nice harmonies, but in service of some of the most tedious lyrics I’ve ever heard.
So, decision time (and if you’ve stuck with me this long, thank you). My head tells me it’s the Chipmunk song, but my heart goes with Johnny Horton, and for more than just this song. Johnny Horton also unleashed this abomination on the world.
The song is called Johnny Reb and it’s a paean to Confederate soldiers. It’s the worst kind of lost causerism, and it makes me hate Johnny Horton with the fire of a million suns. Anyone who sympathizes with the Confederate States of America can fuck right off.
Next week: 1960