Ick Factor – 10 Worst Songs of the ’60s
Creepy, psychotic, and just plain terrible.
60’s music at its best (see previous post) expresses the boundless optimism of that time, people’s hopes for freedom from oppression and repression. But that decade was also dark, with heroes assassinated, endless killing in Vietnam, cities burning….and some very, very bad songs.
1. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (Iron Butterfly)–“Baby, you know what I mean.” No actually, I don’t. Didn’t then, don’t now. Just turn it off. Better yet, give me that record and we can use it as a Frisbee. Bad, bad Doggy, and 17 minutes of it. Iron Butterfly later claimed George Morton (Vanilla Fudge) produced it. Vanilla Fudge – that’s to his credit? Morton begged off, saying he was “heavily drinking at the time.” Can’t blame him.. And hey, the poor guys were from Long Island.
2. “They’re Coming to Take Me Away.” (Napoleon the IV, whoever he was.) All I remember of this is some kind of psychotic rant, one quite effectively designed to drive the listener crazy. The song is so scary I refuse to listen to it, even for research purposes. Apparently I’m not alone. Though it reached No. 3 on the Top Forty in 1966, and was for a time inescapable, I’ve never heard it since, which happily suggests that the people who program radio may possess souls.
3. “Ballad of the Green Berets.” (Sgt. Barry Sadler) From the distance of forty years I can finally find sympathy for Sadler’s defense of the soldiers fighting an unpopular war. What I can’t defend is the musical means he chose to do it. The great music of the ‘60’s was a product of brave experiments, mixing genres and musical cultures as they’d never been before. But much of that music also served as rallying cries for the counter culture, which among other things, was against the War. So it’s understandable that Sadler would reject the electric guitars, funky grooves and wailing vocals of Rock in favor of a style that harked back at least a generation: a bland, earnest voice intoning the melody over a bare bed of military snares, joined by a soulless chorus of humming men. If he only intended to defend the soldiers, Nixon’s Silent Majority at home took it up as their rallying cry. And this skirmish in the culture wars they won. “Ballad” became the number one song of 1966, beating out the Beatles and Stones. Thankfully, we’re no longer in Vietnam. And thankfully, music has never gone back there since.
4. “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” (Kenny Rogers.) Another musical casualty of the Vietnam War, this one about a literal casualty. Nothing wrong with the music, but the subject matter – a guy who’s come home unable to please his Ruby, because he’s “less than a man” -is the kind of melodrama that just doesn’t belong in a pop song. An opera, a movie maybe. This song truly jumps the shark in the last verse:
“And if I could move I’d get my gun
And put her in the ground
Don’t take your love to town”
Oh Kenny, don’t make me hear that song.
5. “Young Girl” (Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.) The melody and overblown strings and horns aren’t so bad. But the message, about the temptations of jailbait, is TMI. And especially creepy, when you consider that Gary Glitter – a glam rocker who’s been convicted of multiple crimes of abusing young girls –wanted to cover it. Young Girl -Get outta my life.
6. “Don’t Think Twice” (Four Seasons.) Great when Dylan did it. Or, if you prefer, Peter, Paul and Mary. I like to think I sing a passable version. But what were these guys thinking? Hard to know what’s worse – if they thought it was a joke, or if they were serious, trying to hop on the folk-rock bandwagon. Amazingly, it was almost as big a hit as P P & M’s version.
7. “Riders on the Storm” (The Doors.) By this song it should have been apparent to even the most ardent Doors fans that old Jimbo was a hopeless drunk. After this song, it should have come as no surprise when he died like Marat in a Paris bathtub. Tell me, what’s the difference between this boozy crooning and that of Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., all the Rat Packers – the guys we rockers fomented a musical revolution to overthrow?
8. “(She’s Come) Undone” (The Guess Who) – I’ve also seen this in Wikipedia spelled “Undun,” which seems perfect to describe the sensation of getting stupider by the minute as you listen to this song. The vocal – which is more than halfway to Morrison’s croon in no. 6 –grates because that style should have been extinct in the rock music of 1969. But also because the nightclub entertainer’s tone is all wrong to be depicting the very serious subject (They’re coming to take HER away). And then there are the lyrics:
“Too many mountains
And not enough stairs to climb
Too many people
And not enough eyes to see”
Too many bad metaphors, and not enough editors.
Too many master tapes and not enough bulk erasers. *
9. “Sugar Sugar” (The Archies.) What’s most enraging about this is the knowing smirk in the vocal, which combines the cheerful sadism of a frat boy who’s pouring ice cubes down your pants with the wicked joy of a huckster who knows he’s singing junk, loves the fact that there’s a world of people stupid enough to buy it, and actually revels in doing his part to degrade culture.
10. “Mr. Moonlight” (The Beatles) ** - A last offense in the “rockers who should never croon” category. It was just an album cut, never a hit. How dare I put something by the immortal Beatles on this list? No, it’s not as terrible as the rest of this junk. But in the brilliant light of the rest of their output up to that time, it was terrible. It came at the end of the first side of Beatles ’65, after “I’m a Loser,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and immediately after “I’ll follow the sun….” I got in the habit of yanking the needle off the record until there was a deep gash in the groove before that song. And this song serves as early warning of the devil in Mr. McCartney – a product of his love of old English Hall music. After the demise of the Beatles that devil wrestled full control of the once great musician, leaving us holding Wings. Wings of song, very bad song.
**CORRECTION OK, I blew it on this one. It’s John’s thing, not Paul’s. And, as someone noted, his vocal intro is great. I put this on the list because I didn’t bother to listen to it, but relied on my memory. It’s still a lousy song, though not ick material. The organ solo is awful, and is probably Paul, but I can just see them laughing their butts off as he plays it. Question then – what is no. 10?
Tell me what I missed, or if I’ve skewered one of your favorites. (After all, these didn’t become hits by themselves.)
* A device in the days of magnetic tape, which employed a powerful magnet to remove any trace of recording from a tape.