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Ick Factor – 10 Worst Songs of the ’60s

May 26, 2010

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.

image by laurakgibbs via flickr

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.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps by David

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.

image by frances1972 via flickr

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.

image by humanfeather via wikimedia

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
Oh Ruby
Don’t take your love to town”
Oh Kenny, don’t make me hear that song.

image by clay via picasaweb

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.

image by Arne Koehler via wikimedia

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.

The Raft of The Medusa by Gericault

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?

detail of a Bronzino

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. *

image by Uwe Hermann via Wikimedia commons

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.

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From → 60's Music, Pop Music

28 Comments
  1. I more than 60% agree with you John. Especially anything by Garry Puckett!
    (Probably put a fine top 10 list from the Union Gap alone!)

    Re: #1…I’m listening to it right now. My CD has, and I’m not kidding-3 versions of the song, just in case you forgot how it went, I guess! There is actually something cool going on (only in the long version) after Erik Brann stops the incessant riff, in the quiet middle, after the guitar solo and the somewhat innovative tom-tomming solo by Ron Bushy. When the guitar comes back in on top of noodling organ. Then it’s off to another rhythmic dervish. This stuff is pretty cool. We’re talking FUZZ to the max. What Erik Brann lacked in chops, (everything) he made up for in tone and attack. It’s no East West, that’s for darn sure, but-not in my top 10 worst.

    I do take exception to #7. Not the Doors best, and yes a bit too croony, but this slow minor blues called for that. I think Jim stopped most of his shenanigans for the L.A. Woman sessions, and just got down to business. That album was recorded stripped down and in record time (probably so Jim could go out on a binder as soon as it was completed!) They knew it was their last, since Jim was in ridiculously big trouble from the Miami fiasco, and they just did what they did so many years earlier-play and play well.

    Re: #8-love the visual! Yes a sappy-ass song for sure (she didn’t notice that the light had changed…) Just bad writing but top ten…?

    Re: #10…Again great visual and what you wrote re: McCartney and his devil- brilliant! BUT…No way top 10 worst. The intro is very cool-John screaming his lungs out-a real wake up! Plus the Gretsch/Rickenbacher pairing with spot on vocal harmony and Ringo’s massive solo tom hit-Brilliant! The cheesy organ solo makes me think the boys are having a little joke about the whole deal. I see it as more a John song, since he’s really the lead vocal. What the heck- I actually like it! Anyway you can’t take the cheddar out of an Englishman and I guess that goes for Liverpudlians too. (I might put Long and Winding Road in my top 10 list though).

    I’m now thinking of all these bad songs that are so much worse than these, but most of them hail from the 70’s! (make a top 100 list!) Although we shouldn’t overlook some stinkers from Tommy James and the Shondelles’ (The Bon Jovi’s of their day!)

    • OK. I actually hadn’t heard “Mr. Moonlight” in years. And yes, John could sing any of the songs on this list (“cept 2 and 3) and sound great cause he was John Lennon.(and yeah, his “Mr.” alone is quite fine.) But the SONG is still terrible, seen in the sun of the rest of the album. What earns its place on the list though is that organ solo. Yes I think it’s a joke. But that particular organ thing in those days was the instant creeps, horror movie stuff, evoking scenes soap operas like “The Edge of Night.”
      Far as the Doors go, maybe I’m a little harsh because I saw them the same month as Hendrix, and Jim gave a completely lackluster performance, bombed holding onto the mike stand so he wouldn’t fall into the crowd.
      Hey, big fun when we get to the ’70’s!

    • I hope I wasn’t too harsh in my public comment – end of a long day. You of course are right about Moonlight being John’s thing – I will amend the post and credit you when I get the chance – very, very busy!

      JM

  2. I actually like #s 1, 7, and 8 but you may include the rest.

    I bought “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” as to reward myself for passing my driver’s license test. I can still play much of the drum solo today using any hard surface I can find.

    “Riders on the Storm” was great because of the electric piano and the thunderstorm effects. My roommate and I used to turn out the lights in our dorm room and while listening to it and and Manzarek’s keyboards and the storm sounds gave the song a spooky vibe that was so cool.

    As for “Undun” (the way it’s spelled on my greatest hits album) I’ve always loved it because of the jazzy arrangement and Burton Cummings’ vocals. I’ve always had a soft spot for singers like Morrison and Cummings because I grew up on my Mom’s 78 RPM records listening to lots crooners and big bands. I love Michael Buble.

    One song you can include on your list s Cream’s “Toad.” On Wheels of Fire it is a 16 minute instrumental with a drum solo that must have lasted 15 minutes. A whole LP side with just a drum solo??? Please! 60s excess at its worst!

    • Another reader was with you on 1,7 & 8. (And many on 7 – looks like I’v gored a sacred cow there.)
      That croony thing in 7 &8 -I realize now that it was a line in the musical sand back then. Behind Undun and Jim at his loungiest stood Sinatra and Tony Bennett, jiving it up way across the yawning generation gap, which was never so wide as when it came to music. I realize that my list is really about what I hated THEN, not now. Tony Bennet seems kinda cute now.
      But drum solos. The sweet opium of nostalgia makes my heart ache for many things from the ’60 which my mind knows full well weren’t so great. Not drum solos. I remember how bad they were, even coming from Ginger Baker or Mitch Mitchell .

  3. I’ll salvage Nos. 7, 18 and 10 with other folks. The opening to “Mister Moonlight” was actually one of my favorite moments on “Beatles ’65,” and I kind of liked the whole track. It’s of its time, I’d say.

    • With your voice added to the chorus about Mr. Moonlight, I’ve posted a correction. And someone told me that there are far worse Doors songs – “Touch Me,” for example.

  4. My nomination for your tenth spot actually is No. 1 on my list of the Worst Records of All-Time. It’s pop, not anything close to rock, but then a few of those on your list come close to that line. (Gary Puckett, for one.) I’ll nominate Terry Jacks’ “Seasons In The Sun.” If you want a second thought, how about Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-A-Ling”? Either one would fill your tenth spot nicely.

  5. An addendum: My last two nominations are actually from the ’70s, of course, while the topic was the songs of the ’60s. My doof. But “Riders on the Storm” came out in 1971. So is there some flex here? Or should we all start a list for the ’70s (so much to work with in that decade).

    • luminous muse permalink

      To me the ’60s kind of piddle away in the early 70s. ’71 is fine (Blue from my list of 10 Albums That Changed Everything is from ’71.) But not after ’73, IMHO.

      I’m hard at work on worst of ’70s (actually it’s very easy) – so far I’ve come up with over 30, so I’m gonna break them down into categories -Rock, Pop, Ballads, And Disco/Funk. Oddly, what I’m light on is the last category – yeah, disco sucks, but what sucks worse than what?

  6. Oh,my, looking for bad disco . . . The first one that came to mind is “Fly, Robin, Fly” by the Silver Convention. I look forward to your lists!

  7. uh... Clem permalink

    Re: that 70s list…
    Two songs that push the homicidal button in me: The Hustle, and that Chuck Mangione instrumental with the flatulent trumpet.

    • Yeah, The Hustle is ugly. “Feel So Good” feels pretty bad too, but I’ll have trouble including it because when I met my wife I found that record in her collection….fortunately there was also Glenn Gould’s Well Tempered Clavier.

  8. Joe Coffee permalink

    Agree that Inna-Gadda-Etc. should make the list. I have a tough time watching the movie Manhunter (which I prefer to the remake, Red Dragon) because this song plays in its entirety. (Maybe the director wanted the audience to feel trapped like the character.) And Ballad of the Green Berets, sure, but like the Colonel Bogie March from Bridge on the River Kwai, there used to be a niche for tunes with a good martial beat. (Peter Case & John Prine wrote a great spoof on this genre with The Wonderful 99, found on Case’s Six-Pack of Love CD.)

    My nomination to fill the void left by Mr. Moonlight…Blue Cheer’s Summertime Blues. When it came out, I thought it was so heavy with its distorted guitar riffs. But upon further investigation of the band, they were just not ready for prime time. And when I finally heard the Eddie Cochran version–which rocked–well, another instance of a remake not measuring up to the original.

    Your writings are very enjoyable and insightful. It bolsters my belief that appreciating and listening to older music doesn’t mean that one is motivated by nostalgia. It was great music, it was new, and there were some mighty talents involved.

    • Thank you, Joe. Though thee have been isolated good things since the 60s, Rock music for me peaked then. Though I keep stumbling on newer things I missed, like Jane Siberry. Some of the blogs I link to have turned me on to good stuff.

  9. Brian Dean permalink

    How about “Go to pieces” by Peter and Gordon?

    • Hadn’t thought of that one in years. Yeah, it’s pretty slimy. I ran into Pter Asher when I was in a band opening for Linda Ronstadt. I heard at the time he was producing and managing Linda and James Taylor, getting 50% of what they made. Lucrative gig.

      As an aspiring producer I watched him “producing” Linda’s band. He asked them to do a song; when they were done he said, “That was great!” They did another and he said, “Great!” again then they went for lunch. I figured he must have known some secret I didn’t – I found producing hard work.

  10. Walter permalink

    I disagree with your selection of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. 40+ million people bought the album! It contained all the flavor and vibe of the 60’s and is still played by almost every 60’s rock cover band. I’m guessing by the tone in your writing that your some old, drunk, washed up musician that never made it and is still bitter. I saw them play live a couple years ago at Cypress Gardens, Florida and they had the old AND young give them a enthusiastic standing ovation. GET A CLUE!

  11. Timothy permalink

    Juanita Banana by Henri Salvador (1966)… this has to be number one?

    • Well now, I somehow missed that one the first time around. It definitely makes he list. If I make it number one maybe I can get out from under all the folks that love “Innagadadavida.”

  12. I must confess and open my self to the slings and arrows of the internet readers. I LIKED riders of the storm! But Iron butterfly?? I found their lyrics juvinile and and boring. Monkies – well if you hire enought studio muscians, and song writers anyone can be a star! As for the Guess Who and “Mr Moonlight” well as John lennon put it “every one has a bad album in them”! Two more artist for crucifixon – Bobby Goldsborugh and Lou Christie???

  13. Monty permalink

    iHoney by Goldsboro!! My Cup Runneth Over by Ed Ames! Woman by Gary Puckett! (or anything else he ever did 4 that matter…) Dondi (film soundtrack) Havin’ My Baby (PROBABLY Goldsboro!!)

  14. henry elliott permalink

    Brian Jones Bones: Ed Ames was approaching his middle age when he recorded My cup runneth over so maybe he could be excused. I liked Riders on the Storm but I must agree that on the whole the Doors music hasnt aged well. Horse with no name??? Dude thou art out in the desert nothing to do so name the bloody horse!!!! we will all sleep better!! also liked some Gary Puckett stuff but when he decided to become Englebert Humperdink!! There are black holes in the Horse Head nebula that dont suck as badly as old gary!! I think Having my baby was Paul Anka, but heck go ahead and blame Goldsboro he deserves it!! Also good people if you wonder why Gene Hackman beat Richard Harris so unmercifully in the movie Unforgiven – listen to MacArthur Park for about three – four hours!

  15. Brian Jones' bones permalink

    DEAR WALTER: Gawd luv ya buddy! I am glad you enjoy the music of the iron butterfly. I really dont remember that much about them. except In na gadda di vida. I dont remember if they had any other hits. To me they were a one hit wonder. I know when I hear Doug Engle singing flowers and beads from their In na gadda album I reach for a cyniade capsule and my 9mm. But heck man EVERYBODY is gonna like something SOMEONE else hates!! Oh does any one have an opinion on Mike Love firing Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Alan Jardine????? So now the beach boys are Mike Love and a back up band?????

  16. Brian Jones Bones permalink

    I believe I have heard the worst cd/album I have ever suffered through. (that includes the Stones Satanic majesties request) Evolution/Revolution the last lovin spoonful effort without zally and John. with the exception of the song “Never Going Back” it is a morbid, self righteous rant by Joe Butler. This ghastly item includes a 8 minute operetta of automatic weapon fire, bombs falling and burnt out stoner poetry??? Buy the boxed set keep the great cd’s and send this one to someone you really hate!!!

  17. Aquaria permalink

    Riders on the Storm is from 1971.

    Really.

  18. Great post- I read this in preparation for ranking the top 400 songs of the 1960s on my own blog. Thank you for putting Gary Puckett to task; every single one of his songs sounds the same. I’m glad time machines don’t exist, because the dimensions would be filled with past Gary Pucketts suing future Gary Pucketts.

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