Every year or three, a song comes out that becomes a hit by sheer force of stupid. It's got some irresistibly catchy something to it, and it lights the world on fire. For a time, you simply can't escape it. And then, everyone comes to their senses, and the song is relegated to the dustbin of history. Usually. Sometimes, nostalgia colors our perception, and the song becomes a "classic." But these embarrassing hits are usually by one- or two-hit wonders, and if they do become something of a classic, it is almost exclusively by someone who remembers it from their youth. I'll cop to liking one or two. . .or three. . .of these songs, but I'm not going to tell you which ones!
And truth be told, I'm probably only scratching the surface here. There are undoubtedly many, many others. The first one I can remember stands out in my memory only for its repetitive (sort of) beat boxing, and the repeated use of the word "butt." See, this was the early 70s, when "butt" was almost a dirty word, particularly for a little kid like me. It was and is The Bertha Butt Boogie, by the Jimmy Castor Bunch. The next alarmingly popular oddity (though I'm probably skipping many) is Afternoon Delight by the Starland Vocal Band. Yeah, it's a little ditty about having sex in the middle of the day, though it sounded much more innocent than that at the time.
And while the 70s was rife with embarrassment, the next two that really stand out for me are from the disco era, namely Disco Duck by the nerdtastic Rick Dees, and A Fifth of Beethoven by The Walter Murphy Band.
Though we could hang in the 70s for a lot longer on the subject, let's move to the 80s, which could teach the 70s a thing or two about shame. Leaving the visuals aside (when Patty Smythe of Scandal and possibly Pat Benatar might take the prize), there were numerous puzzling songs out there. Take Mickey by Toni Basil for instance. Sure the visuals are crazed. But how did this song every become a hit? And--in a rare case of a megastar getting caught in the shame web--how the hell did Physical become Olivia Newton-John's biggest hit? In fact, it was one of the biggest hits of the decade, which tells you a little something about the 80s.
Sometimes, a song is intended as a novelty song, but still fits into the category of embarrassing. If this was a seasonal post, I might go with Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. But since it is July, I think Pac-Man Fever fits the bill. After that, much of the 80s becomes a blur of bad. It's just too much to sort through. You've got Milli Vanilli, Rockwell, Jermaine and LaToya Jackson. . .it's just too much. But in 1989, one gem stands out: Biz Markie's Just a Friend. So complete in its badness, that it is played for laughs today.
So let's leap into the 90s, and save the 80s for a later date. There are four major embarrassing hits that instantly leap to mind, each a testament to 90s WTF? In no particular date or badness order, they are:
I'm Too Sexy by Right Said Fred, Supermodel by RuPaul, The Macarena by Los del Rio and Mambo No. 5 by Lou Bega.
And with that, I sort of have to call it a day and wrap up. Have there been embarrassing hit songs since the 90s? Oh, I'm sure there have been. But I'm not sure we've gotten enough distance from them to realize their awfulness. I'd be happy to take suggestions for a sequel post though. Drop me a line with your picks, and I'll get to work. In the meantime, Happy Monday!