A Brief History
Our radio waves and video channels are often assaulted by hit songs that are anything but upbeat, exciting or rollicking. Some of these songs are either tear jerkers or so sickeningly sweet you want to gag when you hear them. Some are just hokey girlie songs (no problem if you like them, as long as you are a girl), while others belong in a fairy tale. Here we list 10 of the worst offenders, and, of course, since they were hit songs we realize there will be outraged defenders of each one. Feel free to vent and voice your displeasure with our selections or to nominate other sappy songs for the list.
10. “America” (aka “Coming to America”) Neil Diamond, 1980.
Reaching #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the adult contemporary charts, this hokey song about immigrants was part of Neil’s hit movie The Jazz Singer. The song works well in the movie but quickly becomes tiresome when hearing it over and over with its blatantly patriotic and nationalistic rabble rousing. Whatever happened to the hard-rocking Neil Diamond of old? Honorable mention to “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood.
9. “Country Bumpkin” Cal Smith, 1974.
A #1 hit for one week, this song tells the tale of a “country bumpkin” who marries, has a son, and his wife dies. Not exactly uplifting if you are depressed or have suffered such a loss. If you are not familiar with this song, get your hot cocoa with marshmallows and your crying towel ready. Honorable mention to “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones.
8. “Daisy a Day” Jud Strunk, 1973.
If Cal Smith was trying to outdo Jud Strunk, he did not quite make it. Strunk had introduced his song on the comedy show Laugh-In and performed it on a set made to resemble the moon as a nod to the fact the song had actually been played on the real moon. About a boy and a girl who get married, the boy brings the girl a daisy every day, including to her grave after she dies. Strunk died at only age 45 when he crashed his plane after suffering a heart attack. The song reached the top 20 on pop and country charts. Honorable mention to “I Love” by Tom T. Hall. (“I Love” spent 2 weeks at #1 in 1973 and was featured in a 2003 Coors Light commercial.)
7. “Jesus Take the Wheel” Carrie Underwood, 2005.
A #1 country song (#20 pop charts) and a Grammy winner, this sappy song is about a frazzled young mother who is driving in wintry Ohio when she loses control of her car on “black ice” upon which she implores Jesus to “take the wheel,” surrendering control of her car and life to the Savior. Of course, Jesus apparently does take the wheel and safely stops the car. (Hooray!) I hope other drivers do not try this emergency technique when I am out there on the road but simply slow down and drive safely instead.
6. “Over The Rainbow” Judy Garland, 1939.
The theme song from The Wizard of Oz, teenaged Dorothy Gale (Garland) wistfully sings it after failing to get her preoccupied Aunt and Uncle (guardians) to listen to her story about her dog. Ranked on some lists as the greatest song of the 20th century or even the greatest movie song of all time, it is, of course, a good song by a great performer, but it is hopelessly sappy, drippy and smarmy. Wistfully fantasizing about miraculous fantasyland-type things is best left to those who drop acid. The rest of us have to deal with reality. Movie audiences were thankfully spared a crying version of the song that was cut from the final edit of the movie. Garland herself died of a drug overdose at age 47, a pathetic figure. Trivia: Garland was born in Chelsea, London, England.
5. “Achy Breaky Heart” Billy Ray Cyrus, 1992.
Reaching #1 on country charts and #4 on pop charts, this crossover hit was played ad nauseum. The music video channel VH1 listed it #2 on its list of 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever. Line dancing mania generated by this song meant diners were subjected to hearing this beaten into their heads every time they visited a western-themed steakhouse. In 1992, Alvin and the Chipmunks covered the song. Enough said.
4. “ Last Kiss” J. Frank Wilson, 1964.
The first successful version of this song, it stands in for all those tragic 1950’s and 1960’s songs about teen lovers dying in car wrecks. (Cars were so much more lethal in those days.) This version reached #2 on the charts, as did a 1999 Pearl Jam cover. Other songs that could fill in “just as well” include “Teen Angel” (1959) by Mark Dinning, “Tell Laura I Love Her” (1960) Ray Peterson and “Patches” (1962) and “Laurie (Strange Things Happen” (1965), both by Dickie Lee. Honorable mention to “Honey” (1968) by Bobby Goldsboro.
3. “Candle in the Wind” (Princess Di version) Elton John, 1997.
A tribute to the recently deceased Princess Diana, the song was an adaptation of Elton John’s 1973 “Candle in the Wind” about Marilyn Monroe. The Guinness Book of World Records called this version the biggest-selling single of all time, with over 33 million copies sold. What is the fascination with the royals? It is true that Diana devoted much of her time to worthy causes, but the fact she would not have been killed if she had been wearing a seat belt should serve as a reminder that seat belts save lives!
2. “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, 1974.
Usually misunderstood to be about the Viet Nam War, this song was actually written about the Civil War. It tells the tale about a soldier who did not come back home alive to his sweetheart. The original reached #1 and was covered by Paper Lace who wore Union Civil War Uniforms when performing it.
1. “You Light Up My Life” Debby Boone, 1977.
Both the song and album by the same name rocketed to #1. Boone got the Best New Artist Grammy for this performance, but somewhere along the way, the public realized how hokey the song really was. Still, the song spent a record amount of time at #1 (until beaten in 1991) and was covered by LeAnn Rimes and other notable singers such as Patti Smith! In spite of its success, the song also ranks in many “worst songs of all time lists.”
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