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A Short List of New Classic Songs that Really Suck

A Short List of New Classic Songs that Really Suck

I guess it’s important to pick and choose the works of art our society decides to preserve because they set the bar that all future art is measured against. Well, sometimes society blows that call, and the bar ends up being set rather low.

This happens in every medium, but music is arguably the most egregious offender. Music has a sort of ubiquity that other popular mediums don’t, because it can be played and filtered into anything and everything. While you can simply flip off a bad bit of episodic television that pisses you off and avoid movies that you hated, when that shitty song wafts into your local coffee shop, you have to grit your teeth and stick it out. Usually, it’s not that big of a problem; songs are typically only a few minutes long. But then you have the super-epic classics like Don McLean, whose fucking “American Pie” is a highly regarded epic about loss of innocence on The Day the Music Died. Maybe I could put up with McLean’s warbling yern of nostalgic melodrama for a never-actually-existent time if it ran regular length, but there are over eight fucking minutes of McLean’s shit.

The following list isn’t a typical anti-classic list. This is a list of classics from my generation that blew up and are still in heavy radio rotation. I’m not sure myself if all of them will be declared classics, but the point is that people like them, so there’s a very real chance they will be one day. And my point with this list is to point out that none of them are worthy of being classics. If you claim to like them, you’re only lying to yourself. I know they suck, you know they suck, and I’m only writing out the things about them that you’re too afraid to point out: Namely, that they fucking suck and that all of them, plus their demos, remixes, and negatives should be on top of a garbage fire and not on FM radio. (PS: “From my generation” in this case means songs that I’m old enough to remember when they were new.)

“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”

Green Day

Here is one of the prime examples of how the misuse of bad string power chords can totally destroy a song. “Good Riddance” starts out strong – it’s a more stripped-down sound than you expect to hear from Green Day. It has no bass or drums, and Billy Joe Armstrong sits, plucking away at an acoustic guitar, singing a song which is both written and performed well. Upon a listening, it sounds like it’s destined to go on to eternal life as one of Green Day’s greatest and quirkiest… Then those fucking strings chime in. Those chords are minors in a typical progression, and they add nothing to the song. What they do instead is wreck a pointed reflection of a relationship gone sour by turning it into a standard 90’s-era weeper. A unique pop-punk song ends up turning into a piece of personified melodrama, but you do have to admire what Armstrong accomplished with it: He created a terrible 90’s weeper through bad under-composition rather than bad over-composition. That’s a hell of a trick, especially coming out of a decade where the prevailing attitude was “fuck subtlety TO THE XTREME!!!”

What’s Getting Shafted

Okay, I get it. The entire Nimrod album was a stylistic change for Green Day that everyone forgot about. But is that any excuse to forget the fun, stray cat stutter of “Hitchin’ a Ride?”  

 

“Iris”

Goo Goo Dolls

Here we have one of the big hits of 1998, a massive stomper of a single which is now the only thing anyone remembers about the time Nicolas Cage was a legitimate headliner. “Iris” was from a movie he made called City of Angels from those days. It  involves some weird time signature changes – the Dolls switch from 4/4 to 6/8 and back again on a few measures, and frontman John Rzeznik keeps most of his guitar strings tuned to D, which lends the instrument a chorus-like effect. Unfortunately for listeners everywhere, that chorus-like effect is what makes the song so overwrought and dripping in tearful sentiment that when listeners cry, their snot has the density of pancakes. What with Rzeznik’s wailing guitar, tantrum-like singing, and slow cadence, it’s tough to get the idea that the narrator of the song is HAPPY. It’s sad that it’s “Iris,” of all things, that finally got Rzeznik out of a dire case of writer’s block.

What’s Getting Shafted

A Boy Named Goo is where the band broke out, so it’s easy to forget how old they are. Before “Iris,” the Goos had a pair of hits off that album, “Name” and “Naked,” which sort of began their shift from an ordinary punk band to the mature adult themes that dominate their work today. Both songs are excellent works about lost time and aging and they both deserve as much airplay as “Iris.” But the bigger loss is their album previous to A Boy Named Goo, Superstar Car Wash, which brings out their maturity and combines that with a pop-rock catchiness. Superstar Car Wash was poised to be the breakout that A Boy Named Goo was, and there’s not a weak track on it. I want the singles from it to be heard.

 

“The Reason”

Hoobastank

Maybe you’re sensing a theme here – I can’t fucking stand overwrought love ballads. And this is not just an overwrought love ballad, it’s one with such a juvenile sense of what makes an effective love song that you would think a teenager wrote it. The lyrics include every staple of bad teenage love poetry ever written. Not being a perfect person? In there. Reason to change who the narrator used to be? The reason being the significant other? Yeah, stop me if you’ve never heard any of that before. Show a side the other person didn’t know, yada yada yada… There’s even a long shout at the end of the song, just when it starts to hit its peak. The production and instrumentation are both syrupy builders with a lot of flat, monotone power measures that of course go big during the choruses. Does that sound like every bad love song you’ve ever heard? Well, it should – that’s because “The Reason” is so trite and cliched in lyricism, instrumentals, and production that if the band playing it wasn’t so solemn and weighty, you would think they were Yankovic-ing a style parody.

What’s Getting Shafted

Literally anything at all that isn’t this fucking song.

 

“How You Remind Me”

Nickelback

Yeah yeah, we all know about how much Nickelback sucks, so you would figure it would be left off a list like this. It really goes without saying. If sales figures and acclaim are to be believed, though, “How You Remind Me” is apparently one of the best songs that came out in the later post-grunge years. Billboard and Kerrang! Both put it in top ten lists for its decade, and it’s the song responsible for giving Nickelback a career. So what sucks about it? Well, the trouble is that it grew to a point that it symbolizes what grunge turned into during the mid-90’s: The stripped-down elements which defined grunge are given a brand new polish and cleaned up. More than perhaps any other song of the era, “How You Remind Me” plays right into the expectations of grunge music better than any other band. One of the things that made grunge great was that the musicians kept playing flawed music, and so the message we get from Nickelback is that they don’t mean what they’re writing. They come off like the high school jock bad guys in an 80’s teen movie trying to be a grunge band.

What’s Getting Shafted

The Foo Fighters, for one thing. Nirvana’s former drummer is their frontman, and their music can easily be described as grunge without the anguish. The wave of post-grunge bands was led by Bush, who are also getting a raw deal from Nickelback’s continued popularity. I’m not sure they were any more authentic than Nickelback, but at least they tried to sound that way.

 

“Just Dance”

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is a singer that I truly respect and love. When she first entered public consciousness in 2008, though, I wrote her off because “Just Dance” was her first single. Maybe this is because I don’t like or understand dance music, but the clipped marching beats, R and B-infused beats, and soaring electronics that comprise this song don’t make it sound like any major production breakthrough. In fact, it holds a resemblance to any dance club song where the deejay took a popular song from any other genre, scrubbed off the production and instrumentals, and ramped up the drum machine. Furthermore, Gaga’s interpretation of the song doesn’t help matters. Ostensibly a song about being drunk in a dance club, Gaga herself has said that “Just Dance” is there to speak for the joy in our hearts and about having a good time. Which makes it a dance version of “Don’t Worry, be Happy.”

What’s Getting Shafted

Well, we don’t hear a whole lot of the divine Lady G’s later singles on the radio right now. And some of her early singles are getting left on the curb as well. It would be nice to get an occasional “Telephone” call, you know?

 

“All the Small Things”

Blink-182

There’s only one reason people like this song, and it has nothing to do with the song. It has more to do with a clever video which jabbed and mocked every music video being made by the boy bands which took over the mainstream in the late 90’s. “All the Small Things” was recorded strictly for the point of giving the record company something basic, and in that, it succeeds; the chords run a normal progression through C, F, and G, all of which are overdubbed by extensions. Unfortunately, they all lend the song a tiny rhythm, accompanied by vocals which are just as tiny, and taken for what it is, it goes by in a sequence that feels longer than it lasts and doesn’t have any punch. The instrumentals and vocals sound like they’re fighting with each other and they take turns drowning each other out.

What’s Getting Shafted

Enema of the State wasn’t a good album, and I’ve never been a Blink-182 fan, but they did produce a gem: “What’s My Age Again.” Yes, it’s “All the Small Things” with a different chord progression, but it’s clever, has more prominent vocals, and the band doesn’t sound like it’s fighting with itself.

 

“I Will Always Love You”

Whitney Houston

This was the dawn of that weird era in the 90’s where every high-octane action movie on the planet had a powerful love theme to accompany it. And those love themes had one thing in common: They would progress and build to a sudden time signature change which the singer would then use to change octaves and blow your head inside out. “I Will Always Love You,” which came from The Bodyguard, is the point where that trend began. This isn’t so much a song as it is a tool for Whitney Houston to show off her voice. It begins with her singing in a soft a capella, and sounding pretty damn good. It might be worth listening to if it had stayed with that, but it builds into a vehicle that Houston uses to switch octaves numerous times and extend her notes. Houston wasn’t the only singer guilty of this back then – if anything, she managed to repeatedly restrict herself in many of her other songs while Mariah Carey and Celine Dion built brands on doing it. But Houston turned this kind of song from a novelty into a blight against good music, and “I Will Always Love You” was the trendsetting song as well as the most overplayed of the ones that did that. (Although Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” is a heavyweight contender in that department.)

What’s Getting Shafted

Women singers everywhere. There are a lot of versatile and talented singers who are women, but it’s rare enough that one breaks into the mainstream as it is. Now it’s even harder because this sort of cranial explosion is not just expected, but required for women. There’s some hope for the future with the success of pop stars like Taylor Swift, Tove Lo, and Carly Rae Jepson, who are all more restrained singers and who all contribute their own writing to their discographies. But if you’re looking for attention from casual music “fans” in suburbia, you still need to blow up a glass factory or three.

 

“All Summer Long”

Kid Rock

Leave it to the only rapper-rocker who was any good to pull a full Puff Daddy. Now, I’m not a fan of Kid Rock, but I do have a tremendous respect for him for two reasons: One, even with his native Detroit fighting for its life, he chooses to live there and try to return it to its former glory; and two, once the rap-rock trend was finished, he changed his entire style and emerged as a country artist with a set of pipes that’s legitimately good. That being said, “All Summer Long” ends up stealing from Warren Zevon, whose “Werewolves of London” is the musical base for “All Summer Long,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” is so ingrained into the song that Kid Rock keeps shouting out to it. Why do we keep hearing it?

What’s Getting Shafted

Warren Zevon was one of the greatest songwriters who ever lived. I’m not keen on Lynyrd Skynyrd – if they weren’t out of my generational loop, “Free Bird” DEFINITELY would be on this list, and “Sweet Home Alabama” might have made it too – but they had their moments.

 

“I Gotta Feeling”

Black Eyed Peas

I don’t even have to get into the standard rant about how the presence of Fergie ruined this group. Before she came into the group, the Black Eyed Peas were one of the most exciting and innovative groups in rap. Fergie seemed to come with the addition of the autotuner, which in turn came with a willingness to sell out. “I Gotta Feeling” is the sound of the Peas saying fuck it, time to sell, Sell, SELL! Composed in G major, the bulk of the song is a throbbing dance beat with futuristic synthesizers and a tick-tock rhythm. The lyrics keep saying the Peas get the feeling that tonight’s gonna be a good night, and for some reason, they spend a bulk of time saying Mazel Tov. This song is an exercise in how much hammering your skull can take.

What’s Getting Shafted

The early work of the Black Eyed Peas.

 

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)”

Beyonce

I swear, this idea that Beyonce is some groundbreaker is one idea I’ll probably never come to understand. “Single Ladies” is another heavyset dance song, in which the apparent queen of female empowerment sings about how a guy she was once committed to never bothered to marry her, so she left him. That’s at least part of a narrative, but it gets drowned out by robotic sounds and echo chorus. The true narrative of the song gets lost by the only part of “Single Ladies” that people remember, which is the part that says if they liked it, they should have put a ring on it, and the fact that Beyonce’s voice is overshadowed by more layers of her own voice. For something that’s supposed to have depth, that’s hardly the point the listeners should be taking away from the song.

What’s Getting Shafted

Beyonce’s voice, which is incredible when taken for what it is. Since production seems to be the bulk of what makes Beyonce who she is, a stripped-down bit of work could show music aficionados that she really is more than a voice and some studio wizardry. As it is, I’m not seeing her as much more than a former girl group star.

 

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About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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