On Hating a Song in Detail
June 1, 2012
“The only song she could think of at that moment was ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel, which had to be number one on her list of Songs to Be Stricken from the Musical Record. It was a song she despised so much that she knew it perfectly, note for note, just so that she could hate it in detail.” (from The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson)
When I read this passage a few months ago, I loved it immediately, and not just because I feel precisely this way about “Piano Man.” (Mostly, I hate Billy Joel’s diction throughout the song, but especially on the word “
spirit” “feeling” in the phrase, “You’ve got the spirit us feelin’ all right.”*) No, I love Johnson’s passage because it speaks to the perverse pleasure in hating a particular song. My earliest musical memories were filled with songs I hated, but I can only remember a few that I absolutely loved. (Though maybe that has to do with what was played on the radio in the early 1980s–contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t all new-wave goodness, but more a soft, schlocky rock morass.)
Here are some songs I hated over the years, in approximate chronological order. I have note posted audio or YouTube vids because I am not into torturing anyone:
1. “Every Woman in the World to Me,” Air Supply. For some reason, the radio station in Pensacola, Florida, where my family vacationed every year, LOVED Air Supply and continued to play their music for years after their popularity had waned. I have a very distinct memory of getting very angry every time this song came on, to the point that I would immediately reach to turn the radio off. I don’t remember any parental repercussions for this one, so I suspect my dad didn’t like the guy screeching, “Girl, you’re every woman in the world to meeee/you’re my fantseeee/you’re my realiteeee,” either.
2. “Woman,” John Lennon. Oh, I know some of you are saying, “But he’s a Beatle! He’s great! And this song is about Yoko! And you’re one of those people, the Yoko defenders.” Yes, this is all true. But, as a kid, I hated this song. I have a very distinct memory of dancing around in my carport–as one does–to the portable radio, and an announcer saying John Lennon had been killed. And then he played this song. And I turned the radio off in anger. To my credit, I didn’t quite understand the concept of death at this point.
But, despite the angry radio turnoff trend developing here, I know every lyric, every note to this song, and exactly what I hate. The vocals were recorded in that particularly weak style of double-tracking popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which only underscores the fact that the song has no real chorus, just a bunch of doo doo doo dooo dooooos, intermixed with an occasional, “I loooooooooove yoooooouuuuuuuuu.” Feh. Give me “Oh Yoko” or the “Ballad of John and Yoko” any day, but not this song.
3. “Keep on Lovin’ You,” REO Speedwagon. This one is from the video age, and I’m pretty sure that it was the singer’s appearance combined with the song’s lyrics that creeped me out. (Yes, I was only six years old when this song came out, and, yes, my parents let me watch MTV.) As the years have gone by, the song creeps me out ever more. Here’s a sample lyric: “You played dead/But you never bled/You just lay still in the grass/All coiled up and hissin.'” Yep, I just love a song where the lady is a snake! But I’m even more ooged out by the line, “I don’t wanna sleep/I just wanna keep on lovin’ you.” Because then I imagine the lead singer sexually harassing some poor woman who just wants a good night’s sleep and is tired of being compared to animals. (Note: I had a hard time deciding between this one and REO Speedwagon’s other big hit, “I Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore,” which I remember hating even more as a child. But it is less creepy.)
4. “I Only Wanna Be with You,” Hootie & the Blowfish. True story: my college suitemates went to a Hootie concert and one of them got selected to be on stage during this song. Then they were invited to play golf with the band the next day. Somehow, that story illustrates the wrongness of Hootie & the Blowfish’s entire ouvre.
5. “Somebody that I Used to Know,” Gotye. When I read the Maureen Johnson quote a few months ago, I realized I hadn’t hated a song in detail for a long time. Enter Gotye, whom I learned about via my sister, who sent me an email asking, “Have you heard this shitty song?” (or something to that effect). This song is so passive-aggressive that I just want to send Gotye’s singer to a good therapist (if this song is at all autobiographical) and point him in the direction of this classic Shakesville post on Nice Guy Syndrome. The first verse is the worst, because the dude basically admits he was super unhappy in the relationship but never told the girl, who was happy, that anything was wrong. And he’s happy they broke up… but unhappy that the girl is making a life without him. Does he seriously expect sympathy for his narcissistic behavior? I’m glad she kicked his self-pitying butt to the curb.
*Damn mondegreens. I have apparently misheard that lyric my entire life. Stilll doesn’t make me like the son.