The difference between journalism and history is, of course, time and perspective â€“ as Iâ€™ve been reminded over the last few months, as Iâ€™ve presumptuously taken it upon myself to identify the Worst Number One Songs of the Rock Era. Iâ€™ve had to attack songs from the â€™50s and â€™60s that I wasnâ€™t around to hear in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio, and therefore can only judge through a historical prism. Iâ€™ve been forced to balance my childhood/teenage perspective on the music of the â€™70s and â€™80s with my current, more jaundiced view â€“ a view that dominated my thoughts on â€™90s music.
But now thatâ€™s all out the window, as I wade into the (at times kinda filthy) waters of Noughties pop with a firm realization that I am definitively Out Of The Demographic. Though it fluctuates around the edges, the traditional target demo of Top 40 radio is ages 12 to 35; well, I hit my 35th birthday in December 2000 â€“ the Number One song that week appears on this list â€“ and right around that time my (practically) lifelong obsession with pop radio and the Hot 100 was confronted by a simple, yet overpowering question: â€œWhat is this crap?â€
And just like that, I found myself perilously close to this:
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Oh, Iâ€™ve done my best to fight it â€“ that whole â€œWhy do kids listen to this type of music?â€ thing. Iâ€™ve tried to keep up, and in fact, in researching this column I was pleasantly surprised to find relatively few songs that I had never heard even once. (Of course, in many cases I had only heard them because I had seen a fresh issue of Billboard, thought â€œWhat the heck is that?â€ and made a quick visit to iTunes or YouTube.) Of course, music fans of all ages, races and tastes are likely to find similar gaps in their knowledge of this decadeâ€™s chart-topping songs. As I detailed last week in this space, huge changes at radio and in the marketplace have turned the Hot 100 into something of a warehouse for the biggest hits in various (and often mutually exclusive) radio sub-formats, rather than a distillation of the once-hegemonic Top 40 beast.
Simply put, the Hot 100 no longer reflects the listening experiences of many pop-radio-listening Americans. It leans a bit too heavily on R&B tracks, because the â€œRhythmic Top 40â€ stations on the Hot 100 radio panel tend to give more daily spins to their top tracks than do â€œTop 40 Mainstreamâ€ stations. It leans way too heavily on rap singles, even though many of those singles receive scant airplay on the majority of pop stations, because rap accounts for a disproportionate percentage of the CD singles still being sold. In fact, the Hot 100 has changed so much, and generated so many complaints in recent years, that Billboard saw fit three years ago to create a â€œPop 100â€ chart (and a complementary â€œPop 100 Airplayâ€ list) to track activity on whatâ€™s left of â€œmainstreamâ€ Top 40.
But you know what? Screw it. If the Hot 100 is still good enough for Fred Bronson and his Billboard Book of Number One Hits, itâ€™s good enough for me â€“ even if it means I had to give multiple spins to a batch of derivative, middling rap hits that likely wouldnâ€™t have come anywhere near the Number One slot if not for their utter prurience. So letâ€™s get on with it, and Iâ€™ll try to get through without too many Quincy moments.
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10. â€œIndependent Women Part One,â€ Destinyâ€™s Child. I was never a big fan of Destinyâ€™s staccato vocal style, and this is the song on which it bothered me most. Sure, itâ€™s full of female empowerment, which is all well and good. But itâ€™s also full of shoutouts to Charlieâ€™s Angels, the film for which it was written (or, as Beyonce says, rewritten) â€“ and even to the actresses in the film, which is definitely not cool. (Self-referential lyrics are a pet peeve of mine, which has left me wincing through much of 21st-century pop.) Finally, every time Beyonce launches a line with the word â€œQuestion,â€ Iâ€™m thinkinâ€™, â€œYo, shawty, what you all up in my grill for?â€ (Or whatever the kids are saying these days…) Fortunately, the girls followed this finger-wagging feminist tract with the decidedly post-feminist â€œBootyliciousâ€ â€“ a song that not only was more inventive lyrically, but was built on a nicely turned sample of â€œEdge of Seventeen.â€ Maybe if Hillary Clinton had been less â€œIndependent Womenâ€ and more â€œBootylicious,â€ things would be different now. Iâ€™m just sayinâ€™â€¦
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9. â€œMaria Maria,â€ Santana featuring The Product G&B and Wyclef Jean. In the wake of the massive, Grammy-winning hit â€œSmoothâ€ came this second massive, Grammy-winning hit from Santanaâ€™s comeback album Supernatural. One difference: This song sucks. Thereâ€™s lots of Spanish-guitar noodling, inane rap fills (why anyone felt it appropriate for the already clichÃ©d phrase â€œeast coast, east coastâ€ to appear here is beyond me) â€” but no discernable melody. And the self-referential chorus-closer â€œlike a guitarâ€¦played by Carlos Santanaâ€ is a total groaner. Ten weeks at Number One? Â¡Ay, caramba! Faith Hill’s probably still pissed off: Her biggest hit, “Breathe,” got blue in the face during its five weeks at #2. By the way: Maybe I havenâ€™t been paying enough attention, but whatever happened to Wyclef Jean? Iâ€™m not sure, but I heard somewhere that he was whacked over the head with a shovel and buried out back by Will.I.Am.
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8. â€œButterfly,â€ Crazy Town. Donâ€™t you hate it when thereâ€™s a great band thatâ€™s a bit too cool and out-of-the-mainstream to make the Top 40 consistently, and then some cheap, lame-ass imitation act comes along with a song thatâ€™s like something the good band might have done when they were 12 â€” and it becomes a huge hit? Ladies and gentlemen, meet Crazy Town. I donâ€™t even have much of an attachment to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I was still offended when these one-hit wannabes took â€œPretty Little Dittyâ€ and turned it into this little turd. The whole â€œcome mâ€™lady, come, come mâ€™ladyâ€ thing was groovinâ€™ for about the first minute, but after that the radio dial definitely needed changing. Nice tattoos, though…if you go for that sort of thing.
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7. â€œDo I Make You Proud,â€ Taylor Hicks. In honor of this weekâ€™s American Idol finale. The showâ€™s been saddling its winners with horrid, â€œinspirationalâ€ pop songs for years, and this oneâ€™s the worst of them all. David Cook is probably praying right now that he doesnâ€™t win Wednesday night, so that his first chart single wonâ€™t be whatever piece of crap theyâ€™ve come up with this year.
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6. â€œKiss Kiss,â€ Chris Brown featuring T-Pain. This has got to be one of the most thoroughly processed tracks in pop history; you can sense the low hum of auto-tunes, digitizers and every other machine in the studio, generating enough wasted electricity to short out (or would that be shawt out) an entire city. This is the sort of single producers couldnâ€™t have dreamed of making in earlier decades â€“ the technology simply wasnâ€™t there â€” but in its very state-of-the-art disjointedness (and ridiculously bad songwriting), â€œKiss Kissâ€ begs the question: Has all this technology enhanced the craft of making music, or replaced it? While you ponder that, I have a simple message for Brown: Iâ€™m hatinâ€™ on ya, hatinâ€™ on ya, dis dis dis.
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5. â€œCrank That (Soulja Boy),â€ Soulja Boy. This might be the â€œhip-hop ‘Macarena,’â€ but last decadeâ€™s dumb-ass dance sensation was infinitely more tolerable than this one. Even the presence of a steel drum for the first time on a Number One hit fails to diminish the monumental irritation created by this track â€“ particularly when every other 16-year-old on the planet has it for a ringtone. Soulja Boyâ€™s â€œyooooooâ€s are so grating that even the Chipmunksâ€™ version of this song isnâ€™t really any more annoying.
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4. (tie) â€œIâ€™m Realâ€ and â€œAinâ€™t It Funny,â€ Jennifer Lopez featuring Ja Rule. Sometimes the public taste is simply inexplicable, as exemplified by two embarrassingly moronic figures who became hugely successful right around the turn of the millennium: George W. Bush and Ja Rule. Ja Ruleâ€™s voice makes me absolutely crazy â€” he sounds like he smokes six packs of unfiltered cigarettes before entering the studio, then hacks up a lung all over the mic. And yet he was the hottest thing going back in 2001-02, and when Jennifer Lopez needed a goose at radio for her J. Lo album, she allowed him to fuck up two perfectly serviceable singles. Damned if it didnâ€™t work, too. Still, the question remains: Has a more incompetently performed track than the â€œIâ€™m Realâ€ remix ever risen so high on the charts? The only good thing about it is the Mary Jane Girls sample, but that just makes me want to go listen to the Mary Jane Girls. â€œAinâ€™t It Funnyâ€ may actually be the bigger crime of these two, because of the way Ja Rule gargles nails on top of what was once a perfectly nice, Latin-flavored J. Lo track. (Heâ€™s also terrible on his other Number One hit, â€œAlways on Time,â€ but that songâ€™s vibe is so nice, and Ashanti is so smooth that she keeps you listening.) On the other hand, J. Lo finally got the rapped-sung duet thing right when she hooked up with LL Cool J for â€œAll I Have.â€
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3. â€œYouâ€™re Beautiful,â€ James Blunt. James, Leo Sayer called. He wants his voice back. Whatâ€™s that? Oh, right — you wouldnâ€™t have a voice then. And the problem with that isâ€¦?
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2. (tie) â€œSlow Motion,â€ Juvenile featuring Soulja Slim, and â€œLollipop,â€ Lil Wayne featuring Static Major. Apart from the fact that both these songs feature dead guys â€“ Soulja Slim was murdered right after recording â€œSlow Motion,â€ while Static Major died just before â€œLollipopâ€ was released â€” they really only have one thing going for them. From â€œSlow Motionâ€ (cue Steve Allen): â€œI’m a dick thrower, her neck and her back hurting/Cut throat will have her like a brand-new virgin/Itâ€™s like when she gets used to it, then you start serving/Hop on top and start jiggy-jiggy jerking.â€ And from â€œLollipopâ€: â€œMan I ain’t never seen an ass like hers/And that pussy in my mouth had me at a loss for words/Told her to back it up like erp erp/And make that ass jump like jerp jerp/And thatâ€™s when sh-sh-she licked me like a lollipop…â€ Now, Iâ€™m nobodyâ€™s idea of a prude (he said before proving he is one), but this strip-club soul doesnâ€™t do anything I want pop music to do. Of course, these are the uncensored lyrics â€“ imagine the surprise of a dad whose daughter, having heard the â€œcleanâ€ version of â€œLollipopâ€ on the radio, has just downloaded the real thing and is playing it in her bedroom? (Sorry, just flashing forward 10 years to when my daughterâ€™s a teenagerâ€¦) I have to admit, though, that Iâ€™m kinda down with D4Lâ€™s â€œsnapâ€ hit â€œLaffy Taffy,â€ which is based on a phrase popular in strip clubs that refers to a womanâ€™s loose labia. Or, as Borat would say, â€œHer vagine hang down to her ankles.â€ (Thank heavens Casey Kasem never had to explain this one on American Top 40: “Here’s that four-piece rap act from Atlanta, D4L, with their ode to big pussy lips. At Number One on our countdown again this week, this…is ‘Laffy Taffy.'”) I recently told my wife I wanted her to â€œshake that laffy taffy,â€ and she laffed me right into the guest room for the night.
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1. â€œLondon Bridge,â€ Fergie. Having already attested to the loveliness of her lady lumps in the Black Eyed Peasâ€™ risible â€œMy Humpsâ€ (which you can bet would be on this list had it risen higher than #3 on the chart), Fergie debases herself further here by celebrating her ability to skip the lines outside nightclubs, â€œdance like a hoâ€ and then threaten to spray mace in the faces of paparazzi. Well, ya know, every girl needs a role modelâ€¦particularly one that’s Fergalicious. Honey, could you please just put your “bridge” back up? Itâ€™s startin’ to stank up the joint. And by the way â€“ that bridge you pass under in the video? Thatâ€™s Tower Bridge. Itâ€™s no wonder Americaâ€™s young people canâ€™t place London Bridge where it belongs â€“ in Arizona â€“ or even find London on a map. They certainly can locate Fergieâ€™s humps, though. (Note: This ranking only applies to the â€œOh Shitâ€ version featured above; the clean â€œOh Snapâ€ version might have come in at #2.)
I have to say I find it impressive that Usher, despite having sat at Number One for about half the decade with one song or another, hasnâ€™t released anything terrible enough to make this list. Meanwhile, if you were hoping for a smackdown of â€œHollaback Girl,â€ I feel your pain, but Gwenâ€™s contribution to the degradation thatâ€™s sweepinâ€™ the nation wasnâ€™t even the last song to get dropped from this list. That honor goes to Mimsâ€™ unbelievably stupid â€œThis Is Why Iâ€™m Hot.â€ (Note to Mims: really, you ainâ€™t â€™cause youâ€™re not.)
Well, at long last, thatâ€™s it. Six editions of the worst songs ever to grace the pinnacle of popâ€™s most prestigious chart. Meet me back here in about 12 years for a rundown of the Worst Number One Songs of the â€™10s (the â€œsongs that soiled my little girlâ€™s lifeâ€ edition), and in 22 years for the Worst of the â€™20s (the â€œHey, you kids, get off my lawn!â€ edition). Until then, as Casey would say, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars…and for crying out loud, get your Laffy Taffy outta my face.”