It’s time for the third installment in our six-part series (assuming I finish before the end of the decade) documenting the most putrid pabulum of the rock era. And this time it’s personal. As a (slightly) post-boomer, I attacked the ’50s and ’60s with the relative objectivity of someone for whom the songs from those decades were forever oldies. However, I was trusted to hold a round slab of vinyl in my hands for the first time at Christmastime in 1971 (the Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits), and at that point, objectivity flew out the window.
In compiling this list, I took a non-scientific poll with a sample of two: myself in the present, and myself as a 6-to-14-year-old music obsessive. To say that the small sample size skewed the results would be an understatement, so we’ll suffice with a warning: If you’re looking for a list of the songs a right-thinking 50-year-old (or 30- or 20-year-old) would identify as the worst of the ’70s, you’re going to have to look somewhere else. You won’t have any trouble doing so; the Web is chock-a-block with sites identifying songs like “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” and “The Night Chicago Died” among the worst of all time.
There’s even an article on CNN.com titled “1974: CrÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of clunkers,” in which Greil Marcus is quoted as saying, “We could say  was a conspiracy by Malcolm McLaren to set the stage for the Sex Pistols.” Well, I love ya, Greil, but fuck off: My inner 8-year-old child – whose favorite songs are still the awesome “rock” triplets from that year, “Rock the Boat,” “Rock Your Baby,” and “Rock Me Gently” – says 1974 was the Greatest Year in Music History! With that grain of salt, take this:
10. “Hooked on a Feeling,” Blue Swede. I’m not really sure why this song is here. Actually, I am: On the night I started organizing this post, I had a dream in which a giant monster ape was on the loose in New York City, stomping taxicabs and knocking over buildings. As my family and I escaped into the subways, I heard the sound the ape was making as it moved uptown. It was OOGA-CHOCKA, OOGA-CHOCKA, OOGA, OOGA, OOGA-CHOCKA! Apart from that – and the fact that these Swedish guys took a perfectly good B.J. Thomas song and sang it phonetically – I will leave this song with just three words: goddamn dancing baby.
9. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Diana Ross. Miss Ross’s first solo single is perhaps the pinnacle of pop-diva overindulgence. Songwriter/producers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson say they actually prefer this half-spoken, half-banshee-wailed atrocity to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s glorious, heartfelt original; I say their opinions of their own song aren’t exactly solid as a rock. It’s difficult to hear this song without thinking of those stories about Ross acting like a raving word-that-nobody-will-call-Hillary-Clinton-in-public; in fact, every time those initial “ah-ah-ahs” come on the radio my wife and I immediately turn to each other and scream, “I love you! Don’t touch me!” (If I could find it, I’d link to the classic Saturday Night Live charity-song parody, “Musicians for Free-Range Chickens,” in which Ross/Jan Hooks intones that classic line; sadly, I can only offer the transcript.) Let the chickens beeeeeeeeeee…
8. (tie) “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”/”Dark Lady,” Cher. OK, Cher, we get it. Your parents were little people. Little swarthy people. Did you have to keep telling us about it? If you love a good Cher costume, check out the videos for these songs here and here. But first, check this out – it might change your whole worldview:
Isn’t YouTube a treasure trove? In case you’re wondering, What about the third entry in Cher’s triumvirate of early-’70s trash, “Half-Breed” — sorry, man, I love that song. And at least it’s got more of a realistic/stereotypical Native American vibe than…
7. “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian),” the Raiders. “All the beads we made by hand/Are nowadays made in Japan.” Really? It seems like the songwriting was outsourced, too, on this slice of political incorrectness (a Cherokee calling himself a “red man”? Horrors!). Songwriter John D. Loudermilk is best remembered (if at all) these days for penning that perennial American Idol favorite “Tobacco Road.” If you listen closely, you’ll find that that song and this one are pretty much the same. And by the way, where’s Paul Revere?
The Raiders – “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)”
6. “Crocodile Rock,” Elton John. Admit it – your finger leaps for the car-stereo button as soon as you hear the first couple notes in that cheeseball organ arpeggio. I usually get there before the organ even starts in, no later than the second piano chord that precedes it. Even if I allow the first verse to play, I’m long gone before that first, piercing “Laaaaaaaa…” And even if I let that go, I spend the next, oh, 48 hours chuckling about how Elton and Bernie repeatedly condense the world “crocodile” to “crile.” Meanwhile, me and Susie have so much fun, holding hands and skimming… OUT! GET OUT OF MY HEAD, DAMNED HOOK! Oh, Elton, you got me again, you bastard. You’re lucky you didn’t make this list twice, Reg – I hate “Island Girl,” too.
5. “My Love,” Paul McCartney and Wings. In a comments-section dialogue following my ’60s post, our friend GrayFlannelSuit (whoever he is) petitioned to stop me from putting “My Love” here because he’s fond of its guitar solo. I gave his request due consideration, but facts are facts: “My Love” is the most insipid of all the Beatles-related hits – and that includes Peter and Gordon’s Paul-written “A World Without Love,” with its “Please lock me away…” opening. Despite its popularity, “My Love” represented McCartney’s nadir as a songwriter, a bottoming-out after a long downward slide through the early ’70s. I’d rather listen to “Bip Bop” or “Give Ireland Back to the Irish.” I’d certainly rather listen to “Silly Love Songs,” which I would guess was composed as Paul was heading to the bank to deposit a royalty check from sales of “My Love.”
4. “Ring My Bell,” Anita Ward. Is this the most annoying song in pop history? I don’t really have much to say about this single, except to note that it sat at #1 on July 12, 1979, when Chicago disc jockeys Steve Dahl and Garry Meier hosted the now-infamous Disco Demolition Night between games of a Tigers-White Sox doubleheader at Comiskey Park. The plan was for a single bonfire on the field, but instead the Angry White Men in the stands set their own small fires and sent their LPs and 45s flying, mostly at each other, to the endearing chant of “Disco sucks!” Within three weeks the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, within three months Iranian revolutionaries had stormed the U.S. embassy, and within a year and a half Ronald Reagan was elected president, disco had officially died, and the world went to hell in a hand basket. I’m not saying we can blame “Ring My Bell’ for all of this, but what are you gonna do, dis Donna Summer?
Anita Ward - “Ring My Bell”
3. “Disco Duck,” Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots. Talk about your reverse serendipity: An obscure Memphis DJ who thinks he’s funny sits around listening to disco records and looking for his big break. He goes to the gym and meets a doofus who makes Donald Duck noises. And thus is foisted upon the Earth “Disco Duck,” probably the dumbest novelty song ever. Oh, to have lived in Memphis when this single was on the charts: Dees was forbidden to play it on his own show, and none of the other local stations would play it for fear of boosting the competition. Still, “Disco Duck” made its way into Saturday Night Fever (in a scene featuring seniors learning to get their groove on), and soon afterward Dees made it big in L.A. and launched his syndicated “Weekly Top 40.” He’s still going, of course (old DJs never fade away, they just die) – and he still thinks he’s funny. If you think so, too, feel free to click onto www.Rick.com, or just watch this.
2. “Babe,” Styx. Now, I was a Styx fan before “Babe,” and I was a fan after it. (I was on the wrong side of the Rush vs. Styx throwdown in my high school.) But “Babe” was just embarrassing, a lyric so drecky that Lionel Richie would have to say, “Wow, that’s drecky.” (Lionel, I’m saving plenty of space for you on the ’80s list.) One of the first power ballads, and certainly one of the worst, “Babe” proved to Dennis DeYoung (and Steve Perry, and Kevin Cronin, and Lou Gramm) that one didn’t need to write rock’n’roll songs in order to sell rock’n’roll records, as long as you hit a couple of crunchy guitar chords along the way; soon came the deluge. Shortly after “Babe” became Styx’s only #1 hit, DeYoung put on a straw hat and a barbershop-quartet vest, somehow imagining that vaudeville nostalgia equaled High Concept. Down this path lay the glory that was Paradise Theatre… and the suckage that was “Mr. Roboto.”
1. “Play That Funky Music,” Wild Cherry. No matter where I find myself in life, I find a new reason to hate this song. When I was in college it was the province of my freshman roommate and his Reaganite, homosexual-panic frat buddies; now that I’m an adult it’s the music of dick-swinging “man’s men” who end their New Year’s parties by putting on a ’70s-hits CD and doing the white man’s overbite around the living room. (It’s also a favorite at those horrible clubs that nobody under 40 would set foot in – or so I have heard…) When I was 10 and “Play That Funky Music” was on the charts, I hadn’t yet experienced these horrors; all I knew was that Leo Sayer had done the whole white-boy-in-a-disco thing better with “Long Tall Glasses,” and that vocalist Bob Parissi sounded like he hadn’t taken a dump in three weeks. I thought of him for the first time in many years when a friend’s daughter created an anti-Taylor Hicks poster before the ’06 Idol finale; on it she wrote, “Roses are red and violets are blue/Taylor can’t sing and he has to poo.”
A brief note on some songs I left off this list: In recent weeks my fellow Popdosers have launched frontal assaults on “(You’re) Having My Baby,” Ringo’s remake of “You’re Sixteen,” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” so for the sake of collegiality (and the desire to trash some other songs) I chose not to pile on. I could, though; I really, really could. As for “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”: I am a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I can’t immediately think of any other good reasons why I felt compelled to leave Mr. Deutschendorf off this list. Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny, funny riddle…