World’s Worst Songs: “Beans in My Ears” by the Serendipity Singers

Written by Music, World's Worst Songs

Make it stop. In the name of all that’s holy, make it stop.

The Serendipity Singers, from the cover of their 1964 debut album (Polygram Records)

Here at World’s Worst World Headquarters, swill is our business. We hear it, we recognize it, we tell the world about it, we move on. Rarely do we come across music so hideously awful that it causes us lingering physical pain. Today is one of those days.

The folk boom of 50 years ago gave us some great music—Bob Dylan’s poetry, the pure, clear voices of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, the warm acoustic sound of the Kingston Trio—and it came with a social conscience that would animate popular music for the next decade. But there was a less-enduring side of the folk movement. Choral folk groups—the New Christy Minstrels, the Pozo-Seco Singers, the Brothers Four, the Sandpipers, the Limeliters, the Serendipity Singers—live on in memory as the freshly scrubbed and clean-cut packs of young people you’d see on The Ed Sullivan Show or Hootenanny, all in matching blazers, harmonizing with big smiles and animated gestures. Unlike Dylan’s poetry or Baez’s songs of conscience, choral group folk was intended as pure entertainment. And while Dylan and Baez and others like them were able to survive the cultural sea-change of the mid 1960s, the choral groups could not. Today, with few exceptions, their songs sound old-fashioned at best and painfully dumb at worst.

There’s that word again: “pain.”

The Serendipity Singers were founded at the University of Colorado, and the nine-member group swiftly ascended the greasy pole of folk stardom thanks to gigs at the Bitter End, the influential Greenwich Village club. They appeared frequently on Hootenanny in 1963. And in 1964, as the British Invasion raged, they scored two top-40 hits. In April, as the Beatles dominated the top 10, “Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man)” was on the radio with ’em, eventually reaching #6 in early May.

“Don’t Let the Rain Come Down” sounds like something a group of middle-aged middle-school teachers might do to sublimate an unmet desire to get laid—but it’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” compared to “Beans in My Ears,” which reached #30 in late June. Beans in my ears are not enough—I want me a damn ice pick in mine.

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Kids music didn’t exist as a genre in 1964, but there’s no other classification for “Beans in My Ears.” It’s hard to imagine anybody over the age of 7 being able to stomach it than once. Its relentless cheerfulness makes one dream of murder. If it’s not on a continuous loop in Hell, then Hell isn’t as bad as advertised.