World’s Worst Songs: “You Light Up My Life”

Here at World’s Worst World Headquarters, we try to resist shooting the easy fish in the big barrel—the songs that obviously suck. After all, it’s more fun if there’s some disagreement (as the comments to last week’s post on “Rock Me Amadeus” make clear). But some songs are so bad they demand inclusion despite our best intentions.

Friends and neighbors, “You Light Up My Life” by Debby Boone.

If you do not remember the 1970s, you probably can’t appreciate just how ubiquitous “You Light Up My Life” was during its chart run from the fall of 1977 into the spring of 1978. It was #1 in Billboard for 10 weeks, longer than any other single of the 70s. In a era when top 40 stations played the most popular songs every 90 minutes, the only way to escape it was to stick an ice pick into your ears. After its chart run was over, it would win an Oscar for Best Original Song and a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year. Debby Boone won the Grammy for Best New Artist.

To sophisticated ears (with non-punctured eardrums), “You Light Up My Life” suffers mostly from terminal blandness: too-simple melody, too-simple lyric, too earnestly sung, and not remotely interesting. But Mr. and Mrs. America ate it up with a spoon for the very same reasons. Plus, Debby Boone was young and attractive, with the sort of voice you’d hear in the church choir. And speaking of church, a lot of people—Debby Boone included—considered the lyric a love song to Jesus. Only 10 weeks at #1? It’s a miracle it wasn’t longer.

The song has been covered a few times since 1978. There’s a nice R&B version by the Three Degrees, to name one. But the most amazing one is by Patti Smith, who sang the song with its composer, Joe Brooks, on an episode of the TV show Kids Are People Too in 1979. Honest to God.

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J.A. Bartlett
Writer, raconteur, radio geek, beer snob. There's more of this pondwater at http://jabartlett.wordpress.com.