debby boone label

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.

  • Curt Shannon

    I agree that this song was bland and overplayed. There was one saving grace (which is only a saving grace because then, when radio ruled, there were few other options.) Toward the end, there are these Brian Wilson-like chord changes and nice accompanying vocals. It doesn’t redeem the song, but it was listenable when there was nothing else to listen to. 

  • Dan Almont

    Lot of rape, murder and suicide in the life of the songwriter. So, there’s that.

  • David_E
  • kingofgrief

    You forgot to mention its format ubiquity. Also an AC chart topper, #4 country, no R&B showing but who’s to say it didn’t dent a few urban playlists? I remember a mock ad on our Morning Zoo in the 80s touting Debby Boone’s Greatest Hits, including…her greatest pop hit! her greatest country hit! greatest disco hit! etc…all accompanied by the same snippet of “You Light Up My Life”. Me, I can appreciate the occasional 70s on 7 spin, but I’ll still take that American edit of “Rock Me Amadeus” in a Vienna minute.

  • Old_Davy

    This isn’t so much a bad song, as it is a bad version of a mediocre song.

    I still content “Rock Me Amadeus” is much worse.  It’s just so goddamned stupid.

  • Kneel to Zod

    Let’s see now. You pick what was by far and away the most successful single of the entire 1970’s. Ever think it may have sold so many millions because it’s actually a masterpiece? It’s hard to tell which is the more pathetic: your utter lack of taste in music or your willingness to flaunt it publicly. Go gargle razor blades, you imbecile.

  • jabartlett

    In all my years of writing online, this is my favorite comment ever.

  • MatthewBolin

    Pat Boone, ladies and gentlemen! Let’s hear it for him!

  • Aronn

    The best version of this song is by George Jefferson

  • kingofgrief

     “I told his maid she sounds like Aretha Franklin. Sounds more like BEN Franklin!”

  • Chimesfreedom – Pophistory

    I remember when this song seemed to be on the radio every ten minutes, and I wonder if my reaction to it today might be different if I were not so sick of it.  It is interesting how it was such a gigantic hit, but you will rarely hear it on even oldies stations today.  Someone else mentioned the songwriter’s troubled life, which has also led me to wonder how knowing about his life and death can affect how you hear the song ( ).  As Curt mentions, there are some unusual chord changes toward the end of the song.  Could they be a hint at some madness?

  • Brett Alan

    Holy crap! That Kids Are People Too clip may be the strangest thing in the history of rock and roll! Amazing! (Apparently she used to do the song in concerts for a while, too!)

  • Walt Dangerfield

    that was pretty good. I can see why you love writing in the Internet Age.

  • Fred Fodorski

    Debby Boone beat out Foreigner among others for the “Best New Artist” that year. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwww!