Alex Wolsky

The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

Earlier this year, in an effort to fuse two of the shallowest, most inept pillars in the music community, VH-1 and Blender magazine collaborated to form the definitive list of the 50 worst songs ever recorded. I know what you’re thinking: Why should I trust a group of people who learned all they know about music from VH-1 and Blender to gauge the relative validity of the bottom-barrel of music’s canon? I don’t know. The amount of media attention toward promoting the event was appalling: Taking shots at Grace Slick’s late-era drug affliction and talking up Karen O as someone worth talking about (“Karen O is the most impulsive performer in years”). I can appreciate the listmaking aspect of the entire endeavor – I’ve created more than my fair share of lists over the last two decades – but find me one daring choice in this politically impotent assembly.

It’s embarrassing for Blender to have taken the pot-shots they did, and those they refused to make. Bobby McFerrin’s iconic “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” ranked high on their list (number seven), ranking near Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’,” who justifiably deserve to be on such a list, but not McFerrin. What a sad flock of sheep it takes to still call this song lame. Yes, McFerrin’s a dork in the video and Robin Williams casts his ugly shadow all over it, but this list is about songs, people. Name one that sounds like this now. It’s like Blender has a serious cool complex if they can’t find anything enjoyable about this song.

Their attempts at controversy are just as humorous as their serious attempts as music journalism. “The Sounds of Silence,” Simon & Garfunkel’s ranked at No. 42, sandwiched between Color Me Badd and New Kids on the Block (Which in itself is absurd, because nobody took these guys seriously in the first place). This pale attempt at hullabaloo is a translucent assassination of an unfashionable era by proxy. Added to which, there’s plenty of shit worth trashing on this record from the hugely popular “I Am a Rock” to “Kathy’s Song.” Terrible Simon & Garfunkel tunes were a dime-a-dozen, but none of them rate as one of the 50 worst recorded, even for shock value.

They take pot-shots at Billy Joel (“We Didn’t Start the Fire” at number 41) which is like shooting fish in a barrel since Joel was washed-up for years before this last-ditch glam comeback, and wrote plenty of Hoboken hobo bullshit at his prime. And, for good measure, they put the Beatles’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” at number 48, completely ignoring the real travesty in their kid-gloves catalog, “All You Need is Love.” Oh, congratulation’s Blender for including “I’ll Do Anything for Love” by Meat Loaf: You hit the side of a barn.

It’s their rampant inconsistency that makes the entire list amusing. Take for example, Genesis’s “Illegal Alien,” which is ranked No. 13 and you can tell they haven’t even listened to the song. Phil Collins is way too easy a target: “Phil’s a ham; the song is lame.” Dead wrong. The scale-drop return after the break is an excellent, laid-back move, and the harmonies on the chorus are first-rate. If “’80s keyboards” are lame, why did Blender and VH-1 both hype the Scissor Sisters?

One of the most interesting inclusions on the list, however, turned out to be Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” which ranked number 50. It becomes intriguing, not because of the song’s quality, but because of the issue it brings up: Should popularity enter into the equation? In a perfect world, it wouldn’t, but it’s unavoidable. You can’t make much of a case, at least not to many people, if you don’t use a common example. On the other hand, coupling popularity with proximity is a gross mistake, critically speaking. Disregarding her fame, what distinguishes Celine Dion from a thousand mediocre “divas” from the 1970s inclusive? As with every like-whoa entry on this list, the VH-1 special will lend the soapbox to Mr. Three Names – Michael Ian Black — to wax valley girl, “Oh my God, this song was like so overplayed, every time I hear it on the radio I just want to smash it!” You go, badass!

So what are the five worst songs ever recorded? In my opinion, the following deserve consideration: “What’s Going On,” by the Four Non Blondes; “I’ll be Missing You,” by Puff Daddy featuring Faith Evans and 112; “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” by Deep Blue Something; “The End,” by the Doors; and “The Flame” by Cheap Trick is far and away No. 1. Aging B-list rock stars make a live album that surprisingly outsells anything they ever did in the studio, hit the hairspray and record a “Sister Christian” quality power-ballad, five years too late – a song they didn’t even write. The guitar solo follows the vocal melody note-for-note, and in an era of slow-song lighter-lighting — a practice that should have died 10 years earlier — it’s called “The Flame.” Most of America thinks this song was on the Top Gun soundtrack. What makes this whole thing better is that Cheap Trick downright refuses to play it in concert anymore.

E-mail Alex at wolsky@umich.edu.

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