The WORST Popular Songs

"'Relax,' said the night man.
We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave."

from "Hotel California"
(D. Felder/D. Henley/G. Frey)

Hotel California
The Eagles

Each of us has at least one song that we absolutely HATE. When it comes on the radio, even our significant other knows to reach for the tuning knob or turn down the volume. We make no secret of these disliked ditties. To us, they are huge boils on the buttocks of musicdom. They go beyond annoyance. They are loathsome. What is doubly frustrating (and mysterious) is that many or most other people seem to actually LIKE them. We feel like the little boy who observed, "The Emperor has no clothes!" To us, these songs are obviously and blatantly bad. Not mediocre or bland...BAD!

Well, I'm no exception. This page is devoted to identifying truly awful popular songs...and it ain't going to be pretty.

Face it, we could sit around all day thinking of songs that each of us dislikes for some particular reason: stupid lyrics, a lousy lead vocal, a sappy story, an irritating instrumental hook, or whatever. In a lot of cases, we just hate hearing the song for the millionth time on our car radio. But are these legitimate criteria? I mean, I'm looking for the songs that really suck, but are still popular for some unknown reason. (Maybe people are just too embarrassed to say, "You guys may like that song, but it's really awful and you have no taste.") I think that we need some guidelines for the selection process.

So here are my guidelines. And remember, let's play by the rules!

1. I judge what I know. I'm a fifty-year-old middle-class American and there's going to be an emphasis on white bread music from the 60's, 70's and 80's. Sorry, but that's the way it is. I didn't listen to madrigals and Gregorian chants while I was growing up.

2. The songs have to be/have been popular. There's not much point in identifying bad songs that everybody agrees are bad. We need to look for those awful songs which have actually (mysteriously) been popular. This includes some songs that are commonly believed to be musical touchstones. (And no performer or group gets a "free pass". The songs stand on their own.)

3. The songs have to be completely devoid of any redeeming value. This is a tough one. Bad lyrics can be redeemed by a decent melody and vice versa. Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" has a real melody and some novelty value, even if the lyrics"lyrical"...yeah, that's it. I want to talk about songs that have neither melody nor lyrics.

4. Rap, disco, and classical music are automatically excluded. The reason is obvious: too darn easy. It's like shooting quail on the ground. (Please don't write to me in horror at that last comment...I'm not a hunter.)

5. Excessive radio play isn't a factor. Face it...popular songs are going to get more radio play. Being "sick" of hearing a particular song on the radio does not make the song bad. It just makes you sick of hearing the song. Let's get beyond this and admit that a song that was good to hear the first couple times is still good, even if you don't care to hear it again very soon. The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" gets way too much airplay, but it is not an awful matter how sick you are of hearing it. If you're interested in the results of a survey to determine which groups/songs are "overplayed" the most on FM stations, go here.

6. Novelty songs are automatically disqualified. This is a difficult one to judge. It's easy to say that "Mama Got Run Over by a Reindeer" is a public nuisance, but what about "In the Year 2525"? The judges (me) rule that a song is ineligible for this list if its only appeal is in its sheer novelty. End of discussion.

7. Personal dislike for an artist isn't a factor. You may hate Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman, but that doesn't automatically make "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" a bad song. Let's separate the two. (Although, in all fairness, we need to do something about Phil Collins and the dreck he produces. What else are lobotomies for?)

8. Performance and production count, but a bad performance or recording doesn't automatically make a song bad. Even a fundamentally good song can be screwed up by someone somewhere. (Look at the Dixie Chicks' crappy version of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide". Where ARE those knitting needles?) A bad song is a bad song, no matter who covers it.

So, with the guidelines in mind, let's take a stab at finding some bad songs. Here are my suggestions (click on the song title to go directly to the discussion of the song):

By now you've decided that I have omitted one your most-hated songs. Too bad! If you want to know why I left out certain songs, go to my "The NOT-Worst Popular Songs" page, where I address the issue in some detail.

The WORST Popular Songs

"Hotel California"
(D. Felder/D. Henley/
G. Frey)

The Eagles

"The song SO bad they named it twice." The popularity of this song baffles me. The tune (or what little of it there is) is totally forgettable. (OK, right now, try whistling it. No, you can't go back and listen to it again first. Pretty sad, huh?) And any 11-year-old Goth girl could have written the lyrics. "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." What does that mean? You turn around and go back to your room? You try to check out everyday and stay for the buffet? The parking valet loses your keys? I would have had a lot more respect if they had written, "You can check out any time you can afford to pay the bill." Now THAT has some profundity....

A friend pointed something out to me as I was writing this page. If you get a copy of the lyrics and simply read them out loud, it sounds exactly as if you're singing the song! You may have to vary the rhythm a little, but it works! It's an especially startling effect with the chorus.

This song meets my guidelines in every respect. Normally intelligent, discerning people seem to love it.

  • Melody: WHAT melody? "Reggae" riff? Give me a break!
  • Lyrics: Teen-age literary magazine. Can you spell "angst"?
  • Performance: Very good (for the material), but Joe Walsh's worst guitar solo ever.
  • Why is it so popular?: I think that a lot of shallow, burned-out yuppies think this is a perceptive comment on the 60's and early 70's. Take a hit on the bong..."but you can never leave"!!...Wow, man!!.
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Free Bird"
    (A. Collins/R. Van Zant)

    Lynyrd Skynyrd

    Here's another one that meets our every requirement. The melody sounds like a 34-minute version of "Truckin'" (see below) played on only two strings and without a rhythm section. The lyrics are on a level with "See Spot run." The only reason that this song is even marginally more acceptable than "Hotel California" is that I at least understand its nostalgic appeal. I just wish that the fans had decided to memorialize Ronnie and the others with "Gimme Three Steps" or some other song with positive qualities.

  • Melody: All three notes are OK.
  • Lyrics: Takes an awful long time to say, "Bye!"
  • Performance: Loooooong and grating. The guitar technique sounds like a Duane Allman wanna-be.
  • Why is it so popular?: I'm probably going to get hate mail about this, but it's popular only because it's viewed as a tragic farewell to those who died. Get out your BIC, man!
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Spirit in the Sky"
    (N. Greenbaum)

    Norman Greenbaum

    The operative word for this song is "excruciating". There is no perceptible melody, other than some fuzz guitar chords. And I have no idea what sort of theological beliefs were involved in writing it, but I'm sure glad that Greenbaum was a one-hit wonder. (Although you would never know it from visiting his website.) Unfortunately, the oldies stations still resurrect this piece of crap on a regular basis. Hmmmm...maybe there IS such a thing as eternal life.

  • Melody: One excruciating note repeated endlessly.
  • Lyrics: "I haven't given God much thought, BUT I think..."
  • Performance: Strong (i.e., relentless and talentless).
  • Why is it so popular?: Former hippies think that this song has some spiritual insight. After all, it has "spirit" in the title and they couldn't say that if it wasn't true, right?
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Tom Sawyer"
    (G. Lee/A. Lifeson/
    N. Peart/P. Dubois)


    Since Scout devoted an entire page to this song, I've spent a lot of time trying to come up with something positive to say about it...and I have. The drumming on this song is great! Neal Peart is a percussion genius! Neal can come and play the drums at my house anytime he wants to. The song itself, though, is absolutely awful. There can be no argument about it. Plus, it's being played on some AOR station somewhere every minute of every day.

  • Melody: Now you hear you don't.
  • Lyrics: Absolutely incomprehensible.
  • Performance: Musically and technically superior. What a waste!
  • Why is it so popular?: People must think it says something deep, since it's so popular in spite of being virtually unlistenable.
  • Back to list of songs.

    "(You're) Having My Baby"
    (P. Anka)

    Paul Anka

    This song beat out "You Light Up My Life" ONLY because I can actually hum the tune to the latter. This song is pretty sappy, but wouldn't make it onto the list if it weren't for the slightest of melodies. The condescending tone just adds to the general discomfort here. Poor Paul! What a legacy to be remembered by. Plus, it's always sung at inappropriate times as an instantly recognizable joke. (Of course, Paul laughed all the way to the bank.)

  • Melody: There IS some evidence of a melody, though a poor one.
  • Lyrics: Repetitive, unimaginative, and condescending.
  • Performance: Typical Vegas-style.
  • Why is it so popular?: It can only be the sappiness/joke factor. It's the musical equivalent of "Where's the beef?"
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Against All Odds"
    (P. Collins)

    Phil Collins

    This selection violates the spirit of my guidelines, if not their precise wording. I simply couldn't put ALL of Phil Collins' work on the list, so this single song is going to have to represent "Sussudio", "One More Night", "Take Me Home", and every other whining and pissing piece of junk Phil has ever released. None of his songs have a melody. He seems to think that slow tonal variations are a substitute for a tune. Of course, singing through the nose would make it pretty difficult to hear the melody even if one existed.

  • Melody: Completely interchangeable with other Phil Collins efforts.
  • Lyrics: Sappy, infantile crap. Try reading them out loud. (Here's a link to the lyrics.)
  • Performance: Sounds like Phil has a hernia.
  • Why is it so popular?: There must be a lot of Genesis fans who refuse to let Phil go. They're certainly not very discriminating, though. At least Genesis had some combined talent.
  • Back to list of songs.

    "A Horse With No Name"
    (D. Bunnell)


    This was an easy selection. The lyrics aren't sappy, but they make no sense. The melody sounds like it was made up at a campfire by a kid who knew two guitar chords. I did not know that chord progressions could get this simple. (Two chords appears to be the minimum required for a progression.) The only thing that might have saved this song was a decent middle eight or a soulful guitar solo, but no such luck. Everyone I know mocks this song how did it make it to #1 in just five weeks in 1972? I'm serious...does anyone know? There must be a hell of a lot of copies in people's closets.

  • Melody: Exists, but quite poor.
  • Lyrics: Hilariously vague.
  • Performance: Weak all around.
  • Why is it so popular?: Sentimental attachment to Neil Young and CSN&Y. If you close your eyes and ears and scrunch your face exactly the right way, the harmonies sound a little like CSN&Y.
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Owner of a
    Lonely Heart"
    (T. Rabin/J. Anderson/
    C. Squire/T. Horn)


    "Disconcerting" is the key word here. Yes must have thought that it would be cute to insert the synthesized horn section and drums with a low-tech retro sound, but it simply makes you clench your teeth. This would have been a minor issue if the song had been any good anyway...which it isn't. This song reminds me a lot of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye". NNHHKHG was supposedly written in the studio as filler for a B-side of a single. It has a single hook, minimal development, and almost nonsensical lyrics...get the picture? The difference is that "Owner of a Lonely Heart" has zero charm.

  • Melody: Awkward and fumbling.
  • Lyrics: Downright silly, even with four people working on the song.
  • Performance: Disconcerting (see above).
  • Why is it so popular?: I used to think that it was sheer sentimentality for a "missing" band, but I looked at their discography and Yes released Relayer, their last decent album, in 1974. This was only 9 years prior to 90125...and they had released 3 more albums in the intervening years. Go figure!
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Beast Of Burden"
    (M. Jagger/
    K. Richards)

    The Rolling Stones

    I can only imagine that somebody made a dare to Mick Jagger at a party...and this song is the result. What were the Stones thinking? Keith Richards has always been a mediocre guitarist (Chuck Berry had it right)and this was apparently an opportunity for Keith to show off some stolen blues licks. "But," you say, "That's the point. This is 'laid-back' blues." Yeah, right! Don't piss on my back and call it rain.

  • Melody: Derivative (where it exists).
  • Lyrics: Nashville reject.
  • Performance: Lackadaisical, at best.
  • Why is it so popular?: It's got to be the strength of the Stones alone. It's just plain embarrassing.
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Eye of the Tiger"
    (J. Peterik/
    F. Sullivan)


    Easily beats out "The Morning After" as worst movie song of all time. This song would make me mad enough to beat Clubber Lang, too. The melody is relentless and the words sound like they're from Tony Robbins. One thing remains unclear to me, though...did the group take their name from the song lyrics? Or were the lyrics written to include the group's name? (Peterik also wrote "Vehicle" for The Ides of March in 1970. Do you see a pattern here?)

  • Melody: All over the scale. Uses every note at least once.
  • Lyrics: The lyrics say it all.
  • Performance: Determined, if misguided.
  • Why is it so popular?: I guess it's inspirational, but it's about boxing, for God's sake! (Or is it about hunting? No, maybe it's about the business world....or the music business? Help me out here.)
  • Back to list of songs.

    "Electric Avenue"
    (E. Grant)

    Eddy Grant

    When I first heard this song, I thought it was some sort of humorous reggae homage by a well-known band, sort of like Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Then I found out that it was supposed to be serious. According to most sources, Eddy Grant is a musical genius. If so, it's a shame that this had to be his big crossover hit. It is a total rip-off of a legitimate (if distasteful) musical genre. And does it suck!!

  • Melody: Absolutely non-existent...not even a little.
  • Lyrics: Classic angry pseudo-reggae musician.
  • Performance: Phony-sounding.
  • Why is it so popular?: I just have to shrug my shoulders at this one. Guilty white people? Misguided liberals? I really don't know.
  • Back to list of songs.

    (J. Garcia/R. Hunter/
    P. Lesh/B. Weir)

    Grateful Dead

    I laughed when I first heard this song on the radio in 1971...and that was the GOOD version. I thought that it was an advertisement for a car company or something. The longer, live versions are just self-indulgent. I never cared for Jerry Garcia's guitar work anyway, but this song certainly doesn't show it off. So why does every adult radio station play it each and every day? To me, it's become just a novelty song.

  • Melody: If the guitar solos are removed, none.
  • Lyrics: This song almost makes it off the list due to the fairly clever lyrics...but not quite.
  • Performance: Laid-back.
  • Why is it so popular?: Deadheads. Truly sad.
  • Back to list of songs.

    (R. Monge/
    R. Ruiz)

    Los Del Rio

    I have disqualified "Achy Breaky Heart" from this list because it has an acceptable melody, not because it came with a free stupid dance. "Macarena" can't ride on this exclusion because it has no melody at all. I even thought about giving it "immunity" simply because I got a big thrill from seeing Al Gore try to do the dance on national TV. But we all have responsibilities and I can't shirk mine. This is an irritating song, regardless of which artist recorded it or what version it is or whether it's the extended remix. There's just no getting around it. This is a totally charmless and very toxic song. It may actually have some subliminal messages in it, since many apparently-normal people succumb to its wiles. Playing it at a party is the musical equivalent of saying, "Hey! I'll bet you can't jump from this hotel balcony to that one!" And the outcome is usually very similar.

  • Melody: Rhythm is not melody.
  • Lyrics: There are lyrics, too?
  • Performance: Reminds me of The Archies, but not as good.
  • Why is it so popular?: Drunk people at parties will do anything to look foolish.
  • Back to list of songs.

    Remember, I also have a "The NOT-Worst Popular Songs" page, where I explain why I had to reject many of your suggestions.

    Links to Other Sites with "Worst Song" Lists

    Pop Culture Madness - This site includes many contributions from visitors, but most of them do not adhere to my guidelines. The frequently-submitted "The Night Chicago Died", for example, is a silly song, but it has a catchy little bubble gum melody. The contributors also place too much emphasis on the performance or artist.

    Dave Barry's Column - The classic "worst songs" column by Dave Barry. He solicited reader votes and has nailed several of the songs right on the money. Still, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on the quality of the lyrics alone.

    Worst Songs of the Millennium - A comprehensive list of bad songs, but with only marginal comments on each. A little unsatisfying.

    Jukebox Hell - The results of a poll to determine the most overplayed groups/songs on FM radio. The results are interesting, if predictable. Of course, radio overplay DOES NOT by itself put a song on my list.

    Back to top.

    That's it for now. Come back again and maybe I'll have expanded this page. Better yet, drop me a line if you have any suggestions for the list.

    If you want to correspond with me about these songs, I'd be happy to discuss my selections. Just send mail to me.

    Return to the web page.