I woke up yesterday morning haunted by my dream. Not by the dream itself—that was fairly typical (I was about to teach a course I’m completely unqualified to teach, and for about six hours I couldn’t find the classroom)—but by the soundtrack. Almost all my dreams have soundtracks, and I wake up with the last song in my head, and it’s almost never good; it’s usually from my childhood, one of those songs that stuck in my head no matter how much I hated it, out of sheer repetition.
The song that morning was “Sing a Song,” by the Carpenters, from 1973. (It was the #1 song for that year.) I asked my wife if she would agree that it was the Worst Song Ever, and she said that while it was certainly bad, it may not be the very worst song of all time—in fact, she said, it might not even be the worst song of the ’70s. And that started a conversation that led to this: my list of the worst songs of the ’70s.
As it turns out, there are many, many bad songs from that wonderful decade, and it was painfully difficult to narrow it down to ten. So to make up for such a negative list, I thought I’d try appending a list of the BEST songs from the same decade as well—but that proved to be even harder. My one rule for both lists is that I couldn’t include any obscure songs (e.g. “Mary Queen of Arkansas” from “The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle” or any track from the Bay City Rollers second album). Most, if not all of the songs below made the Billboard Top 100 for the years they were released. Without further ado, then: the Worst Songs of the ’70s. And please feel free to debate my selections by way of Comments at the end!
Top Ten Worst Songs of the ’70s
1. “Let ‘Em In (Someone’s Knocking at the Door)”by Wings. As it turns out, Cynthia was right. “Sing a Song” is NOT the worst hit song of that decade. This one is. From its annoying opening to its simply awful base line (one can practically feel the musicians falling asleep) to its trombone solo (trombone solo!) to its stupid flute riff, to its inane lyrics, this song absolutely takes the cake. Side note: Why does everyone love McCartney? More than half of his hits are silly little love songs. (What’s wrong with that? Everything.)
Go ahead, have a listen. See if you disagree.
2.”Muskrat Love”—Willis Alan Ramsey, then Captain and Tenille. You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s as if the ’60s (Dylan? Hendrix?) never happened. (See also “Ben” by Michael Jackson, another rodent love song, this time depicting an inter-species affair with a human.)
Want to throw up? Watch this video:
3. “Sing a Song”—the Carpenters. Pure drivel. Then again, this seemed to be the decade for such saccharine-laden happy-happy songs—see the above selections plus “Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr., “Everything Is Beautiful” by Ray Stevens, and “Playground in My Mind” by Clint Holmes (“My name is Michael/I got a nickel…”)
4. “Feelings” by Morris Albert. It’s about a noun. It could have been written by a suicidal 14-year-old submitting to her high-school literary magazine in a last-ditch attempt to garner sympathy from the would-be lover who spurned her in front of everyone in the cafeteria. Feelings? Whoa whoa whoa, feelings.
5. “Sara Smile” by Hall and Oates. The worst thing you could say about a three-minute song is that it feels like a seven-minute song. (Side question: Hall and Oates had SIX #1 hits. Can you name just one that doesn’t suck?)
6. “Have You Never Been Mellow?” by Olivia Newton John. I couldn’t decide between this song and her other horrible hits of the ’70s (“I Honestly Love You,” “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” and “With a Little More Love”), but in the end, the title question itself is what put it over the top.
7. “You’re Sixteen” by Ringo Starr. You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and the 33-year-old guy singing this to you is a pervert.
8.”Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band. People should never sing about sex while using their Jesus voices. (Or while wearing a pink jacket and playing air guitar. Please, oh please, watch the first few seconds of this video:)
9. “Don’t Give Up on Us” by David Soul. Soul is the “actor” from the hit TV show, “Starsky and Hutch”. ‘Nuff said.
10. “I Just Want to Stop” by Gino Vanelli. It probably doesn’t deserve to be on this list (he barely eeked out masterpieces by Peaches and Herb and Sean Cassidy), but I have a visceral reaction to this song: every time it comes on, I want to pull my car off the highway and plunge 3,000 feet to my death.
Dishonorable Mention: “You Light Up My Life,” by Debby Boone. I originally had it on the list, but my wife didn’t think it should be on it, and then I remembered singing along to it the first seventeen or eighteen times I heard it. But still.
Bad Songs that Probably Could Have Made This List But I Couldn’t Help Loving Them Because I Was Young and Stupid At the Time: “Precious and Few” by Climax, “Last Night I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All” by the Fifth Dimension, “Day After Day” by Badfinger (yes, Badfinger), “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim, and “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash. But none more embarrassing than “Shannon” by Henry Gross, which I absolutely loved, and sang along to in my expert falsetto while alone in my room. (It’s about a dead dog. Not even the songwriter’s own dead dog. Someone else‘s dead dog.)
Other Songs I Sang Along to in My Expert Falsetto: “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “Stone in Love” by the Stylistics, and “Have You Seen Her?” by the Chi-lites. Also early Michael Jackson songs, and of course Smokey Robinson.
Other Bad Songs About Death That Were Indeed Quite Catchy: “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks and “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.
Most Popular Awful ’70s Song: “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett. And because I hate it so much, I seemed doomed to hear it at every beach town I visit.
Glaring Omission: “Havin’ My Baby,” by Paul Anka. Really, one of the Worst Songs Ever. Thanks to my cuz-in-law Kelly Ciravalo for calling this egregious error to my attention.
And now, just because you stayed with me this long, here’s my list of the Top TEN Best Songs of the ’70s (along with the links to their studio versions, so you may crank them through your headphones when compelled to do so).
Warning: Before you get all up in arms at my selections, I would advise you to try this at home. It’s IMPOSSIBLE to pick ten songs from this decade and not leave out DOZENS that you love. And remember: This is NOT my list of what are (objectively) the “BEST” songs; it’s my list of MY favorite songs. So there.
1. “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen (Go ahead, name a better rock and roll song. I dare you.)
2. “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips
3. “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland)” by the Who
4. “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye
5. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by the Looking Glass
6. Tie: “Rocket Man” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” by Elton John
7. “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
8. “Shambala” by Three Dog Night
9. “Sweet Jane” by the Velvet Underground
10. “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. (Tough to choose between this and “Take Me to the River”)
11. “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin
“Someday We’ll Be Together,” by Diana Ross and the Supremes would have made the list had it been released just two weeks later. As it is, I’ll save it for my list of the Best Songs of the 60s:
And because no Best Of list is compete without the Rolling Stones, here’s my favorite single of theirs from the ’70s, “Happy”
And here’s the best late-’70s song that nobody knew about until the 80s: “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles:
Most Heinous Omissions from this List: “London Calling” by the Clash, “Roundabout” by Yes, and “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith.
Most Interesting Hit Songs: “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.
’70s Song I’m Most Embarrassed to Love: “Sister Golden Hair” by America.
Best ’70s songs featured in car scenes from 21st-century films: “September” by Earth, Wind, and Fire (in the French film “The Intouchables”) and “Heroes” by David Bowie (in “Perks of Being a Wallflower”)
Best ’70s song title: (Tie)”Pop That Thang,” by the Isley Brothers and Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls”
Best Song with Least Lyrical Effort: “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Gang (total number of words: 4)
Worst line from a great song: “I am, I said, to no one there, and no one heard at all, not even the chair” (Neil Diamond).
Song I Sang Along Quite Loudly to in My Car: “Lido Shuffle,” by Boz Scaggs.
’70s Song Most Obsessed Over by Half the Nation for No Apparent Reason: “American Pie” by Don McClean
The Most Painfully Neglected Genres on this List: punk (the Ramones came this close, I swear) and disco (Donna Summer! Michael Jackson!).
Well, as Casey Kasem used to say, “There you have it”—the best and worst of that wonderful decade we call the ’70s. This was so much fun that I think I’ll take on the ’60s—or maybe the ’80s—next.
Feel free to comment below!