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All Songs Rewind: The Worst Songs Of All Time?

Note: With hosts Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton away this week, we've got an encore presentation of The Worst Songs Of All Time, from Feb. 2014.

Guitarist, actor, writer (and former Monitor Mix blogger) Carrie Brownstein joins us, along with NPR Music's Stephen Thompson, to do something we don't normally do: Talk about the songs we really, really don't like.

Our mission at All Songs is to bring you our favorite musical discoveries of the week. But after Stephen wrote his Good Listener column examining Starship's widely reviled hit single "We Built This City," we watched the comments pour in like an out-of-control fire hose, and got to talking about all the songs that drive us bonkers. It was so much fun we decided to continue the discussion here, with a look at some of the contenders for worst songs of all time, and why they stick in our craw. These are the relentless earworms — the songs you can't escape once they're in your head — or the annoying novelty songs. "The Candy Man," anyone? We also look at songs that take themselves too seriously, songs we used to love until they were ruined by a bad personal experience and more.

Please direct your "Dear Idiots" letters via email to [email protected].

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Songs Featured On This Episode

A Relentless Ear Worm: 'Wonderful Christmas Time'

From 'Wonderful Christmastime (Single)'

By Paul McCartney

"Some of these worst songs of all time are by people who are undisputedly great artists. The bar has been set so high that when they release something cloying and clueless and terrible it makes it way, way worse." —Stephen Thompson

A Relentless Ear Worm: 'No Rain'

From 'Blind Melon'

By Blind Melon

"It's totally the voice. It's that kind of serpentine way that he's singing the song. It's very nasally. I find the rhyme-scheme super annoying. It reminds me of every game of hacky sack I've ever witnessed. It's sitting on a couch with bad posture." —Carrie Brownstein

A Relentless Ear Worm: 'I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)'

From 'Private Eyes'

By Hall & Oates

"I cannot tell you how many wide-eyed, with red eyes, lying awake in the middle of the night [I've had,] unable to get to sleep because of 'No can do ayyy.'" —Robin Hilton

A Relentless Ear Worm: 'It's A Small World'

From 'The Sherman Brothers Songbook'

By Various Artists

"This is the ear worm of ear worms. Walt Disney was trying to capture a way to represent all the cultures of the world. He asked a couple of people to write a little song for him. They wrote this ballad and he said 'No, make it more joyful,' and they came up with [this]." —Bob Boilen

Conversation Starter: 'We Built This City'

From 'Knee Deep in the Hoopla'

By Starship

"I write a column for the All Songs Blog called 'The Good Listener.' It's an advice column and the question was 'OK, What's the worst song of all time? It's 'We Built This City,' right?' 'We Built This City' is kind of a tragically awful song. Starship is already a copy of a copy of a once-great band ... Jefferson Airplane to Jefferson Starship to Starship. For a lot of people it represents the final nail in the coffin of Rock 'n' Roll." —Stephen Thompson

A Song That Takes Itself Too Seriously: 'We Are The World'

From 'We Are The World (Single)'

By USA for Africa

"It is just so over-the-top anthemic. Its heart was in the right place, but my god. It's a gaudy expression of excess, in a decade of excess." Robin Hilton

"It was billed as a song in which everybody involved has quote unquote 'checked their egos at the door.' And it is the most egotistical pant-load of self-importance." Stephen Thompson

A Song That Takes Itself Too Seriously: 'Dirty Laundry'

From 'I Can't Stand Still'

By Don Henley

"Don Henley, he never wanted to be [an] everyman, so for him to kind of wear that cloak, of just the average person watching the nightly news, just comes across as total B.S." Carrie Brownstein

A Song That Takes Itself Too Seriously: 'Baby, I Love Your Way'

From 'Frampton Comes Alive!'

By Peter Frampton

"I'm thinking about myself working at a record store when this record came out and despising it so much. A&M 3703, by the way, because I wrote that number down so many times, every time somebody bought it. The only reason I thought, when this record came out, that people could possibly like this record was because he was really a pretty boy. That cover was just beautiful." —Bob Boilen

A Song That Takes Itself Too Seriously: 'MacArthur Park'

From 'A Tramp Shining'

By Richard Harris

"It is widely viewed as one of the worst songs of all time. People of a certain generation were forced to listen to this song. It is indisputable to them. I think where you are generationally really dictates what your worst songs of all time were, because you were held captive [by them]." —Stephen Thompson

Death By Association: 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da'

From 'The Beatles [White Album]'

By The Beatles

"I taught English [in Japan] for three years and for some reason my classes liked to begin by singing 'Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.' So, I would sing that song three or four or five times a day, every day of the week. And I did it for three years. I love the White Album and never thought for a second that this was a bad song until it was driven into the ground." —Robin Hilton

Death By Association: 'Brown Eyed Girl'

From 'Blowin' Your Mind'

By Van Morrison

"I happen to have brown eyes and so I received a lot of amorous mix tapes in Junior High and High School that all featured this song. And I was just so embarrassed. I would have done anything to just gouge my eyes out and make them not brown." — Carrie Brownstein

Death By Association: 'Don't Stop'

From 'Rumours'

By Fleetwood Mac

"I always admired the skill of this record. But it's 1977 and there's the Sex Pistols and the Talking Heads and The Clash, and all these really amazing, brash, in-your-face records. And then there's this shiny beacon that you've heard over and over and over again. It was just not right for me at the time." —Bob Boilen

Death By Association: 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light'

From 'Bat Out of Hell'

By Meat Loaf

"This is genuinely my least-favorite song of all time. It's a combination of everything I don't like in music. It thinks it's awesome. It's congratulating itself for being so funny." —Stephen Thompson

Annoying Novelty Songs: 'Aba Daba Honeymoon'

From 'Aba Daba Honeymoon (Single)'

By Debbie Reynolds

"Robert Siegel pointed this out to me many years ago when I was directing the show [All Things Considered], it was a story we did and the dead roll I chose was this song called 'Aba Daba Honeymoon,' 'cause I was trying to find some sort of cloying, annoying song. It's originally from [1914]. So, there were really awful, annoying, annoying songs, written for the ages." —Bob Boilen

Annoying Novelty Songs: 'Blue (Da Ba Dee)'

From 'Europop'

By Eiffel 65

"It also has a 'badda aba badda bing' or something after it, 'Da Ba Dee.' I feel like that's a very common trait of a novelty song, to use sort of absurdist or fake words. To kind of make it more universal and thus, more novel. So, here is the song that I've heard a million times at this gym." —Carrie Brownstein

Annoying Novelty Songs: 'Dur dur d'être bébé!'

From 'Pochette Surprise'

By Jordy

"This song is just offensive on a number of levels. It's from 1992, by a french four-year-old named Jordy. He is the youngest chart-topper ever. Of course what ended up following is this incredibly sad story of him having to emancipate himself from his awful, awful parents." —Stephen Thompson

Novelty Songs: 'Mambo No. 5'

From 'A Little Bit of Mambo'

By Lou Bega

"Monstrous hit in 1999. It went platinum in, like, ten different countries. It just dogged me everywhere I went, I could not escape it." — Robin Hilton

Grab Bag: 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose'

From 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose (Single)'

By Dionne Warwick

"I've thrown my shoe twice in my life at either a record player or a radio and this was the first time [when this song came on]. I gained respect for Dionne Warwick many, many years later in an interview, about 20 some-odd years after the song had gone away from most of radio, and she said, 'I always thought it was a pretty stupid song.'" —Bob Boilen

Grab Bag: 'Africa'

From 'Toto IV'

By Toto

"This thing has everything that is pretty horrible about '80s production. The lyrics, just the sound of his voice and the way it's recorded, it's so moist. It is the moistest, dampest song. And then the synth." —Robin Hilton

Grab Bag: 'Wild, Wild West'

From 'Wild Wild West'

By Escape Club

"My basis for picking it is that it's not only obnoxious and cloying and kind of a novelty song, but it is also a rip-off of a good song. Not only does it lift from Elvis Costello's 'Pump It Up,' it's like a pastiche of better songs." —Stephen Thompson

Grab Bag: 'We Didn't Start the Fire'

From 'Storm Front'

By Billy Joel

"This song I think sums up all of the traits that we have discussed. And why we have so many problems with them. I think we can all agree that this is a horrible, horrible song that takes itself very seriously that will get in your head." —Carrie Brownstein

In 1988, a determined Bob Boilen started showing up on NPR's doorstep every day, looking for a way to contribute his skills in music and broadcasting to the network. His persistence paid off, and within a few weeks he was hired, on a temporary basis, to work for All Things Considered. Less than a year later, Boilen was directing the show and continued to do so for the next 18 years.
Robin Hilton is a producer and co-host of the popular NPR Music show All Songs Considered.
Carrie Brownstein is a writer, musician, actor, dog trainer and blogger for NPR Music. She was a member of the critically acclaimed rock band Sleater-Kinney. Brownstein writes NPR Music's "Monitor Mix" blog, and is a contributor to All Songs Considered. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, Pitchfork.com and numerous book anthologies on music and culture.
Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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