Today, we’re stepping right into the middle of one of the best time periods for pop music: the mid-Eighties! Now, if you told me to rank all the years of the decade based on the Billboard charts, I think ‘83 might be the winner, but ‘84 is just as great. We had so much good synth pop, R&B, new wave, and rock this year. Even the mediocre songs were better than average. That’s how good this year was. Conducting this Worst List was a bit of a challenge, though. To put it mildly, I would not be surprised if this list ends up being the most controversial post I ever write. But it’s alright. I’m confident I won’t make enemies with any fanbases for a couple years.
Let’s get started with the list, shall we?
Believe it or not, there was a 1980s that wasn’t just synthesizers and bad haircuts. Before MTV took off, the pop world of the Eighties was mainly dominated by post-disco, country pop, and yacht rock- y’know, the discarded remnants of the Seventies. If you didn’t know this, it’s because this time in history was such a stark contrast from what we associate with the Eighties nowadays that forgetting about it has become the norm. And also because it sucked balls. In a just world, this all would’ve faded into dust after 1982.
But, of course, life is never that easy.
Turns out a few of these early-80s trends stuck around just long enough to witness the decade’s peak period. Now I know what you’re thinking: “What did these people do to ‘Ghetto Supastar’?!” Well, this is how it sounded back then, and let me just say right now, this melody sounds so much better in “Ghetto Supastar”. As a text reviewer, I can’t really make the comparison I want to make, so just take my word for it and listen to both songs back to back.
This was actually written by Bee Gees, which, if you remember from my 1978 list, can only mean bad things if they’re not performing the song themselves. Here, they brought in country music stars Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, which was honestly not a bad decision. Kenny and Dolly have exactly enough chemistry to make the lamest music in the world. By the way, this was a number one hit for two weeks. In Nineteen Eighty-goddamn-Three. And only made the Year-End for 1984. I do not understand how that is even remotely possible.
Islands in the stream
That is what we are
Islands in… a stream?
What, like rocks? What “islands” are you supposed to find in itty bitty creeks? This is not a good use of your Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, people. It doesn’t even compare to Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before”, the other dated country pop duet that was a hit this year. Despite the fact that it’s a much more confusing pairing, and that Willie Nelson is just… amazingly bad, at least we have a great performer like Julio Iglesias to balance it out. Meanwhile, “Islands in the Stream” sounds like karaoke night at the old folks’ home.
We ride it together, uh-uh
Makin’ love to each other, uh-uh
Dolly Parton was thirty-seven when this song was released. Kenny Rogers was forty-four. I can’t believe I have to say this, but… these two were young enough to know better.
Is it me you’re looking for?
Yeah, Lionel Richie’s not on this list. A lot of people might tell you “Hello” was one of the worst songs of the decade, but I just find it tediously boring, like the rest of Lionel’s ballads. No, if you truly want to experience pure granulated sap, you have to dig a little deeper.
Enter Robert Peapo Bryson, aka “Peabo”. Apparently, some singer Bryson used to perform backup for couldn’t pronounce his name right, so he changed it to “Peabo”. That’s stupid. But at the very least, it’s not the hardest R&B stage name I’ve tried to pronounce. Looking at you, Genuine…
G-Ginny Winny? Gentle Whine? La Jinn, the Mystical Genie of the La- screw it.
I don’t blame you if you’ve never heard of this guy before. I originally thought Peabo Bryson was some one-hit wonder since I didn’t recognize the name from any other songs off the top of my head. But as it turns out, he’s had quite a few hits in the Eighties and the former half of the Nineties. That should suggest that some people have heard of him, but to my knowledge, he’s anonymous. I think one big reason for that is because his singing isn’t very interesting. He doesn’t have the pipes or emotion or even a unique voice to distinguish himself from other R&B singers, and that leads to some boring, boring music. This song in particular sounds like the trailer for a Lifetime movie.
And of course, it also suffers from the same problem that plagues every other schmaltzy soft rock ballad: the insipid, unconvincing lyrics.
We had a once in a lifetime
But I just didn’t know it
‘Til my life fell apart
A second once in a lifetime
Isn’t too much to ask
We call it “once in a lifetime” for a reason. Getting back together with someone is not a once in a lifetime opportunity. But what really annoys me the most about this song is the title.
If ever you’re in my arms again
This time I’ll love you much better
My god, that title’s awful. The Grammar Nazi in me wants to burn something.
This is far from the worst of the many sappy ballads we got this decade- and spoilers, there’s more to come in this list- but it is one of the most pointless and forgettable. Peabo Bryson, if ever you’re on my lists again, next time you should do something interesting.
I’m not sure if there’s an official award for the most pathetic song ever written, but… yeah, this is my nomination.
Let’s break this down. So Dan Hartman’s character just got out of a relationship, I’m assuming. The song doesn’t make it very clear, but it’s the impression I get from it. With each passing night that he spends without this woman, he gets lonelier and lonelier.
No more timing each tear that falls from my eyes
Wow. You must live a very, very sad life to admit to doing something like that. But no, that’s not the kicker here. So he needs some way to deal with the constant loneliness he feels every night when he’s not with her.
I can dream about you
If I can’t hold you tonight
You dream about her? That’s what first-graders do when they have a crush on someone. Although, maybe he’s doing more than just dreaming about her at night. Maybe he’s making out with his pillow at night and imagining it’s his girlfriend.
Of course, the idiotic premise isn’t the only reason why “I Can Dream About You” is bad. One of my personal pet peeves in music is generic pop rock flukes. These are the “rock” songs that sound like they were specifically manufactured to become hits, even though rock is a genre where you have to expand past creative boundaries. If you write your own music, especially in rock, you need to bring at least some creativity to the table. This song doesn’t do that. It’s disposable pop rock with nothing interesting about it.
I can dream about you
You know how to hold me just right
Wait, how does that matter if she’s not in bed with you?
I can dream about you
I’m gonna press my lips against you and hold you to me
Oh my god, he’s talking in his sleep, isn’t he? He really thinks he’s with his lovelife as he dreams about her. Man, wouldn’t it suck if that was his wet dream?
Yep. True love doesn’t get much more embarrassing than this.
Oh, please, no… nooooo…
I just called to say I love you
I just called to say how much I care
Did you forget who you are?! You’re Stevie goddamn Wonder! You’re the same guy who gave us Songs in the Key of Life! Why have you turned against me like this?! I thought we were friends!
There was once a time where I never got too angry at artists who disappointed me. “Just a setback,” I said. “They’ll get better soon,” I said. Little did I know that the disappointment that built up inside me soon manifested into a giant, white monster that destroyed the city. That… was not the day I heard Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” for the first time, but it sounded interesting, didn’t it? More interesting than this song, I’ll tell you that much.
So let me go ahead and tell you what the song’s about. Apparently, on some ordinary day, Stevie Wonder stumbles up to his telephone and inexplicably manages to call his woman up and tells her he loves her.
Does this whole premise sound wrong to you? Because it definitely sounded wrong to me. I mean, Jesus, I know Soulja Boy tried to do the same thing in 2009, but you know what, I expected him to do something stupid like that. Not Stevie goddamn Wonder! Oh, and about that “ordinary day”, thing? Well, it looks like he didn’t just call to say “I love you”. He also felt the need to remind her that today is just some regular day, while listing off every freaking holiday where it’s normal to be romantic.
Even though I’ve made it clear I don’t have a lot of tolerance for sappy love ballads, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with writing simple love songs like this. But this is Stevie Wonder, performing one of the laziest songs he’s ever written. And of course, it’s one of his biggest hits. But I guess it could be worse. He could’ve taken it a few steps further than just calling to say he loves his girlfriend.
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
I’m terrified of showing my true colors. (*whispers*) Might make some people mad!
You know what, screw it. I can’t stand Cyndi Lauper. That’s not a knock against her music, for the record. I’m talking about the cultural icon Cyndi Lauper. I have never been able to tolerate her personality, which is a shame, because I do, in fact, think she’s a talented songwriter.
But she’s not immune from being stupid.
There has always been one big reason as to why I can’t get into Cyndi Lauper’s music: her singing.
Do I WAAANNA go OWWT with the LAIIon’s roar?
Mostly, my biggest problem with her voice has to do with her tone and delivery, but in “She Bop”, for whatever reason, she wanted to up the whininess. Seriously, she sounds like Angelica Pickles here. Fitting, considering her name is CYNTHIAAAAAAA!
Now, as we all know, this song is about masturbation. Not one of my favorite topics to write a song about, admittedly, but I’ve read that Lauper wanted to make it sound like it was about dancing so kids wouldn’t notice. That… is pretty impressive, if I’m being honest. Though it gets a little less impressive when, in 2013, she revealed she recorded the song topless in the dark while simultaneously tickling herself to make the laugh sounds on the track. Um… Cyndi’s always struck me as someone who tries to act half their actual age.
Hey, hey, THEY SAY I BETTA get a chaperone
Because I CAN’T STAWP messing with the danger zone
This song is not about a minor having sex. There’s no way.
I won’t worry, and I won’t fret
Ain’t no law against it yet
Review over. We’re done here.
Am I the only person who thinks Sting was trying very hard to be seen as a genius? I mean, this is despite the fact that he’s, like, the king of the forced rhyme.
Just like the
Old man in
That book by Nabokov
If hipster culture existed thirty years ago, I imagine this is what they would talk about. Fortunately, I can get past all that if the music was good and the forced rhymes and references were kept to a minimum. And yet, the last hit of the Police’s career is them doing the exact opposite.
Even though I’m not always on board with Sting’s lyrics, I still like a lot of the Police’s output. But I have no idea what happened here.
You consider me the young apprentice
Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis
(*annoyed sigh*) This is exactly what I mean when I say Sting’s trying to be a hipster/genius. For real, do you think the general public would know anything about Scylla and Charybdis? Not to mention that even with the forced lyric, it doesn’t even come close to rhyming.
And really, once you hear those first two lines, it sets the tone for the entire song.
I have only come here seeking knowledge
Things they would not teach me of in college
I am legitimately struggling to find something to nitpick about here. The lyrics are just so goddamn confusing! Every time I try to study this song, I’m left sitting there with a dumb look on my face. Like I just saw the Russian version of Itchy & Scratchy.
Mephistopheles is not your name
But I know what you’re up to just the same
I will listen hard to your tuition
And you will see it come to its fruition
Wha…? How else am I supposed to react to these lyrics? This is not outright painful like a lot of Pat Monahan’s mangled writing, it’s just lazy and incoherent. What is this song supposed to be about? I’ve read somewhere it’s about a dominatrix and her submissive, or possibly even marriage, hence the whole “ring around your finger” thing. Sting, of course, doesn’t make a lick of sense when trying to explain it.
“This song is vaguely alchemical and probably about a friend of mine, a professional psychic and my tutor in tarot, with bits of Doctor Faustus and ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ thrown into the pot for good measure.”
— Sting, Lyrics By Sting
But you know what? That doesn’t matter at all. The lyrics aren’t the underlying problem here. The underlying problem is the music. There is no melody or hook to be found, there’s no bass. Andy sounds like he’s testing his delay pedal more than anything. With instrumentation this dull, I seem obligated to pay attention to the lyrics, and when that happens, I’m stuck in limbo.
I just… I just can’t, guys. Can we move onto something coherent that I can make fun of?
As I write this, we have a little over a month left of spring. Allergies have reached peak annoyance (lucky me), it’s stopped raining, and meanwhile, I get to enjoy that wonderful central California weather, which shifts from “hot and humid” to “ants under magnifying glass” in the span of only a few minutes. You never get used to it. And along with all that comes the inevitable summer sickness. Whether it’s an illness or a simple summer headache, it is always one of the worst feelings you could ever experience.
I guess there are worse things to write a song about…
If there’s any song that could realistically emulate the feeling of pounding migraines during a heat wave, it would be this. Every single element of this song’s production was tailor-made to give me a headache. On top of that awful, sludgy bass, there’s the thin as hell guitar progression that doesn’t match the bassline at all, the obnoxious marimba riff that taunts the listener, and synthesizers that unsettlingly creep up on you. I’ll admit, this could’ve sounded good, but goddamn, the production team just did everything wrong here.
Most of us young-uns may associate this song with The Karate Kid, specifically the scene where Daniel-kun (not yet promoted to Daniel-san) explores his new stomping grounds and doesn’t do much of anything. Fitting, since the song itself is about doing jack squat.
Hot summer streets
And the pavements are burning
I sit around
Well, nothing except getting your asses burned to a crisp. The hell are you doing sitting on the pavement if it’s hot out? So anyway, this song is not about anything serious like an illness like I said earlier. It’s actually about being lonely.
It’s a cruel, (cruel) cruel summer
Leaving me here on my own
It’s a cruel, (it’s a cruel) cruel summer
Now you’re gone
You’re not the only one
…Who are you talking to? What, did you stay out in the sun too long and see mirages of your friends?
And can we just admit that Bananarama were never that good? For being one of the first pop girl groups, aren’t you supposed to have personality? I hear all the time how, like, Siobhan was the “face” if the group. Here’s what I’d like to know: if they sing simultaneously during all of their songs, how can you realistically tell them apart? And no, looks is not an answer. Freaking *NSYNC let less than half of their members sing lead, but it’s still better than no lead singers at all!
Also, Bananarama are just not good vocalists. Every single song, they sound like they’re half-assing it, like teenagers quietly singing along to their Spotify playlists and not realizing that people can hear them. “Cruel Summer” is the worst example, because despite the grating monotone, they’re whining about how they don’t have any fwiends to pway with on summuh vacation!
The city is crowded
My friends are away
And I’m on my own
No, there’s three of you. And you’re all saying the same thing. Problem solved. Now shut up and go do something.
It’s too close for comfort
This heat has got right out of hand
You know, no one’s forcing you to be outside. I’m sure you have an air conditioner. You could always just stay inside and play some vintage 1984 video ga-
Damn, this really is a cruel summer.
The phone rings in the middle of the night
My father yells, “What you gonna do with your life?”
I’ve heard that line enough times from my parents. I definitely don’t need to hear it from yours.
Do you think I enjoy hating Cyndi Lauper? Because I don’t. I don’t want to hate her, because, like I said, she’s a good songwriter. A song about girls just wanting to kick back and have fun after a long day of hard work? I am totally okay with that. It’s just…
That’s all they really WAAAAaaaAAAaaaaaAAAANT!
Christ, Cyndi! Do you have to be the most annoying person on the planet?!
I’m not making any of this up. Her delivery is legitimately terrible enough for me to put “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” on a worst list, let alone this high. Even on the songs where she’s not being loud, her tone is not a pleasant sound.
You want to know how bad I really think it is? Take a listen to her follow-up single, “Time After Time”. And no, she doesn’t sound perfect on that song either, but you know what it tells me? It tells me that she can sing like a normal person. So why the hell doesn’t she do that?! I mean, it’s not like she was lacking personality or anything.
I once asked my mom, who was seventeen in ‘84, if I was crazy for thinking “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” was annoying as hell. I don’t remember exactly what her response was, but I remember it being something along the lines of “It’s annoying to everyone except fifteen-year-old girls.” In my opinion, that’s a perfect summary of Cyndi Lauper’s career: songs to be enjoyed by fifteen-year-old girls performed by a thirty-year-old woman who wishes she was a fifteen-year-old girl. Now I know what they mean when they say She’s So Unusual.
I’ve been drunk all day, can’t concentrate
Maybe I’m making a big mistake
Wait, so you’re trying to embarrass yourself?
For those of you who are not aware, infatuation is a term used to describe a short-lived attraction towards someone. Already, I think we have a bad subject for a sex song, and Rod Stewart does nothing to convince me otherwise, by which I mean he’s not trying to convince me this is nothing more than a straight-up lust anthem. I don’t believe for a second that he’s genuinely attracted to this chick. He just wants to get into her pants. To be fair, though, the idea of infatuation is mentioned in the chorus. So let’s take a deep look into Rod Stewart’s conflicted feelings of romance.
Yeah, don’t pretend you didn’t see that coming.
I’m guessing Rod or somebody who works with him looked up infatuation in the dictionary and didn’t realize it wasn’t the same thing as nymphomania. (I’m aware nymphomania is a female thing; you know what I mean.) And of course, just like every confused sex song, we’re treated to a cavalcade of bad innuendos.
Jekyll and Hyde the way I behave
Feel like I’m running on an empty gauge
Ew! Too much information, guy!
It’s so hard in the middle of the week
I. Did. Not. Need. To. Know. That.
Spirits soar when I’m by her side
Moaning like a banshee. Ha ha, very original, Kitsune.
My god, is this stupid. I’m convinced Rod Stewart has no more dignity left to lose.
Fatuate me, baby.
Fatuate me, baby.
I- wha- d- ji- mhm- You KNOW that’s not a real word! No one, not even idiot high schoolers, think “fatuate” is a legit word! How do you even get to the point where you think “fatuate” is a real world?! If you were unsure why I put “Infatuation” this high on the countdown, now you know why. I didn’t think it was possible for a single line to completely tank a song without offending me in some way, but this did it for me. Kudos to you, you brainless monkey!
And with that out of the way, let’s cover the Honorable Mentions before we get to number one.
Oh hey, I didn’t know Bandit Keith had a singing career!
Don’t switch the blade on the guy in shades, oh no
Don’t masquerade with the guy in shades, oh no
Hearing this dork call himself “the guy in shades” is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.
We gave Eddie Murphy a lot of flack for “Party All the Time”. It’s not like he was the only comedian to try having a music career. He also wasn’t the most embarrassing case.
(*bursts out laughing*)
Duh, of course he’s using the love/drug metaphor… I think. It’s very clearly stated in the chorus, but at the same time, Huey Lewis sounds like he’s talking about actual drugs.
One that won’t make me crash my car
You’re not supposed to operate heavy machinery after taking pills, dumbass.
When you close your eyes, do you dream about me?
Mmm, yes, I do dream about you. I dream about you getting smacked in the face for saying that out loud.
What the hell are you doing with your voice?
Oh god, what the hell are you doing with your voice?!
I’m sorry, but when I listen to Yes, I expect to hear something intricate, not the world’s most vapid guitar solo. It’s an experimental track more than anything.
…I got nothing.
I’ve learned a lot of things while making this list. For instance, I’ve learned to take my time with the writing process instead of completing it in a single day, and I’ve learned how to defend myself from the aggressive fanboys who will eventually find this website. However, the biggest thing I’m taking away from this project is that I am now aware of how much passion I truly have for music. That’s another way of saying “I found out what gets my blood boiling.”
Turns out there’s a special amount of anger coursing through my veins that’s exclusively reserved for the acts I love completely shredding their human decency in the name of chart success. I almost didn’t want to go through with this pick because I was afraid of getting too angry and turning this entry into an endless rant. But you know what, if no one else is going to give this song the beating it deserves, then I guess I have no choice.
‘Cause really, there’s no excuse for this.
For a while, I simply thought this song was boring. But after hearing it again and again the past few years and realizing that it was the biggest hit single from one of the best bands of the power pop era, something in my brain clicked and said: “Wow, this is fucking atrocious! I may never listen to the Cars the same way again!” And if putting this song in the number one slot for a single year isn’t enough of an indication of how much I thoroughly loathe this song, let me just get this out of the way: “Drive” is one of my most hated songs of all time.
If you know anything about punk and new wave’s beginnings in the late Seventies, then you should already know about the Cars. They were one of the first rock bands to regularly use synthesizers, and that helped them transition very well from power pop to straight new wave, all without losing any of the creativity or energy that separated them from the other new wave acts of their time. So how did we get from that to this?!
Simply put, this is one of the saddest pieces of music I’ve ever heard. If you listen to this long enough, you seriously begin to feel your life force being sucked out of you. Normally, I’d make a comment about how their attempt at sounding uplifting completely backfired, but I seriously doubt that’s the case given that they went overboard making the video as dreary as possible. You know it’s depressing when Live Aid asks you to perform this song to footage of starving Ethiopian children. Which is something they really shouldn’t have done, because the lyrical content is where the song gets truly sickening.
Who’s gonna tell you when it’s too late?
Who’s gonna tell you things aren’t so great?
See, the premise, to my knowledge, is that there always has to be someone there to tell you when the situation you’re in has gotten dire. Isn’t that, like, the exact opposite of what you’d want to hear? I don’t know about you, but if North Korea ever fires that nuclear missile at us, the last thing I want is for some deformed human coming up to me as I’m crying in fetal position and tell me things are only going to get worse from here. Maybe it’s better to not be in denial, but then again, what if it’s a medical crisis where the person you’re talking to can’t respond? What are you going to do if the person is having an epileptic seizure?
Who’s gonna hold you down when you shake?
Oh. Well at least you’ve come prepared.
But the absolute worst thing about the lyrics is that for every line that sounds genuinely sweet, they have another line right after it that makes the narrator look like a total asshole.
Who’s gonna pick you up when you fall?
Who’s gonna hang it up when you call?
Who’s gonna pay attention to your dreams?
And who’s gonna plug their ears when you scream?
…I really don’t want to talk about this. I mean, the problem is spelled out right here in front of us. Go ahead and make up your own rant here. I’m not going to waste my energy on this song any longer.
I’m starting to think I was way too mean to Chris Rea and his horrible attempts at comforting his sister. For as idiotic as he was to constantly remind her of the amount of sadness she was feeling, at least he didn’t openly antagonize her!
You can’t go on
Thinking nothing’s wrong
You’re right, Ben. I’m done thinking nothing’s wrong with this song. Look, I’m never going to stop liking the Cars, They really are a damn great band, but even my favorite acts have their missteps. It’s just a shame that theirs happened to be their biggest international hit. Screw this song until it bleeds.