Every Thursday, our staff of pop culture addicts tackles a topic or question about movies, music, comics, video games, or whatever else is itching at our brains.
One of the traits of a great critic is the ability to separate the stuff you like from works that are intrinsically good. This is especially difficult when you find yourself absolutely taken with something that your left brain knows is, deep down, just awful. Music can get you with this worse than any other medium—how often do you find yourself humming the tune to a song that you actually hate? Clearly you don’t really hate it, but you know that you should, because it’s a piece of crap. It’s a tired cliche to refer to music as a drug, but what else do you call something that you keep coming back to even though you know how bad it is for you?
This week, members of the Deadshirt staff got together to bear their most embarrassing favorite songs, the awful sonic drugs they can’t help but love, even if it’s killing them inside.
“How Much I Feel” – Ambrosia (1980)
Alright, so I’ve listened to this song like a hundred times over the last six months. “How Much I Feel” initially wormed its way into my inner ear after I saw Space Station ‘76, which uses the song to great effect during a montage. There’s a very specific goofiness to ’70s-’80s love songs that I adore, and this maudlin Ambrosia track exemplifies that. In particular, I love how the overly serious piano accompaniment pairs nicely with frontman David Pack’s lyrical remembrance of a long gone ex-girlfriend. (He blames her for the breakup but don’t worry, he…still thinks about her when he’s banging his wife? Christ.) But, putting aside the silliness and surprisingly overt misogyny of “How Much I Feel”, it’s a hyper-catchy tune about lost love and regret from the heat death of disco.
– Max Robinson
“Love is Alright Tonite” – Rick Springfield (1981)
This is a dumb song. When I first heard it on a thrifted K-Tel compilation of ’80s hits that I bought for a dollar with my used shirts and slightly moth-eaten finery, I was immediately gobsmacked by how incredibly insipid the chorus was. “Love is Alright Tonite.” It’s even spelled like that. A line like that is a toss-off joke about pop music that you make while talking about how all the real artists are dead, right? So dumb. But then, to my terror, it spoke to me. I felt bilious plumes of hormones from some gland, dormant and verging on vestigial atrophy since I started soaking my brain in irony every day but now squeezed to sudden production, flood and riot in my veins, and by the time the second chorus had started I was in it for life. I am, after all, the guy who cried at the part in Bill & Ted when they went to the future.
It’s useless to try and pin down why “Love is Alright Tonite” is so magic, and I don’t know if it will work for you. I had a dream in which I told Rick Springfield that this song is underrated, and in my own dream he laughed at me. I will say that, besides the impeccable production values from the team that brought you “Jessie’s Girl” and “I’ve Done Everything For You” off the same album, “Love” has a massive sense of scale. The first verse is your standard “Friday night, getting my girl, my job sucks,” but the second verse is the apocalypse. The sky is falling. The world is going crazy tonight and this guy has to keep it together for one more night. I’m hyperbolic about my humdrum life by nature and dammit Rick Springfield gets it, and he’s not gonna shame me or tell me to worry about something else, he’s going to do a bunch of high kicks and stage moves and blow away any obstruction to my dreams with me, and by the time the song is over I’m going to ride a Syd Mead-hoverbike with my Patrick Nagel-drawing girlfriend across a Lisa Frank-dolphin ocean and we tear out the heart of a Frank Frazetta-barbarian. Whoo. Your mileage may vary but sometimes you gotta drink the all-syrup slurpee and roll with the sugar high.
– Mike Pfeiffer
“Twist of Fate” – Olivia Newton-John (1983)
Olivia Newton-John’s songs are closely associated with her films—the high camp of Xanadu, the summer lovin’ of Grease, and even the spandex and leg warmers in her music video for “Physical.” When Two of a Kind, a film reteaming Newton-John with Grease love interest John Travolta, failed at the box office and sank into Razzie-nominated obscurity, “Twist of Fate” disappeared from memory with it, despite being her last Top 15 hit. (I guess the world just wasn’t ready for a film where Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta are criminals, and Oliver Reed and Scatman Crothers are angels who think their redemption can save humanity—I can see you rubbing your temples after that plot description, and I don’t blame you.) But speaking as someone with songs from The Apple and The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf on her iPod, I can testify that bad movies can have undiscovered gems on their soundtracks.
“Twist of Fate” is a big white slice of ’80s cheese, yes, but it’s also a genuinely exciting song. This is a song that demands high kicks, fist pumping, and death drop splits, so imagine my disappointment that the music video is just black-clad Olivia testifying before the Three Supreme Beings of the Future from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Olivia Newton John’s vocals also give the somewhat silly lyrics a greater power than they deserve—when she sings that “life doesn’t mean a thing/without the love you bring” and promises that she’s “gonna make it work this time,” you fucking believe her. (Forget that in 1983 she was basically singing about a second chance at a film career.) When I’m having a rough morning, and need an obscure ’80s pop song to tell me this is a new beginning, “Twist of Fate” it is. When a song makes you happier every time you hear it, who cares about quality? (The movie is fucking terrible, though.)
– Kayleigh Hearn
“Wild Wild West” – Will Smith, Kool Moe Dee, & Dru Hill (1999)
(The music video is not on YouTube, and that’s the real crime.)
Hey, remember when Will Smith had a smash hit single and music video in which he basically just rapped the plot of his latest movie? People loved that.
Hey, remember when he did it again?
“Wild Wild West,” much like the film from which it sprung, is shiny and dumb and perplexing. The only phrase I can come up with to describe the song is painstakingly half-assed. I don’t know the true story behind the song, but I imagine that Warner Bros., the studio behind Wild Wild West, was itching to out-do Columbia’s Men in Black by having a bigger hit song with an even more lavish and insane music video, so they threw a ton of money at it and said, “Alright, Will, go nuts!” And what Smith delivered was “I’m the slickest they is / I’m the quickest they is / Did I say I’m the slickest they is?” The best feature of the song is the hook, which is sampled and re-worked from a great Stevie Wonder track and performed by future “Thong Song” guy Sisqó.
Wait, scratch that, the best feature of the song is “Any damsel that be in distress / be outta that dress when she meet Jim West.” Yeah, that’s definitely it. Christ, I love this stupid song. You know what? Forget everything you just read. This song is amazing, I love it, anyone who makes fun of it can get crushed by a giant mechanical spider.
– Dylan Roth
“Fat Lip” – Sum 41 (2001)
A friend once told me, “Deryck Whibley wrote a song called ‘Fat Lip,’ so now he gets to do whatever he wants.” I actually feel sort of uncomfortable describing this track as a guilty pleasure because Whibley—the lead singer and songwriter of the Canadian pop punk outfit best known for this particular single off of their 2001 debut album, All Killer, No Filler—is so on his game here as a whiny suburban defector that this song is perfect for 2 a.m. at a house party. This song structure is basically break-after-break of spitting, angsty, and occasionally nonsensical (“You be standin’ on the corner talkin’ all that kufuffin”) vocals nestled between comfortably half-heavy rhythm guitar bits and a nearly sweet chorus.
Dave Baksh’s opening guitar riff is immediately recognizable to anyone who went to middle school with girls putting on ties to imitate Avril Lavigne (ex-wife of Whibley and current wife of Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger; the latter arrangement prompted Whibley and a bandmate to dress up as Lavigne and Kroeger for Halloween 2012, more than a full decade after ‘Fat Lip’ debuted) and boys donning skate shoes without ever touching a deck. These guys created the ultimate group singalong song, which ironically expressed their own perceived alienation without considering that the band is comprised of mostly young white men, and it made them fucking rich. Ultimately, though, these boys made the only pop punk tune the prom kings in Blink-182 couldn’t make at the time, and they get to do whatever they want because of it.
– Caitlin Goldblatt
*Sigh* That felt good. Join us, would you? Comment below to confess your musical shame. We’re here to listen.