The Godfather: Peter Corris on his worst pop songs
My familiarity with pop music spans only the 1950s to the 1970s, after which I lost touch. I’m aware that I may be taking this mostly ephemeral material too seriously, but I’ve found it an interesting personal exercise to choose my ten worst pop songs ever and the editors have given me carte blanche to be personal. In chronological order my selection is:
1 ‘A Deck of Cards’ – this was written and recited by country singer T Texas Tyler. It speaks of a soldier, arrested for the offence of playing cards during a church service, explaining how he uses the cards as a Bible, a prayer book and an almanac. For example, the ace signifies the ‘one true God’ and the Knave is the devil. Along the way there are fundamentalist Creationist allusions to God creating the world in six days and destroying it in the Flood. The Queen, obviously, symbolises Mary as ‘Queen of Heaven’. It’s all intensely hierarchical. Tyler’s version was popular in 1948 but the most popular cover was by Wink Martindale in 1959, which I suspect was the one I heard when I was a teenager. It reached number seven on the Billboard chart and number one as a country hit. It nauseated me then and it nauseated me again listening to it recently.
2 ‘A Bushel and a Peck’ – this begins with repeated ‘doodle doodle doos’ and it doesn’t get any better. It is mawkish in lyrics and banal in tune and was immensely popular when released in 1950. It’s hard to understand how such experienced performers as Perry Como and Betty Hutton could have brought themselves to perform it.
3 ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ – this syrupy and sentimental muck about relationships and pets came from Patti Page in 1953 and bears no resemblance to reality.
4 ‘Teddy Bear’ – this was a single off the soundtrack of Elvis Presley’s second film, Loving You (1957). It is a very early and alarming signpost to the slow disintegration of Elvis’s career. Listening to its bouncy, self-abasing inanity it would seem that rock’n roll had never happened.
5 ‘The Chipmunk Song’ – this infantile nonsense from David Seville and the Chipmunks in 1958 stood at number one in the US pop charts for four weeks – enough said.
6 ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ – this was perpetrated with great success by David Hyland in 1960. I hope I have enough sense of humour to enable me to appreciate chirpy songs but this piece of tasteless voyeurism, denigrating to women and sub-adolescent, is putrid.
7 ‘Okie from Muskogee’ – this offering from country singer Merle Haggard was the only one of his songs to feature in the pop charts. It is essentially a paean to American conservatism – to conformity of dress and behaviour, to subservience to authority – leather boots are preferable to sandals; hair should be short, not long; alcohol is preferable to drugs; chastity is paramount in the cradle of liberty. It would be laughable had it not been popular in the US at the time of the Vietnam War, and many Americans, but not all, applauded.
8 ‘Gitarzan’ – novelty songs are all very well but this 1969 effort by Ray Stevens offended me when I first heard it, and still does. The idea of blending the iconic feral human with the superficiality of rock stardom somehow assaults the boyhood thrill I got, and somewhere still retain, from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes (1912). This is personal; Ray Stevens fans are free to disagree.
9 ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ – Chuck Berry’s 1972 version of this coy, teasing, juvenile Dave Bartholomew song became his only number one pop hit. It will be forgotten while ‘Johnny B Goode’, ‘Promised Land’ and others will endure.
10 ‘Tonight’s the Night’ – released by Rod Stewart in 1976, this is a seduction song with all the subtlety of a used condom. The theme is male dominance of a young, vulnerable female (’my virgin child’) and verges on paedophilia. The line ‘Let your inhibitions run wild’ (Stewart wrote the lyrics) stamps the singer not only as a predator, but as pathetically educationally deficient.