a few embarrassing songs by a few major pop and rock artists

Es­ti­mated reading time is 8 min­utes.

IT WAS JUST ANOTHER DAY on Medium when I found the ar­ticle, “Em­bar­rassing Songs By Major Artists.” Written by Alex Markham for The Riff, its tagline was “Even the biggest music su­per­stars had mo­ments when taste de­serted them.” He could have written “every music su­per­star” and sub­sti­tuted “in­tel­li­gence” for “taste” and I would have agreed!

Markham’s opening para­graphs were “Every­body makes an error of judg­ment. The problem is, if you’re a global su­per­star, your error is there for the world to see. Some­times, the error is made be­fore the artist be­came fa­mous. Some­times not. But there’s no es­cape today, the in­ternet is un­for­giving. It never forgets.”

The in­ternet makes every­thing any artist ever did—the grandest ac­com­plish­ment along with the biggest boner—readily avail­able to bil­lions of users. This is some­thing that such for­mats as vinyl, tape, or com­pact disc never ap­proached. The ease of launching a per­sonal blog al­lows each of us to post his opin­ions about these suc­cesses and fail­ures. As Alex Markham did here.

Em­bar­rassing songs or record­ings from minor artists are ex­pected; after all, that’s part of the reason that they are minor artists.

He se­lected eight record­ings that he con­sid­ered egre­gious and listed them in this order:

•  David Bowie, The Laughing Gnome (1967)
•  De­peche Mode, Just Can’t Get Enough (1981)
•  David Bowie & Mick Jagger, Dancing In The Street (1985)
•  Paul Mc­Cartney, Mary Had A Little Lamb (1971)
•  Bob Dylan, Wiggle Wiggle (1990)
•  The Beach Boys, Kokomo (1988)
•  The Bea­tles, Rev­o­lu­tion 9 (1968)
•  Ed Sheeran, Galway Girl (2017)

Of course, I had to re­spond and left a com­ment for Alex. I have re­pub­lished that com­ment below under “Em­bar­rassing songs.” Be­fore reading my com­ments, please try to read Markham’s orig­inal re­marks. This is the rec­om­mended order for reading Alex and my jottings:

1.  Read Alex Markham’s ar­ticle here. If you are not a paid member of Medium, you should be able to read a few ar­ti­cles for free each month. If nei­ther of these op­tions works for you, then as­sume that Mark­hov’s re­views of the above-listed records are not positive.

2.  Then come back here and read “Em­bar­rassing songs” below.

3.  As I wanted to add some­thing to this ar­ticle to make you want to re­turn, I have in­cluded a sec­tion of newly written com­ments below as “More em­bar­rassing songs.”

Embarrassing Songs: picture sleeve for the 45 rpm record "Dancing in the Street" by David Bowie and Mick Jagger (1985).

This is the pic­ture sleeve that ac­com­pa­nied the 45 rpm record of Dancing In The Street. Re­leased by EMI America, the record topped the UK sin­gles charts but only made the Top 10 in the US.

Embarrassing songs

Alex, I stum­bled over your post here and I am glad that your list of em­bar­rassing songs ad­dresses major artists with oth­er­wise en­vi­able talent and achieve­ments. Here is my 22¢ worth of input (with a few tiny ed­i­to­rial changes):

•  David Bowie recorded more than a few em­bar­rassing tracks during the mid-’60s but it’s hard to argue with The Laughing Gnome as being the most em­bar­rassing.

•  I don’t know or care enough about De­peche Mode to have an opinion. I can say that Just Can’t Get Enough sounds like count­less other well-forgotten synth-pop sin­gles from the ’80s.

•  I hated Mick Jagger and Bowie’s Dancing In The Street way back when. Now I find it one of the fun­niest in­ten­tion­ally funny hits in the en­tire his­tory of rock music! The hi­lar­i­ously dead­panned per­for­mances of Bowie and Jagger in the record’s video un­der­scores that fact and your in­clu­sion of the un­fin­ished video (without sound) only makes the re­leased video funnier!

•  For more than forty years, I have of­fered Paul McCartney’s solo ca­reer as Ex­hibit A that he did, in fact, blow his mind out in a car crash in 1966 (post-REVOLVER). For my taste, any number of num­bers from Macca’s ca­reer could vie with Mary Had A Little Lamb as his most embarrassing.

•  If Bob Dylan had not made a re­mark­able turn­around in his ca­reer in 1992 with GOOD AS I BEEN TO YOU, I might be of­fering his col­lec­tion of al­bums from the ’80s as ev­i­dence that he had had his mind blown out, too—not in a car but in the Vine­yard School of Dis­ci­ple­ship in the late ’70s. Wiggle, Wiggle is as good a choice as any for his most em­bar­rassing: it sounds like he wrote it for a worse-than-usual Elvis movie sound­track from the ’60s. (Harum Scarum? Frankie and Johnny? Par­adise Hawaiian Style?)

•  As a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys fan for more than fifty years, I don’t un­der­stand the bad­mouthing that Kokomo gets. Sure, it’s easy-listening fluff, but it’s fluff with a nice melody and lovely har­monies. I can pick sev­eral tracks off the late ’70s Beach Boy al­bums by Brian that are truly em­bar­rassing: Back Home from 15 BIG ONES (1976), Love Is A Woman from LOVE YOU (1977), and Hey Little Tomboy from the MIU ALBUM (1978) spring to mind.

•  I used to share your opinion of Number 9, thinking that it brought all four sides of THE BEATLES album down. Then I lis­tened to it with head­phones and an open mind—opened with a couple of hun­dred mics of acid. Then Number 9 made per­fect sense and I came to like it! I even like the guy in­ter­rupting the whole thing with his “wub­bling” or what­ever he’s doing that sounds a bit like Curly from the Three Stooges in the back­ground. For me, an em­bar­rassing Bea­tles track would be one of the dit­ties from (fake) Paul, such as Your Mother Should Know or Honey Pie.

•  I don’t know or care enough about Ed Sheeran to offer any kind of input.

Fi­nally, my own choice for the most em­bar­rassing and dis­ap­pointing record in the his­tory of rock music is Elvis’ G.I. BLUES from 1960. The album that pre­ceded it was ELVIS IS BACK ear­lier in the same year. It’s hard to imagine any artist sinking so low from one album project to the next.


ClockworkOrange scene Alex tortured 800 crop bw

This image was taken from a scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 1972 mas­ter­piece A Clock­work Or­ange. The youthful—he is sup­posed to be a teenager—sociopath Alex (played by Mal­colm Mc­Dowell, who was a bit of a ringer for Jagger at the time) is forced to watch videos de­signed to make him a peaceful and co­op­er­a­tive member of the so­ciety in which he lived.

More on those embarrassing songs

As you could just click over to Alex Markham’s page and read my com­ment, I have to add some­thing to make you click back here after doing that. So, the fol­lowing are a few more thoughts and opinions.

David Bowie

Bowie’s ear­liest “phase” as a recording artist in 1964-1965 was r&b-influenced with sides such as Liza Jane and I Pity The Fool. His ap­proach soft­ened con­sid­er­ably in 1966 with “Can’t Help Thinking About Me” and, by the end of the year, he was en­tering what I used to refer to as his “An­thony Newley phase” with Rubber Band

In 1967, Dream re­leased his first LP album, which opened with Uncle Arthur and closed with Please Mr. Gravedigger and in­cluded The Laughing Gnome. This album did not en­dear him to most rock and pop record buyers at the time. But as non-“commercial” as much of the ma­te­rial was even in the ad­ven­turous ’60s, none of it ri­vals The Laughing Gnome for absurdity.

Depeche Mode

I have lis­tened to I Just Can’t Get Enough a few more times since writing the com­ments above. While it doesn’t sound as em­bar­rassing now as it did a few weeks ago, it’s still not quite in the same league as PoP’s Pop! Goes My Heart.

David Bowie and Mick Jagger

If I made a best-of com­pi­la­tion from Jag­ger’s mid-1980 at­tempt at a solo ca­reer, Dancing In The Street would prob­ably be my first se­lec­tion above any­thing on the SHE’S THE BOSS and PRIMITIVE COOL al­bums. It would also be near the top of my short­list for a best-of com­pi­la­tion of Bowie’s post-LET’S DANCE ca­reer.

Paul McCartney

Ex­actly what drugs were Paul doing in the ’70s?

Bob Dylan

Ex­actly what drugs were Bob doing in the ’80s?

The Beach Boys

De­spite what the naysayers think, the Beach Boys recorded very few gen­uine stinkers prior to 1972. And those they did put on tape (Susie Cincin­nati and When Girls Get To­gether come to mind) were not in­cluded on an album at the time. With the “Brian Is Back!” cam­paign of 1976, it was be­lieved that the ad­dled elder Wilson should be seen in con­trol of his cre­ative tal­ents as a song­writer, singer, and producer.

As his­tory has shown, he was not in con­trol of much of any­thing at the time. Con­se­quently, tracks that should have been left to the boot­leg­gers made up big chunks of the of­fi­cial Beach Boys al­bums of the late ’70s. And, as the group was now more “de­mo­c­ratic,” the other mem­bers also con­tributed a few clunkers to each long-player.

The Beatles

If I had to pare the Bea­tles’ “White Album” down by a few min­utes, Rev­o­lu­tion 9 would not be the first track on my short-list of tracks to be jet­ti­soned. That honor would go to Honey Pie and Wild Honey Pie.

Ed Sheeran

Since I wrote the com­ments in “Em­bar­rassing song,” I lis­tened to a bit more of Ed Sheeran from which I drew this con­clu­sion: had he been a recording artist in the ’60s, he would have given Peter Noone, Davey Jones, and Bobby Sherman a run for their money.


Elvis G.I.Blues LPM no sticker 800 copy 1

Aside from con­taining some of the lamest songs Presley had recorded at the time, the G.I. BLUES album from 1960 also fea­tured a few per­sonal faves, such as Shoppin’ Around and Doin’ The Best I Can.

Not really doin’ the best he can

Fi­nally, there is my state­ment that my own choice for the Most Em­bar­rassing and Dis­ap­pointing Record in the His­tory of Rock Music is G.I. BLUES from 1960. Pres­ley’s recorded cat­alog from 1954 through 1958 is amazing! Col­lect the twelve weakest tracks into one album and it would still be a fine col­lec­tion of ’50s rock & roll and pop. In fact, it would blow away many of the al­bums re­leased by Presley over the rest of his ca­reer (and many re­leased posthumously).

Rather than turn this into a lengthy take on the first Elvis movie sound­track album that ef­fec­tively set the tone and the stan­dard for all those Elvis movie sound­track al­bums that fol­lowed it into 1968, I will in­stead save that for an ar­ticle on my other music blog, Elvis – A Touch Of Gold.

Em­bar­rassing songs or record­ings from minor artists are ex­pected; after all, that’s part of the reason that they are minor artists and not big stars. Click To Tweet

Embarrassing Songs: Mick Jagger and David Bowie in the video for "Dancing in the Street" in 1985.

FEATURED IMAGE: Mick Jagger and David Bowie making their ren­di­tion of Dancing In The Street recorded for the Live Aid ben­efit. The orig­inal ver­sion was a pow­erful, dance-based hit for Martha & The Van­dellas in 1964. Jagger and Bowie’s ver­sion is an ab­surd piece of camp overkill. In the photo above, Mick looks like he spent hours studying Mal­colm Mc­Dow­ell’s per­for­mance in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clock­work Orange.

I am es­pe­cially re­minded of the scene where the film’s pro­tag­o­nist Alex, after being ar­rested, par­tic­i­pates in a government-sanctioned ex­per­i­ment in­volving a kind of aver­sion therapy where he is forced to watch end­less hours of vi­o­lent video de­signed to make him in­ca­pable of com­mit­ting any act of violence.

In the photo above, David merely looks fucked up . . .



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