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