Everybody has those songs they are secretly ashamed to love. I’m not talking about the ones that you catch yourself humming along to when they’re played on the car radio, at a department store, or in a bar — those ones are guilty pleasures. No, I’m talking about those wretched songs you somehow enjoy enough to let them into a sacred place — your music collection — even though you pray to God no one ever finds out.
They make you live in fear sometimes. Because in this day and age, our music tastes are 1) more public then ever and 2) a delightfully easy opportunity for our friends to pass judgment upon us. What if in a moment of weakness you forgot your Spotify playlist was being posted to Facebook? Jeffort23 listened to Songbird by Kenny G. What would you do if you were hosting a party, got a little lazy and left the iPod on Shuffle All …and the fucking Carpenters came on?
I’ll tell you what you’d do….you’d be frantically deleting your posts and changing your Facebook settings that second. You’d be scrambling red-faced across the crowded room for that elusive Skip button, furiously praying no one heard even as you mumbled aloud “Who put this shit on?” to dozens of guests snickering in their glasses.
In the spirit of spring housecleaning, here are five of my personal disasters in waiting. After reading these stories, please share your own tales of horror and embarrassment in the comments section below. Trust me, it will feel so good to finally get some of these little secrets off your chest. Then again….
5) “Say It Isn’t So” – Hall and Oates – mp3
The cat’s been out of the bag for years now — Hall & Oates is cool again. “Rich Girl” still kicks ass, the chilly Korg beat on “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” never really went out of style, and “You Make My Dreams” was featured on the soundtrack for indie flick 500 Days of Summer and during an episode of Glee. In late 2008, the Philly soul brothers from different mothers were even doing parodies of themselves on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. People forget that it hasn’t always been easy to profess your love for the best-selling rock duo in music history. But never once have I wavered in my fandom.
The unhealthy romance that started three decades ago when a six-year old received Private Eyes and 11 other vinyl albums in the mail for the price of a penny (thank you, Columbia House), comes full circle with this acknowledgement of the pop mastery that is “Say It Isn’t So” — a great song that manages to still sound impossibly dated, which I think is part of its appeal. It’s got icy synths, buttloads of echo effects, and more vocal tics (a Daryl Hall trademark) than my old housemate with Tourette’s. Listen to him on that last minute before the fade out; he crams as many stutters, moans, groans, and wails as he can into each lyric, while Oates (aka. Baba Booey) keeps the background melody steady as rock. This song’s got more hooks than a trout’s mouth.
4) “High On You” – Survivor – mp3
Everyone knows all the words and guitar licks from Survivor’s mega hit “Eye of the Tiger,” so it’s actually moved beyond embarrassing into the pantheon of Classic Schlock. However, it takes true courage to put “High On You” on your party’s playlist. Man, I fucking love this song. That opening keyboard riff screams 80’s hair rock, the guitar buzzes like a caged jaguar, and you just get hit with hook after hook from verse to chorus and back again. In 1985, it and Survivor’s other hit “I Can’t Hold Back” were like twin towers of melodic testosterone for me. Well, sort of.
I remember first hearing “High On You” when it came out during those formative years. The first verse had a line that went “Let me tell you ‘bout the girl I met last night” which later transformed into (gasp) “Let me tell you ‘bout the girl I had last night.” Let me tell you, you cannot possibly make a more provocative statement to a ten-year old boy. I remember thinking “He had her? What does that mean? I gotta find out. It sounds dirty whatever it is.” Remember, we didn’t have the internet back then, so sex was still a mystery to your average fifth grader. It would be another year until I discovered the pleasures of 1st base, but it was Survivor who first articulated to me the untreatable condition of young lust, which included “talking to myself, running in the heat, begging for your touch in the middle of the street at night.”
3) “Forever” – Chris Brown – mp3
“Forever” is embarrassing, but not for the reasons you might expect. It’s one of those great pre-game party songs — the kind that roommates play while getting ready to go out, then sing together in the car on their way to the club, then fist pump to on the dance floor when the DJ finally spins it. Yeah, it’s got those cheesy auto-tuned vocals, but even the most hardened hipster is usually won over by the uplifting melody and catchy chorus. Put it this way — if “Forever” comes on at a wedding, everybody dances. Which makes sense since it’s practically impossible to hear it and not think of that YouTube clip — the playfully romantic walk down the aisle that became one of the most genuine feel-good moments for the internet generation. It’s also impossible to hear “Forever” and not think of Chris Brown, the singer who beat the crap out of his girlfriend.
It’s bizarre that those memories can co-exist, but they do. “Forever” is one of those songs that remind you of laughter, friends, and good times. But always lurking in the background is Chris Brown the monster and those unforgettable photos of Rihanna. That paradox, in my mind, is one of the most disturbing ironies in recent pop culture, and something I can’t help but feel uneasy about each time I hear this song.
2) “I’m Your Man” – Wham! (or, anything by George Michael) – mp3
I speak from experience that having this in your collection will cause friends to question your sexuality. After having a sleeve of CD’s stolen in my pre-iPod days, I asked a few male friends if I could borrow the discs from their collection so I could re-burn them. I emailed them a long list of lost gems — Led Zeppelin II, Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land, Radiohead’s OK Computer, The Stones’ Sticky Fingers, etc. — but in an appalling lack of judgment, I included Ladies and Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael among the missing.
Now it’s true, the thief did make off with Mr. Michael’s greatest hits, Disc 1 (the good one of course) but there are certain things you just don’t share with the guys. This was one of them. I got a lot of fun things in my Inbox that day. A digital copy of this CD was not among them.
What can I say? Say what you will about George’s restroom habits (Sticky Fingers, indeed), but the guy can flat out sing. And another fascinating fact — if you go back and listen to his old torch songs, Michael subtly but unfailingly maintains gender-neutrality when referring to the object of his affection (it’s always “baby,” “darling,” “lover,” or “teacher” — never “girl” or “lady.”) That clever sidestep didn’t deter 10 million women from buying copies of Faith and squealing in delight when Michael pranced around in those tight Levi’s. You have to admit, it takes a pretty talented songwriter to sell to the heterosexual desires of Regan-era America when he’s really writing about kissing other dudes.
1) “Far Away” – Nickelback – mp3
It wasn’t enough that 55,000 Detroit citizens signed a petition asking Nickelback NOT to play at the Lions’ 2011 Thanksgiving Day halftime show (reportedly because they weren’t representative of the Motor City’s rich musical tradition, which includes Motown, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger, Eminem and… ahem, Kid Rock). Winnipeg got in on the act too, when its newspaper openly implored the quartet to stay the fuck away from a gig rumored for a landmark NHL Jets game. This time, reportedly, the reason was simply because Nickelback sucked. It’s one thing to be told you’re not American enough to play at an NFL game, but when you’re home country wishes you were never born (and, remember, Canadians are renowned for their niceness), there’s simply nowhere left to hide.
Amazingly, sucking this bad hasn’t stopped Nickelback from selling 50 million units worldwide in the last 15 years, and, in the process, becoming a U.S. red state’s veritable wet dream. Lead singer Chad Kroeger’s most profound lyrical themes include impersonating a rock star, getting so drunk he sets the bar on fire and romancing those pink-thonged strippers who “look so much cuter with something in their mouth.” It’s quite charming, really, in a douchebag sort of way. Mr. Kroeger and his band, I’ve come to believe, are the sound of middle America cracking open a Bud and pissing off its back porch.
All of this leads me to 2005’s “Far Away” and the deep, festering shame that having a song like this on your iPod can bring. To be honest, it may be the reason I made this embarrassing songs list in the first place — I just couldn’t hide “Far Away” anymore. I can’t explain or defend why I like this song, but God help me, I do — all the way from the production’s perfect blend of gloss and gravel to the gooey finger-picked melody to the obscenely over-the-top key change on that last chorus (one of the most shameless of its kind since Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”). Basically, it’s a monster ballad from the group whose existence represents the watered-down nadir of post-grunge, which is already a shitty distillation of an entire genre to begin with. It’s #1 on this list not because the song is particularly great, but because the enormity of self-loathing it inspires me to feel. Damn you, Chad Kroeger. Where’s that petition?