The 10 Worst Songs Ever: Jon Wertheim vs. Jeff Pearlman


One of my good friends is Jon Wertheim, SI’s excellent writer. Jon and I go back to 1996, when I first was hired by the magazine. I met my wife at his wedding, my daughter is best friends with his, etc … etc.

Whenever we get together, talk usually turns to the worst songs ever. In other words, at some point Jon will say, “You wanna know what the worst song ever is?” then go to YouTube and put on some wretched thing by, say, Quiet Riot.

Hence, I challenged Jon to a Ten Worst Songs Ever duel. He came up with the guidelines, writing, “Here are some personal ground rules: 1) No low-hanging fruit. i.e. Kevin Federline, Wayne Newton, the Starland Vocal Band (Afternoon Delight) are too easy. 2) No artist that knows its limitations and/or pokes fun at itself, i.e. Men Without Hats, B52s, Right Said Fred. 3) No one-hit wonders 4) No cross-over (Eddie Murphy, Shatner, or the 1986 Chicago Bears)….. I’ll see your Marcy’s Playground and raise you these ten …”

So without any more words, here we go. Jon’s list first, then mine. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.



• Kate Bush, Wuthering Heights—I suspect most American males of a certain age have had to feign a fondness for Kate Bush at on time or another to win the affection of a woman, most likely a coed in their sophomore dorm. This is real sacrifice, though, lots of awful lyrics performed with nails-on-the-chalkboard vocals. But this song takes the prize. It’s like a book report put to bad music.
Bonus points for the total lack of irony in this video.

• Air Supply, Making Love Out of Nothing at All— I remember my dad once ordered my brother and me to watch a show titled, “Air Supply in Hawaii.” This confused us, but we did as told. Thinking it was some sort of science/environmental documentary, he was irate when he entered the room to find us watching concert footage. The weird thing was, the music was so bad, we, too, wished it had been a science show.

• Starship, We Built This City—Doesn’t this one always top the charts when there’s a worst song list? You could devise some sort of reaction test based on this song. When it comes a radio, how blindingly fast do change to another station? It’s as reflective as taking your hand off of a hot stove.  And while who knows how the whole Airplane-Starship hostile takeover went down, shouldn’t Grace Slick have reserved some of veto rights in perpetuity on lyrics like: “Marconi plays the Mamba, Listen to the radio” ?

• Aersosmith, I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing—One thing we wouldn’t miss: ever having to hear this song again. Just terrible, made all the worse by the fact Aerosmith was once a credible band. The guys that sing “Dream On” now claim: “I don’t wanna miss one smile / I don’t wanna miss one kiss / Well, I just wanna be with you / Right here with you, just like this.” It’s like watching DiNiro in “Meet the Fockers.”

• A Taste of Honey, Boogie Oogie Oogie— Someone (I think it was Frank Rich) once said of text-your-vote polls: Horrible songs like “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie,” always win because the people dumb enough to waste 99-cents on a meaningless poll are the same people who like songs as bad as “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie.” That pretty much nails it.

• Paul Simon, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover—Paul Simon is one of those artists you’re not allowed to dislike. But a) the least he could do in this irredeemable song offer the damn 50 ways, as promised. He’s short, like 44, by my counts. B) His suggestions suck. “Gee, I want to leave my lover. But how? Wait, I know: I’ll hop on the bus! No, wait, too obvious. I’ll slip out the back!”

• Huey Lewis, Heart of Rock and Roll—The heart of rock-and-roll, it needed the defibrillator paddles after this. In Cleveland! Detroit!

• Plain White T’s, Hey There Delilah—Love to know what talent scout heard this said, “Yes, this is the band for my label!” This song is strikingly bad but the off-key “It’s what you do to me” refrain sounds like nothing so much as a boy in the throes of puberty practicing bar mitzvah lessons.

• Wham, Careless Whisper—R.E.M. can get away with cryptic lyrics. Not these clowns.

• Black Eyed Peas, Boom, Boom Pow—Where to begin? This is the kind of faux hip-hop, not too subversive or profane, that NBA teams play during time-outs so  that the cul-de-sac crowd can feel street. And my kids inexplicably like this song, which adds to my resentment. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard your six-year-old daughter declare: “Them chickens jackin’ my style.”



• Michael Jackson, Bad—If you stand outside of his fantasy ranch and listen to the wind, you can still hear the echoes of Michael Jackson’s handlers from the mid-80s. “OK, guys, we need a song for Michael that sounds like Beat It, but has an easier title for the fans to remember … something catchy … something easy to remember … something …” That absolutely sucks.

• Fine Young Cannibals, Good Thing—One of the 10 worst songs ever … and yet, maybe the best of the FYC’s hits. Why? Read on …

• Fine Young Cannibals, She Drives Me Crazy—Quite possible the worst song ever. Just terrible, terrible, terrible, and every time I hear it I long for a cast iron sink to fall atop my head. Sadly, I’m still waiting.

• Steve Winwood, Higher Love—The guy was the lead singer of Traffic … and then he turned to this!? Not quite She Drives Me Crazy, but awfully close.

• Amy Grant and Peter Cetera, Next Time I Fall—What I love most is the earnestness. These two singers—both mildly talented, both hugely succesful—seem genuinely serious about this song.

• Hall & Oates, Maneater—My favorite group ever, but this is acid to the ears. Terrible lyrics, lame beat. Bad all around.

• Bill Joel, We Didn’t Start the Fire—When you try to change the world with a song, this sort of shit often emerges. The beginning of the end for the Piano Man.

• Elton John, Made in England—My wife is a huge Elton fan. We went to see him in concert several years ago, and I kept telling other fans that I hoped he played this tune. She wasn’t amused.

• Kiss, Beth—There is nothing Kiss has ever done that involves genuine emotion or sincerity. Hence, what we have here is a song filled with fake emotion and insincerity. (The version here is doubly bad, because it warrants an orchestra like Damn Yankees warrant a Grammy).

• Aaron Carter, Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)—I am shocked that his career is in the toilet. Shocked!

35 thoughts on “The 10 Worst Songs Ever: Jon Wertheim vs. Jeff Pearlman”

  1. Muhammad Goldberg

    No “Whoomp, There it IS!”?

    How about “I want to be a Cowboy”..

    or my pick for the absolute worst of all time, Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” doesn’t rock or swing, has no soul, has the lamest disco beat of all time, and was a total betrayal of all of Rod’s considerable talents.

  2. Some interesting picks you guys have here. The rules leave very little wiggle-room.

    Some popular songs that I hate:
    Mr. Roboto 1983 Styx
    Urgent 1981 Foreigner

    Some extremely bad songs:
    Amplifier Fire 1970 Attila(B. Joel)
    Mother 1983 The Police
    Didgeriblues 1995 Violent Femmes

  3. what about that crap song from Rockwell: “Somebody’s Watching Me” (my no. 1 worst song) … I agree that the “Pina Colada Song” and “Mr. Roboto” are bad as well.

    1. I too was at first annoyed that nothing by Nickelback made the lists, but then I realized that Nickelback is so bad that one couldn’t possibly choose just one example of their talentless, soulless schlock.

  4. Hmm. I thought absolutely everybody hated ‘Mr. Roboto’ except me.

    Though catchy and by now even iconic, the Bowie-Queen song ‘Under Pressure’ always seemed to me to have been written in the 12 minutes just before recording it. Or possibly the 12 minutes after.

    Likewise, ‘Every Breath You Take’ marks the 12 minutes it took to turn The Police into Sting, with reprehensible results ever since. (In which vicinity: the commenter is disingenuous to call ‘Mother’ a bad song; it is a terrifically UGLY song, and that’s not the same thing at all.)

    Y’all may find this amusing:

  5. I don’t think Wertheim and I should ever drive cross-country together. I really like seven of the 10 songs he named.
    Thank god we have a love of tennis and Jeff Pearlman in common.

  6. When I woke up this morning, I had no idea I’d be writing a comment defending Wham! (but there it is)

    Though I’m not a fan, I have to say I find nothing particularly cryptic about the lyrics of Careless Whisper. If anything they’re cloddish and cliched. But not esoteric at all. (and please don’t make me quote them!)

    Otherwise, solid choices youzh guys!

  7. High-five on the FYC. I hate the Fine Young Cannibals. Watching the video for Drive Me Crazy probably ranks in about the third circle of hell.

  8. The Beatles have produced some fine tunes, so I guess they can be forgiven for:
    Why Don’t We Do It In The Road

    Which is pretty much the only lyrics to this repetitive piece of junk.

    I’ll give another poor Beatles song a pass; “Revolution 9” can at least be considered artsy.

  9. These are great choices, but I agree with the previous comment that “Wuthering Heights” does not belong on this list. Also, there are some guys who appreciate Kate for her unique lyrics and vocals…we may not be the same guys who live to impress girls (hint hint), but we exist nonetheless.

  10. What about the Band Aid song “Do they know it’s Christmas” – insulting to the people of Africa, and just terrible overall. I actually quite like the Fine Young Cannibals, and Maneater; it’s a good song.

    And isn’t Plain White T’s a one-hit wonder group?

  11. A song that literally every time I’ve ever heard it start, I HAVE to change it is “Ring My Bell” by Anita somebody (don’t even know her last name). For me, absolutely the worst excuse for a song ever!

  12. Sorry, but anyone whose favorite band is Hall and Oates has no business being involved in a discussion about the quality of anyone’s music. That group was beyond aweful. My vote for the worst song ever is Susudio (not sure I spelled that right) by Phil Collins. Unbelievably bad, repetitive and candy-ass from the man who ruined Genesis.

  13. Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard
    Kokomo – Beach Boys
    Let’s Dance – David Bowie
    The Logical Song – Supertramp
    Misunderstanding – Genesis
    Start Me Up – Rolling Stones
    Another One Bites The Dust – Queen
    Janie’s Got A Gun – Aerosmith
    Pride (In the Name of Love) – U2
    Something – Beatles
    Another Brick in the Wall (Pt 2) – Pink Floyd
    Rock & Roll – Led Zeppelin

    A few perhaps not legitimate ‘worst’ candidates, but horribly overrated enough to warrant mention.

  14. I think to truly judge your taste in music, we need you both to also post your Ten Best Songs Ever.

    As it stands, I think Jeff’s list is exponentially worse (better?) than John’s.

  15. Oasis- Champagne Supernova
    Usher- OMG
    Usher- DJs got us fallin love again
    Men Without Hats- Safety Dance
    Soundgarden- Black Hole Sun
    Creed- Arms wide open

  16. I agree with most on this list but decrying “Maneater” and the Bo Diddley drum beat. Sacrilege!

    How about Poison’s “Unskinny Bop,” Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me,” Collective Soul’s “Shine,” or Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do”?

    And if I have to criticize a legend, “Shiny Happy People” by REM is pretty darn awful.

  17. This is a list of worst songs that get radio play, not worst songs. Put on “Mother” off of the otherwise excellent Synchronicity album by the Police, and I defy you to name one song from the twenty above that it is better than.

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