The Hot 100 was created in August of 1958 by Billboard to determine what were some of the songs that the majority of the public were listening to, tracking sales, radio play, and more recently, streaming. There’s many music charts similar to it, but the Hot 100 has always been the gold standard. For as long as I’ve had this blog, I’ve looked through the year end charts of around 60 years to see what the music-buying public were listening to at the times and it was one hell of a journey. For my final two posts, I decided to look at the worst and the best songs to hit number one on the Hot 100, starting with the worst. The definition of a bad song differs with many people. It might be an ear-splitting annoyance equivalent to torture, a snoozefest with nothing to offer, or an offense to human taste. It’s even worse when these type of songs top the charts for any amount of time because that means you’re gonna hear about it for a while. Of course, there are exceptions for that rule as there’s been plenty of number ones that have been forgotten about (this is why TROLLZ isn’t making the list because I don’t want to give that thing any more attention). This is probably one of the more challenging lists I’ve ever done because of the scope. It’s one thing to look at an entire year or decade, but 60 years of music history? That requires looking into rapid cultural shifts through the decades and seeing what left a more significant impact. To match the scope of this endeavor, I’ve upped the list to 20 and no dishonorable mentions to make the torture less painful. Let’s begin, shall we?
Now number 20 is a fairly easy target, too easy in fact that it’s become like a meme at this point. But make no mistake, this band has never been good and this song was a warning shot telling us to leave while we can.
There’s a lot of things to say about Nickelback and chances are you’ve already heard them all, so I won’t waste any time. We can talk about how How You Remind Me is a headache-inducing slog with some of the most muddy, swampy post-grunge instrumentation this side of Canada. Or how Chad Kroeger is always singing like he’s in immense pain, like he swallowed a pizza roll fresh out the oven. Or even how the content of the song makes me think that Kroeger’s ex-girlfriend was better off without him. This is music for the brainless drunk fratboys who are always the cause of a party going to shit, groping all the women present and spewing vomit everywhere. The music-buying public seriously let this become the biggest hit of 2002. How You Remind Me is far from the worst Nickelback song, but it is the song that put them on the map and enabled them to make a Photograph or a Rockstar or an If Everyone Cared. In other words, it’s a bad song that lead to an entire career of bad songs.
Now the next two songs that I will talk about are covers. A good cover song can bring a new perspective that makes it unique to the original. Just look at Hurt by Johnny Cash, which is a cover to the Nine Inch Nails song of the same name. It turns a song about self-harm and depression into one of someone living their final moments on this planet. Meanwhile, a bad cover does one of two things: does a 1:1 recreation of the original poorly or waters it down to whatever’s safe for the times. The number 19 song falls in the latter category.
I’ve heard some really bad covers over the years, but I didn’t think I would come across a situation where an act covers TWO songs at the same time and fail spectacularly at them. In this case, we have Miami group Will To Power, who made the boneheaded decision to take both the Peter Frampton classic Baby I Love Your Way and the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert staple Free Bird and cover them for a cheesy medley with some horrendously dated Lite FM synths and drum machines. There’s also the question of what’s the point of putting these two songs together? They’re so radically different that they don’t even blend and you’re left with a water/oil situation. It’d be one thing to cover Baby I Love Your Way in this style since it is a love song, but Free Bird is all about being free and it rocks like hell. When you neuter it to more soft rock fodder, you take away everything that makes the song work, thus leaving something that won’t make it out of the late 80s.
You thought the last song was a bad cover? Wait till you hear the number 18 song.
Did you know that when you do a Google search for When A Man Loves A Woman, the first thing that pops up isn’t the Percy Sledge classic, but the goddamn Michael Bolton cover? That is just wrong in every conceivable way. Michael Bolton has made a career out of making two types of songs: schmaltzy soft rock corn and covers to classic R&B songs without any of the soul. His cover to When A Man Loves A Woman is a perfect reflection of why these covers never work and wind up being worse. A good chunk of that is mainly due to a singing voice like Bolton has emphysema, making what should be effortless music sound like a chore. It fails at capturing the raw, vulnerable emotions of the original song and it winds up being another bad night at karaoke. I don’t even need to tell you to stick to the original because it’s pretty obvious. Let’s move on.
When the Hot 100 was created in the late 50s, segregation was still a thing. In context of the music industry, black artists were pretty much getting the shaft and left out of the same attention and opportunities that their white peers were getting. In the slim chances that they get to perform in front of white audiences, that was all they could do. At the same time, white artists saw success with covers of songs performed by these black artists. The number 17 spot goes to a guy who made a career out of this practice, plus more.
If you want an example of how bad the 50s were for music, just look at Pat Boone, a man who’s built a career off of the backs of black rock & roll artists and pandering to a right-wing Christian fundamentalist audience who share his views. I’m not even joking about that last part, BTW. If you look up the man’s political views, he’s a major kook. Anyways, Moody River is a song that represents two of the worst trends of the late 50s and early 60s: milquetoast easy-listening schlock that won’t offend the parents of the time period and of course, the teen tragedy tales. In Moody River, the guy is sad because his girlfriend committed suicide after cheating on him. That entire premise alone sounds like one of those after-school specials curated by a Christian group who wants their theological propaganda pushed into children’s media while they complain about prayer being removed from schools. It feeds into an ideology that’s holding the U.S. back on the world stage. We have to be grateful to the British Invasion for giving us better music and putting the final nail in the coffin for this crap.
But the Pat Boone legacy doesn’t stop with him because the number 16 song comes from his own gene pool in an act of nepotism.
While she doesn’t have the same legacy as her father, Debby Boone still left her mark on the industry thanks to her cover of You Light Up My Life, straight out of the soundtrack to the film of the same name. This was one of the biggest songs of the 70s. For a while, it held the record for most number of weeks at number one. It also proves the old notion of “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” right as it’s the most stale whitebread song for suburban housewives. While the lyrics display your typical love song, Debby interpreted the song to be about God and suddenly, this became a contemporary Christian song. Because why not make this song even lamer? Also, the less said about the piece of shit writer Joe Brooks, the better. For those who think 70s music was all disco and classic rock, they’re wrong because this mushy easy-listening crap is what dominated the airwaves of the time. Lesson of the day: never underestimate the over-40 crowd of music buyers.
Let’s flash forward to 2006 for a moment. I’ve gone on and on about how the mid-to-late 2000s were not a good period for popular music. This was true for mainstream rap, which was flooded by a bunch of basic generic songs tailor-made to be sold as ringtones, also known as ringtone rap. There were a few songs of this style that made it to number one and the number 15 song is one of them.
Not to begin on a bad pun, but talk about leaving a sour taste. Laffy Taffy is one of those bad songs where the flaws are pretty obvious from the jump. Atlanta rap group D4L are one of many one-hit wonders who was lucky to get a number one in their short time of fame. Like a lot of songs of its type, the beat sounds like ass with its grainy synth line and cheap drum pattern that could have been made on FL Studio. The chorus repeats the phrase “shake that laffy taffy,” which is another variation of “shake that ass,” but with even more graphic imagery considering what body part Laffy Taffy candy looks like. There’s no point in talking lyrics as they consist of dumb party cliches with some candy references sprinkled in like a Jolly Rancher reference that doesn’t compliment the man as much as he thought it would. Look, it didn’t work with Candy Shop nor Lollipop and it’s definitely not working here, so let’s move on.
And while we’re still in 2006, here’s the number 14 song, which makes me want to burn my brain with a flamethrower.
We know the Black Eyed Peas make music that’s mostly devoid of brains, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some really good production and a catchy hook can make these songs more tolerable. But there are cases where the music is a train wreck of epic proportions, making a stupid song even worse. That was the case with London Bridge by the Peas’ own Fergie. Seems like Polow Da Don thought that throwing a bunch of loud horns and stomping drums would make for a banger, but instead, he created a 3-to-4 minute migraine with some horrendous mixing. Add to that an obnoxious chorus where Fergie is at her worst performance-wise and the cringe-inducing white girl rap that puts on an attitude that’s not convincing or cool and you got yourself a hot mess of a song from someone wasting their talents. I would say that the Black Eyed Peas were better off without Fergie, but that last album they put out proves they can still suck without her, so there is no winner in this situation.
It’s no secret that the music industry is run by a bunch of opportunistic, heartless bastards who have the capability of draining the life out of the people they managed. Number 13 is an example of how shameless they can be.
The entire story behind Milli Vanilli could be the subject matter of its own movie and a tragic one at that. You got two young guys, one German and one French, swooped up by a bunch of greedy producers who needed a face for their factory-made brand of pop music and when people caught on to the facade, they got thrown under the bus quick. I could have picked any one of Milli Vanilli’s three number one singles, but I went with Baby Don’t Forget My Number because it was a good representation of their discography. The plastic manufactured production, the generic paint-by-numbers lyrics, and the horrendous, horrendous rapping. It radiates major “how do you do, fellow kids” vibes and I can’t help but cringe. But even all of that wouldn’t be enough to make a list like this. Again, my issues aren’t with the two guys who were the face of Milli Vanilli (I actually feel sorry for them, especially the one who committed suicide). No, my venom is aimed straight at the rapacious shit goblins who used these guys and then disposed of them when they no longer needed them. This should be a cautionary tale for anyone trying to get into the music industry; beware of these bloodsucking parasitic ghouls who see you as a quick paycheck.
But going back to religious fluff, we have the number 12 song.
If there’s something to take away from Ray Stevens, it’s that he’s not funny. Every comedic song I’ve heard from him has the presentation of a bad SNL skit. It’s interesting to see that his first number one was something more serious, but it winds up being worse than most of those comedic songs. Everything Is Beautiful is a call for tolerance between people of different backgrounds, which is fine in of itself until it’s paired with this sappy, pseudo-religious sound straight out of Sunday school and the fact that unity without accountability is useless, which the last four years have proven. There’s also Ray Stevens, who doesn’t exactly practice what he preaches as he previously made Ahab The Arab and he’s done a bunch of politically-charged songs this century. Should I bring up the song where he defends Arizona’s racist immigration policies again? Contrary to what Ray Stevens believes, everything is not beautiful.
I think I’ll let Homer Simpson introduce the act behind the number 11 song on this list.
Not to go all conspiracy theory on all of you, but I have a feeling that this song was concocted in a secret lab somewhere in the Midwest by a team of scientists, music executives, and evangelicals trying to figure out how to make sex unappealing to everyone, especially young people. Well, the bastards figured out a way and the result is Starland Vocal Band making the most sterile clapping-cheeks anthem for the WASP demographic. Afternoon Delight is about doing the deed during the afternoon and you would not get that vibe just from the hokey sound catered to suburban housewives. This isn’t baby-making music, this is the background noise for a Folgers Coffee commercial. It makes sex sound like the lamest thing in the world, which is exactly what a bunch of old dudes would do in order to stick it to the younger generation. There’s a reason that Marvin Gaye, the song, is compared to this song. It’s nonthreatening, inoffensive, and has as much sex drive as a castrated mule near the end of its life.
We’re halfway into the list and let me tell you, things are not getting any better from here on out. Number 10 has been a real pain in my backside for a long time and I originally had it close to my Top 3, but I looked at the bigger picture and it’s barely making the Top 10. That’s as merciful as I’m gonna be.
If I’m gonna be nice for a moment, I’ll say that Crank That isn’t the worst song Soulja Boy has put out. I will grant him that. Still, a turd by any other name is still a turd and boy, does Crank That smells. From the cheap FL Studio beat driven by a simple steel drum melody to a performance from Soulja Boy that reeks of obnoxiousness to the near-nonexistent elementary lyrics that consists of nothing but references to dance moves and flexing, Crank That has nearly all of the ingredients of a bad rap song catered to the ringtone crowd. But what puts it in the upper echelon of shit over other bad rap songs is its overall impact on hip-hop, music, and internet culture years after. This was one of the first number one songs to blow up virally and it paved the way for other shitty songs to follow that same route to notoriety. All of those bad songs that gained traction thanks to Vine and now TikTok? All of those dumb challenges and dances? You have this song to thank for it. Before someone brings up the good that came out of it, I know they exist, but let’s not pretend that there weren’t some bad ones that should have stayed in the drafts. Crank this all the way down so we never have to hear it again.
I think we can take solace in the fact that most bad songs end up being forgotten through history by the general public. That makes it easier for us to look back at the bad trends of the time and laugh or ponder what went wrong. Number 9 is one of those forgotten “gems” that doesn’t get much attention. But it was a number one hit 30 years ago and I’m still mystified as to why.
Whenever someone older than you rants about how music back in their days are superior to today’s music, bring up this song and watch them either try and excuse it or go “who?” Timmy T is a guy who was active in the 80s freestyle scene and scored his big hit with One More Try. Instead of the more upbeat dance-oriented sound of freestyle, we got ourselves a sluggish, turgid ballad with some saccharine keys and an ugly bassline that distracts from the rest of the song when it pops up. It’s not like Timmy T is a great or interesting vocalist because he’s not, he just exists like a tumbleweed. And it’s not like the lyrics have any detail worth noting, it’s just love and breakup cliches stacked on top of each other. If you wanted to know why 1991 was a bad year for the pop charts, songs like this are a reason why. Just pure sappiness.
The 2000s was seen as the decade where rock had its last true prominence before rap took its place in the cultural zeitgeist. It was also a strong decade for the genre believe it or not as it contains a lot of great records from bands and artists of different subgenres. Granted, not every single one was a winner. Case in point, my number 8 pick.
While you have people willing to defend Nickelback reluctantly or not, I have yet to come across one person willing to defend Creed. I think that kinda makes sense considering that Creed is worse than Nickelback in a lot of ways. While there’s no mistaking a Nickelback song for anything else, Creed are the derivative hand-me-downs that also happens to include overblown Christian iconography. They hit number one in 2000 thanks to With Arms Wide Open, a song that Scott Stapp wrote about becoming a father. But thanks to the downer music and Stapp sounding like a poor man’s Eddie Vedder impersonator, Creed managed to make what should be a celebratory event sound like a funeral. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thought that this was a Christian rock song about the End Times going by the tone of the whole thing. It’s not inspiring at all, it’s exhausting. What else is there to say besides Creed sucks?
When trying to be sexy with someone you’re attracted to, the right words can mean the difference between getting some action tonight and going home to PornHub for academic purposes, if you catch my drift. Number 7 goes to a song that not only fails at setting the right mood for lovemaking, but it contains connotations that are disturbing when you think about it for one second.
To this day, I am still flabbergasted by the existence of Shake You Down, even more so with the fact that it’s the third biggest song of 1987. The first thing you’ll notice is how cheap the production is thanks to the lightweight keys and drum machine providing the beat. This sound was very common in late 80s R&B and it has aged badly. There’s also Gregory Abbott himself, who’s just a piss-poor singer. They really let this guy get in front of a microphone and screech like he did on here. But that’s not even the worst part of the song. No, it’s the fact that the song is called Shake You Down. Let me remind you that shaking someone down is pretty much robbery and Gregory Abbott tried to create a romantic song around that phrase. It’s not made any better when he says that he’s been watching this girl from across. Do you hear how that sounds and how that could be interpreted by others? These are the actions of a stalker who wants all of this woman’s possessions on her person. It turns prom night fluff into the stuff of horror stories. Let’s just move on.
And speaking of 80s songs with creepy connotations, here’s Lionel Richie at number 6.
Picture this scenario: you want to confess your feelings to a girl you like and you decide to go to her house with a bluetooth speaker in order to recreate that scene from Say Anything where John Cusack is holding a boombox playing In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel for Ione Skye. If you want to decrease your chances of a restraining order filed against you, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT play Hello by Lionel Richie. Why? Well, for starters, it’s one of the sappiest songs that Lionel Richie has ever crafted and considering his catalog, that’s saying something. But the main thing that stands out from this song is the writing, where Lionel plays a lovestruck guy who’s stalking the affection of his heart and the way he portrays this scenario is kinda pathetic. If you examine the lyrics, you’ll notice that he doesn’t know dick about this girl. Hell, he doesn’t even know if she’s taken or not. Lionel Richie was simping before it ever got a name. If this song had better writing, it would have been at least passable, but we still have to deal with the soft rock cheese of the music and Lionel being boring and dull. Either way, we’re still left with a bad song.
Every decade has different trends that popular consensus view as defining, but they also share similarities that somehow manages to last the test of time. One of those similarities is ballads. Ballads are prominent in every single decade, from the old-timey ballads of the 50s to the power ballads of the 70s and 80s. Number 5 is a ballad that spawned from a decade that’s viewed as one defined by grunge and gangsta rap. You all know where this is going.
It’s become a reoccurring gag in the music community that Bryan Adams is one of the worst things to come out of Canada. This is due to two reasons: his beef with AllMusic that resulted in his entire catalog being removed from that website AND his catalog in question. Yes, I know he made Summer Of ’69 and that song is good, but I believe that was an accident because the majority of Bryan Adams’ songs range from mediocre to straight-up awful Springsteen knockoffs. But the worst of them all happens to not just be his biggest hit, but it was the biggest song of 1991 and one of the biggest songs of the 90s decade. This is (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, straight out of the soundtrack to that Robin Hood movie with Kevin Costner. It has some of the same problems as With Arms Wide Open in that it goes for an uplifting sound with its music, but it ultimately comes off more dull and depressing. Another similarity is the singing and in Bryan Adams’ case, we get that scratchy chain smoker voice that we’ve come to expect from him. The writing runs the whole “I’ll do anything for you” trope right into the ground to where it just becomes meaningless gestures. It’s difficult to get into the emotion of the song because it’s damn near absent from the writing and performance. The fact that this soulless dreck wound up being as successful as it was doesn’t really surprise me, but it still makes me look at the people who bought it with sheer disappointment.
And speaking of singers with awful voices, Peter Cetera is at number 4.
There’s no worst songs list that feels complete without mentioning this one. After 18 years with Chicago, Peter Cetera left the band in order to pursue a solo career and his first hit was Glory Of Love, which was originally made for the soundtrack to Rocky IV, but it was rejected and wound up in Karate Kid II instead. Chances are you’ve already read my piece on this song on my Worst of 1986 list where I called it the worst song of the 80s. A bold statement, but I believe I’ve made a good case for why. The title of the song is a misnomer as there’s nothing glorious within this wretched disaster. You got Cetera howling about fighting for his woman’s honor and that he’s the hero she’s been dreaming of. None of it is believable thanks to his limp yelping that carries no weight or power to it. There’s also the music, which is some of the most sterile, lifeless production that the 80s could ever conjure up. And they decided to put this in a film about fighting. How do you listen to this and be motivated to fight someone? You’ll end up getting your ass beat because of how weak it is. No, this is the music for those bad romantic comedy films where most of the characters are shallow assholes. Get this low-rate, sugar-processed slog the fuck out of here.
As time passes by and we gain more knowledge, it’s inevitable that we’ll look back in history and find a lot of problematic ideas and behaviors that we just let slide. This is especially true in music as there’s a disturbing amount of songs about relations with underaged girls, especially in rock from legends like Led Zeppelin to walking human feces like Ted Nugent. And then there’s the Number 3 song, which comes from a former Beatle.
Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. You’re Sixteen was released in 1960, written by the Sherman Brothers and performed by Johnny Burnette. It peaked at number 8 on the Hot 100, so it’s not making the list. However, the cover from Ringo Starr that came out 13 years later did managed to top the charts and here we are. First off, the music is ridiculously hokey in that it sounds ripped out of the 60s. It’s a sound that was already dated by the time we got to the early 70s. There’s also what sounds like a kazoo solo that makes the song even more hokey. But that alone isn’t enough to put this song up this high on the list. No, that goes to the writing, which is every conceivable level of gross. “You’re sixteen, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine.” Two things are wrong with that statement. Not just the fact that this dude is fawning over an underaged girl, but the possessive nature of it that treats said underaged girls as trophies to be won. A sentiment that is WAY too prevalent in the entertainment industry and in society as a whole, one that allowed certain unnamed individuals to have fame and accolades for a long time with no accountability to their actions. Easily one of the worst things to come from a member of the Beatles, bar none.
Not to spoil anything, but this Top 2 are going to involve some hot-button issues that will spark some heated debates. So let’s start things off with war propaganda at number 2.
Well, I’ll say this: I’ve never heard a number one song like this before. Mind you, being different is not always a good thing. During the Vietnam War, a Staff Sergeant medic named Barry Sadler wrote a song about the Green Beret unit that he was a part of. That became Ballad Of The Green Berets, which became the number one song in the U.S. for five weeks AND the number one song of 1966 according to Billboard. Seriously. This song. For a song about the military, I’d expected something with more power, not this weaksauce horseshit that can’t even act enthusiastic about what it’s singing about. Most importantly, like I’ve mentioned before, this song is basically war propaganda, propping up the U.S. military as an awesome and honorable force of good that people should aspire to. Considering its success, a lot of people bought into that ideal. That was until the public found out more about what was occurring in Vietnam, with all the carnage and war crimes being committed. That was when half of the country had the wool pulled off of their eyes and they realized that the government had no real plan of victory. Sounds familiar to anything today? Time and history has only made Ballad Of The Green Berets even worse in retrospect, especially now that we’re approaching 20 years of the Afghanistan War. American exceptionalism is one hell of a drug and there’s WAY too many people hooked on it.
Picking a number one for this list wasn’t easy. Any of the songs in my Top 10 could have taken this spot as they all presented their case for why. But there can only be one winner, or loser in this case. The worst of the worst is not a song that’s a general annoyance or one that’s boring. It’s a song that represents an ideology that should have been left behind where it belongs. When I hear this song, I get a feeling of disgust that’s reserved for the lowest of humanity and the fact that enough people bought it for it to be number one on the charts disgusts me to this day. I have a feeling that this choice will surprise absolutely no one.
Strap in, folks, because I’m unleashing the dragon on this one. Going through these lists made me realize that I’m not a fan of Paul Anka. He was one of many teen idols of the late 50 and early 60s who contributed to the neutering of rock & roll post-Elvis and a lot of his music goes in one ear and out the other. But there is one song from him that stands out among the crowd and not for good reasons. (You’re) Having My Baby is one of the most universally despised songs through history as it appeared on multiple “worst songs of all time” lists and it has been the subject of well-deserved scrutiny. For starters, the music is rotten ass cheeks, featuring the same boring easy-listening schlock that permeated a lot of bad songs in the 70s. But that’s just scratching the surface of things wrong with this audio mistake. (You’re) Having My Baby is a rancid display of ego and chauvinism, where Paul Anka takes an intimate moment like pregnancy and makes it all about himself, saying the baby is his instead of theirs. He says that this woman having his baby, in his own words, is a lovely way of showing him how much she loves him. Imagine telling your kid that they were born because of how much your significant other is affectionate about you. That would mess them up. Somewhere along the recording process, someone must have realized that this song was too egotistical, so that’s why it’s actually a duet with Odia Coates, who fares better vocally than Anka, but she still plays a submissive role that only highlights the song’s flaws. This is also the first number one single to mention abortion with the following lines, “didn’t have to keep it, wouldn’t put ya through it, you could have swept it from you life, but you wouldn’t do it, no, you wouldn’t do it.” At that time, it would have been a year since the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade (which is potentially at-risk thanks to a conservative majority in the court) and the fact that Paul Anka’s using abortion as a gaslighting technique is gross. Yeah, that’s a perfect description for this song, gross. (You’re) Having My Baby, the worst number one song of all time.
And those were the worst songs that hit number one on the Hot 100. Next month, I’ll publish my final post, which will be my Top 50 Best Number One Songs. You don’t wanna miss it.
SONG OF THE MONTH