No one is cool all the time, and amen to that. As a label or a style, “cool” can be limiting, even uncomfortable. Think tight waistbands, pointy-toed shoes, and a leather jacket worn in the heat. Dorky, by contrast, is freedom. Dorky is transgressive, requiring and inspiring courage. You, dear reader, know this secret truth. And no matter your level of cool, you occasionally surrender, with pleasure, to dorky. Prepare to do so again.
A bit about the word: Dork is a term in flux. Originally slang for, you guessed it, a penis, it somehow (duh) turned into a euphemism for “an uncouth person.” But it has come up in the world (sorry). The adjective version, dorky, like its cousinly nouns nerd and geek, is no longer a straight-up insult; dorky now conveys a sense of post-Zuckerberg/Gates outlier pride. When I canvassed for this list, friends were surprisingly eager to share, relieved to reveal guilty pleasures, and grateful for the opportunity to unveil their dorkiness.
Of course, notions of “dorky” are subjective. To clarify, it does not mean “bad.” How about: obvious, exuberant, unfashionable, twee, un-self-conscious, irritating, even a little desperate? Yet charming. Dorky evokes vulnerability, which, interestingly, often manifests as hostility. But not today. Today, you are among friends, and internet-fostered shamelessness, for once, is a good thing.
My gauge: you are driving, Ipodless, CD-less, and you can only pick up one radio station; classic rock, oldies, easy listening, Top 40. A song comes on that, if you were in the presence of someone “cool, ” you would turn off. Said person’s opinion matters to you, or you don’t want to upset them. But like I said, you’re alone. So you crank it, and sing along in secret. You embrace the dork. And it is good.
And speaking of singing along, please enjoy the corresponding Spotify playlist below.
50. Don’t Stop Me Now – Queen
This musical theater-sounding Freddie Mercury tune is a far cry from “We Will Rock You.” Except for a brief solo, there’s no guitar, but, rather, Mercury pounding the piano, comparing himself to Lady Godiva and singing “I’m gonna make a supersonic man outta you!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that.) Prominent placement in Shaun of the Dead, licensing to ads, and Paul Rudd’s lip-synching on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show have aided this dark/dork horse’s recent rise. “We Will Rock You,” meanwhile, is starting to sound tired.
49. We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel
Critics derided the obviousness of Joel writing lyrics with an open encyclopedia and ripping off “It’s the End Of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” Still, the churning rhythms, chanted chorus, and helpful rhymed history lesson made this a defiant mega-hit. What, exactly, is this fire that troubles him so? Don’t know, don’t care; anyone who can rhyme Pasternak and Kerouac, and Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex, all chronologically correct, deserves props. Or at least a place on this list.
48. Friends In Low Places – Garth Brooks
A little personal story: When I was an East Village bartender in the 90s, a squat-dwelling punk downed a lot of brown liquor and let slip that he’d worked on a Garth Brooks road crew. Like he was confessing to something truly sinful, he made sure the coast was clear and said with awe, “That hillbilly sings his ass off!” This cheese nugget was a number one for Brooks, one of many, and it heralded the arrival of a brazenly dorky man who will not go quietly.
47: Me and You and a Dog Named Boo – Lobo
Kent LaVoie, aka soft rocker Lobo, hit number one in 1971 with this insanely catchy, insanely dumb trifle about riding around the countryside with a girlfriend and a dog, stealing eggs, and working, I kid you not, for a farmer named Old MacDonald. But the sunny chorus, and Lobo’s canny decision not to describe the dog so everyone will imagine their own dog, makes it unkillable. Former bandmate Gram Parsons did not approve, but because he was so cool doing heroin and whatnot, he didn’t live long enough to bitch about it much.
46. Afternoon Delight – Starland Vocal Band
Will Ferrell, who knows the power of dorky, included this sweetly naughty 1976 song in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, re-introducing it to unsuspecting audiences. Rather than use the recording, however, he and co-stars Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and David Koechner sing it, nailing the tricky four-part harmonies, employing the comedic technique of having a doofus (or four) be incongruously great at something. Prior to that, this one-of-a-kind ditty lived a healthy life on oldies radio and lists of “worst songs ever.” Haters gonna hate, and that takes a lot of energy they could otherwise use on grabbing some afternoon delight.
45. Da Da Da, AKA Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha – Trio
“Vee three scary-looking Germans vill be taking de cheap Casio drum machine, and vee vill write zee three-chords song minus bass and singing in distorted German and zis is our try for international hit.” Like most songs on this list, if you look at the plan on paper, it’s crazy. But for Trio, this 1982 endeavor, which sounds timeless today, sold 13 million copies. The spartan “Da Da Da” – a hit in 30 countries – outshone the cascading synths, caterwauling WannaBowies, and wind tunnel drums of the day, setting up Trio for life.
44. Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? – Rod Stewart
In “going disco,” is Rod the Mod, one of the greatest vocalists ever to stink up a microphone, pandering to the Saturday Night Fever dance craze, leaving behind the blooze rock that birthed him in favor of spandex pants and filthy lucre? Yes, yes he is. And yet, and yet, this tawdry 1978 hook-up ode is a glittery masterpiece of pre-AIDS wantonness, and it pretends to be nothing else. It’s cheap, calculating, and lowbrow, and yet it crystallizes a time that seems, in retrospect, innocent.
43. Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) – Edison Lighthouse
Edison Lighthouse, two UK songwriters and a session singer, garnered their only hit with this 1970 gem. But unlike many bubblegummy attempts at Beatles-esque pop, this one had staying power. The Replacements often threw it into their sets in the 80s, although, perversely loathe to seize greatness, they rarely finished it; indie darling Freedy Johnston covered it sans irony. Those are just two über-cool acts seduced by dorkiness, and they are both the better for it.
42. Sideshow – Blue Magic
Slow jams run a significant risk of slipping into dorky, especially if they open with a carnival barker recitation. Add a soaring, borderline absurd falsetto, and voila: deathless, dork-tastic Philly soul nugget. Blue Magic wisely committed whole-hog to all of the above, and the world opened its arms, accepting this oddly sadomasochistic, voyeuristic ode unquestioningly. (“It’ll only cost you fifty cents to see / What life has done to those like you and me.”)
41. More Than Words – Extreme
Like “Beth” is to Kiss, this 1991 ballad is to funk metal quartet Extreme, or more specifically, lead singer Gary Cherrone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, who wrote it, and who perform it while the rhythm section balances their checkbooks. Soon after its release, Nirvana, et al, tried unsuccessfully to vanquish this type of cheese. (Yay cheese.) The bar would not be raised. An accompanying cheekbones-heavy, black and white video helped make this tune a hallmark of a kinder, gentler, sluttier time.
40. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – The Proclaimers
When bespectacled blond Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid, aka The Proclaimers, wrote “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” for their 1988 album, Sunshine on Leith, they created a timeless masterpiece of dork love. Although their only stateside hit, The Proclaimers don’t really qualify as a “one-hit wonder,” as the tune charted again in 1993, when it was the theme to dorky date movie Benny & Joon. It lives among us forever.
39. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? – The Chicago Transit Authority aka Chicago
It’s not exactly “Jazz Odyssey,” but certainly, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” is the result of a dude saying, “Let’s combine jazz and rock! It’ll be cool!” And it’s great, but it’s not cool. Regardless, this 1970 single from Chicago’s smash debut is part of the ether (most recently used in American Hustle) and the title resides in the cultural lexicon, oft recited when someone asks what time it is. The lyrics, sung with irritating hippie brio, suggest singer/keyboardist Robert Lamm is in a state wherein he need not pay attention to the passage of time, unless he has an appointment with his accountant to go over royalty statements for this mighty dorkgasm.
38. Bertha Butt Boogie – The Jimmy Castor Bunch
Long before “My Humps,” “Bootylicious,” and “Baby Got Back,” et al, this progenitor of butt songs made no euphemistic efforts; Jimmy Castor called it like he saw it, composing “Bertha Butt Boogie,” a gravelly voiced, supa-funky 1974 ode to a woman’s posterior that seemed destined for obscurity until Ice Cube sampled its monster groove on his 1995 hit “Friday.” Why dorky? The cartoon-y recitation – always tricky, that recitation – tells a story of Bertha, whose gluteal movements create a dance craze that overwhelms a dangerous “troglodyte,” and saves the day. That’s why.
37. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Wham!
A George Michael song in all but name, this ingratiating, prototypical 80s pop bounce-a-thon is much reviled, and yet it persists, and will continue long after we all are dead. Upon its 1984 release, accompanied by a Prozac-y video, all of Wham!’s previous, socially conscious fare was gone forever, and George Michael found his voice (also his short-shorts, fingerless gloves, and the proper hair products), which, frankly, is good for everyone. As noted before, courage is contagious. And yes, it takes balls to sing, “You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day!”
36. The Chanukah Song – Adam Sandler
Like “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” this tune is a fact fest (sprinkled with errors, but whatever) celebrating Jewishness by revealing the sometimes less-known Jewish status of celebrities. Even though it rips off much of its thin melody from Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover,” some of the rhymes are undeniably clever. (“Some people say that Ebeneezer Scrooge is /He’s not, but guess who is? ALL THREE STOOGES!”) As any comedian will tell you, funny and cool rarely go hand-in-hand.
35: Mandy – Barry Manilow
Perhaps the drama of this 1974 song’s arrangement juxtaposed against Manilow’s humble voice creates some of its combustible power. We can’t know, of course. All we know is this Richard Kerr-Scott English masterwork of dork reduces otherwise cool people to emotional rubble. They gesticulate their arms wildly, recalling the good things they sent away so they could… be cool? Yet, the lyrics offer a glimmer of hope, hinting that perhaps Mandy will return, now that all coolness has been abandoned.
34. Walk Like An Egyptian – The Bangles
This hit from the Bangles’ breakthrough 1986 album Different Light almost doesn’t make the list, because the BBC banned it as “potentially offensive” during the first Gulf War, and that’s undeniably cool (also ridiculous). But the goofiness is strong in this one. Penned by Akron, Ohio’s own Liam Sternberg, this is glittery, drum machine 80s at its most fetching, employing a stream of nonsensical lyrics around which the Bangles wrap their considerable vocal and instrumental chops. The oh way oh’s help bring it back to Dorkville, where we welcome it with open arms.
33. In the Summertime – Mungo Jerry
Mungo Jerry gets pre-emptive dorky status by being named after Mungojerrie, a cat in T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (later immortalized in turbo-dork Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats). This 1970 international hit is the band’s only one of note, but it was – and remains – so perennial, writer Ray Dorset never had to go back to work as an uncool lab tech for Timex.
32. (They Long To Be) Close To You – The Carpenters
In 1970, sibling soft rockers The Carpenters released the best-known version of this Hal David-Burt Bacharach dork-alicious gem (originally recorded by Richard Chamberlain!) and made it a Grammy-winning hit. Subsequent versions by avatars of cool Isaac Hayes and Frank Sinatra put its dorky status in peril, but supreme dork lord Andy Williams redressed the balance with his memorable take, which you can seek out at your peril.
31. I Think I Love You – The Partridge Family
Songwriter Tony Romeo – his real name – wrote this odd, baroque confection for 1970 musical sitcom The Partridge Family, David Cassidy and Shirley Jones sang the hell out of it with the L.A. session badasses The Wrecking Crew posing as “the family band,” and Bell Records released it during the show’s first season. The dork gods smiled, and everything went exactly right; hit show, and a hit song that lives on to this very day, entrancing with its distinctive, sheep-like baa ba baba ba ba ba baba intro, its bizarre basso profundo bridge, and an infectious chorus that makes the cool kids writhe in exquisite agony.
30. You Get What You Give – New Radicals
Brainchild of frontman (and now successful producer) Gregg Alexander, this 2002 homage to 70s Rundgren-ism is both exhilarating and deeply annoying. While U2’s The Edge, rapper-actor Ice-T, and folk curmudgeon Joni Mitchell professes love for it, MCA records re-released the New Radicals CD on which it appeared (Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too) with a sticker reading: “Featuring the song from the Mitsubishi ad.” Fiscally effective, sure, but dorky to the max, a kind of warning/promise that “herein lies dorkitude.”
29. My Eyes Adored You – Frankie Valli
Initially, the absolute dorkiness of this song kept it from being released. The year was 1974, and the number one song was “Black Water,” the Doobie Brothers’ indisputably cool hippie-stoner anthem. The labels wanted more such anthems. Valli and his group, the Four Seasons, were washed up, and clearly, the uncoolness of this song spoke to that. But that, friends, was its secret power; this soft boy ode, finally released after much fuss, sent the Doobies back to the foul mattresses from whence they came, and gave the Four Seasons a new lease in pop.
28. Double Dutch Bus – Frankie Smith
Although supreme cool mofo himself, Snoop Dogg, would ultimately popularize the rhythmically captivating “izzle” speak used in this funky 1981 single, when employed here, alongside cheap synths, references to corns (of the foot variety), Philly bus transfers, and Frankie Smith’s Muppet-y growl, it’s dorky and, indeed, unforgettable. Throw in some kids chanting izzle-ized double Dutch rope-skipping rhymes, and the jaunt to Dorktown, on an immortalized bus, is complete.
27. Y.M.C.A. – The Village People
This 1978 orgy of organic (as opposed to synthesizer-heavy) dance music introduced the world to the outlandishly costumed Village People, and knocked coolness on its ear. It was the group’s biggest hit, written by svengalis Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, and Village Person Victor Willis (the “Hot Cop”). All claimed it had nothing to do with young gay guys hooking up at the Y (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The music supervisors who included it in family movie Despicable Me 2 must have believed them, too.
26. I Am Woman – Helen Reddy
A Reddy co-write, this 1972 woman’s lib anthem has borne some slings and arrows. Yet, even after being used in a Burger King ad, even after Reddy outraged feminists by singing it at a Miss World pageant, it retains enough curious power to be used as Kathryn Bigelow’s exit theme after she became the first woman to win a Best Director Oscar in 2010. But make no mistake: it is dorky. Note the timbre of Reddy’s nasally voice, and her odd faux-southern accent (she’s an Aussie) not to mention her lack of subtlety. But none of that makes the song less pleasurable to the dork within. On the contrary.
25. Tubthumping – Chumbawumba
Chumbawumba refused six figures from Nike to license this 1997 song for a World Cup ad, and that is undeniably cool. But not cool enough. Screamingly irritating yet catchy, with a gruff, repeated recitation, “Tubthumping” transcends genre and status and brainlessly induces head bopping in everyone from elders to babies to parrots. It could be the unofficial dork anthem, in fact, hummed by the 98-pound weakling (or Weekling) post-beach knockdown.
24. Just A Gigolo / I Ain’t Got Nobody – David Lee Roth
Longtime music journalist Lisa Robinson once claimed David Lee Roth, son of a millionaire ophthalmologist, was far and away the smartest rock star she ever interviewed, like MENSA level. We can only concur, noting that his first step outside the Van Halen supernova was this medley originally made famous by goofball genius jazz vocalist Louis Prima, a move that hints at secret knowledge of the general public’s less cool appetites. These machinations yielded platinum success, which surprised only the non-dorky.
23. I Go Crazy – Paul Davis
Can a song be dorky and stalker-ish? Yes, yes it can, if it’s this 1977 monster weeper. Amazing to think this smoldering, synth-tastic ode to not getting over a broken heart was birthed in punk’s heyday. Clearly, it was the universe’s corrective to hyper-coolness taking hold elsewhere. The universe, apparently, protects and fosters both dork and non-dork.
22. It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
Co-written by dork eminence Paul Shaffer, this is a “Little Song That Could,” which implies the phenomenon we call “dork stealth,” i.e., quality observable only by the truly dorky, who are then rewarded. Such was the case with Martha Walsh and Izora Armstead, originally disco icon Sylvester’s pleasantly plump backing singers Two Tons of Fun. After Diana Ross, Cher, Donna Summer, and Barbra Streisand rejected it (one imagines divas screeching, “Too dorky!”), Two Tons of Fun snapped up “It’s Raining Men” in 1982, changed their name to the Weather Girls, and a worldwide, much-covered international anthem for both gay men and horny women was born. Everybody wins.
21. Carry On Wayward Son – Kansas
This list needs at least one prog song (some would say many more than one). Like their dork-prog brethren, Rush, Kansas’ music is complex and lyrically “literate.” “Carry On” features open-throatedly sung Tolkein-esque phrases like “I was soaring ever higher,” and “I set a course for winds of fortune,” designed to impress lip-glossed girlfriends, English teachers, and/or the six million plus folks who bought Leftoverture, the album from which it hails. Dorks everywhere sought and found strength herein. One of those dorks went on to be music supervisor on recent hit TV series Supernatural, and licensed this tune to much fanfare.
20. Bang On the Drum – Todd Rundgren
Todd Rundgren expertly plays every instrument on this much-licensed (Pixar, Caribbean Cruise Lines, Green Bay Packers), annoyingly exuberant tune about not working, but if you listen, he is busting his ass. More dork stealth. Released as a single in 1983, it rose from humble origins to become an oft-bellowed standard, covered by Ringo Starr, no less, the Fab Four’s dork engine.
19. Parents Just Don’t Understand – DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Will Smith, aka The Fresh Prince, hit the ground running with this goofy, irresistible 1988 mega-hit, which put him and co-writer Jeffrey Townes, aka DJ Jazzy Jeff, firmly in the sites of all who would wish rap – as it was then called – to remain “street” and “cool.” A Grammy for Best Rap Performance, and MTV stardom either helped or hindered their quest for cred, depending on your perspective.
18. Shannon – Henry Gross
You know what’s cool? Being the youngest person to perform at Woodstock, which Henry Gross was, as a member of Sha Na Na. (He was 18.) You know what else is cool? Being friends with the Beach Boys’ Carl Wilson. You know what’s not cool? Writing and singing a song about a dog named Shannon who drowns. Nevertheless, this 1976 sob-fest about Carl Wilson’s doomed Irish Setter, sung in a Beach Boys’-esque falsetto, made Henry Gross a star. Casey Kasem freaking out about it almost made it cool, but even scary, inappropriate rage cannot quell the dorkiness of the drowned dog song.
17. Come On Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
The balls-out dorkitude of this herky-jerky folk shout-along is notable, as is the fact that it hit number one in the U.S. for one week in 1983, and that one week prevented Michael Jackson from making history by having two consecutive number ones (“Billie Jean” preceded it, “Beat It” followed it). It was a strange time, the 80s, when banjos, a bleating lead singer, and a chorus of barely contained lager louts singing about lust could cock-block MJ’s funky, mysterious and cool song about… lust.
16. The Promise – When In Rome
Put this tune in a time capsule and future generations will grasp the 80s phenomenon we call synth-pop. Also: dorky WannaBowies, i.e. the guys whose rumbly bass vocals and operatic high warbles (only cool when done by Bowie and/or Bryan Ferry) propel criminally catchy tunes to the upper reaches of the charts and into the pop firmament. For extra fun, check out the video, made with only intentions of cool, now a shrine to high-waisted dorkdom.
15. Hey Soul Sister – Train
Translated from Hawaiian, ukulele means “jumping flea.” It is brazenly uncool and, not coincidentally, its four-string lilt is the bedrock of this massive 2010 hit from San Francisco’s Train. But why stop at the uke? Why not mention the baldfaced reference to 80s cringe-rockers Mr. Mister in every chorus? Or singer Pat Monahan’s other irritating-yet-unforgettable lyrics like, “You gave my life direction, a game show love connection,” and “I’m so obsessed, my heart is bound to beat right out my untrimmed chest.” The defense rests, while turning the volume up.
14. Silly Love Songs – Wings
“All you write is silly love songs,” Lennon reportedly said derisively to the Cute Beatle. And the Cute Beatle, being a genius, thought, “Great title.” And he invested that dorkiness in a catchy, Motown-inspired bassline, added disco strings and soul horns and a nursery-rhyme-worthy chorus (that we can all sing together!) that he let his beloved non-singing wife sing, and drove all the way to the Dork Savings Bank to reap gazillions of dollars. None of that is cool. But all of it makes for a killer tune.
13. Goodbye Stranger – Supertramp
This 1979 hit could’ve been cool if only understated vocalist-keyboardist Rick Davies hadn’t given the chorus over to singer-guitarist-chipmunk-voiced Roger Hodgson, whose falsetto (double-tracked!) ushers in the dorkiness, aided and abetted by a whistle solo. But we all know it wouldn’t be nearly as memorable without that “turn your head and cough” chorus, and it wouldn’t have ended up in Magnolia.
12. Dancing Queen – Abba
Maybe it’s the distinctive Swedish accents on top of the sumptuous, disco-pop production, or the arcing-into-the-heavens melody, or some kind of Nordic hoodoo, but this song is dork-powered platinum, released in 1976 to a world that was starving for it and didn’t even know it. And even when ABBA fell from favor in the 80s and 90s, tunes like “Dancing Queen” lingered like cotton candy in one’s dental work, eventually bursting out triumphantly in movies, a massive international stage production, and eager hearts of uncool romantics everywhere.
11. Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
Historically, the “white dude who sounds like a black dude” phenomenon meant “cool,” but the 80s were, as mentioned before, an odd, unpredictable time. Eventual internet meme Rick Astley was a protégé of UK production-songwriting team Stock, Aitken & Waterman, the trifecta responsible for Kylie Minogue and Bananarama, among others, and his arresting baritone, wrapped in 80s echo, soared, and has yet to crash. It shines particularly bright every April Fool’s Day, when unsuspecting internet users get Rickrolled.
10. Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
The crown jewel of unashamedly uncool songs. Until January of 2014, when Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” overtook it, this 80s juggernaut was the top-selling digital download in history. It got a huge boost from its incongruous yet effective use in the Sopranos 2007 finale; the 2009 Glee cover, which copped indie maven Petra Haden’s genius, must-hear all-vocal arrangement, gave it even more Botox. Love it or hate it (or both) you must accept the song’s status as a rule breaker. Pop rules dictate: “don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” yet “Don’t Stop” plows along for over three minutes until, after two guitar solos, it gets to the unforgettable chorus, which takes us out. Along the way, we learn of streetlight people, whatever those are, and a movie that, like this song’s popularity, never ends.
9. Love Will Keep Us Together – Captain & Tennille
This song, co-penned by dork master of old, Neil Sedaka, rocketed Captain & Tennille to worldwide fame in 1975, and recently made news again when, after 39 years of marriage, they got divorced. Daryl “The Captain” Dragon’s layered synths, buzzing and honking and beeping around Tennille’s brassy, big toothy happiness, brings the disco ball sun into any room, whether or not you want it there. The ba-da-da-daaaa’s seal the dork deal.
8. Mr. Roboto – Styx
It was the dork dream that broke up the rock band! Such power! Keyboardist Dennis DeYoung had been leading 70s proggers Styx ever deeper into theatrical, mega-selling pop for years, and his ill-advised synth-rock concept album Kilroy Was Here was the apogee of his quest, resulting in financial disaster (due to an over-the-top stage show) that brought the band to a halt, laughingstocks of the new wave world. Mr. Roboto, the “main theme,” was the most damaging and eternal: the Vocoder voice, the space-synths, the incomprehensible story of a cyborg with a secret, the crazed falsetto… all delicious.
7. Sister Christian – Night Ranger
Say what you will, this is a particularly potent power ballad. It elevates an already hyper-cool movie, infusing a crucial scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights with chilling gravitas. Would a “cooler” song, like, say, “Anarchy In The UK” have done the job as well? Hell to the no. Juxtaposing dork and dark enhances both qualities. What is drummer Kelly Keagy singing his ass off about? Motorin’? Mr. Right? Some price for flight? As ever, the crunching chords of the chorus, the shredding solo, and the ridiculous drum fills, motor you to a sublime place where none of that matters.
6. Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison
From the get-go, Bret Michaels’ atrocious fake Southern accent puts this 1988 glam rock country power ballad – the only one of its kind – into a rarefied space, where the cool fear to tread. It’s trite, cliché-heavy, predictable, and monotonous, and you will sing along before it’s done. Michaels and his Aquanetted cohorts in Poison were already stepping into their archetypal glammy asshole suits with ease, but this dork-tastic tune, presented as the height of cool, made them immortal. For awhile.
5. Shiny Happy People – R.E.M.
Even R.E.M. cop to the dorkiness of this 1991 bit of twerp rock, with Michael Stipe himself saying, quite simply, “I hate that song… but the kids do love it.” And guess what? HUGE HIT. One of their last huge hits, in fact. 11 years into their incredible run as a band, the foursome, emboldened and/or perhaps overdosing on some sugar-laced street drug, and honoring a persistent perverse streak, waded briefly into dorky waters, drenching themselves with flowers, “Up With People” monkey-smiles, waltzing strings, and cavity-inducing syrupiness. All of which you secretly love.
4. Hold On – Wilson Phillips
Wilson Phillips lead singer Chynna Phillips co-wrote this 1990 number one with pop svengali Glen Ballard, who would go on to transform and, occasionally, dorkify Alanis Morrisette. It’s sweet and airy and lacking in shadow, this song, the angelic harmonies and 80s keyboards sending it ever skyward. One wonders if, because Chynna’s dad was notorious, hopelessly cool addict John Phillips, she sought the dork light. In any case, this one captivates music supervisors on a regular basis, making it a significant spice in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Bridesmaids, and many other high stakes endeavors that need some reliable dork power.
3. MMMBop – Hanson
Like R.E.M., Isaac, Taylor, and Zac Hanson freely admit the downside of this monster 1997 hit: it’s annoying, uncool, and, say it with me: dorky. (Yet, also like R.E.M., they accept, celebrate, and bask in its power.) Ever the good sports, the brothers appeared in an SNL sketch in which terrorists – Will Ferrell and Helen Hunt – force them to listen to the song’s repetitive, effervescent, singalong sunniness until Isaac and Zac go insane and Will Ferrell – coincidence? NO – succumbs and… dies.
2. You Make My Dreams – Daryl Hall and John Oates
When you think “80s,” you see shoulder pads, gelled-up hair, high-waisted, pleated pants, and you think, reverently: “Hall & Oates.” You also likely hear this 1981 hit. It does not rock, it does not offer the smooth, blue-eyed soul of the Philly duo’s earlier work, but rather, it boldly grips a new wave squareness, all fuzzy, videogame-sounding synths, and Elvis-on-meth vocals. Relentlessly cheery, deathless, and beloved.
1. Gangnam Style – Psy
More than any other song on this list, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is more than a hit tune; it’s a dorky video (the most viewed in history at over 2 BILLION VIEWS) a dorky dance craze, and a worldwide phenomenon. A triumph of uncool, presided over by K-pop star Psy, the tune is so strong that it matters not that a huge percentage of listeners have no idea what Psy is singing about. The tagline “Oppan Gangnam Style,” translates as “Big brother’s got ‘Gangnam Style,’” but that’s neither here nor there; it sounds funny, and people of all ages everywhere say it not because it bestows coolness, but because it accentuates awkward dorkiness. What unites us with a different culture half a world away? Dorky.