TWO WEEKS AGO, our own Sean Beaudoin wrote a piece called “Ten Bands I Will Be Forced to Listen to in Hell.” It became the most read piece on these pages…and the most-read piece over at Salon.com.
The rest of us were insanely jealous. Not because of the attention and the 2.5k Facebook likes, but because we wanted to make Hell Band lists, too. Because music is deeply personal. And so is Hell. As Milton reminds us in Paradise Lost, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Bon Jovi.”
So let us cross the river Styx (and listen to “Mr. Roboto” as we do) and take the Highway to Hell (AC/DC screeching all the while) to meet the Devil (who takes our $20 bill and vanishes in the air). Or we can just play “Stairway” backwards.
Anyway, here are is our “666 Mix,” which you can listen to here.
There are two artists who didn’t make my original list, but have every right to have appeared there, maybe even more than once:
“How’s it Going to Be,” Third Eye Blind
The seminal hit followed me down the streets of San Francisco like a golem with a shaft piercing. The lyrics are beyond insipid, and the song itself is barely a song at all, just a paper bag full of pointy wires and hair.
“Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” Spin Doctors
The “Leap off small building and survive, but probably never walk again, just to get away from their mind-numbing catchy nothingness” award goes to the ever-deserving Spin Doctors for their even seminal-er party jam.
“Beautiful Day,” U2
To be fair to the monstrously popular stadium rockers, it’s chance that made me alight on this song–that and the fact that for a long time it began the football highlights program, so I was forced to listen to it on a weekly basis. Its main problem is its relentless positivity. Its second is that it’s by U2, and I just can’t be doing with them and their pompous world-saving blarney.
“Unchained Melody,” The Righteous Brothers
Just don’t give me a song without a chorus. What I’d ideally like is a song that is constituted of one chorus after another, for precisely four minutes. But, if I am to endure choruslessness, at least spare me pap.
“No Such Thing,” John Mayer
If you want to run through the halls of your high school, unless you are in high school, you are an idiot. If Vladimir Putin looked into John Mayer’s eyes, he would see George W. Bush’s soul: An empty and seemingly harmless abyss engineered by Satan to make everyone feel yucky after eight long years. Yes, Satan could design an abyss that could make that happen.
Music for people who don’t like music. Jack Johnson’s primary achievement is the proof that you can make art (kind of) without caring. I don’t even hate this music that much, but if I end up in Hell, I’d rather actively hate the experience of listening to a continuous loop of Van Halen’s “Jump” than be bored to tears for eternity by this probably very nice man who doesn’t even seem interested in his own pretend music.
“Closer to Fine,” Indigo Girls
The stridency, the ponderousness, the Helen Reddy-ness of it all could make us die a thousand more deaths.
“Disarm,” Smashing Pumpkins
The melody’s fine, the lyrics are okay, the timpani is a nice touch. If only Billy Corgan didn’t sing. Ever. On any songs by the Smashing Pumpkins.
“Only Wanna Be With You,” Hootie and The Blowfish
Throughout my senior year of high school, this followed me wherever I went – if I turned on the radio, walked into a store, waited for a dentist appointment. It was the unwelcome soundtrack to my life, simultaneously campy and haunting, like a David Lynch movie, but not cool.
“Celebration,” Kool & The Gang
Due to my frequent attendance of Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs, and a sprinkling of Jewish weddings in the early ’90s, I am forever traumatized by this grossly overplayed track. When I hear that song, I think of glow sticks. Smoke machines. Conga lines. And, other Jewish traditions.
I have a marriage of checks and balances, a kind of nuclear arms race. On his side? Radiohead. Mine: Bruce Springsteen and Robyn Hitchcock. Yes, I know they are all three fine artists, but when Mr. J Kabat puts on anything with a Thom Yorke vocal, I am ready to kill, same with him with Springsteen. (Which nearly caused an accident on I-81 outside Scranton in March as the iPod on shuffle alighted onto a track from Live in New York City). Robyn Hitchcock is a problem for being a bit too South England, maybe because he sings about Basingstoke and Reading and trains, and Mr. J Kabat himself is from Basingstoke and grew up very Middle England with mint green living room sets and took many a train to London in his youth. Meanwhile Bruce’s ululations drive him nuts, so as Mr. J Kabat drives alone, he plays Radiohead over and over on an endless loop, and when he’s away, our shared office pounds with “Thunder Road.” Perhaps this is the reason why we are still happy after 14 years.
Truth is, there are no bands I hate. My wife and I were discussing this, and she pointed out that “hating” suggests that you’re often in a position where you are forced to listen to “Tell Her About It” at the dentist’s office; “Evil Woman” at the foodstore, etc. Whereas if I don’t like punk, which I don’t, I’m not in danger of having Fear shoved down my throat (sorry, Charlie). And, while there are plenty of songs I actively despise, every artist of note has at least one that I can live with. Or one I genuinely like. But, you know, this is coming from a guy who bought the Phil Collins’ Greatest Hits album for a buck at a yard sale, and totally dug some of the tracks on it.
But if I have to pick one, I’ll go with…
For all the talk of the surpassing Caucasian-ness of Billy Joel, I submit that there’s nothing whiter than generic guitar-based cock rock. The pathetic “swagger,” the aren’t-we-cool-because-we-dig-hot-chicks-and-Jack-Daniel’s posturing, the infantile lyrics and song and album titles (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge—get it? Get it? It spells FUCK! Ha!)…Van Halen is the id of a twelve-year-old boy set to what is charitably called music. Look, I get that Eddie Van Halen is “good” at playing guitar. The finger-tapping, the whammy bar. The thing is, it’s irrelevant, because unless he’s laying down a track for a song that actually has a halfway-decent melody (viz., “Beat It,”), he’s painting the Sistine Chapel on a cocktail napkin. If Jamie is indeed crying, it’s because she’s been forced to listen to the craptastic song about her. About the only thing to recommend the band was the cocksure wink-wink hand-in-the-cookie-jar naughtiness of David Lee Roth. Then they went and replaced him with…
…an alleged rock star who has his teeth professionally cleaned once a week. Because, you know, nothing says rock ‘n’ roll like fastidious dental hygiene. Not only is he not capable of driving at a reasonable speed, he is incapable of producing music that even approximates the generic hard-rock mediocrity of, say, Poison. I’d rather listen to Kip Winger.
“Afternoon Delight,” Starland Vocal Band
This folksy duet about an afternoon sex-picnic between two horny Christian youth ministers hit number 1 in 1976, but as at home on the set of Hee Haw as the Top 40 list. Then, as now, the song inspires in me a queasy embarrassment, followed by the nausea one feels after realizing they’ve eaten a bad devilled egg. I realize this is a common reaction. The tune is insipid, the singer’s straight off the stage of the Fayetteville dinner theater production of Oklahoma!, but in my hell, trapped as I am in the Inferno’s elevator, it’s the lyrics that make my ears bleed.
From the start the man’s Aw-shucks-got-nothing-on-under-my-overalls, folksy braggadocio puts me off: “Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight / Gonna grab some afternoon delight.” That’s right he’s gonna grab it, because heck, “My motto’s always been; when it’s right, it’s right.”
In the second verse the woman comes in with a soprano sweet as a songbird in heat, announcing, “Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite.” Clearly, so horny she can’t even hang on to her g’s, she continues, “Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite. And the thought of rubbin’ you is getting so exciting.”
Eek. Jaw-dropping metaphor. What could “Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite” possibly mean? A potentially painful hand-job? Or her intention to dry hump her fella until, Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah—the pair’s escalating vocals suggest—they experience the sensation of skyrockets in flight? Ah, Afternoon Delight. I hope they brought some napkins. I feel soiled. Not even a Silkwood shower can get me clean.
At this point, I’m weeping and shaking, but as if this tale of hooking-up isn’t unsettling enough, in the last verse, it becomes a real fish story. Our young stud confiding, “Started out this morning feeling so polite / I always thought a fish could not be caught who wouldn’t bite.” His confession that he started out polite, suggests he became impolite. Perhaps it was his misogynistic characterization of a woman’s vagina as not only being “fishy” but having teeth? I am ready to shank this dude until it occurs to me, The Starland Vocal Band are fans of classic literature! The allusion to the woman as being a fish, presumably a cold fish, is a reference to William Faulkner’s As I Lie Dying and the confusion troubled young Vardaman experiences in separating his dead mother from the fish he caught earlier in the day. My mother is a fish. I think we can agree that the man’s equating his lover with his mother who is a fish is indicative of unresolved Oedipal issues. Need I add that the slang term for “orgasm” in French is “La petit mal” or The Little Death?
In case we didn’t get the point (the Starland Vocal Band can read) the lyrics take a turn for the Kafkaesque. The man transforms into a fish, singing, “But you’ve got some bait a waitin’ and I think I might try nibbling / A little afternoon delight.” Had our pair not morphed into fish, we could have surmised that the gentleman drawn to his lady’s “bait” was considering cunnilingus—or more crudely put—“eating out.” Given, however, that the couple are now fish, I can only surmise that the nibbling he is eager to commence is in the service of cleaning his lady love’s body of plankton. Afternoon delight.
“Ebony & Ivory,” Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder
This duet between (Sir Duke) Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney proves that as centuries of European history have demonstrated intermarriage between royal families, or musical geniuses (in both cases the aim is riches) produces offspring that are dim-witted, simpering, and if lucky, destined to die young. Sadly, this was not the case with the unlistenable “Ebony and Ivory.”
As if we needed a reminder that the rich and famous are different from you and me, “Ebony and Ivory” suggests Stevie and Sir Paul not only dwell in the cloistered realm of mega-celebrity but in an alternate reality. A universe where inanimate objects live and breathe and battle racism just like earthlings. However, as the duo point out, unlike human beings, the more evolved piano keys have learned how to peacefully co-exist. And, they reason, if the legendarily racist piano keys can “Live together in perfect harmony / Side by side on my piano keyboard / Oh Lord, why don’t we?”
Seriously? Because piano keys aren’t people.
This line is followed by the creepy, “We all know that people are the same wherever we go / There is good and bad in everyone / We learn to live, we learn to give / Each other what we need to survive together alive.”
I won’t even go into the good and bad, the living and giving, the inexplicable line about the “need to survive together alive,” clearly Mr. Ebony and Mr. Ivory assumed, rather cynically, that we would be so charmed by the hook—I’m black and I’m white and we’re sharing a piano bench—we wouldn’t notice the sloppy semantics, or maybe they really do assume we are as piano keys.