Friday, February 29, 2008

Imagine doesn't even make the top 10

Wherein someone else can play with this

[[[[3/1 update: new material at the bottom]]]]]

Elsewhere, in a long and boring thread, I found a spark of interest when
XWL said... Also, can't we all agree that "Imagine" is the single most insipid, treacly, and perfectly awful song ever written?

No. Number one is "We Are the World." It isn't even close.

#2 = "Yummy Yummy Yummy I Got Love in My Tummy"
#3 = "Say Say Say"
#4 = "Ebony and Ivory"
#5 = "The Girl is Mine"
#6 = "Say You, Say Me"
#7 = "Having My Baby"
#8 = "You Don't Bring Me Flowers"
#9 = "Achy Breaky Heart"
#10 = "Stairway to Heaven"
Imagine doesn't even crack the top ten. Later, I added "You Light Up My Life" as # 11. I had intentions of doing more with this, but that urge has passed. Consider this an open source list of treacly and awful offered up for anyone to play with.

I'd also like to point out two of my favorite uses of "Imagine."

1. Mr. Carlson using it to expose hypocrisy of Rev. Bob Halyers. Couldn't find a clip, but Something Old, Nothing New has a rundown:
To actually counter the Religious Right, you've got to provide some sort of reason why the Religious Right is, well, wrong.

The only show in the early '80s that dealt with the issue in this way was WKRP In Cincinnati, which had been on Falwell's list, probably the presence of then-sex-symbol Loni Anderson. The creator of WKRP, Hugh Wilson, co-wrote an episode called "Clean Up Radio Everywhere," the third-season finale, which featured Falwell-lookalike Richard Paul as a preacher, Dr. Bob Halyers, leading an organization called CURB: Clean Up Radio Everywhere. When WKRP refuses to let CURB dictate its playlist, Halyers organizes a boycott, causing WKRP to lose most of its regular advertisers.

What makes the episode work is that it's actually balanced -- not in the sense of being neutral or having no point of view, but in the sense of taking other points of view seriously. Halyers is not a bad guy; he's far more likable than Jerry Falwell (not hard, of course). Moreover, the episode is told from the point of view of station manager Mr. Carlson (the late, great Gordon Jump), a conservative, religious man who doesn't like songs with dirty words or sexual content any more than Halyers does.

When Carlson later confronts Halyers, the preacher makes a serious and very plausible argument about why CURB's mission is acceptable: he's representing a group of concerned citizens who are exercising their right to express their opinions about the contents of the public airwaves; why should one man (a station manager, a program director) be invulnerable to the complaints of a segment of the public? Then, in the most famous part of this scene, Carlson shows the lyrics of John Lennon's "Imagine" to Halyers, who pronounces them blasphemous ("Imagine there's no heaven"). Everyone who's seen this episode remembers that part, but not a lot of people seem to remember that that's not the point of the scene. This is the climax of the scene:

Mr Carlson: On the list or not?
Dr Bob: I have no choice but to say on.
Mr Carlson: That decision was made by one man.

What gives Halyers' game away is not that he doesn't like the lyrics to "Imagine," but that he alone is making the decisions about what goes on the list; instead of helping a group of people express their opinions, as he claims he's doing, he's actually using the grassroots argument as an excuse for enforcing his own personal opinions, and passing them off as the opinions of his flock. In other words, the episode actually leaves open the possibility that it would be OK to have a genuine protest by a segment of the public against something that offends them; what it condemns, and what such "protests" usually turn out to be, is one person's attempt to gain an dangerous amount of power (over the people he claims to speak for and the people he speaks against).

2. Jordis Unga from Rockstar: INXS adds new life to a song I was tired of hearing.


Received an email about an Imagine commentary I wasn't aware of. Turns out William F. Buckley was not a fan of the song. Read the whole thing here:
Well, we certainly want to imagine a world in which everyone lives in peace, but, you see, that is only possible in a world in which people are willing to die for causes.

There'd have been peace for heaven knows (assuming heaven existed) how long in the South, except that men were willing to die to free the slaves, and Hitler would have died maybe about the time John Lennon did, at Berchtesgaden, at age 91, happy in a Jewless Europe.

There have got to be reasons that even affected John Lennon to prefer one country over against another. I happen to know this to be the case, since a long time ago he asked me to help him get papers permitting him to live in the United States.

7 Comments:

Blogger Callimachus said...

The house next to min is being reconstructed at a snail's pace. The work crew is there all day, blasting an insipid "classic rock" station. I could write a top 100 at this point. To your list I'd suggest "That Song by Phil Collins Genesis That Goes 'There Must Be Some Misunderstanding.' " and two from my memory bank: "Billy, Don't be a Hero" and "Seasons in the Sun."

2/29/2008 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger Icepick said...

Anything from Journey's Frontiers album, most especially "Separate Ways".

2/29/2008 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

I suggest we retire McCartney, Phil Collins, and Lionel Richie to the treacly and awful Hall of Fame and make the list without them.

3/01/2008 06:07:00 AM  
Blogger Icepick said...

There's a better way to deal with Lionel Ritchie.

3/01/2008 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger Ahistoricality said...

Oddly enough, I have to agree with Callimachus's suggestions. I think both #9 and #10 on the list are really weak in the insipid category -- Achy Breaky Heart is actually a really funny song if you don't play it more than once a week -- but "Billy, Don't be a Hero" and "Seasons in the Sun" are intolerable even once.

3/01/2008 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger bill said...

I think both #9 and #10 on the list are really weak in the insipid category
And you are wrong.

Achy Breaky Heart is actually a really funny song
The fuck it is.

"Seasons in the Sun"...
Listen to Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and you should retract that statement. You did get "Billy, Don't be a Hero" correct.

3/01/2008 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger XWL said...

I still stand by my opinion re: Imagine, but just like your alimentary canal, you are entitled to yours.

Nice WFB,Jr. reference, I hadn't been aware of his take down of that song.

The thing about Imagine is that those that find it honestly offensive are the perpetually outraged (it's dumb, but not offensive), and those that find it inspirational are the perpetually adolescent (I'm looking at you idiot boomers still nostalgic for 1968).

A song is bigger than the song itself, it's also the collection of uses people find for it, that way a truly bad song like MacArthur Park, wouldn't make the list, cause though it's one of the most impenetrably bizarre songs lyrically, it's not useful for anything but a dance tune.

Something like "We Are the World" probably does belong atop any such list given what it was designed to do, and the smug, patronizing air with which it was created (though Hands Across America was probably even worse).

I'd throw Born to Run on any such list, but mainly cause I hate the "Boss", and especially his fans.

I don't listen to enough bad music anymore to really form an opinion on more recent music that deserves to be on this list.

All this damn consumer choice and the ability to carry thousands of tunes with you at all time, must really sucks to be a publisher of bad music nowadays (say, compared to the mid-80s which were probably the golden era for bad music on mainstream pop top 40 radio).

3/01/2008 10:52:00 PM  

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