Here’s part two of the Bottom 40, my list of the decade’s worst pop hits. In this installment, we get a much closer look at Flyover Rock, songs that come from America’s Heartland and which demonstrate how America might just have a heart attack if it doesn’t lay off the cheese. (And the woman-hating.)
30. 3 Doors Down, When I’m Gone (2004, #4)
This song only got to #4 on the Hot 100, but it spent seventeen unholy weeks at the peak of the mainstream rock chart, out of a total of 41 weeks these Mississippi-based dullards have spent topping that particular chart during this terrible decade. But which of their shitty songs is the shittiest? Kryptonite might have been the most omnipresent, but comparatively it’s also quite catchy. Citizen Soldier, which was basically a big ad for joining the National Guard, offended on multiple levels, not the least of which involved having to sit through it every time you went to the movies in 2007. But I also can’t remember how it went. And Loser was actually their biggest hit on rock radio, but, I don’t know, for some reason that one seems slightly less hateful somehow. While When You’re Gone wasn’t their catchiest, most offensive, or biggest hit, I feel like there’s something to be said the most mediocre hit by the decade’s most insistently mediocre band.
29. Staind, It’s Been Awhile (2001, #5)
I was kind of surprised recently to realize how bad 99% of #1’s on Billboard’s modern rock chart have been, and I’m talking all the way back to when it began in 1988. Even during the nineties, when I faithfully listened to alternative stations in hopes of hearing Belly or Scarce or Pulp or Hole or Garbage or the Dandy Warhols, the #1 singles were always by the 311 or Fuel or the frigging Barenaked Ladies. The Fred Durst-approved Staind spent sixteen weeks at #1 on the modern rock chart back in 2001 with this turgid sack of mopey shit. Hailing from Springfield, the most charmless city in Massachusetts, singer Aaron Lewis and his dreary boremongers took all the bad poetry you wrote in high school and transformed it into a song that was basically Creed’s My Own Prison, Part Deux. Lewis even snuck in the most awkwardly phrased chorus since the heyday of Letters To Cleo: “The consequences that I’ve rendered/ I’ve gone and fucked things up again.” Deep, dude.
28. Evanescence, Bring Me To Life (2003, #5)
There’s nothing wrong with being vaguely gothy, and hey, at least Amy Lee was a female voice on modern rock radio, a rarity in this new, more macho millennium. Yes, Lee’s voice was the voice of a constipated person trying to force out a particularly stubborn #2, only maybe whinier. But still, Girl Power! Right?
I actually wouldn’t have hated these Grammy winners (Best New Artist!) so much if there was an ounce of humor, or at least emotional distance or self-awareness, in their lyrics the delivery, but Holy Lord did this woman take herself seriously. She makes Alanis Morissette sound like a laugh riot. Thanks for trying, Amy Lee, but if I want this much sincere emoting I’ll just stick with Y Kant Tori Read.
27. Colbie Caillat, Bubbly (2007, #5)
Hey, Colbie. Ally McBeal called, she says she wants all the boring cutesy parts of the nineties back. Thanks.
26. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dani California (2006, #6)
Reasons why I liked the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the ’90s:
1) They were on the radio a lot, and had been for a long time, so I was convinced they were “influential” and “important.” (See also: The Police, U2.) 2) When I was in fifth grade my friend Dante and I used to sing the falsetto parts from Under The Bridge and it seemed really hilarious. 3) They used to take their shirts off a lot. 4) Sometimes their pants, too! 5) And some of the cooler skater boys at my school liked them. 6) Plus, their song from the Coneheads soundtrack is actually still pretty good.
Reasons why I don’t like the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the ’00s:
1) I am over liking bands because they are “influential” and “important.” (See also: The Police, U2.) 2) I am no longer in fifth grade. 3) Even then I wasn’t really into long hair and tattoos. 4) I’ve seen better. 5) I’m no longer trying to hang out with teenaged skaters, although I’m pretty sure even they’ve moved on after hearing dreadful crap like Dani California. 6) Because, come on, this song wishes it were good enough to be on the soundtrack to a Dan Ackroyd comedy about aliens who don’t quite grasp the subtleties of conversational English.
25. Black Eyed Peas, Hey Mama (2004, #23)
The thing about the Black Eyed Peas isn’t that they make terrible pop songs. It’s that their pop songs are so terrible, and so terribly half-assed, and so cracked-out, that they are basically in their own idiom. An autotuned l’chayim? Two thousand and late? A band member who is seriously named apl.de.ap? My humps my humps my humps? That’s all crazy. Serious mental affliction crazy, not haha-you’re-dumb crazy.
Peas songs have a formula, generally. Start with a title, something that maybe sounds kind of affirmative. Repeat it approximately eight hundred thousand times. And then talk nonsense over a hook designed to appeal to a child, preferably one aged 0-4. Hey Mama isn’t actually their worst song (that would still be the earlier Where Is The Love), but their woeful sojourn into dancehall is possibly their most annoying, if not the most overplayed, and it’s the most indicative of their Satan-spawned transformation from “lame and mildly preachy hip-hop group” into “unstoppable Hellbeast that most of America for some reason really wants to hear all day every day.” They apparently liked Hey Mama so much they’d sample their own creation two years later, when someone decided they needed to cover Mas Que Nada with Sergio Mendes.
And don’t even get me started on these lyrics. Well, okay, here’s a for instance of their songwriting capabilities: “We never cease (NOO), we never die no we never decease (NOO), We multiply like we mathamatice, Then we drop bombs like we in the middle east!” How do you even respond to that? Mathamatice…
24. Los Lonely Boys, Heaven (2004, #16)
I am sure that the three Texan brothers who make up Los Lonely Boys are all nice guys, and I’m sure they meant well when they wrote this song, probably one day after they were all done with their day jobs. In fact, this song might even sound marginally competent if you were buzzed on Michelob Ultra and the Boys were at the bar down the street opening for your brother-in-law’s Deep Blue Something cover band, Remember The Film. I genuinely believe Los Lonely Boys didn’t actually plan to make this terrible song become a national hit for most of 2004. I blame whatever crackhead at Epic decided to give them a major label deal, thrusting what is basically the lamest bar-rock ever recorded to the saturation point on pop (and, to a lesser extent, country) radio, after which point it topped the Adult Contemporary Chart for four whole months.
23. 3Oh!3, Don’t Trust Me (2008, #7)
And the award for Worst Band Name of the Decade amazingly does not go to Hoobastank! (3Oh!3 is their area code! Get it? They’re like an edgier 702! Because they have an Oh! in the middle! Because an exclamation in the middle of two numbers is really edgy, you know? Where my boys at?!)
I’m not generally one to promote Bitch magazine, but Kelsey Wallace’s reaction on first hearing Don’t Trust Me basically says everything that needs to be said about this song: “WHY, AMERICA? WHY ARE OUR YOUNG PEOPLE GOING DOUCHEBAG CRAZY?”
For real, why are we living in an age where people think Helen Keller jokes are funny? And not just a pair of jackasses from Colorado, but the four other people that have songwriting credit for this, the two other producers, and the label that decided to promote it as a single? Wallace, who listened more closely than I ever did, also points out that the girl in question–the one who should close her eyes and shut up–is also on drugs, making the alleged hilarity that much bleaker.
22. John Mayer, Daughters (2004, #19)
This song gives me the willies.
I didn’t hate John Mayer at the beginning; except for the fact that he sounds like he’s trying way too hard with the “top of my lungs” line, No Such Thing is actually an okay enough song in a harmless supermarket-music way. And Your Body Is A Wonderland, while it’s not good, is at least kind of hilariously executed. But then Mayer returned with a second album and this creepy-ass song: “Boys, you can break/You find out how much they can take./Boys will be strong/And boys soldier on/But boys would be gone without warmth from/A woman’s good, good heart .” Ick! Step away from the playground, John Mayer, you’re giving me the creeps.
21. Hinder, Lips of an Angel (2006, #3)
There may be something of an unintentional geographic bias on this list; in this quarter of the Bottom 40 alone there’s groups from Mississippi and Arkansas and now Oklahoma, all areas that don’t typically generate lots of pop hits and all of which are, on some level, very foreign places that I’m not particularly anxious to ever see.
Lips Of An Angel is a song about a phone call from an ex who wants to get back together, maybe it for the long haul but probably just for a quickie in the WalMart parking lot. But really the song is just about four words: “hard to be faithful.” Because the way singer Austin Winkler sings those words–i feel like a puppy is murdered with a hatchet every time he says it–represents pretty much everything I hate about dude rock. Because really, why should anyone care about the love life of this emotionally stunted reject? And why the hell was complete tunelessness all the rage this decade, anyway?