By Bobby Peacock
I really didn't want to do this, because I feel that I've let negativity get the best of me lately. But I just found too many songs not to do a part three. This is the last one, I swear.
The only thing keeping me from also including "Libyan on a Jet Plane" is that I can only find a live version. This one's dated "jokes" about the PLO, Cubans hijacking planes, South Americans smuggling drugs, and Fidel Castro marrying "one of Loretta's sisters" read like a couple of racist hillbillies thumbing through the newspaper and riffing on everything they see. And that's before we get to them referring to Middle Easterners as "sheet heads"; a list of offensive stereotypes is just that. But what do you expect from a couple buffoons who think that shoving the word "cock-sucking" into a song called "Censor Us" is a punchline? (And more importantly, how did one of these guys also write "You're the Reason God Made Oklahoma?”)
"Everybody's Sweetheart" by Vince Gill
I hate to do this to Vince Gill. But that one line, "shoulda kept her barefoot / Barefoot and pregnant all the time"... yeah, that's some really ugly sexism. There is no way to deliver that line correctly, and I'm surprised it wasn't more controversial even in 1988. And it's a shame that I'm letting it come down to that, because the central idea on its own -- the conflict one feels in a relationship where both people are touring musicians (in this case, Janis Oliver of Sweethearts of the Rodeo) is a great idea for a song. But to actively wish disdain on your own spouse's career, and in such a crass, misogynstic fashion to boot? Thankfully he treated the same topic more tactfully with "The Radio". And I really can't see him saying anything like this about Amy Grant.
"I Loved 'em Every One" by T. G. Sheppard
After the "worst of the '80s" list dropped, I had a DJ e-mail me and thank me for including "War Is Hell (On the Homefront Too)". He stated that he also dislikes how most T. G. Sheppard songs are "about getting laid" and I realized just how true this is. (His '70s songs, like "Devil in the Bottle", sound like a completely different artist.) Plowing through women like an allergy sufferer through Kleenex is bad enough when you're not even trying to assign any personality or emotion to them; outright admitting that not one, but several of them were prostitutes is just the added layer of squick. He may be hoping they had some fun, but I'm just hoping that everyone got tested for STIs.
"Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night" by Conway Twitty
Among an otherwise decent run of singles in the 80s, hampered only by some dubious cover songs ("The Rose"), we get him setting the stage for the chest-thumping boogie-country of Hank Jr. and the sleazy "drink beer with a hot girl in a truck" of bro-country. The only difference is since this is 1981, the music's on an 8-track instead. Conway's attempts at asides and breaking from meter only make the song sound more forced and drawn out than it needs to be -- not that the horribly-scanning lyrics ("I got a six-pack of longnecks in the trunk on ice / Ooh, but you sure look nice") do him any favors on this front. What a waste of the usually reliable Max D. Barnes and Troy Seals. Even "Tight Fittin' Jeans" manages to be a million times less sleazy.
For a long time, the three tracks off John Berry's two unreleased Capitol albums seemed to exist nowhere on the Internet. "The Stone" and "Over My Shoulder" are both good songs, but this one... oof. I'm not opposed to food songs -- hell, "Weird Al" Yankovic built a career on them -- but there has to be some thought put into them. While the production is looser than usual for him, it's wasted on some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard. "Somebody call the Colonel, she's finger-lickin' good" (dude, I don't want to know what she was doing to your fingers), "She'd make any turkey breast look like a can of Spam,” and let's not forget the hook: "she tasted better than a biscuit double-dunked in red eye gravy.” It reminds me of "Fancy Like" in just how blatantly un-dignified it is -- even if, unlike that song, it actually bothers to sound country.
"Don't Take the Girl" by Tim McGraw
As my disdain for "Humble and Kind" showed, I'm not afraid to go after some of Tim's more beloved songs. Even when I was 7, I thought this was hackneyed. From the forced name-drops in the first verse (Jimmy Johnson and Tommy Thompson? Really?) to the robber at the movie theater to the now-grown woman dying in childbirth, the melodrama just gets thicker and more contrived as it strains to match the hook. "Same chorus, three meanings" is such a common country music trope that can be done well or badly like anything else, but the lengths to which this one stretches are far beyond my suspension of disbelief. His whiny vocal does nothing but prove how much more nuanced he'd get in the coming years. It's not hard to see why I can only find one other charted single for either writer...
"Genuine Rednecks" by David Lee Murphy
How is this is the same David Lee Murphy behind such thoughtful songs as "The Road You Leave Behind" and "Dust on the Bottle"? Even worse is how blatantly he's ripping off his own "Party Crowd"; while that one had the setup of a likable everyman just wanting to ease his broken heart, this one lacks any semblance of setup other than "I want to party". There's an annoyingly judgmental tone to lines like "if you don't like them, you won't like me" and "where I do belong, it don't come with a crystal chandelier", combining with an overdone fake twang. It's not hard to see why this brought his singing career to a screeching halt, and it's only worse in hindsight when you follow the trail from this to his worst co-write by far, Josh Thompson's "Way Out Here.”
"The Man Song" by Sean Morey
My dad used to listen to The Bob & Tom Show when I was young. This was my first exposure to awkward foul-mouthed male comedian-singers whose work has mostly aged poorly, such as Tim Wilson (who, incidentally, co-wrote the aforementioned "Arab, Alabama"). From that same mold comes Sean Morey, who doesn't even really bother with the whole "singing" part. Instead, he recites rote non-jokes about a henpecked husband ("I wear the pants around here... when I'm finished with your laundry") that, even by 1998, seem extremely outdated, sexist, and not funny. But what do you expect from a man whose idea of a Christmas song is racist stereotypes, and whose apparent comedic pinnacle is called "The Hairy Ass Song?”
"Help Pour Out the Rain (Lacey's Song)" by Buddy Jewell
While the curiosity of a child is only natural, this song goes off the rails fast. No kid that isn't in the comic strip The Family Circus is going to think that the Milky Way Galaxy is literally a candy bar, or that angels "pour out the rain". (What you believe about Heaven is ultimately up to you, but I think most people -- even kids -- know that it's not just a visit.) And of course, this doe-eyed naïveté moves the narrator to pull over, cry, and pray about meeting Jesus, all while recounting the situation in a schmaltzy "la da dee" croon. Again, you can believe whatever you want as long as it's not harmful, because it's turtles all the way down the line. But this is the kind of over-the-top contrived schmaltz that doesn't even belong in a PureFlix movie.
I admit that I never cared for Blaine Larsen. Most of his songs (I'll give him "How Do You Get That Lonely") felt as if others were forcing this suave Southern gentleman style onto him against his will. But the only one that actively annoyed me was this one. Thankfully it isn't overtly racist like "Illegals" or "This Ain't Mexico,” and it at least bothers to get the Spanish mostly correct (outside a couple jokey lines like "señor blah blah blah blah"). But it still has a smug, condescending, and borderline creepy tone toward the attractive Mexican woman. It's hard not to read this as a horny 20-year-old trying to get laid. And cringeworthy "no one actually says that" lines like "J.Lo had nothing on her" don't help, either.
"I Got My Game On" by Trace Adkins
Most of Trace Adkins' novelties didn't bother me much. I'm not gonna say that "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” "Swing,” or "Ladies Love Country Boys" are good, but they at least seem like plausible everyman scenarios. This is just a rich cocky asshole bragging about his Cadillac, platinum credit card, Armani suit, and alligator boots, not to mention all the tail he's getting. Exactly what part of this is supposed to be entertaining or even relatable to anyone not among the elite? Maybe it catered to the people who would later watch him on The Apprentice. But for those of us who want no part of testosterone-fueled power fantasies, I'm just left wondering why he was so anxious to withdraw "I Wanna Feel Something" for new music if this is what he had to offer.
"I'll Walk" by Bucky Covington
This one almost feels like a parody of the old "use the chorus in three scenarios" trick. How do they go from having a fight on prom night, to her getting hit by a drunk driver, to him suddenly turning around any marrying her? The setup is so contrived, not to mention downright manipulative by dismissively framing the woman in the song as the vehicle for a horribly predictable outcome. There's no other emotion -- no guilt on his part, no anger on either of theirs. "The Walk" by Sawyer Brown was a million times better at recontextualizing different "walks" between two people, and "The Impossible" by Joe Nichols a million times better at handling someone overcoming a handicap.
Faith's bombastic country pop diva shtick was never my cup of tea outside "Cry,” and it was pretty passé by 2003. While Fireflies relegated the bombast to the deep cuts and went with an okay-to-great batch of singles, I guess she just had to get one last awful power ballad out of her. (I would expect no less out of a "hit factory" style songwriter such as Kara DioGuardi.) There's no semblance of originality to be found in this already outdated and sterile approach: "if it's a dream, don't wake me up,” "with me everywhere I am,” "can't believe we've come this far" are all belted to the rafters as if they're the most important truisms in the world when they're barely good enough to even put in a Hallmark card. At least "Red Umbrella", love it or hate it, had flavor.
"Maybe She'll Get Lonely" by Jack Ingram
This one came out at the same time as Lee Brice's "Happy Endings,” another song in which the narrator hopes that his ex will have a change of heart. A lot of songs have done it, and maybe if there weren't a much better take on the same premise out at almost exactly the same time... nah, this one would still be just about the least amount of imagination given to this premise. Screen door, kicking up dust, praying, turn that wheel around, love her/need her/can't live without her, too far gone -- there isn't a single original or interesting line that has even the tiniest bit of personality. There's barely even setup, and the hook is just weak-willed at best. This was around the same time that Pat Green was getting all of his edges sanded off in a failed attempt at going more "mainstream,” and for both him and Ingram, the results were just pitiful pandering that pleased nobody.
"Nothing Catches Jesus by Surprise" by John Michael Montgomery
What... is this song? One of the last credits for Waylon Jennings before his death, the first major misfire for Tom Douglas, and the first song that inspired me to write a part three to this list. Each couplet is just baffling in how random it is:"Catching Babe Ruth, catching Roger Maris / The way you caught my eye in Paris, Tennessee.” Every line afterward seems to be at least trying to aim at a parallel between worldly contradictions and an unlikely marriage working out, but misses its mark by a country mile. And what does Jesus have to do with any of it? How is any of this mishmash suggesting that anyone is trying to catch Jesus by surprise?
"The Obscenity Prayer (Give It to Me)" by Rodney Crowell
What a step down from his best song "Earthbound.” The "satire,” if you can call it that, is of a rich right-wing douchebag who wants a hot wife, a good body, booze, etc. -- but doesn't want to work for it. And it's delivered with no sense of subtlety, irony, or humor. Line after line is on-the-nose to the point of cringe: "I despise all bleeding hearts / I don't patronize the arts.” "You're tryin' to get me to show some compassion / Man, that's so outta fashion.” "The Dixie Chicks can kiss my ass / But I still need that backstage pass.” The song just drones on and on, long after it's made its thuddingly obvious point. I really hated to do this to the usually very talented and smart Rodney, but thankfully this and the equally navel-gazing "Sex and Gasoline" were the only missteps of his entire career.
Highways & Dance Halls seemed to finally mature Ty England after two mediocre hat-act albums, so how did he end up backsliding this hard? Sounding far weaker than ever, he plows through some of the worst redneck clichés on the planet in a manner that makes his previous groaner "Redneck Son" sound like Merle Haggard in comparison. He crams the phrase "jacked up" twice in the first verse alone, then lists off such things as sleeveless shirts, aggressive jingoism, "mow our lawn with a billy goat," guns, daddy, Skoal, NASCAR, and even a name-drop of Larry the Cable Guy's "git-r-done" catch phrase. The album leans into this caricature all the more with "The NRA Song,” "Stick to Your Guns,” and "Texans Hold 'Em.” I think even Jeff Foxworthy would tell this guy he's making rednecks look bad.
"Tail on the Tailgate" by Neal McCoy
You can hate "The Shake,” but ultimately I find that one too goofy to be bothersome. This, on the other hand, does not get a free pass. This guy gets a beat up old truck from his brother, who points out the one thing I don't want to know: "hey, I fucked a lot of women in this truck.” At that point, the only reaction should be "eww!" But instead, this sleazy little pervert takes the truck and does exactly the same thing with an already cliché party in the woods. While he tries to dismiss it with a "that ain't what you're thinkin'", how else am I even supposed to interpret that hook? It's fitting that this was an early Rodney Clawson co-write, because it fits right in with all the bro-country songs he'd later write.
"Whistlin' Dixie" by Randy Houser
Having "Dixie" in the title isn't even a concern when at least half the lyrics are a billion times worse. Let's start with "learn how to talk straight, not back / Or my little white butt get a whippin'" for some parenting as horrible as the grammar. Add to the pile shotguns, naked Southern women, drugs, and food, and then scream it over an overly-loud mishmash of guitars, and the result is headache-inducing on so many levels. At least "I'm All About It" seemed more lighthearted, but it's not hard to see why his second album got delayed. Thankfully, the downward slide from the very good "Anything Goes" would later be reversed in favor of the much better "Like a Cowboy" and "What Whiskey Does.”
"Fly" by Maddie & Tae
Hey, look, another motivational cliché song with a nonsensical hook. I thought we stopped doing those in 2002. "You can learn to fly on the way down" is not an inspiring image. If you're falling, it's too fast for you to suddenly learn how to fly; instead, you're just gonna face-plant into the ground. And now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's count off the clichés: "heart's a mess,” "find a way to make it,” "keep on climbing" (wait, weren't we just flying? Why are we now climbing?), "we've come this far,” "more to this than just the breath you're breathing.” While the song does sound less processed than others like it, that's not saying much when the lyrics are this bad. And why does it randomly shift from third to second person halfway through?
This song sounds like if "Uptown Funk" shat itself. As he tries to come off as the country boy who's still "street" enough to crash even the ritziest of parties, Eric Paslay does nothing but embarrass himself. What the hell does "Cadi up that Lac" even mean? Is he listening to the Lacs in his Cadillac? (The closed captioning on the official YouTube upload says it's "cattle up this 'Lac", which makes even less sense.) Not to mention the zero copula (that's the technical term for omitting verbs, as in "tonight we high class") that tiptoes dangerously close to "white person using AAVE". Add in the most forced name-drop of Justin Timberlake since "I'm a Saint,” and the result proves that you can't spell "high class" without "ass.”
"Hope You Get Lonely Tonight" by Cole Swindell
If I were to rank songs for "worst production choices,” this would be neck and neck with "Bob That Head.” The loud-ass drum machine that sounds like driving over rumble strips, the overdriven muddy guitars, and Cold and Rainy's wallpaper-paste voice all combine into sound (but no fury), signifying nothing. Maybe better production and a different vocalist might make this at least tolerable -- actually, no, it'd still be about drinking and kissing on a tailgate, drunk late-night sexting, and two white-trash doofuses screwing. So yeah, Michael Carter, I think you're off the hook with this one. Cole, however, can just go back to being the Save-a-Lot brand mayo that he is.
"REDNECKER" by HARDY
HARDY really started off on the wrong foot. I ended up hating this song so much that I also hated "ONE BEER" entirely by proxy until I finally analyzed it on its own merits. I get that he's at least trying to deconstruct the "list off redneck clichés" trope by one-upping them, but just like "The Worst Country Song of All Time" (which he also had a hand in), just doing the thing you're riffing on louder isn't the same as subverting it. And there is literally no reason for any song to include a lyric as gross as "I piss where I want.” Just like most Joey Moi productions, this one is all processed guitar and Auto-Tune. HARDY has had a few flashes of brilliance on there, but he started off so thoroughly on the wrong foot that I almost dismissed his entire career by proxy.
"The Rest of Our Life" by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill
I'm gonna be honest: I've never liked most Tim and Faith collabs because I find their vocal styles too dissimilar. And it's especially bad here, because Tim is way out of his range, straining and shaking to catch up to Faith's bellowing (especially on the chorus). And I can tell that Ed Sheeran wrote this, because it has his whimper-y sweet little nothings all over it. Other than jarringly out-of-place names for their kids (which has zero buildup, by the way) and somehow working in the word "waistline" (seriously, not even "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Fat" did that), it's just a bunch of mushy platitudes with no narrative connection. This just sounds like an even more embarrassing "Shape of You" clone.
"Honey Jack" by 17 Memphis
The intro to this, which sounds like a vaporwave remix of Kiiara's "Gold,” is probably the worst way to start out a song since "Bob That Head.” Then come the trap snares, played on quite possibly the same broken-as-fuck drum machine used on "Hope You Get Lonely Tonight.” Underneath this extremely ugly interior are laughably juvenile lyrics that take on backroads, whiskey, trucks, phones, etc. Both members of the duo actually have decent voices and there is some chemistry on the recording, but it's hard to tell with the farting synths, jackhammer drum machines, and Auto-Tune doing everything to drown them out. It's easy to see why these two didn't go anywhere.
"21" by Hunter Hayes
When your song's hook is "gonna party like we just turned 21" and you still sound like you're in kindergarten, what other reaction should I even have? I legitimately laughed out loud the first time I heard this. I want to like Hunter Hayes because of his child prodigy nature, but for the most part, his discography has leaned way too far into Disney Channel-esque teeny-bopper fluff for me to care. "Wanted" pissed me off by being extremely stale and one-dimensional, but this one annoys me for the opposite reason. It calls for an edge that Hunter just does not have. His musical image was already too squeaky-clean, and the song is just too lethargic for lyrics about "going crazy". This just sounds like a slower version of Rascal Flatts' "Summer Nights,” which itself is just an only slightly-less-bad rewrite of Hot Chelle Rae's "Tonight, Tonight.” And you know what they say about copies of copies.
"You Look Good" by Lady Antebellum
No, this isn't about the naming controversy. However, that whole scenario did make me reassess this duly lamentable group who does almost nothing but blandly emulate the worst of cheesy soft rock. Charles is as stuffy as ever, Hillary is as pitchy as ever; put them together, and you're just mixing two different bottles of warm water. Even with the horn section behind them, these two are just way too bland to even begin to convey the flash of spending New Year's in a penthouse or head-turning dudes in black jeans and shades. This is less outwardly offensive than Eric Paslay's attempts to crash upscale big-city parties, but it's almost more embarrassing in just how out of place they seem. (Fun fact: both "duly lamentable" and "blandly emulate" are anagrams of "Lady Antebellum.”)