Compared to the best list, the 1962 worst list was not quite as tough to fill out.
#10: Dee Dee Sharp- Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)
Dee Dee Sharp scored big this year with “Mashed Potato Time”, a frivolous little dance tune that shot all the way to #2 on the charts. In the brief research I’ve done on Sharp’s career I couldn’t find anything to confirm if this is actually true or not, but “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)” has the stink of a hastily-recorded cash-grab all over it, and I’d be entirely unsurprised to learn that it was shat out as quickly as possible to follow up on the success of “Mashed Potato Time”. For one, the actual music is a blatant copy, right down to the “wah-ooh” backing vocals that Bobby Pickett would later swipe for “Monster Mash” (which largely parodied Sharp’s work). For another… Okay, look. The “Mashed Potato” dance got its name because the little up-and-down hand motion looks a bit like you’re using your hands to mash up potatoes. It’s a silly, dumb name for a silly, dumb dance. But what the hell is “gravy” supposed to be in this context? The implication, as far as I can tell (“Now when the mash potato’s finally through/There’s lots of groovy, gravy things to do…”), is that it’s a certain, er, male bodily fluid. I’ll give Sharp credit, ‘after we’re done dancing, please bust a massive load all over me’ is at least an unusual premise for a dance song, but it’s also, for lack of a better word, pretty goddamn squicky, and nothing else about the song conveys that kind of dirtiness so the innuendo ends up feeling clumsy and accidental more than anything. This should have been buried by the sands of time along with other horribly misconceived follow-up singles like “Dance the Kung-Fu” and “Scatman’s World” and the fact that it became an actual top 10 hit is as bewildering as it is irksome.
#9: Ronnie and the Hi-Lites- I Wish That We Were Married
Fun fact: Until researching this song proved otherwise, I was convinced beyond any doubt that this song was sung by a woman. Mostly that’s because of vocalist Ronnie Goodson’s somewhat gender-neutral name and barely-pubescent, 14-year-old singing voice, but it’s also because this song is exactly the kind of mushy, lovey-dovey, teenybopper tripe your stereotypical doe-eyed young chanteuse would be singing in the early 60s. This song is crammed full of eyeroll-inducing melodrama, from the breathy, overwrought delivery of “never never never never” to literal, actual fake sobbing in the middle 8. This may sound harsh, but inserting crying sounds into your song to add emotion is nearly always a bad artistic choice. At best, at best it feels voyeuristic, like you’re listening in on someone else’s private emotional breakdown. At worst, it feels outright manipulative; an insultingly obvious attempt to tug at heartstrings the artist hasn’t bothered to earn access to, and that’s what “I Wish That we Were Married” is. It’s a humiliating performance all-around, as lacking in depth and nuance as the lyric’s understanding of marriage.
#8: Jimmy Clanton- Venus in Blue Jeans
Ugh, yep, not a whole lot to talk about with this one. Sub-par teen idol fare through-and-through, “Venus in Blue Jeans” is one of the most boringly bad songs I’ve covered thus far. Clanton’s voice, while not awful, is still barely adequate, the lyrics are all bland platitudes about how great his girlfriend is, and boy oh boy oh boy this brill building style has so thoroughly worn out its welcome at this point (not that I found it particularly welcome at any point in the past). It’s flat, it’s sterile- to steal a quip from fellow pop nerd Todd in the Shadows, there’s no there there. It’s pure product, pumped out by a corporation to make money and satisfy a demographic. When pop music is able to balance artistry and innovation with broad, populist appeal, we get enduring cultural touchstones cherished across multiple generations. When the artistry and innovation is sidelined, we get this- pure pabulum, just more meat for the knackery.
#7: Joanie Sommers- Johnny Get Angry
Plenty of songs this old promote decades-out-of-date gender norms, and while I can’t say I exactly enjoy 50s-era domesticity propaganda, by itself it isn’t egregious enough to land a song on a worst list. Somewhat rarer are the songs that flat-out endorse toxic or even abusive relationship dynamics. “Johnny Get Angry” is one such song. The opening lines paint a frankly frightening picture of the narrator’s relationship, showing her breaking up with her titular boyfriend in the hopes that it will get him upset enough that he’ll cajole her into calling the breakup off. That’s extraordinarily shitty by itself, but then comes the kicker: Johnny, though he’s clearly distraught, accepts her wishes and doesn’t press further, and Sommers has the absolute gall to blame him for how badly she feels over the whole thing. The whole song is Sommers wishing Johnny was more assertive and domineering, but instead of actually telling him that’s what she wants out of their relationship, she attempts to psychologically manipulate him into acting that way on his own. It’s horribly uncomfortable, and it’s made all the worse by framing that stubbornly refuses to accept that she’s doing anything wrong here! On a sonic level, there’s a kazoo solo. A kazoo being, as we all know, a child’s plaything and not a real instrument to be used in actual music. Joy.
#6: The Four Seasons- Sherry
It’s always harder to write about songs that I object to on a purely auditory level. I can’t explain why the lyrics endorse a worldview I disagree with, I can’t argue the song is bad because I don’t feel it accomplishes what it sets out to do, I can’t even really say the music detracts from the song’s meaning; my only recourse is to simply specify which aspect of the recording I find so unpleasant, and cross my fingers you feel the same way. This is one of those songs. At the end of the day, the only thing really wrong with “Sherry”, in my eyes, is Frankie Valli’s horrid, ear-splitting caterwaul. Falsetto singing is a tricky thing to pull off, so I suppose Valli does deserve some credit for hitting those high notes as accurately as he does, but when it’s all in service of “MI-YI-YI-YIIIINE” and the assorted other terrible squawks he squeezes from his throat across this track, I just can’t abide it in the slightest. The actual songwriting, when stripped to its bare bones, is a fairly harmless little pop tune, it’s just that shrill, piercing vocal delivery that single-handedly spoils the entire thing. Sometimes “passable” plus “awful” equals “awful”, and this song is a prime example of that. (As a little nitpick, I don’t want to properly ding the song for this, since I strongly suspect it wasn’t originally released this way, but every version I could find has the entire backing instrumental panned almost entirely into my left headphone, making an already-grating song that much more aggravating to listen to)
#5: Dion- Little Diane
“Little Diane” finds Dion rapidly burning through the fairly meager goodwill he had left over from “Runaround Sue” with a markedly inferior kiss-off to an unfaithful partner. Where “Runaround Sue” was definitely a bit on the scornful side, it was ultimately still quite lighthearted. More to the point, it sounded like Dion and his band were actually having some fun. And “Little Diane” is absolutely no fun. It’s sour and ugly and minor-key and Dion sounds every bit the petty, resentful ex-boyfriend he wasn’t on “Runaround Sue”. Then there’s the “evil little child” line, and I know I harp on this a lot, but is it really so hard to write a song about a girl and not make it sound like she’s 13? Oh, and instead of the bombastic backing chorus we got on “Runaround Sue”, there’s yet more kazoo. A lot of artists on this list are just flat-out talentless hacks, but to hear this crap from a guy who’s proven how much more he’s capable of is a real disappointment.
#4: Pat Boone- Speedy Gonzales
Ah, and speaking of talentless hacks! No survey of bad early-60s music would be complete without at least a mention of Pat Boone. The man has come to be regarded as one of early rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest villains thanks to his nasty habit of swiping material from black artists and repackaging it in his own insufferably wholesome image, as well as his long history of odious political stances. If there’s one guy who undoubtedly belongs on these worst lists, it’s him. That said, I’ve gotta break rank here and say his first year-end hot 100 entry, 1961’s “Moody River”, is actually pretty decent in my opinion. Nothing mind-blowing, sure, but as far as middle-of-the-road country pop goes I’ve certainly heard much worse. But then 1962 came around, and Mr. Boone finally fulfilled his destiny of being just absolutely, unbearably awful. The result is “Speedy Gonzales” a charmless little rocker featuring 1) a wholly excruciating vocal refrain courtesy of Robin Ward and 2) Mel Blanc doing the Speedy Gonzales voice from Looney Tunes. The biggest problem here is that the song doesn’t really have anything to do with the famous cartoon mouse apart from the fact that it uses his name, so when Blanc interjects some inane racial stereotype about liking tequila or whatever, it feels like he’s just doing an offensive Mexican accent, not voicing an actual character. As with many of these songs, I’d imagine it falls a bit different on my modern ears than it would have back in the day, but given Boone’s extremely spotty history with race issues, It’s pretty easy to assume the worst and imagine him recording this song because he thought those wacky Mexicans would be easy to mock for some cheap hyucks. Har har har.
#3: Jimmy Dean- P.T. 109
Following in the footsteps of Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismarck”, “P.T. 109” is further proof that naval combat is not a topic that lends itself well to the pop charts. At the very least, I’m willing to say outright that the types of people who find naval combat fascinating are just not the sorts who know how to pen a quality pop tune. Like “Sink The Bismarck”, this song is gravely hurt by its hopelessly lame, boy-scout-campfire-song tone and stiff, marching tempo. Still, my biggest issue with “P.T. 109” and so many songs like it is that they’re too interested in recounting the literal series of events that transpired, and the more interesting, humanizing details that could have made it resonate get left by the wayside. Of course, this one also pivotally features a line about the titular ship being sunk by a “Jap destroyer”, which, boy, that sure is a choice of words Jimmy Dean made.
#2: Ray Stevens- Ahab the Arab
We’re really on a hot streak of “songs embodying the vague, uncomfortable racism of a bygone generation”, and here we have arguably the worst of them all, courtesy of one Ray Stevens. Stevens will be a perennial favorite of these worst lists over the next dozen or so years, because while his more straight-faced material mostly consisted of palatable (if rather unexciting) mainstream country, the man also churned out track after track of punishingly unfunny novelty songs. He was the Nickelback of musical comedy: inexplicably successful across well over a decade despite proving time and time again his complete ineptitude at his own craft. This, Stevens’ first big hit, features a passage of stock middle eastern bellydancing music rather haphazardly incorporated into his usual sonic palette of herp-a-derp country-pop, and twice Stevens sings in a nonsensical Arabic simlish before clarifying that “that’s ay-rab for [so-and-so]”, and the effect is comparable to hearing your great-uncle casually refer to Asians as “ching-chongs” at a family reunion. There are one or two moments that, if you squint, resemble an actual joke (an unexpected reference to Lonnie Donegan, a harem girl drinking “co-cola”, etc), but Stevens’ overly-enthusiastic delivery gives this song a thick sheen of hacky flop-sweat they simply can’t overcome.
#1: Eddie Hodges- (Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love
Last year, Eddie Hodges put in a worthy entry to the 1961 suck-parade with the dreadfully irritating “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door”, which only escaped a proper thrashing on that year’s worst list due to its forgettability. Sadly, the little twit was seemingly determined to prove his mettle, and indeed, this year found him more hateable than ever with “(Girls, Girls, Girls) Made to Love”. This song drops the annoying sound effects that stunk up his previous hit, but very much maintains that song’s sense of utter disregard for women’s feelings and desires. “I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door” showed how cute and charming Hodges and his handlers thought it was for a young man to relentlessly hound a woman until she gives in and agrees to date him, which casts “Made to Love”’s message of “women exist for your personal gratification” in an even more unflattering light. Here’s the real kicker, though: it doesn’t even coherently argue that point! Say what you will about “A Hundred Pounds of Clay”, but at least Gene McDaniels made an earnest attempt to sell his shitty beliefs about women! Here… what am I even listening to? Some girls have blue eyes because they’re “made to love”? Some girls are short because they’re “made to love”? Where’s the connection? There’s no logical throughline here, it’s all just half-formed reactionary babbling. To make matters even worse, Hodges sells it with all the mindless automation of a schoolboy parroting some regressive horseshit he picked up from his parents, and the song is horribly, incessantly chipper. It’s a happy, shiny bauble of a tune that spouts sexist, decades-expired drivel with hardly any rhyme or reason, like a puppy obliviously pissing all over your carpet. There are other songs on this list that might be more incompetently constructed, more noxious in their messaging, or more purely irritating to listen to than this, but this one is by far the most even distribution of all three. In a year so painfully bereft of worthwhile music, only a song this roundly worthless could be crowned the worst of the year.
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