The Sour Sixteen: Search for the Worst Song Ever
Quick: what’s the sourest song ever written? The answer is “Muskrat Love.” The runner up: “Sylvia’s Mother.”
Don’t even try to appeal this ruling. These sour notes were voted upon, then crowned through a sophisticated bracketology. More importantly, they were honed with a margarita mixology. When nine friends, eerily the same number as supreme court justices—all in their 50s and 60s—meet each year in Rumson, New Jersey for the NCAA Tournament, it’s the Big Chill meets AARP. Hoops are a sideshow. ‘Tis the Season for the Sweet—and, this year—the Sour Sixteen.
I always have a queer old time with my eight straight brethren. Last year, as a diversion from wall-to-wall basketball we bracketed the 16 top actresses—living or dead. Bette Davis got to the finals and was almost beaten by Kate Hepburn when I pulled out my gay credentials, declared myself a super delegate, and put Bette over the top. Yes, I jammed the ballot box for Jezebel and she sunk a three pointer at the buzzer. So this year, our spot-on observer of really bad lyrics, Jim, invented the bracket game to identify the worst song ever. We would serve as the Nine Supreme Court Justices of the Juke Box. Bad Song-A-Palooza 2012.
The judicial process: submit the most heinous crimes of “tune-less-ness” by March 1, and Jim would bracket them before the Sweet Sixteen weekend. Duke was ineligible for the tournament, but “Duke of Earl” qualified if someone hated it enough. Got it? Well, controversy began before the first round was posted.
I channeled my inner gay drag queen and submitted “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”—a song that drops more Gs than Sarah Palin at a Tea Party in Alabama—and a tune made legendary by Nancy “My Father is the Dean” Sinatra. Some judges loved this song and questioned its entry. But as was pointed out by Judge Judy (actual name), Ms. Sinatra sang these exact words verbatim: “you keep samin’ when you oughta be changin’….” Earth to boots: with or without the “g” samin’ is not a word! So on a conference call, Jim’s wife injects: “Let’s not forget she also sang…there I go and spoil it all by sayin’ somethin’ stupid like I love you.” She shoulda been changin’ (them lyrics).
But we couldn’t put two Sinatra songs in one 32-song contest. So the chief justice ruled: we’d give all three of them (Nancy and her boots) a lifetime achievement award.
Judge Sue artfully designed a fabulous poster for the brackets with photos of every artist and positioned it on an easel. With the blender whirring, we judges sat and listened, wastin’ away again in Margaritaville, to all 32 submissions. There were a lot of eight to one votes, but just as many five to four. This court leaned both left and right—sometimes shimmying like your sister Kate.
Drama! Controversy surrounds my submission of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The hostess, Judge Laurie informs me that her parents were once passengers on the ship and she hands me a coffee table book that she used to read to her children about it. Well, what’s a faux tournament without a faux pas? Silly me.
I thought that a lake named “Gitchee Gumee” immediately qualified old Gordon Lightfoot for the Sour 16—but the hostess with the mostess attitude was not amused. Luckily, her husband broke the tension by sharing that his friend in high school, Gordon McCool, lost two toes in a hockey game skating accident—and they called him Gordon “Lightfoot” from that day forward. Phew! Nothing like dismemberment to lighten the mood.
Within two pitchers of margs, we were down to the sour 16—the highlight of which was Judge Jeanette doing a scarily perfect Helen Reddy during “I Am Woman”—reminding us all that no matter what the beat, or the note, Helen was only ready to sing—never move. She could roar, but move? Never more than a forearm at a 45 degree angle from the elbow. But we judges sure moved during “Disco Duck.” (Flapping my arms, I began to cluck. Look at me I’m the disco duck.)
My money was on two layups: “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” because anyone who contrived a faux lyric to rhyme with Yo Yo (or versa vice-a) screams sour 16. Secondly, the quintessential campiest camp of all camp is Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me.” I begged, I pleaded, I bribed. (I swear, I did. A dollar a judge.)
Well, we had to say goodbye to “Precious and Few,” “Feelings,” “Knock Three Times,” “MacArthur’s Park,” “Honey (I miss you),” and—despite a call from the Santorum campaign, we nixed “Havin’ My Baby.” Charlene got to “Me” and hung in for the final four—bribery works!
“Sylvia’s Mother” came out of nowhere. Find it on iTune and you’ll hear why Mrs. Avery and the operator, coping with an inconsolable stalker, made it to the finals. (“And the operator says forty cents more for the next three minutes!”)
But it was “Muskrat Love”’s “gerbil” sounds that turned “Disco Duck” and every other tune to road kill. Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam were “nibblin on bacon, chewin on cheese.” They whirled and they twirled and they tangoed—just like the nine judges.
And I’d give way more than forty cents for the next three minutes with my friends. To quote another sour song with true sweet sentiment: Precious and few are the moments…
So just be happy we’re not on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Brent Mundt makes a living in DC and a life in Rehoboth.