Music: Worst of the 80s Versus Worst of the 90s

by Shawn Mahaney on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 9:24pm ·

Music: Worst of the 80s Versus Worst of the 90s


Recently Rolling Stone magazine ran two reader polls, asking for the worst songs from the 1980s and the 1990s.  I would normally use such an occasion to point out that Rolling Stone is the most music-free title in the history of music rags; but in this case it’s all on the readers – the editors wisely disown the results.  The results mostly show us the #1 problem with direct democracy: Idiots can vote.



It seems that the chief problem with any of these songs is them being overplayed, ad nauseum.  By that count, the 80s are at a major disadvantage.  Listening options opened up tremendously over the course of the 90s.  In 1986, the last summer I spent sitting home without a job, there was one MTV, ten FM radio stations, and cassette tapes that didn't permit random access.  But lets see if the 80s can overcome that handicap and come out on top if we line up the two surveys.

Let's rock.


Since it was, we presume, a fair populist vote, the results should be comparable and each give an honest showing for the represented decade.  So we’re going to put the candidates up head-to-head, and see of the 80s really were that awesome compared to the soul-withering void that was the 90s.  (The analysis will be perfectly objective, honest!)


[Having had the benefit of thankfully never ever hearing half of the 90s entries, this author did check out the videos in the Rolling Stone articles – go back and give them a ‘spin’ if you need to.]


10) At #10 the 90s put 4 Non Blondes, “What's Up”, against Rick Astley, “Never Gonna Give You Up”.

Mildly annoying Bally’s background music, versus a massive internet phenomenon.  Is that all you got, 90s?  Try again.


9) Ninth place has Right Said Fred – “I'm Too Sexy” vs Taco, “Puttin' on the Ritz”.  The 90s could have done worse here, a lot worse, like “Rico Suave” from Gerardo.  Either way you’ve got tasteless douchebag gym mirror whores trying to spray tan all over a slick modern cover of a song all about showing some classy style.  

You did Jersey Shore before its time, 90s.


8) A big contest for painful overplayed-ness is here at #8, Baha Men, “Who Let the Dogs Out” and Toni Basil, “Mickey”.  The comically slight boastfulness of Who Let the Dogs Out was not improved when Bob Dole used it.  But the simple joy of Mickey was enthroned for life when covered by Weird Al’s “Hey Ricky”.


7) Big off-speed hits at #7: Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.  Dion’s smash single was oddly underproduced, with understated instruments and a song with no chorus that barely goes anywhere, and she DOESN’T SING.  Listen to it again. The whole time she whispers the lyrics like a sophomore choir student at the mic for a solo for the very first time.  And she has to repeat this performance three nights a week, forever.  Bobby McFerrin went back to working with the top orchestras in the world.


6) It’s tough to compare the ‘winners’ in 6th place.  We have Hanson’s “MMMBop” looking up at “Rock Me Amadeus” from Falco.    A boy band with a single digit average age against a pseudo tribute to a 250 year old; upbeat guitar-rock dancing circles around chunky rap-rock; a video of the boys in street clothes bouncing around versus a serious-looking period piece…  I have to give this one the 90s.  I had never heard MMMBop until now, but it was pretty well put together, for an unambitious happy piece.  Plus I HATE Mozart.


5) It’s much easier to compare the fifth place songs, Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”, and Men Without Hats, “The Safety Dance”.  The Safety Dance is everything that was wrong with 80s pop:  no chorus, abuse of undeveleoped synth patches, default drum machine patterns, and overdone Brit-style vocals.  And it’s STILL better than Tubthumping, which manages to avoid being either amusing or important, upbeat or serious.


4) In fourth place are pop giants with rap sheets.  Wait, no, Vanilla Ice doesn’t have a rap sheet – that would’ve given him some actual street cred.  Anyway, we have “Ice Ice Baby” facing off with “Wake Me Up (Before You Go Go)” from Wham!.  First remember that this is not about videos - please, please do not think about that Wham! video.  Note also that George Michael was and is a supremely talented vocalist, and the song was and is a very successful Motown throwback.  Whereas Vanilla Ice was and is… hoping to get back into the reality TV circuit.


3) Third place is easy, as we are presented with Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” and “Lady in Red” from Chris de Burgh.  Achy Breaky Heart made Cyrus a brand name and ultimately brought us Hannah Montana.  Versus Kelly LeBrock.

End of discussion.

[Note from author’s editor/parole officer: The author is prohibited from mentioning or making any decisions based on anything to do with Vanessa Hudgens, which may have cost the Hannah Montana side.  This contest will be called a tie.]


#2: Los Del Rio – “Macarena” vs Europe – “The Final Countdown”.  The Final Countdown is still played, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, at major events all over.  The Macarena is not played even at a budget bar mitzvah.

80s win again.


Now, vying for the top spot in the most hated song of the 80s and the 90s, our leading contenders are...


1) In the red corner, representing the 1980s, surviving eight thousand four hundred thirty seven and a half band break-ups and remembering almost half of the 60s, it's Starship with the immaculately produced, customized for each radio market, "We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)".  In the blue corner, reprezentin' the nineteeze, we have the half-hit-wonder Aqua with their fastidiously "unique" (outside of all of J-pop, and the first 37 Abba albums) song "Barbie Girl".  Leeeeeet's get ready to... cry in our drinks at the waste of human endeavor.  The Starship track is clinical and contrived, perfectly radio-friendly if uninspiring.  But we must grant that it's a well-constructed professional effort.  Barbie Girl had some quirky 'alternative charm', evading the corporate gloss - until Mattel latched on to it for an ad campaign!  Advantage again to the 80s.


So there it is.  At 8-1-1, the 1980s still rule as the most awesome, radical, tubular, Max Headroom-y decade of the modern era.  And if you don't like it, EAT MY SHORTS.


[I've tagged a few 20- and 30-somethings who might care to take exception to this, except that they're all way too cool.]

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