Lyzette’s 15 Worst Hit Singles of 2018

Here we go, folks! Year-end list season has officially begun, and as I stated in my schedule for list season, this one is first. Posting my list of the worst songs of the year just always made sense to me, since I’m free to just forget they ever existed the second I click ‘publish’!

Enough has been said about the real-life atrocities and bleak darkness of 2018 for me to dwell on those parts of the year – here, I’ll only be talking about the pop music of the year. I’ve got to be honest, though. I’ve been avidly keeping up with the Hot 100 since the tail end of 2015 and while that isn’t really that long at all, it’s enough for me to know that this is the least interested I have ever been in a chart year. I want to be clear with what I mean by that – for the past four years, I’ve been progressively working my way through the top 100 songs of every year since 1957, when the Hot 100 began. I recently wrapped up my overview of 1987, so now I’ve got 30 years of charts under my belt. Out of all thirty of these chart years, with the addition of the four chart years between 2015-2018… I felt like I was wasting my time with this year’s pop songs more often than any other year I’ve covered.

Now there have certainly been worse years, that’s for sure. But with this year in particular, I felt like nothing I listened to was contributing anything new or interesting that didn’t already exist in some form. Continuing from 2017, rap still dominates, with trap and mumble rap being the most prominent this year – but while there were a decent number of songs that were legitimately enjoyable, most of it was just a grimy cloud of drug abuse and gun violence. Pop music is still rearing its head here and there, but the age of the pop star has shifted into non-recognizability and the production of these songs tends to be just plain bad. Rock music has suffered an even poorer fate, with only a couple of bands crossing over into the pop charts and only with messy, blown-out instrumentals and a lack of the energy these bands possessed in the 2000s. The worst songs of the year, though, all had one thing in common: they added absolutely nothing new to conversation and only work to fill up sonic space in uniquely obnoxious ways.

I’ll get more into it down below! Just like last year’s list and the best and worst lists of 2016, songs are only eligible for this list if they peaked within the top 40 and would not have qualified for the 2017 list. For this year, though, I’ll introduce a new rule: songs that have been in the top 40 for at least two weeks will be given priority over all others. 2018 gave us a whole bunch of album bombs and many of these non-singles tracks ranked pretty high on the chart before plummeting the following week. To talk in length about more than a couple of these tracks would just be a waste of time on my part and relatively uninteresting on readers’ parts. After all, it’s far more interesting to gripe about the bonafide, unarguable hits!

And with that, I won’t any more time… on with my WORST HIT SINGLES FROM 2018!

15) “Dame Tu Cosita” by El Chombo

My apologies for leading off this list with some particularly nightmare-inducing single cover imagery. Make no mistake, though, this song isn’t ranked at the bottom because it’s the least bad of any of these. On the contrary, I feel that it’s the least song-like of any of these entries… if that makes any sense. The lone fact that the guy behind “Chacarron Macarron” achieved a Hot 100 hit leaves me pretty dumbfounded overall. And yes, I know that a viral meme is really all to blame for this becoming at all relevant – with this overwhelmingly mindless repetition and unpleasant raunchiness. The sonic equivalent to getting a dentist drill right through the eardrum.


14) “End Game” by Taylor Swift ft. Ed Sheeran and Future

Yeah, the bottom rung of this list is basically a glorified version of the dishonorable mentions. Taylor Swift’s album Reputation is mostly a 2017 release, but January ’18 saw this song nested in the top 40 for a few weeks so I think it’s worth a mention here. While so many ragged on “Look What You Made Me Do” a year ago, I think this song is the real stinker of the album. I’m actually not that opposed to this production – a little bit Swifty pop, a little bit trap – and Future actually makes his short presence worthwhile. Swift and Sheeran, though, are so completely out of their element, it’s laughable. Not to mention the, “Big reputation, big reputation” line, which sounds embarrassingly forced. I suspect that most have forgotten about this cut by now – all the better.

13) “Everyday” by Logic and Marshmello

So, this song only spent a single week in the top 40, but clung around the bottom half of the list to qualify it as a minor hit for rapper Logic and EDM producer Marshmello. While I’ve in the past spewed some vitriol for Logic’s hit last year “1-800-273-8255” (my #2 worst song of last year), I’m actually not totally opposed to Logic as a performer. He tends to have some pretty corny songs here and there, but he also possesses the talent and ability to throw out some pretty cool lines every so often. This, however, is not the song for that. Let’s just take a look at the chorus: “I work hard every mother fuckin’ day / I work hard, I work hard… Today is my day, it’s my day, and no matter what they say / It’s my day, la-la-la-la-la-la”. Yeah, you can probably see what the problem is. While this is my main qualm with the song, he’s clearly just phoning in the rest of the tune lyrically. Marshmello’s backup adds some interesting atmosphere, but it’s useless with no adequate substance to back it up. Best to leave this one behind.

 

12) “RAP DEVIL” by Machine Gun Kelly

Alright, now here we go with the actual hits. And here we got one of the many diss tracks that blew up through the year, this one from Machine Gun Kelly aimed at veteran rapper Eminem. Essentially, while there is some potential here for something truly biting, MGK instead settles for some pretty limp insults. In the chorus, he remarks on his “sweatsuits and corny hats”, and later on he throws punches on such biting subject matter as his choice of reading material (“All you do is read the dictionary and stay inside”) and his height (“How could I even look up to you? You ain’t as tall as me / Five eight and I’m six four”). While there are some creative references to some of Eminem’s past work, these lines are still just as corny as all the rest. Even though I’m not nearly as fond of Em’s response track “Killshot” as everyone else seemed to be (he’s still bad…), at least it effectively elevated the beef while marking Mathers as the clear winner. This, though, is just pointless.

11) “FRIENDS” by Marshmello and Anne-Marie

And now for the second of two Marshmello entries. If I could appreciate this song for one aspect, it’s the fact that the verses possess a fair bit of a punch to its attitude, which is something that can’t be said for the majority of the entries here. Even its pre-chorus ain’t all bad – even if the line, “Don’t look at me with that look in your eye” is just lazy songwriting. Where it all falls apart is in the chorus, which is more mellow and downbeat than this song needs. We could use Demi Lovato’s 2017 hit “Sorry Not Sorry” as a counterexample – yeah, I know it was my #20 worst hit of the year, but at least the buildup to the chorus is delicious and well-rewarded! It also doesn’t help that Anne-Marie just isn’t a good enough of a singer to make these lines really kick. Marshmello’s contribution, as in “Everyday”, is just fine – well, except for that weird G-Funk bit before the final chorus, which just feels forced and awkward. Anyway, this is just a limp, faceless kind of song that really could have been something more… but alas.

10) “Te Bote (Remix)” by Nio García, Darell, and Casper Mágico ft. Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam, and Ozuna

I always feel a little bit bad ragging on non-English tunes, because I know deep inside that part of my dislike for it has to do with my not being fluent in its language and therefore at least a little bit being lost in translation. I have to say, though, that this might have been the very worst reggaeton hit of the year – I could not stand it. I guess having Ozuna sing the main hook wasn’t a good idea, as his voice is easily the most insufferable in the entire gaggle of vocalists featured here. I have no idea how Ozuna has become one of the biggest names in the whole scene, as his voice has never not just been absolutely grating. Bad Bunny, Darell, and Casper Mágico all seem to blend into one another in equally drowsy, absolutely dull flows. Nio García just leaves no impression at all, and while Nicky Jam is easily the best one here, at this point I’m just far too tired to even give much of a damn about his performance. Because this song does, in fact, run for nearly seven minutes. All while mindlessly repeating the same basic, tedious melody again and again, with no variation or switch-up whatsoever – though there is plenty of toxic masculinity to go around, if we’re being honest. This sucks.

9) “Get Along” by Kenny Chesney

Yep… just like my past couple of year-end lists, there will be country music on here. I feel like maybe I’m a bit unfairly biased against the genre, but really it’s only because the state of country is currently at a slump and has been for a while. They aren’t always so obviously bad, though – take this song from country vet Kenny Chesney, for example. The guitar twang is pleasant and the chorus has a casual melody with lyrics about tolerance. That’s not bad, right? Well, this is a country song, so of course there’s got to be some kind of “turn the other cheek” connotation, which does not work in today’s world. The fact that the chorus also co-opts Rodney King’s famous quote (“Can’t we all get along?”) for its own means leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The final nail in the coffin for me, though, was the sexist second verse that comes utterly out of nowhere: “Saw a model on a billboard, 1-800-get to know me / Wondered was she Photoshopped or were her eyes really that lonely?”. I wonder why so many made a fuss about the similar line in Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” (and reasonably so), yet no criticism of this particular line seems to exist. Not all country music is bad, sure, but this tune and its success doesn’t give me much hope for the immediate future.

8) “Meant To Be” by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

And now, inexplicably, the longest running number-one single on the country charts – of all time! II really can’t decide what I hate the most about this song. Is it the basic-ass trap beat undercutting everything? Is it the lame-ass introductory verse (“Baby, lay on back and relax / Kick your pretty feet up on my dash”)? Is it the utterly slapdash nature of that annoyingly repetitive chorus? Is it the way that one guy sings, “Whoa, hold up, girl”? Is it that total joke of a bridge (“Maybe we do, maybe we don’t / Maybe we will, maybe we won’t”)? I’m sure it’s a little bit of everything all at once. I already knew that FGL were bad, but I’m mostly disappointed at the downfall of Bebe Rexha here. Her chorus in G-Eazy’s “Me, Myself, & I” was easily a high point in late 2015/early 2016 pop music, while this one here is just so grating. I’m sure I probably shouldn’t complain that this song runs at under three minutes and thus is here and gone before I know it – considering that it’s a bad song, that should actually work in its favor. But I think its short length only further emphasizes how little effort they placed in cranking this one out.

7) “Life Changes” by Thomas Rhett

And the third and final country song of the list. I had a hard time deciding whether this one or “Get Along” should be ranked higher – but then I decided that the absolute smugness represented in this song’s lyrics made it the worst by a full head and shoulders. It’s even more painful considering that Thomas Rhett also had a hit this year with a song that’s made my shortlist for the best of 2018 (watch out for that one soon!). Anyway, I guess I’m just slightly irritated with songs that brag about making the big time with little to no effort placed in getting there. Sure, hedonism in pop lyrics is a thing, but here Rhett talks about going to college and composing a “notebook full of bad songs” – and poof! Just like that, he’s famous. This same air of nonchalance happens when he describes his wife getting that “blue check mark by her Instagram” and their adopting a child from Uganda, only to have one more on the way. And in between these verses is that just-as-insufferable chorus: “Ain’t it funny how life changes? / You wake up, ain’t nothing the same”. Yes, it’s breezy and catchy, and I’m probably just in the wrong for despising it as I am for hating the similarly breezy, catchy “Simple”. But I guess I don’t need to hear about how great Thomas Rhett’s life is – with him being one of the biggest names in Nashville in recent years, it’s nothing I’m not already well aware of.

6) “Taste” by Tyga ft. Offset

Lately there seems to be this unsettling trend of folks forgetting that Tyga is just as bad of a rapper as he is an awful person. To be fair, though, the utter unpleasantness of this song isn’t completely Tyga’s fault alone. The song was produced by D.A. Doman, who previously produced Chris Brown’s atrocious “Privacy” and, later, “ZEZE” by Kodak Black, Travis Scott, and Offset (which would have probably made this list if it had been released earlier). And yes, Doman also produced “Swish”, which is such a lazy carbon copy of this tune – just listen to it yourself. But let’s get to “Taste” itself! First of all, its main sample loop feels so lazily pasted on and gets old incredibly fast – which is too bad, considering that it goes on and on with absolutely no variation. And these lyrics! Amongst a barrage of typical flexing, Tyga claims that he’ll “stick to your bitch like a spray tan”, while she “sucks [him] like a fuckin’ Hi-C”. Yep, all the same sickening sexism clothed in eye-roll-inducing metaphors. Offset is on here too, which is fine – I generally like him when he isn’t being a homophobic mess! His verse is okay, but it’s clear that he’s phoning it in, chiming in with his signature flow while also getting on Tyga’s level with the line, “Like the way she suck it, suck it like a Jolly”. And I get it – this all has to do with “taste” and it’s multiple definitions. I’ve always just been pretty unfazed by Tyga’s attitude and personality in tunes like “Rack City” and “Make It Nasty” – this is just another one to add to the dull, lifeless pile.

Once again, before we move on to the top five, here’s a short list of dishonorable mentions that I felt deserved to be alluded to, before I presumably leave them behind forever:

  • “Filthy” by Justin Timberlake: I feel like everyone at this point is content to just pretend like JT’s whole Man of the Woods shtick didn’t happen. But boy do I remember it, especially the wretched taste in my mouth I had upon the first and subsequent listens of the lead single, “Filthy”. From the messy production to the annoying lyrics, this is certainly a low point for the pop idol.
  • “The Middle” by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey: A good chunk of the pop music from 2018 fits in this irritatingly middle ground (no pun intended) of “bad, but too soulless to give much of a damn about”. While basically following the cookie-cutter formula of Zedd’s “Stay” from the previous year, “The Middle” has a tendency to just go in one ear and out the other, with no big fuss in either direction. It’s a shame that Maren Morris’s career seems to be content on treading this path, considering how promising it started out being.
  • “Wait” by Maroon 5: I actually enjoyed this for the first couple of listens. And then that chorus went from kind of cute to just maddening in its repetition. The song is in the same brand of mindless fluff that Maroon 5’s been churning out the past couple years. More on that later…
  • “Call Out My Name” by The Weeknd: Wherein The Weeknd croons and whines his way through heartbreak in typical melodramatic Weeknd fashion. There’s seriously nothing here that hasn’t already been iterated in a number of songs from the guy, and the bitterness spewed here doesn’t make for a pleasant listen whatsoever.
  • “Esskeetit” by Lil Pump: Lil Pump is often named among one of the “good” mumble rappers, namely for the nonsensical, tongue-in-cheek style he often employs. While I can see the appeal in something as ridiculous as “Gucci Gang”, for example, I just can’t here. The production is grating as hell, and the lyrical repetition, while sarcastic to the core, just doesn’t have enough substance behind it to make it worthwhile. Regrettably, it’s beat is too sluggish to make it even slightly worthwhile!
  • “Yes Indeed” by Lil Baby and Drake: Drake’s had his fingers in a lot of pies these last couple of years, and while I’ve never held nearly the same amount of vitriol that others seem to have for him, his single verse on this up-and-coming rapper’s breakthrough single is about as phoned in as I’ve ever heard him. Literally not a single line sticks out, whereas Baby’s rhymes stick out for all the wrong reasons. I don’t want to get too into it here, but the “Wah wah wah” line just about sums it up.
  • “Yikes” by Kanye West: “Yikes” just about sums up this whole year for Kanye West… honestly, while Ye is the most underwhelmed I’ve ever been about any of his albums, it’s less bad than it is just plain forgettable and throwaway. Still, the Russell Simmons line in this one is worth keeping in mind – just another major failure on West’s part.
  • “Simple” by Florida Georgia Line: This one almost made this list… and then at the last minute, I decided I couldn’t really justify in words why I hate it. It’s as down-to-earth as FGL have ever been, the guitars are pleasant, there’s a cute message behind it… but still. Every time it gets stuck in my head (which is quite often, by the way), I just feel miserable. It’s grating in ways that I can’t quite put to words – so I won’t. I’ll admit I’m probably incorrect in this judgment… but it doesn’t feel like I am.
  • “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes: I’m so ridiculously on the fence about this song. For one thing, the on-the-fly freestyle quality of its production really shows, and not in a good way. These lyrics are awful, Wes can’t hold a note, and the repetition of its droning hook really grates after just a few seconds. But then there’s that midway breakdown (you know the one) that almost makes it all worthwhile… until that also gets just as annoying. It’s not as terrible as they say, but it’s also not as good.
  • “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran: It’s true that this was my least favorite hit single from 2017, though I’d confess that much of it was due to the sheer overplay around Christmastime. It’s too bad, then, because the song continued to chart until it finally fell off in October, a good chunk of its run spent in and around the top twenty. Maybe I was a bit too hard on it initially, but I still find it insufferably dull and insipid. I hope Sheeran doesn’t continue to create a career out of wedding ballads – he’s far too talented for that.

And now time for the BOTTOM FIVE OF THE YEAR! (And trust me – these are all real doozies)

5) “Girls Like You” by Maroon 5 ft. Cardi B

While Maroon 5 have been on pretty unsteady ground since they’ve become huge the past few years, it seems that they’ve been particularly bland since about 2016. While “Animals” was at least an interesting kind of bad, it takes me a couple seconds to even decipher the differences between “Don’t Wanna Know”, “Cold”, “What Lovers Do”, and “Wait”. None of these songs add anything new to the conversation, except in the sense that they’ve broadened the dimensions of boredom I can feel while listening to a Maroon 5 song. They’ve never been a great band, sure, but it’s more and more felt like their work is devolving into a characterless, droning sludge with a “Pop Music of the Late 2010s” sticker pasted on it.

And then there’s “Girls Like You”, the song that feels like their magnum opus of sonic monotony. The fact that the introductory guitar is quickly drowned out to the back of the mix only a few seconds into the song should warn listeners what is to come next. And then that first couple lines of the first verse, sung flatly by Adam Levine: “Spent 24 hours, I need more with you / You spent the weekend getting even, woo-ooh”. There’s so little effort made here at lyrical development, it’s almost comical. And then there’s that dreadful earworm of a chorus: “‘Girls like you run ’round with guys like me ’til sundown / When I come through, I need a girl like you, yeah yeah”. That first line alone is as useful of a statement as, “these shoes go with those pants”. In general, though, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to feel from this. Should I feel empowered? Happy? Bittersweet? I feel none of the above. Never mind that they brought in the usually great Cardi B in to do basically her equivalent of Offset’s verse in “Taste”, yet somehow more forgettable. The fact that this went to number-one for seven weeks only proves that a huge amount of people confuse flavorless universality for something more meaningful. This will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

4) “Sad!” by XXXTentacion

I would like to start this off by saying that my criticisms for this track (and X’s music in general) have nothing to do with the audience who have found their own meaning in his music, especially with helping come to terms with their own feelings of depression and sadness. I am in no position to claim that a person is wrong for leaning toward a piece of media that helped give them a reason to live. Music is especially a great catalyst for this change, and often in ways that we ourselves can’t really quite put into words. It’s one huge reason why I love music so much, and no one is a lesser person for their unique ways of healing through material that just so happens to be problematic.

Thus, I am speaking completely as an outsider to this specific situation when I say that this is a truly dreadful song. And yes, I am speaking primarily of that one line in the hook (“Suicide if you ever try to let go”), but also so much more. See, this song claims to come from a place of heartbreak and melancholy, thus the artist’s repetition of, “I’m sad and low, yeah / I’m sad, I know, yeah”. But that’s not all that’s going on here. Just about everyone knows by now that XXXTentacion very likely assaulted his then-girlfriend, who is the subject of this song. When I wrote about “Look At Me!” as my #10 worst hit song of 2017, I noted that often life imitates art in these ways – a violent, abusive person made this song that glorifies such graphic violence. But there are other ways that one can be violent that do not involve guns and fists. I can personally state that the numerous times that ex-lovers have threatened suicide if I had ever left their side have traumatized me deeply, and it’s taken years for me to overcome this. While there’s only a single other verse in “Sad!”, the lyrical content only highlights the back-and-forth nature of his words: “I gave her everything; she took my heart and left me lonely… I love when you’re around, but I fuckin’ hate when you leave”. By framing the tattered relationship around his hurt feelings and her wrongdoing, it neglects the cycle of abuse that undoubtedly influenced much of his sentiments. It really speaks volumes about how much we as a culture praise the anti-hero that a track as harmful as this became such an unstoppable chart-topper. God help us.

3) “Broken” by lovelytheband

And now for my choice of hit single that I hate and will likely miss the year-end lists of most other pop critics out there. Seriously, if there’s any accolade that I could pin onto 2018 – as far as pop music is concerned – I would title it the Year of the Banal. While songs like “Outside Today”, “Whatever It Takes”, “Lucid Dreams”, “I’m Upset”, “I Like Me Better”, “No Brainer”, “I’m a Mess”, and “Mo Bamba” all missed the final cut upon making this list, I could see eye-to-eye with someone’s reasoning behind adding any of these to their own personal ‘Worst of 2018’ list. What these songs have in common, at least for me, is that in the dozens of times each have passed through my eardrums… I’ve felt nothing. I get no sense of glee, sadness, anger, frustration, or chill from either of these. They all feel devoid of the bl0od, sweat, and tears that have helped compose all the good (and even some of the bad) songs of the past. They all feel pumped out of some music-making machine and not actually written by real-life human beings with experiences and emotions. The act of listening to these songs, then, are nothing less than a miserable experience altogether.

“Broken” also falls into this category for me, but somehow it’s so much worse. I think it’s that main synth riff that drives this song along – the one that is often accused of mimicking a similar riff in MGMT’s “Kids”, a much better song. It’s a masquerade of liveliness in a song where no such thing actually exists. Besides this, though, the whole production of this song feels like it’s unpleasantly drifting underwater, including the nasally vocals of Mr. Anonymous-Lead-Singer. Sure, every year has gotta have its own fluke indie hit but this feels like a total downgrade, with its lyrics about two “broken” people who find each other amidst the monotonous, fake culture around them (“These aren’t my people, these aren’t my friends”). This is a message I can get across, sure, but there’s simply not enough of a drive here to feel at all compelled by the substance at all. The melody in the verses are limp as hell while the chorus sounds only slightly more song-like than a mere chant. The bridge is where it really falls apart, though, where some truly ugly phasing effects are brought in to accompany the insipid junior existentialism (“Life is not a love song that we like / We’re all broken pieces floating by”). I probably wouldn’t hate this song as much if it felt like the folks behind it tried even a little bit to make it shine more than the standard empty gloss of pop radio… but there’s just nothing here to grasp at. It really gives me no hope for next year’s fluke indie hit – and the year after that, etc.

2) “Fefe” by 6ix9ine ft. Nicki Minaj and Murda Beatz

Last year, I stated that 2017 was the year that we allowed a child molester to enter the top 20 of the country’s pop charts. Frustratingly, a handful of other songs from 6ix9ine have stumbled their way onto the Hot 100 this past year. This includes three songs in the top 40 – including this one, which peaked at #3. Really, I could probably just include 6ix9ine’s entire presence on the Hot 100 as the true receiver of this penultimate spot. Every week I look forward to listening to the latest update on the chart, but lately the lingering presence of the New York rapper has been a huge sore spot. I’ve never enjoyed a single song he’s put out, and seeing that he somehow manages to cross over into the pop charts despite the reprehensible nature of his music and self… well, it depresses me.

Honestly, though, “Fefe” took me off guard the very first time I listened to it. While earlier singles like “Gummo”, “Kooda”, and “Keke” demonstrated his distinct scream-rap style that, nonetheless, remained unchanged record after record, this one was very different. While we get a taste of this vocal style at the intro (“It’s fuckin’ Treyway!”), the verses here are softer and more melodic than what we’re used to. Well, I guess it’s melodic for 6ix9ine, as they mainly just consist of the same singular note spoke-sung throughout the entire song. Lyrically, there’s nothing new here – just the same ol’ empty flexing that we’ve been used to from this guy so far, including a line where he names his sex partner the titular “Fefe” (Google it if you don’t know what it is) and an endless barrage of references to gun violence. There’s an “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” line in the bridge that I’m almost positive this song was built entirely around – hence the monotone speak-singing. This whole song feels like a sick experiment in just how little effort one could put into making a song that will, inexplicably, become a smash on the pop charts.

Of course, the surprise guest on here is another huge reason this had enough clout to become a hit. I generally love Nicki Minaj on principle, but boy, she sure was messy this past year. And one of her many big missteps was, yes, offering a guest verse on a song for a truly reprehensible human being. Though her contribution isn’t particularly bad, in the sense that it’s an autopilot version of her brand of sexual bragging and is, thus, mildly passable as opposed to horrendous (like the rest of the song). But goodness, is it disappointing to see her stoop so low. Although I must give the majority of the blame to 6ix9ine himself. By watering his sound down to something somewhat resembling the mush of formless trap that has been invading the airwaves the past couple years, more and more people are starting to feel like it’s actually fine to support this guy, despite all that he most definitely has done. That might be the most detestable thing about this song overall.

1) “Freaky Friday” by Lil Dicky ft. Chris Brown

I knew this song was going to top this list from the very first time I listened to it. And yes, in a way, this sounds pretty unfair to Lil Dicky, Chris Brown, and producer DJ Mustard, as this song had come out in March, far before the vast majority of the year’s biggest hits had even been released. Nonetheless, I was so appalled by how tasteless and unfunny seemingly every single line was – and yes, the tastelessness is something that I have grown to just accept from Chris Brown, especially after the atrocities that were the Heartbreak on a Full Moon singles. Up until this point, while I would’ve never called myself a fan of Lil Dicky, at the very least I could appreciate the unique perspective that this white, Jewish rapper-comedian had brought to the table. By pairing up with Chris Brown of all people, he seems to be content with shooting himself in the foot.

And it’s not just the fact that he and Chris Brown paired up for a recorded duet. See, this is a novelty track and the entire concept is that Chris Brown and Lil Dicky have mysteriously switched bodies and, thus, identities and realities. It’s like the classic film of the song’s namesake, with the added dimension that now Dicky’s getting a taste of Brown’s fame and fortune, while Brown is enjoying anonymity for a change. I’ve gotta be honest, though – it’s almost solely through that very first verse that this song made its way all the way up here (well, not solely… but we’ll get to those other lines later). Dicky wakes up in Brown’s body and realizes that he can dance, is friends with famous people, and can get any woman he wants. But most importantly – it takes up the entire latter half of the verse, after all – he can finally say the N-word in public. While it is Brown who literally does the singing at this part, listeners are implored to assume that Dicky is singing these parts, making it a truly awkward, nonsensical wish fulfillment fantasy of some kind – it might be the single most reprehensible aspect of this song.

But trust me, there’s so much more to hate about it. Such as Dicky’s character celebrating that he’s now “light-skinned black”, Brown’s character feeling relieved that he can finally let go of his “controversial past”, and plenty of dick jokes galore. All of this is set atop DJ Mustard’s production, which is essentially the most DJ Mustard-y beat imaginable – if you weren’t paying attention, you’d probably just assume this was another basic, run-of-the-mill Chris Brown song (and I wouldn’t blame you). While the joke as a whole is pretty bad, it goes completely off the rails by the end, where Dicky is then inexplicably transported into Ed Sheeran’s body… and then DJ Khaled’s body. Finally, he somehow ends up in Kendall Jenner, immediately declaring “I got a vagina” and his intent to “explore that” – which is an absolute breach of consent and essentially sexual assault. It is this last part that, fittingly, is the final nail in this goddamn coffin – joking about rape and sexual assault is the oldest, dirtiest trick in the book. This song and its subsequent success on the charts has made me certain that we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Let’s make it a goal to be a bit more conscious of what we willingly put in our eardrums through 2019. As for this song, though… fuck it. It’s easily the worst of this year – I’m glad I trusted my initial gut reaction.

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Stuck on You” (1960) by Elvis Presley

It’s a bit funny that out of all the chart-topping singles that I could have landed on that would’ve been this challenge‘s introduction to the King himself (he has eighteen!), the very first one ended up being one of his least popular. Not “Heartbreak Hotel”, or “All Shook Up”, or “Jailhouse Rock”, or “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” – “Stuck On You”‘s the one! It’s sort of like how the first song that I covered from Michael Jackson was not “Billie Jean” but “Ben”, or how I covered “Don’t Forget About Us” before “Vision of Love”, “Emotions”, “We Belong Together”, or any of the better-known Mariah Carey number-ones. I guess these things are just bound to happen when I let a randomizer guide my way through this project!

In comparison to many of the aforementioned singles above, this particular song is usually considered a relatively less well-known record than some others from Elvis Presley. The most notable fact about this one is that it was the first single Presley released after his two-year leave to the US Army. Thus, it could be argued that much of the cause for this hitting the top of the Hot 100 is Presley’s wave of devoted fans’ anticipation over at last receiving a new song after two years of waiting. Then again, they didn’t really do much waiting after all, given that Presley’s label RCA heavily prepared for his enlisting by recording a bunch of records to be released during his time away from the studio. In fact, ten of these singles would become top 40 hits of their own, including the chart-topper “A Big Hunk o’ Love”. Nonetheless, there was still enough hype backing this single to top the Hot 100 for four weeks, ending the nine-week run of Percy Faith’s “Theme From A Summer Place“. It was Presley’s thirteenth number-one single overall, his first of the 60s, and eventually would become the ninth most popular song of the year.

However, comparing this song to his material from the few years leading up to it makes clear the ways in which this song sticks out. In particular, this song sees Presley using more of his lower bass vocal register, as opposed to his higher, raspier quality demonstrated in early rockabilly-style hits like “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and “Hard Headed Woman”. Of course, Presley had famously made a name for himself with his unique singing style that balances these lower and higher registers – just take a listen to other songs like “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Love Me Tender”, and “All Shook Up”. The difference with “Stuck On You”, though, is that this bass register sounds much stronger than these earlier hits. While Presley often sounded a bit shaky when reaching these really low parts, he sounds much more comfortable here. This is helped by the much more polished production, elevated by simple instrumentals and catchy backup vocals from the Jordanaires.

Not all of it is strong, though – the lyrics in particular drag this song down in a huge way. A declaration of love to his betrothed, Presley begins the first verse: “You can shake an apple off an apple tree / Shake-a, shake-a, sugar, but you’ll never shake me”. I get the point being made here, but the “shake-a, shake-a” part definitely feels like filler that doesn’t need to be there at all. The second verse continues with, “Gonna run my fingers through your long, black hair / Squeeze you tighter than a grizzly bear”, which an even stranger comparison considering that grizzly bears aren’t particularly known for their hugs. And the inanity of this statement is really about as interesting as this song gets – the bulk of the lyrics really just consist of Presley-style wordless vocalizations (“Uh-huh-huh, yes siree, uh-huh-huh”). The hook is fine and good – “I’m gonna stick like glue, because I’m stuck on you” – but it just makes for a combination of words and phrases that really have nothing at all to do with each other. This sloppiness in songwriting ranks this among Presley’s most forgettable fare.

But then we get to the bridge and… oh, dear. This is a big reason why I can’t get into a bunch of these love songs from the era, with their antiquated tendencies to treat women like their lovers’ possessions. Here he states, “Hide in the kitchen, hide in the hall / Ain’t gonna do you no good at all / ‘Cause once I catch you and the kissin’ starts / A team of wild horses couldn’t tear us apart”. Ignoring the perplexing situation that might require one to resort to “wild horses”, it’s worth considering why this poor woman would be hiding from this guy in the first place. Additionally, I’m then forced to assume that the “kissin'” here is completely one-sided… and buddy, that’s sexual assault.

Nonetheless, I can’t really get too angry with this song. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of his least remembered hit singles, so history has been deservedly neglectful toward it save for Elvis fans themselves. It’s really not hard to see why – there is hardly anything to grab onto as far as a hook or melody is concerned and the songwriting is just dreadful. Presley sounds better than ever here, sure, but he would more successfully execute this timbre with later hits like “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, “Devil in Disguise”, and (my personal favorite Presley chart-topper) “Suspicious Minds”. Anyway, this guy’s career is one of the most gargantuan to ever exist – though the concentration on his music tended to peter out through the rest of the decade, he still topped the Hot 100 five more times. There’s a whole lot more to discuss when it comes to Elvis Presley – let’s consider this one more of an awkward introduction than anything else.

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It’s Year-End List Season! 2018 Edition

Year-end list season is upon us! While I know that eventually I should make more of an effort to move away from lists and into substantial reviews on this site… there’s no denying that lists and especially countdowns are just so fun to do. And readers of this page seem to enjoy them as well, so I’ve no incentive at all to end them completely! While lists get a lot of flak, I’ve always loved them for the convenience of collecting one’s thoughts into one place, making it all the more easier to compare and contrast with others. Year-end lists also feel like a great way to finish up a long, tired twelve months – a sort of ceremonial ribbon atop the accumulation of everything that occurred through that time, and a final goodbye before we all move on to start fresh with a new year. And heaven knows this year has been particularly long and tiresome… so let’s get to it!

So I’m sure you might be asking what lists y’all should be expecting this time around. To quell these thoughts, I’ll lay out which lists I plan on publishing in a rough chronological order. While I do intend to keep on this order for the most part, depending on time and energy, the order in which these are published are subject to change.

  1. Worst Hit Singles of 2018
  2. Best Hit Singles of 2018
  3. Best Non-Hit Singles of 2018
  4. Best Albums of 2018
  5. Best Films of 2018

This basic order depends on a variety of factors. The Worst Hit Singles of 2018 is first because, while I do enjoy writing about what I consider to be the worst songs on the Hot 100 this year, I don’t wish to dwell too much on the negative aspects of the year – there’s already been a hell of a lot of negativity in 2018 that’s not even remotely related to music or film. This is also why I am not writing about the worst non-hits singles, albums, or films; for the latter two in particular, I don’t often seek out those that I know I’ll dislike, so it’ll just be a couple lists of mere disappointments. And yes, I am planning to just get it out of my system first so I’ll have time to gush about the things I do love.

After Worst Hit Singles comes Best Hit Singles. These two are coming before any of the others primarily to coincide with Billboard releasing their annual list of the top 100 songs of the year. The year-end list should be published by Billboard sometime in December, so I plan to have my own lists up slightly before this, if not around the same time. At this time, I don’t know how long these lists will be; the past couple years I’ve done twenty, but I’ve been contemplating making them a little shorter with a list of dis/honorable mentions. Same goes with the other lists – I’ll know when I get there.

Unlike the Hit Singles lists, my lists for Best Non-Hits, Albums, and Films will all rely on stuff specifically released within the calendar year. Currently, I am scrambled to get everything I missed during the year, while also keeping up with new material that has any possible of making my final lists. My personal deadline for the former two is the first week of January, roughly speaking. Nonetheless, I plan to release these gradually from late December ’til about mid-January. The Non-Hit Singles list will come first, since I tend to go through singles a lot faster, while I want to have my Best Albums list up sometime in the next month. Realistically speaking, due to the oddity of the release calendar when it comes to films, I will likely not have the Best Films up until around February. That’s okay, though – I don’t particularly mind having this list coincide with the Oscars!

And in case you desire a more organized version of everything I just stated above, here is a rough list of dates of when I want to have these up:

  1. Worst Hit Singles of 2018: Dec. 1-7
  2. Best Hit Singles of 2018: Dec. 7-15
  3. Best Non-Hit Singles of 2018: Dec. 20-27
  4. Best Albums of 2018: Dec. 25-Jan. 7
  5. Best Films of 2018: early to mid-Feb.

And, once again, all of these date regions are certainly subject to change depending on whatever happens to hop up in my personal life to delay one to all of these, or not.

I’ve been a tad flakey in past years when it comes to these year-end lists, so I really plan on giving it my all this time around. I’ve been preparing for them all very diligently this time around, so I really hope it shows in my final results. I’m super excited to get all of these out and share with y’all my final thoughts about the wild and crazy year that was 2018!!

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (1977) by Thelma Houston

Alright, time for another one of these. Despite having only written in length about a handful of disco singles in the past, it remains one of my favorite ever genres to review. With all the intersections of culture, identity, and a multitude of common themes, there really is more than meets the eye with a lot of these singles often played on dance floors. And of course, many of them are exactly that as well – mindless uptempo dance tunes meant to get club-goers in the mood to boogie all night long, with no ulterior motives in place. There’s a whole lot of trash in this genre, that’s for sure, but for some reason that only makes the true gems shine all the more brighter.

Take this song, then. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” by Thelma Houston, with its dreamy first couple of verses that take its time before really exploding in a wave of emotion once that chorus really, truly kicks in. This is true 70s dance floor fodder, if I’ve ever seen it. I’ve already written a couple sentences about this song for my overview of 1977’s top 100 songs, but it honestly needs far more than just a paragraph. This truly is one of the definitive singles of the disco era, and for more ways than that which may be evident on the surface. I do hold true with my conclusive statement in my initial write-up on this song – Houston really did deserve a much bigger career than she eventually got, even if the power of this single does surpass generations.

Few may know, however, that this record as we know and love it is actually a cover song from a couple years earlier. Written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, with collaboration from Cary Gilbert, this song was initially handed over to Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – with lead vocals by Teddy Pendergrass – for their 1975 album Wake Up Everybody under Gamble & Huff’s label Philadelphia International. Although the album’s lead single of the same name would become a top 20 hit on the pop charts, “Don’t Leave Me This Way” failed to make much of a splash at all (although it reached #5 in the UK). This original record contained many elements that comprised what has defined the 70s Philly Soul sound – particularly the swelling strings, rhythmic hi-hat cymbals, and soulful vocal delivery from Pendergrass. And like the better-known cover that would follow, this version introduces the song’s basic format of softer verses offset by a more intense, passionate chorus. To casual listeners, not too much seems to have been changed from this original version to the chart-topping cover version – however, the changes that were made were certainly vital to the song’s eventual success.

In 1976, the song was brought over to Motown for a disco-infused cover version. This wasn’t exactly a new idea for the disco scene – most notably, Gloria Gaynor’s cover of The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” was a smash hit the previous year and would go on to become one of the defining hits of the genre. Taking a preexisting, recognizable pop tune and laying a dance beat over it just seemed like one of the quickest, easiest ways to make a quick buck in this thriving industry. Although “Don’t Leave Me This Way” wasn’t quite as huge of a hit, my guess is that the ways in which the Philly Soul sound lent their aesthetic to what would become the predominant disco sound (especially the lush instrumentals and intense lyrical themes) made this particular track attractive enough to cover. Initially, producer Hal Davis intended this to be Diana Ross’s follow-up to her own disco-infused chart-topper “Love Hangover”, but it was reassigned to give up-and-coming performer Thelma Houston a chance. This recording was released as a single in December 1976 and gained enough traction to top the Hot 100 for a single week in April 1977, as well as the disco and soul charts. Additionally, it won the Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance (from a female artist) – not bad from an artist who had never had a hit to her name in ten years of recording!

I’ve found that the best way to discuss cover songs (especially particularly exceptional ones like this) is to compare and contrast it from the original and recount how it changes the overall sound and/or mood of the record. In the Blue Notes’ version, a softer, sleeker R&B production is favored, with flutters of guitar riding above the prominent violins and deep percussion. Moreover, Pendergrass is husky in his delivery, mournful at first with his utterances of, “Don’t leave me this way; I can’t survive…”, but then brought to an emotional climax in the chorus (“Ahhh, baby, my heart is full of love and desire for you”) with assistance from the backup vocalists. Thelma Houston’s version, on the other hand, takes things in a slightly different direction. The vibrant strings are still here, but the drumming opts more for a four-on-the-floor disco rhythm and the bassline that runs throughout the track is just spectacular. And while there’s no denying that these instrumentals bring their own power to the track, much of it is guided by Houston herself, with thick, textured vocals that basically guide the whole track. Unlike Pendergrass who sticks pretty strictly to the basic melody, Houston takes her own liberties with it, flowing in, out, and around the song like a show-stealing gospel singer.

And there’s no denying that the chorus is just so, so much stronger here. I mean, it’s perfectly passable in the original, for sure; it gets the job done and is not at all unpleasant to the ears. Yet somehow, when Houston sings, “My heart is full of love and desire for you”… it’s somehow all the more believable. The emotional gravitas she brings to the recording is absolutely perfect for the general extravagance that so clearly defines the disco era. It’s similar to the extra weight that Gloria Gaynor puts on her version of “Never Can Say Goodbye” – the situation certainly seems all the more dire than when 12-year-old Michael Jackson sings these same words, as pleasant as he makes it all sound.

It is a tad ironic, I guess, that this song would be one to so successfully fill the dance floors of every club in the country, considering that its lyrics are very explicitly concerned with the topic of yearning and struggle to the point of emotional pain. The first verse alone states clearly, “I can’t survive, I can’t stay alive, without your love”, blatantly teasing some suicidal ideations. There’s no denying, though, that darkness and sad times have been at the heart of disco since these early days – take a look at The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”, which contains the line, “I couldn’t get enough, so I had to self-destruct”. Or even Bee Gees’ smash hit “Stayin’ Alive”, which clearly outlines the roughness of inner-city living in its lyrics. This song’s chorus, then, works as a sort of catharsis – when Houston sings, “You started this fire down in my soul / Now can’t you see it’s burning outta control” she asserts her own agency in this situation by making a clear demand to be treated the way she deserves. Certainly this must have resonated to the many on the dance floors, who possibly retreat to discos to escape their own dismal realities.

And that’s really all there is to say here. With all this kept in mind, it’s really no wonder how this has come to be known as one of the defining singles of the disco era. Sadly, Motown didn’t do much to keep Houston’s career alive in the mainstream, and with the plethora of other disco acts popping up at this time, she soon faded into obscurity. Nonetheless, the powerhouse performance she gives on this track alone is one for the ages. Such displays of unbridled sonic ecstasy are the reason why so many folks find their calling out on the dance floor, especially during these days when disco divas reigned supreme. And considering that this isn’t even the original version of this heartbreak tune, this record really has no business being as good as it is. Nonetheless, I’m so glad it is.

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Every Hot 100 Number-One Single: “Hit the Road Jack” (1961) by Ray Charles

It’s been a little while since I’ve done one of these… so I might as well jump back on the wagon! After devoting a good chunk of my time to Halloween TV specials and then to the interesting pop music scene of 1987, it’s nice to jump right back into this Hot 100 Number-One Singles challenge. Now, out of the three number-one singles that Ray Charles had accomplished in his illustrious career, I have so far covered one – “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, his final single to top the chart. After this post, I will eventually get to writing about his first number-one single, “Georgia on My Mind”. Nestled in between, of course, is “Hit the Road Jack”, which many would consider to be Charles’s definitive song – or at least the most well-known.

By 1961, Ray Charles was reaching an impressive amount of crossover success. In particular, 1959’s “What’d I Say” mixed gospel, jazz, and blues with sexual undertones, creating his first top-ten hit that pop radio both loved and attempted to ban. Additionally though, his sixth studio album album The Genius of Ray Charles of the same year eschewed the R&B flair of his early music in favor of a more polished, traditional pop sound. As a result, this album was his first top 20 entry on the Billboard 200 and is widely considered among his best. Nonetheless, Charles’s contract with Atlantic Records dropped later that year and he then signed with ABC-Paramount. Upon this change, he had almost completely abandoned writing his own material; although this would eventually grant him his first chart-topper in “Georgia” (a Hoagy Carmichael composition), his role as a musician relied almost entirely on him recording covers and reinterpretations of preexisting material.

It was around this point that Charles met songwriter Percy Mayfield. A successful R&B performer in his own right, Mayfield’s career came to a tragic halt when a severe car accident left his face disfigured. Not willing to back off completely, Mayfield opted for a turn to writing for others, in which he found some comparable success. He came to the attention of Charles with an a capella demo of his latest composition, titled “Hit the Road Jack”… and the rest, as they say, is history.

While “Georgia on My Mind” hit listeners with a sumptuous blend of strings, piano, and a backup choir, “Hit the Road Jack” marked a brief detour in sound for Charles’s recordings, with its heavier emphasis on punchy horns and stronger, high-tempo percussion. While this is a far cry from the rawer, gospel-infused recordings of his earlier years, the energy demonstrated by the recording brings us back to these more vibrant days, especially after “Georgia”‘s easy listening vibes. And it’s clear that many listeners appreciated this change as well – not only did this song hit number-one on the Hot 100 for two weeks and on the R&B charts for five weeks in the fall of 1961, but it would eventually win the Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording  and was, overall, the 19th biggest pop song of 1961 as a whole.

All of this is amazing considering just how deftly this song makes its presence known. In terms of length, this song runs at exactly two minutes in length, and while it’s true that pop records in these days tended to be shorter than in later decades, most at least broke the two-and-a-half minute mark. Additionally, the quickness in tempo and simplicity in this format somehow seems to make it whizz by even faster. Without only a couple bars of an instrumental intro, The Raelettes  – Charles’s backing girl group – hit us immediately with that earworm of a hook: “Hit the road, Jack, and don’tcha come back / No more, no more, no more, no more”. After this, Charles comes in with a verse which, of course, only consists of a few brief lines before the hook comes in again. Wash and repeat, and then the outro, and then we’re finished.

The immediate reaction one would normally have to this song is that it is catchy as all hell – maybe not so much Charles’s verses, but definitely the Raelettes’ hook. The second reaction is that this song is pretty damn feisty in its depiction of a failing, loveless relationship, almost comically so. Charles’s first verse indeed carries the crux of the idea. While the first half demonstrates his exasperation for his partner in a fittingly exaggerated manner (“Oh woman, oh woman, don’t treat me so mean / You’re the meanest woman that I’ve ever seen”), he waves his white flag in the second half and admits that it’s all over (“I guess if you say so, I’ll have to pack my things and go”). The Raelettes’ contributions in the chorus act as a collective voice of his soon-to-be ex, with their energetic demands of him “hitting the road” pulling back no punches and the repetition of “no more” asserting that this has gone on for far too long.

It’s when the second half of the song kicks in that things start to get really interesting, During what I assume to be the same conversation, Charles’s character in this song attempts to assuage the situation by promising that he will improve himself to make their relationship work (“Now baby, listen baby, don’t you treat me this way / ‘Cause I’ll be back on my feet some day”). It is at this point, in possibly the most radical moment of the song, where Margie Hendrix of the Raelettes steps in for a solo, interrupting this verse with a statement of defiance (“Don’t care if you do, ’cause it’s understood / You ain’t got no money, you just ain’t no good”). While casual listeners might’ve been none the wiser, the fact is that Hendrix and Charles were themselves involved in a romantic affair that had turned sour at this point. Although it’s only two lines, Hendrix’s solo is incredible in the way it so strongly and effortlessly seeps anger and betrayal from every word she sings. After this, Charles repeats the latter half of the first verse (“I guess if you say so…”), but it somehow sounds meeker and less confident than before, as if he was genuinely hurt by her words, proving that his character is really not just a work of fiction. It’s an amazing moment in pop music, even more incredible considering that this is only a fraction of this already very short song.

The rest of the Raelettes do offer support to this scenario, though, with strong declarations of, “That’s right!” after each chorus. These are offset by Charles’s howls of, “What you say?” during the chorus itself, which both act as a leader’s call for for repetition (typically found in gospel choir performances) and this man’s cries of disbelief over his partner’s requests. The last few seconds of the song contain a flurry of Charles’s pleas of denial over these demands, which at this point are pretty comical considering all we’ve just witnessed. Although while many are quick to only praise the performance of Charles and the Raelettes, especially with that vocal hook, I do think that the horns of this song are pretty spectacular as well. It’s the very first thing that listeners hear upon pressing play – those couple of bars of descending instrumental that anticipate the petty drama about to occur. These horns also punctuate the verses with the right amount of flavor, making them pop at just the right moments.

Overall, this was a very welcoming somewhat-return to form for Ray Charles. While he would continue on the easy listening path, eventually recording Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and nabbing his final number-one single “I Can’t Stop Loving You”, this brief detour back to his feistier roots showed that he still had that energy in him. While a brilliantly catchy pop-soul tune on the outside, “Hit the Road Jack” also managed to highlight the ways in which the format could so creatively display the musician’s personal life – perhaps unintentionally so. But really, everyone always comes back to it for that nursery rhyme of a hook, which contains a universe of emotions that listeners could contextualize for their own needs. And sometimes, their needs might solely contain an utterly satisfying, short slice of early 1960s R&B, an undeniable classic.

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