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The Worst Hit Song of All Time

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Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have found it!

Now bear in mind, this isn’t necessarily the worst song ever recorded, bar none. It is impossible for anyone to state that, even myself–at least to a reasonable certainty. I mean, 20,000 songs are released every year. Who can listen to all of those?

But there is one song I feel quite comfortable in endorsing as the worst song ever to hit the charts. It was a 1971 hit by Lou Stallman and Bobby Susser, performed under the name Think: “(Things Get a Little Easier) Once You Understand. (Yes, yes, so it only hit Number 23 on the charts. But that’s Top 40! It counts!) The link in the song title will take you to a page that contains a Real Audio file. Give this one a listen; it’s horrible, sure, but you have to hear it to understand. And things get a little easier once you understand. (Thanks to Culture Raven for the link.)

Did I say horrible? I meant a colossal disaster. A train wreck. The Manos, the Hands of Fate of pop singles.

And yet…it’s a puzzle. This flaming sack of dog poopey is a message-song (well, more like a jingle with some spoken melodramas over top) aimed at bridging the generation gap…but who is it that things will get a little easier for, once they understand? The parents? Or the kids? And what do they now understand? There’s actually considerable debate about this; I’ve read commentary from people whose junior-high-school guidance counselor made them listen to it, and heard stories of parents whose teenage sons solemnly gave them the record and said “Just listen.” But neither side can say for sure that their opposition is the one who needs to understand in order for things to get easier.

If it’s the kid who now understands…well, for one thing, what the fuck does the kid understand now? He’s DEAD!!!! If he can’t manage a reflexive action, like, say, DRAWING A BREATH, he probably can’t much wrap his head around “obey your parents and don’t do drugs.” Assuming that’s what the late Robert Cook is supposed to learn, of course; alternative lessons apparently include “Mom doesn’t trust you because you’re a big fat liar,” “You’re wasting your life away with foolish things (but my bridge club and ladies’ groups and my daytime programs, that’s different),” “If you can’t figure that out for yourself you’re stupid,” and “There’s a little bit more to life than joining a group and playing guitar.” Whichever lesson is the correct one, apparently the only way to learn it is The Hard Way: death by drug overdose. So much for the girl’s mother who says “Someday you’ll thank me.”

And that’s another thing. Who the Hell would WANT to listen to such awful, insensitive people as the adults in this song? The word “uptight” was made for these parents: the father who says “Don’t argue with your mother! Just shut up and listen!” The mother who insists, “You better be home at ten, or don’t bother to come home at all!” And you wonder what about his/her life could possess a kid to go out and shoot up?

All right then, the lesson must be for the parents. And they are supposed to learn…”Never ask your children to do things for you when you’re sick”? Or, “Curfews lead your teenage son down The Dark Path”? Or, “If you want your kid to stay drug-free, NEVER ask him to get a haircut”? Or, as writers Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell phrase it, “If you don’t approve of everything your teenaged child does, he will kill himself just to spite you”?

And who the Hell would EVER approve of such spoiled, nasty kids as the teenagers in this song? The word “ingrate” was made for these kids: the boy who says to his sick mother, “Oh come on, Ma! What do you want from me?” The girl who wimpers, “But mom! All my friends will be there!” The FIRST thing the kids should be thankful to their parents for is that they didn’t send these little bastards to Camp Tough Love, where they clearly would fit right in.

Point is, no matter what the message is or who it’s for, it’s a lousy message and poorly articulated.

Actually, scratch that. We can all agree that there is one major point that is thoroughly, even incessantly made in this song:

Things get a little easier, once you understand; things get a little easier, once you understand; things get a little easier, once you understand; things get a little easier, once you understand; things get a little easier, once you understand; things get a little easier, once you understand;
things get a little easier, once you understand; things get a little easier, once you understand…

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About Michael J. West

  • http://sussfr.blogspot.com Matthew T. Sussman

    I will NOT read this until you link to the Mystery Science Theatre version of this movie.

    Or maybe I will anyways.

  • http://chrispuzak.blogspot.com Chris Puzak

    Sounds like someone hasn’t heard R. Kelly’s “In the Closet” yet. For sheer awfulness, no other song comes close.

  • Eric Olsen

    wow MJW, that is stupendously horrid! I have no memory of this song whatsoever, so either I have never heard it before, or have blotted its monstrous ickyness from my memory

  • http://www.morethings.com/senate Al Barger

    Sweet Jumpin’ Jebus, I owned a copy of this at one time. Let’s just say that if you were whipping up a mix tape of buzz bombs to listen to while getting high, this would blend right in. I’m told that the more weed you smoke, the funnier this song gets.

  • http://toddyarling.com todd

    What’s the problem? This is a great song!

    The point isn’t that parents should never tell their kids what to do, its that parents need to “understand” their childrens feeling and not be pompous dictators and hypocrites, which will breed disrepect as quickly as having no authority and consequences at all.

    This is going on the play list.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I can’t get the RM file to play, but how could it be worse than ‘Having My Baby’? How could anything?

    Dave

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    I see. And the lack of understanding that the parents showed towards their children, ultimately drove the kids to overdose on drugs? Seems to me that the problem may have been that they exercised TOO LITTLE authority. The fact is, if their dictatorial behavior bred disrespect in the kids, it created a vicious cycle, because the kids portrayed in the song are undeserving of being treated with respect by their parents.

    Todd, I say this is a 26-year-old liberal who is vigorously opposed to the Iraq war and the Bush doctrine overall:

    “The Ballad of the Green Berets” is a far better song than “Once You Understand.”

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I did get the thing to play. It’s awful. I can’t believe anyone ever bought it. But it’s still not as bad as ‘Having my Baby’.

    Michael West seems to misunderstand the song as well. The point of the song is that the kids don’t understand why the parents are trying to put limits on their activities, and then a kid dies and at that point what the parents were trying to do becomes clear – setting limits to keep the kids alive.

    Oh and all Johnny Horton songs are automatically classics.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Ah, you see, though, Dave Nalle? You and Todd Yarling are proving my point! Some people think it’s a message directed to the kids, others think it’s directed towards the parents, and there’s not enough evidence in the song to prove either interpretation!

    Your interpretation of the song depends on the parents being sympathetic characters, but they’re not. If the kids don’t understand why the parents are trying to put limits on their activities, it might be because the parents are answering their questions with statements like “Never mind, someday you’ll thank me,” and “If you can’t figure that out for yourself, you’re stupid.” Of course, the kid dies anyway, so the parents obviously did a pretty shitty job of “setting limits to keep the kids alive.”

    And I think “Having My Baby” is a better song than this, too. At least I can figure out what “Having My Baby” is about.

  • http://www.temptationwaits.com visualsimplicity

    The message of the song isn’t so bad. Perhaps, the message is for both sides. After all, in life, kids don’t understand parents, and parents don’t understand kids. The problem is that it doesn’t tell you how, just that you should. However, it’s not necessary, the how differs from one situation to another and it’s just trying to preach that one should try. Either way though, the message doesn’t suck, the song does. It’s corny as heck. Good choice I guess, but my worst song of all time would have to go to a recent song, Amerie’s “1 Thing”.

  • Howard

    What is not generally realized, unless you come from Cleveland, Ohio, is that a Cleveland DJ at holiday time, 1971 penned a parody of this song that “made it a little easier” on all of us and scored on local charts. It had pretty much the same droning background lines, but this time the tables were turned: as I remember it, the son told the father that he was on his way to choir practice, or to play in a local string quartet, and Dad said, “String quartet? That fairy stuff? I always wanted my kid to play lead guitar in a rock band!”. A few more lines of this sort follow, and Dad finally gets into the family car, revvs it up and drives it into a wall (you could even hear the tinkling of the headlight bulb fragments). In 1971 it was enough to send us on the floor in tears, and if anyone can dig it up somewhere, I’m sure fellow bloggers will appreciate it in light of the original version, which was panned from the start, even if it did reach #24 on the charts.
    Good luck! If the song was really THAT bad, would we be wasting all this time writing about it? Now admit the truth!

  • Paul

    This is not only the worst song ever, its the worst “creative” endeavor undertaken by mankind. Stupid, insipid, pointless, confused, the list of negative adjectives that could be ascribed to this drivel is endless. The key change in the middle does not enhance it. This is audio torture.

  • Michael S. Terrell

    as I dis all your negative comments about this song..let me tell you I was a teenager when this song came out. and yeah what it told me was parents can be cruel but can be concerned and teenagers can ignore the warnings and be stupid…I am now 56…get it? I wasn’t stupid
    so many kids have gone down the path of destruction because they thought it was cool to be like their friends..now their dead.was it the parents fault?..not necessarily, more their friends fault most likely..personaly I think RAP is more like trash and destructive than this song is……ever listen to the lyrics??..know what the connotations are about?……..and RAP isn’t even music…but obviously no- one here made any points about it

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    RAP isn’t even music

    First of all, you didn’t even have to tell us how old you were. This statement made it crystal clear: you’re old.

    Second, I’ve yet to hear a rap song as awful as “Once You Understand.”

  • http://killyouripod.blogspot.com Retro Music Chick

    Awesome “Manos” reference.

    My bad music focus is around the late 90’s, when I was young and fragile and just becoming aware of how wonderful and how terrible pop music could be. Luckily, time and a steady childhood diet of the Talking Heads and Jethro Tull sheltered me from such horrors as “Things get a Little Easier”

    I like to think of “You’re Beautiful” as the “Gigli” of modern pop music. It’s a formula that should work, but it just ends up a gooey, offensive mess.

    You’ve got a good blog here, you wonderful record geek. Stop by my place a little more often!

    XOXO,
    Libby

  • dyrkness

    Yes I remember this cruddy song,as it came out when I was in high school.It was an instant “dial-turner” on the radio.We thought of it as just an anti-drug song at the time.If your parents would just listen to you once in a while instead of being so self centered and hard ass and vice versa,if you listened to your parents, then drug use would cease.We were sure it was some sort of goofy Nixon propaganda.In fact I remembered it as a public service announcement, not as a song proper.I guess I was wrong,eh?Oh yeah it’s extremely annoying and repetitive to boot.

  • Burt

    Rappers De la Soul and Biz Markie have used the chorus from “once you understand” ‘things get a little easier’ on their singles and albums and sold millions and millions of copies of this Bobby Susser and Lou Stallman song. After all these years the chorus of their song keeps selling. How do you figure that?

  • zingzing

    because irony is in right now.

    that, and me.

    oh, lord.

  • JC Mosquito

    What about “Open Letter to My Son” or whatever it was called? I think it wins because it’s perfectly easy to understand – and once was enough to hear this audio (hmm, torture has already been used)…. how about atrocity?

  • Jerry

    OK, I remember when this song came out in 1971 and it so resonated with listeners that the local Miami radio station played it over and over again, for an entire day! Just this song. Absolutely true. (I believe it was WQAM)

    Then kids and there parents would call into the station (some sobbing) and talk about how this song – this horrible song – was able to breach the generation gap. I know it sounds incredible. I swear it happened. It actually got kids and their parents talking.

    It was such a bizarre time in South Florida – so many drugs that the Feds sponsored a bizarre drug rehab facility that used borderline brainwashing techniques. It was called, The Seed.

  • Flu-Bird

    BIG YELLOW TAXI mindless eco-junk.JUNKFOOD JUNKIE the jerk who wrote and preforms it should be flogged,DOG AND BUTTERFLY, silly stuff.anything by BOBBY GOLDSBOUGH MUSKRAT LOVE silly alougth i do like CAPTIAN & TENLES other one GOTTA SHOP AROUND

  • John d

    I’d love to get my hands on that parody the Cleveland DJ did. I remember it (they played it in Pittsburgh)and like Howard, rolled on the floor. It was a much deserved poke at a silly song.

  • Shaun T

    This is hilarious! And yes I do remember this song as a 6-year old. I remember my mother telling my older brother and sister how awful it was, proof that mom is always right.

  • RTQP

    poor analysis. you’re not as funny as you think you are, mr. blog writer. the song is about a mutual lack of understanding — neither the parents nor the children understand each other. kids need to get out and explore, while parents need to protect their kids. neither is able to see the other’s perspective, and boom, drama. i don’t think the song was meant to fix things, either — just documenting the dynamic, and reflecting on it.

  • Roberto

    ahh hell. I’m 55, so I grew up in that era. West is right. That song just plain sucks, all around. And you know what else? It sucked back then, too. Horrible. Just horrible.

  • FormFactor

    Things did indeed get a little easier once I understood.