My theory is this: if you ask every adult you know to list a few truly crappy songs they loved as a youth, every adult you know would be able to name at least five. Like watching embarrassing TV, listening to bad music is a rite of passage. I don’t know one grown-up without at least a few suspect releases stuffed behind their Nirvana: Live at Reading CD. Even your father, who has the best taste in music of anyone I know, can name an alarming number of Fat Boys songs. So I feel some empathy for you, my dear, when your ten year-old brother shames you for your steady diet of Taylor Swift and Flo Rida.
I grew up in the Eighties, which was terrible on too many levels to name here. But the music of the Eighties was especially craptastic, despite that it was the same decade as U2, REM, and Public Enemy. Like you and Foo Fighters now, I could have been listening to good stuff back then. But I didn’t.
Oh no, I didn’t.
Instead of formative years filled with songs of political conscience and love, I spent my days filling the well of my mind with some of the most offensively bad songs ever. These are some deep cuts, too. I think there are only a couple of number-one hits among the lot. But from 45-records to CDs, I wore these bitches out, beginning in 1981 with Randy Newman’s “Short People.”
Granted, I was five years old at the time, so some of this might be excusable. We lived in Denver, Colorado, and after putting in my time at half-day kindergarten, I would spend my afternoons playing mostly around the people I knew, instead of directly with them, which really, if you think about it, is sort of a symptom of my entire life. Anyway, one of my favorite afternoon activities was to roller skate in big circles around my basement, listening alternately to the 45-records of “Short People” by Randy Newman, and I shit you not, “Rubber Ducky” by Ernie of Bert and Ernie.
When you consider his career’s longevity, Randy Newman is actually pretty cool, as is Ernie, who was one of the pioneers of same-sex marriage. But despite numerous Grammy nominations for other projects, “Short People” is a train wreck of creativity, a joke we were in on but didn’t seem to get. I should also mention The Clash released an album this same year.
Fast forward to 1987, the same year U2’s “With or Without You” was released, when my favorite song was a cover of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by a cappella group The Nylons, thus beginning my long and disturbing relationship with tight-harmonied boy bands. I loved that song so much I bought the whole tape Happy Together and listened to the mess out of it, despite merciless teasing from my older brother, who had found Eazy-E by then.
Here’s what’s funny: after The Nylons disappeared from the airwaves of WENS 97.1, I largely forgot about them. But those fuckers have released like twenty albums, including one in 2011. So, either they have maintained a U2-esque level of staying power, or they just never gave up.
But back to Martika.
Martika had gotten famous as a young actress-singer on a cable show called Kids, Inc. This was before it was a Disney-mandated prerequisite that all young actors also be sexually precocious singers and dancers. One additional fun fact about Kids, Inc. was that it featured a little girl by the name of Stacy Ferguson, who eventually had a meth issue and then kicked it to become a Black Eyed Pea named Fergie. “Toy Soldiers” actually did make it to number one for a week or two, but what I remember most about that song is listening to the radio, my pointer finger hovering over the pause button of my boom box, so I could record it when it came on “The Hot 9 at 9.” It was first time I can remember doing that.
By 1992, I had gotten into high school and my horizons had broadened. After all, Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” was a hit that year. I would listen to it sometimes when I wasn’t listening to my real favorite song, which was “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd. Based out of the R&B mecca of Oklahoma City, this group’s harmonies were as tight as their neon suit jackets were loose. Beyond loving them for their catchy songs and pencil-thin mustaches, I also respected that they let Kenny G’s twin brother (or first cousin, or someone who looked exactly like Kenny G) into the group. If you’re curious, the band reunited in 2010; they have a Facebook page and everything.
I married your father in 1997, and I’m proud to say our first dances as a married couple were to songs by Grant Lee Buffalo and Bettie Serveert. But on those days when I was commuting to the college I’d transferred to, the one where it was socially acceptable to be a married undergrad, I got to go back to my roots and listen to my real favorite song: Boyz II Men’s “Can You Stand the Rain.” This song, like every hit Boyz II Men ever put out, was a brilliant mix of clichéd lyrics and solid harmonies that built on the strengths of each individual band member. Of course, my favorite part of that song was Michael McCary’s line in which he utters in the lowest bass voice ever, “Come on, baby. Let’s go get wet.”
Two years later, we welcomed you into the world, which is why I am going to blame you for my near-obsession with the Backstreet Boys‘ 1999 hit “I Want it That Way,” along with every guilty pleasure song I’ve loved since, including but not limited to every song ever recorded by Pink and One Direction.
Rock on, sweetie.