Monday, July 21, 2008
The Drunkards' Hit Parade: The Bottom Five
When I was a lad, my father's standard impression of a drunk was either "Play Melancholy Baby!" or "Play Dardanella!" I have some knowledge, from both family experience and personal experience, of the favorite tunes of the inebriated from the 1940's through the 1990's. I'm not sure exactly what drunks ask performers in bars to play anymore, partly because there is a lot more karaoke and DJ's and a lot less professional performers playing in bars.
Besides my dad letting me know what songs people would request when he was a young man, I played piano on campus for a few months when I was in college, and got to find out about The Drunkards' Hit Parade by personal experience in the late 1970's. I also was able to learn more from two family members who were actually made their living as professional musicians, my cousin Dean Hubbard, who was a jazz trombonist, and my brother Michael Macrae, who sang and played guitar in clubs for a living for several decades.
I only spoke to Dean a few times, but I recall that though he played jazz trombone, he was a big fan of the music of the avant garde rock band The Residents, and his proudest gig back in the day was playing on the XTC album Skylarking. But for him, paying the bills playing trombone meant working in big bands covering the music of the World War II era forty years after the fact. Dean was the first person who ever told me the line, "You know, Glenn Miller died but his music lived on. I wish it was the other way around."
Playing in a big band, Dean got to keep a professional distance from the drunkards. My brother Michael, who either played solo guitar and sang or sometimes worked with a drummer or a piano player, had a much more intimate relationship with the Drunkards' Hit Parade, and I relied on his encyclopedic knowledge to write this post. When it comes to the songs requested in bars, Michael could teach Wikipedia a thing or two.
So here are the worst five of The Drunkards' Hit Parade, chosen by Matty Boy, helped by his big brother Michael Macrae.
5. Proud Mary. This choice is on the list because of my brother. He had a bandmate whose dad was a professional jazz musician back in the sixties and seventies, and this song ended the career of many of the jazz musicians of the day. I actually kind of like the tune as done by Creedence and by Ike and Tina Turner, but as an instrumental, there's almost nothing there.
4. Memories. It might be enough to say I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. Actually, I've come to have a begrudging respect for Evita after many years, but Cats wiped out all that goodwill and then some. I remember my friend Mina, who had a nice enough singing voice when she wanted, but often screeched a tune for comic effect, was very fond of the David Letterman parody lyrics "MIDNIGHT! AND THE KITTEHS ARE SLEEPING!" After which she would mercifully stop and we would laugh, partly out of relief that there weren't anymore parody lyrics after that.
On second thought, let me just say I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber.
3. Lady in Red. Not the sprightly tune from the 1930's later popularized by Carl Stalling by being quoted in countless Warner Bros. cartoons, the drunkards' favorite is the miserable dreary love dirge that was the claim to fame of one-hit wonder Chris De Burgh. De Burgh tells the story of Princess Diana coming backstage to thank him for writing the song for her, since red was her favorite color. He was sorry to inform the princess that he wrote the song for his wife and not for her. I tell this story on Diana, now a beloved martyr, to give credence to the views of many of my British friends, who before she died thought of her as a spoiled airhead, and liked her just a little more than I like Paris Hilton.
2. Achy Breaky Heart. As much as I hate Lady in Red and Memories, they could not crack the top two because Billy Ray Cyrus had a hit with this piece of crap. My brother disliked it so much, he tried to write a parody called Hanky Panky Pancreas. I myself took a shot with Tricky Dicky Nose. I was unable to complete the task. I am unsure whether my brother succeeded or not.
There is a good chance that Billy Ray Cyrus will be better remembered as the father of Miley Cyrus, the young woman who plays Hannah Montana on the tweenybopper hit show. I've never heard a note of her music and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't care for it much, but I couldn't possibly hate it as much as I hate Achy Breaky Heart. Unless she covered the next tune.
1. Feelings. Like Lady in Red, Feelings was the work of yet another one-hit wonder, Brazilian born Morris Albert. Couldn't they have been zero-hit wonders? Would that have been so hard?
I can't remember for sure the first time I heard this song. I would imagine by the third time I heard it, it would have registered enough that I would have thought, "I recognize this tune and I'm already tired of it." Every repeat after that brought feelings, woah, woah, woah feelings of unbearable weariness and desire for bloody revenge. The only exception would be when Bill Murray's lounge singer character sang an excruciating version on Saturday Night Live. Yes, I thought! Someone else hates this song as much as I do!
Having reached the half century mark and then some, I have this odd compulsion to try to be fair when I get angry about something, to try to see the other side of things. You might have noticed this in my paragraph about Memories. Giving in to this obvious character flaw, let me say this in defense of Feelings. Nearly every important singer still working in the 1970's covered this thing. A partial list includes Sarah Vaughn, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Elvis Presley. Who am I to argue with all of them?
In rebuttal, let me say this. They're all dead and I'm still alive, and on this point, I'm right and they were wrong. Even after I no longer have the advantage of being alive, I will still be right about this.
Woah, woah, woah SUCKS!