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What Makes A Bad Song Bad? Listeners Pick Their Most Hated Tunes

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
CDs fill the music library at WYEP's studios on the South Side.

90.5 WESA’s sister station WYEP held a competition for the worst song ever this week.

Listeners submitted their least favorite tunes, which the station pared down to 20 finalist.  90.5 WESA’s Sarah Kovash talked to WYEP’s Director of Content and Programming, Mike Sauter, about what makes a bad song and the five most hated tunes.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

SARAH KOVASH: Now, were you surprised by some of these submissions?

MIKE SAUTER: Absolutely. What some people consider to be the worst song ever just boggles the mind. Some people were nominating songs like John Lennon's “Imagine.”

KOVASH: One of my least favorite songs of all time is his, “So this is Christmas.”

SAUTER: That also got nominated.

KOVASH: Can’t stand it.

SAUTER: Well, there is an element to that song which crops up a lot of times in songs that crawl under people's skin and just really irritates them, and that is funny voices, goofy voices, children singing and children's choirs.

KOVASH: Well, then, that makes me wonder what exactly makes a bad song?

SAUTER: I've been thinking about that a lot and there seems to be some common elements. Now, the song has to be popular. It's got to be something that people really know to be a contender for worst song ever and has to be a song that has some lyric element that is bad. It has to be just either trite, obvious lyrics, something that's offensive or something that just is overly maudlin or sentimental in its lyrics. Those seem to be a lot of the common denominators that repel people. But the key is it has to be really infectiously catchy, because what really makes people angry and gets under their skin is when they get a song that they hate stuck in their head and they can't get it out, which I think is required to rise to the level of worst song ever.

KOVASH: So, go ahead and tell us. What was the worst song?

SAUTER: Well, let me actually run down the top five songs to lead up to the number one song, because this is a really great musical rogue's gallery.

At number five, we had Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” from 1992. It was a huge pop hit from a country singer. Those great lyrics, “If you tell my heart, my achy breaky heart, he might blow up and kill this man.”


From an earlier era, at number four we had “Disco Duck” from Rick Dees which was kind of a novelty song, but it was a number one pop hit and a lot of anger was focused on that song from that whole disco era.


At number three, it was “Friday” from Rebecca Black, from 2011. She was a YouTube phenomenon and her song got hugely popular, I think partially because of people's dislike of it.


And number two, a song from 2005, “Photograph” from the band Nickelback. And they are almost a cliche at this point for being a band that people name as a band that's bad or a band that people hate, that is also very, very popular.


But the number one song, according to WYEP listeners, for the worst song ever, it's Paul Anka along with Odia Coates on a duet called, “You're Having My Baby,” from 1974. It was a number one hit, but it had that element of offensiveness. There's this sexism running through it. Paul Anka is singing, you know, “You're having my baby, what a lovely way of saying how much you love me.” There's another element, that a lot of songs nominated had, this sort of bubbling under creepiness to them that just makes people uncomfortable. And that also helped to propel Paul Anka and “You’re Having My Baby” to the number one slot, worst song ever.


Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.