Three months, two articles, twenty songs; It’s all been leading up to this: The ten most horrifying, stultifying, mortifying, flat out painful musical moments ever heard on film. But before we get to the worst of the worst, let’s revisit all the trauma that brought us to this point. Here’s numbers 30 through 11 on the list of the worst musical movie moments ever.
#30 – Harry Nilsson – “Garbage Can Ballet”, Skidoo (1968)
#29 – Patrick Swayze – “Raising Heaven (in Hell Tonight)”, Road House (1989)
#28 – The Supremes – “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine”, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)
#27 – Bonnie Tyler – “Here She Comes”, Metropolis (Georgio Moroder 1984 re-edit)
#26 – Olivia Newton-John (with The Tubes) – “Dancin’ (Round and Round)”, Xanadu (1980)
#25 – Pat and Lolly Vegas – “The Robot Walk”, The Nasty Rabbit (1964)
#24 – LL Cool J – “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)”, Deep Blue Sea (1999)
#23 – Tim Curry – “Anything Can Happen on Halloween”, The Worst Witch (1986)
#22 – Madonna – “Die Another Day”, Die Another Day (2002)
#21 – Iron Maiden – “Bring Your Daughter… To the Slaughter”, A Nightmare On Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
#20 – Frank Stallone – “Far from Over”, Staying Alive (1983)
#19 – Little Richard – “Scuba Party”, Catalina Caper (1967)
#18 – Patty Foley – “Shine Your Love”, Angel’s Brigade (1979)
#17 – The Scorpions – “Under the Same Sun”, On Deadly Ground (1994)
#16 – Elvis Presley – “Yoga Is As Yoga Does”, Easy Come Easy Go (1967)
#15 – Silver Shamrock jingle, Halloween III: The Season of the Witch (1982)
#14 – The Village People – “Milkshake”, Can’t Stop the Music (1980)
#13 – Will Smith (featuring Dru Hill, Sisqo, Kool Moe Dee, and Stevie Wonder) – “Wild Wild West”, Wild Wild West (1999)
#12 – “Hooray for Santy Claus”, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
#11 – Puff Daddy (featuring Jimmy Page) – “Come with Me”, Godzilla (1998)
I already know what you’re thinking. Could there really be ten songs worse than what’s in that list above? There are, and here they are: the ten worst musical movie moments EVER!!!
#10 – Gene Simmons – “It Takes a Man Like Me (To Be a Woman Like Me)”, Never Too Young to Die (1986)
In one of those moments that every self-respecting KISS fan would like to forget (and trust me, there are a lot of those moments), Gene Simmons is a transsexual hermaphrodite (if such a thing is possible) named Velvet Von Ragnar who hatches a villainous scheme against government agents played by… a protégé of Prince? And the future Uncle Jessie?
Yes, in Never Too Young to Die, John Stamos (just a few years shy of his Olsen Twins meal ticket) is the son of a secret agent (a role not-so-subtlely filled by nearly forgotten 007 George Lazenby), and no-hit wonder Vanity plays his love interest and proves once again that her main talent in movies was getting naked. When Lazenby dies at the hands of Simmons’ Ragnar, Stamos takes his father’s place, becoming sort of a James Bond for the younger set (and this was way before xXx came along and made an even crappier film out of the concept).
Early on in the film, to showcase Ragnar’s popularity with local stereotypical movie punks (the kind with Kajagoogoo hair), he/she performs a song at a stereotypical movie biker bar (the only kind of biker bar with a monthly neon budget). In a sight that will make you wish you could open up your skull and scrub your ocular memory centers with steel wool, Gene Simmons gyrates and stalks around a stage in a fishnet bodysuit, pink feather boa, and showgirl headdress, and performs “It Takes a Man Like Me (To Be a Woman Like Me)”. But even worse, it appears no one wanted to bother writing an actual song for him to sing, so Gene does the next worst thing: He screams, he shouts, he struts, but never quite sings, and all the while a rock band plays a random, uncoordinated riff behind him.
The opening line of “It Takes a Man Like Me” is blatantly ripped off from a song by famed transsexual punk singer Wayne County (later Jayne County), whom KISS opened for in the early ’70s. In Gene’s version, he throws in an obligatory “yeah!” at the end of every line, which is about as worthwhile as Little Richard’s “whoooo”s in Catalina Caper. Gene apparently really liked these stupid lyrics (“I’ve got no manners / And I’m not too clean / I know what I like / If you know what I mean, yeah!”), because he later ripped himself off and used them on “Spit” on KISS’ Revenge album. “Spit”, by the way, also finds Gene ripping off the chorus from Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” right after ripping off a few lyrics from Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” with no trace of irony. Are you sensing a pattern yet when it comes to Gene Simmons’ songwriting tendencies?
Sample lyric: “Well, is this a dream / Or can I be for real? / Well, if you doubt yourself / I can let you feel, yeah!” Thanks, but I’ll pass.
#9 – “Beware of the Blob”, The Blob (1958)
Out of all the songs on this list, this might be the one that’s most out of place in the movie it’s used in. In the ’50s horror film The Blob, a random substance that looks suspiciously like raspberry jelly falls to earth inside a meteor. A farmer promptly pokes at it and gets covered in the stuff and ends up eaten alive. (And if there’s anything ’50s B movies should teach us, it’s that if random goo falls to earth from space, do not poke it with a stick!) After this initial encounter, the Blob terrorizes a group of teenagers in a small town, including an unknown actor named Steve McQueen (at 28, the world’s oldest teenager). Despite the silly premise, McQueen played his role earnestly, already exhibiting the brooding, stoic demeanor that would later make him a star. As he and his fellow “teenagers” try to convince the adults in town that they’re under attack from extraterrestrial Jell-O, I kept trying to figure out if this movie was really meant to scare anybody. Part of me suspects The Blob was actually poorly done camp, especially given the goofy song that plays behind the opening credits. “Beware of the Blob” combines a “Hernando’s Hideaway” Latin beat, baritone vocals straight out of an Alka Seltzer ad, and the most out of tune sax solo since Rosie and the Originals broke up. And best of all? This was an early tune co-written by future Oscar-winning composer Burt Bacharach, which just goes to show everybody has to start somewhere. It’s a shame this movie didn’t beget a whole bunch of sequels, because Burt could have contributed other classic theme songs with titles like “What the World Needs Now is Blob”, “Always Something There to Blob Me”, “Blob on By”, “What’s New, Pussyblob?” and the immortal classic “Do You Know the Way to Blob Jose?”
Sample lyric (Actually, all the lyrics): “Beware of the Blob! / It creeps, and leaps, and glides and slides / Across the floor, right through the door / And all around the wall / A splotch, a blotch / Be careful of the Blob!” It’s a real shame nobody performed this on Burt Bacharach Night on the second season of American Idol. Ruben Studdard certainly would have looked the part.
#8 – Grace Kennedy – “Coming for You”, The Apple (1980)
The year was 1980. Right on the heels of two other dopey, godawful musicals (Xanadu and Can’t Stop the Music, both of which have already earned their rightful places on this list) came The Apple, an oddball gay sci-fi Biblical musical allegory directed by the future producer of Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. This is a film that seems to say folk music is next to godliness, and the road to hell must be paved in those disco tiles that Travolta danced on in Saturday Night Fever. Well, at least, I assume that was the message. When a movie ends with a giant gleaming Englishman stepping out of giant gleaming Town Car in the sky, it’s pretty hard to know what to make of it all.
The movie takes place in the far-flung year of 1994, where society is ruled by a fascist, totalitarian record label called BIM, where people are arrested for not wearing the BIM symbol (a holographic triangle sticker that looks like it came out of a gumball machine). In a decidedly generic music competition, Dandi and Pandi, two disco singers on the BIM label, are beaten out by two virginal folk singers from Canada named Alphie and Bibi. In order to counteract the spell of their sappy acoustic stylings, BIM immediately signs the pair and tries to break up the act.
To drive a wedge between the pair, the president of BIM has Alphie drugged and seduced by Pandi (Grace Kennedy). As part of the seduction, Pandi sings “Coming for You”, a song that features some of the most blatantly sexual imagery heard outside of a 2 Live Crew album. As Alphie and Pandi gyrate in footage with heavy Vaseline on the lens, shots are inserted of feather-haired women and guys with big pornstar mustaches writhing around on beds, and it’s all just as cheesy as the cheesiest moment of the 1970s ever was.
When it came time to picking a worst musical moment from The Apple, it was a tough call between this and “The Apple Song”, a musical reenactment of the Garden of Eden fable with Alphie and Bibi as Adam and Eve, which includes the lyric “It’s a natural, natural, natural desire! / Meet an actual, actual, actual vampire!” And no, the song (let alone the movie) has nothing to do with vampires, but when this line is sung, a vampire jumps out of nowhere and hisses. Ah, so it all makes sense, then. But in the end, “Coming for You”, the disco equivalent of a fake orgasm (even more so than anything by Donna Summer) complete with backup singers gasping, “Coming! Coming! Coming! Coming! Ahhhhhh!” simply had to win out.
Sample lyric: “I’m coming / Coming for you / Make it harder and harder / And faster and faster / And when you think you can’t keep it up / I’ll take you deeper and deeper / And tighter and tighter / And drain every drop of your love.” You’ve heard of sexual innuendo? This is sexual outuendo.
#7 – Justin Bartha – “Baby Got Back”, Gigli (2003)
Gigli, easily one of the worst big budget films of the last ten years, finds Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez—back when they were engaged and annoying the hell out of the entire country—starring as the least convincing career criminals in movie history. The two conspire to kidnap a federal prosecutor’s retarded brother (played by Justin Bartha) in order to get the prosecutor to back off on pressing charges against a mob boss. It’s something of a flawed plan, and in case you’re not exactly sure why it’s flawed, Al Pacino shows up for a few minutes to break it all down for us.
But before we get to that point, Ben Affleck, in the title role of Larry Gigli, is assigned to slice the thumb off a dead body (I’d tell you why, but believe me, the less you know about this plot, the better you’ll sleep tonight). So the bonehead decides to use a plastic knife to cut off the cadaver’s thumb. And if that’s not stupid enough, the sound of the utensil scraping against bone evidently evokes the sounds of a turntable, because it prompts Bartha to launch into a retarded (literally) rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back”. Imagine Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, take away all traces of talent, and picture him reciting overplayed rap lyrics, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how horrible this entire scene is.
Some critics assumed the use of “Baby Got Back” was really a sly reference to Lopez’s ample posterior (and really, everybody just shut up about her ass already), but I’m thinking they were giving writer-director Martin Brest way too much credit here. Obviously, Brest must have thought the song was hilarious in and of itself, and the simple inclusion of it would be a comedic highlight. It’s not, but it is something else entirely: A brilliant encapsulation of the horror that is Gigli in one sickening two-minute sound byte. Sheer genius!
Sample lyric: If you need to read this to find out the lyrics to “Baby Got Back”, then you obviously haven’t been to any frat parties lately.
#6 – Vanilla Ice (featuring Naomi Campbell) – “Cool as Ice (Everybody Get Loose)”, Cool as Ice (1991)
There’s no doubt everyone around Rob Van Winkle (occasionally known as Vanilla Ice) in 1991 knew the inexplicable success of “Ice Ice Baby” would be his first and last shot at stardom, seeing as how they milked the moment for all it was worth. That included, inevitably, shoving Ice into the starring role in a movie. In Cool as Ice, a movie loosely (and I seriously mean that) based on Rebel Without a Cause, Ice plays a white rapper (no way!) traveling with his entourage through a small town. No tour bus for Ice’s posse, however. Apparently, motorcycles are their preferred mode of transit between gigs. When his bike goes bust, he shacks up with a local family, and ends up falling for the honor student across the street. It’s the classic movie dilemma: Can the good girl ever find happiness with a white guy with a high-top fade?
Unfortunately, the girl’s family turns out to be in the Witness Protection Program, and her dad (Michael Gross, somewhere between Steven Keaton and Burt Gummer) totally freaks out, thinking for some reason that Ice is working for the criminals out to get him. But after a lot of awful rapping takes place, and a random kidnapping gets thrown into the story for good measure, everything works out fine for Ice and the girl of his dreams. Cool as Ice is truly amazing, in that it’s a movie with no actual dialogue. Instead, everyone, especially Mr. Van Winkle, communicates in lame mottos and soundbytes like “If you ain’t true to yourself, you ain’t true to no one!” or the legendary line, “Drop that zero and get with the hero!”
And before we even get one second of actual movie, we’re plunged into a lengthy music video with no connection to anything that happens in the story. Obviously, anyone who paid money to see Vanilla Ice in a movie just wanted to see him rap, so why hold back? In the opening video for “Cool as Ice (Everybody Get Loose)”, we’re privy to glimpses of Ice and his posse hanging out, and for unknown reasons, supermodel Naomi Campbell makes an appearance. According to the credits, she provides “background vocals”, but her appearance has the distinct stench of a Milli Vanilli-style lip synching. Sadly, she doesn’t even lip sync all that well. As for the music, it’s Vanilla’s blatant attempt to sound like the C+C Music Factory, only here he’s thrown in confusing 19th Century dialect (“Keep your moves silky smooth, hot and sexy / It won’t vex me, I won’t get testy”), and much like his other raps, he plows through half a dozen laughable similes (“I’m like a monkey on the vine”, “I’m like a surgeon”, “Girlies on my tip like white on rice”, and best of all, “I’m like a rap technician”). And if all that’s not enough for you, check out this sample lyric while my DJ revolves it.
Sample lyric: “Man before ya, lyrical lawyer / Suin’ all the suckers on the mic that bore ya.” I assume being a “lyrical lawyer” came in handy when David Bowie and Freddie Mercury’s estate eventually took him to court.
#5 – Steve Martin – “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978)
Maybe it sounded good on paper: Round up some of the biggest flashes in the pan of the late ’70s pop scene (the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton) and have them act in a movie that tries to make a coherent plot out of several unrelated late-period Beatles songs. What could go wrong? If you said “everything”, you win!
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the movie was an epic, unqualified disaster, as embarrassing as the original Beatles album was groundbreaking. The film has about as much plot as a porno, but what story there is revolves around a rock band called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, fronted by “Billy Shears” (Frampton) and “the Hendersons” (the Bee Gees). Clever, no? The band signs a recording contract with an exec played by, of all people, Donald Pleasence, and in a bad toupee to boot. And while the boys are out touring, their hometown of Heartland descends into cheap motel and adult bookstore depravity, all thanks to the schemes of mean Mr. Mustard and his robot servants (don’t ask me, I didn’t write it). The plot is tough enough to piece together, but it’s made all the more confusing by the fact that there’s absolutely no dialogue in the movie (apparently, no one could trust Frampton and the Brothers Gibb to act), and all of the exposition is delivered in narration by… George Burns?
Picking a worst moment from this movie was perhaps my toughest choice in assembling this list. After all, this is a film that has a chubby Alice Cooper sarcastically reciting the lyrics to “Because” while the Bee Gees harmonize behind him. This is a film where George Burns actually straps on an electric guitar and performs “Fixing a Hole”, turning it into a Vaudeville number. And this is a movie where robots—robots!—sing “She’s Leaving Home”.
But in the end, the award for most painful moment goes to Steve Martin, starring as Dr. Maxwell Edison and singing “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”. The original song was nowhere near being one of the Beatles’ finest moments, so you know this performances has to suck. Unlike Steve’s “Dentist” number that was the highlight of the ’80s Little Shop of Horrors remake, Steve doesn’t even bother to sing here, and like too many other songs on this countdown, he speaks all the lyrics. But lest you think that’s the only requirement for appearing here, it’s far worse than that. Because this movie was made during Steve’s King Tut, wild-and-crazy guy, white suit, arrow-through-the-head, excuuuuuuuuuuse me phase, he recites the entire song in his ’70s stand-up voice, easily providing one of the most excruciating sounds ever committed to film. Bang, bang, Steve Martin made sure this song was dead.
Sample lyric: I see no reason to get perfectly decent Lennon-McCartney lyrics involved in this.
#4 – Nita Krebs – “Hey, Look Out!”, The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
An announcer steps in front of a velvet curtain and tells us we’re about to view the world’s very first “midget Western”. True to his word, two pint-sized cowpokes step out on stage and start duking it out. And so begins The Terror of Tiny Town, an unabashed dwarf-sploitation flick in which we’re favored with the images of little people riding Shetland ponies, handling oversized guns, and walking underneath swinging saloon doors. Unemployed Munchkins may have hit the jackpot here, but the rest of us had to endure the movie industry’s most disgraceful exploitation of a genetic defect ever. That defect, of course, being the inability to act or sing. Irrespective of their sizes, these actors couldn’t have delivered their lines in a more wooden monotone, and almost all of the dialogue is rendered indecipherable thanks to their high-pitched, squeaky voices. There’s purportedly a story in here about feuding (midget) families in the old West, who accuse each other of rustlin’ cattle until their feud boils over into an inevitable shootout. Left unanswered is the question of why everything in this so-called “Tiny Town”, from the doors to the guns to the barstools, are exactly the same size as they are in a regular person’s town.
Sadly, I think this film was meant to evoke the same emotion experienced by parents watching their children perform in amateurish, barely coherent grade school plays. Unfortunately, these are full-grown adults, and it just ain’t cute. Especially when a saloon singer with the face, body, and voice of an eight year old girl sings a disturbing, sexually suggestive song. Nita Krebs was also in The Wizard of Oz playing the smallest ballerina in the Lullaby League, but get ready to have those memories forever contaminated as Nita seductively slings herself across tiny men, singing, “Hey, look out! / I’m gonna make love to you!” Tiny Town gets criticized these days for its political incorrectness, but this is a moment that goes well beyond that and charges headlong into the badlands of That’s Just Wrong Territory.
Sample lyric: “Don’t look frightened / Hold your breath / I’ve got something to tell you / You’re excited / Scared to death / You’ll soon find out / What it’s about… / Hey, look out! / I’m gonna make love to you!” Excuse me while I go find a nice dark place were I can curl into the fetal position for a while.
#2 – (tie) Arch Hall, Jr. – “Vickie”, and Arch Hall, Jr. – “Valerie”, both from Eegah (1962)
You’re not a true B movie fan until you’ve experienced the song stylings of pitbull-faced Arch Hall, Jr., a poor kid who was forced by his delusional father into starring and performing songs in his horribly written films. It seems Arch Sr. was determined to turn his boy into a teen heartthrob, and without a doubt, here are exhibits A and B why that never happened. In Eegah, the Halls’ crowning achievement, a movie so dumb it’s brilliant, the titular caveman (played by Richard Kiel) menaces Arch Jr. and kidnaps his girlfriend. In response, Arch uselessly rides his dune buggy around the desert, plays a naked rip-off of “Tequila” with his band the Archers, coins the catchphrase “wow zee wow wow!”, and by the end of the film, through no action of Arch’s, Eegah ends up floating face down in a pool.
Somewhere in there, Arch serenades his girlfriend on two separate occasions with the tunes “Vickie” and “Valerie”, which become all the more stupid when you discover her name is really Roxy. (“Vickie” was originally used in Arch’s movie Wild Guitar, where his girlfriend actually was named Vickie, but this isn’t the Oscars and I don’t give a damn where a song was originally used.) The songs themselves are amateurish, forgettable doo-wop ballads, but what really earns them a place on this list is the undeniable fact that Arch Hall, Jr. could not sing, at all, by any means, by any definition of the word. His voice is achingly feeble, and the futile attempts to prop him up with massive echo effects, piercing angelic backup singers, and overproduced strings accomplish nothing but making the whole thing sound all the more desperate. They should have gone the extra mile and completely drowned him out with overdubs.
Both songs are terrible, but the lyrics to “Valerie” are particularly stupid, with the title being rhymed with “gallery”, “salary”, and “calories” (As in, “Vitamins are good, they say / And so’s the calories / But I feel like a tiger on one kiss from Valerie”). At one point in this movie, Arch says he believes Roxy when she claims to have seen a giant caveman, and even swears on his Elvis Presley LP about it. Something tells me that wasn’t the only swearing heard in the theaters where this movie played.
Sample lyric: (from “Vickie”) “My whole life has changed / Oh, the first day we met was my last day / with you.” A thoroughly ominous lyric, and between this and his creepy face, all females are advised to stay far, far away. (from “Valerie”) “I couldn’t stand tomorrow / And they could have today / If someone took my Valerie a half a mile away.” Hey, jerk, invest in a bus pass!
And finally, the worst musical movie moment of all time…
#1 – Mae West and Timothy Dalton – “Love Will Keep Us Together”, Sextette (1978)
In 1970, Mae West emerged from retirement to appear in Myra Breckinridge as a lascivious casting agent who slept with all her male clients, despite most of them being sixty years her junior. This was horrifying enough, but unfortunately, West emerged from retirement again eight years later to take the general concept behind that brief role and stretch it into a full-length nightmare. In Sextette, she plays the aged actress Marlo Manners (basically, herself), who somehow still drives men crazy with desire (a group that includes Ringo Starr, Dom DeLuise, and George Hamilton), despite being pale and ghastly, with her face barely visible beneath thick layers of makeup and false eyelashes that appear to be made out of asphalt.
The film finds Ms. Manners on the occasion of her marriage to Sir Michael Barrington (played by a humiliated, pre-Bond Timothy Dalton), and the hotel where they spend their honeymoon just happens to be the site of an international summit. Using her geriatric wiles, West seduces the Russian delegate (Tony Curtis) and reveals all the dark, dirty secrets of world leaders (she’s had sex with them all, you see), which somehow brings about peace in our time. Through it all, Mae not only recycles her most famous pre-Hayes Code one-liners (“When I’m bad, I’m better”, etc.), but also unleashes the horror of a dozen other smutty lines that no one ever wanted to hear coming out of an elderly woman’s mouth. Here’s just a small sampling:
Reporter: How do you like it in London, Marlo?
West: Oh, I like it anywhere!
West: Marriage is like a book! The whole story takes place between the covers!
Athlete: I’m a pole vaulter!
West: Aren’t we all!
DeLuise: Sir Michael is one of England’s top secret agents! He’s bigger than 007!
West: I never got a chance to take his measurements!
West: I’m the girl that works at Paramount all day… and Fox all night!
The pain is only compounded when Dom DeLuise steps atop a piano to sing the Beatles’ “Honey Pie” [!], and Alice Cooper [!] shows up to perform a disco number. (Going by this and Sgt. Pepper’s, apparently two things were extremely popular in 1978: Beatles songs and Alice Cooper.) But by far, the most excruciating moment comes when West and Dalton perform “their song”, which turns out to be a cover of Captain and Tenille’s #1 hit “Love Will Keep Us Together”. Horribly, Dalton kicks things off by speaking the lyrics (“Love. Love will keep us together. Think of me, babe, whenever.”), and when he finally gets to actually singing, his voice is pretty much nonexistent. And West doesn’t help things by chiming in periodically in her standard Mae West voice, leading to exchanges like the following:
West: Oh, stop!
Dalton: But I really love you!
West: Mmm, stop!
Dalton: I’ll be thinking of you! Look in my heart and let love… keep us together!
This number will make you cringe so far back into your seat, you’ll burrow a hole in your living room wall, straight through the foundation of your home, and all the way to the center of the earth. It’s like watching a live action version of something from The Muppet Show, only most people would much rather sleep with Miss Piggy (she’s much more mobile, after all). Easily, the worst musical moment in movie history.
Sample lyric: (sung by Dalton to West) “Young and beautiful / Your looks will never be gone.” I mean, really. First of all, I’d love to know what process of rationalization took place in Timothy Dalton’s mind to allow him to sing these lines with a straight face. Second, the original lyrics to the song are “Young and beautiful / Someday your looks will be gone.” Obviously, that had to change, because “someday” had already come and gone for Mae West.
And there you have it, the thirty worst musical movie moments EVER!!! But of course, it doesn’t end there. Because as long as there are one-hit wonders trying to act, as long as there are bad actors trying to sing, as long as there are completely misguided musicals based on insane concepts, there will always be terrible movie musical moments. And I’ll be here, lurking, waiting for the day when I can count them all down again, in Son of The Worst Musical Movie Moments EVER!!!