As much as producers would love it to be true, not every song featured in a movie can be “As Time Goes By” or “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. For every classic tune that perfectly encapsulates the essence of a film, there’s a hundred cheesy, awkward, tone-deaf, rhythmically-challenged soundtrack moments that encapsulate a much different kind of essence. These are the Worst Musical Movie Moments EVER!!! So without further ado, here’s the first in a three-part series examining the 30 worst songs and musical performances ever committed to film.
#30 – Harry Nilsson – “Garbage Can Ballet”, Skidoo (1968)
Skidoo is one of a number of films made in the late 60’s, when studios were desperately trying to tap into the “youth market” and make “today pictures” that appealed to their pothead sensibilities. A gravely unhip comedy, Skidoo has a nominal plot about Jackie Gleason (of all people) slipping into a prison to whack Mickey Rooney (of all people) at the request of Groucho Marx (of all people) but none of that matters much. The entire movie exists solely for a scene where Gleason accidentally licks some LSD-soaked envelopes and has a bad trip. After this, he devises a brilliant plan to dose everyone in the entire prison. This includes a pair of guards who see trash cans come to life, sprout legs, and do a psychedelic dance routine. They song they dance to, Harry Nilsson’s “Garbage Can Ballet”, is a tune that’s completely wussy in a way that only folksy hippie anthems can be. But what really earns the song a place on this list is its astoundingly stupid lyrics that tell the story of discarded food products falling in love and getting married. The lyrics describe, among other things, a piece of ham falling in love with some lamb, and finding an asparagus to “stand up and marry us”. Like, far out, man! It may not be the most outrageous song in the movie—That would be the closing credits song, which features Nilsson literally singing the closing credits (And not just the names of the cast, but everyone and everything, including legal disclaimers and copyright information); But that song gets a pass for being so unabashedly excessive. Unlike “Garbage Can Ballet”, which is just one bad trip, much like the entire movie.
Sample Lyric: “The great garbage can / It’s a tribute to the ingenuity of man / Where corn and tomatoes / Are mixed with potatoes / And thrown in together with ham / Where a brussel sprout and sauerkraut / Can get together and have it out / And no one seems to care about the plan / And succotash and a piece of hash / Can get together and have a bash / Life is always equal in the can.” Well, I hope so, because that’s where my copy of this movie is going.
#29 – Patrick Swayze – “Raising Heaven (in Hell Tonight)”, Road House (1989)
When it comes to Road House, the inspirational tale of a Zen bouncer who comes to town and cleans up a bar by kicking loads of ass, there were more than a few horrible musical moments to choose from. I nearly went with the use of the Otis Redding classic “These Arms of Mine” to score a sex scene between stars Patrick Swayze and Kelly Lynch. (As a huge Otis Redding fan, this scene produced a unique churning sensation in my stomach as I desperately tried to separate the horrifying images I was seeing from the much beloved song I was hearing.) But ultimately, I had to go with one of two songs that Swayze himself sings on the soundtrack, because after all, the other choices were actual singers. You might be familiar with Swayze’s insubstantial singing voice, because he also had a moderate hit with “She’s Like the Wind” from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I have no idea why that song was a hit, but it certainly had nothing to do with Swayze’s vocal performance, which, at best, could be described as nonexistent. “Raising Heaven (in Hell Tonight)” from Road House is another sappy ballad in the same vein, with Swayze’s vocals going just as unnoticed, but this time the lyrics contain decidedly odd imagery. It’s ostensibly a love song, but the title, for example, makes absolutely no sense (How exactly does one go about “raising heaven”, and how does one do it in hell?), and by the time Swayze starts moaning about how he and his lady love will see “the joker, the juggler, the sailor, the refugees”, the whole thing is pretty much impenetrable. But then again, I wouldn’t expect any less from a Zen bouncer.
Sample lyric: “We’ll hear the rich man, the poor man / The beggar down on his knees / We’ll see the hungry, the stranded / The poor empty-handed ones / And I’ll hold you in my arms forever ’til kingdom comes.” If that doesn’t say “romance”, I don’t know what does.
#28 – The Supremes – “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine”, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)
There are some movies with titles that should never find their way into the chorus of a pop song, and Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine—a dopey mad scientist comedy starring Frankie Avalon and Vincent Price—might just be the prime example. The title cut is a standard 60’s go-go girl-group number, with the only twist being the incredibly awkward lyrics. But the biggest mystery is how the Supremes, one of the most successful acts in pop history, got suckered into performing it. Diana Ross’ typically high and nasally voice is at its highest and nasally-est on this song, and to add insult to injury, there’s a conspicuous anti-feminist agenda running all throughout (as evidenced by the sample lyric below). “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine” was recently made available on CD for the first time as part of a Supremes box set, much to the delight of no one.
Sample lyric: “He’d push a button, and just like nothing / A girl would appear, I mean right here / The cutest girl in the whole wide world / And she’d behave just like a slave!” And immediately after this line, the other two Supremes let out a strangely euphoric “Whooo!” Make of that what you will.
#27 – Bonnie Tyler – “Here She Comes”, Metropolis (Georgio Moroder 1984 re-edit)
In the mid-80’s, keyboardist Georgio Moroder (who previously produced the soundtracks to Flashdance and Cat People) sought to improve Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, perhaps the greatest film of the silent era, by speeding up the footage, tinting some scenes, and adding a truly banal 80’s synth-pop score. If you ever wanted to see Freder and Maria fall in love to a Pat Benatar song, then this is the version of Metropolis for you. The entire soundtrack is wretched, with some horrible stuff from usually good artists like Freddie Mercury and Jon Anderson of Yes, but if I have to pick one song as the worst it’s the contribution from raspy-voiced Bonnie Tyler. Years before this, Tyler had throat surgery that totally ruined her vocal cords, but she didn’t let a little thing like that prevent her from having a singing career. She scored hits when she croaked out “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Holding out for a Hero” (from the Footloose soundtrack) and disappeared soon after. But not before recording “Here She Comes”, a generic arena rock number that totally rips off Joan Jett’s cover of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover”. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this song sounds like a copy of a copy; It plays behind the scene in which Maria’s evil robot clone makes her first appearance. But unlike the workers of Metropolis, the audience can tell the difference between the original and a cheap knock-off.
Sample lyric: “Now here’s a riddle in the rhyme / If she’s the same how come she’s different now?” You want to know the biggest riddle in that rhyme? How “rhyme” was made to rhyme with “now”.
#26 – Olivia Newton-John (with The Tubes) – “Dancin’ (Round and Round)”, Xanadu (1980)
Xanadu teamed up Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly, with the two desperately trying to inspire Michael Beck to open a roller disco that combined Kelly’s big band style with more modern esthetics. (Sadly, no one was around to inspire Beck to give an actual performance in the movie.) “Dancin'” attempts to do the same thing in song, being a medley of an Andrews Sisters-style number and a bad 80’s rock song. The track jarringly shifts back and forth between the big band number and the rock song, until finally merging at the end and proving why these are two musical genres that never, ever should have met. And the accompanying scene in the film is even worse, given that despite Newton-John’s singing on the track, she was apparently too busy to appear in the actual scene. Ditto for Beck and Kelly. Meaning, we get ten minutes of extras singing and dancing to this crap. (And when you’re pining for an appearance by Olivia Neutron-Bomb, you know a scene is sucking.) As the two songs merge, hydraulics take over and the rock band’s stage combines with the big band’s stage, brazenly inviting comparisons to a massive freeway pileup. The final nail in this coffin is the participation of The Tubes, playing the part of the “rock band”, even though this is the kind of movie they would have mocked on one of their better albums.
Sample lyric: (from the “rock” part of the song) “Don’t wanna hear what you want / It’s gotta be all my way / And I’m makin’ sure you stay to see / I’m really a selfish man / I’ve gotta get right to it / And lover, tonight, I’m thinkin’ of me.” And who says men can’t be honest?
#25 – Pat and Lolly Vegas – “The Robot Walk”, The Nasty Rabbit (1964)
The Nasty Rabbit is just one in a long line of horrible, incompetent films written by Arch Hall, Sr. and starring his son Arch Hall, Jr. This so-called comedy concerns Soviet agents releasing a rabbit carrying a deadly biological agent onto a Montana ranch, and Arch Hall Jr. as the secret agent posing as a singer who has to infiltrate the ranch and capture the rabbit. In real life, Arch’s dad desperately wanted to make his butt-ugly son into a teen heartthrob, so in every one of his films young Arch was forced to perform several insipid numbers. But in the case of The Nasty Rabbit, for the very first time in his career, Arch wasn’t responsible for the worst song in the movie. That credit belongs to Pat and Lolly Vegas, who perform “The Robot Walk” while Arch takes a break to do his spy stuff. The lyrics are dumb and repetitive, and the melody is rudimentary, three-chord early 60’s pop stuff. And making it all the more idiotic is the fact that the movie has absolutely nothing to do with robots. (It was probably only included because it was a moderate regional hit in the Southwest at the time.) Pat and Lolly’s career low point was still a few years away, however, as the two went on to form Redbone, the world’s first all-Native American pop band. Redbone recorded the sappy 70’s easy listening staple “Come and Get Your Love”, which made courtship sound like a dog food commercial.
Sample lyric: “It’s a shiny new dance now / Come on and give it a chance now / It’s called the Robot Walk / It’s called the Robot Walk / It’s called the Robot Walk / It’s called the Robot Walk.” Wait, what is it called?
#24 – LL Cool J – “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)”, Deep Blue Sea (1999)
As if making a film about killer sharks infused with human DNA to make them smarter wasn’t bad enough, the producers of Deep Blue Sea had the audacity to try for a Will Smith-style tie-in when they asked co-star LL Cool J to record a rap song to accompany the movie. Unfortunately, LL took things a bit too literally, composing “Deepest Bluest (Shark’s Fin)”, which was virtually a retelling of the movie’s plot in rap form, only with LL in the place of the shark. Sadly, this led to the unforgivable chorus, “My hat is like a shark’s fin.” Maybe I could have let that line slide, if not for the fact that later in the song, Mr. Cool J informs us with no trace of irony that he is “the Gotti of the Deep”. Here’s hoping the Gravano of the Deep flips on him.
Sample lyric: “I cause you to sink down forty thousand leagues / Bleeding to death with no arms and short sleeves.” Because heaven forbid you should die while wearing a polo shirt.
#23 – Tim Curry – “Anything Can Happen on Halloween”, The Worst Witch (1986)
The Worst Witch was an awful kid’s film, shot on video, featuring a young Fairuza Balk as a girl who attends an academy for witches run by Facts of Life matron Charlotte Rae. Tim Curry plays the academy’s “Grand Wizard” (the filmmakers apparently oblivious to the existence of the Ku Klux Klan), a role that requires him to appear onscreen for only a few minutes. But those few minutes are packed full of the most horrifying imagery possible. The low point comes when Curry is called upon to perform “Anything Can Happen on Halloween”, an event that causes the entire movie to grind to a dead stop as his image is subjected to every cheap video special effect available at the time. Tim Curry dissolves! Tim Curry swirls! Tim Curry turns yellow! Meanwhile, random images of skeletons, pumpkins, fireworks, whales and frogs float around behind him. Oh, and the music? A depressingly cheap synthesizer plays a slowed-down version of the riff from “Love Machine (Part 1)” while Curry emotes and wheezes and prances around like Peter Gabriel and David Bowie were capable of conceiving a child together, a child who would then grow up to be a crackhead.
Sample lyric: “Anything can happen on Halloween / Your toenails grow long and your hair turns green / Your teacher could become a sardine / Your dentist could turn into a queen / Has anybody seen my tambourine? / I may start playing, ‘Begin the Beguine’ / The craziest night you’ve ever seen / This hairy, scary, creepy, crawly Halloooooooowwwwweeen!” Curry gets points for mentioning a Cole Porter song, points which are immediately taken away after he turns “Halloween” into a twelve-syllable word. Also, who’s to say my dentist isn’t already a queen?
#22 – Madonna – “Die Another Day”, Die Another Day (2002)
Easily the worst James Bond theme of them all, “Die Another Day” was inspired by Mrs. Ritchie’s desire to right what she saw as a true wrong in the world of film soundtracks: The lack of techno influences in Bond themes. Despite this lofty goal, the track she provides can barely be called a song. The title theme to Die Another Day consists solely of a monotonous drum machine, about five notes on a synthesizer, a lead vocal that seems to have been generated by a computer (likely, the same computer that rendered Pierce Brosnan’s horrific CGI para-surfing sequence in the film), along with lyrics totaling about ten words, max. (Madonna even decided to compound the pain by taking a cameo in the movie as a fencing instructor.) And would you believe this song actually got nominated for two Grammys?
Sample lyric: “I guess I’ll die / Another day,” repeated 2,768 times.
#21 – Iron Maiden – “Bring Your Daughter… To the Slaughter”, A Nightmare On Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
Iron Maiden had some interesting thought processes after being asked to compose the closing credits tune for the fifth Freddy Krueger film. Lead singer Bruce Dickinson put it thusly: “Here I tried to sum up what I thought Nightmare On Elm Street movies are really about, and it’s all about adolescent fear of period pains. That’s what I think it is, deep down. When a young girl first gets her period she bleeds and it happens at night, and so she is afraid to go to sleep and it’s a very terrifying time for her, sexually as well, and Nightmare On Elm Street targets that fear.” Like, wow. I suspect Bruce Dickinson was a high school guidance counselor on the side. Typical of Iron Maiden, the tune they wrote is generic heavy metal that bludgeons the listener with its dumb lyrics. I’m not the type to find hidden depraved meanings in metal songs, but it’s pretty hard not to read child molestation overtones into “Bring Your Daughter…”, especially given the title and lines like “bite the pillow, make no sound”. Amazingly, this was the highest charting single ever for Iron Maiden, and it actually hit #1 in the UK.
Sample lyric: “So get down on your knees, honey / Assume an attitude / You just pray that I’ll be waiting / ‘Cause you know I’m coming soon.” It’s not often that a lyric can be both filthy and utterly nonsensical, but there you go.
Okay, these might not seem too bad, but don’t forget, we’re just getting started.
Coming next month: Puff Daddy, Frank Stallone, Elvis Presley, The Village People, and how to create the most annoying song ever simply by changing the lyrics to “London Bridge”. All this and more when we count down from #20 to #11 in part two of the 30 Worst Musical Movie Moments EVER!!!