ALISON STEWART, host:
There used to be a saying about a song, it was great as long as it had a good beat and was easy to dance to. Ah, for the simpler days when songs were just diddys and lyrics made no kind of sense. But now, music fans and critics expect songwriters to actually say something, to create art.
Blender.com is not only asking, but demanding it, and has decided to call out the worst wordsmiths in music. A bunch of writer-types have compiled a list of what Blender calls the 40 worst offenders, from Alanis Morissette to Will.I.Am to Scott Stapp from Creed - no arms wide open there.
Representing the judges table is Jon Dolan, senior critic at Blender.com. Okay, so what pushed you folks at Blender over the edge, Jon? What made you sit down in a room and say we need to compile this list?
Mr. JON DOLAN (Senior Critic, Blender.com): Oh, well, you know, I mean I think that it just sort of one of these, you know, rock music tends to be best when it's - you know, it's rock music, unlike a lot other art forms, is good because it's stupid. And when it becomes self-conscious about being stupid, like the Ramones or something, it's pretty fun. When it decides that, you know, that's not quite enough and it starts to read too much or discover, you know, Eastern mysticism or, you know, take on sort of writerly(ph) or, you know, political pretensions, it usually tends to get worse.
And so we kind of looked around for basically the worst offenders, like you say, of sort of, you know, egregious - not just egregious sort of pretension, but also the worst offenders like, say, Dianne Warren, of the sort of moon, June, spoon, baby crazy, maybe kind of, you know, lyrical sort of, you know, bad rhymes, and stupid conceits, stuff like that.
STEWART: All right. Let's dive right in. At number 31, you say Carly Simon, "You're So Vain." Let's play the clip.
(Soundbite of song "You're So Vain")
Ms. CARLY SIMON (Singer): (Singing) You walked into the party like you were walking onto a yacht. Your hat strategically dipped below one eye, your scarf it was apricot…
STEWART: Okay, yacht, apricot. I heard that. Keep going. Wait.
(Soundbite of song ""You're So Vain")
Ms. SIMON: (Singing) …mirror as you watched yourself gavotte…
STEWART: All right. I had to go look up gavotte. So I might be with you there.
Mr. DOLAN: Well, a lot of people think it's watch yourself go by. But, of course, it's not. That wouldn't be stupid and pretentious. Gavotte is, you know, kind of a dance. So he's - Warren Beatty stops and looks in the mirror and turns and gavottes and, you know, in his - at his ascot or whatever. You know, it's one of the greatest - it's also great, too, because like, you know, if you use like, you know, that's the often the problem, that if, you know, when you bring out your worst rhymes for this single that becomes your sort of characteristic, you know, greatest standard, that shows arrogance and pomposity that we are actually value on this list.
STEWART: I like that you made ascot rhymed yacht and apricot. You could have been there to help her out.
Mr. DOLAN: Yeah, you know - well, I guess in the tradition of Carly, it's like, you know, that inspires, you know, I guess that kind of - we all are infected by this poetic soul of Carly Simon.
STEWART: All right. The poetic soul of Kevin Federline is up next at number 30. "Popozao." Let's play this.
(Soundbite of song "Popozao")
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) (Portuguese spoken)
Mr. KEVIN FEDERLINE (Rapper): (Rapping) In Portuguese, it means bring your ass, on the floor and move it real fast. I want to see your kitty and a little bit of (bleep), want to know where I go when I'm in your city. Girl, don't you work…
STEWART: I'm just going to let you go with that one. I'm not touching it.
Mr. DOLAN: Well, what I like about that song is that not only he is - you know, he wants to see your kitty and know what to do. But it's funny, he wants to see you kitty, and then he wants to know what to do in your city. So it's like after like, you know, you get naked, I'm going to need to go eat.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. DOLAN: So, it's like, where - what do I do?
LUKE BURBANK, host:
Do have a Zagat's?
Mr. DOLAN: Yeah, exactly. It's like, you know, (unintelligible). Well, the funny thing about that song, too, is like it's one of the only songs where the title is - it's a one-word title, and it's a factual error, like he said.
Mr. DOLAN: He said, you know, it says bring your ass to the dance floor. It - Popozao is a Portuguese, like, slang, Brazilian slang - doesn't mean that, of course. It's…
STEWART: No, it means like having junk in the trunk.
Mr. DOLAN: Exactly. And so not only is he starting off, you know, on the dumb foot, he gets dumber and dumber.
(Soundbite of laughter)
STEWART: What do you expect? Come one, man.
Mr. DOLAN: Yeah. I mean, and Federline's kind of a funny example, because in that case, you know, a lot of these guys, it's the music. And in the case of Federline, it's certainly the man, you know? It's he's - you know, his album is - he makes this - writes this record full of, you know, kind of standard hip-hop brags. But we have, you know, daily documentary evidence on YouTube and throughout this sort of, you know, you know, gossip universe that he's a complete idiot. So maybe in another age, or earlier, more simpler time, the '80s for instance, maybe, he could have got away with some of this stuff, but…
STEWART: Oh, let's look back to the 80s.
Mr. DOLAN: All right.
STEWART: At number 13, we have Genesis. "Firth of Fifth." I'm already with you on this one.
Mr. DOLAN: Well, that's the '70s, you know…
STEWART: Oh, it's late '70s. It was old Genesis.
Mr. DOLAN: Yeah, well, Genesis are kind of interesting. We chose them - I mean, obviously, progressive rock in the '70s is full of these kind of guys like. Jethro Tull. You know, we have…
Mr. DOLAN: …think Styx. What's interesting about Genesis, though, is that, you know, they have, you know, when they're around, they have a lot of, you know, pretentious album - like kind of a book report album about "Wuthering Heights." They have an album based on the myth of Hermaphroditus. You know, they do this stupid pretentious things, but then when they break up, all five of them continue to be pretentious in different realms. So it's, you know…
STEWART: Oh, I like Peter Gabriel, come on.
Mr. DOLAN: …they were kind of fanned out. Like they were kind of like, you know, like the A-Team. Like they, you know, they would go and sort of, you know, go to different - you know, go to different, like, you know, they'd write, you know, Phil Collins wrote a really a stupid song about homelessness and a really stupid song about South Africa.
BURBANK: Dude, it's just another day for you and me in paradise.
Mr. DOLAN: You know, it's so true. I mean, that's what political - good political writing is. You know, it's like, it's captures the moment, and, you know - he doesn't have to say that, you know - I mean, it say nothing without saying anything.
STEWART: I got to jump straight to number one. The big offender, according to Blender.com, is Sting.
Mr. DOLAN: Indeed.
STEWART: "Don't Stand So Close to Me."
Mr. DOLAN: Well, that's a good one.
STEWART: Hang on. Let's listen to it for people.
Mr. DOLAN: Okay. Here we go.
STEWART: I think I'll remember this gem.
(Soundbite of song "Don't Stand So Close to Me")
STING (Singer, Songwriter, Bassist): (Singing) It's no use, he sees her. He starts to shake and cough. Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov…
STEWART: Okay, pretentious reference number one. You call this the Google news song.
Mr. DOLAN: Well, that's actually more of like, sort of like - Sting sings like, you know, the book report rock, where it's like he not - he doesn't just like -you know, go to read books, and you shouldn't make fun of rock bands or anybody for reading. But Sting seems to read books only to write songs about them. Like, you know, he's like, done, got it. Sweet, I finished "War and Peace" before the record, you know, got to get in, or whatever. In that case, you know, that's, you know, that's - Sting was an English teacher in - before he was in a band. And so…
STEWART: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know that story.
Mr. DOLAN: …right, of course. So, like, it's so - so in that case, he's singing, hey, I'm smart. And, you know, it is like in the early Police era, it's like, well, hey, you know, we've got a lot of fun, cute songs, too. But once he, you know, realized, you know, sort of he became this sort if sinking -thinking women sex symbol in the mid-80s, he begins to offend every cardinal rule of bad songwriting. He has the Wikipedia entry songs. You know, and he has the - like you say, you know, the yeah - the Google alert kind of songs. He has the political songs where it's like he's the only one who can understand that that the Cold War's bad.
Mr. DOLAN: Well, you know, he's saying, you know, he's the only one…
STEWART: The Russians love their children, too, Jon.
Mr. DOLAN: …that's exactly - and then, then, oh, it's like, oh, he's got a song about Bush where he's like, you know, only I could see through your lies, you know. It's like, it's these sort of like, you know, not only (unintelligible) simplistic, it's incredible pompous.
STEWART: You've made your point well. Jon Dolan, senior critic at Blender.com. Thanks for being with us.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.