Sometime in the late 1960s, annoying music scientists managed to isolate some of the key components of musical irritation to distill their essence into a formula which could be reproduced on a barbaric, industrial scale. The evil breakthroughs made by these men of science—supported by a highly mechanized and well-financed infrastructure-- facilitated a slew of unlistenable dreck that populated the radio airwaves for most of the ensuing decade.
The 1970s was a particularly virulent decade for musical annoyance, because the toxicity of terrible music was exponentially amplified by schlock-filled TV musical variety shows, the peak of the teen heartthrob magazine industry, and a general malaise in contemporary music creativity.
The dedicated men and women at E-Five Laboratories, Inc. have managed to deconstruct some of the methods used to foist these abominations on society and use the information to issue a scientific ranking to warn unsuspecting listeners about the potential toxicity of these songs. The results are ranked in the table below.
Methodology: No researcher was allowed to hear complete songs for their own protection. Each researcher was protected from exposure to toxic elements of each song’s legacy. The airplay and sales levels were calculated from Billboard Hot 100 information and tabulated in a formula with other factors: rate of parody, ridicule, longevity, television promotion, retrospective value as a musical composition, and opinion rankings of professionals in the music industry.
Federally-mandated Environmental Protection Agency warning: Guard your eyes and ears against potential serious, long-term damage from what you are about to experience. Children under the age of 14 should not be subjected to the following without direct parental supervision; severe and lasting effects may occur, including brain damage, psychotropic hallucinations, heart failure, loss of the will to live, depression, aggression, insanity, projectile vomiting, catastrophic organ failure, and anti-social behavior.
In Memoriam: E-Five Laboratories, Inc. would like to recognize the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in researching this article: Joseph L. Stevens (1971-2012), Sarah S. Brighton (1981-2012), Andrew M. Margolis (1969-2012), and Michael Romanger (1974-2012). They leave behind loving families and dedicated co-workers in mission to chronicle the most toxic songs in American history. They will be indeed be missed.
The Top 10 Worst Songs of the 1970s
- C.W. McCall “Convoy” William Fries, an executive for an Omaha ad agency, created the persona of C.W. McCall—singer of outlaw country songs. The result was “Convoy,” capitalizing on the CB radio fad of the mid-1970s. The song reached #1 in January 1976, selling two million copies and spawning a 1978 movie directed by Sam Peckinpah (not coincidentally, known particularly for his over-the-top film violence). The song—actually something more like an extended advertising jingle-- has been mocked relentlessly in the ensuing three and a half decades as a quintessential expression of mid-70s dreck and low-brow inanity.
- Ray Stevens “The Streak” Ray Stevens was actually a talented songwriter, producer, and music executive with a dark side. In spite of his obvious talent, he insisted on writing and recording distinctly offensive or idiotic low-brow novelty songs for most of his career, including “Ahab the Arab” (“humorously” pronounced “Aay-rabb”—get it?), “Guitarzan,” and "Harry The Hairy Ape." In 1969, Stevens became a regular on The Andy Williams Show, and in the summer of 1970 he got his own summer replacement show, The Ray Stevens Show. “The Streak” played on the 1970s prank of running naked through a public place. Released in late March 1974, the song hit #1 on the Billboard charts for three weeks in May 1974, and its insidious presence was all but inescapable for most of the American public.
3. Maureen McGovern “The Morning After” Featured as a song on the doomed ocean liner in the film The Poseidon Adventure, Maureen McGovern’s schlocktacular effort (penned by 20th Century Fox songwriting hacks Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn) was released a year after the film and climbed to #1 for two weeks in August 1974. The song won best original song Academy Award, and led the trio to team up again for another Oscar-winning debacle, “We May Never Love Like This Again,” in 1974’s The Towering Inferno. Few efforts better encapsulate the way that musical expression and creativity was cynically packaged for commercial consumption throughout most of the 1970s.
4. Paul Anka “(You’re) Having My Baby” This annoying, sexist duet with singer Odia Coates (who luckily did not receive credit on the label) hit #1 for three weeks in August 1974, the first #1 song for Anka since his teen idol days in 1959. In the early 1970s, one could get away with cloying, chauvinistic lyrics a lot more easily than today—a 2006 CNN Online survey rated “(You’re) Having My Baby” the #1 worst song of all time.
5. Terry Jacks “Seasons in the Sun” Like #2 and #4 above, “Seasons in the Sun” hit #1 for three weeks in 1974, making 1974 perhaps the worst year ever for popular music. In fact, of the 50 songs on this list, 12 of them peaked in airplay during 1974, 10 of which reached the #1 spot on the Billboard chart. 1974 was such a hideous year for music that popular radio station WLS in Chicago dropped their weekly ranking of their 40 top songs down to a weekly ranking of only 15 records per week. Still, even with only 15 records, most of them were virtually unlistenable, as in this example.
6. Starland Vocal Band “Afternoon Delight” “Delight” was anything but for suffering radio listeners in the summer of 1976. Compounding the agony of mid-70s music lovers was the bizarre adulation for the record by some folks who otherwise appeared perfectly sane on the surface—it hit #1 on the Billboard charts in July 1976, won two Grammys (Best New Artist—beating out Boston-- and Vocal by a Group), and resulted in a the group getting a CBS TV variety show in the summer of 1977. By 1981, the group hadn’t had another hit, the couples were divorced, and the group broke up.
7. Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots “Disco Duck” According to Billboard magazine, the #1 song in the United States of America on October 16, 1976 was a disco song describing a new dance, performed by a Memphis disc jockey singing with a Donald Duck voice. The record sold six million copies in 1976. That is all you need to know.
8. Helen Reddy “Angie Baby” Written by Alan O’Day (who wrote and performed 1977’s annoying “Undercover Angel”), Helen Reddy’s creepy song about an insane girl killing a malicious boy from the neighborhood is yet another #1 song from 1974, the worst year for music in history. Were Americans so traumatized by Watergate, Vietnam, and stagflation that they sought out particularly disturbing music to match their mood of despair?
9. Tony Orlando & Dawn “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” In the history of ubiquitous music, none are more annoying than Tony Orlando and Dawn’s peppy, 1920s-retro brain worm of a song. In May of 1973, the record sold 3 million copies in three weeks, and the song received three million airplays in 1973. Lounge singers immediately added it to their repertoires, and washed-up crooners like Jim Nabors, Connie Francis, and Bobby Goldsboro recorded their own versions. By the following summer, CBS gave Tony Orlando and Dawn their own TV variety show, replacing The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.
10. Rupert Holmes “Escape (The Piña Colada Song) The last #1 song of the 1970s—what an appropriate way to end the decade—is a contemporary musical version of Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner , with a husband and wife looking to cheat on each other accidentally answering each others’ superficial personal ads.
The Rest of the Top 50
11. Mary McGreggor, "Torn Between Two Lovers" (1977)
12. Harry Chapin, "Cat's In The Cradle" (1974)
13. Bobby Goldsboro, "Watchin' Scottie Grow" (1971)
14. Debbie Boone, "You Light Up My Life" (1977)
15. Blue Swede, "Hooked on a Feeling" (1974)
16. George Baker Selection, "Paloma Blanca" (1976)
17. Morris Albert, "Feelings" (1975)
18. Helen Reddy, "You and Me Against The World" (1974)
19. Maria Muldaur, "Midnight at the Oasis" (1974)
20. Chuck Berry, "My Ding-A-Ling" (1972)
21. Captain & Tenille, "Love Will Keep Us Together" (1975)
22. Frankie Valli, "Grease" (1978)
23. Three Dog Night, "Joy To The World" (1971)
24. Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, "Billy, Don't Be A Hero" (1974)
25. Captain & Tenille, "Muskrat Love" (1976)
26. The Partridge Family, "I Think I Love You" (1970)
27. David Geddes, "Run, Joey, Run" (1975)
28. Jim Stafford, "Spiders and Snakes" (1973)
29. Vicki Lawrence, "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia" (1973)
30. Helen Reddy, "Ruby Red Dress (Leave Me Alone)" (1973)
31. Janis Ian, "At Seventeen" (1975)
32. Cher, "Half Breed" (1973)
33. Neil Sedaka, "Bad Blood" (1975)
34. Glen Campbell, "Rhinestone Cowboy" (1975)
35. Olivia Newton-John, "Have You Never Been Mellow" (1975)
36. Gilbert O'Sullivan, "Alone Again, Naturally" (1972)
37. Disco Tex & The Sexolettes, "Get Dancin'" (1975)
38. Carl Douglas, "Kung Fu Fighting" (1974)
39. Paper Lace, "The Night Chicago Died" (1974)
40. The Bay City Rollers, "Saturday Night" (1976)
41. Lobo, "Me and You & a Dog Named Boo" (1971)
42. Coven, "One Tin Soldier" (1971)
43. David Soul, "Don't Give Up On Us, Baby" (1977)
44. Leif Garrett, "I Was Made For Dancing" (1979)
45. Kenny Rogers, "Coward of the County" (1979)
46. Robert John, "Sad Eyes" (1979 )
47. Five Man Electrical Band, "Signs" (1971)
48. Billy Swan, "I Can Help" (1974)
49. Sean Cassidy, "Da Doo Ron Ron" (1977)
50. John Travolta, "Let Her In" (1976)
Questions & Answers
Question: You put down our music-- you are going to catch a lot of heat and if you weren't young in the 70s, should you be allowed to vote?
Answer: I was born in 1962. I worked as a disc jockey at major radio stations from 1979 into the early 1990s. This is mostly my opinion. There are, of course, worse songs than these. But these were the ones that were overplayed, full of cliches, were mostly a result of promotion, or relied on gimmicks.
Question: Why are you putting down the music of the 1970s? Most of the songs on this list are great.
Answer: I grew up in the 1970s and worked as a radio disc jockey in the late 1970s. Many "hit" songs in those days were actually mediocre pieces of schlock that were pushed by the promotion departments of record companies. And in every era there are fads and trends that don't survive a shelf life.
Question: Are you only including Top 40 songs? The 1970s gave us the worst song of all time: I've Never Been to Me, by Charlene.
Answer: Although it was recorded in 1977, it did not receive constant (and annoying) airplay until 1982, when it climbed to top 3 airplay in English speaking countries.
Question: What is wrong with you people and saying the 1970's music is bad? What now Michael Jackson's thriller gives kids nightmares?
Answer: Thriller was released late 1982.
Question: Why did you forgot to include Barry Manilow songs - basically all of them?
Answer: Although Manilow had some annoying records, it was the judgment of our panel that there was sufficient musical ability and artistic integrity to avoid the harshest ratings on our scale.
Question: Do you know the 70's song that was spoken and answered with the popular music snippets of the '70s?
Answer: Dickie Goodman had several hits with pop song lyric segments providing the punchlines. "Mr. Jaws," "Energy Crisis '74," and "Watergate" were the biggest of his dozens of single releases.
© 2012 John C Thomas
Threnody Coronach on August 10, 2020:
You're list was nearly identical to one a friend and I worked on recently - and weirdly, so did a few of my coworkers, on their own and just coincidentally. Apparently many of us like reliving the music of that decade. Or perhaps we are just a bunch of masochists in need of a fix - which the music on this list would certainly supply! I thought I'd mention a couple from my list that I didn't see on yours because I think they fit in pretty well here.
My number one worst song was Macarthur Park, Maynard Ferguson's version which was more ear-abusing than other 70s versions, but really all of them suck, no matter the performer or decade. The lyrics alone are so ridiculous it should appear on every list of worst songs created - ever.
A song about a cake that is melting because somehow, someone left this cake out in the rain. (Who does this? Curiouser still, who writes an entire song about it?) Sure, it's tragic that he just can't take it - this devastating melting cake fiasco - because it took him so long to make it; (the making of this cake was apparently a huge time suck. Ho hum) Yeah, I guess I can understand being bummed at this point, (that is if I gave a damn) but I cannot find any sympathy for this baker because he's simply an idiot.
He continues on, lamenting the fact that he'll never have this recipe again. WTF?! A cake with this much importance to the dude and he didn't bother making some kind of record as to how he created his melting masterpiece? Doh! It's at this point I always get dumbfounded by this song about a stupid person who bakes some cake, takes it to Macarthur Park, leaves it uncovered out in the open, and then just stands there bitching as it rains on the stupid thing, and thus ruins his life. I mean what gives? Is there a hidden message encoded in these lyrics? Is this irresponsible baker someone the lyricist knows? Is it the lyricist himself? If so, why would he tell people THIS story from such a seriously lame period of his life? Will I ever know? Or care?
There's some other weird references to a yellow dress and green icing or vice versa, and some old men playing checkers nearby (who, it seems, didn't help him get the cake in from the rain either because they probably thought he was some kind of creeper over there crying over some melting dessert) but these in no way improve this train wreck of a song.
I think I need not even continue with the reasons I pick this as my number one worst of the 70s. I think just saying it's an entire song about a cake that melts at a park in the rain and screws up the life of some unsympathetic baker, would have actually sufficed in summing up my reasoning. Sadly, it seems I didn't say JUST that. Oops.
Secondly I picked Short People by Randy Newman. I dislike his voice immensely and not just in this song, but in all songs, and when he speaks. Not to mention it's yet another lyrically stupid song from a decade seemingly overwraught with them. After all, just who made this guy the arbiter of who "got no reason to live" according to their height? And all that other smack he talks about those not gifted with tallness - well, it's just so very not PC! (That's sarcasm for those who have trouble hearing my tone through my writing.)
You see, truthfully, I'm 5'2" which means I'm short and this song cut me to the bone! Ouch! (Okay, maybe not to the actual bone, but I was in junior high when this came out and it seemed to bring a hormone-filled tension between the tall kids and the short ones. As if we didn't have enough problems with our zits, first kisses, learning the proper social conduct for puberty stricken tweens...algebra... Maybe I'm just bitter and don't like that Gary Newman felt like he was pilling on. Maybe the song was pointless and sounded bad. I should probably to do some heavy self examination here but until then, this song still sucks and it's Gary Newman's fault.
And quicky and without a novel-length explanation, a song called Telephone Man by Meri Wilson. I don't know if it was a nationally played song or not but if you haven't heard it, it is on YouTube. It's one of those novelty songs so popular in the 70s about a lady who has to get a new phone installed and deciding where the telephone man can "put it" so of course it's laden with sexual innuendo. Something that doesn't bother me in the least nowadays, but refer back to Short People and the mess that was my life when these songs were popular and you may understand why it was often embarrassing to hear this one in mixed company. AND, the voice she uses in the song is one that could cause the paint to peel from the walls. It is not a pleasure to hear.
Yes, I think most of us who lived through it know the 70s were a very mixed bag where music was concerned. We had disco, leftovers from the message-filled music of the 60s, too many novelty songs, (I'm rather glad those aren't a big thing anymore!) A lot of songs about weird stuff like Playground in My Mind, the aforementioned Macarthur Park, Brand New Key by Melanie, Candy Man by Sammy Davis, Jr., etc. Plus huge numbers of instrumentals, which I hope and imagine gave the listeners a kind of pleasant relief after writing about some of these lyrics, it seems we could have used the break, huh? Is say there was something good for everyone and something for everyone to hate.
Let's not forget that towards the end of the decade, a reprieve loomed on the horizon with bands like The Police, Van Halen, Foreigner and so many others getting or becoming more popular and thankfully, giving radio listeners a much desired change of tune. I liked disco in the beginning but by the end of the 70s, I'd reached my teens and my heavy metal days were well on their way to maturity, leaving disco behind where it belonged. Heavy metal aside, the decades since then have had plenty of crap posing as music, just like the 1970s did. I was thinking this is sad because it's likely to be like this perpetually until everyone likes the exact same music. Then I realized that I think everyone liking the exact same anything is sadder, and maybe even scarier, than knowing there's always going to be bad music around.
But remember - without bad music, the existence of good music cannot be. So I say sit back and listen to the music of the times; all of the music. Without music, life would be so colorless and empty and that would suck out loud. and really, there's no need for life to suck. Is there? Plus, you can be compiling songs in your head to use for a 'worst songs of 2020' list in the future.
Thanks for allowing me to ramble here almost incessantly. Almost, but not quite. I appreciate it.
Zippyjet on February 24, 2018:
Your list is spot on! Here are some more which should qualify for 70's puke music: In no special order...
Four Guido's (Seasons) Oh What A Night.
John Sebastian: Welcome Back Kotter.
Gallery: Its so Nice To Be With You.
Anything by the Osmands but especially: Go Away Little Girl @ Down By The Lazy River.
Bette Midler: Boogie Woogy Bugle Boy.
Barbara Streissand: Sweet Inspiration.
Muscrat Love and all Capt and Tanile. more 2 come.
gin12 on February 22, 2017:
yep.most of the songs on this list were spot on, enough to make anyone with a stomach grab a bottle of pepto bismol. i dont agree with Tie A Yellow Ribbon making this list though. My personal opinion it was a cute song with a nice message.. Most of these songs that made number one like the tennybopper thud song I Think I Love You prove how many people of that decade needed mental help. However it is the simple song with the simple beat that catches on many times. Many of these songs on this list fit this description. Like the nauseating Billy Dont Be A hero.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on March 09, 2016:
Oh! I recall actor Lee Marvin struggling with 'I was born under a wanderin star'. Did work well in the film Paint your wagon, though!
Bob Smith from Plymouth, MI on February 12, 2016:
I agree on a lot of your choices, but I'm not sure why you were so negative about Tie a Yellow Ribbon. It was written and performed with a lot of sincere feeling about veterans returning from the Vietnam War.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on December 07, 2015:
Yep! What a dismal selection we had for entertainment in those times. But because of the passing in time some of the replays make the modern computer generated noise sound classical.
nmbr1stlrsfn on May 19, 2015:
e-five thank you for the help I greatly appreciate it.
John C Thomas (author) from Chicago, Illinois, USA on May 18, 2015:
nmbr1stlrsfn -- It was a guy named Dickie Goodman. His most popular version of the schtick was a record called "Mr. Jaws." Here is a copy on YouTube.... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDNlSpKLEEo The humor is very dated. He also had an Energy Crisis '74 record, and some going back into the 50s and 60s.
nmbr1stlrsfn on May 18, 2015:
This is an awesome hub. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I have a question for you or anyone else with the answer.
Growing up I remember listening to a song on the radio and I can't remember the name. The context of the song was a reporter giving a breaking news story. He would describe what he was seeing or ask a question. In response you would hear a snip-it of a song.
For example he reported that King Kong was climbing the Empire State Building and asks Kong, "Hey Kong, what are you doing up there?" Kong replies, "Smokin' cigarettes and writing something nasty on the wall." If I remember correctly that is a Stevie Wonder song.
Any help with the finding the song title is greatly appreciated.
Billy Turnock from Manchester England on January 01, 2015:
Choose any one of those songs and they are still 10 times better than a lot of the songs that are in the charts today.
John C Thomas (author) from Chicago, Illinois, USA on June 23, 2014:
Good point, limpet. The 1970s also featured a spate of television stars trying to make a transition to recording, with almost universally disastrous results: Telly Savalas, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and others. Some of the ranked songs in the Top 50 list include John Travolta, Leif Garrett, and David Soul. Because of the ranking methodology (yes, there was a methodology to this list!), Savalas, Shatner and Nimoy did not make the ranking because of airplay and sales.
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on June 23, 2014:
What about Telly Kojack Savallas struggling to perform 'If a picture paints a thousand words'?
Ian Stuart Robertson from London England on April 25, 2014:
I'd like to pay tribute to Helen Reddy as a performer who did have to prove Herself to reach being a celebrity. When Ms Reddy first achieved a 'hit song' on the charts it was widely known Ms Reddy had embraced the Women's Liberation movement with enthusiasm and consequently the song Angie Baby possibly predating Goth genre is still a haunting song of a girl's struggle against a malevolent prescence. Still all in all the 70 s didn't not live up to the 60 s and we had to wait a decade for a better sound.
pat07734 from Riverton, Utah on February 16, 2014:
Wow, isn't the internet great? Now it's so easy for people like you to cum up with so much bovine excrement and actually pass it off as something other than their own bias oppinion.
Vikinglord on November 17, 2013:
Annoying can be a relative term. While most of these are truly nauseating, there are a few that were good for their time. They just got worn out or are considered cheesy today. All in all, I believe the 1970s was the greatest decade of music in American history. You had SO MANY genres represented, more than any other time. Many retro stations across the country rebroadcast Casey Kasem's Top 40 every Sunday and this decade is the one they use. Oh yeah, the WORST and most HORRIBLE "music" of the 1970s? Those "from the field reporters" with fake interviews with music dubbed in. Remember "Mr. Jaws"? ARGGGGG!!!
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on April 05, 2013:
I agree with many of your picks but certainly not all of them, particularly "At 17," "Midnight at the Oasis" and a couple more. Hey, dude, you obviously don't like pop. You're probably more of a rocker like me, eh? Is the Zep more to your 70s' taste? Anyway, good idea for a hub. Later!
LastRoseofSummer2 from Arizona on February 02, 2013:
Ugh! "Feelings"! You know, I think it would be a great discovery if you ever found someone who actually LIKES "Feelings"!
As for "The Morning After" , sorry, but this song is a bit like the love theme from "Titanic": it was great until they started singing it over and over and over again, and then every little girl in every talent show across America wanted to sing it.....
meetdoctor from Indonesia on February 01, 2013:
wow... all my irritating songs you have listed here!
Chris Merritt from Pendleton, Indiana on February 01, 2013:
You know, I think you are spot on! I laughed at every song you mentioned and had to agree 100% with....
AlexDrinkH2O from Southern New England, USA on February 01, 2013:
Funny! But don't forget K.C.and the Sunshine Band (That's the way, uh huh, uh huh, I LIKE it . . . uh huh uh huh --- UGH!) Voted up and shared.
kitkat1141 from Ontario, Canada on November 12, 2012:
You pulled together a great batch of really bad songs from the seventies! Great job. Now if I could only get some of them out of my head!
Mazzy Bolero from the U.K. on September 17, 2012:
Really interesting - I had forgotten quite a few of those songs. Some of them were really dire - but I have to admit I actually liked a couple of your top 50 :)
David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on August 25, 2012:
Well, thanks VERY MUCH for re-impanting these things in my head. Thanks A LOT. Dagnabbit, it took three decades to forget them and now they're back. Voted up, funny and interesting.
Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on August 19, 2012:
I didn't grow up in the 1970s so I never really considered that an era of bad music- even though there was disco. But I can see your point. Debby Boone's song keeps playing now because of her TV infomercial and every time it comes on I either change the channel or leave the room. That song is to saccharine. Great hub!
Mary Craig from New York on August 16, 2012:
Great trip through the 70's though I hate to admit I did like some of those songs...I'm not going to tell you which ones so I don't set myself up for mockery ;)
Your hub puts those songs in a nutshell that makes them more understandable and probably less likable!
Voted up and interesting.
Free2writ3 from Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania on August 15, 2012:
Lol.. Great Hub...
Jools Hogg from North-East UK on August 10, 2012:
Great hub - this brought back some memories of the 70s I would prefer to forget :o). Some of these songs also reminded me of TV 'Specials' (contradiction in terms!) by Captain and Teneale, Helen Reddy and The Osmonds among others. Voted up and shared.
theframjak from East Coast on August 03, 2012:
Great hub! I grew up and the 1970s and unfortunately have heard all of the songs on the list. It's amazing to think all of these songs were so popular back in the day. What were we thinking?!