In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: Christopher Moore writes hilariously zany stories, many of them set in San Francisco, many of them told from the perspective of already anxious people thrust into extraordinary circumstances—like saving the world from the forces of evil. After traveling to Shakespeare’s England, 19th century France, and gothic Venice for his latest books, Moore returns to San Francisco to pick up the story of the city’s death merchants. A sequel to 2006’s A Dirty Job, Secondhand Souls is just as good as its predecessor, and comes out next week.
The hated: Mr. Mister, “Broken Wings” (1985)
The A.V. Club: Good choice on this. It’s a doozy.
Christopher Moore: It’s so annoying. I can’t even tell you. I didn’t even have to think. When [my publicist] told me what the assignment was I was like, “‘Broken Wings,’ no question about it.” I’ve almost torn a rotator cuff diving for the radio knob whenever this comes on, because I can’t turn it off fast enough.
AVC: So you mostly hear it on the radio?
CM: Yeah, it’s never voluntarily. Oh—you know what, they also play it occasionally in Trader Joe’s. They’ll be doing ’80s music and stuff like that and I’m all fine and bouncing along and there’s a Go-Go’s tune on or something like that and then it comes on it’s like, “Must take my own life.”
AVC: Trader Joe’s definitely likes that ’80s upbeat music that maybe makes you want to buy more things—this sort of fits in there.
CM: Yeah, and there’s this sort of genre of whiny, ridiculous ballads that—I think it goes through every period, I don’t want to say it’s exclusive to the ’70s or ’80s, it’s like, every period had their whiny, insipid ballads. But this one—as a writer it’s especially offensive because the clichés are strung one right after the other. “Can we just hold each other’s hands,” and the chorus: “Take these broken wings.” Stolen—widely stolen—and from a great song. If you take The Beatles’ “Blackbird”—okay, you really shouldn’t use that metaphor anymore because The Beatles got that covered. And then, “The book of love will open up and let us in”—at that point you’re just pulling the hammer back on the gun and putting it in your mouth. Like, please let this end now, it’s such a horrible song. And I really think it is because I’m a writer and there’s certain—it’s always pounded into your head, “Don’t use clichés, don’t use clichés” and that’s all this horrible, horrible song is.
AVC: I was just listening to it and it’s so very ’80s, but it’s not one of those songs that’s bad because it’s ’80s. You can’t blame the ’80s conventions for why the song is so bad.
CM: No, exactly. Because there’s some really great, very ’80s music—I didn’t really discover ’80s music until the ’80s were almost over and I was a DJ and I was like, “Wow, there is some cool stuff that’s been written.” But that’s not—no, it’s not the fault of the times. This would have been a horrible song in any decade. It would be, and it is, a horrible song today. I’m surprised that someone hasn’t covered it.
AVC: Are there other Mr. Mister songs you don’t like?
CM: To be honest with you there’s not—it’s something more like, “Wow, I was terminally exposed to this radiation, I’m going to go find some more terminal radiation to see how the rest of it sounds.” I can’t even name another Mr. Mister song. In fact, I had to look up who it was. I had a vague idea who performed it because as I said, whenever it came on the radio it was, “Oh my God, I have to turn this off.” Or, you know, put ice picks in my ears to stop it. So I couldn’t even remember who had done something so awful. So no, I have not unfriended Mr. Mister, that’s just the only song that I know that they ever did.
AVC: And have you seen the music video?
CM: Yeah, when I heard about this I queued it up on YouTube and I watched the first… maybe 45 seconds of it. And it’s almost—no, it is as bad as the song, it is. But that is something that is almost universal with ’80s music, is that most all of the videos are pretty awful. Occasionally when you get one that’s not that’s a classic. But especially with power ballads—I don’t even know what genre this is, besides awful. Is awful a genre?
AVC: I think you can make the case for “awful power ballad” being a genre.
CM: Oh good, yeah, in that case, that’s what this is.
AVC: It’s even worse in the video because they take these horrible clichés and then they visualize them. So there’s a bird flying around, like, communicating with the singer.
CM: It’s such a profound lack of original thinking. And you see it now—I find it offensive now, when you see a movie and every single line of the movie is lifted. And it’s cliché because the person writing it thought, “This is what cops always say.” And you see that, “I’m not really coming up with anything, I’m cutting and pasting it all,” which is fine if you’re doing it for Facebook, but if you’re going for something like this, maybe not. Maybe come up with something original occasionally. And this is like the poser child for awful, unoriginal clichéd crap. Is that too crass?
AVC: Nah. A lot of people we’ve talked to get very upset and use strong language to describe their most hated songs.
CM: [Laughs.] And it’s weird because you don’t have a depth of knowledge—it’s not like I’ve thought for years and years about it and how awful this song is. The awfulness just washes over you. It’s like if you’ve accidentally run over a skunk, you know, you don’t have to analyze it, you just know, “This is so horrible and I need it to not be here.”
What more can you say about something that’s so wildly unoriginal? It’s like, we shouldn’t put more effort into being original talking about something that’s not original.
AVC: And it’s still around. Like, some songs are so bad, but over time they fade into obscurity. But this song is still on the radio, it’s—like you said, it’s played at Trader Joe’s—and it doesn’t feel like it has any redeeming qualities as to why it’s still around.
CM: And some awful songs are like awful movies, where you’re like, “Aw, I can’t wait to hear that again.” And I’m an old guy, so I have more experience with this, but the Rick Astley song—there’s a point where you go, “Okay, that’s so awful that I’ve come around to hearing now.” But this song never hits that. This song is always putrid and awful. It’s always the skunk you can still smell in your car two years after you ran over it. There’s no fun awfulness to it.
I have a friend who’s in an ’80s girl band—obviously it’s not in the ’80s, it’s now—but they do Go-Go’s songs and Bangles songs and there’s a sort of cheesiness to those songs where you’re like, “Okay, those are kind of awful, but it’s funny to hear them now.” And this song never reaches that campy, fun aspect of it. It’s awful and it’s insipid and it needs to go away and die. And I say that in a nice way.