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: As the frontman for !!!, Nic Offer has spent the past 17 years reinventing dance-punk. Bursting out of the same scene that birthed LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture, !!! broke into the indie mainstream with 2003’s excellent “Me And Giuliani Down By The School Yard,” and has just released its fifth full-length record, Thr!!!er. Since the band’s name has a tendency to draw some hate from grammarians and Google, The A.V. Club thought it prudent to let Offer funnel some of that negative energy he’s received into hating on another act.
The hated: The Animals, “The House Of The Rising Sun” (1964)
The A.V. Club: Why do you hate “House Of The Rising Sun”?
Nic Offer: When you hear the opening arpeggio chords, it’s like, “Are we done yet? Are we there?” Instantly, I’m ready for it to be over. I don’t know what it is that I hate about it; it’s just exhausting.
When I looked it up, I was kind of surprised to see that it was a forerunner to the whole folk-rock scene. I think on Wikipedia it says something like, “Electrified!” It was like they tapped the socket or something like that.
I guess I’m slightly resentful that I’m unable to hear any of that. I blame classic-rock radio because it just washes through me. I’m unable to hear that electricity, and it’s because it’s been played constantly. It’s played numerous times a day for how many years now? When did it come out, like 40 years ago, right?
AVC: 1964, so almost 50 years ago.
NO: Jesus Christ. And I guess that’s what gets the brunt of my resentment. I was really into classic rock from the time I was like 10 to 12, and then when I was 12, I decided there were no new songs on the station anymore. I knew all the songs. I liked the pop station because that’s when Prince and Madonna and Mary Jane Girls were all jumping off, and so you would actually hear new things. So I stopped listening to classic-rock radio, but the thing is now—and that was almost 30 years ago—whenever I tune in, it’s the exact same playlist as the day I stopped listening when I was 12 years old. It’s sick. I don't think that’s healthy, and I can't believe it’s what people are listening to every day. I just don’t understand. There’s no more entertainment. It’d be like reading the same newspaper every single day for 30 years or watching the same exact television shows. Why do we have to listen to the exact same songs over and over and over again?
AVC: It’s probably comforting for people. Those songs are reminders of youth. They’re like worn old shirts.
NO: The thing is, at this point, it doesn't even remind you of the ’60s. It reminds you of Tuesday. It’s just yesterday. It just turns into this steady stream of mediocrity, and you can’t taste it anymore. I’ve often said that if I ran for president, one of the first things I would do was pass a law that everything that was in high rotation would be axed from the radio station. You want to play Led Zeppelin, you’d have to play “Achilles Last Stand” or whatever deeper Led Zeppelin cut. All the played-out ones, you can only play on, like, Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July. Then they’d sound good. You need to give them a break.
Someone recently forwarded me a great series. It’s called something like Lux And Ivy’s Favorites…
AVC: Oh, from The Cramps?
NO: You know what I’m talking about? There’s so many of them. It’s like 30 songs on seven or 11 different files. It’s just huge. You hear all of these oldies, and it’s like, “Jesus, I wish they would integrate [newer stuff] into the playlist.” Why do we have to hear “Louie, Louie” again?
I think it’s all about to come crashing down, at least I hope it is. It’s like how television programming was bland and boring, and everyone thought that this is just what everyone wanted. Then the Internet came along, and it gave everyone the freedom to choose. Television took a hit. I think radio must’ve already taken a hit as well. It’s already seemed to be a bit old-fashioned.
AVC: I think that’s why these radio stations launched the JACK FM format. They started popping up when people were getting into MP3s because everyone would have three Billy Joel songs, all this Justin Timberlake, a Dr. Dre song, and “The Gambler” on their computer. So it’s kind of a wacky mix of songs that people like. It’s not a huge step, but it’s still a progression.
NO: Right. That’s better than 15 years ago. Even in the classic-rock format, AOR was originally a groundbreaking format. They’d play Bad Company and then a side of Bitches Brew. It was really exciting at first, and then it just became this well-honed mediocrity. The first time I heard JACK FM, I thought it was awesome. Now it’s just turned into… it’s not a very surprising playlist.
AVC: When I was growing up, the oldies stations were all, “It’s the ’50s and ’60s!” Now it’s the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, which is really off-putting as well.
NO: Right. But I do hear classic rock, and, they’ve mixed in Nirvana and Soundgarden and Green Day. At least it’s a new song to me. I do appreciate that. It means that I only hear three Boston songs in a day instead of four, and that’s nice.
I remember specifically, back in the ’90s, calling up the radio station in Sacramento; it was a very tame, white-bred R&B, vaguely hip-hop station. I requested a Maxwell song because they were playing a bunch down in the Bay Area where they had much better radio. We’d go down and just listen to it all weekend. I came back and requested a song on the Sacramento radio station, and the DJ was like, “Oh my God, I love that song, too! But we can’t play it.” And I was like, “What? Why not?” And she said, “Well, Sacramento’s radio is a Midwest market, and people aren’t really ready for that.” I was offended. [Laughs.] It probably made me first realize that I needed to get out of that town. But, probably within a year of that, another station came up, and just crushed them because they played more like a Bay Area radio station. They played all hip-hop. This was back when Timbaland and Jay-Z started and when all that stuff was happening, and they just crushed them. So I was really glad to see that quality was victorious, and that people really did want to hear that.
That’s the thing: I still feel attached to radio. I know that I’m old-fashioned for it, but I listen to the radio every day. I have to keep up in some sense. I still want it to succeed, but I just hate the narrow-minded programming.
AVC: There’s a lot of weird background politics within radio that people would be surprised to know.
NO: I think you’re exactly right. It’s an incredibly archaic old-boy system, and it’s just too bad.
AVC: Getting back to “The House Of The Rising Sun,” that was a folk song that was made into a rock song, and I agree with you in that I wish I could hear it for the first time, out of this contemporary context. Why was it more successful than anything else at the time? It had been recorded many times before. Was it just the rock ’n’ roll sound or the British Invasion?
NO: I do understand that it must’ve sounded fresh. I can understand that. Especially if you’re saying it was pre-“Like A Rolling Stone” and stuff. It must’ve sounded pretty wild. We’re always trying to connect it: “That was the punk of its day!” It becomes part of the whitewashed sound that’s just not interesting anymore. It’s too bad.
I do have a funny story about the song: My mother was in a convent, and one of the nuns met some kid who was in a band, and he was going to be in a battle of the bands. He said that if the nuns prayed for them and they won that they would come play a concert at the convent. So the nuns did and they won, and the band came and played, and they played that song. So any time we would hear that song, my mom would tell me the story. So I’ve heard that story as many times as a kid and now when it comes on, I tell that story and pass it on. It’s pretty funny, though, to imagine these young hippies playing this song about a whorehouse to a convent of nuns.
AVC: Was your mom going to be a nun?
NO: Yeah, and my dad was going to be a priest.
AVC: Oh, that’s nice. And they found each other?
NO: Let the critics analyze our record with that.
AVC: I wonder, since it was a traditional song, if The Animals made more money off it because they didn’t have to pay any songwriting royalties. Do you know?
NO: I guess Eric Burdon didn’t get any of the credit or anything, so they probably split it up nice and even.
AVC: My friend had this Casio keyboard when we were growing up. It would play songs for you, but you’d have to buy the actual songs on discs or whatever to play along. “House Of The Rising Sun” was the standard demo song that came on it.
NO: And that’s a cornerstone of what our pop music has become. I remember when we were first starting !!!, we were completely anti-blues. We felt like that really needed to die and that rock ’n’ roll should start taking from funk and disco because at that point, funk and disco was as old as the blues had been when The Animals and The Beatles and the Stones started. We felt that that’s what people should be building upon, and furthermore, that they should be building upon the R&B and hip-hop of the time. I guess I think in a way, I’ve seen it come true because now it feels like The White Stripes were the last gasp of [that]. I mean it’s never gone away entirely. Jesus Christ, there was swing revival in the ’90s, so I’m sure it’ll come back again. It's not completely dead, but I guess I sleep easier knowing it’s a little deeper into the ground. Or a little deeper in its grave.
AVC: The Animals still tour, or at least Eric Burdon still tours, and he probably plays that song every single night.
NO: Oh God, he must be so sick of it. I can’t even imagine it. That would be hell to be onstage with him when the band starts, “Bah nah nah nah…” “Here we go…” [Laughs.] I feel for him. Our biggest hit is nine minutes long. At least his is only, like, three minutes.