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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Birthday Boys hate rock songs about rocking

Illustration for article titled The Birthday Boys hate rock songs about rocking

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 haters: Three members of the sketch-comedy group The Birthday Boys, whose second season premiered last Friday night on IFC. The Boys were shepherded to the network by Mr. Show’s Bob Odenkirk, and his sensibility has been passed down to this show, which also shares some DNA with The State. Representing The Birthday Boys for this edition of HateSong are Tim Kalpakis, Mike Hanford, and Jefferson Dutton.

The hated: Bob Seger, “Old Time Rock & Roll” (1979)

The A.V. Club: We’ve never done a multi-person HateSong before. What brought you to a consensus with “Old Time Rock & Roll”?


Tim Kalpakis: One of the reasons we don’t like it is that it’s a rock ’n’ roll song about rock ’n’ roll. There’s a bunch of ’em. If you’re singing a song about rock ’n’ roll, you just wasted a song. You’re doing rock ’n’ roll! You just wasted your time and our time. You could’ve had something else on the record.

Mike Hanford: And this particular song you’re playing is a bad example of rock ’n’ roll.

Jefferson Dutton: The content of the piece doesn’t need to reflect the form that closely. It’s not necessary.

AVC: Are there particular lyrics that bother you?

TK: Such a huge part of the song is him saying that we won’t be able to get him to do things. You can’t get him out on the floor. You can’t get him to the disco. It feels like he just thinks we like him a lot and we want to take him around.


JD: No one’s asking him anything. He’s just complaining. The second line is “I’ll sit and listen to ’em by myself.” It’s such a get-the-audience-rocking kind of song, but that’s the second line. Arena people are screaming out, “Don’t listen to these records alone!”

AVC: I’m not sure that the Bob Seger audience has the fine-tuned sense of irony that you guys do.


MH: They don’t have time to sit around and hate music.

TK: We don’t dislike Bob Seger, that’s the funny thing. I think he’s got a lot of great songs. It’s just the one that sticks out as his hugely successful song is a dumbed-down version of what he was already doing. It’s that thing where he was sort of a throwback rocker guy, and he didn’t need to come out and say, “This is exactly what I’m all about!” But the world loves it when you do that, so it became a huge hit for him.


AVC: Are you aware that this is one of very few Bob Seger hits that he didn’t write?

MH: I thought he was on the writing team, uncredited.

AVC: So he says. George Jackson wrote it, and Seger claims that he substantially changed the lyrics, particularly the verses, but he didn’t claim credit until it was too late.


JD: He’s fighting to get his name on this shitty song?

MH: So he’s like, “I like this song, but it doesn’t have any of the stuff in there I like about staying home, and going to a tango.”


TK: That was really important to him, to get in the line about how he won’t go out to a tango. People go to tango bars so often, though, you can’t avoid ’em.

MH: All my friends are constantly trying to get me to tango.

JD: I’d rather hear funky blues or old soul!

AVC: How much of your hatred of the song has to do with Risky Business?

TK: It doesn’t help!

MH: I get why that scene is iconic for some people, with Tom Cruise in his underwear and it’s a big star-making moment, but it’s also a thing that we’ve seen so much, and it’s been parodied so much. Other than him being in his underwear, that scene doesn’t have much significance. His parents are out of town, and he drinks some Jack Daniels and plays guitar with a fireplace poker.


TK: Maybe it is pretty cool!

JD: Has anyone ever reversed positions during HateSong?

AVC: Have you heard about the Friskies commercial that uses “Old Time Rock & Roll”? “Just take those Friskies off the shelf / Your cat can eat them by himself.”


MH: As far as we know, those could’ve been the original lyrics, before he changed them.

AVC: Is there a comedic equivalent to a song like this, where you’re kind of talking about the form while doing it?


MH: Probably us. We’ve done many, many sketches about sketch comedy, and now we’re humiliated.

JD: Is this a trap, Josh?

MH: We kicked off the first season with tons and tons of navel-gazing.

AVC: Does that work for you? You might have the market cornered.

JD: We do it a little different or better this year.

MH: We never set out to do it, and we don’t think it’s a particularly important thing to do. It’s always just if it’s a funny idea that rings true. I don’t think this season has any of that stuff in it.


JD: We would’ve spaced out the first two episodes; they’re a little too analogous, I guess. But the way the delivery schedule panned out, they had to be the first two.

MH: When you take writing courses at UCB, at the beginning they hand out some advice from Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, and Ian Roberts—like, “here are some pointers from the founders.” I remember on the Matt Besser sheet, he has a list of sketch-comedy dos and don’ts, and it said, “Don’t ever parody a comedy. Comedy about comedy should not be done.”


AVC: So if someone were to accuse a particular sketch of yours of being the “Old Time Rock & Roll” of comedy sketches, which would it be?

TK: That’s an interesting question, and I think we can crack it. We’re sometimes winky about comedy, but do we ever say “sketch comedy”?


JD: In the pilot, you say, “We love comedy!” We’re aware of ourselves as a comedy group.

MH: The sketch is called “Paychecks.” We did it in the pilot!

TK: We Segered ourselves right in the pilot!

MH: This was an eye-opener for us, and we’re probably going to give up sketch comedy now.


AVC: Maybe instead of giving up, you could just embrace the Seger-ness of it all.

MH: Seger’s a good guy, though. That kind of music just soothes the soul, they say.


TK: If anything, rock ’n’ roll’s an agitator, an activator!

AVC: I thought you might be excited to know that Seger put out a new record today.


JD: Whoa!

TK: We haven’t been paid by Seger at all! If Bob is reading this, congrats on the new record.


JD: [In gravelly Seger voice.] Thanks for putting in a good word on the new album! He sounds like that!

AVC: Anything else readers need to know about the song?

TK: When it comes to “Old Time Rock & Roll,” at least you have fair warning. When you hear that intro riff, you kinda know that you’ve got to change the station or leave the room. Just a heads-up to people, if you hear “dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun,” just take a break.


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