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 The Meatmen, Tesco Vee (born Robert Vermeulen) has spent countless years trying to keep punk rock politically incorrect, crude, and independent. Vee also founded Touch And Go Records, which would later blossom into one of the world’s preeminent indie labels before pretty much crapping out in the early ’00s.
The Meatmen’s latest record, Savage Sagas, is out now.
The hated: Billy Joel, “Piano Man” (1973)
The A.V. Club: Why is “Piano Man” your least favorite song of all time?
Tesco Vee: The reasons are many and varied, but it’s the one song that absolutely makes my blood boil every time I hear it. From the opening strains of that shitty harmonica, I know I’m going to have a bad three minutes, no matter where I am and what I’m doing.
If I’m at someplace I can escape from, like the grocery store, I might have a shopping cart filled but I will walk out. If I’m at the antique mall, I will walk out. The worst is when I’m in the dentist chair, getting my teeth drilled, because then I cannot escape. My knee-jerk reaction is to want to grab the drill out of the dentist’s hands and shove it into my eardrum, then drill out my eardrums so I don’t have to hear it anymore.
It’s been 40 years since that song came out and it’s still everywhere. It’s like musical herpes. Once it gets inside you, you can never cure it. It might go away for a while, but it always comes back. You’re forced to listen to it. People say, “Don’t listen to it. Tune it out.” I cannot tune it out, because I am a music fan. I even have to listen to shitty songs like “Who Can It Be Now” by Men At Work or “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. I can’t tune it out. That’s a character flaw.
AVC: What is it specifically about this song? Is it the piano? The story?
TV: The ’70s were ripe with these troubadours or, as I call them, “troubabores.” Gordon Lightfoot, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce… I hated all that shit. But Billy Joel wins as the shitty troubadour of the ’70s. His songs were masquerading as rock ’n’ roll and were all over the airwaves, but the lyrics are just bad.
Hating Billy Joel is nothing new. I pride myself on age and wish I could be more on the vanguard of something new and not have to speak my mind, but I have to tell the truth and that is the song I hate the most. I saw an article a few years ago where a guy online called Billy Joel the Andrew Wyeth of pop music. I almost think he’s the Thomas Kinkade or Rod McKuen of pop music. His lyrics are so trite, inane, myopic, boring. And people eat it up, because most people have shit for taste. Forty years from now you will still hear that song on the fucking radio.
That song is a frat boy singalong. The dueling piano bars are bullcrap. It’s the ballad du jour for subsequent generations. It will never go away.
AVC: Do you buy into Billy Joel’s blue collar messaging?
TV: I’m all for a good story woven through a song. I’m old. I’m going to date myself, but I love Robert Mitchum and “The Ballad Of Thunder Road,” or Lorne Greene doing “Ringo,” or “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean. To me, those tell a story. But Billy Joel—who ends a line in a song with “ack, ack, ack, ack, ack, ack?” Who does that? And of course he made millions of dollars off it. So people are like, “Wow, that’s great.” And then he did “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” This is not his only shitty song, but it’s the shittiest of the shitty.
AVC: Why do you think “Piano Man” is worse than “We Didn’t Start The Fire?”
TV: It has harmonica in it. I think all the harmonicas in the world should be gathered up in a big pile. To be Earth-friendly, maybe they could be made into an instrument that is more pleasing to the ear. Unless you’re Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson—and last time I checked, both those guys are dead—you should not play the harmonica.
Then, to add insult to injury, he’s got an accordion. He’s got a harmonica and an accordion in the same song.
It’s also got hack lyrics. Three strikes and you’re out.
AVC: In an email you sent me, you said you also hated a number of other songs, some of which you mentioned above, like “Hey Jude.” Is there a common theme to these songs that you don’t like?
TV: I don’t think so. They come from five different directions and they all end up at “suck.” The guy in Offspring’s voice makes me want to regurgitate. [On “Keep ’Em Separated.”]
“Puff The Magic Dragon” is the epitome of what was really bad about the ’70s. The ’70s is the greatest musical decade, but it also had some of the worst possible music, like Leo Sayer and that kind of stuff.
“Who Can It Be Now” by Men At Work—I change to the sophomoric “Poop And A Pee Now” when I have to sing it to myself so I don’t stab my eyes out. And “Hey Jude” by The Beatles is just an awful song with the refrain at the end that just goes on ad nauseam and, once again, you want to kill yourself.
And those are just five. There are many more where that came from. I’m a music lover, not a music hater. When you’re a music lover, your passions run deep. You love what you love and you really hate what you really hate. And working in a regular 9-to-5 world— which I’m forced to do because not enough people buy my goddamn record—I’m forced to listen to this shit music because my co-workers play it. I have to listen to it. Like I said, sometimes you can escape, sometimes you can’t. It’s those moments when you can’t that you’re really in hell for three minutes.
Can I say one more thing? I’m convinced Billy Joel became the alcohol-sodden little troll he became because he, too, hates his music and he was trying to escape. That’s my theory. I’m sure I’m going to make some people real happy who love Billy Joel, but since when did Tesco Vee ever worry about pissing somebody off? I made a living at it. I kind of made a living at it. I made a hobby out of it—how’s that?