Hey Now, Dolly

In honor of Dolly Parton’s new album of covers, an atypically mean-spirited list of my least favorite songs

Everybody loves Dolly Parton; how could you not? This week, she released a new album of covers called Rockstar, and even if you don’t care about the music, just the description of it and how it came to be is so charming and wholesome and fully in the spirit of Dolly.

A while ago, she politely declined an invitation to be admitted the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, pointing out that most of her music was country, not rock. 1Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time! Eventually, she accepted, and then she called a ton of famous musicians to collaborate on “real” rock songs, which became this record.

What I love most about that account2Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page is that I’m not 100% sure that it’s absolutely true, but as with all things Dolly Parton, it 100% doesn’t matter.

She’s the most gloriously unpretentious rich and famous celebrity there is. While people have spent decades making a show of agonizing over the tension between art vs commerce, she’s treated the whole question as nonsense. She’s got tons of hit songs that she wrote, but she’s always described herself as a business woman first, with never even a whiff of the idea that commercial success is something to be embarrassed about. She’s the only person in the world who could have an entire theme park dedicated to her, without it coming across as even a tiny bit egotistical. She’d never describe herself as an artist or a philanthropist, even though she’s undoubtedly both.

Anyway, while I love Dolly and I find Rockstar completely charming, there is one problem with her being so generous and collaborative. When I downloaded the album, I had to download a cover of the worst song ever recorded: “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes.

I try to keep it positive around here, but I can’t hide my absolute contempt for that song. We’re all fortunate that it’s rarely played in public these days, but the young people will have to believe me when I say that 1993 was a nightmare.

And I always imagined that there are so many terrible songs, I’d have trouble picking the absolute worst. But choosing this song came so easily and naturally for me, I wondered whether I could make a list. It turns out I can!

So here it is, a list of my most hated popular3Or at least popular enough for me to have heard them a lot songs, in honor of an album of kind-hearted, generous collaboration and celebration of a wonderful career:

  1. “What’s Up,” 4 Non Blondes
  2. “A Horse With No Name,” America (“The heat was hot and the ground was dry”)
  3. “Boom Boom Pow,” Black-Eyed Peas
  4. “Jane Says,” Jane’s Addiction
  5. “Blister in the Sun,” Violent Femmes
  6. “What Makes You Beautiful,” One Direction (catchy song, disgusting message)
  7. “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” Billy Joel
  8. “Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke
  9. [Edited to add: I noticed above that I repeated the phrase “these days” twice in the same paragraph, which reminded me of] “These Days,” Nico

The impetus behind “staying positive” online isn’t just some vapid good-vibes-only thing; it’s more that being negative is easy and over-done. You can do a search for “worst pop songs” and the like to see there’s no shortage of them, and they’re pretty lazy. Oh, you think “Friday” by Rebecca Black isn’t good? Do go on, you seem fascinating!

And yeah, I’m aware that Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit exist, and that Van Morrison has become a total asshat making anti-lockdown music, and that the Black Eyed Peas and Fergie made lots more songs than just that one, but they don’t affect me. The songs in this list, on the other hand, are objectively worse for the universe and drain my soul away from my body every time I accidentally hear them.

But Dolly is better than all of us, dancing across the classics and the garbage with equal amounts of self-effacing grace, making cash register ch-ching sounds the whole way, and staying charming as hell the entire time. The rest of us can swallow our pretense and keep our fingers hovered over the skip-track button.

And her cover of “Magic Man” is flat-out delightful.

  • 1
    Gracious but absurd! “9 to 5” alone is one of the most memorable pop songs of all time!
  • 2
    Which I read on the album’s description on its Apple Music page
  • 3
    Or at least popular enough for me to have heard them a lot