What is the worst song of all time? Here’s one candidate.
What’s the lamest song ever written and recorded?
People have opinions on the subject, and more than a few of those folks are willing to mix it up over who can name the absolute, bottom-of-the-barrel, worst tune of all time.
“ ‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks.”
“No way! ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ by Edison Lighthouse!”
“Get out of town! ‘My Pal Foot-Foot’ by the Shaggs.”
Bam! Biff! Pow!
Even experts have weighed in. Humor columnist Dave Barry, rock critic Jimmy Guterman and the artist and repertoire staff at the reissue label Rhino Records, among others, have made a sport of picking their most hurl-worthy platters. Most of those usually fall into a few rancid categories: ’70s-vintage Top-40 radio gunk, pointless superstar collaborations or songs by incompetent fools who never should have set foot inside a recording studio.
You can even find a cult following for tunes recorded by studio hacks as part of the old “Send us your poem (and your money) and we’ll turn it into a hit record” scam ads that used to run in the back of magazines and comic books. Would-be smashes such as “Jimmy Carter Says Yes” and “My Little Rug Bug,” sung by such renowned chart-toppers as Rod “Rodd Rogers” Eskelin or the MSR Singers, are items that command ardent devotion in certain circles.
While those people might be onto something, they’re wasting their time.
You see, a few years ago, I stumbled across a record that shuts down all contenders. It had been lurking in my record collection for decades, but it must have been one of those albums that I’d filed under “This sucks, and that store doesn’t have a return policy, so it looks like I’m stuck,” after one miserable play. I recall buying it at a Gemco after seeing Womb play some outdoor mudfest on an island in the delta north of Tracy in the summer of ’69, and I think I bummed some cigarettes off a few of them, and they told me their band was from Sacramento.
Anyway, one day, while trying to pull an adjacent disc off the shelf, the erstwhile Womb album must have fallen out, too. After laughing at its hideously psychedelic album cover, I spied the logo of Dot Records—a company then better known for putting out squaresville recordings by Roy Clark and Lawrence Welk than for wah-wah-laced acid-rock epics.
Upon further investigation, I ascertained that the album’s second side looked quite promising. Applying the needle test to the first of its two songs, “Hang On (Look Around, I’m Upside Down),” turned up a nursery-rhymish B-list Jefferson Airplane attempt. Weak.
But the song that followed was no hippie schoolyard chant. At 17 minutes and 33 seconds, “Happy Egotist” is no Iggy and the Stooges wham-bam, either. No, “Happy Egotist”—a collaborative songwriting effort from Womb’s singer/guitarist Gregg Young and its saxophonist/ flutist Roluf Stuart—is a certifiable disasterpiece. Imagine what might happen if the lads in Spinal Tap, instead of lampooning the likes of Deep Purple, had created a parody Summer of Love-style hippie-rock band—using the Manson Family and the television show The Mod Squad as a template.
“Happy Egotist” is the worst song ever recorded. Bar none.
It begins with Young bleating the song’s title as if he’d just awakened from a jug-wine stupor with an arrow through his skull. Then comes a descending “duh-duh-dump, duh-duh-dump” bass riff from Christopher Johnson, some apparently Nembutal-fueled cymbal-bashing from Ron Brunecker and a recurring four-note flute-guitar figure from Stuart and Young.
Then the vocals begin. The creepy-crawly style of Young and singer/pianist Karyl Boddy are one part singing and two parts bad poetry reading, but it’s a perfect mix for this material—which sounds like the showstopper duet from a way-off-Broadway musical about a bloody car accident as sung by Bobby Beausoleil and Leslie van Houten.
“Caressing fog / Screeching tires / Broken tree / What’s happening to me-ee-ee?” Say what? You know that when a song starts like that, it isn’t going to end up with an enamored couple, a bouquet of roses and a magnum of champagne at a garden-café table.
“Gearshift knob / Girlfriend’s arm / Impaled upon / What’s happening to me-ee-ee.” Son, let’s just say that Dad isn’t going to be too enthusiastic when he sees what you’ve done to the family station wagon.
Of course, it gets better.
After a placid flute solo from Stuart that borrows heavily from the old spiritual “Wade in the Water,” Young’s electric guitar butts in. He sounds tentative for the first few bars, and then he cranks up, and the whole distorted mess rapidly devolves into a top-five candidate for the dumbest guitar solo of all time. It’s the six-stringed equivalent of how the late rock writer Lester Bangs once described the drummer for the Shaggs’ sound—like a pegleg stumbling through a field of bald Uniroyals. Here, Young’s ham-fisted descending barré chords, furious racket and dim-witted noodling come off like a rum-addled bull in a china shop. It’s pretty great.
Guess what? It gets even better.
A flute filigree from Stuart leads into a hard rhythm-and-blues stomp. Young’s jagged ninth chords give the band’s locomoting groove a promising edginess, an effect that is completely demolished the moment his vocals kick in: “Hah! Hah! Hah! / We’re travelin’ / From San Francisco / A-makin’ it down to Los Angeles / I got my bay-buh along with me …” It’s a brilliant evocation of the late ’60s suburban buckskin-jacketed dope dealer as Otis Redding-wannabe aesthetic.
A few lines later, Young is describing how he and his sweetums were motoring blithely through Monterey.
“Up came a tree!” he sings.
Uh-oh. Could spell trouble.
Indeed. Boddy gives the first indication that all’s not well. “Why / Did you leave me / In a bloody / Bloody mess?” she coos, then begins to describe her grisly plight in graphic detail: “The car is burning / The flames are flicking higher and higher/ I can’t see no more … The blood is dripping down my face … My arm is bleeding / My eyes are crying.” By this point she’s built to a state of apoplectic histrionics rarely seen outside of bad television acting. “I’m going to die! die! die!” she screams.
So what does our hero do? “I’m sorry,” he croons. “I had to leave you.”
The mess turns into the kind of indecipherable crosstalk that you hear on the Sunday morning political shows; then the whole thing collapses into a whimper of a flute solo. After the same six-note bass figure and drum-bashing we heard in the beginning, stretched out to an interminable length, the song’s closing vocals begin. “In a cell / Wondering why / I’m about / To die-ie-ie-ie / Priest walks in …”
So why get so obsessed by what’s obviously a seriously crummy record?
I can’t explain it, except to say that I’m a big fan of films directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr., and the Womb album is at least the audio equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda? combined.
I do know, however, that I’ve spent way too much time on the Internet trying to track the band down. There are scant references to Womb on the Web; the one site I have found lists them as a San Francisco-based band with two albums on Dot, both released in 1969: Womb and Overdub, the latter of which I found in a used record store, although its one gem, a 10-minute-long composition from Young titled “Evil People,” isn’t up (or down) to “Happy Egotist” standards.
Searches for band members also came to naught. The only name that came up was Gregg Young; I called the one in Redwood Valley and left messages asking if he was the guy in Womb, but he never called back. I e-mailed another, a Maui-based briar-pipe artisan, but no return there, either. A third, a stockbroker, looked improbable, so I didn’t bother.
So I’m left with imagining how, post-Womb, the band scattered, the members settling down into mundane lives in some innocuous suburb, where they’ve hid Womb’s recorded oeuvre from their kids. If only I could talk to one of them, I’d ask the same question their kids might ask upon hearing “Happy Egotist”: What were you thinking?