Guides | July 17, 2007 | Comments ()
The title of this little series of features is technically Pajiba’s Guide to What’s Good For You, but I cannot in all honesty offer up today’s Guide as anything other than a collection of total shlock, cheese, and crap. However, it didn’t seem possible or necessary to change the title to Pajiba’s Guide to Things That Are Better Left Forgotten or adding ironic quotes around “Good” in the title, even just for today, so here it is.
The 1980s and early ’90s were the heyday of classically cheesy soundtracks, back when producers crafted horrible light adult-pop songs to drive the film and boost sales of the soundtrack album. Dozens and dozens of soundtrack albums still come out each year, but many are simply forgettable compilations of pre-existing hits that were used in the film. Some modern soundtracks do rise above their typically niche appeal and experience broader sales — the Garden State soundtrack springs to mind — but for the most part soundtrack albums don’t have nearly the impact they had even a few years ago, when terrible songs and sometimes terrible movies went hand in hand, resulting in some gloriously awful music. That’s what this list is devoted to: the cheesy singles, almost always created specifically for the film, that get stuck in your head and make you regret ever seeing the movie in the first place. There’s no real room on the list for quality, so keep your bellyachin’ to yourself if you think I was a fool to omit soundtracks to the early films of, say, John Hughes and Cameron Crowe. Those directors made good movies with good soundtracks, so they’re out on both counts.
When putting the list together, I brainstormed some of the titles with someone whose knowledge of musical cinematic travesties outweighs even my own: My sister, who I’m pretty sure has every one of these songs stored in her iTunes library. I couldn’t have done it without her help. When compiling the list, I tried to weigh three independent criteria for each song: (1) How cheesy is the song? (2) How bad is the movie? (3) How awful is the video? All three categories applied in some degree to each of the songs selected, but there’s also a magical X-factor that can’t be quantified for things like this, and as the list progressed, I realized I had entered a hellish gray area where all three guidelines blurred together, and nothing was left but masterpieces of schlock. And yet, that’s almost beside the point. The songs in question here aren’t really good, and some of them are downright terrible, but they still each enjoyed their moment in the sun, however brief, when their respective movies dominated the pop culture zeitgeist. So turn up those tinny computer speakers and get ready to grimace your way through some wicked flashbacks.
“I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard
I’m getting this one out of the way up front because it’s obvious. The Bodyguard was a fairly terrible romantic drama, and the video follows the pretty predictable format of merely having the singer sit around the set and pretend to react to the clips from the film that are interspersed with performance footage. What actually gives the song an edge is Houston’s considerable pipes, back before she blew all her talent on coke and abusive relationships, as well as the added gimmick of having the song’s performer also be the movie’s romantic lead. Still, this song is pretty cornball, and long ago became cliché.
“Highway to the Danger Zone,” Kenny Loggins, Top Gun
Ah, now this is more like it. Tom Cruise is required by the State of California and the Church of Scientology to have wet hair, be shirtless, or appear clad in a towel in every one of his film roles, and in Top Gun he did all three. Kenny Loggins’ kinda-rock-but-really-nowhere-close theme song was used throughout the film’s hard-hitting tale of one short pilot out on the edge, notably during the awesome opening sequence. I know what you’re saying: Dan, you fool, where’s Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away”? Well, sorry to disappoint, folks, but the video of Cruise giving sloppy kisses in the shadows set my stomach on end, so you get Loggins, complete with hot dude-on-dude fighter jet action. You’re welcome.
… Oh, what the hell, here you go:
Well, I have to go put bleach in my eyes now. On with the countdown:
“Coming to America,” Neil Diamond, The Jazz Singer
It’s a little painful to put this song on the list, since I — like anyone with a heart — like Neil Diamond. The hair, the sequined shirts, the fantastic pop songs; the man’s done some good work, and I applaud it. But good grief, this song is bad. The man’s written some classic tunes, but this isn’t one of them, and it comes from a nigh-unwatchable movie, to boot. It’s bloated and bland, and completely at odds with the songs Diamond knows he can write. Not even the man’s chest hair can’t save the song from being what it is: a weak anthem to a weak movie.
“Will You Be There,” Michael Jackson, Free Willy
Michael Jackson’s talent and influence have been vastly overrated for going on 20 years now, but the Free Willy song came at the zenith/nadir of Jackon’s mid-’90s shenanigans, when he was hanging out with Macaulay Culkin and buying chimps and generally weirding everyone out as much as he does today. The song’s cheesiness and the movie’s bizarre moment in the pop culture sun combined for a pretty high-profile anthem, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck the big one. And I think the whale’s dead now, anyway.
“King of Wishful Thinking,” Go West, Pretty Woman
Enough time has lapsed that “King of Wishful Thinking” can now be viewed and even somewhat appreciated, albeit with a hint of irony; there’s even a highly listenable electronic cover version bouncing around the interwebs (fourth song down). But don’t let that fool you. This is still a masterpiece of terrible adult contemporary, the kind of song you would hear in the elevator to hell. The video’s additionally amusing for its sheer, awesome 1990 vibe, complete with clunky images that literally represent the lyrics, as when fake rocks tumble down upon the singer when he warbles, “We were never carved in stone.” Fantastic.
“Because You Loved Me,” Celine Dion, Up Close and Personal
The first Celine Dion entry on the list — she’s so awful she needed two spots — comes from a forgettable 1996 romantic drama starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford as two people who fall in love and then fight and then break up and then hook up again and then more stuff happens and then the credits roll. Again, there’s not much here aside from Dion serenading herself before a bank of TV monitors while clips from the movie play out. It’s cheesy, bloated, and drenched in false sentimentality, i.e., it’s quintessential Celine Dion. Enjoy, if possible.
“Ninja Rap,” Vanilla Ice and a group of men in baggy trousers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
This song doesn’t quite fit in thematically with the rest of the countdown, since it doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously. I just figured you could use a break. Go ninja go ninja GO.
“(Everything I Do) I Do it For You,” Bryan Adams, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The weird thing about this song is that Bryan Adams is really good at what he does; he just happens to make shitty pop songs. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was the heyday of Kevin Costner’s career as a major movie star, and despite being a fairly dark and violent take on the classic tale, this song/video makes the movie out to be nothing more than a treacly period romance. The movie clips of Robin and Marian play out against Bryan and Co. in what’s apparently supposed to be their very own Sherwood Forest, though it isn’t clear how/why they dragged the piano out into the woods or even what’s powering the electric guitars. The song is a cloying anthem of two-dimensional romance; needless to say, it was a monster hit.
“My Heart Will Go On,” Celine Dion, Titanic (duh)
I know a lot of people probably expected this song to top the list, but I just couldn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a bad song, and a terribly cheesy video. But there are worse songs and videos out there (stay tuned). What keeps this song at the third spot instead of the top of the list is that this is exactly the kind of song Celine Dion always records, and the reason she’s famous in the first place. Sure, it’s a bland, empty, cornball ode to a hopelessly romantic relationship that ended in needless death — that door could have held them both in the water, but whatever — but that’s not exactly a departure for Celine Dion. Just the opposite: It’s the perfect song for her.
“I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” Aerosmith, Armageddon/my nightmares
Now, this is a damn cheesy song and video, in no small part because Aerosmith used to be an actual rock band. Never mind that their best music was at least 20 years behind them when this song exploded onto radio in 1998, or that they’d been coasting on nothing but their greatest-hits record for the better part of that decade. Penned by Diane Warren and so slickly polished and packaged you could practically hear Jerry Bruckheimer salivating in the background, this song was a travesty for the way it destroyed what used to be a somewhat credible band and turned them into shills for teenage girls. The song was also symptomatic of the film’s overall hollowness and keen eye for emotional manipulation, all summed up in just a few minutes of power chords as the band plays in their very own space shuttle launch facility (don’t ask). Steven Tyler was actually kinder to his daughter when he paraded her around the “Crazy” video; at least then she didn’t have to put up with Ben Affleck’s animal crackers.
“All for Love,” Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting, The Three Musketeers
I’m almost at a loss for words to describe the awesome glory, the all-surpassing wonder, and the spectacular idiocy that is this song and video. Sting completely sells out to make a song with Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart, who should really stick to pillaging the great American songbook. Everything about the video is perfectly awful: The backstage footage, the fake banter, the playful homoerotic undertones of three blond men fondling each other before the cameras roll. Then there’s the fact that it came from The Three Musketeers, a modest hit for Disney that, despite starring Kiefer Sutherland and Chris O’Donnell, was a bizarre choice to sell such a cheesy song, since the romantic plots took a back seat to the capes and swordplay. But the song itself takes the cake for its abysmal lyrics: “If there’s someone that you know, then just let your feelings show.” It’s corny and grand and insistent, and so wholly horrible that there’s something almost endearing about it. It’s as if no one involved is willing to admit just how bad the entire venture has become. The song is sweeping in scope, an epic, bombastic ode to bad music and movies and the soulless art of shilling for the studio. Released in 1993, the song also came along at the apex of the era when watered-down pop songs were used to sell movies, and when Hollywood was still shaking off its 1980s hangover. The result is a gloriously embarrassing piece of music that worms its way into your brain for all the wrong reasons. Yes, there are bigger movies out there, and even bigger soundtracks, but none can hold a candle to “All for Love,” the cheesiest soundtrack single of all time.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. He’s had the bridge to “All for Love” stuck in his subconscious for far, far too long. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.