Lawr Michaels Hates These Songs (most of which have to do with Martin Luther King)

You may, too. I’m not here to argue that they’re great music. But I think they’re pretty spunky pop songs, and for some reason Lawr picked them out of thin air and created a pantheon of my bad taste.

But maybe you don’t know about them.

Royal Guardsmen, “Snoopy Vs. the Red Baron”

History is a deep well of ideas for stories and songs. This song borrows a rather odd story from the Peanuts comic strip to tell the story of the greatest fighter pilot if World War I, the war to end all wars, and how he was vanquished by a cartoon beagle whose best friend was named Woodstock. With harmonies and sound effects, and Snoopy of course, who at the time was big. Irresistible. As a 10 year old I don’t think I thought much about the copyright implications of using a character created by someone else in a pop song. But the writers were sued by Charles Schulz, the creator of Snoopy, and United Features Syndicate, which sold the strips to newspapers, and lost, and ended up giving up all publishing royalties to Snoopy’s creator. Ouch.

Fun fact: Co writer Dick Holler’s other big hit song was “Abraham, Martin and John,” performed by Dion. Martin Luther King fact No. 1.

Bobby Goldsboro, “Honey”

This is not rock in any shape or form. It’s Lawrence Welk crossed with some kind of kitchen sink melodrama, shaped by Jeff Koons. I like the plain spoken words, which don’t overreach while drawing grandiosely from a vocabulary of knee jerk emotion. Rain falling on kittens? Go away. The song was written by a guy named Bobby Russell, whose other hits were Little Green Apples and The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, two other songs Lawr probably hates.

Fun fact: Honey hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts the week Martin Luther King was murdered. Martin Luther King fact No. 2.

Strawberry Alarm Clock, “incense and Peppermints”

The Strawberry Alarm Clock are still touring and recording. This, thier first single, has some of the sound of a Door’s song, but it also has sweet backing vocals, skrunky guitar breaks, pentatonic piano backups, and a lot of other fake psychedelic effects, ending with a sweet Cowsills-like harmony. It is all going to be alright.

Fun fact: The band’s drummer worked up a jet system attached to his wrists, so it looked like his hands were on fire while he played.

After their No. 1 experience they were scheduled to go on tour with the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, but many dates in the south were cancelled after Martin Luther king was killed. MLK fact No. 3.

Norman Greenbaum, “Spirit In the Sky”

I was going to write a lot about the guitars and the backup singers. Norman’s plain and straight-forward vocals, and the song’s clean melody. It’s a rhythmic stomp, a dark harbinger, and an inspiration even if you’re an unbeliever, all at once. But it’s the killer guitar sound and the gospel singers backing it up that make it work. But then I saw the video. Wow. There is that Jesus stuff, but Norman was a good Jewish boy trying to write some Gospel music, and he succeeded. Though for me it isn’t the gospel, it’s the sound, which is pretty unusual for AM radio hits.

Bob Dylan is another Jewish boy to write praise songs for the Lord. FWIW.

I’m told the song is used to introduce the Angels of Anaheim before their home games. Good choice.

And then there is Martin Luther King fact No. 4.

Zager and Evans, “In the Year 2525”

Totally catchy, but totally ridiculous. I’m embarrassed for ever having suggested this had any redeeming value. Fun fact: It was knocked off the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 by the Stones Honkey Tonk Women.

Plus, there is no Zager and Evans and Martin Luther King connection. How can that be?

5 thoughts on “Lawr Michaels Hates These Songs (most of which have to do with Martin Luther King)

  1. This is hilarious. And, worth it just for the MLK connections.

    I realize we all have our loves and hates. What kills me about all these songs is they were all huge hits. Never should have been. It reminds me we are basically a primitive species on a second rate piece of granite spinning around a third rate star for no apparent reason.

    BTW, I always think of the “Time” magazine review of Zager and Evans album when “2525” came out. The writer maintained the other songs on the album were “equally profound.”

    I was 16-years old at the time and even I knew that was a bunch of crap, just like the song.

    Either way, nice one Peter.

  2. Additional thought: I think the thing I hate most about these songs–in fact all songs like–is that they pander. They are not about music. They are not about a substantive subject or topic, or the antithesis, clever and fun. They rip and twist and give the illusion of that. But, Snoopy was a clear copyright violation. If Spirit didn’t mention Jesus, no one would have cared. If Honey wasn’t about death, blah blah.

    At least Rock and Roll All Day is what it is.

  3. You’re right except you’re wrong about Spirit in the Sky. It’s not pandering, it’s dumb. It’s supposed to be dumb, like Grand Funk and Wild Thing. It’s not theology, it’s just a great dumb song. I love the electric fart guitar, whadda sound.

    Honey ranked 4th on Dave Barry’s worst songs of all-time list. It could have been higher. #3 was You’re Having My Baby which is just cause for homicide we all agree, #2 was Yummy Yummy Yummy which is unfair because it’s supposed to be bad, and #1 was McArthur Park which was a huge hit not once but twice. I hadn’t thought of Mac Park in that way but I have to admit the survey responders have a point. I now present the real worst song ever made and it’s not even close, and I am ashamed of myself for even calling it to your attention. I started to listen to it just to make sure it’s as bad as I remembered but I couldn’t make it past the first chorus:

    • Yeah, it’s hard to defend MacArthur Park, though it is as catchy as Honey. Despite itself.

      Reminds me of a night. I’d gone into LA to see Hitchcock’s (then) rarely shown “Rope” at LACMA, but it was sold out. I got back on the bus kind of bummed and immediately met two very nice young ladies who somehow understood. We took the bus to Westwood and saw Siddhartha, a rather different story than Rope. By that point I was not getting back to Claremont, so we somehow got their apartment. We stayed up late yada yada yada, listening to more Minnie Ripperton than I might have liked. But it was fun. Nothing too untoward happened. A great fun all nighter, without regrets.

      In the morning, it started getting late and the gals weren’t stirring, so I took off. Had to get back to school. But outside their house was a large slab of parkland, with paths and playgrounds and somewhat rolling hills, plus palm trees. The sign said, MacArthur Park. No cakes.

  4. Great post Gene. They all make me vomit. Copiously. And, I get you like the guitar on “Spirit” but it still sucks. And, well, “I Can See for Miles” has guitar just as great and is a song with some substance.

    I really hate all the songs you mentioned. I remember hearing “MacArthur Park” on the car radio and my mother noting that she liked it, thinking it might make for some brownie points with me. It just made me hate it more. Shit, she should have been in the car listening to Roky Erickson that other memoir ago…

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