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Put those old records back on the shelf. Please.
The songs that make you say “Enough already!”
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
I have a confession: I am totally, completely, and utterly fed up with “Layla,” the Derek and the Dominos’ classic rock staple from 1970. I used to like it. The song was already old enough to have a driver’s license by the time I got into it, and Clapton’s Midas touch was beginning to tarnish, but nevertheless I bought the album, and cranked the volume up whenever classic rock radio stopped playing Led Zeppelin and slipped “Layla” into the mix.
No longer. I hate “Layla.” As the great Ben E. King once sang, “don’t play it no more.”
Yes, I know Eric Clapton and Duane Allman are supposed to be really great guitar players, and I know that denigrating anything Clapton touched prior to the mid-80s is tantamount to heresy in some circles. I am also fully aware that there are worse songs out there. But I don’t care anymore. I don’t care how great Clapton is supposed to be. I don’t care that Clapton supposedly wrote the song after falling in love with George Harrison’s wife (two pasty British guitar geeks fighting over her. She must have been the envy of all the groupies). I don’t care about any of that. I could live to the ripe old age of 205 and never, ever hear “Layla” again and I wouldn’t miss it. In fact, my world would be a better, brighter place for it.
For me, it goes beyond being tired of the song, and beyond the song being overplayed on classic rock radio, though certainly I am, and it certainly is. When I hear that opening guitar riff, despair washes over me and I’m convinced of the utter hopelessness of all human endeavor. I imagine hundreds of lemmings plunging off a cliff and it makes perfect sense to me.
I’ve heard other people mention similar reactions (well, maybe not that extreme) to other hallowed songs in the rock cannon: the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” Pink Floyd’s “Money,” the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Usually, they whisper it — this is Fort Wayne, and “Freebird” rules, dude.
But I started thinking that if it’s like that for me and the other people I talk about this stuff with — merely obsessive fans of rock and pop music — what must it be like for people who work in music, who are surrounded by it constantly? Do DJs, musicians, and record store folks also have a song that may have been around for decades, a song they may have liked once, a song that is generally well-regarded and popular, but they’re just fed up with it, sick to the very depths of their soul?
“In radio, you really have to fight song burnout,” says Doc West, who, with 25 years in rock radio, has probably heard “Stairway to Heaven” more times than Jimmy Page. When I ask him if there’s a song he’s sick of, he answers “It depends on the mood you’re in. If you’re in a good mood, everything can sound good.” (Everything? I don’t challenge him to come up with the last time he caught himself singing along to “Living La Vida Loca.”).
But West does admit he is burnt-out on a few songs, and names one in particular. “’Werewolves of London,’” he says. “It’s fun around Halloween, but… (Warren) Zevon has got much better songs.” West goes on to say that “Werewolves of London” is a novelty hit, which generally have very short shelf lives anyway and lend themselves to burnout quite easily.
The golem of classic rock looms large with a lot of people we talked to. Morning DJ Erika Taylor cites the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” as her dreaded song. George Ogg, a local guitarist and instructor who gigs frequently around town, said that as a listener, he can’t stand to hear Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People” anymore, despite generally liking the 70s prog-rock luminaries.
And newer stuff? “My call is anything by Sting, but specifically ‘If I Ever Lose My Faith in You,’ says Matt Kelley, guitarist for Go Dog Go. “Sting and I are like the Seinfeld episode where we would first stop and talk in the hallway, then politely pass each other and say ‘Hello’, then later pass each other and nod, then later pass each other and look at the ground, then later smirk at each other, and finally become huge enemies that scream at each other and nearly come to blows. Why? I don't know. I just thought he became a caricature of himself, with that song specifically. I grew to think the ‘game show host’ line was the worst lyric in history.”
The root cause of a lot of this is simply radio overplay and the stringent formatting of many stations. Rick Callender, a guitarist who plays with Rue Melange and also performs solo shows of original material, has a simple solution to avoiding song burnout: he doesn’t listen to the radio all that much. Callender says that the covers he occasionally throws into his sets are usually songs from the early days of “alternative” rock, which haven’t been played to death by mainstream radio. Press him, though, and Callender admits he could “use a break” from the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.”
There’s a special kind of hell reserved for musicians. When that song comes on, you and I can at least switch stations, or turn the radio off, or leave the room, or (if we’re in a bar) down another shot to take the edge off the pain. But musicians not only have to listen to the dreaded song, they have to play it. In an especially cruel twist, they have to act like they’re enjoying themselves, even when it’s three-and-a-half-minutes of pure misery.
“I’m sure someone has told you ‘Brown-eyed Girl’,” says Chris Dodds of Go Dog Go. “As far as most musicians go, that’s the dreaded song. You gotta do it for the audience because they want to hear it. But oh, God, if you had a nickel for every time you played that, you wouldn’t have to be a musician anymore.”
The phrase “you gotta do it for the audience” pops up frequently among musicians. Mike Patterson, the editor of Frost and a musician who estimates he’s been playing “off and on” for about 30 years (mostly bass), says that audience demand has pushed him to the brink with two songs in particular. “I wasn’t super-crazy about this one song in the first place, but it absolutely drove me nuts after a while — ‘Celebration’ by Kool and the Gang,” Patterson says. “I was playing in a band at the time, and we had to play that tune 10 or 15 times a night. The other one that drove me crazy was ‘Cocaine.’ When Eric Clapton put his version out, I remember one night, this group of people requested that song seven times. There’s a few jazz ones, too, but those two just drove me insane.”
Some musicians just give up on a tune after a while. “For me, it’s ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac,” says Megan King, an area musician who performs blues and folk-inflected material. “Everybody likes it, and I used to really like it, but I can’t play it anymore. ’Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ is another one. Whenever I hear someone playing it, I’m like ‘please, shut up…’” King also does some traditional folk music, and there’s a few she tries to avoid in that genre, too. “I never want to do ‘Danny Boy.’ That’s kind of like the Irish ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”
Strangely enough, the classic rock song you might expect to be first on everyone’s list is barely mentioned by anyone we talked to — “Stairway to Heaven.” Maybe it’s just one of those things that goes without saying. But the song that popped up the most? Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n’ Roll.” Kimberly Seslar, who runs Convolution Records, names that as her most dreaded song (though Convolution Records is the last place you’d ever hear anything by Bob Seger), and though it didn’t take the top spot on everyone’s list, it was mentioned by practically everyone.
In fact, “Old Time Rock n’ Roll” wasn’t just mentioned — it was sneered at, spit upon, lashed with words of such burning vehemence that I began to wonder if anyone had ever liked that song. “I’ve been in bands with people who have just refused to play that song,” says Chad Reichert. Reichert drums with the band the Answer, and says he used to be one of those people, but he’s resigned himself to the song now. “I’m getting paid to fill the dance floor,” he says. “And that song fills the dance floor.”
Well, sometimes. One of the people we asked was professional DJ Clifford Clarke of Paradise, Inc, who has worked countless receptions, parties, proms, and dances. At first, he offers an answer that any bride forking over good money on her special day would want to hear. “My business is to satisfy my clients,” he says. “For me, that’s foremost. If they’re happy, then I’m happy.”
But then, he says something that offers hope to DJs and cover bands all over the world. “If you would flip the question around a little bit, and ask if there are songs that wedding receptions and party-goers are sick and tired of hearing, there’s a heck of a lot of those — ‘The Chicken Dance,’ ‘Old Time Rock n’ Roll,’ ‘YMCA,’ ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’… You can usually get a lot of people out there to dance to some of them, depending on the crowd. But what I find is that if there’s going to be something on the Do Not Play list, it’s going to be one of those songs.”
A special thanks to everyone who called me back.