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Houston's Ten Worst Songs

…and we're still not as bad as Dallas

Three years back, inspired by Texas Monthly's list of the 40 best songs from Texas, I compiled a list of the "Dirty 30" worst tunes from the Lone Star State.

I went pretty easy on Houston, because when it comes to bad music from Texas, Dallas has the market cornered. Come to think of it, has any one provincial American city ever emitted more pompous piffle and nonsensical rubbish than the Big D? This is the city that pawned off Vanilla Ice, Meat Loaf, Deep Blue Something, Drowning Pool, Lisa Loeb, Tripping Daisy/Polyphonic Spree and Edie Brickell on an unsuspecting world, after all.

Even as something of a misanthrope, I believe that Dallas's villainous musical abominations amount to cruel and unusual punishment, cultural crimes against humanity to rival the incineration of the ancient Royal Library of Alexandria, the Taliban's destruction of the venerable Buddhas of Bamiyan and the ongoing attempt to resurrect the careers of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim.

Which is not to say Houston hasn't sprouted a few homegrown pustules of song. We have, and here they are. (If you want to read about the many great things about the Bayou City, including the 100 best songs, the rest of this issue affords you ample opportunity.)

10. "My Toot Toot," Rockin' Sidney. The Houston connections of this pop-zydeco ditty are somewhat tenuous — Rockin' Sidney recorded the song in Ville Platte, Louisiana, and after it swept through New Orleans and the Cajun-Creole hinterland during Mardi Gras in 1984, legendary/notorious Houston hit man Huey Meaux got hold of it and leased it to Epic Records, whereupon the original and several cover versions conquered the world. (A Spanish rendition called "Mi Cucu" carried the virus south of the border, too.)

This is a song I hate myself for loving, the "Achy Breaky Heart" of zydeco. It makes you act a fool at weddings. You can't help but tap your foot when you hear it on the radio. And you sing along to the earworm of a melody.

And then you feel like your IQ has plunged to sub-Carrot Top fan levels.

9. "Knockin' Da Boots," H-Town. This one is a holdover from my Dirty 30 list, and it also made Blender's list of the 40 worst sex songs ever. From a musical standpoint, it's not truly wretched — it's just run-of-the-mill '90s R&B — but it did dethrone Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" from the pinnacle of rap/R&B songs about sex that even the squarest wannabe-black white people love. (You know the type — the people who "get jiggy" and still unironically say things like "Don't go there!" and "Talk to the hand.") This has to be one of Michael Scott's desert island discs.

8. "Hate Me," Blue October. You gotta hand it to Blue October. After getting signed and dropped by a major label, they went back to the woodshed, worked their asses off, dumbed their already bombastic sound down deeper and deeper into the abyss, until finally they came up with "Hate Me," an aptly titled song wretched enough for heavy rotation on VH-1, MTV and modern rock radio. Did we mention that much of this transformation took place in Dallas, where the band moved after getting dropped by Universal? It seems kind of relevant.

7. "Fueled for Houston," Wilson Phillips. The youngsters among you probably won't remember this briefly ubiquitous pop group, comprised of the daughters of SoCal music royalty Brian Wilson and John and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.

Sadly, Chynna Phillips and Carnie and Wendy Wilson inherited all of their parents' nuttiness and precious little of their talent. "Fueled for Houston," a cut on their relatively weak-selling second album Shadows of Light, is typical, overprocessed early '90s pop — snare drums like cannon shots; vocals as bland, flat and lifeless as Coors Lite; rounded out by a needlessly overbearing chorus.

And then there's this: Brian Wilson famously had a nervous breakdown on a plane from L.A. to Houston. Why would two of his daughters choose to sing about that very air route?

6. "Houston," Chris Christian. Christian is a relative unknown; a former member of the soft-rock trio Cotton, Lloyd and Christian and the auteur behind the middling 1981 adult contemporary hit "I Want You, I Need You." (He has since gone into contemporary Christian music and is credited with discovering Amy Grant, among other notable endeavors in that peculiar arena.)

At any rate, his über-schmaltzy "Houston" has got it all. The music features an insipid melody with melodramatic vocals over a syrupy, strings-heavy, soft-rock backing that makes Celine Dion sound like Slayer. And that's not even to mention the fake seagulls laughing over canned Gulf surf added as somebody's idea of typical Houston atmosphere. Then there are the lyrics, which sport utterly gratuitous references to the Astrodome and Gilley's and a guy romancing his girlfriend at the Ship Channel, of all places.

"Houston!" goes the chorus. "I can still see those golden derrick lights, looking like a string of pearls sparkling in the night." 'Nuff said.

5. "Rockstar," Nickelback featuring Billy Gibbons. Billy, Billy, Billy, what's a cool guy like you doing on a turkey like this? I know your sole contribution to this tune is to ask lead Nickelback yarler Chad Kroeger open-ended questions so he can spout a continual stream of utterly shopworn clichés about the grueling life of a rock star, but still — Nickelback? Yeah, yeah, we know, it was For All the Right Reason$.

For this damn-near mortal sin, I hereby sentence you to the following penance: Ten novenas to St. Elmore James for 60 nights straight, a thousand Hail Lightnin's and your endowed foundation of a basilica dedicated to St. Slim Harpo somewhere in the Upper Kirby District.

4. "Mr. Jones," Mike Jones. Right now, this utterly banal and annoying track is shaping up as a career-ender for Jones, who showed so much promise when he erupted out of Studewood shouting out his name and phone number ad infinitum. "Back Then" and "Still Tippin'" were both ace singles, but without beats by producers as dope as Salih Williams, you can only go so far with an M.C. of Jones's exceedingly limited skills. (Sample rhyme from another song: "I'm a pimp! I walk with a limp! I step inside Pappadeaux's eating on some shrimp!")

3. "You Decorated My Life," Kenny Rogers. The list of quality '60s and '70s artists turned '80s Monsters of Schlock is fairly long and honorable — Jefferson Airplane/Starship, Rod Stewart, Heart, Chicago/Peter Cetera and Crosby, Stills and Nash. And, alas, Kenny.

His 1968 single "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" was musically innovative, its dated LSD-fueled lyrics (courtesy of fellow Houstonian Mickey Newbury) notwithstanding. "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" is one of the better topical songs about Vietnam (or, as Kenny put it, "that crazy Asian war"), and "Lucille" remains a standard — as any song about a single father attempting to raise 400 children on his own is bound to be.

Twin late-'70s smashes "The Gambler" and "Coward of the County" were nothing less than all-encompassing pop-culture phenomena. But by that time, the wheels were already flying off Big Kenny's wagon — this turkey came out in 1979, heralding the advent of his declining years as a crooner of love ballads cheesy as a Green Bay Packers tailgate party.

This one edges out "Lady," "We've Got Tonight" and "Islands in the Stream" on the strength of its dental-drill melody and interior-design-as-love metaphor. It is also saved from strong consideration for the No. 1 spot by the producers of Malcolm in the Middle, who deployed it memorably in a key birthday-party fight scene.

2. "I Raq and Roll," Clint Black. Eager to goose a career long mired in the doldrums, Black jumped Ropers-first on the Dubya's Big Adventure bandwagon with this jingoistic 2003 turkey. Sample lyrics: "I rock, I rack 'em up and I roll, I'm back and I'm a high tech GI Joe, I've got infrared, I've got GPS and I've got that good old fashioned lead, there's no price too high for freedom, so be careful where you tread," and "They won't show us their weapons, we might have to show them ours."

In 2005, I mentioned the tune to Mike Hoffman, the director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Hoffman said the song made him sick. "There's this whole new form of war profiteering," Hoffman said. "Today, it's not just people making money off selling the government bullets and bombs, it's people making money off the war itself through 'artistic' things."

1. Patrick Swayze, "She's Like the Wind." You know that Internet lore about Chuck Norris, about how he's so badass his pulse is measured on the Richter scale and how he's the real reason Waldo is hiding?

All that glory could have been Patrick Swayze's, based on Road House alone. But it isn't, and this crusty bucket of tepid musical spittle is one reason you're not reading about Patrick Swayze karate-chopping Grand Canyons and stuff like that. (There's also his girly-man roles in Dirty Dancing and Ghost. Chuck Norris, as everybody knows, does not dance. Or die.)

Also, David Hasselhoff has recorded this song. We need say no more.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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