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The Worst Song of All Time: "Play That Funky Music"

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week, the Funky White Boy returns. 

There are many problems with cover bands, but one of the biggest is that their dance anthem happens to be Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music." This cringe-worthy song pisses me off, much like it pisses off any other person with discerning tastes. Sometimes my angry venom gets spewed at anyone within earshot. I actually attempt to "un-request" it in advance, hoping to head off the inevitable. But there it is. It pops up in the middle of the cover band's set like Freddy Krueger in a nightmare. 

Occasionally, I'll confront a cover-band musician and demand to know why he included it. The last time I did that, I got no pushback, a reaction I found irritating in itself. "We don't like it either," one guitarist replied, shrinking away from the confrontation. "We only play it because the crowd wants to hear it."

Therein lies the rub. Nobody wants to take responsibility for prolonging the life of a song that should have died a quick death. No one remembers those responsible for this crappy tune to begin with, a band called Wild Cherry, which, courtesy of this piece of excrement, capped its career as a one-hit wonder. And there they would have remained, had not some cover band decided this song deserved to be resurrected to satisfy clunky dancers everywhere, particularly those residing in South Florida. 

"Raise the bar," I plead. "Set a better example. You can do it. It's in your grasp. Just don't play that song! For the love of God, abandon it!"

Recently, whilst in the midst of my public venting, I caught the attention of an actual fan. "I happen to like that song," he commented. "Just because you don't like it doesn't mean it's no good." 

Why would I say so unless I believed it to be the truth? I responded. And yet, I was so dumbfounded that someone would actually come to the "Funky White Boy"'s defense that I decided I better back my claim up with facts. So I Googled "worst songs of all time" and came upon the blog of one DJ Funktual. There, residing at number one, topping the list of songs deemed so awful they deserved to be tossed on the scrap heap of history, was that track..."Play That (G-damned) Funky Music, White Boy." 

So here I offer as evidence a quote from the good DJ, who sums up my feelings on the subject better than I ever could: 

"If you are a white person and you enjoy 'dancing and singing and moving to the groovin', then you are actively participating in your own degradation. Period... These guys are white and lame but trying to sing about their own funkiness and that is a new definition of pathetic... I am white and I am funky and I am offended... There's a reason why most groups are one hit wonders. They suck." 

Well-said, Mr. Funktual. I rest my case. Actually, the remainder of his list is quite amusing as well, and while I don't agree with all of his choices (I actually like Starship's "We Built This City"), the 100 songs he offers as evidence of our cultural decline are pretty convincing. Personally, I didn't have to go any further than number one. Vindication feels sweet indeed.

Here are the choices that round out his top ten, with some selected comments: 

2. "Old Time Rock-n-Roll" -- Bob Seger 
"How much soul do you feel watching Tom Cruise dance around in his underwear? While his song 'Shakedown' from '87 is much worse, it doesn't carry the awful stigma that this one does."

3. "Believe" -- Cher 
"Do you believe this song's on again?" 

4. "Freeway of Love" -- Aretha Franklin 
"I love Aretha but she should get the Beyonce smacked out of her for her this travesty!"

5. "Easy Lover" -- Philip Bailey & Phil Collins 
"Whatever you do, you can't shake the melody of this pathetic pair-up." 

6. "Kokomo" -- The Beach Boys 
"PURE HATE!!!! It makes me wanna grab a baby boomer with a lame-ass Jimmy Buffett shirt by the back of the neck and stick him face first in the sand."

7. "The Sign" -- Ace of Base 
"Nuff said." (I'm paraphrasing here.) 

8. "All by Myself" - Eric Carmen / Celine Dion  
"A self-absorbed pity party that only someone like Celine would want to resurrect."

9. "1-2-3" -- Gloria Estefan --"Songs like this just make me wanna smack the shit of somebody!" 

10. "We Built This City" -- Starship  
"This one is like shooting fish in a barrel. Grace Slick... what the hell were you thinking?"  

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Lee Zimmerman

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