Earworms the likes of which even God has never heard
January 14, 2014 9:59 AM   Subscribe

Jeff Atwood presents Music to (Not) Code By

The track list for '70s Party Classics Killers (1998)

"Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree" - Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando
"The Night Chicago Died" - Paper Lace
"Billy, Don't Be A Hero" - Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods
"(You're) Having My Baby" - Paul Anka
"Playground In My Mind" - Clint Holmes
"Feelings" - Morris Albert
"Sometimes When We Touch" - Dan Hill
"The Candy Man" - Sammy Davis, Jr.
"Afternoon Delight" - Starland Vocal Band
"Torn Between Two Lovers" - Mary MacGregor
"Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" - Rupert Holmes
"Muskrat Love" - Captain & Tennille

(Those who watched a lot of TV in the nineties may note the overlap with Sounds of the 70's.)
posted by Iridic (57 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

Some of those songs are worse than others. I'd put "The Night Chicago Died" at the top, if I had to start ranking these. Picking the one I hate most is much more difficult.

posted by thelonius at 10:10 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

Man, I can vouch for this list, especially when you are coding late into the evening…I'd almost rather wake up with a hangover as opposed to having "Muskrat Love" rolling around in my head. Internet music stations are a double edged sword.

Also, I would add "Knock Three Times" by Tony Orlando & Dawn to this list.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 10:18 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Solitaire, Neil Sedaka. Among many by Neil Sedaka.

See also: Demis Roussos.

I think I'll leave it there. Too much childhood trauma.
posted by Devonian at 10:24 AM on January 14

Imagine the horrors of growing up when these things were on Casey Kasum's American Top 40 every week (like I did). The one that makes me immediately change the station the most is "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" - Rupert Holmes. The one that is my guilty pleasure would be "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill.
posted by spock at 10:31 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I wrote my own article on the subject too:

Movie Soundtracks seems to always be good for me. Somehow its keeps me from getting antsy and I can still focus even though my mind is stimulated by movie memories.
posted by pez_LPhiE at 10:38 AM on January 14

Meh. Any collection of sufficiently hoary AM pop tunes will suffice. These all were gigantic hits, and I bet any MusicChannelBrand collection from any recent decade could be weaponised in the same manner.

This is generational hipsterism at best. There is no objective when it comes to popular culture.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:45 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Some of those songs are worse than others.

Agreed. A couple of them aren't even problems ("The Piña Colada Song" was actually a cube fave back when I coded in a cube (with others, it's not some cutting-edge desk trend)). As I have said multiple times on this site, if the list doesn't include (intentionally not linking) Bobby Goldsboro's "Honey" or Mike Douglas' "The Men in My Little Girl's Life", you ain't even trying.

One morning Shannon slapped on Journey, and heavy metal sounds filled the lab.

One of us is sorely confused. Actually, that line from a book published in 1994 makes me smile because it's reminiscent of a time when nerds were nerds, people who caught the vapors from the sound of Journey. The only time Journey was associated with heavy metal was back in the '70s when it was being played in old clunkers that ran on leaded gas.
posted by yerfatma at 10:46 AM on January 14

I will leave it to the reader to guess which one of these songs is actually on my karaoke possibility list.

The answer might surprise you.

(Unless you remember me telling you how much 3 year old me LOVED the Captain & Tennille.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:50 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I suspect it's a little different if you were alive/aware when these songs came out, but I don't think "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" or "The Night Chicago Died" would be particularly bad to code by.

Of course, "The Night Chicago Died" has problems of its own. It's hard to be a cop on the east side of Chicago when you're in the middle of Lake Michigan.

But the real gem of this post is that Sounds of the '70s commercial. I blow through the musical cues of that as a party trick despite not having seen it since it was actually on. Turns out I had nearly perfect recall. I was jumping from "Shannon" to "Magic", but otherwise, spot on.

Songs that have been officially banned from play by our developers:

Spanish Flea - Herb Alpert
(This one is my fault. I kept the file on my desktop and anytime someone would say "Hold please" or "One moment" I'd blast it.)

Rosanna - Toto
(Also my fault. I wrote a parody based on our build manager, Rachana, and waaaaay oversung it.)

Many things are my fault, it turns out.
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:52 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

I knew "Torn Between Two Lovers" was going to be on here before I read the second title.
posted by Fnarf at 10:54 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Toni Tennille trivia: she did backing vocals for Pink Floyd.

I grew up with this stuff on the radio and like a lot of it; you kids just don't appreciate good music, what with all your "rap" and "grunge" noise going on.
posted by TedW at 10:54 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

But I am upset that "I Honestly Love You" by Olivia Newton-John isn't.
posted by Fnarf at 10:54 AM on January 14

Yeah, I totally get this. In 1996/97 I worked in a shop where we defaulted to a small rotation of CDs ranging from stuff I actually liked instantly (The Best of Jimmy Durante) to somebody's compilation of classic Disney songs that inexorably bored their way into my brain and stayed there, in particular Whale of a Tale from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
posted by usonian at 11:04 AM on January 14

Thanks for the link to Rupert Holmes' song in the OP. It was about 15 minutes in before I went and looked at the actual video (it had been playing in a background tab).
posted by Gronk at 11:04 AM on January 14

I worked in a retail environment that played "The Sixties on Six" and "The Seventies on Seven" for a year and a half, and many of these songs were played several times daily. Those channels subjected us to the most horrible songs of the sixties and seventies on a short playlist. I once heard "House of the Rising Sun" six times in one day, and to this day I'll walk out of a store if I hear it playing...
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 11:05 AM on January 14

One of us is sorely confused.

I agree - Journey is certainly no metal band.

Of course, "The Night Chicago Died" has problems of its own. It's hard to be a cop on the east side of Chicago when you're in the middle of Lake Michigan.

I remember really, really trying to figure this song out, as a kid. Years later, the secret became clear: it makes absolutely no sense.
posted by thelonius at 11:07 AM on January 14


As a coder, I tend to avoid things with vocals that I can understand - so all of these would be potentially bad.

That said, if I'm in the groove, only really obviously word-oriented things bother me. Still, I think the familiarity of all of these would make it impossible to work - I'm laughing at the thought.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:10 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

My team are strangely fond of William Shatner's spoken word covers of classics. His renditions of Bob Dylan's "Mr Tambourine Man" or Bowie's "Space Oddity" are the perfect soundtrack to write great code on Fridays
posted by jgbustos at 11:11 AM on January 14

It's hard to be a cop on the east side of Chicago when you're in the middle of Lake Michigan.

Weirdly, there really is an east side of Chicago, and it fell within Capone's territory. I don't think he ever slaughtered a hundred cops there, though.
posted by Iridic at 11:13 AM on January 14

To me, the night Chicago died was when VIII came out.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:14 AM on January 14

Oh man, I love me some Dan Hill. Remember the end of First Blood, "It's a long roaaaad, When you're on your ooowwwwn..."
posted by coolxcool=rad at 11:21 AM on January 14

Toni Tennille trivia: she did backing vocals for Pink Floyd.
Yeah, that was a WTF moment reading the credits on the album sleeve for The Wall.

(somewhat less bizarre trivia: The Captain was previously in The Beach Boys band.)
(current trivia: The Captain and Tennille are still happily married, although now retired from live touring.)

Also, I had always thought that Frank Zappa did production for The Starland Vocal Band, but there's no confirmation of this on the internets. Probably mentioned as a joke in an old issue of Creem Magazine.
posted by ovvl at 11:33 AM on January 14

DID THey really think Journey was metal? That is all I took from that. Sorry about the caps in the beginning of the last sentence, I was just so damned surprised.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:43 AM on January 14

That Sounds of the 70s ad brings back memories. Terrible, terrible memories.
posted by ckape at 11:51 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

The mixtape link does not seem to work anymore, so here's a handy playlist for Spotify users.
posted by ikalliom at 12:02 PM on January 14

Sounds like it's a good thing I'm not a programmer. ALL of these songs are on my "Favorites" playlist. The music of my youth (sigh).
posted by worldswalker at 12:03 PM on January 14

I've always wondered what it would be like to spend a (presumably rainy) afternoon coding in a 1980s dentist's office, and now.... I know.
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:08 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Some of those songs are worse than others.

Nope. They all rank. Count me as another who had to endure this decade while it was fresh and happening, and yeah, rank with such crimes against humanity. It's quite a brilliant list actually ... because usually these kinds of things include a genuine gem but nah, this nails something that should never ever be forgotten, lest it be repeated. Not that there aren't more crimes that could be added, but what an astute starting point!

Meanwhile, from the same decade, something I still can't get enough of ...
posted by philip-random at 12:10 PM on January 14

An Example Of The Conservation Of Naffness Across Technology Divides.

1. Foreigner 4 (admittedly 80s, but spiritually 70s) is best known for "Waiting For A Girl Like You", whose signature lead synth line was provided by a young and unknown session musician called Thomas Dolby
2. The money Thomas Dolby got from that enabled him to start his solo music career.
3. After initial success faded into "Wasn't he the Science!/Hyperactive bloke" afterglow, Dolby went off and did Beatnik.
4. Beatnik begat Ring Tones As A Thing.
5. Crazy Frog.

(As a fan of TMDR, I would not consider him at all naff: he is merely the carrier of naffness. Mostly. There's the whole TED thing.)
posted by Devonian at 12:24 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]

Is "TMDR" Thomas Dolby?

From Wikipedia: "Dolby is member No. 00001 of the current incarnation of the Flat Earth Society."

posted by Fnarf at 12:31 PM on January 14

"Playground In My Mind" - Clint Holmes

Clint Holmes and some random children, you mean.
posted by smackfu at 12:42 PM on January 14

Any list of Seventies pop music crimes really needs to include Never Been to Me - Charlene, 1977.

And you may as well throw in Band of Gold - Freda Payne, 1970
posted by Short Attention Sp at 12:46 PM on January 14

"Band of Gold" is a masterpiece. Holland-Dozier-Holland, the same geniuses who wrote all those great Motown hits, this time on their own label Invictus, which never put out a bad record -- this one came out at the same time as their great "Give Me Just A Little More Time" by Chairmen of the Board. Freda Payne was a terrific jazz singer (with two albums on Impulse!) who was aiming for a pop hit. She got one; it's one of the great records of its time.

Sorry, bit of a Freda Payne fanboy and Invictus Chartbusters geek here. We now return you to your regular slamming.
posted by Fnarf at 12:58 PM on January 14 [5 favorites]

Fnarr- yes, Thomas Morgan Dolby Robertson (he adopted 'Dolby' as a stage name from a school nickname, 'cos he was always messing about with tape recorders. The Real Dolby and he have had contretemps, too dull to detail.)

And The Flat Earth was his second LP, adopted thereafter as his fan club's moniker. He is not an actual Flat Earther.

Also, The Golden Age Of Wireless is the finest debut pop LP of the 80s.

I'll leave it there (again).
posted by Devonian at 1:02 PM on January 14

Fun fact from Wikipurgatory: the backup singers on "Band of Gold," Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins, would go on to form two-thirds of Tony Orlando and Dawn.
posted by Iridic at 1:05 PM on January 14

I'm reminded now of "Brandi, You're a fine girl" and "Ride Captain Ride".

That perfect stage of my childhood, when I was a good little 70s 11-year-old, catching references about drugs and sex from the baby boomers who where enjoying it all but I was far too young to enjoy it. All gone, now.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:08 PM on January 14

And you may as well throw in Band of Gold yt - Freda Payne, 1970

what Fnarf just said ... even if Dawn was involved.

As for Mr. Dolby, he's one of those artists whose stuff I quite dug at time but it mostly hasn't aged well -- 80s electronic drums being the main culprit, I suspect. But this is a cool re-imagining ...
posted by philip-random at 1:11 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

"Ride Captain Ride" (Blues Image) was one of the first two singles I bought with my own money (from the drugstore). The other was "Come and Get It" by Badfinger. Something about the chord changes at the "Be amazed at the friends" part of the chorus really hit me, just like the "you'd better hurry 'cause it's goin' fast" bit of the Badfinger song. I still remember the B-sides, the dreadful "Pay My Dues" by the frankly not-very-good Blues Image, and the ridiculous (well, you're takin' all my money and I guess you think it's funny but I dauwn't") but rollicking "Rock of All Ages" on the Badfinger one.

"Brandy" was a little later. I wasn't buying singles by then anymore, though I was still buying my albums at the drugstore.
posted by Fnarf at 1:21 PM on January 14

The British 70s playlist, much like the equivalent 80s or 90s playlist, would be something like a 25% or 33% match for the US one. We'd also have some David Essex in there, T. Rex, a bit of David Cassidy (who was inexplicably big over here), some Peters and Lee, and maybe the Wurzels.

I'm not sure who got off lightest, really.
posted by pipeski at 1:40 PM on January 14

So I guess we're talking about several different genres of music here. There's the catchy, bubblegummy Abba-esque pop tunes like "The Night Chicago Died" (which genre is actually one of my faves, though not that tune in particular), the overly-emotional blood-on-the-floor confessional numbers like "Sometimes When We Touch" and "You're Havin' Muh Baybee" (which nowadays sound hilariously barfalicious), the badly-done Twenties-retro style of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon", "Candy Man", "Brand New Key" (super unappetizing), and the twinkling, tinkling electric piano proto-yacht-rock monstrosities "Afternoon Delight" and "Midnight at the Oasis" (which is still to this day like nails on a chalkboard to me).
posted by Fnarf at 1:46 PM on January 14

We'd also have some David Essex in there, T. Rex,

I'm sure the UK had its poisons, but ...

David Essex's Rock On is one of the great singles of the 70s -- not that I could name another record by the guy. And T-Rex did no wrong at all between 71-73. Past that, I don't know.
posted by philip-random at 1:50 PM on January 14

Pipeski, how can you forget the group that's so middle of the road their NAME is Middle of the Road? They had the UK hit of "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep" (the American version was by Mac and Katie Kissoon). And it's all very well to claim T. Rex, but you also have to admit to Paper Lace, whose "Billy Don't Be A Hero" was a massive Number One in the UK. Paper Lace also had a UK hit with "The Night Chicago Died", referenced above in it's US version by Bo Donaldson.
posted by Fnarf at 1:57 PM on January 14

I worked in a drug store when I was 16, and a grocery store after that. These songs are baked into my head and will never leave. But my family owned a 45 of The Night Chicago Died, and so that's the one running through my head unstoppably now. Gee, thanks.
posted by davejay at 2:18 PM on January 14

From the Wikipedia entry "The Night Chicago Died":

Paper Lace did send the song to Mayor Richard J. Daley, who was not impressed with the song and greatly disliked it.

For some reason, this -- particularly knowing the popularity of the song while he was in office -- is greatly satisfying to me.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:19 PM on January 14

Hey, can I add "Only Women Bleed" by Alice Cooper? Drippy ballad, supposedly "about domestic violence", but lyrics like "man's got woman to take his seed, he's got the power, she's got the need" did violence mostly to us poor saps hearing them come out of the tinny speakers in our friend's 1974 Chevy Vega.
posted by Fnarf at 2:59 PM on January 14

the horror!
posted by dougzilla at 2:59 PM on January 14

Drippy ballad, supposedly "about domestic violence", but lyrics like "man's got woman to take his seed, he's got the power, she's got the need" did violence mostly to us poor saps hearing them come out of the tinny speakers in our friend's 1974 Chevy Vega.

Ms. James begs to differ
posted by philip-random at 3:32 PM on January 14

I was a teenager in the 1970s, and had to endure these songs. Which is why I was so grateful when punk happened.

I would add: posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 3:59 PM on January 14

Jesus, why on earth was I stupid enough to even LOOK at this thread??
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:03 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

And I mean that with all possible hubris and nostalgic humor. Maybe I'll complete the self-punishment by going and looking at my high school yearbook picture.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:07 PM on January 14

Meanwhile, from the same decade, something I still can't get enough of ... yt

I was in a band that covered this song, 20+ years ago. It went over really well, lots of people asked about it. Now injected into the masses' ears via the Breaking Bad finale, which I was really pleased by.
posted by thelonius at 4:47 PM on January 14

I was expecting this to be full of polka and novelty songs or something. But it's easy-listening music, which is (mostly) easy to listen to.

Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree - Dawn - Not so bad.
The Night Chicago Died - Paper Lace - The "siren" at the beginning and the saxophone at the end are annoying, but I don't hate it. This brings back memories of K-Tel commercials. Is the east side of Chicago like South Detroit?
Billy, Don't Be A Hero - Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods - Again, not so bad.
(You're) Having My Baby - Paul Anka - I'm cringing but only a little bit. I really hate a duet.
Playground In My Mind - Clint Holmes - This was fine until the goddamn children started singing. No no no
Feelings - Morris Albert - I hate this song.
Sometimes When We Touch - Dan Hill - I remembered this being a duet. I'm probably thinking of the Tammy Wynette & Mark Gray version. This is better but I can't really enjoy it because I keep thinking of that fucking duet.
The Candy Man - Sammy Davis, Jr. - I almost bailed at the intro, but the song itself isn't as bad as I remember. Still, I need to wait a long time before I can hear this again.
Afternoon Delight - Starland Vocal Band - I might actually sing along to this one
Torn Between Two Lovers - Mary MacGregor - Is she singing a breakup letter? Terrible. The repeated use of the word "lovers" makes it worse
Escape (The Pina Colada Song) - Rupert Holmes - I think I'm immune to this one. It's like white noise.
Muskrat Love - Captain & Tennille - The lyrics are insipid, but this is so crazy mellow I can't hate it. The synth "Muskrat chatter" is sort of interesting.

Here is a "better" copy of The Candy Man, if anyone wants it, where the volume doesn't drop.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:08 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

T. Rex

I'll have none of that. T. Rex is amazing.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 6:08 PM on January 14

easy-listening music, which is (mostly) easy to listen to.

I congratulate you on the success of your lobotomy, and hope that you are very happy.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:36 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

I am interrupting my streaming of this wonderful new release to bring you guys not just a little tiny bit of misery:

- Sister Janet Mead (The 60s got The Singing Nun, who was actually awesome. We got this, strawberry cologne and avocado appliances.)

- Debbie Boone

- Streisand One

- Streisand Two

- Anything by The Eagles that isn't Hotel California

OTOH, Band of Gold, Rock On, and Brand New Key are some fine, fine music, even though only one qualifies as rock & roll.
posted by maudlin at 10:40 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I can no longer listen to "Band of Gold" without thinking of Velvet Goldmine.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:04 AM on January 15

Incredibly, I just realized I was a victim of this kind of hazing in the mid-90s. It was a contract gig for just a couple of marathon weekends, helping a team deliver some long-forgotten CD-ROM game that was behind schedule, in a bland office park somewhere in the godforsaken outskirts of the South Bay. And as far as I could tell, these guys coded to Three Dog Night's Joy To the World: Their Greatest Hits, on infinite repeat, all the time, for hours and hours on end.

Being young and dumb, I chalked it up to bad taste, and never complained.
posted by mubba at 8:08 AM on January 15

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