Natterings: Why Critics Suck And Are Mostly Wrong, Part I

by Duke Egbert

(NB: We are not critics at the Daily Vault. At least, I’m not, and I’ll fight anyone who says so. I am a lifestyles and art reviewer. So there.)

I am well known at the DV for being a defender of critically unpopular – dare I say uncool? – music. I like Barry Manilow sometimes. I own every Dan Fogelberg album ever made before his untimely early death. I believe disco had its good points, and they weren’t all on Yvonne Elliman and Donna Summer.

And now, armed only with my razor-sharp wit, a certain curmudgeonly charm, and an outdated copy of MS Word, I shall take on one of the greatest critical sacred cows in music journalism history.

To wit:

Starship’s “We Built This City” is NOT the worst song of all time. Or even the worst song of the eighties. I present this as both a scientific query into Eighties music and a big ol’ “Screw you!” to Rolling Stone, which has become a puerile, sterile corporate piece of bantha poodoo, and an additional “Screw you!” to GQ, who has perpetuated this slanderous myth and has no reason to be writing about music anyway.

In order to prove this, I have created a coherent, consistent, and yet not at all serious means to score bad eighties songs on just how bad they are. (This system can be licensed for your blog, YouTube video, or other pop culture ejaculation. Contact me for details.)

I present the DEBESEM (Duke Egbert Bad Eighties Song Evaluation Matrix). All ’80s hits can be scored on five specific criteria, from 1 (best) to 10 (worst):

MUSICIANSHIP: How competent is the music? Is the guitarist Richie Sambora, or is it a coked out session guy? Is it one five-tone keyboard loop, or is it Thomas Dolby? Is a drum machine involved – worse, is it the intro to the song? (I’m looking at you, Ric Astley).

PANACHE: This is hard to define. It’s the vocal portion of the song, but it can either be good or so creatively bad that it somehow transcends skill and enters a realm of Steve Perry clones. What it cannot be is BORING.

LYRICS: Must be either comprehensible or so incomprehensible that it somehow works (see Duran, Duran). This also references creepy ‘80s lyrics that should trigger #MeToo activists, and rightfully so.

SOUND: How ‘80s does it sound? Gated reverb, compression, Roland synthesizers, big and wide guitar riffs dripping with chorus and modulation effects…we use a simple test for this. We tie down Daily Vault Editor Jason Warburg, play a song, and see how soon he starts screaming and begging us to turn it off.

CHEESE: The undefinable “X” ingredient. Includes earworm factor and anything you’re embarrassed to admit you like. ‘80s attitude, demeanor, and cliché.

“We Built This City” by Starship (hereafter shortened to WBTC), provides our baseline[1].starship_webuilt_200

MUSICIANSHIP: 5. This iteration of Starship (which was apparently in a competition with Kansas in the eighties to see how many people could, indeed, be in the band) had some competent musicians, including longtime members Craig Chaquico and Pete Sears (before Sears quit the band and went into therapy. No, I’m not joking.)

PANACHE: 2. Mickey Thomas was and is a relatively talented singer[2], and Grace Slick was sober and still had her grande dame pipes. Besides, she could enunciate.

LYRICS: 8, solely for claiming Marconi plays with either poisonous snakes or the late Kobe Bryant. For a song that at various times was touched by Bernie Taupin and Martin Page, this is not good.

SOUND: 9. Jason lasted .02 seconds.

CHEESE: 9. While it is not the worst ’80s song, it is probably one of the most ’80s songs ever recorded. It misses a 10 only because there is no key change on the second chorus – or, as we amateur musical historians like to call it, the You’re The Inspiration Effect.

So our final baseline total is 33. If, by our highly calibrated and scientific method, we find a song worse than a 33, GQ can go suck it.

We now present our contenders for Worst ’80s Song ever. We are limiting our selection pool to songs that hit the American top ten between January 1, 1980, and December 31, 1989, as determined by Billboard back when anyone still gave a shit about Billboard. And Milli Vanilli is not eligible.

“Don't Stop Believing" by Journey

Where to start with this piece of cliché-ridden twaddle?

MUS: 4. It’s still a pretty iconic guitar solo, isn’t it?

PAN: 6. Steve Perry’s voice starts out bearable, but after a while begins to grate on your nerves like wasabi in an open cut.

LYR: 6. Bearable for the most part, but you know where you are born if you’re born in South Detroit? Fucking CANADA, that’s where.

SOU: 6. Synthesizers are bearable and understated, but still have that fat, widescreen, arena rock thing going on.

CHZ: 5.5. This one is tough; on the one hand, it’s Drunken Frat Boy Karaoke. On the other hand, it might be one of the best choruses in rock history, and my brother loves the Chicago White Sox. So there.

TOTAL: 27.5. WBTC is still safe.

“Physical” by Olivia Newton-John

Forgot this was released in the eighties, didn’t you? 1981 was a painful, painful year.

MUS: 5. Possibly the blandest instrumental recording ever. You can’t remember what anything sounds like other than the lyrics, can you? No. You can’t.[3]

PAN: 4. Again, not terribly exciting. ONJ was and is an underappreciated vocalist, but this required a bit more of a feral growl. Where was Pat Benatar[4] when we needed her?


LYR: 7. “There’s nothing left to talk about / Unless it’s horizontally.” Ick.

SOU: 4. There was a time when disco was on its way out and eighties sounds were on their way in. Sometimes, this was a lovely thing. Sometimes, it wasn’t. At all.

CHZ: 10. This is where it gets bad. Listening to ONJ sing about sex is like watching a drunk cougar try to get a young stud to take her home – only the young stud is her college son’s roommate. It’s actually physically (pun intended) uncomfortable, like having your underwear ride up your buttcrack. It’s like going to drink a glass of milk and finding out it is sour. It’s just BAD.

TOTAL: 30. We’re closer, but not yet.

“Party All The Time” by Eddie Murphy

Chosen as the worst of the celebrity chart one-shots, though Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat” was close.

MUS: 8. Dear gods. We are thirty seconds in, and we’ve already had a drum machine, synthesized claps, and Roland synthesizers.

PAN: 7. It’s plain Mr. Murphy wants to be Kool and the Gang. What he actually is is Spanky And Our Gang. His voice has all the substance of whale diarrhea, and not even guest appearances by Michael “I’ve Not Been Indicted Yet” Jackson and Rick “Neither Have I” James[5] can help.

LYR: 4. Inoffensive but could be used as a sleep aid in an emergency. Includes the word “party” used as a verb way too many times.

SOU: 3. Also inoffensive, but with a certain Rick James flair to it. Remember, Rick was a genius before he was crazy. He’s kind of the Dollar Store Phil Spector.

CHZ: 6. This song makes me itch between my shoulder blades. I would rather listen to five minutes of a QAnon supporter explaining why Michelle Obama is a lizard person who started the fake COVID pandemic so that the UN could put all the real Americans in camps in Montana.

TOTAL: 28. Still pretty terrible.

“Don't Worry(,) Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrinbobbymcferrin_dontworry_200

The fact that the Internet cannot even decide if there’s a comma in this song title means that I don’t believe in any world-shaping conspiracies. Humans can’t get their shit together enough.

MUS: 2. There isn’t any. It’s all McFerrin. So therefore there IS some, and it’s damned talented. Whatever else this song might make you want to do, you can’t argue that it’s some amazing a cappella.

PAN: 6. No matter how cool McFerrin tries to be, on some level he’s the genetic crossing of The Nylons and Urkel. The video, while not getting factored into our scores per se, makes it worse.

LYR: Here’s where the pain hits – 10. Possibly the most immature and insipid piece of personal advice ever put into musical form. Supposedly one of the major teachings of spiritual leader Meher Baba[6], who claimed to be God and who remained silent for the last 44 years of his life. Perhaps Baba instinctively understood the blessing of silence when compared to this brain-damaged turkey.

SOU: 8. A cappella has a timeless sense to it. Therefore, this isn’t that eighties – except somehow it is. You expect to hear Huey Lewis & The News kick in on the chorus.

CHZ: 6. I mean, McFerrin certainly seems to be earnest, but it’s so difficult to take his message seriously when it’s on the soul level of those posters with the cat on the tree branch.

TOTAL: 32. Almost.

“Rock Me Amadeus” by Falcofalco_amadeus_200

The only German-language song to ever hit #1 in the US. This might win you a free beer at a trivia night somewhere.

MUS: 8. This justification for breaking up the Austrian-Hungarian Empire starts with a pseudosexual squeal backed by what sounds like a $10 Casio keyboard. The rest of it is a (infinitely) repeated chorus and rap in Austrian German. German rap belongs in the same classification with Finnish calypso and Japanese bluegrass.

PAN: 4. There is some style here, and Falco’s pretty slick. So we’ll cut some slack.

LYR: 9. The lyrics – and I use the term loosely – of the American version include the word “Amadeus” 69 times[7] in three minutes and fourteen seconds. As for the rest of the words, I repeat again – Austrian rap music.

SOU: 10. If there is anything more ’80s than a middle European guy in a dinner jacket rapping about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it would implode under the weight of its own neon colored clothing. The actual musical sound, while definitely eighties, is kind of secondary. We actually didn’t test this on Jason because he has KIDS, MAN!

CHZ: 8. You have to ask? Come ON.


Scientifically proven, carefully evaluated, and logically laid out. We here at the Daily Vault are proud to continue our independent investigation into musical history.

(Bite me, Rolling Stone and GQ. Eat my shorts.)


[1] And please let me clarify something. WBTC is not a good song. It’s an occasionally fun song, which is not the same thing.
[2] Mickey Thomas was the lead vocalist on Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” one of the great blue-eyed soul songs from the 1970s. And in a rather bizarre what-if moment, he was offered the job of lead singer of Chicago when Peter Cetera left.
[3] Unless you are Ms. Newton-John herself. In which case, thank you for visiting our website and providing us with possibly our first ever piece of celebrity cred.
[4] Incidentally, did you know Pat Benatar was only 5’0”? And has been married to the same guy for 40+ years? And once covered Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights”? There’s an entire article here. Meh. Maybe another time.
[5] Rick James’ middle name is Ambrose. That’s not right somehow.
[6] Meher Baba looked a lot like adult film star and indicted scumbag and sexual predator Ron Jeremy. I’m not sure what to make of this, but it’s damned disturbing. He also kind of looked like Bob from Bob’s Burgers.
[7] Insert Beavis and Butthead laughter here.

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