Worst Songs Ever: Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush”

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Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in June 1991

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

George H.W. Bush and Paula Abdul had stuff in common: they briefly ruled an uncomprehending world, had pipsqueak voices, and displayed a tenuous grasp of English. The president once said, “You cannot be president of the United States if you don’t have faith. Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff. You can’t be. And we are blessed. So don’t feel sorry for — uh, don’t cry for me, Argentina.” Abdul once squealed, “I’M IN A FUNKY WAY!”

You young ‘uns reading this post? Y’all have no idea how big Paula Abdul was in the Poppy Bush era. At first we figured the okay to pretty good Forever Your Girl singles sated audience appetite for Janet Jackson; but after Rhythm Nation 1814 outsold Control and Abdul garnered her fourth #1 in spring 1990 with “Opposites Attract” we knew a strange malady had gripped the American public. Anticipation was high when Spellbound dropped in late spring/early summer 1991, one of the first albums to debut at #1 after Soundscan made the Billboard charts more honest. Designed as a gesture toward maturity, the ballad “Rush Rush” was an instant hit, sailing to the top without a hitch in a summer whose #1 singles didn’t reflect the glorious tumult going on below. It was as if l’ancien regime wanted to prove, for the last time, that it was capable of variety. I loved that summer: Roxette’s “Fading Like a Flower (Everytime You Live),” but also “Gypsy Woman, “3 A.M. Eternal,” “Temptation,” “Shiny Happy People,” and “Crazy.” But Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” kept its vise on the American and British charts for two months and beyond, a streak broken in the United States only by EMF’s “Unbelievable” in July.

A classic New Jersey album, Spellbound was a massive hit that no one thought Abdul could follow up, in part because the rigor exposed her weaknesses. Obviously “Rush Rush” aimed for Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam’s “All Cried Out”: dance diva aims for adult contemporary crossover with wobbly-voiced ballad. No one expected Abdul to sound this wobbly though. From the two-note keyboard hook to the simpering lyrics, “Rush Rush” is as cheap as an airport flophouse — the ones across the street from a strip club. “Hurry, hurry, love-ah, come to MEEEE,” Abdul cracks, as erotically as Daisy Duck waiting for an autograph book. As she huffs and puffs, hoping that the lovely house with the nice Target curtains isn’t blown down by her non-vocal, Peter Lord and Vernon Jeffrey Smith add bits that maybe a singer as poorly endowed as, say, Cathy Dennis was when she had her own top ten a couple months later with “Too Many Walls” would have been canny enough to omit. Even more gruesome is the section meant to expose her as a Real Singer: “So deep, so deep IN-SIIIIIIIIDE,” she wails before a string section meant to substitute for a guitar solo. Or maybe “gruesome” is the “I wanna see you ‘gree with me” bit, which made Rob Sheffield’s brain ooze out his ear.

Things got worse. “The Promise of a New Day” also hit #1, despite no airplay and meager sales, adducing the decadence of the pre-Soundscan honor system. Top ten “Blowing Kisses in the Wind” was another revolting ballad, written and sung at the level of a bounce house emcee. But “Vibeology” destroyed what remained of Abdul’s American airplay: an okay pop house track in which Forever Our Girl gets herself worked up over the kind of sex and rhythm that exists in her mind and nowhere else. Maybe fiancee Emilio Estevez appreciated “Will You Marry Me.” In any case, “Rush Rush” represented the last gasp for the choreographer and Laker girl; depending on your point of view, the last of the eighties or the last of a certain kind of eighties pop approximating nineties maturity. If you hear “Rush Rush” on an adult contemporary station near you, salute: what followed was less batshit, less interesting.

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