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.
Poison’s “Unskinny Bop”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #3 in September 1990
There are bad Aerosmith rips and there are bad Aerosmith rips. At the peak of hair metal’s dominance, which coincided with Poison’s, “Unskinny Bop” hopscotched into the American top five on a riff that C.C. DeVille recorded five minutes after warming up to “Walk This Way.” And that’s fine! But “Unskinny Bop” is not a bop. It isn’t unskinny — and what the hell is “unskinny” anyway, and what makes it a bop? Is it because singer Brett Michaels goes BOP BOP BOP in the chorus?
Like I wrote, hair metal conquered all during this period of the Poppy Bush Interzone. Nelson’s “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection” is the number I remember most from this period; even INXS’ “Suicide Blonde,” which I hasten to say I like, couldn’t escape sounding like a stick of dynamite thrown into a bathroom with Marlins Stadium acoustics. Poison’s last album, 1988’s Open Up and Say… Ahh!, scored three top tens, including the #1 rhinestone cowboy palooka ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and a cover of Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” that out-wimped its predecessor, a talent for which Poison doesn’t get enough credit. In 1990 the quartet could’ve released a cover of The Walker Brothers’ “The Electrician” and it would’ve been gone top five.
What we get instead is “Ungainly Tread,” garnished by a lead singer who thinks he’s got Steven Tyler’s gift for polysyllabic love jive but whose idea of the vernacular is to drop his g’s: on 2000’s Crack a Smile…and More! Michaels sings “Caught you masturbatin’/You rather be fornicating” as if he were Tom Selleck tongue-ing his own Hawaiian shirt (I know “Sexy Thing” because Spotify played it randomly after “Unskinny Bop” — Glenn McDonald, you have explainin’ to do). As for “Unskinny Bop,” Tom Selleck is Grant McLennan next to a singer who prefers Gene Simmons’ poetry. “You got too many bees in your honey,” Michael rasps, as DeVille ‘s riffs keep igniting fires that could burn a tick off a dog’s coat. To their credit, as readers can see, Poison had a rare gift for the ellipses-exclamation point combination.
Reminded of the millions sold by “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Poison released the Sensitive Ballad “Something to Believe In Next.” It hit #4, and although MTV watchers would be fooled into thinking “Ride the Wind” was massive it sputtered at #38, their worst performance since 1987. They would find nuthin’ but a hard time after The Nirvana Effect gave radio programmers and A&R man a convenient reason to stop playing music that had long since stopped getting them laid. Give Poison this: if Candlebox had released their own “Unskinny Bop” we might’ve laughed with them.