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.
Neil Sedaka – “Bad Blood”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in October 1975
After writing for himself and others a number of early sixties hits, Neil Sedaka went into eclipse as the Beatles created the impression that his kind of songcraft was obsolete. Then a decade later he signed with Elton John’s Rocket Records and boom — there they were again. “The Immigrant,” “Laughter in the Rain,” “Love Will Keep Us Together” for Captain & Tennille. But “Bad Blood” yanked the ears of youngsters who were in 1975 buying Elton John albums and singles in astonishing numbers — not since Beatlemania had an artist created such an insatiable demand for product.
And this song sucks. “Bad Blood” is bad in that peculiarly mid-seventies way. Producer Sedaka embalms the tune he co-wrote with Phil Cody in a dinner theater arrangement that suits the secondhand misogyny of the lyrics. It should play like a piss take but the damn thing doesn’t move. The song is the equivalent of Sedaka’s period photos: a man in the middle of the journey, experimenting with unbuttoned silk shirts, chest hair moussed out, medallion a-glimmer. At sea in the Ford years, a little blinkered at the sudden cash flow, touched that the world’s biggest musical star was proud to sign him, indeed to treat him as if Sedaka were doing Elton a favor by signing with Rocket. Neil Sedaka was the flute solo.
“It could’ve been me but it was you,” Sedaka whines over clavinet and a Tuinal-drenched variant on the Bo Diddley riff, climaxing in a chorus of awesome pipsqueak rancor. We all know it. No one over thirty-five who grew up on easy listening radio can expunge the memory of Elton John’s squawking “BAAA-HHD.” The only level at which “Bad Blood” generates interest for me is if I apply the Wrap It Up Dictum, last seen on HTV when I wrote about “She Bangs”: a gay man or two men poorly suppressing a queer streak singing to and about the other.
But Rocket Man wasn’t finished confounding fans who thought oversized sunglasses and wigs made him as queer as Burt Reynolds. The song that relieved “Bad Blood” of its three-week stay at #1? “Island Girl.”