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.
Dishwalla – “Counting Blue Cars”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #15 in August 1996
Give Dishwalla this much credit — God might really be a pretty woman but at least she’s a woman. Then cringe at the thought of a pretty woman deserving worship like God, wonder why God didn’t hurl a lightning bolt at the Santa Barbarans for appropriating a Hindi term for their name, or say the hell with it and pour yourself a tall scotch.
A novelty song that Dishwalla play as if it were The Lord’s Prayer, “Counting Blue Cars” would not have been hit years before Nirvana sent A&R men on a zealous search for another moneymakers. In the rock scene 1996 was 1991: the pickings got slimmer, blander, offensively so at times. Worse, the elimination of the cassette/CD single forced audiences into gluttinous purchases that provoked a Virginia teen into creating a filesharing site. Catchy in an indifferent way, like praising Grandma for an ageless potato salad, “Counting Blue Cars” graze but, in a sign of the times, hopscotched through the low twenties for the rest of the year, helped a bit by its appearance on the Empire Records soundtrack, a halfway house for post-grunge geriatrics. This meant that Americans got unhealthy levels of radiation exposure for six months.
The vaguely agitated guitars and the surprising bleeps of a synthesizer co-exist with unease, like a couple about to sign divorce papers. “Tell me all your thoughts on God/’Cause I would really like to meet her,” Justin Fox croons, a strange choice — leave the crooning to Seal. It’s possible he demands thoughts on God because he has none of his own to offer despite Fox’s use of that hoary device of speaking to a child; why is the kid getting this pinned on him? On and on it trudges, a punishing 4:51 in its album version, sullied by a boring solo and a fade-out that does the opposite of what fade-outs usually do: patiently smooth out accumulated tensions, like pressing the knots out of a bath towel.
Like many of their peers, Dishwalla did not trouble charts again, although a followup with the Nilsson-worthy title “Charlie Brown’s Parents” qualified for modern rock play. Fox did go on to help with the engineering of Katy Perry’s Roar, in case readers wondered if he’d had better luck on his quest for God.