The 20 Worst Songs of 2010
#1: Train, "Hey, Soul Sister"
Maura Johnston and Christopher R. Weingarten, Wed., Dec. 22 2010
The future of rock music, right here.
Here are some important things to know about Train's "Hey, Soul Sister."
"Hey, Soul Sister" was the only rock song to land in the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 this year. This is pretty much proof that rock music is dead, right? We're not gonna tell Nickelback to come back because all is forgiven, but this warm washcloth of facepalmy puns and cutey-poo pukulele might be why Captain Beefheart died.
It's pretty much the whitest song to ever have the word "soul" in it, and that includes Death Cab's "Soul Meets Body." There is less soul in the entirety of Train than in the palest single member of Collective Soul. "Hey, Soul Sister" is soul for people who refer to peanut butter and jelly as "soul food." It makes the California Raisins look like the second coming of Sly and the Family Stone. It's so white, Sarah Palin just named it her running mate for 2012.
At its outset, it sounds like that All-American Rejects song that was popular last year. Remember that one? Here, we just Googled it for you. Train, you owe us 20 seconds of our lives back, and we owe All-American Rejects a cut of our vast F2K10 riches.
The chorus is jacked from an even worse place. "Hey Soul Sister" is an orgy where bad ideas trade STDs, and the most syphilitic brain-fart stumbled in drunk from a Smash Mouth show. (For those of you who arrived late, Smash Mouth was a band from the late '90s that was formed when a soul patch met cake frosting. Their wikki-wikki scratching and dorkpie hats did to music what blood-soaked clowns do to the dreams of sleeping children.) Listen to "Hey, Soul Sister" a few times and you'll inevitably be reminded of the "whistling solo" from the Shrek house band's inescapable "All Star." From Smash Mouth, Train picked up an earworm that burrowed into society's asshole, laid 4.7 million iTunes eggs, and gave birth to a grey cloud of banality that covers the Earth.
The lyrics represent the weird hippie fantasies of a yuppie toolbag. Quoth front-nozzle Pat Monahan: "I just wrote on my computer for a while what I saw as a group of beautiful women at Burning Man dancing around the fire. I've never been there before, but that's what I imagined it would be like." Yes, this song is the result of a grown bajillionaire who dresses like a 19-year-old Dane Cook stan sitting pud-handed at his MacBook and writing fan fiction about the fun times hippie girls have at Burning Man. Dude is like five feet and 10 inches of midlife crisis.
How much do you want to bet that the initial rhyme to the word "direction" in the second verse was "erection," and not "Love Connection"? Because, really. Erection.
It makes hashtag rap look poetic. The references to the '80s in "Hey, Soul Sister"--the untrimmed-chest bit, the Mr. Mister and Madonna name-drops, Love Connection--they're all lazier than Garfield in a lasagna coma. Oh, fuck-now they've got us doing it!
The ukulele. The fuck?
It lowered the bar for blowjob references on pop radio. "Your lipstick stains / On the front lobe of my left side brains"? Congratulations, Flo Rida: You just became the front-runner for the National Book Award (Fellatio Division). When the inevitable "keep Train's song out of our precious commercials" movement sprung up, it was called Stop Advertising From Pulling a Train, which is a better sex joke in that it a) makes sense and b) wasn't sung over a ukulele.
The ukulele player looks like Howie Mandel. I mean.
It was the lone pop song to manage cultural ubiquity in a year when that was pretty much impossible. Think about the last time you were stuck in a long line while making a toilet paper run, or were forced to spend time on hold with somebody who assured you that your call was very important, or forgot to DVR Project Runway so you had to sit through all the ad breaks. You probably heard Pat Monahan's weiner warble at some point. That's because "Hey, Soul Sister" is made for those moments when you're forced to do nothing else but listen to it, and it's just catchy enough to rattle around in your head during that downtime's aftermath, disrupting any activities you actually enjoy.
It's never going to die. You thought "Hey, Soul Sister"'s ubiquity on the adult-contemporary charts was enough for it to live on in Walgreens' white-noise perpetuity? Well, there's a country version of the track as well, with the fiddles and vocal harmonies and slide guitar turned all the way up. Somehow the lyrical reference to Madonna is intact -- c'mon, guys, "Loretta" scans just as well, and if you think hard enough you can probably squeeze a reference to "Fist City" in there!
And just think: When your shitty kid marries someone you violently disapprove of 20 years from now, this song -- with its references to blowjobs and songs that were ground into the ground before the kid was a twinkle in your eye -- will serve as the couple's first dance. As you watch your offspring and new in-law twirl around the dance floor, you will reach for a glass of Champagne Loko (President Kid Rock won't try to ban the stuff until he's up for re-election in 2032) and wonder how everything went so, so wrong.