Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This one comes from reader Brian Byrne:
I’ve been discussing something with some associates, and quickly realized it could make an excellent entry in this esteemed series. The question/directive: What’s the worst possible song to make love to? Picture it: A bathtub ringed with scented candles, rose petals floating on the surface, a bottle of fine champagne, and two flutes. (This is all happening in 1989, probably on a nighttime soap opera, if that helps you picture it.) As a frosty-haired blonde enters the room, her manly beau hits “play” on his recently purchased CD boombox, and from it emerge the dulcet tones of…
- Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax.”
- Paul Petersen’s “My Dad.”
- Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy.”
- Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s “Old Time Rock And Roll.”
Weirdly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this question asked. When I was in 12th grade, I was in this sort of hippie-like “discover yourself” health and life class, and this question somehow came up for public discussion. I had no answer at the time, being such a chaste little darling, but I distinctly remember one of my classmates saying that he’d been getting busy when his stereo shuffled to some KMFDM song that opened with pig squealing. I haven’t been able to figure out what song that is, but it’s stuck with me ever since. Thus, I think I’d have to go with Green Jelly’s “Three Little Pigs.” It doesn’t have the squealing right up top, but all that screaming and psycho guitar would take me right out of the mood. Plus, the squeals kick in eventually, and then, ugh. Gross.
I can’t think of a song that’s more of a mood killer than “Don’t Call Me Dude” by Scatterbrain. It’s a song that permeated my music-loving fraternity in 1990, and it’s one of the most bro-ish songs I can think of, predating the Kid Rock/Limp Bizkit-ian era by at least seven years. Mixing punk, doo-wop, and the classic vaudeville “slowly I turn” routine, it’s a story about a 150-pound weakling who turns homicidal when his girl is swept away at the beach by a hunkier dude, “and the waves echoed her laughter in her words… ‘Yo later, dude!’” So whenever he hears someone utter the word “dude,” he strangles that person. When the song recently popped up on an old CD mix I was playing in the car as my wife and I were coming home from a weekend road trip, she gave me a “what the fuck is this?” look that told me the song should be as far away from our stereo as it can possibly be when I’m attempting to set the mood, romantic or not.
Like Marah, my response comes from a real-life story: Losing one’s virginity is always awkward, and getting the music wrong probably makes it all the more traumatic. One of my ex-girlfriends had the unfortunate luck to lose it when her then-beau’s iTunes shuffled itself to a comedy album. She never told me exactly what album it was, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that any comedy album is a bad soundtrack for making love. But, since the question explicitly asks “what song?” I’m going to go for Eddie Murphy’s “Party All The Time.” Not only is it distinctly unsexy, it also suffers from the same problems that come from listening to stand-up while doing it. Really, who wants Eddie Murphy’s voice coming out of their speakers while trying to do the deed?
Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s In The Cradle” is one of my most reviled songs—calling it clumsily on-the-nose is a grand understatement—and I can’t think of a worse tune to score a heated session of potential baby makin’. Everything about it is so, so wrong: the dopey sitar intro, the overly earnest vocals, and, obviously, the subject matter. Yes, nothing sets a mood better than a song about a distant father brushing his son off for decades, only to discover—spoiler alert—that the now-grown son has turned out “just like me.” If anything, “Cat’s In The Cradle” could probably be used as some sort of musical abstinence program in high schools across America. The only way to scare kids straighter? Use the Ugly Kid Joe version.
Because I spent my bachelor years living in a succession of apartments with very thin walls, this is not an abstract question for me. I’ve put in the research. Based on that, I can only tell you that certain pop-country acts such as Alabama (“Love In The First Degree”) and Eddie Rabbitt (particularly his duet with Crystal Gayle, “You And I”) amount to a sarin-gas attack on my libido. Given the imperfect laboratory conditions of the experiments, I can’t really say whether these are the absolute worst songs to hear under those conditions, or merely the worst of the songs that I seemed most likely to hear blasting from my neighbors’ sound systems when I might have been on the verge of getting lucky. I can also report that the Ramones’ “Pet Sematary” yields happier results than you might expect, but that even it gets to be a bit much after it’s been on automatic replay for half an hour.
While I’m tempted to cite Naked Raygun’s “No Sex” as the most anti-aphrodisiac song ever made—what can be less arousing than singer Jeff Pezzati barking “NO SEX! NO SEX! NO SEX!” in your face—I’ll have to go with a song by a band Pezzati once played bass in. Big Black’s “Fists Of Love” is pounding (but not in a sensual way) and eerie (but not in an alluring way). It’s a barrage of shrapnel-like guitar, industrial rhythms, and lyrics in which frontman Steve Albini snarls inhumanly about how you really ought to feel his hands and fists of love. The exact implementation of what those hands and fists are doing is left to the imagination of the listener—suffice it to say, though, it’s hard to interpret it as anything less than violently invasive. Granted, that’s not a turn-off to everyone, but still. Funny enough, “Fists Of Love” doesn’t even appear on the Big Black album Songs About Fucking, although maybe it should.
There’s setting the mood, there’s killing the mood, and then there’s laying the mood on so thick that it suffocates any form of human connection within a room, which is precisely the problem with Madonna’s “Justify My Love.” For a song that’s little more than stuttering snare samples, Risky Business synths, and breathy whispers, the track screams “SEX!” in the least alluring manner. Presumably, Madonna and her “Justify My Love” co-conspirators, Lenny Kravitz and Ingrid Chavez, are familiar with the song’s subject—and yet it represents the act in question about as well as a Corey Masterson vehicle represents the collegiate experience. Undoubtedly, the only legitimate bit of elation the song ever inspired is the “Wayne’s World” sketch that delivered a goofy riff on the song’s already goofy Cinemax After Dark impression of a music video. Come to think of it, that sketch’s central punchline—Wayne and Madonna constantly distracted by the clip’s signifiers of “sexy”—is as accurate as criticisms of the song.
The correct answer to this question is “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic,” sung by a Southern Baptist congregation for the special July 4th services that are being held twice this evening (7:30pm and 9pm, tapioca pudding for dessert!). The choir is dressed in red robes for the occasion and has learned hand-clapping choreography. The members have a special harmony devised for the line, “Let the Hero born of woman crush the serpent with his heel,” but they all come back to the main melody for a staggering crescendo in “With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me.” The reanimated ghost of John Brown floats overhead, reciting the words to Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God.” You begin to weep profusely. Your partner begins to weep profusely. The thousand-strong congregation is also weeping profusely. “Be jubilant, my feet!” you all cry out together. You will never fuck again.
A friend of mine used to judge potential girlfriends based on how their musical tastes lined up with his own. One day he sent me an email, thrilled that he found a girl who was so musically compatible and game for anything that they had sex to Ween’s Chocolate And Cheese. That included the second song on the album, “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down),” a bit of pitch-black comedy in which the duo sing a more or less cheerful song about a child with the titular disease. In a voice modulated to sound childlike, but in a creepily unconvincing manner, Gene Ween asks, “Why they wanna see my spine, mommy?” and, “Am I gonna die?” over a bouncy keyboard part. It’s disturbing even if you’re open to the central joke (which doesn’t really go further than, “Hey, look how disturbing this cheery song is”). But as music to get down to? If you can somehow stay in the mood through “Spinal Meningitis,” either you’re deaf, or your love really can overcome any obstacle.
Sleater-Kinney probably isn’t the worst band in the world to have sex to, but it’s definitely not a good one. As my favorite band, that’s proved to be an occasional hindrance to my love life. Even I must admit that, in one of those “if God exists how can He allow evil to exist” things, some people simply have a negative reaction to Corin Tucker’s vocal style. But beyond that, the band’s songs just don’t really have the pacing or the subject matter to ever be sexy. Pick your poison: Would you rather have Tucker screech-singing “I don’t want your kind of love” from Sleater-Kinney’s first album? The angry, self-destructive disintegration of a relationship on its magnum opus, Dig Me Out? Even The Woods, an album whose 1970s rock influences theoretically could be sexy, too-often collapses into messy pits of dissonance and distortion. And as fun as it might be to describe my sex life as a “messy pit of dissonance and distortion,” it’s probably less fun than the deed itself. Sorry Sleater-Kinney, I love you the most in almost every other circumstance—just not this one.
There are so many fun ways to kill moods with music. One time I weaseled out of a date that was fating poorly by putting on Apache Indian’s “Boom Shack-A-Lak” on a bar jukebox, then sitting down and muttering, “Great song, eh?” Another time I tried to jokingly sink an otherwise thoughtful mix CD by ending it with “My World,” the ludicrous end track from Use Your Illusion II that Axl Rose tacked on unbeknownst to the rest of the band. But easily the worst was the time “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails came on a random shuffle during a random, uh, horizontal shuffle. It’s just so goddamn on-the-nose. The lyrics might as well be, “Hey hey, we’re having sex now / Doop-da-doo, let’s do all the sex stuff, sex-wise.” Luckily it was followed by a more serious, and sex-positive, industrial number—“Hips, Tits, Lips, Power” by Pigface—and the night was more or less saved. Jeez, this reads like a Red Shoe Diaries episode written by a virgin.
My husband has a thing for the theme music to the video game Jelly Car, a game I think he played once or twice, but whose music I happen to semi-ironically love. It’s fun to dance around the garage to when you’re getting out of the car after a long day at the office. However, as much as I love the mental image of making love to that cheery tune, I think somewhere between the typewriter “ding” and the guy making the little chirps and shouts, I might lose my groove.
You want to ruin your chances at getting laid? Cue up Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady” and watch that mood die an ugly, violent death. For four minutes, creepy drones and echoing shards of distorted sound weave themselves around a nearly subliminal kick drum. To top it all off, Genesis P-Orridge recites a hellish spoken-word passage—run through layers of delay to make it extra weird—about a horrific burn victim. If that sounds sexy, congratulations, you’re probably a serial killer.