In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.
The hater: As a professional wrestler, Chris Jericho declared himself “The ayatollah of rock ’n’ rolla,” creating an over-the-top rock-star persona and collecting championships across WWE, WCW, and ECW. The moniker became less persona and more reality when he became frontman for the metal band Fozzy, which is spending March touring across Europe and is slated to perform the Welcome To Rockville festival in Jacksonville, Florida in April. He has also danced with the stars, continues to host his Talk Is Jericho podcast, and has penned three memoirs, the latest of which, The Best In The World: At What I Have No Idea, was published by Gotham/Penguin last year.
The A.V. Club: Why is “Cotton Eye Joe” your least favorite song?
Chris Jericho: The less said about that piece of shit the better. It’s funny, because there’s a three-way tie between songs that literally drive me nuts and that I just can’t even handle. This song is bad; it makes me want to destroy. And I know that you guys have already had someone talk about “Mambo No. 5.” It’s a three-way tie, though. It’s “Mambo No. 5,” it’s “Cotton Eye Joe,” it’s “Scatman.” All three—I don’t understand the music business sometimes and how these songs become popular.
AVC: What is it in particular about “Cotton Eye Joe”?
CJ: No one has ever waited for or wanted an EDM-hillbilly country mix or mashup. Ever. Whenever I hear that, I just don’t know why it exists or how it became a hit.
I have to mention “Scatman,” too. I don’t know if you remember that song called “Scatman” by Scatman John. “I’m the Scatman!” It was fucking brutal, because you listen to that song and it’s so annoying, and then you look at the video of the guy, and he’s got this big porno-pedophile ’stache. Who judged that? “This guy has the looks that it takes to be a star.” You see guys in bars all the time playing—good-looking guys, great songwriters, never make it. Never happens. “Scatman” makes it. “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex makes it. That’s another thing that pisses me off—Rednex with an X.
AVC: So is your hate for “Cotton Eye Joe” specific to the Rednex “Cotton Eye Joe” version that cropped up in the ’90s, or is it universal?
CJ: I don’t really know another version of the song. I’ve never really Googled it. There’s another version of that piece of shit?
AVC: “Cotton Eyed Joe” is an old American folk tune that apparently has been around since before the American Civil War.
CJ: Okay, so it’s like a Soggy Bottom Boys type thing. I think in some ways that makes it even worse. Well again [Sighs.], I’m sure [compared to] the original, this is kind of a desecration. It’s not like a “You Really Got Me” with Van Halen, where they made a better version. They destroyed this old, ragtime folk song that our grandparents listened to and probably enjoyed, made love to it. Maybe our parents were even born to that song. And then here come Rednex, with an X, which always pisses me off. If you’re going to say “ecks” it’s C-K-S. I don’t like when they use an S for a Z, as well. Dudley Boyz with a Z. Fuck that. The fact that it’s a desecration of a tried-and-true standard makes me even angrier.
AVC: Do you remember where you first heard the song? Was it an immediate hatred?
CJ: Yeah. It’s not like I remember the day I first heard it, but what year did that come out in? ’95?
CJ: I seem to remember at the time I was in Tennessee, working there, in Knoxville, and going to some dance club that might have even been called Cotton-Eyed Joe’s. And then, of course, they started playing that song. And people just went nuts for it. I remember them line dancing and cheering and screaming, and I was just stuck in the back, like one of those horror stories where a guy gets embalmed but he comes to life and he can’t move and he’s just in screaming pain. That’s what happened to me. I couldn’t get out of it. It’s like a tractor beam of shit. It sucks. And I couldn’t move. It’s like one of those horror movies where someone drinks a potion and they can’t move, but they’re cognizant of everything while the evil doctor-butcher slices off their fingers, one at a time. And they can feel it but they can’t scream or move. That was me. I was being attacked by an EDM-hillbilly-folk-Soggy Bottom Boys evil doctor-butcher who was slicing off my appendages while I sat there in horror, not being able to move or react. How’s that for a review?
AVC: It definitely conveys the hate. Is it strictly the arrangement, or have you thought much about the lyrics?
CJ: No. I don’t really know the lyrics. I just know “Where did you come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe? Where did you come from? Where did you go?” And as far as I’m concerned, just go. Go the fuck away forever. Go to Lithuania or Luxembourg. Go become a hit there.
AVC: What happens when you’re out somewhere and you hear that song?
CJ: I don’t go to clubs that play that song, but if I did—I’m a non-violent person; I just play one on TV—but I’d take the DJ outside and kick the shit out of him. That’s in my contract: “Do not play this song. Ever.”
AVC: You know some asshole is going to request this now at a Fozzy show, right, in a smartass sort of “Freebird” way?
CJ: Those fans would be fined and suspended and banned for life if they ever asked that. There’s a list of bands in the ’90s—like Lou Bega, like Scatman John, like Rednex, like Snow, Chumbawamba—you would never know who they were. They could come up to you and shake your hand, and you would never, ever know. You might be Rednex.
AVC: I assure you, I am not.
CJ: Is it like Prince, where he’s a solo person—first name Red, last name Nex? I don’t know. And the fact that this guy is still at large, after committing this heinous crime. It’s worse than the Nuremberg trials. This guy should be more sought-after than Joseph Goebbels. The amount of war crimes that he pulled is worse than any Nazi ever could have, unleashing this song into the world. And it still exists! That’s what drives me nuts. It still exists. There was a band in the ’80s called Kick Axe, from Canada—great band. They have so many great songs. They toured with Judas Priest, Triumph, Alice Cooper. They had a great song called “On The Road To Rock.” Gone. Forgotten. No one remembers it, yet they remember “Cotton Eye Joe” by Rednex. That is the problem with the world today, my friend. It’s worse than starvation. It’s worse than nuclear war. It’s worse than disease. That’s the bomb. You want to beat ISIS? Play “Cotton Eye Joe” in their barracks. They’ll kill each other.
AVC: If it’s really that bad a song, what do you think has kept it around for so many years?
CJ: Because it’s so obnoxious, and a lot of people don’t care. “Oh, where did you come from, Cotton-Eyed Joe?” It’s very catchy. It’s like a zombie attack. The zombie plague is not something you want to get, but once you get it, you’ve got it. You’ve got it forever, and you can’t get rid of it. It’s not your fault, but it’s there. It got you. That’s what happened. I’m just one of the lucky ones. I’m like Rick from Walking Dead. It hasn’t got me, and it never will. If you ever see me under the spell of “Cotton Eye Joe,” singing it and line dancing and going crazy, you have permission to shoot me.
AVC: You’ve actually got some experience dancing. Do you have a problem with line dancing, or is it specific to this song?
CJ: Not at all. Play “Achy Breaky Heart” and I’m there, man. Play “Friends In Low Places,” and I’m jumping up and down. Play “Cotton Eye Joe” and I’m barring the doors and headhunting.
AVC: One last thing: If we were doing HateSong: Wrestling Edition, whose theme music is on that list?
CJ: Probably “Ass Man,” by Billy Gunn. [Sings.] “I like to stick ’em. I like to lick ’em. I like to fix ’em. I like to hit ’em.” Go online and read the lyrics to “Ass Man” by Billy Gunn because it’s the worst set of lyrics ever.