Everybody loves listening to or singing along with good music, and while plenty of the iconic songs of our lives had great words, sometimes we don’t pay that much attention to the lyrics. Over the years I’ve heard the words to a song I’ve loved for years and wondered why I hadn’t thought about what the song said.
There are tons of songs in the annals of pop and rock music – even great ones – with lyrics that are simply dumb. Some singles became huge hits despite having some really stupid lines. Here are a half-dozen songs that have some of the dumbest lyrics in modern music history.
6. “Summer Girls,” LFO (1999)
At the tail end of the ‘90s boy-band craze, Massachusetts’ LFO had their first hit with a song that contained some really stupid lyrics.
The trio recorded the song “Summer Girls” based on a summer relationship one of its members had with a girl, and they hadn’t meant for it to be more than demo until a radio station in Washington, D.C. got a hold of it. LFO had filled the lyrics with inside jokes and intentionally silly rhymes that weren’t necessarily for public consumption.
But radio took to the track, and the world wound up being stuck with lyrics like this:
Yeah, I like it when the girls stop by in the summer
Do you remember?
Do you remember
When we met, last summer?
New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits
Chinese food makes me sick
And I think it’s fly
When girls stop by
For the summer
For the summer
The trio peppered the single with plenty of references that kids who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s would appreciate, but the lyrics are just ridiculous and stupid.
LFO made the top three with “Summer Girls,” but I can’t help but wonder if the guys were a little bit embarrassed by the lyrics to what would remain their biggest hit.
5. “You Get What You Give,” New Radicals (1998)
New Radicals was the brainchild of singer-songwriter Gregg Alexander and a coterie of musicians in his orbit. Though Alexander only released one album under the New Radicals moniker, that album’s biggest hit was the exquisitely produced “You Get What You Give.”
Musically, the single is a pop masterpiece, drawing on lush and soulful retro sounds and a terrific melody line. But when it comes to the lyrics – well, “You Get What You Give” is a mess. (The song has another annoying feature in that Alexander seemed to think he had to make some sort of noise whenever he wasn’t singing, with the exception of most of the guitar solo.)
The content of the track is some sort of “smash the system” narrative, in which Alexander paints a vision of young people rising up in anarchy.
Wake up kids
We’ve got the dreamers disease
Age 14, we got you down on your knees
So polite, you’re busy still saying please
He takes potshots at low-hanging cultural fruit like Courtney Love, Marilyn Manson, and teen trio Hanson. It’s all weird and quasi-political, and it doesn’t do justice to the glorious sound of the song.
Clearly, Alexander sought to make some kind of statement with “You Get What You Give,” but the lyrics really don’t make all that much sense. At least – to paraphrase the chorus – he had the music in him, because sonically the song is amazing.
4. “Red Solo Cup,” Toby Keith (2011)
Toby Keith has mined two different veins of songs throughout most of his career: patriotism and tongue-in-cheek humor. I’m not going to knock his patriotism, and I’ll also agree that we all need to laugh. But none of that stopped him from recording one of the dumbest songs of all time.
Keith didn’t write “Red Solo Cup” (not that I would’ve claimed it either); instead, two pairs of brothers penned the song. Keith called the track “the stupidest song that I have ever heard in my life,” but he enjoyed it enough to record it. This ode to the ultimate disposable party cup went double platinum and even became his biggest Hot 100 crossover hit.
Let’s face it: we don’t expect poetry out of most modern country music, but “Red Solo Cup” is particularly dumb.
Red solo cup you’re more than just plastic
You’re more than amazing; you’re more than fantastic
And believe me that I’m not the least bit sarcastic
When I look at you and say,
“Red solo cup, you’re not just a cup.
You’re my, you’re my friend.
Thank you for being my friend.
Red solo cup, I fill you up
Let’s have a party
Let’s have a party.”
It’s as repetitive as any of the worst tendencies in modern music, and the vapid party schtick wears thin quickly. Keith is one “girl, get in my truck” line away from bro-country infamy on “Red Solo Cup.”
Regardless of what you think of Toby Keith’s career in general, we can agree on one thing: “Red Solo Cup” is an idiotic song, and we’re all less intelligent for having heard it.
3. “25 or 6 to 4,” Chicago (1970/1986)
I’ve considered writing a list of songs about the creative process several times, and I suppose this one would make the list, because songwriter Robert Lamm wrote this song about trying to write a song late at night (or early in the morning, depending on your perspective).
For years, people have thought that “25 or 6 to 4” referenced drugs or a particular person, but Lamm has said that the title refers to not knowing exactly what time it was as he was trying to write a song, which is kind of funny for a band who had a song called “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
I don’t know what makes the lyrics so inane, but they just are. Maybe it’s the awkward phrasing of the oft-repeated line “25 or 6 to 4,” rather than trying to more artfully say that he can’t tell what time it is. Perhaps it’s the stream of consciousness of the actions the song describes. Or it could just be that there’s no real action in the song – that all that’s happening is sitting around and waiting for creative inspiration while trying to decide if it’s 3:34 or 3:35 in the morning. I mean, just go to bed already!
Feeling like I ought to sleep
Spinning room is sinking deep
Searching for something to say
Waiting for the break of day
25 or 6 to 4
The lyrics didn’t hurt the song’s chart progress, and Chicago had their first top five hit with “25 or 6 to 4.” The band even remade it in 1986. Go figure.
2. “Smoke on the Water,” Deep Purple (1973)
Don’t get me wrong here: “Smoke on the Water” is a rock classic. That guitar riff has inspired countless young people to learn to play guitar, and it’s hard to resist singing along with Deep Purple anytime the song comes on the radio.
The song actually tells a compelling story about a fire that destroyed the Montreux Casino when the band was getting ready to set up a mobile recording unit there to work on an album. The disaster forced the band to relocate, but the image of the fire was enough to inspire a song.
Here’s the thing: the lyrics just don’t tell the story well. They read like an eyewitness account on a nightly new program.
They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground
When it all was over
We had to find another place
They’re just not poetic – not that we expect our rock bands to create high lyrical art. The clunky lyrics don’t overshadow the music, so it’s easy to overlook them when you’re listening to or playing the song.
Dumb lyrics or not, Deep Purple cemented their place in rock history with “Smoke on the Water,” and they created one of rock music’s most enduring monuments.
1. “MacArthur Park,” Richard Harris (1968)/Donna Summer (1978)
Some songs become huge hits despite the odds. Good music clearly can lift a song above its dumb lyrics. Take “MacArthur Park,” for example. Here’s a song with some really bizarre words that became a smash twice.
Songwriter Jimmy Webb wrote a cantata based around his recent breakup and presented it to the band The Association. They turned it down because they didn’t want to use the material for an entire album side. Actor Richard Harris recorded an overdramatic, pretentious version of “MacArthur Park,” one of the songs from the cantata, and turned into a number two hit. A decade later, Donna Summer went one better and turned the song into a chart-topper with her disco masterpiece.
Webb intended for the lyrics to detail what was going on in the park when he and his girlfriend were there, but he obsesses on a cake, which he uses as a metaphor for – something. It’s never really clear, and the words never make sense, especially the chorus:
MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet, green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again, oh, no
I mean, who leaves a cake out in the rain? Maybe there’s something in the rest of the cantata that lends context to “MacArthur Park,” but on its own, the lyrics come across as weird and, well, dumb.
But “MacArthur Park” hit the higher reaches of the Hot 100 twice, which is a testament to Webb’s songwriting prowess in spite of the song’s bizarre words.
That’s the list! Are there any other songs that you think belong here? Let me know in the comments below.