Hated in the Nation: The 30 Biggest Punching Bags in Pop History
We open up the case files to see who's gotten a bad rap and who's just bad
KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND
CHARGE AGAINST: Disco group that embodied every monotonous, escapist, indulgent thing that haters hated about the genre; still too flimsy and superficial to satisfy the core constituency.
CASE FILES: The disco backlash didn’t exactly single out individual artists, instead painting them all with the same brush of racial, sexual, and cultural intolerance, reaching an antagonistic climax in 1979 at the “Disco Demolition” event in Chicago’s Comiskey Park. But beyond the angry townspeople carrying “Disco Sucks” signs in the mid-’70s, songs like “(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty” were numbing to even the dance-floor faithful, thanks to their repetition and aggressively D-U-M-B lyrics. Like the title of “That’s the Way (I Like It)”? Hope so, since it’s sung 20 times in three minutes. In 2001, the baseball executive behind Disco Demolition issued a public apology to Harry Wayne “KC” Casey himself, who stood in as the music’s general representative. He accepted, saying: “It wasn’t a very nice thing to do. It was a direct hit on myself and other artists who did that for a living. I didn’t bash his baseball team.”
THE DEFENSE: The band could do a lot better than its biggest hits, and even those have gained the warm glow of nostalgic familiarity. Also Casey cowrote the lovable “Rock Your Baby” for George McCrae. I.R.
CHARGE AGAINST: The unbearable catchiness of the TV commercial jingle with the show-tune banality of a Las Vegas revue .
CASE FILES: Snobs always have sneered that pop songs are just jingles putting on airs. Former adman Barry Manilow, the guy responsible for “Like a good neighbor / State Farm is there” and “I am stuck on Band-Aid / ‘Cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me” couldn’t have done more to support their argument if he’d tried. Though sometimes merely insipid (“Mandy”) or tasteless (the glitzy disco cash-in “Copacabana”), at his worst (“Looks Like We Made It,” “I Write the Songs”) Manilow embodied the sort of hollow Vegas bombast that only the emptiest souls manage to survive undamaged. Observed Bill Hicks, dejectedly: “We live in a world where John Lennon was murdered, yet Barry Manilow continues to put out fucking albums.” And even his fans can’t handle it: In 1997, an Arizona man sued the singer, claiming that a 1993 Manilow concert had damaged his hearing.
THE DEFENSE: Manilow not only got his start as Bette Midler’s pianist back when she was playing New York’s gay bathhouses—he coproduced and performed on her earliest (and best) albums. K.H.