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
CHARGE AGAINST: Impossibly wholesome Mormon choirboys out to reassure square America that entertainment could be as trivial as ever.
CASE FILES: Mike Curb, the Reagan crony who dropped the Velvet Underground from Verve for singing about hard drugs, recast the Jackson 5 as a quintet of squeaky-clean white siblings and hoisted them to stardom with the shameless J5 soundalike “One Bad Apple.” Later, starring in a variety show with his sister Marie, Donny would insist every week that he was “a little bit rock’n’roll,” helping reduce the legacy of ’50s nostalgia to cloying camp as surely as Grease or Happy Days’ Fonzie (who Osmond also impersonated on TV, as “the Donz”). Writes Osmond in his autobiography, “I have been made painfully aware that my so-called ‘teen idol’ career is considered by a persistent, vocal minority as a blight on the history of rock….One rock magazine proclaimed my birthday one of the darkest days in rock history; another found my parents remiss for neglecting to drown me. You know, some people just take this all way too seriously.” In the spirit of not taking his reputation too seriously, Weird Al Yankovic called Donny in for a cameo in his “White & Nerdy” video because, he says, “if you have to have a white and nerdy icon in your video, like, who else do you go for?”
THE DEFENSE: Sure, the Osmonds ripped off Motown songs, but so did Motown half the time. Plus, Hanson fans should pretend “Yo Yo” is the B-side of the “MMMBop” cassingle they never bothered to flip. K.H.
CHARGE AGAINST: Fighting against change in the 1960s, stiffly genial representative of the far end of the generation gap existed only to give great-grandparents a reason to live.
CASE FILES: Like other old-timers wielding media power a half-century ago, Welk ignored (if not hated) rock’n’roll, clinging to old standbys, watering down the occasional contemporary hit, and reassuring the audience of his weekly TV show (imagine a cast of singing and swinging Stepford Wives) that their anti-youth enmity was well-placed. Those who were young in the ’60s and ’70s recall excruciating Saturday-evening Welk-watching at an elderly relative’s house. A few weeks after Woodstock, Welk donned hippie garb and introduced a rock band called the Babbling Baboons to frighten his fans into thinking he’d gone over to the other side. His real impact, however, was to sell easy-listening music to millions of fogies, thereby preparing the world for the twin horrors of modern Republicanism and smooth jazz. Nearly 30 years after Welk went off the air, Fred Armisen is still making fun of him on Saturday Night Live.
THE DEFENSE: Welk did allow one rock group on his show. On May 18, 1963, the Chantays — looking like a quintet auditioning for the zombie dance squad at Disney World — cranked up the reverb and performed their surf-instrumental hit “Pipeline.” I.R.