The worst songs ever: 4. “An Open Letter to My Teenage Son”

I suspect that few of you know this song. Sure, we all know that MacArthur Park was the absolute worst song in the history of pop music, but I’m not going to put that one up. We all know about the cake left out in the rain. Today’s song is not only execrable, but obscure—at least to those of you not alive in the late 50s.

Victor Lundberg was a radio announcer and a political conservative who wrote and released this “talking” song in 1967.  Now imagine yourself a long-haired hippie, deeply opposed to American’s unconscionable war in Vietnam—much like the boy below, who was granted draft status as a conscientious objector.

Jerry at Rockefeller_2

And then imagine how this song would strike you:

Yep, that’s pretty much the reaction I had.

Here are some of its LOLzy lyrics (my emphasis):

You ask me if God is dead.
This is a question each individual must answer within himself.
But a warm summer day with all its brightness, all its sound, all its exhilarating breathiness just happened?
God is love. Remember that God is a guide and not a storm trooper. Realize that many of the past and present generation,
because of a well intended but unjustifiable misconception,
have attempted to legislate morality.
This created part of the basis for your generation’s need to rebel against
Our society. With this knowledge perhaps your children will never ask Is  God dead?
I sometimes think much of mankind is attempting to work Him to Death.

If you are not grateful to a country that gave your father the
Opportunity to work for his family to give you the things you have and you
Do not feel pride enough to fight for your right to continue in this
Manner then I assume the blame for your failure to recognize the true
Value of our birthright. And I will remind you that your mother will love
You no matter what you do, because she is a woman. And I love you too,
Son. But I also love our country and the principles for which we stand.
And if you decide to burn your draft card, then burn your birth
Certificate at the same time.
From that moment on, I have no son!

This dreadful song was actually a hit. As Wikipedia notes:

“An Open Letter” became a surprise hit in Michigan and was released nationally by Liberty Records, jumping onto the Billboard Hot 100 at #84 on November 11, 1967. Within three weeks it went #58 – #18 – #10, making it one of the dozen or so fastest-climbing records in Hot 100 history up to that point, and Lundberg made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. After another week at #10, the record slipped to #22 for the week ending December 16, 1967, then vanished from the Hot 100 completely, after a total run of just six weeks. Few other records have ever been ranked so high in such a short chart stay on the Hot 100 (Napoleon XIV’s “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” peaked at #3 but was only on the Hot 100 for six weeks; Kenny G’s “Auld Lang Syne” (The Millennium Mix) peaked at #7 but was only the Hot 100 for five weeks). However, it sold over one million copies within a month of release and was awarded a gold disc.[3] “An Open Letter” also received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Spoken Word Recording.

There were also at least seven “response” records: Keith Gordon’s “A Teenager’s Answer”, released on the Tower label, “A Teenager’s Open Letter To His Father” by Robert Tamlin.,[6] “Letter From A Teenage Son” by Brandon Wade [Philips 40503], “A Letter To Dad” by Every Father’s Teenage Son” [Buddah 25], “Hi, Dad (An Open Letter To Dad)” by Dick Clair [Imperial 66272] and “An Open Letter To My Dad” by Marceline [Ion 102].

59 Comments

  1. AdamK
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    I had forgotten all about this. I am not grateful to the website keeper for reminding me.

  2. rodgerma
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Ah, that was painful.
    This one could deserve #1 on the painlist.

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Painlist is an anagram of palinist.
      Just saying.

  3. Dale
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Why oh why does this remind me of the trek episode “The Omega Glory”.

  4. Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    When I went to school — a bit later than the ’60s, to be sure — you couldn’t get financial aid unless you registered with the SS for the draft, something that always made me more than a bit uncomfortable. Not sure what I’d have done had they actually started up a draft…and there was some serious talk about doing so during the first Iraq war.

    Today, though, unless we were actively repelling a foreign invader, my answer would almost instinctively be a hearty, “Fuck you!”

    I really hope that that’s what Lundberg’s son’s response was to that godawful patronizing bullshit.

    b&

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 1:14 am | Permalink

      +1000

  5. Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I do hate the “summer day/sunset/Beethoven symphony” argument.

    It’s born of unappreciated privilege, of a myopic worldview that pretty much crosses the line into narcissism.

    • Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      David Attenborough has the best answer I’ve ever encountered to that one.

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 20, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

      “It’s born of unappreciated privilege, of a myopic worldview that pretty much crosses the line into narcissism.”

      How perfectly characterized.

  6. Jim Sweeney
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Odd. I was in high school at the time and don’t remember even hearing of it. Perhaps it didn’t get much play on the rock stations in Southern California (KHJ and KFWB, if I remember rightly).

  7. George Wilson
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    May well be walking into a minefield here, but into the field of Worst Ever Song walk a few heroes so dedicated to the cause that virtually anything that emerges from the pit of their souls causes a rupture to the eardrums of unsuspecting listeners. This makes the choice that bit easier, as the name itself tends to be enough to send a chill up the spine. In particular I give you Satan himself, the left-handed Beatle, any time post-Lennon. I write this in a desperate attempt to wean myself slowly into Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time, to try to dim the shock of the first time I hear it any time soon when I’m next in a store…

  8. Richard Olson
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    I was enjoying a particularly pleasant and sunny autumn afternoon, temp in the low 70′s with only the most gentle of breezes, wispy cumulous crossing deep blue, tree leaves actually turning yellow, orange, and red and remaining on branches instead of brown one day and down the next. Then I read those song lyrics. I feel like I heard a sermon at some fundie church with a nativist preacher.

  9. Allen
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    McArthur Park was one of the worst songs, but Weird Al’s version called Jurassic Park is worth a listen.

  10. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    OMG! Hope that teen grabbed his mother THE WOMAN and escaped to Canada.

  11. mordacious1
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to find out if Victor Lundberg’s son ever served in the military after this “inspiring” speech and I found out more about Mr. Lundberg. The 10th comment on this site is by his daughter, Terri Lundberg:

    http://www.unpleasant.org/2005/12/03/victor-lundberg-an-open-letter/

    It seems that the guy wasn’t much of a father figure.

    • Lianne Byram
      Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      Interesting. Thanks for the link.

    • Posted October 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

      The entire comment section, long as it is, is worth a good peruse. Amazing how the authoritarian-followers continue to fall for the shit, despite the commentary of those who knew Vic Sr. And a great comment by a veteran injured in Vietnam and recovering to the strains of this execrable excrement.

      People truly are one of two species, each in their own parallel universe.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted October 20, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

      I kinda think that someday we’ll hear from a junior Limbaugh and while it is difficult to believe Rush could ever blow through his pile, in every other respect, I expect he’s likely to be a similar story.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 20, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      Wow.

      Thanks for the research.

    • Posted October 21, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      Good to know this!

  12. Posted October 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Ugh!

  13. Martin
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    I was all of 5 years old when it was released. I don’t recall ever hearing it then or now. Back then my family lived in Madison WI, I doubt very much that it would have been played on the radio unless it was used as fodder for the anti-war protests. I do however recall the last sentence; only because I have heard it several times in recent years. I will not listen to this now, I will take Professor Ceiling Cat at his meow and accept that it’s dreadful.

  14. Posted October 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    the worst song? oh no. the worst song is a piece of glurgy crap called Christmas shoes or some such nonsense. TrueChristian nonsense about how you need waste money to get your mom shoes for heaven since evidently God is more interested in shoes than Imelda Marcos….

  15. Posted October 20, 2013 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    I find it kind of pleasant at high volume… with David Sloan Wilson and Krista Tippett on NPR babbling in the background. Refreshing. Niiiice.

    OK. I’m done. I’m killing myself now.

  16. Posted October 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Worst song ever? Anything by Limp Bizkit.

  17. Jim Thomerson
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    I went the National Guard route, and for some years thereafter carried a 2D draft card, military service obligation completed. I was moderately ticked, on my 35th birthday, to receive a new card changing my classification to 4F.

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 20, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      They can do that?

  18. Diane G.
    Posted October 20, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    What a time that was.

    I’ve always felt I emerged from the sixties with some kind of PTSD I still can’t shake.

    • Richard Olson
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      And nobody would suspect a disorder from what you write here. It is obvious to anyone who pays the least bit of attention, on the other hand, that our fundavangelical friends emerged from the ’60′s with a migraine.

      The fundies misdiagnose the discomfort this causes as some strange variety of acute terminal brain cancer, a uniquely rare type that can only be treated by operating upon the brains of everyone else.

      • Diane G.
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        Nice metaphor.

        They’re also wringing their hands gleefully at finally getting the revenge they’ve so long desired…

        An eye for an eye; a new poll roadblock for a Voting Rights Act…

  19. Jim
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:23 am | Permalink

    Before you dismiss McArthur Park, listen to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s version. It’s awesome!

    But ok, the original was awful.

  20. bric
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Never heard this before, but I am reminded of that godawful Tex Ritter song Deck of Cards (and its many derivatives)

    • TJR
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:23 am | Permalink

      Also “No Charge” by someone or other.

      The last ever episode of I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again had a pastiche of “Deck of cards” based on cricket:

      “when I think of the 6 balls in an over, I think that this is half the number of disciples”

  21. TJR
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Has anyone so far mentioned “Lady in Red” by Chris de Burgh? It has been accurately described as “a terrible song, sung really badly by someone who you don’t want to see on your TV screen”.

    If you polled Brits of my generation for the worst ever song I suspect it would be straight fight between Lady in Red and Agadoo.

    • bric
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:36 am | Permalink

      I suspect by now it would be Rick Astley performing Never Gonna Give You Up [when you were least expecting it].

    • Dominic
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 3:48 am | Permalink

      Yes! And he sang it really really badly!

    • Merilee
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      I thought Chris had a really sexy voice, though wasn’t crazy about the song. Jimmy Webb wrote some fantastic lyrics, MacArthur Park NOT being among them, but I did kind of get a kick out of it as a song to howl along to…oh, nooooooooo….

    • aljones909
      Posted October 22, 2013 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      I think our british rubbish is far better(worse). How about ‘Grandad’ Clive Dunn and ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ St. Winifred’ s school choir’. Toe curling stuff. ‘Grandad’ was written by Herbie Flowers, creator of the ‘Walk on the wild side’ bass riff. Rick Wakeman played keyboards.

  22. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    First they came for the glue-sniffers …

  23. Dominic
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 3:47 am | Permalink

    New one to me!

    Tammy Wynette “No charge” has to be on a par with this though
    http://www.metrolyrics.com/no-charge-lyrics-tammy-wynette.html

  24. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    You ask me if God is dead.
    This is a question each individual must answer within himself.
    But a warm summer day with all its brightness, all its sound, all its exhilarating breathiness just happened?

    “You have to answer the question for yourself, but of course I expect you to reach the answer I want you to.”

    Remember that God is a guide and not a storm trooper.

    OK, I answered the first question within myself. Now: a dead guide vs. a dead storm trooper – is the distinction relevant?

  25. aljones909
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    I reckon the original Richard Harris version of Macarthur Park (another song by the great Jimmy Webb) was an epic failure but nowhere near the worst song ever. The lyrics are certainly not up to ‘Wichita Lineman’ standard. Glen Campbell does a great live version here:- http://tinyurl.com/l9av97d Just watch him rock out with the electric guitar at 5:00. The legend is that ‘Hey Jude’, at over 7 minutes, was deliberately made one second longer than ‘Macarthur Park’ to beat it’s record as the longest song to reach number 1.

    • Dermot C
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      I heard the story that Jimmy Webb wrote those lines as a bet – to see if he could write a hit, even with the most ridiculous of lines.

      Sounds like hubris or herbs.

      • Dermot C
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        Re: Wichita Lineman, a little nugget. Apparently, Webb played an unfinished version to Glen Campbell but he still didn’t have a proper chorus. Campbell recorded it anyway with the telegraphic guitar morse code sound where Webb was imagining a melody above the backing. Turned out pretty brahma.

      • aljones909
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure I heard a similar urban legend about Wichita Lineman. The bet was that he couldn’t write a song about a guy who worked on telephone lines. Webb has sadly fallen into the arms of jesus.

        • Dermot C
          Posted October 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          Oh dear, alj, I don’t want to hear bad things about JW.

          The line, “I hear you singing in the wire…” is beautiful: to get that in a pop-song, and for it to make sense, is great.

          Mirage heat, vast horizons, loneliness, loss and romance; can’t beat it.

          Slaínte.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

            He also wrote ‘Adios’, which is possibly the song which shows off Linda Ronstadt’s glorious voice best. (I think so anyway). As someone (was it Linda?) said, who else could get away with rhyming ‘morose’ and ‘grandiose’ in a popular song.

      • aljones909
        Posted October 21, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        To put ‘Macarthur Park’ in it’s historical context. I think the seed was ‘A Day in the Life’ (The Beatles). A number of songs in ‘suite’ format followed: ‘Macarthur Park’, ‘Eloise’ (Barry Ryan), ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’ (Crosby, Stills and Nash). And I’m sure there must be others from that era.

  26. Posted October 21, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    That’s not music…. it’s noise. ;D

    THIS is dreadful music, and it was a national hit. That means it was played over and over and over again. And over and over and over and….:

    youtube.com/watch?v=Pc3OnSQc48s

    The lyrics are quite awful as well, unless, perhaps, you are a young girl with a passion for My Little Pony merchandise:

    Wildfire – by Michael Martin Murphey

    She comes down from Yellow Mountain
    On a dark, flat land she rides
    On a pony she named Wildfire
    With a whirlwind by her side
    On a cold Nebraska night

    Oh, they say she died one winter
    When there came a killing frost
    And the pony she named Wildfire
    Busted down it’s stall
    In a blizzard he was lost

    She ran calling Wildfire [x3]
    By the dark of the moon I planted
    But there came an early snow
    There’s been a hoot-owl howling by my window now
    For six nights in a row
    She’s coming for me, I know
    And on Wildfire we’re both gonna go

    We’ll be riding Wildfire [x3]

    On Wildfire we’re gonna ride
    Gonna leave sodbustin’ behind
    Get these hard times right on out of our minds
    Riding Wildfire

    Did I mention this was a national hit?

    • Merilee
      Posted October 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      Awful!

  27. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    “all its exhilarating breathiness just happened?”

    Some people simply never grow out of throwing tantrums over the idea that the universe isn’t all about them.


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