The songs that make the whole world cringe

By Adrienne Kohler

If listening to Whitney Houston warble I Will Always Love You makes your fillings ache, or you see red whenever Chris de Burgh sings Lady In Red, you are not alone.

A Kiwi survey on the worst songs in the world is showing that certain songs are universally despised and constantly appear on worst songs lists, although most were big hits.

Dr Sally Jo Cunningham, a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Waikato, embarked on the survey after reading the book Bad Songs Survey by US humorist Dave Barry. Dr Cunningham is investigating exactly what people hate about songs as part of research on music information retrieval.

"We want to do for music what Google has done for text, and one of the problems is how to recommend songs to someone," she said.

But it is proving hazardous to her mental health. Since starting the survey, Dr Cunningham has formed a virulent hatred for Achy Breaky Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus.

"One problem is, to see a title is to hear the song, now I wake up hearing it in my head," she said. "The worst songs seem to be the ones that have a repetitive rhythm - like Achy Breaky Heart."

The song that launched a million line-dancers polled second in a 2004 worst song survey, with the top spot going to We Built This City by Starship. However, in Dr Cunningham's survey, McArthur Park is proving a strong contender for the top spot.

People hate songs for a variety of reasons, she says. Sometimes it reminds them of someone they don't like any more, or because they have heard it too often. A prime example is the Titanic movie theme My Love Will Go On by Celine Dion.

Some people can't stand a particular artist, and novelty songs seem to be hated with a passion - remember C. W. McCall's ode to the CB radio, Convoy? A song's lyrics can also raise the ire of listeners.

"I Have Never Been To Me is especially loathed by many women as being repulsive," said Dr Cunningham.

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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