Sunday, July 7, 2013

Would You Like a Little "Whine" with that Cheese: The Top 10 Whiniest Songs of All Time

Just as there is sometimes a fine line between romantic love and stalking, so also there is a fine line between tragic and down right whiny. The distinguishing characteristic between one and the other is the primary ingredient of self-pity. The tragic and lamentable figure can be more easily mourned because he does not generally sit around feeling sorry for himself and telling you endlessly about his injuries, while the whiny one feels it necessary to report every last ache and pain as if no one in the history of the world had ever endured anything quite like it. If hell is filled with self-pity then the following songs are probably on the playlist:

10. Everybody Hurts - R.E.M.

This song appears as the last one on the list because at least the lament is directed outwards. But when you combine Michael Stipe's grating voice with this suicide inducing composition and video, it is difficult not include it somewhere.

"When the day is long/ And the night, the night is yours alone/ When you feel you've had too much of this life, well hang on. Don't let yourself go/ 'Cause everybody cries/ Everybody hurts sometimes..."

Drone, drone, drone. I am all for finding hope where there's misery, but if someone informs me, using a droning whiny sad voice to "hold on", I am not so sure that I will feel much comfort in that, especially when the depressing part is more compelling than that which is supposed to be hopeful. It is like being comforted by a mournful ghost. Add to that an emo-type dude wearing guyliner, and I suspect the best way not to "throw your hand", as he suggests, is to avoid this song altogether.

9. Without You - Nilsson

Originally performed by the artist known as Nilsson in the early 1970s, this song made a comeback in the late 1990s when pop diva Mariah Carey released her own version of the hit single. If you are a man and Mariah Carey regards your music as saccharine enough to be right in her wheel house of what she would like to perform, then that should give you pause.

"No I can't forget tomorrow, when I think of all my sorrows. And I had you there, but then I let you go. And now it's only fair that I should let you know (what you should know). I can't live, if living is without you. I can't give. I can't give anymore..." 

Men talking about emotions in a song is one thing, but men moping around complaining about how much sorrow they are going to feel tomorrow, not to mention how much emotionally they have given to a relationship, is more worthy of a diva than a man. And adding insult to injury, this pity party is not something he keeps only to himself, but rather feels that it's only "fair" that he shares it with her and everyone else on the face of the earth. (Insert the melody here as I give my own rendition of the chorus) "Me. Me. Complain. Gripe. Whine. Plead. Me. Me. I don't deserve all this pain. Me. Me. I'm so generous and giving. Me. Me. I can't whine anymore..." Crying in front of everyone and begging- all teary-eyed- for a girl to come back to you generally has the reverse effect. I learned this lesson in fourth grade, some people apparently never get the memo. 

8. Just When I Needed You Most - Randy VanWarmer

"You packed in the morning and I/ Stared out the window and I/ Looked for something to say. You left in the rain without closing the door/ I didn't stand in your way. But I miss you more than I/ Did before and now/ Where I 'll find comfort, God knows. 'Cause you left me just when I needed you most..." 

I am not sure why, but when I hear these words I cannot help but think of a tiny little man with a shawl and grandmother-like spectacles shivering in front of the window on a cold winter's day. And according to the second verse, this is pretty much all Mr. VanWarmer has done every day since this heartless woman left him "without closing the door."

"Now most every morning I stare out the window, and I think about where you might be/ I've written you letters that I'd like to send/ If you would just send one to me..."

Not only does he sit by the window wrapped in his shawl, but he also keeps letters on the window's ledge that he's apparently too feeble to send. There is nothing wrong with a man struggling to find words to express his feelings (we're not all poets, you know), but she ain't coming back, dude, so get on with your day already. Do you not have a job, or are still waiting by the window afraid to leave the house- lest you miss her upon her arrival? Yeah, that's gonna happen. Where can you hope to find comfort now? "God knows", but in the mean time let me suggest that there's a better chance of you finding it if you get off your rear end and leave the house rather than sitting helplessly by the window.

7. All By Myself - Eric Carmen

Another song included in this list that has been covered by a Diva (Celine Dion in this case), this one laments not so much the loss of a loved one, or a broken heart, but rather the feeling of being all alone. No one likes to be alone, but being alone is one thing, and singing to millions and millions of people about being alone strikes me as a little disingenuous. Is this simply a clever method to get a date? "All by myself/ Don't want to be, all by myself... anymore." Women do have a soft spot for men who are a little like stray puppies. But can a pop singer surrounded by groupies all day really sell that one? In fairness, if you read all of the lyrics, he doesn't seem so much to be complaining about the fact that he can't get a date as he is lamenting the loneliness of life on the road:

 "When I was young/ I never needed anyone/ And makin' love was just for fun/ Those days are gone... Livin' alone/ I think of all the friends I've known/ But when I dial the telephone/ Nobody's home... All by myself" 

I'm sorry that "nobody's home", and that everyone else has grown up and gotten themselves a life. We call that maturity, and it's what people of action do- as opposed to sitting in the dark and crying about your life. I understand how tempting it is to want to stay in your youth. But it's time to move on man! No one's going to carry Baby into adulthood- you have to make that decision yourself. If you don't want to be alone, then get your priorities straight. My guess is you are not having any problems finding a women. You can either sit there and whine about being alone, or you can exercise a little bit of virtue and make a real commitment to change your life. Otherwise, prepare to be "all by yourself" for a whole lot longer.

6. Nobody Knows - The Tony Rich Project

There is a certain type of person to whom you really would really like to offer comfort, but something happens to interrupt your sympathy for them... their sympathy for themselves. In fact, they are so utterly proficient about brooding over their own injuries that you find yourself unable to muster up any kind of compassion. Indeed, every time you try to help them get through whatever it is they are going through, they seem less interested in a remedy than they do in endlessly licking their wounds. The entire world could be offering them a life raft, and still they would wave their little Tyrannosaurus arms helplessly around as if they were incapable of reaching out and grabbing the life line. To some extent this is understandable, for why would they want to be saved when they are getting so much mileage out of their misery; "Days are long/ Nights are so sad/ I just keep thinking about the love that we had/ And I'm trembling inside and nobody knows it but me." I can almost picture one of those Sarah McLachlan commercials- featuring some sad little abandoned puppy shivering with one eye. Perhaps this literal cry for help might work in garnering some sympathy from a woman, but as a man I find it difficult to muster much sympathy for a man who sings such dreary mopey hopeless lyrics about losing a girl, only to conclude his mopefest by saying that he's "... dying inside, and nobody knows it but me..." First of all, it is more than a little ironic that you announce to the world that nobody knows what you're going through... uh, except the world. But OK, so you're struggling to get by, fine- why not talk to a friend about it? Nope. Because if you did that then maybe you might just find a way out of this festering hole that of course you want to escape, right? Nope. What do you do instead? You tell everybody, which fulfills your need to talk about it-while simultaneously telling no one in particular, which shields you from the responsibility of receiving any sound advice which you might actually have to act upon. It is the perfect plan to insulate yourself as you continue to complain, while in no way attempting to address complaint. This is the difference between a whiny song and a tragic one. The whiny singer is in love with his misery, while the singer of a sad song just happens to be telling a tragic story, not wallowing in it.    

5. Wouldn't It Be Good - Nik Kershaw

"I got it bad/ You don't know how bad I got it/ You got it easy easy/ You don't know when you've got it good/ It's getting harder/ Just keeping life and soul together/ I'm tired of fighting/ Even though I know I should... I don't want to be here anymore... Wouldn't it be good to be on your side/ Grass is always greener over there/ Wouldn't it be good if we could wish ourselves away."     

There is clearly nothing wrong with expressing one's existential angst in a song, even to the extent that Mr. Kershaw expresses it (viz. contemplating suicide). Indeed, one might even compare his lament to that of Job's- with one major difference. If you notice, in the book of Job, Job is not so much feeling sorry for himself or complaining that no one has suffered like him, as he is trying to understand the reason for his suffering. Mr. Kershaw sounds like he is suffering quite a bit psychologically, but instead of battling it out with God as Job did, or asking for someone to bring him comfort, he chooses merely to state definitively that "he has it bad,", and that whoever is speaking to him doesn't. This is an excellent recipe for continuing to languish in a suicidal state. No on can understand me. Period. So don't even try, much less tell me that your suffering is like mine. Because my pain is utterly unique and you cannot possibly empathize, so I would, as he says, "stay right there if I were you". " Woh, easy tiger! Now you're threatening me because I'm trying to help you? Job wants God to relieve his pain, or at least explain it, Mr. Kershaw, on the other hand, does nothing of the sort- he merely states dogmatically that his life sucks, and then proceeds to say, in essence, "I want to die"' In actuality, he sounds more like Job's wife in this story than he does Job (remember- she was one who told him to "curse God and die"). Ironically, in the midst of this whine and cheese celebration, he uses a common expression; "The grass is always greener..." Generally speaking, this expression is used, not when the grass is in fact greener on the other side, but when we are in a state of mind in which we are incapable of appreciating our own current status, and no matter what is going on "on the other side" we find ourselves coveting it, simply because we are not there.

4. What About Me - Moving Pictures        

The title of this song tells you everything you need to know about it. Indeed, if a child were to write a song that expressed the feeling one gets as a child when they are selected last in a game of kick ball, this would be it. "What about me? It isn't fair!" On the other hand, if this song were written in a slightly more self-effacing manner, it might have been right up there in the great pantheon of socially aware songs (e.g. When the Children Cry by White Lion). However, there is an essential ingredient missing from it that prevents it from being placed in the same category. The first two verses do attempt to tell stories about how easy it is to overlook the "little people", but sympathy can quickly turn into annoyance when one feels that those "little people" are just a little too self-aware; "What about me/ It isn't fair/ I've had enough now, I want my share/ Can't you see/ I want to live/ But you just take more than you give." Maybe it's unfair, but I want my humble heroes to be humble, and not take it upon themselves to go around barking about what and how much they deserve. That is the job of their advocate and songwriter. Victims are best when someone else testifies to their victimhood, not when they themselves hammer you over the head with it. Hence, if they go on and on about how terrible the materially wealthy are, and how much they themselves deserve, they naturally come off sounding more socialistic than sympathetic.

"Now I'm standing on the corner all the worlds gone home/ Nobody's changed, nobody's been saved/ And I'm feeling cold and alone/ I guess I'm lucky/ I smile a lot/ But sometimes I wish for more... than I've got/ What about me..." 

Oh no he didn't! He broke the cardinal rule for songs intending to raise social awareness. You never declare when lamenting the suffering of the poor and needy: "and by the way, feel sorry for me too, because while I guess 'I'm lucky' and 'smile a lot,' I want more!" Who would have thought that this type of song would transition so quickly from a meditation on the struggles of the "little people" (not to be confused with Oompa-Loompas), to a Veruca Salt tribute?

3. The Wall - Pink Floyd              

How do you make a song unparalleled in its whininess? You don't just make one song that is- you devote an entire album to the cause. It pains me to say this, because Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands of all time, but while I can appreciate what the album is doing musically, I cannot endorse some of the narcissism. What's a good way in our day and age to bitch and moan about the kind of hand that life has dealt you? Complain profusely about how everyone has failed you in this life (including you). You know the story, mom is overbearing and controlling, dad is absent, and your wife doesn't understand you and so leaves you for the another man. Thus, what else is there to do but to build a "wall" around you and explore, wallow, marinate in your pain; "Goodbye cruel world. I'm leaving you today. Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye. Goodbye all you people. There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind. Goodbye..." The goal here is not just to be build a wall thick enough to keep people out, but to build it thick enough to keep the self-pity in. And if this were not enough, Pink Floyd did not stop there, they followed this album with another one that what had a similar theme (it was practically the outtakes of the previous album). The words on the title track of the Final Cut tell you just about everything you need to know about how self-indulgent it was:

"Thought I ought to bear my naked feelings/ Thought I ought to tear the curtain down/ I held the blade in trembling hands prepared to make it but/ Just then the phone rang/ I never had the nerve to make the final cut..."

2. Rain King - The Counting Crows

On vocal styling alone, Mr. Duritz of The Counting Crows should receive some recognition for being one of the whiniest sounding artist of all time. Just add a woeful subject matter to those lyrics, and you have the perfect storm of whininess. Ironically, Rain King is one of the more upbeat songs on an album that explores a level of misery and self-pity heretofore unheard of (excepting only the previous example). There are no happy songs on August and Every Thing After; only miserable ones that are deceptively upbeat:

"I said momma, momma, momma, why am I so alone/ Well, I can't go outside, I'm scared I might not make it home/ I'm alive, I'm alive/ But I'm sinkin' in/ If there's anyone at home,  darlin', why don't you invite me in. Don't try to bleed me/ 'cause I've been here before and I deserve a little more... She's been dyin' and I've been drinkin'/ And I am the rain king."

I can't decide whether this guy's got agoraphobia, or he's like the little kid in Where the Wild Things Are marching around his bedroom in a bear suit and a plastic gold crown. But in either case, he sounds like an overgrown baby, especially when he's talkin' to "momma" about how afraid he is to leave the house, and how, for some reason, this great "trauma" actually qualifies him to be the so called "rain king." I will let you decide if he is worthy of so exalted a title.

1. King of Pain - The Police

So what sort of song could possibly qualify as the whiniest song of all time? Well, in order to qualify it would need not only to be self-pitying, but would need to imply that the sufferings that one has endured are on a level with Jesus Christ. Who better to do that than Sting, a man who has incredible literary flair (the lyrics here are exceptional), and who also has a grandiose idea about himself. Granted Sting never calls himself the "King of Sorrows" in this song, but he comes pretty darn close. The great man never gives testimony to himself, obviously Sting never got the memo on that, choosing to ordain himself the "king of pain":

"There's a little black spot on the sun today (that's my soul up there)/ It's the same old thing as yesterday/ There's a black winged gull with a broken back (that's my soul up there/ There's a flag pole rag, and the wind won't stop (that's my soul up there). I've stood here before inside the pouring rain/ With the wind turning circles running round my brain/ I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign/ But it's my destiny to be the king of pain"

Talk about a God complex. He does everything by declare himself the "suffering servant." In fact, he even sees nature's pain as an extension of himself. I suppose this means that he should receive sympathy not merely for his own personal suffering but also for the suffering of all of his blessed creation, which includes the "broken back of a black winged gull", and perhaps even the "dead salmon that's frozen in a waterfall" as well. If you think  I am being unfair, and that he is only trying to express his pain, simply remember he doesn't qualify his examples as metaphors. He point to everything in agony in nature , and says that's me. When the chorus arrives, however, I think he reveals his real modus operandi, which involves emotional blackmail, assessing blame, or some combination of both; "I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign. But it's my destiny to be the king of pain... I'll always be, King of pain..." Translation "Oh well, I guess I thought that maybe, just maybe, someone would do something about my suffering, but nooooooo! I guess I shouldn't be so naive so as to think that you might lift a finger to help. Anyhoo, I'll just be over here on my cross, suffering in unimaginable pain for the sins of the world if you care to do anything to help."

Honorable mention goes, not to any one song in particular, but to three whiny ineffectual genres. The first is what I like to call Adult Contemporary Neo-Punk, composed of bands such as Blink 182 and Good Charlotte. The second includes New Wave (like Morrissey and the Cure) and Emo/Screamo with bands such as Linkin' Park and Bullet for My Valentine. My guess is a large portion of those who listen to the latter "scream fest" are people who have very little to complain about in the first place, and perhaps listen because they wish they did. But whether or not these are perfect examples of the categories of which I have allied, they clearly embody a certain aspect of whiny, adolescent, thumb-sucking, self-pitying narcissism. And while I must admit I do still love some of the music I have listed, I also cannot deny that as a youth I commandeered quite a few of these songs for my own personal pity party- so I know the power of their message. In conclusion, I leave you with this SNL skit called Goth Talk, which I would regard as a kind of tribute to all that tends in our nature to glorifying that which is gloomy, depressing, and sorrow inducing:






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