My Vote For Most Morally-Repugnant Classic Pop Song

“Only the Good Die Young” is my vote for “Pop Songs Belonging in Hell”.   As a kid growing up I must have heard this little ditty a few thousand times, and it ticks me off every time it pops up as a catch-phrase or oldies background music in restaurants or elevators. I know that there are all kinds of music that go deeper into the depths of hell by way of their lyrical content- but this is one of those little reminders of how commonplace it was to grow up with bad or just annoying influences- putting little ugly mantras into your psyche with some kind of riff or beat to make the poison go down like cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. 

I pray that Billy Joel converts some day and orders all reminders of this song to be destroyed. Anyone else have any classic pop songs that just won’t go away- leaving behind some permanent trace of immoral brainwash?

39 Responses to My Vote For Most Morally-Repugnant Classic Pop Song

  1. c matt says:

    I am with you on this one. I heard it just the other day and was thinking the same thing.

  2. Tim Shipe says:

    The thing I really hate is how I will find myself singing some of it under my breath unconsiously when it comes on – all those false bells and whistles making you think you are listening to some little pep song- and then you catch yourself repeating the lyrics- ugh..

  3. Mike Petrik says:

    Agreed. Morally repugnant. But at least it is not an anthem like Lennon’s disturbingly insipid “Imagine.”

  4. Tim Shipe says:

    Good point- “Imagine” carries people straight into modern-day paganism, which has none of the virtues of ancient paganism- Billy Joel just takes cheap shots and seeks easy sex- if we take his music as a reflection of his spiritual aims.

  5. Mike Petrik says:

    “Imagine” if a Catholic songwriter wrote similar lyrics about Jewish girls.

  6. Donald R. McClarey says:

    Couldn’t agree more Tim. I hated this hymn of pure unadulterated anti-Catholicism when I was in college. A few Catholic girls I knew really enjoyed the tune which just demonstrates what morally confused times we live in.

  7. jonathanjones02 says:

    I’ve given Billy Joel a decent amount of cd and concret revenue, and feel bad about it everytime I hear this song. Sadly, it’s also catchy……

  8. Joe Hargrave says:

    When you look at that level of moral confusion, Don, you begin to appreciate a little more as well why the Church had an index of prohibited books.

  9. c matt says:

    Imagine is on that list, too. And yes, OTGDY does have a catchy tune, making it all the more evil.

  10. Elaine Krewer says:

    I can’t stand “Only the Good Die Young” either; but, I beg to differ on “Imagine.”

    I actually like “Imagine” because I think it expresses, albeit very imperfectly, a longing for an un-fallen world.

    Think about it: if there were no such thing as original sin — if Adam and Eve had remained in complete, sinless union with God — there really would be “nothing to kill or die for,” no need for possessions, and maybe even no need for “religion” as we think of it — loving God and our neighbor would come naturally without any need for conscious submission to rules and commandments.

    There would be no need for possessions, or for nations or governments, at least not as we know them. There would also be “no hell below us” (at least not for human beings), and — just maybe — heaven and earth would be so closely united as to be indistinguishable from one another .

    Doesn’t the Church teach that if original sin did not exist, neither would death — everyone would simply pass into heaven at the end of their earthly life in some fashion (as did Mary at her Assumption)? Perhaps the transition from earth to heaven would be so seamless as to be hardly noticed, and certainly not dreaded?

    Of course, where John Lennon went wrong is in proposing that all these things could be accomplished purely by human effort, which we know to be false. But if you keep that in mind, I think it’s possible to appreciate “Imagine” as a seriously flawed but well-meaning work rather than as an evil or decadent one.

  11. H. Bunce says:

    Johnny Cash, one of my favorites, had a hit with “One Piece at a Time”.

    Ask any business owner who deals with the tremendous problem of employee theft and the rationalizations that “justify” it.

  12. Zach says:

    I overheard someone play “Imagine” by John Lennon to begin a Confirmation class for 9th graders tonight.

    What do I do about this?

  13. Donald R. McClarey says:

    I love One Piece at a Time!

  14. Elaine Krewer says:

    Well, Zach, I’d first find out what happened during the rest of the class before jumping to any conclusions.

    Is it possible that the teacher used the song as a springboard for discussing why John Lennon’s notion of a world that would be all fine and dandy if there were no countries, no possessions, no religion, etc. is all wrong, and that only faith in Christ can even come close to bringing that about?

  15. RL says:

    I get what you’re saying about Imagine Elaine, but it’s because the longing is all pointing in the wrong direction that I find it more troublesome.

    I never could stand Billy Joel’s music so I never gave too much thought to OTGDY, but there is a song from a band I really like that is profoundly bad. One line in particular is far worse than anything BJ wrote. Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger. It has one line that makes you not even want to hum along.

  16. Mark Noonan says:

    “American Pie” is another one for the books on this. Others to add to the list:

    “Sister Are Doing it for Themselves” – actually celebrating the move of womanhood from mistress of the home to cubicle drudge.

    “Oh, What a Night” – sex with a prostitute as the grand memory of youth (“you know I didn’t even know her name”…)

    “Love is a Stranger” – talks of love as a wicked thing.

    On the other hand, I’ll plug the music of Rush – while Neil Peart, the band’s main lyricist, is clearly a libertarian and has a great deal of difficulty with religion, the lyrics, themselves, are often thought provoking and some times quite moving. Example:

    “There is trouble in the forest
    And the creatures all have fled
    As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
    And the oaks just shake their heads

    So the maples formed a union
    And demanded equal rights
    ‘The oaks are just too greedy
    We will make them give us light’
    Now there’s no more oak oppression
    For they passed a noble law
    And the trees are all kept equal
    By hatchet, axe and saw” – The Trees


    “He’s got to make his own mistakes
    And learn to mend the mess he makes
    He’s old enough to know what’s right
    But young enough not to choose it
    He’s noble enough to win the world
    But weak enough to lose it
    He’s a New World Man…

    He’s a radio receiver
    Tuned to factories and farms
    He’s a writer and arranger
    And a young boy bearing arms

    He’s got a problem with his power
    With weapons on patrol
    He’s got to walk a fine line
    And keep his self-control” – New World Man

  17. Elaine Krewer says:

    Mark, if you mean “American Pie” the movie, I agree totally, but if you mean “American Pie” the song, not so much. It’s supposed to be symbolic.

    I always understood that verse about “Satan laughing with delight” was about the Rolling Stones at Altamont, and the incident with the Hell’s Angels? Don McLean isn’t saying that was a great thing, he’s lamenting the decline of popular music from “the day the music died” through the decade of the Sixties.

  18. Afghani"Stan" says:

    I would throw “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison into the mix. It starts off great and all of the sudden he is talking about Krishna and Indian Paganism.

    I wish some good Catholic would do a remak and eliminate references to Hare Krishna from the song.

  19. During my (very) brief stint attending youth group in our parish when I was a teenager, one of the leaders said when planning a youth mass, “You know, I’ve always thought Imagine would be a great communion hymn. It’s so spiritual.”

    I was having a hard time getting people to see why this would be a bad idea.

  20. Dave Hartline says:

    You guys made some great points. There are certainly different degrees of bad influences. I remember when “Only The Good Die Young” came out. I was a freshman in high school and the nuns at our Catholic high school didn’t know what to make of it. We all thought it was cool, until we later became more familair with lyrics. On the other hand, I can remember the metal bands of the 1970s and 1980s with occult imagery. Bands like Black Sabbath never claimed to be into the occult but their record company sure used the imagery to sell the motiff. Yet, they probably had one of the most unabashedly pro Christian songs in the rock era (After Forever) and one of the most pro life songs (National Acrobat.)

    It would interesting to know what causes more long term damage to an impressionable culture. Would it be bands whose record companies use occult images, even though the band claims to having to do with the occult, or the plethora of 80s hair metal bands whose whole image reverberated around out of control sexual debauchery? This is to say nothing of the current wave of sexually charged music by the likes of Lady Ga Ga. God help the young people today.

    Mark makes some interesting points about Rush. I have always been intrigued as to whether their Libertarian views rubbed off more on their audience, or their agnosticism. Tom Sawyer was really big among high school guys in the early 1980s and it definitely had an agnsotic ring to it. “No his mind is not for rent to any God or governemnt, always hopeful, but yet discontent…”

    Elaine good call on American Pie. Don McClean is sort of an iconic reclusive figure. It would have been interesting had he made a song about 1980s or 1990s America.

    It would also be interesting to note our own demarcation lines. I own lots of albums and cd’s and have been to countless concerts. However, the older I get the more uncomfortable I get with influence of some of these musicians on culture. I read somewhere that in the 1980s, 67% of pop hits revolvled around sexual imagery, whereas in 2009 it was over 95%

  21. John Henry says:

    “You know, I’ve always thought Imagine would be a great communion hymn. It’s so spiritual.”

    Because, after all, what could be more spiritual than atheistic materialism? 😉

  22. Aaron B. says:

    I’ll throw in “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. The gist is that a married guy is getting bored with his wife, so he puts an ad in the personals, and gets a response from a woman who has similar likes and dislikes, and then when they meet, she turns out to be his wife.

    Of course, it’s supposed to be romantic because they rediscover how much they have in common, and presumably rekindle their romance. But whenever I hear it, I can’t help thinking that they both now know the other went looking for extra-marital action, and laughed it off when they found out. Very 1970s.

  23. I overheard someone play “Imagine” by John Lennon to begin a Confirmation class for 9th graders tonight.

    What do I do about this?.

    I would do what the song says and Imagine. Specifically, I would imagine myself smashing the CD player with a baseball bat and then beginning a rousing rendition of "Ave Maria." 😉

    In seriousness, I would print out a copy of the lyrics, highlight "imagine a world with no religion," and hand it to the priest and whoever else is in charge. If that's not enough to change their minds, I would send a letter to the bishop (or any other parishes considering using this retreat team) and then just pray for conversions.

  24. Dale Price says:

    My favorite shot at the dreadful “Imagine” comes from Elvis Costello:

    “It was a millionaire who said ‘imagine no possessions.'”

  25. Mike Petrik says:

    Why is it that when I hear about the playing of “Imagine” at the beginning of a Confirmation class a certain scene from Animal House involving a guitar springs immediately to mind?

  26. Tim Shipe says:

    Here’s song to make you vomit- Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night”- I can picture this type of dude wanting to date one of my girls someday and I want to tear my hair out. Perhaps the best thing is to show videos like this to my girls when they are middle teens and warn them about the dangerous jerks who pose as cute, harmless ‘ladies’ men’-

  27. Gail F says:

    How about “Under My Thumb”? And that stupid one by Heart about the woman finding a man to sleep with so she can have a baby… mercifully, it’s not coming to mind right now although it used to infuriate me. And “Angel of the Morning.” And “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” And…

    I always liked “Only the Good Die Young.” I figured the song didn’t say she actually came out of the house! It was just a guy trying to figure out how to get her to come out. Like he was really worth it, ha ha.

    The songs now are unbelievable.

  28. Pinky says:

    There was a ballad by the heavy metal band Extreme called “More than Words”. It was exactly the kind of song that high school kids would have slow-danced to. The girls would have found it sweet and the guys would have respected that it was from a hard rock band. Lyrically, it was about how a girl could prove that she really loved a guy by more than words. It skeeved me out more than any silly hard-partying song.

  29. John Henry says:

    I’ve heard that song fifty times and never paid attention to the lyrics, Pinky. It should be sub-titled ‘an ode to passive-aggressive creepiness.’

  30. Mark Noonan says:


    I was referring to the song, but the movie of that title so extra dreadful that I’ll split the difference with you on the song.

  31. Mark Noonan says:


    “Tom Sawyer” certainly had that agnostic effect on me – but Rush is hard to pin down. There is, after all, a bit of totalitarianism in “Closer to the Heart”:

    “And the men who hold high places
    Must be the ones who start
    To mold a new reality
    Closer to the heart, closer to the heart”

    Mostly what I get from Rush, aside from the applicability of the songs to my personal experiences, is that Peart is a man who has probably never sat down and had a serious conversation with a believer. A bit of a good RCIA program would do wonders for me. Meanwhile, though, I see him as an honest man trying to figure things out.

  32. Mark Noonan says:

    Errr…”wonders for him”…not for me; already had that for me.


  33. Dave Hartline says:

    Mark, good point about Rush. I read somewhere that Neil Peart and the rest of the band supposedly have the highest IQ in the rock world (I didn’t realize bands took IQ tests!) However, I am sure they probably hung out in eclectic parts of Toronto that even then had few believers. An interesting aside, a few years ago my wife and I were in Toronto and we stopped by the cathedral to say a prayer. It was the Divine Hour of Mercy and I was stunned to see several dozen people in the Church. Upon closer inspection, they were all Vietnamese immigrants. God Bless them, I hope they can evangelize the native born!

    Back to Rush, it would appear that Red Barchetta is somewhat prophetic (inspired by an early 1970s Road & Track article I do believe) It would seem some in the government would have us all drive smart cars. They wrote that song 30 years ago, before anyone could imagine that General Motors would someday become Government Motors (though the writing may have been on the wall even then.)

  34. Elaine Krewer says:

    “that stupid one by Heart about the woman about the woman finding a man to sleep with so she can have a baby”

    I think it’s called “All I Want To Do Is Make Love To You.” A friend of mine, back when it was popular, dubbed it “The Slut Song” and that’s how I think of it to this day.

  35. Elaine Krewer says:

    I gotta second those votes for “My Sweet Lord” and “Tonight’s the Night” as well. Also, in the country category I’d like to give a (dis) honorable mention to Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill.”

    Yeah, I realize where she’s coming from — she had four kids before she was 18 and she was a grandmother before she turned 30 — so it’s kind of hard to blame her for her sentiment, but still I cringe when I hear it.

  36. HA says:

    “More than words” really skeeved somebody out? Really?

    I’m guessing that here are the bits of the song that could possibly be construed as salacious in some way, and I quote them in their entirety: “…just reach out your hands and touch me. Hold me close, don’t ever let me go…”

    That’s about it – please look up the rest if you think I’ve omitted anything. And there’s no mention of the couple being unmarried teenagers, or in the back seat of someone’s 60’s Chevy, or anything like that. I have a hard finding that creepy. What about “Love Me Tender”, which contains basically the same lines, almost word for word – is that also to be filed under skeevey?

    Granted, if you’re a teenager at a high school dance, the song could an occasion of all sorts of lurid fantasies. Then again, if you’re a teenager, watching paint dry is likely enough to make you crave a cigarette afterwards, so that’s hardly a fair point. And when did the concept of “mere words are not enough to show your love” become something that Catholics should take exception to? I’m not saying anyone needs to like the song, but are there not worthier targets of scorn out there?

    In any case, Gary Francis Caine Cherone, the vocalist and primary lyricist of the band behind those filthy, filthy lines, is one of the rare people in the rock world to have spoken out against abortion: . On the basis of that alone, the man deserves a bit of respect around here.

  37. Donna says:

    “Lightnin’ Strikes ” by Lou Christie. A paean to the double standard in which a guy says to his girl, “Well, I’ll marry you eventually, and I expect you to be true to me, but meanwhile I’m going to take every girl that will co-operate “.

  38. Donna says:

    Two from the 80’s:
    “Hurts So Good” – an early glamorization of S & M
    ” Obsession” – Stalking and seduction, all couched in violent imagery of hunting and devouring

  39. Joe Hargrave says:

    I think 99% of pop/rock/rap music is garbage that has approximately the same effect on your soul as junk food does on your body. Some of it is closer to the healthier end of the spectrum and won’t hurt you too much, and you might indulge it now and again and it won’t cause you to fall into sin.

    Some of it is far closer to the other end of the spectrum and feeds into each and every one of the deadly sins, especially wrath and lust.

    Much of it is simply anti-Christ per 2 John 1:7.

    When I was a teenager, heavy metal music played as much of a role in my apostasy as glorious sacred music now plays in my faith. And I find it rather curious that many are quick to note and praise the merits of sacred music, especially from the great composers, while remaining glib or indifferent to the harmful spiritual effects of music that contains evil messages.

    Then again, I find it no different than those who wonder why God allows evil in the world, while taking full and sole credit for every good thing they do.

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