This past weekend, I accompanied the Better Half to his 20-year high school reunion. He hadn’t seen many of his former classmates since graduation, and he had a grand time catching up with them. For my part, I had a good time, too. I already knew a few of his high school friends, and everyone I met was very friendly. Plus, it’s always amusing to watch people as they dance in steadily greater states of inebriation. Good times.
With the mention of dancing, you may reasonably assume that there was music to go with it. The DJ (who I gathered was a member of the class, or from the hometown, or something) did a good job of picking music that had been popular at the time that attendees had been in high school, with a few older and newer hits thrown in for variety. (I am a little bit irritated with myself for requesting something by Madonna, but failing to stipulate “except ‘Like a Virgin.'”) While these musical selections did ram home the unmistakable conclusion that that particular era of American popular music was a vast wasteland of auditory dreck, it was useful in bringing back memories.
One song really stood out in this way — “The Humpty Dance,” by Digital Underground. Released in 1990, it was a massive hit. I didn’t find it especially enjoyable back in the day, but it wasn’t until hearing it a few days ago that its epic badness really became clear to me. That song may well be the worst thing ever recorded. I can literally think of nothing good to say about it. The best I can do is a negative statement — eg. “as far as I know, nobody has been diagnosed with rectal cancer as a result of that song.” It is lyrically, musically and culturally awful. Those of you who wonder where grunge came from should listen to that song. If you heard it over and over again, you’d stop washing your hair and mope around in flannel, too.
BUT! Because of its inexplicable popularity and thus heavy airplay on the radio and TV, it is buried like an especially tenacious parasite in the limbic systems of people who grew up at a certain time. And because of its inescapable terribleness, it has not become one of those songs that gets regular airplay any longer, and is thus sealed in amber in the time of its evanescent popularity. So it is a perfect song for a high school reunion. Verily, I think that a high school reunion is the only time is it ever acceptable to play “The Humpty Dance.” Doing so in any other context is a violation of basic decency, the Geneva Conventions, and the tenets of several major world religions.
So that’s this week’s Stupid Question — what songs can only be played under very strict circumstances? What can you sing or play at weddings, bat mitvahs, church bake sales, etc. that you just can’t get away with any other time? NB. this differs from a previous STQ in that this is not a song you like because of the context in which you first heard it. No, no. This is a song you hate, and can only tolerate when heard thusly.