4 Embarrassingly Awful Musical Tributes To Tragedies
From "Candle in the Wind" to the epic hip hopera tribute we gave our pet hamster, humanity loves to respond to tragedy with song. Sometimes, the right music can unite a grieving nation. And sometimes it unites people in asking, "What in the world were you thinking when you wrote that?"
The Mighty Mighty Bosstones Decided That George Floyd Needed A Ska Tribute
When Martin Luther King was assassinated, Robert Kennedy broke the news to a horrified crowd, then quoted the Greek dramatist Aeschylus. And ever since that fateful day, America has wondered why RFK wasn't accompanied by 14 saxophonists wearing suits made out of curtains they stole from their grandmothers. Now, decades later, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones have finally corrected that stain on the historical record.
"The Killing of Georgie (Part III)" is ostensibly a tribute to George Floyd, despite sounding like the music played over the credits of a forgotten 2007 comedy called Boner Patrol! It turns out that the sober introspections of a 2,500-year-old drama about Agamemnon don't go well with the kind of blaring trumpets that get your dad pumped up to overcook some hot dogs because "And even in our sleep ... Comes wisdom through the awful grace of God" doesn't quite fit an upbeat ska jam. It's like if Raffi did an album inspired by Schopenhauer.
Speaking of references that don't work, the title is an allusion to Rod Stewart's 1976 "The Killing of Georgie (Part I and II)," about the murder of a gay man in New York City. But not only is it weird to give a nickname to a murdered man you never met, Head Bosstone Dicky Barrett quotes Stewart's song by shouting, "Georgie's life ended there / But I ask who really cares?" Well, a lot of people cared about Floyd. It was sort of a big deal. Hell, the song was released during the highly publicized murder trial.
Barrett's own lyrics aren't much better, whether it's the mind-blowing rhyme of "I still have a dream / Rooted in the American dream" or the major understatement of calling Floyd's death "Not what we were hoping for and it's not what we need," like Floyd had failed to guide Barrett's favorite team to the playoffs. The whole thing sounds like Barrett just discovered police brutality and thinks it's, like, a major bummer that someone should look into.
A music video where Barrett performed the joyous dance moves of an alcoholic uncle at an open bar wedding didn't help …
… and it was quietly removed after the world's most predictable backlash. But what you can still witness is the other catastrophic tribute of DJ David Guetta saying, "The world is going through difficult times ... and America too, actually ..." before offering a "shoutout to family" as the beat kicks in and he begins pumping his fist to an MLK speech.
This is the anthem for men who ask how they can possibly be racist if they flew all the way to Thailand to bang barely-legal brothel girls. This is music for people who say "they should have cooperated" when the police beat someone to death. This plays in the background whenever someone says, "If everyone is equal, I should be able to say the n-word!" This is the pump-up jam for dudes who complain that the NBA has become too political. The guy who thinks he's the hip HOA member plays this on his way to tell the neighborhood's one black guy that his lawn is a quarter-inch too long.
Hulk Hogan's Tribute To A Make-A-Wish Child Will Make You Envy Him For Dying
To a child, professional wrestling can have the drama and pathos of Kurosawa. And, in the late '80s/early '90s, Hulk Hogan was huge. Hulkamania was, if you will, running wild, even if it sometimes ran to strange and terrible destinations, like the set of Mr. Nanny. So there was nothing unusual about the Make-A-Wish Foundation arranging for a child to see Hogan wrestle in Wembley Arena. But, the story goes, the young Hulk fan succumbed to his illness before the show began, and Hogan was so moved by the sight of an empty chair in the front row that there was only one thing he could do: record a truly terrible song.
The 1995 album Hulk Rules, by "Hulk Hogan and The Wrestling Boot Band," can charitably be described as an atrocity. It's ambitious in that it mangles multiple genres, so if you've ever wanted to listen to Hogan rap to a sample from Sonic CD, you can certainly do so right after you consult your doctor about your brain tumor. But "Hulkster in Heaven" elevates Hulk Rules from regular ol' cash-in to an affront to God.
It's nearly five minutes of lines like "I used to tear my shirt / But now you've torn my heart" and "I wish Hulk's love could bring you back again," all set to what sounds like a church's begrudging tribute to their least favorite parishioner. It's unclear if "the world just lost another Hulkamaniac" means Hogan is mourning the child or the fact that his army needs constant reinforcement. Still, either way, Hogan promises to form a tag team with the child "when the Hulkster comes to Heaven (Heaven, heaven, heaven)." Which, frankly, is a bold assumption on Hogan's part given what he inflicted on the world here.
"But isn't it unfair to judge a kitschy product decades after its time?" you might ask. Hell no. That's like saying solving a cold case is unfair to the murderer. Speaking of which, crack wrestling detectives have pointed out that the timeline of Hogan's story doesn't add up, raising doubts over whether this child even existed.
Countless athletes have inflicted their horrible musical aspirations on the world, from Guy Lafleur's instructional hockey disco to Darryl Strawberry's "rap" about how nice it is to be good at baseball. But only Hogan had the torsioned balls to make a dead child about him and make the paean antithetical to the very concept of music. If you play "Hulkster in Heaven" at the offices of Pitchfork, it triggers their self-destruct sequence.
Blake Shelton Managed To Goof Up A Tribute To His Fiancee
Blake Shelton is a country singer, and he's been on The Voice for about seven centuries. He's engaged to noted banana enthusiast Gwen Stefani, and he wrote a tribute to their relationship that he debuted live on New Year's Eve 2020. In it, he says that Stefani's love is so powerful that it "can make a man feel rich on minimum wage," and that she can "make a one-bedroom apartment feel like a house up on the hill," among other lines that declare poverty a trivial problem when you have the right person by your side. It's cliched, but it's nice that Shelton loves his fiancee and ... wait, when did this song come out again? Oh, crap.
Yeah, people weren't thrilled that Shelton was glamorizing the impoverished life amid one of the greatest economic crises in American history. No one was in the mood to hear a multimillionaire sing "Your love is money" when people needed actual money because landlords and power companies don't accept "My girlfriend really loves me!" as payment.
Shelton's response was essentially "Sorry if it bothered you, but my 2020 was awesome," before he broke bold new ground in the genre with another new song about meeting a woman. It was hardly the stupidest thing a celebrity did in 2020, and at another time, "Minimum Wage" would have joined "I Like My Truck" and "Dogs Are Swell" in the pantheon of mediocre country tributes. But maybe skim a few headlines before reminiscing about the good old days when you could barely pay your bills.
Oh, and just as a general rule, don't try to be an everyman who croons, "But all that keepin' up with the Jones' / It just ain't my style" when you made it big at 25 and now own three mansions and a sprawling ranch. It is clearly your style, Blake! Just be honest and sing, "Our love is as huge as my bank account / Would you like another Ferrari, baby?"
Never Forget The Terrible 9/11 Tribute Songs
If you want to understand post-9/11 America, know that it took a month for Charlie Daniels to release a song that opens with racial slur wordplay.
"This Ain't No Rag, It's a Flag" really hammers Al-Qaeda with "You broke all the rules" and "You wounded our American pride" before warning that some ass is about to be kicked. Daniels declares that America is going to blow stuff up and not think about the consequences, and while "We're all through talking and a-messing around / And now it's time to rock and roll" would basically define the next 20 years of American foreign policy, the song's real problem is that it blows. You could replace the lyrics with a tribute to corn dogs, and it would be indistinguishable from what Walmart plays to shoppers. That Daniels' "America is the greatest country in the world and these subpar guitar riffs will prove it!" tune was in demand shows how adrift tragedy can leave America.
And that was only the beginning. Toby Keith gave us "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," which declared "there's a lot of men dead" before making the survivors suffer too.
Keith's love song to dropping indiscriminate freedom bombs culminates in "Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way," which is now the official platform of the Republican Party. But "Let's make ourselves feel better by killing foreigners" wasn't the only genre of 9/11 tribute; over in the meaningless platitudes department, Paul McCartney recorded "Freedom" as a tribute to "the heroes."
Paul McCartney thinks that freedom is good. Slight variations on "I'm talking about freedom / Talking about freedom / I will fight for the right / To live in freedom" are repeated six times, and that's three-quarters of the song. In the only other lyrics, McCartney notes that freedom is a right and that people who try to take it away are bad. This is the only 9/11 tribute song that sounds like the singer was shoved into the recording booth without being told what 9/11 was.
It got worse, somehow. DJ Sammy gave us the accursed title "Heaven (9/11 Remix)," which takes Bryan Adams '80s hit and slathers it with the treacle of a little girl talking to her dead father. Millions of people listened to it, and it sounds like someone accidentally opening two YouTube videos at once.
Live decided their singer needed to be intercut with Ground Zero footage as he warbled about the "gates of love," Bon Jovi set poetry back years with "Love lives in New York City / He got a place off of the park / Heard he was standing in the ruins / And in his hands a broken heart," Michael Jackson collected celebrities like Pokemon to sing about how sad things are bad ... for years, everyone from Yellowcard to Iced Earth felt compelled to comment, even when they really, really didn't need to.
But let's close on "Tell Me Why," which saw Will Smith and Mary J. Blige address the nation's trauma from the timely vantage of 2005. As Blige cry-asks, "Whhhhhhhy?" Smith raps, "I really wish I could explain it baby / It's just the world is kinda crazy baby" before reminiscing, "September 11th I woke up about 7 AM / West coast time, French toast and my turkey bacon."
Thank God Smith was watching his cholesterol on that fateful day.
Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.
Top Image: WWE