Flawless musicals are harder to find than you think. There always seems to be a song or two that isn’t quite up to par with the others. Everyone loves “Singin’ in the Rain,” but does anyone actually care about “Beautiful Girl,” despite all the laughably tacky outfits on display? Yet there are a handful of truly great movie musicals that each contain a song so awful that they inspired this list…
5. “Wedding Processional (Maria),” The Sound of Music
The longstanding tradition of introducing a catchy tune only to have it reprise later on has resulted in many classic sequences. The nuns’ witty lament, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”, could’ve reappeared at least half a dozen places in “Sound of Music.” Can you imagine how heartbreaking it would’ve been if the song was used at the end of Act One, as Maria avoids being the “problem” in the Von Trapp residence by deciding to flee? Why oh why did the song have to turn up instead at Maria’s wedding in order to dis the woman on what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life? What the placement of this song implies is that the problem of Maria’s free-spirited independence has been solved by sticking her in a house with seven (“SEVEN?!”) children. Hooray?
4. “When Love Is Gone,” The Muppet Christmas Carol
Rarely has a picture so beloved featured a song so universally reviled. Belle’s dumping of Scrooge has been mined for melodies before (think “Winter was Warm” in “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”) and they have routinely ground the narrative to a halt. How are we expected to get worked up over a relationship’s demise if we never have the chance to become invested in their alleged love before it’s gone? Meredith Braun’s breathy rendering of Paul Williams’s uncharacteristically groan-inducing lyrics is devoid of the Henson-esque charm that marks every other number in the movie (no wonder the song was literally gone from the original theatrical cut and several subsequent home video releases). Yet there is a silver lining: without this cringe-worthy nuisance, there wouldn’t be its glorious counterpoint, “The Love We Found.”
3. “Shipoopi,” The Music Man
I suppose it’s only appropriate that the title of this time-wasting stink bomb is one “t” away from merging two slang terms for excrement. Buddy Hackett is a dinglehopper-wielding comic treasure, but listening to his helium-induced voice sing such hideous lyrics as “Squeeze her once when she isn’t lookin’/If you get a squeeze back, that’s fancy cookin’/Once more for a pepper-uppah/She will never get sore on her way to suppah” is akin to watching Fred Astaire dance with whoopee cushions strapped to his feet. It’s kinda funny in an embarrassing sort of way, but it gets old really fast, and this song feels like it goes on forever. In a musical chockfull of indispensable masterpieces, this song simply feels tacked on to give Hackett’s character something to sing. I’d rather have him spy on Harold and Marian in the park while crooning “Kiss the Girl” in his best Scuttle voice. At least that song would’ve had a point. I’ll gladly take musical superfan Seth MacFarlane’s hilariously random tribute on “Family Guy” any day.
2. “Once-A-Year Day,” The Pajama Game
It all starts innocently enough. Doris Day and John Raitt frolic with lovestruck whimsy as they celebrate their day off, kicking off the number before swiftly abandoning it. They’re the only ones to emerge unscathed. As for poor Carol Haney, she’s tasked with performing the sort of appallingly disastrous choreography that only a true genius could devise. In this case, it’s Bob Fosse, pulling off the neat trick of having one of his best (“Steam Heat”) and worst achievements in the same picture. What’s meant to be a celebration of carefree exuberance ends up devolving into a chaotic mess that my sister once dubbed “the downfall of humanity.” It all goes downhill once Haney decides to place her hand on her head while sticking out her other arm and squealing like a constipated chipmunk. Then everyone else at the picnic decides to mimic her oh-so-irresistible moves while contorting their limbs, flailing their legs and going clean off their rockers. This isn’t what fun looks like. This is an unmistakable sign of the apocalypse.
1. “Abraham,” Holiday Inn
Speaking of end-of-the-world scenarios, let’s talk about the death of childhood innocence. There was a time when I pictured God having the voice of Bing Crosby. Who else has such a comforting, commanding, charismatic voice ripe for knocking holiday standards out of the park? Of course, that was long before I learned about his history of parental abuse, which certainly took care of any suspicions I may have had about him embodying America’s ideal father figure. And then I was unlucky enough to see him in this 1942 hit that spawned the much more popular 1954 follow-up, “White Christmas.” The latter film was named, of course, after Irving Berlin’s most iconic tune, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song in “Holiday Inn.” People may tend to forget that the film that introduced the world to “White Christmas” also featured Bing Crosby in blackface. Why would he do such a ghastly thing, you say? To celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (other than that, Mr. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?). Meanwhile, a black actress cast as the maid is stuck singing the following lyrics: “When black folks lived in slavery/who was it set the darkie free?” It’s nothing less than one of the worst things ever put on film. I’ll leave you instead with Vera-Ellen dancing to a much less offensive instrumental version of the number in “White Christmas.” If you have a stomach strong enough to take the actual scene, click here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.