Songs You’re Sick And/Or Tired Of

As somebody who schedules music for a living, and who helps guide radio stations toward “playing the hits,” I have no trouble programming “Sweet Home Alabama” next to “Don’t You (Forget About Me).” I know that “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Cold Water” and other recent hits will continue to test for months, and it doesn’t matter that I never warmed to them in the first place. Knowing the difference between your taste and that of your audience is the first tenet of programming.

But I still cannot personally listen to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on the radio. Or “Brown Eyed Girl.” Or “Jack and Diane.” If it’s on a station I schedule, I might leave it on—afraid to punch out and miss the transition. If “Carry On Wayward Son” comes on any other station that I’m listening to for professional reasons, it’s 5:13 that feels twice as long to me, and I just have to go and come back. I recognize that station as soundly programmed, but it doesn’t matter.

Part of working in music research is learning to understand the difference between listeners’ musical preference and burn. There are certainly songs, particularly “Sweet Home Alabama,” that are both well-liked and yet starting to fry for some listeners. There are also, amusingly, songs that come back as burnt that haven’t been played on the radio in any significant way for decades. Those are the songs that became perma-burned — listeners never recovered from hearing them as a current, even if that was in 1982.

What’s interesting is that even for people in the business, the distinction between sick and tired (and both) is sometimes fuzzy. I threw the question open to Facebook friends. What are the songs — current or classic — that you just cannot personally listen to, even if you know they’re sound programming? Some of the answers were quality songs that have become inescapable. But not all.

Ross On Radio RadioInsight Songs You're Sick OfThe multi-format mega-hits that still play at some combination of AC, Classic Hits, Classic Rock and the wedding hall were all represented: “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Forever Young,” “Old Time Rock & Roll,” “Margaritaville,” “Maneater,” “Roxanne,” “Come On Eileen,” “Jessie’s Girl,” “Love Shack,” “American Pie,” “Maggie May,” and “most of the Bon Jovi catalog” (a comment made almost identically by several readers). There were also votes for anything by Queen, BTO, Billy Joel, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eagles, CCR, and Steve Miller Band.

Readers who worked in other formats sometimes went to their own power gold. Rick Schmidt cited Live’s “Lightning Crashes.” Keith Berman named Alice In Chains’ “Man in the Box.” Marcus Chapman chose Maze’s Urban AC staple, “Before I Let Go.” (“It’s played at nearly every party I’ve attended since the late ‘90s.”) For New York radio veteran Fred Buggs, it was having to spin “Always and Forever” by Heatwave at weddings.

The homegrown songs that stations are required to play as part of their Canadian Content obligation were one of the first places I noticed perma-burn. In America, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” and even “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” are surprisingly enduring. In Canada, they never went away long enough to come back. Not surprisingly, Chris Myers named “most Cancon from the ‘70s and ‘80s,” but especially Trooper’s “Raise a Little Hell.” Bill Gable went back for the Stampeders’ “Sweet City Woman.”

There was Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” generally a category of burnt song unto itself, especially if your kids were “Shrek” age at any point. “They played in Boston recently and I wanted to burn everything down,” wrote my Edison Research colleague Tom Webster. I’ve even heard a morning team play “All Star” and start trashing it on the air. But I work with an Adult Hits station that plays it, and I haven’t minded, perhaps because “Blinded by the Light” is on the horizon.

Then there were the recent hits that have become hard to avoid, especially as CHR, Hot AC, and AC share more music: A Great Big World, “Say Something” came up. “Please go away” said Dan Mason (the younger one) of “Heathens” by Twenty One Pilots. “If ‘Happy’ went away for a year or two, it would be nice to hear again at that point, I’m sure,” wrote Robbie Mack. Inside Radio’s Chuck Taylor was happy to say “Hello” to Adele last year. Now “100,000 plays later … it’s on the never-again list.”

Finally, there was Christmas. “I hear the opening notes of ‘Wonderful Christmastime’ and that station is dead to me,” wrote Brendan McNulty. There was “Last Christmas.” There was even “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.” (“Nothing sounds older than those background singers,” wrote Bob Smolarek.)

But there were also “Seasons in the Sun,” “Baby … One More Time,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” You might have gotten sick of them at the time, even if you liked them, but have you heard them on the radio recently? And any time a reader mentioned a song like that, somebody chimed in with similar sentiments—often adding, “I’d like to hear that.”

“If I ever hear ‘Chick-a-Boom’ by Daddy Dewdrop again. I’m going to climb the tower,” wrote Steve Clem. But you’re unlikely to have to talk him down anytime soon. There was the inevitable mention of Debby Boone. But where would you hear “You Light Up My Life” if you wanted to? And if Bullet’s “White Lies Blue Eyes” came on the radio, I’d ask Washington, D.C., radio mainstay Loo Katz to suffer through it for me.

Whether it’s “Come On Eileen” or “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree,” the comments made it clear that if you dig into burn, you will often find a lot of people who never liked that song in the first place. The difference between the two is that there are still enough people who like “Come On Eileen” for it to still be playable by many radio stations.

Many of the songs I can’t listen to now are indeed songs that I was outvoted on when they were new. But I liked Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good” once. I think I liked “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” well enough. And in 1983, I thought “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was no more a record for the ages than, say, “The Politics of Dancing” by Re-Flex. Somehow, “Sweet Dreams” doesn’t bother me, although maybe I’m just giving Eurythmics extra points for “Missionary Man” and “Thorn in My Side.”

It’s also interesting that the vast majority of the songs mentioned were ‘80s and almost none were the pop songs that populated the Oldies radio “safe list” 15 years ago, when ‘60s were still the center lane and the format was still called “oldies.” CCR and the Doors, two of the last ‘60s acts hanging on to significant airplay, were mentioned. But I’ve long passed the point where I wouldn’t be able to sit through Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” — even though I hardly need to seek it out. At this moment, it’s the ‘80s that are most unavoidable — even if they were your music, especially if they weren’t.

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  1. John Gallagher says

    As someone that loves single versions and radio edits, sometimes its easier to stomach a song vs. the long L.P. version. For example, the 3:30 version of Carry On Wayward Son. Plus, the short version of that song is compressed to make it jump out of your speakers

    Back in the day, it was the 45 version that made the hit on Top 40. The artists may hate the short version or radio edit of their work, but it makes it quick and listenable, especially after 30 or 40 years.

  2. Rob Zerwekh says

    As someone who works in TV, not radio, I’d be interested to know how programmers measure burnout. Do you follow the same testing methods as you do for adding new songs?

    I like to call my market (Kansas City) a “comfort food” market. People stick with the same TV personalities for years, even decades. I think they do the same with music. The market’s classic rocker is usually top-five, often number one 12+. It’s been firmly planted in the ’70s for more than 25 years. Even as classic rockers today shift into a heavy ’80/’90s rotation, ours played eight songs from the ’70s in the last hour (two–Ozzy and Bon Jovi– from the ’80s, one– GnR– from the ’90s).

  3. radio truth says

    I’m sick of any song made from 1972 to 2016.

  4. Brammy says

    Hotel California is a song I can’t stand. Every time it comes on the radio I punch the preset button and change the station.

    Jack and Diane too.

    Others too.

    And I used to like “American Pie”, but KOOL Radio is playing a 4 min version of the song.

    1. jason steiner says

      The 70s are my overall favorite decade for music. Probably because it’s when I discovered music and developed a lifetime love for it. Also, objectively I think a lot of 70s music was excellent.

      “Hotel California” is probably the only 70s song I feel a genuine hate for (compared to several 80s hits, mostly the ones mentioned). The hate is simply due to burn/constant airplay for decades. The strange thing is I don’t remember it getting over saturated as a current in 1977. I was actually surprised to see it hit #1.

      “Sweet Home Alabama” is another 70s song that would be a rare instant tune out for me. Sadly, it could even be approaching the hate zone. The funny thing is if I would have heard it a few years after it was released, say in 1979, It might have been an “Oh Wow” for me as it seemed well rested at the time.

  5. donobrian says

    For whatever reason I will never burn on “In the air tonight”. I love how the song makes you wait for those drums to kick in, that’s a big part of the songs appeal. Yet when I heard it on a classic hits station recently, they had a mix with a drum track playing through the whole song, it totally destroyed the song for me and I’m sure I’m not alone. Why? Why would you not just play the original?

    1. Bill Shane says

      That’s called “The Miami Mix.” I believe it was developed by some genius inside Clear Channel back in the early part of the century. I was burned out on “In The Air Tonight” and then heard that version and kinda liked it – after about the 3rd or 4th time I hated it and was again burned out on “In The Air Tonight”

    2. jason steiner says

      I am glad you mentioned “In The Air Tonight”. I forgot to mention it on the Facebook thread and it is the epitome of a song I can’t stand listening to

      It must still test well because I monitor a lot of stations in different markets and I still hear it all the time. From the second I hear that haunting yet over familiar intro I think “Oh Lord”, not again.

    3. firepoint525 says

      I’m with the rest of you on “In the Air Tonight.” Miami Vice killed it for me! I actually liked that dance mix of it, but I still would not want to hear it in any sort of heavy rotation.

      And I am NOT one of those guys who basically hated everything that Phil Collins did. But the oldies 45 of “In the Air Tonight” (with “I Missed Again” on the other side) was one of the first items from my sister’s archive that I traded off after my brother-in-law gave me some of my sister’s old stuff following her death. I couldn’t even sell that one on eBay! And I was practically giving it away!

  6. Beachguy says

    I was burned out on “The Night Chicago Died” before I even finished playing it the first time. I actually got nauseated. Then there was Clint Holmes and “Playground In My Mind.”

    And I HATE the remixed, saccharin-ized “Here I Go Again” from Whitesnake. The album version was MUCH better, but I cannot listen to the single.

    1. jason steiner says

      I think if I was 10-20 years older I might share the same disdain that is common for cheesy 70s pop. Especially if I played them as currents on the radio I might have perma burn that even decades of no radio play couldn’t cure.

      Instead for myself hearing songs like the first two you mentioned are like metaphysical experiences to me. They bring back treasured childhood memories. Because they have had no airplay for nearly a half a century, hearing those songs feels like travelling back to a different lifetime to me.

  7. Bill Shane says

    I was happy to see I’m not alone on the titles I’m burned out on. Hotel California, Stairway To Heaven, Sweet Home Alabama all drive me nuts. However, I’m not burned on Maneater. I’m a big H&O fan so that’s probably why. Seasons In The Sun by Terry Jacks, Playground In My Mind by Clint Holmes and Alone Again (Naturally) by Gilbert O’Sullivan are the worst. I’d shoot myself if I ever heard any of those three again. These three have the worst combination: I hated them to begin with and then had to play them over and over and over till I puked. A couple of times they were “accidentally” damaged and we had to wait a couple days for a replacement.

  8. Eva says

    Me it’s John Cougar’s Jack and Diane, Dancing Queen from Abba, Rick Springfield’s Jessie’s Girl, Gloria’s Gaynor’s I Will Survive and a boatload of others.

  9. thenetwork says

    All the stuff that ELO has done over their career, and the only one I hear them (over)play is “Don’t Bring Me Down”. Yes it was their biggest hit, according to Billboard, but there still are about 6 other Top 10 hits they rarely play — and a total of 18 Top 40 hits.

    You can almost apply that same song bias to other artists with that many hits.

    If these same people programmed Classical Music, you’d be made to think that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was his only work!!!

  10. Mark says

    If we’re talking the original Nat “King” Cole version of “The Christmas Song,” all I have to say is–what background singers?

  11. Paul Easton says

    You really hit the nail on the head with this one, Sean.

    There are loads of songs which are turn-offs for me. My current ‘bete-noire’ is ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’ by The Darkness. I never really liked it at the time and I have to switch it off whenever I hear it – even when it’s on one of the Adult Hits stations I work with (and, it has to be admitted, playlisted it because other people do like it).

    There are so many others but it is something that does highlight differences between radio people and regular listeners.

  12. Charles Everett says

    Anyway, here’s my “sick and tired” choice: Stereo mixes of Detroit-era Motown hits. “The Tears of a Clown” is the biggest offender because the stereo LP version is speeded up and different from the monaural 45 rpm mix.

  13. Sean Ross says

    Thought I’d add some of the other Facebook comments that continued to roll in after this was published:

    “I change Kid Rock’s ‘All Summer Long’ the instant I realize it’s not ‘Werewolves of London.’” – Guy Paul Larrivee

    “On the other hand, I like ‘All Summer Long,’ the instant I realize it is not ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’” – Don Beno

    “Anything that has been played on radio over a thousand times.” – Gary Spears

    “I realize a lot of the older people are tired of classic hits or classic rock. As a younger person, I still love all the songs.”—Brandon Charles

    “I had an enlightening experience with my daughter and her friend. ‘Hotel California’ came on a foreground service. They both clearly loved it. I could barely take it.” – Tom Barnes

    “’Piano Man’: Shut the lid and break the knuckles on that.” – Ron Leonard

    “’Old Time Rock & Roll’” after it became a hit twice.” – Tony Waitekus

    “’Closer’ by the Chainsmokers is clearly the No. 1 song of 2016, but it has stayed on the top of every chart for far too long.” – Mason Kelter, echoing many (but disagreed with by some readers who still enjoy it, or are just starting to)

    “Since I’ve been out of the day-to-day music radio game, I’ve developed an appreciation for most of the songs which I occasionally hear. Well, maybe not ‘I Ran (So Far Away).’” – Ron “Buzz” Brindle

    “’Brown Eyed Girl’ [is] not a loathesome song at all, and I don’t begrudge anybody for liking it. But the fact that Van Morrison’s amazing catalog has been reduced by U.S. radio to one heavily overplayed song is borderline offensive, and I do not need to hear it again.” – Chris Molanphy

    “’Can’t Stop the Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake feels more like a fast-food commercial than ‘I’m Loving It’ did in 2003.” – Larry Flick

    “Fall Out Boy’s ‘Centuries.’ ESPN not only killed it, but completely dismembered and incinerated it.” – Kevin West

    “Someone should build a database of these songs and stream them. It would probably be a smash.” – Dave Logan

    “It’s the Ugly Sweater Channel.” – John Davis

    “Perfect!” – Dave Logan

  14. firepoint525 says

    I am actually sick of “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers, not so much from radio airplay, but from all the commercials that it has been used in over the past 30 years. Close second, “I Melt With You.” That was never a U.S. hit, but there are elitist snobs who insist that it was because THEIR market played it “therefore it was a hit.” But I certainly would have preferred it over “Elvira” which WAS played too much in EVERY market!

    Agree on the above comments about “Hotel California” (NEVER liked it) and the condensation of Van Morrison’s entire career down to “Brown-Eyed Girl.”

    At least I don’t have to hear “Physical” too much anymore! Maybe everyone agrees with me on that one! Or maybe the video was just that bad!

  15. a5k says

    Way late to the game, but wanted to log Spiral Staircase’s “More Today Than Yesterday” for posterity. Jesus Christ, I hate that song. If anyone thought “Build Me Up Buttercup” were slightly annoying, spend some time with the droning whine of Spiral Staircase! After much introspection, haven’t been able to determine why it hits such a nerve. It’s probably some perfectly nice people’s greatest claim to fame — random Midwest bbq picnic convo: “You know that song? That’s me!” — but it’s gotta stop, man, just let the masters rot.

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