Just because we nerds keep “Weird Al” Yankovic in fresh Hawaiian shirts doesn’t mean we want all the music we listen to to be a total joke. (Are you listening, Rivers Cuomo?) Yet clearly that message hasn’t gotten through to the Hollywood studios and major labels when it comes to the soundtracks they select for geek-centric movies. Like a nightmare cross between the mutants in The Hills Have Eyes and the Von Trapp Family Singers, every fresh act of corporate incest they commit breeds hellishly bad musical offspring.
Whether cheesy, syrupy, grating, baffling, or just plain dumb, the 11 songs (and videos) listed below all have two things in common: They come from geektastic flicks, and they stink on ice.
11) Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters 2
Hard to believe that the future ex-Mr. Whitney Houston and crack enthusiast was once considered the heir to Michael Jackson, isn’t it? Trust us, it’ll get even harder once you relive this particular nightmare of dated New Jack Swingery and laughably literal movie-based rap interludes. For real, it’s gotta hurt to come a distant second in the Ghostbusters movie theme-song sweepstakes to Ray Parker Jr. The video bites pretty hard too, with various New Yorkers treating special effects meant to simulate the then-fantastical technology of digital billboards like the Apollo 11 moon landing. And its attempt to one-up the awesome celebrity cameos from RPJR’s “Ghostbusters” video fails miserably. Where once there were Chevy Chase, John Candy, George Wendt and a slew of other ’80s comedy icons, feast your eyes on this line-up: Donald Trump! Christopher Reeve riding a bicycle, depressingly enough! Uh, Sally Kirkland! The fucking Ramones, for some reason! PS: If anyone can track down and YouTube the spectacularly shambolic performance of this song that Brown delivered at that year’s MTV VMAs–in which he got so winded he just gave up on the vocals and, in an attempt to get the audience to supply them, held out the mic and yelled “you know the rap!”, which they didn’t–I’ve got some naked pictures of Sally Kirkland with your name on ’em. They’re too hot to handle, too cold to hold.
10) The Coup de Villes’ “Big Trouble in Little China” from Big Trouble in Little China
Like a cult-movie Kraftwerk, writer-director-genius John Carpenter proved himself a master of moody minimalism with his often-imitated, never-duplicated synthesizer scores for Halloween, The Thing, and Escape from New York. But something happened on the way to Lo Pan. As if to provide the titular trouble for his Hong Kong action pastiche Big Trouble in Little China, Carpenter decided to get his full-fledged balls-out rock on with his band the Coupe de Villes, featuring collaborators/hangers-on Nick Castle (writer of Escape from New York and the man behind Michael Myers’s mask) and Tommy Lee Wallace (director of Halloween III and Stephen King’s It). Displaying the same rock-god gusto that worked magic in Coup de Villes album cuts “Manhole,” “Hard On Me,” and “On My Knees Again” (I swear I didn’t make those up), Carpenter himself takes lead vocal duties on the movie’s theme song, thus making this the most horrifying four minutes of film he’s ever been involved with. The rolled-up sportjacket sleeves, the impassioned yet bland delivery from a bunch of old white dudes trying to recapture their youth, the gheri curl on Eric Bogosian lookalike Castle–it’s all just one key-tar away from convincing me it’s actually a parody. If the aliens from They Live really existed, this would be how they’d beat us into complacency.
9) Partnerz in Kryme’s “Turtle Power” from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
I’m guessing your main problem with this song when you were a kid was that it erroneously referred to Raphael as “the leader of the group.” Where’s a good fact-checker when Leonardo needs one? But in retrospect, this song fails for the near-total lack of effort put into its nursery-rhyme lyrics, pegging it as a product of people who knew about as much about hip hop as they knew about intra-Turtle hierarchy. Sample rhyme: “Pizza’s the food that’s sure to please / These ninjas are into pepperoni and cheese.” If Chuck D is right and hip hop is “the black CNN,” this is like the AbRoller infomerical that airs when CNBC goes off the air at 3am. Keep your eyes peeled for the video’s inexplicable drunken Irish-stereotype mayor and panties-flashing cheerleaders. Turtle Power indeed!
8) Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” from Batman Forever
Right from the syrupy strings and twee “ba-da-ba”s that kick off the track, this lugubrious ballad from Joel Schumacher’s not-quite-as-abhorrent-as-Batman-and-Robin-but-still-pretty-goddamn-bad Batman Forever drenches your ears in a thick, mucousy coating of pure schmaltz. The icing on the crapcake? Some of the most bafflingly non-sequitur lyrics ever to become a staple of the kind of radio station your mom listens to at the office: “And did you know that when it snows my eyes become large and the light that you shine can’t be seen?” No, Seal, I was not aware of that. Nor am I familiar enough with a kiss from a rose on a grave to compare my baby to it. (Who the hell is? Ed Gein?) And not even the luminous presence of a pre-Botox Nicole Kidman?or the fact that the video’s footage of Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne makes it feel like an artifact from an alternate universe, since that’s clearly the only place where casting Val Kilmer as the lead in your Hollywood blockbuster could possibly make sense?can save the melodramatic, Backstreet-Boys-ballad-worthy video. As a fan of Seal’s previous incarnation as the heavily scarred art-dance enigma behind “Crazy” and “Killer,” this saccharine monstrosity is almost as offensive to me as Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey’s tag-team butchering of Batman’s rogues-gallery deep bench. I guess Seal will just have to console himself over my disapproval by going home to his mansion and fucking his supermodel wife Heidi Klum with his apparently massive cock.
7) Margot Kidder’s “Can You Read My Mind?” from Superman
Okay, I think enough time has passed: Can we please now agree that the only reason the first Superman movie is fondly remembered is because the mere presence of a superhero on the big screen validated the lonely, loveless childhoods of millions of losers? I mean, with all the goofy powers those first few flicks gave the guy, the answer to this musical question could easily have been “yes.” And any movie that interrupts its big romantic wish-fulfillment moment to insert a beat-poetry performance from Margot Kidder–mugging like a vaudeville act and already looking like she’d been rode hard and put away wet, by the by–should probably have been left behind to die on Krypton.
6) Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page’s “Come with Me” from Godzilla
Fortuitous hook-up with Biggie Smalls aside, Sean P. Puff Puffy Daddy Diddy Combs’s career has primarily been dedicated to invalidating sampling as an artistic technique. This wholesale repackaging of Led Zeppelin’s prog-metal classic “Kashmir” represents the nadir of a string of Puffy-produced tracks that ruined any number of perfectly good classic-rock and Top-40 staples. Combs’s superfluous, incessant “uh-huh, yeah”s and functionally retarded rhyme flow are the weakest attempt by an MC to graft himself onto someone else’s hit record since Vanilla Ice insisted on that extra “DUN” when he swiped Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure” bassline for “Ice Ice Baby.” And as if sullying Zep’s music weren’t enough, Combs somehow persuaded guitar god Jimmy Page himself to participate in the desecration of his own math-rock masterpiece. Thank god Godzilla creator Ishiro Honda was already dead, or Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich might have tried to pull the same shit with their awful movie, too. (PS: One time I was playing Physical Graffiti and my little cousin overheard and said “Is that Puff Daddy”? So I killed myself.)
5) Will Smith’s “Men in Black” from Men in Black
Gettin’ jiggy with shit! Like a spacetime-continuum-defying Puffy/Bobby collaboration, this heroically annoying ditty features both a hook swiped from a preexisting hit (Patrice Rushen’s already irritating disco track “Forget Me Nots”) and painfully straightforward lyrics about the movie it’s an ad for. But if you’re the kind of person who enjoys a film that glorifies a quasi-governmental intelligence agency’s ability to hide the truth from the hoi polloi (doesn’t seem quite as cool now that we’re seven years deep into the George W. Bush administration, does it, suckers?), you’re probably okay with all of that. So go ahead, bounce with the Fresh Prince, you pathetic sheeple. I hope you sprain your ankles.
4) Madonna’s “Hanky Panky” from Dick Tracy
Picture it: Long Island, 1990. A pubescent nerd finds his heart drawn to the four-color heroism and freak-show villainy of the Dick Tracy movie, and his loins drawn to its sex-fiend leading lady. Furtive, paper-towel-expending glimpses of her heaving, oddly nipple-less bosom in the video for “Vogue”?as well as the sense that it’s actually a pretty cool, slick little song?lead him ignore the dreaded phrase “Music From and Inspired By” on the cover and buy I’m Breathless, the quasi-soundtrack album from whence “Vogue” came. A quick glance at the lyrics for the song “Hanky Panky” fills him with delight?it’s a song about this slatternly songbird’s hind end, and her desire for gentlemen of her acquaintance to spank it! Something’s gonna get spanked, that’s for sure! But the poor boy’s delight turns to horror when he discovers that what could have been an unbearably steamy song is in fact a flaccid flop, all obnoxious synth-bass, herky-jerky faux-big-band rhythms, inane lyrics that rhyme “hanky panky” with “good spanky” like an erotic tribute to Our Gang, and the unsexiest vocals in the singer’s career. Folks, that singer was Madonna. And that pubescent Long Island nerd was Guy Ritchie.
3) Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott’s “Hero” from Spider-Man
Man, Tina Turner was totally right?we don’t need another hero! The lead grunters of Nickelback and Saliva join forces for a double-barreled blast of buttrock so violently vanilla it makes Air Supply sound like Einsturzende Neubaten. And sadly, it’s kinda the perfect theme song for its movie. I know I’m in the minority as far as Sam Raimi’s first Spider-flick is concerned, but as far as I’m concerned, this leadenly humorless and overblown song tells you everything you need to know about the movie itself. Somehow, Stan and Steve’s wisecracking teenage dirtbag got transformed into the kind of walking-away-from-a-grave-in-slow-motion putz who evokes images of holding on to the wings of the eagles and whatever other post-9/11 sub-Lee Greenwood lyrics Kroeger and Scott barfed up. Personally I think there’s an unexplored slashfic market for these two bearded bards kissing each other in the rain while one hangs upside down and the other’s wet t-shirt struggles to contain his huddled nipples yearning to break free.
2) John Williams’s “Victory Celebration” from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Special Edition
Say what you will about the changes and additions Lucas made to his original trilogy for their Special Editions–even if you didn’t agree with them, you could usually at least understand why they were made. And on the other hand, you have the new fucking Ewok song. For some reason, Lucas and composer John Williams excised the single most joyous piece of music in the whole trilogy, the song to which a generation of nerds had celebrated the fall of the Empire, the Yub-Yub Song for God’s sake, and replaced it with what sounds like a B-side by Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute. They didn’t even bother making this New Agey nonsense compatible with the dance moves and drum beats we can see the characters grooving to on the goddamn screen! I don’t know about you, but without an audible riff from a xylophone made from the helmets of slain Imperial troops like some musical Ewok tribute to Colonel Kurtz’s compound in Apocalypse Now, the whole saga of the Skywalker clan feels like a waste of time to me. Forget Greedo shooting first–this is the Special Editions’ one unforgivable sin.
1) Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap” from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze
You know, for a while I considered leaving this song off the list entirely. Putting Vanilla Ice on a 10 Worst Songs countdown isn’t just like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s like shooting a giant fish, maybe one of those eight-foot sturgeons they think Scottish villagers mistake for the Loch Ness Monster, and it’s stuck in a barrel with no water, and the fish’s fins are stapled to the sides of the barrel, and you’re only standing about five inches away, and you’re using a shotgun, and a wizard has enchanted the shotgun so it can never miss, and the fish wants to die anyway because after what it did to its family it just can’t look itself in the mirror anymore, and you’ve taken just enough trazodone to take the edge off and your hands are steadier than they’ve been in years, and…I’m sorry, what was I saying? Oh yeah, then I realized that this is in fact a song in which Vanilla Ice chants the phrase “Go ninja go ninja GO!” and realized that some suicidal sturgeons need you to grab your enchanted shotgun and shoot the shit out of them after all.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.