Ten atrocious number-one songs from the 1960s

The 1960s produced a lot of different kinds of great music. These songs were not part of that excellence.
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4. “MR CUSTER” – Larry Verne (1960)

There are still three ‘60s hits I deem worse than Larry Verne’s “Mr. Custer,” but if I were being forced to listen to one song over and over again for 24 straight hours, I would choose any of those three over this one. That’s because Verne’s voice as a cowardly soldier begging to be excused from today’s attack, is the most grating vocal ever recorded in a successful pop song.

Now, he’s doing that voice on purpose. This is a novelty song and it is meant to be funny. It actually is funny the first time you hear it. Perhaps had Verne treated it like ghost pepper – a little going a very long way – it might have worked. But that’s not what we get. We get an entire song sung in a voice that was designed to be irritating.

This is the second (and blessedly final) Native American-themed song on our list, so of course it begins with the requisite war whoops and drumbeats. You have to establish that mood. Then a manly chorus of – I don’t know – cavalrymen maybe? – begins our tale. It is just before Little Big Horn and our hero has a question. “What am I doing here?” He then whines his way through the next two minutes, cracking a few jokes along the way, all in that VOICE.

Finally, the sound of arrows brings the song to a merciful end. Now, this is a novelty song, and as such, I do cut it a little slack. I went through this with “Disco Duck” in my ‘70’s countdown. But the duck had a much less obnoxious voice than Larry Verne, so it only came in 10th on the ‘70’s list.

3. “WOODEN HEART” – Joe Dowell (1961)

“Wooden Heart” is a truly awful song. It is based on a very old German melody that can’t really decide if it wants to be a nursery rhyme or an actual song. But I don’t really want to blame the songwriters, one of whom was Bert Kaempfert. (Yes – the very same Bert Kaempfert mentioned in Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” another number-one hit. But I digress.)

Elvis Presley had already released the song in Europe (though not in the US) by the time Dowell recorded it. I have a guess as to why Elvis didn’t release it in the States at first. It is not good. Not by a long stretch. But it is a lot better than Dowell’s.

For one thing, Dowell’s tinny oom-pah orchestration sounds like it could have been played on a child’s plastic keyboard. More importantly, his vocals are as forgettable as possible. At least Elvis could sell a song. Even a bad song. Even if he wasn’t really trying. Elvis had charisma. Dowell offered tedium.

The soft-focus backing voices don’t help, nor do the carnival-like “solos” which merely repeat the melody line. I’m guessing that after Dowell hit it big, Col. Tom decided to cash in by getting Elvis’ version out in the US. Elvis barely charted, and there are two ways to interpret that.

Either the American public figured they had already heard the definitive version by Mr. Dowell. Or else they were kind of chagrined at the realization that they had pushed this song all the way to number one and simply wanted to forget the whole thing. You can probably guess which theory I support.