Hartley: Worst song of all time finally revealed

Todd Hartley
I’m With Stupid

As many of you know, I consider myself a big fan of music. I know that’s not a particularly profound thought, but in my case — what with my funk radio show (moving to alternate Tuesdays starting June 21!) — it runs a little deeper. Music is one of my things.

This comes with one huge caveat, however: I consider bad music so much worse than no music at all. I applaud the artists for creating it and getting it on the air, but I fervently hope I never hear it again. I won’t go into depth about which genres I consider unlistenable, but they start with twangy country and move through techno and boy band right on up to modern hip-hop and anything auto-tuned.

In case you’re wondering why death metal didn’t make the cut, I’ll explain. Death metal, while physically punishing to the ears, is actually hysterically funny if you listen to it and think about how ridiculous it is and yet how seriously the people playing it and singing it are taking everything. Just don’t listen for very long, or you could go insane.

Anyway, given all that, I’ve always wondered what the worst song of all time was, given the unfathomably deep pool of candidates. Various writers, publications and other media outlets have weighed this very topic over the years and come up with such losers as “Ice Ice Baby,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” “We Built This City” and “My Humps.”

I, personally, would add “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” anything by Sheryl Crow and whatever that craptastic Rihanna song about diamonds is called, but that’s just me.

The truth, however, is that while all of the aforementioned are indeed horrible, horrible songs, none of them can hold a candle to what is, unquestionably, the most offensive, godawful excuse for a pop song that ever assaulted the airwaves. In fact, I’m writing this column because I heard it the other day and was once again amazed that it’s still in regular rotation on the radio.

When everything — reception, persistence, offensiveness, sham artistry, personnel involved — is considered together, the worst song in history has to be “You’re Sixteen,” by Ringo Starr.

Allow me to present my case.

Point 1: It’s not even Ringo’s song. It’s a cover of a song first recorded in 1960 by a rockabilly singer named Johnny Burnette. That version peaked at No. 8 on the charts. Ringo’s version from 1973 went all the way to No. 1.

Point 2: The lyrics are the sort of thing a pedophile would sing to a potential victim: “You stepped out of my life and into my car”; “You’re 16, you’re beautiful, and you’re mine”; “When we kissed I could not stop.” Who else but a psychopath would sing stuff like that to a teenager?

Now, I will cut Burnette some slack. He was 26 when he recorded the song, which seems a little creepy, but Jerry Lee Lewis set the bar pretty low for rockabilly acts when he married his 13-year-old cousin, so to Burnette and his fans, 16 might have seemed on the old side.

Ringo, on the other hand, gets no slack. When he recorded the song he was 33, meaning he was singing to an imaginary girl less than half his age. Even if having sex with a 16-year-old wasn’t statutory rape in 1973, a 17-year age gap is still pretty gross.

Point 3: It involved people who should have known better. Ringo was in The Beatles, for Christ’s sake. That’s bad enough, but he got Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson to sing backup vocals for him. Surely, Sir Paul must have sensed that it was a bad idea. Couldn’t someone have convinced Ringo to cover some other rockabilly song instead?

I’m almost willing to forgive the people of 1973 for propelling the song to No. 1. Everyone back then was still besotted with anything related to The Beatles, so I can understand why they might not have recognized “You’re Sixteen” for the atrocity it is. Almost. It’s still pretty lame.

But that was then. These days, with Beatlemania a thing of the past and modern laws regarding the appropriateness of adult-juvenile relationships, we’re free to acknowledge just how truly inappropriate and awful a song it is. I have nothing against Ringo and will always love him for his star turn in the movie “Caveman,” but I think “You’re Sixteen” should never be played again by anyone, anywhere. It’s that bad.

Todd Hartley wants to hear your choices for worst song ever so he can tell you you’re wrong. To read more or leave a comment, please visit


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