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The Most Aggravating Earworms of the 20th Century

Steve Palace
(Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images & Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some pop songs tend to get stuck in people’s heads. Is that a good thing? Nope! Never!

While modern music comes in for some stick, there are plenty of annoying tracks from times past. Let’s spin some “classics” of the genre…

“Cotton Eye Joe” (1995)

This one is pretty modern. However, this toe-tapping irritant was based on a traditional ditty. Rednex brought the old-timey style into a dance music setting. The result ruled the charts but was also deemed aggravating by more discerning listeners. Grab your partners and grit your teeth, cowpokes!

“Bread and Butter” (1964)

Pop treble threat the Newbeats scored a hit with this enduring song. Brace yourself for those high notes!

It may reportedly annoy some audiences but one group it seems to have impressed was the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger and co had the Newbeats as a support act. Maybe they earned some serious bread and butter from the experience?

Band member Larry Henley went on to new heights as a writer on Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings. If he wasn’t setting your teeth on edge with the Sixties track, he got you bawling your eyes out in the Eighties.

“Sherry” (1962)

Frankie Valli and his band of Jersey Boys capture people’s imaginations with their back catalog. “Sherry” is a pure blast of Four Seasons-fuelled nostalgia and also their debut hit. No wonder the musical about this quartet was a smash. That said, their vocals maybe aren’t to everyone’s taste.

Did you know that “Sherry” wasn’t the original title? We might have heard “Terry,” had a producer not objected. The daughter of a pal, Cheri Spector, became the namesake and the rest is history.

Speaking to Billboard and recounted by History, writer Bob Gaudio says the process was swift. He hummed it to himself while at the wheel of his car en route to the studio so as not to forget: “I had no intention of keeping the lyrics, [but] to my surprise, everybody liked them, so we didn’t change anything.”

“Running Bear” (1959)

A white guy singing a song about Native American romance across the boundaries of tribal law? Sounds like a recipe for an international incident. However, back in the Fifties, Johnny Preston had chart success with his version of “Running Bear.” The Big Bopper is actually responsible for the track.

Prepare for cultural sensitivities to go out the window with this one, which is very much of its era!

“Lovin’ You” (1975)

The ultimate make-out track, or a reason to jump through the window? The jury is out on this romantic staple, recorded by Minnie Riperton. So many annoying pop tracks feature ear-splitting vocals, and “Lovin’ You” doesn’t disappoint in that department.

Co-written with Richard Rudolph, it’s made hearts beat faster and buttocks clench over the years. Rudolph and Riperton were married and the origins of the song lie with their daughter, one Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids). It could have been just a lullaby, but blossomed into a fully-fledged chart hit.

“Sussudio” (1985)

This classic pop release has the most irritating title on the list. Sussudio? What does it mean? One person not to ask is the person who wrote and performed it, Phil Collins.

He reportedly blurted it out as a piece of improv during a drum machine session. Inspired by a school crush, he went on to turn the material into a smash. Collins also connected the content to his daughter’s own feelings about a boy in true embarrassing Dad fashion.

And the family connections don’t end there. “My older daughter’s got a horse called Sussudio,” he told VH1, adding there are probably “children all over the world with the name Sussudio, so I apologize for that.”

“We Didn’t Start The Fire” (1989)

You don’t need to tell Billy Joel that some find “We Didn’t Start The Fire” annoying. The rapid-fire track encompasses a range of subjects, backed by a driving beat. And, according to the man himself, listeners aren’t shy about sharing their feelings.

Joel actually likes the lyrics, he just isn’t keen on the beat. “I wrote the words first, which is why the music is so horrible in that song” he revealed to a podcast in 2021. As for all that venom spewed over the release, he’s in the dark!

More from us: Billy Joel Wrote His Most Popular Song With John Lennon’s Son- And He Hates It

“Axel F” (2003)

Okay, this one’s a cheat because it comes from the Noughties. But it took some liberties with a true 1980s legend – “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer. If the title and composer don’t ring a bell then you’ll recognize it from Beverly Hills Cop (1985).

“Never Gonna Give You Up” (1987)

1987’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” is bound to make an honorary appearance on any list of aggravating songs. After “Rickrolling” became an internet sensation in 2007-2008, Rick Astley was reluctant to use the trend to promote himself. He came around, though, and Rickrolled the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2008. In 2021, Astley released a special 7” blue vinyl of the song to celebrate reaching one billion views on YouTube.