Song: Cat’s in the Cradle

Artist: Harry Chapin

Year: 1974

Offending Lyric: “My child arrived just the other day…He came to the world in the usual way…But there were planes to catch and bills to pay…He learned to walk while I was away…”

The Bottom Line: Few movements have so obvious a source, but for the milquetoasts of the 1980s and 1990s, there is but one narrow line, and it leads directly to this monstrous ode to feeling guilty about being a good provider. Every dad who worked his ass off so little Tommy could eat, play, and not freeze to death is made to feel like a cruel bastard because he took a sales call rather than throwing the little snot a few more pitches. Masculinity itself owes its ignoble end to this castrating minstrel show; where feminists and swishy sociologists started to blame the penis for Vietnam, Watergate, and John Wayne. Okay, so I missed the learning-to-walk thing. Unless the puke has spina bifida or something, he’ll put one foot in front of the other with or without me. Iron John would eventually make a halfhearted comeback, but he never really had the stomach for battle after being blindsided by Chapin’s limp-wrested revisionism. Fuck your job, pops, your son needs his hair mussed.


Song: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Artist: Bobby McFerrin

Year: 1988

Offending Lyric: “In your life expect some trouble…But when you worry…You make it double…Don’t worry, be happy…”

The Bottom Line: It should surprise no one that the Bush/Quayle team co-opted this mandate for passivity as their campaign slogan, what with eight years of nap time as their raison d’etre. More than the political scumbags who forced such propaganda down our throats, though, is the essential message of the tune: suck it up, shut up, and accept whatever comes your way. Every self-help cliché of subsequent years owes its power to McFerrin’s atrocity, and in its wake was a citizenry primed and ready to swallow lies, distractions, and murderous corruption. While Reagan lionized the individual, McFerrin made him insipid, ignorant, and utterly compliant. Just as egregious, though, is that Forrest Gump would never have been possible without it. Its connection to the undeniably watchable Cocktail aside, the song summed up our retreat from engagement with a depressing catchiness rarely equaled.

Song: God Bless the USA

Artist: Lee Greenwood

Year: 1984

Offending Lyric: “And I’m proud to be an American…Where at least I know I’m free…And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me…”

The Bottom Line: Used to buffer Reagan’s re-election campaign (it played at the convention), as well as a recruitment tool during the original Gulf War, Greenwood’s simplistic rant in defense of mass murder is arguably the most poisonous song ever released in the United States. For Greenwood and his black-hearted ilk, freedom is little more than the right to utter racial epithets in public, or redefine supply-side economics as a boon for the poor. Considering its jackbooted bullying disguised as patriotism, it is, in fact, a tune better suited for the cold winters of totalitarian Russia than wide open prairies and fruited plains. In an especially heinous turn, Greenwood blankets all battles — from Normandy to Grenada — with the comforting notion that wherever soldiers take up arms, America itself is at stake. You know, because had we let Manuel Noriega slip into the Panamanian night, the barbarians just might have broken through at last. Love is hate, war is peace, and Iraq is Iwo Jima.


Song: Butterfly Kisses

Artist: Bob Carlisle

Year: 1997

Offending Lyric: “There’s two things I know for sure: She was sent here from heaven and she’s daddy’s little girl.”

The Bottom Line: Okay, there are the numerous allusions to Jesus, prayer, and heaven, as well as a creepy undercurrent that borders on incestuous longing, but worst of all, no wedding after 1997 could ever hope to be without it. It was practically mandated. And when will Americans cease to connect their reproductive capabilities to the manna of heaven? Last time I checked, human beings regurgitated a fetus just about as often as they laid cable on the toilet. The only miracle is that after fathers repeatedly seduced their Lolita-esque daughters with such lightning-like fervor, the song wasn’t seen as a call to arms for patricide. Or maybe it’s simply the flip-side to Chapin’s guilt-fest, and overworked papas everywhere felt the need to mount a comeback in the lives of their mom-suffocated children. Either way, adults are no longer allowed to be remote figures of steel and brawn, or even express authority. Love is best displayed as pap, silliness, and getting down to their level. Kiss the wee forehead now, and secure those hospice visits later.


Song: I Am Woman

Artist: Helen Reddy

Year: 1972

Offending Lyric: “I am woman watch me grow…See me standing toe to toe…As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land…But I’m still an embryo…With a long long way to go…Until I make my brother understand.”

The Bottom Line: Has there ever been a more foreboding line than “spread my lovin’ arms across the land”? From that seemingly uplifting turn, feminine fascism took hold in American soil, seeing fit to release itself only after banning books, protesting rock music, finding a right to publicly breast feed in the Constitution, and spreading humorless authoritarianism from school boards to corporate board rooms. Nudity became rape, sex an apocalyptic means of patriarchal control, and, depressingly, at last a final verdict would be rendered on the suitability of the tube top. Reddy’s obnoxious plea for understanding and, most deceptively, equality, was little more than the still-toxic notion that women do it right, do it best, and, if need be, do it until every male ear is burning with resignation and despair. And so we beat on: feelings trumping intellect, leaving the office early to attend Billy’s triangle recital, and the evasion of responsibility whenever possible. We’ve watched them grow, gentlemen, and America hasn’t had a sack of initiative since.

About Matt

Matt is the site’s Longest Serving Critic and chief misanthrope. He divides his time between classics of cinema and the most ridiculous movies he can find on Redbox.
Follow Matt: @mattcale52