Today is the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a moment in American history that was pretty horrifying for reasons that have been enumerated countless times. Their effects on pop music weren’t as tragic, to be sure, but they were pretty unfortunate—artists on both sides of the aisle manned their battlestations and put forth musical invective and sloganeering pap that diminished everyone involved, and turned the radio into a potential lightning rod for angry disagreements about the state of American politics. Even Aaron Carter got into the fray, which probably gives you an idea of how dire things got. Our nine picks for the most offensive pieces of music brought forth by the attacks below.
9. dc Talk, “Let’s Roll”
What would happen if you crossed nu-metal with insufferable patriotism and the vaguest recollection of a high-school lesson about manifest destiny? Apparently the answer is “a mess of a song from Christian rock-rap lifers,” which comes complete with a central conceit inspired by Todd Beamer’s declaration before he and other passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 attacked the hijackers who had taken over the plane.
“Let’s Roll” sounds like an amalgam of eight terrible rock-radio stations from the early part of the ’00s playing at once; there’s a lot of concurrent shouting and Durstian vocalizing about rolling and fighting and reminders that America possesses a divine right to be the best country in the world because of God’s will—until the 2:50 mark, when a whisper cuts through the yarling and yelling to offer the most melodramatic reading of “Our Father” since John Black exorcised the devil from Marlena Evans on Days Of Our Lives that one time. God help us all! Or, you know, at least the people who were forced to hear this pile of jingoistic slop while going about their daily business.
8. Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”
You can’t fault the man who wrote “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” for being sentimental or overly emotional. You can’t fault the man who’s wore a cowboy hat on literally every album cover since 1990 for being patriotic. However, you can fault Alan Jackson for not opening a newspaper.
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell
you the difference in Iraq and Iran
Hey, Alan, it’s OK if you don’t like to rock the jukebox or whatever, but the fact that a sizable number of Americans can’t tell the difference between Middle Eastern countries is a not a homey affectation, it’s a huge fucking problem. If more people knew the difference between Afghanistan and Iraq, we probably wouldn’t have lost more than 4,400 American lives in the Iraq War, not to mention the $612 billion hole in our economy. And you have a computer that you can look that stuff up on—after all, you did write a song called “www.memory.”
7. Xiu Xiu, “Support Our Troops OH (Black Angels OH)”
Xiu Xiu’s six-album run from 2002’s Knife Play to 2008’s Women As Lovers is one of the strongest, most unfuckwithable bursts of any band in the entire decade—avant-indie at its most rubbed-raw, forward-thinking, exploratory, provocative. This is why writing about “Support Our Troops OH” is so difficult. It’s like when your uncle says something completely racist at the dinner table and you have to explain to your date that he’s actually a swell guy when he’s not being backed up by five bottles of Bartles & Jaymes. Only this time the reasons for the full-body cringe are evidenced by the kicker:
You shot your grenade launcher into peoples windows and
Into the doors of peoples houses just to see them blow up.
Why should I care if you get killed?
Git ‘er done, amirite? Someone as clearly enlightened as Stewart confronts the war with the myopic entitlement of an 11th grader who just got shoved in a locker. Clearly the only reason that people join the military is because they’re all just jock bonehead football asshole prickface jerkmos. Certainly not because our country leaves few other options for people on the lower tiers of the economic ladder, and not because swarms of recruiters offer “enlistment bonuses” to high school students who don’t see a lot of options for themselves, and not because it offers a full-time job in a country that’s always struggled with high unemployment rates, and not because military service in simply a proud tradition in some people’s families, and not because we live in a society that promotes the military’s ideals, and not because some people have criminal troubles and join the army to turn their life around, and not because other people just want to find that asshole Bin Laden and wring his neck, and not because sometimes you just join the army and it’s no fucking business of some dude in Oakland tapping on a gamelan. Congratulations, dude, you just reduced the entire military-industrial complex to a Trenchcoat Mafia diatribe of “All jocks are assholes, wah!”
6. Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, “Empire State Of Mind”
“Empire State of Mind” is a tribute to the enduring strength and unbreakable spirit of New York City or something. However, anyone who actually lives here will tell you this gooey, sentimental tourist trap is cornier than getting your photo taken with the whisky-breathed sweatball in the sooty Elmo costume.
As the worst Jay-Z single to not feature Mr. Hudson singing Alphaville, “Empire State Of Mind” is a tipping point for our hero Jay. He went from cheekily rapping over Broadway showtunes to actually making something that would be too saccharine to appear in Billy Elliott. No true New Yorker should hear the phrase “concrete jungle where dreams are made of” without vomiting up a bowlful of Momofuku; anyone who’s ever paid for an apartment the size of a closet knows that New York is the place where dreams go to eventually puke up their guts, curl up in the sewer and die in gangrenous agony. Statistically, the phrase “New York… where dreams are made of” probably contains less truth than Jadakiss asking, “Why did Bush knock down the towers?”
5. Trade Martin, “We’ve Got To Stop The Mosque At Ground Zero”
During the most scorching days of 2010, a disproportionate amount of crazypants attention was paid to the possibility of a “mosque at Ground Zero,” since “community center at the old Burlington Coat Factory” had too many syllables and not enough dramatic oomph. The whole sad, screechy episode was probably best captured by Trade Martin’s “We’ve Got To Stop The Mosque At Ground Zero,” a nasty little bit of treacle that sounds as inspired by themes from syndication-distributed sitcoms as it does by venom-filled blog rants.
Martin is an arranger and session musician who trumpets the fact that he’s worked with B.B. King, although his résumé can’t hide the fact that the musical crimes committed by “We’ve Got To Stop” are legion. The song is dragged along by dinky synthesizers that are so cheaply recorded, you could be excused for thinking that you were actually listening to a field recording from an anthropologist stationed outside an amusement-park karaoke booth. And then there are the lyrics, which reach heights of lousiness that transcend politics. I don’t want to spoil them for you, because they really need to be “enjoyed” in context. So instead, two notes: One, the lyric “it’s a slap in the face” is punctuated by an actual slap; two, these words form the song’s rhyme scheme:
Understand / Stand
Zero / Hero
Attack / Fact
Minds / Time
Zero / Hero
Attack / Fact
Trust / Much
Zero / Hero
Attack / Fact
Killed / Build
See / Mockery
Zero / Hero
Attack / Doubt about it
4. Paul McCartney, “Freedom”
While making this list, the F2K braintrust thought it would be almost too easy to include Sir Paul’s post-September-11 track, which puts forth a fuzzy notion of fighting for the right… to freedom. Or something like that. It was a crap song, a trifle with maybe half a chord change, something best swept under the rug.
And then we relistened to McCartney’s Super Bowl performance of the song, and the little bit of “A Hard Day’s Night” he tossed off while yukking it up with Fox’s boneheaded NFL braintrust after the performance made us mad all over again. It’s not like anyone should have expected something that great for any pop-geopolitical statement, especially during the confused immediate aftermath of the attacks. But c’mon, at least he could have penned something with the emotional heft of the video for “Pipes Of Peace,” and not a half-composition that lyrically treats freedom like a brand name, a concept that’s ready to be exploited for commercial use (say, “Anyone who tries to take my fries away/ Will have to answer, ’cause this is my right”) just in time for the attacks’ 20th anniversary.
3.Toby Keith, “Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)”
As legend has it, something really bad happened on September 11, 2001. Toby, can you enlighten us?
This nation that I love
Has fallen under attack
A mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in
From somewhere in the back
His intentional vagueness was the most insidious. “From somewhere in the back” could have meant Afghanistan or it could have meant Iraq or it could have meant France for all he cared—the political science equivalent of “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” Fine that Toby Keith is pissed off, but at such a fragile point in American history, it would have been responsible to direct his anger at someone, not just at a vague section on the globe.
To be fair to Tobes, for a while he only played this song in concert, putting it safely in a zone where only Toby Keith fans could hear it. But no one short of four-star fucking U.S. Marine Corps General James L. Jones told Keith it was his duty as an America to record the damn thing. “It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops,” Jones told Keith. “If you want to serve, that is what you can do.” The song’s release couldn’t have had worse timing, either; in June 2002, we got the report that an errant U.S. bomb was dropped on an Afghani wedding party, killing dozens of people. Just one month later, Toblerone released this gem:
And you’ll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass
It’s the American way
Simplistic and nauseating, intended to be performed mad and sleeveless, singing about the flag like he wanted to fuck it. No word if Toby has since amended that last lyric to “We’ll put a boot in your ass and leave it sitting in there for eight years and then send more boots over.”
2. Aaron Carter, “America A O”
You remember September 11. The shock of the first impression, the haunting images on TV, and the lingering question—”How will this all affect Aaron Carter?”
The Backstreet Boy’s younger brother recorded more than Jandek during the early ’00s, and each song was more irredeemable than the next: the nauseating hip-hop cover of “I Want Candy”; the shrill Fresh Prince knock-off “That’s How I Beat Shaq”; the suuuuuuuper-fucking-creepy growth spurt “Not Too Young, Not Too Old.” But worst of all was the late-career, jingoistic, funky-fresh ode to the red, white and blue, “America A O.” With a fake Clipse beat, the song was so cornball and classless that it made “The Angry American” sound like it was performed by Kelsey Grammer in a top hat and monocle. “Troubled times bring about troubled vibes,” Carter says, deftly referring to our harrowing year of panic, paranoia and in-fighting as “vibes.” He adds, “I chill you out, baby, let me clear your mind.” Why didn’t we just send Aaron Carter to chillax everyone’s mellow? Dude already beat Shaq once!
Then Carter drops a totally suspicious “No matter what they say, I’ll be livin’ here anyway!” which basically makes us wonder who exactly was telling him to leave. Was it the Taliban? The American left? Drake and Josh? We need to know!
1. Darryl Worley, “Have You Forgotten?”
Darryl Worley claimed that he wrote his response to 9/11 on the way back from a USO tour of Afghanistan. But it’s hard not to hear “Forgotten” as something that’s as calculated as an Old Navy flag t-shirt, with lyrics that are aimed both at the heartstrings of listeners who were scared by the idea that people living half a world away might “hate us” and the headlines of newspapers looking for someone to counteract the politics of those mouthy Dixie Chicks. And it worked—”Forgotten,” with its vague allegiances to freedom and disdain for the PTSD of people who might have been averse to watching the World Trade Center get blown up again and again, was No. 1 on the country charts for a month and a half in 2003 and even cracked the top 25 of the Hot 100.
Let’s not forget, however, that “Have You Forgotten” is a pretty crummy song on its merits. It’s lazy Nashville boilerplate, crafted seemingly from Worley and his bandmates adding a twang and a dash of jingoism to the strummy intro of Skid Row’s “I Remember You” after an all-night Fox News-watching session. Would “Forgotten” have been anything more than a footnote if not for the clumsy fearmongering of its lyrics? Would Worley need to disclaim his desire to make money off the track to NPR? (Although don’t think he wasn’t completely blase about his commercial success: “I don’t care if people roll their eyes, or if they think my music is cheesy,” he said in the same interview. “The Have You Forgotten album is about to go platinum, so I’ll take all that cheese I can get.” America!) Would we even need to forget about Worley if he’d put forth a more nuanced version of U.S.-Middle East relations? Sure, not dropping “Forgotten” might have hindered his progress toward full-monty Playgirl posing, but hey, we all have to make sacrifices.