This month, to celebrate the Internet’s unbridled love for wallowing in nostalgia and even greater relishing of talking about why certain cultural artifacts are horrible, Sound of the City presents First Worsts, a series in which our writers remember the first time… they ever hated a song enough to call it The Worst. (And to be fair, we’re also going to see how these songs have stood the test of time.)
THE SONG: Fine Young Cannibals, “She Drives Me Crazy.”
THE YEAR: 1990.
THE REASON: It drove girls crazy.
It’s summer 1990, my mom has taken me on a Caribbean cruise, and the precocious, bouffant-haired Neil Patrick Harris has made my life hell. DoogieMania is in full effect and because I have more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Harris, I have become the focal point for hormonal preteen girls in every direction. The fact is, I’m 9 years old and, instead of icky girls, I like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Because my mother likely wants time on her own, I keep finding myself deported to the youth group, faced with the heavy task of, gasp, making friends at, gasp again, dances. This is when I first noticed… the song, Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.”
Fine Young Cannibals, “She Drives Me Crazy”
The Raw and the Cooked—the second album by the pop-rock trio consisting of two English Beat members and singer Roland Gift—came out in 1988; they released “She Drives Me Crazy” as a single the following year. In 1990, it is still getting ubiquitous play… especially on cruise ships. (A remix LP, The Raw and the Remix, was also released in 1990; it features a version by Native Tongues rapper Monie Love, where she rightfully declares, “I’m driving you crazy!”) And though I’ve probably heard the song countless times before, it is while clammy girl hands paw at mine in a wash of pink neon light that I realize—I just might hate this more than Neil Patrick Harris!
I don’t know if it’s Gift’s falsetto softly confessing, “I can’t stop… the way I feel,” or the persistence of “Woo-hooo!” after the chorus, but that song actually drives girls crazy. And in that regard, I can relate to Gift: each time a girl asks me to dance, she drives me crazy. And it’s everywhere. I hear it during the onboard scavenger hunt and even the dance party after formal night. Each part of the song, from its plinky cymbals and loud snares to the strummy guitar filler, makes my skin crawl, because it’s all working in tandem towards one thing that I’m just not ready for… romance.
SO HOW IS IT NOW?
I love Neil Patrick Harris. He’s hilarious in the Harold and Kumar movies, he plays the funniest character on How I Met Your Mother, and he’s a great Tonys host. It’s also easier to like him because I no longer look like him, though I’d kill to look as good as he does in a suit. As for myself, I got over my aversion toward romance and the opposite sex (by my early teens, thank you) and am now happily married.
In regards to “She Drives Me Crazy,” I’ve come to terms with my loathing (although as far as Fine Young Cannibals go, I’ll gladly take “Good Thing” over “Crazy”). I eventually embraced the song’s cheesiness and now I kind of like the things I used to hate about it. One thing that helped me get over my hatred is a 1994 video of the Muppets, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Reiser, Phil Collins, Dick Clark, Gilbert Gottfried and others dorking out to the song. Everyone is so comfortable in their corniness—how could you not like it?
The Muppets and friends, “She Drives Me Crazy”
The interplay between the riff and the drums is instantly recognizable, and Gift’s lyrics have a certain emotionally damaged sadness about them. In 1989, Spin‘s Peter Johnson said, “for a love song [it] is neither specific nor evocative,” while praising how Gift can sing “almost vacant” lyrics and still sound convincing. And its convincing nature is what made the song a hit: you get wrapped up in it.
If my wife—or, hell, even Neil Patrick Harris—wants to cut a rug to “She Drives Me Crazy” sometime, I have an open dance card. Just don’t mind me wincing a little during the “woo-hooo!” section.