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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(S): Carman, “The Champion”
THE YEAR: 1985.
THE REASONS: The oppression of the worst of Contemporary Christian Music, dramatic youth pastor performances.
When I first thought about this theme, John Cougar’s “Hurts So Good” came to mind: for some reason, my country- and ’60s-rock-loving father found himself obsessed with the Indiana native’s music, and in 1982 American Fool seemed to play on a loop at my family’s house. What he wanted to listen to was pretty much what was going to dominate the home stereo and the cassette deck in the car—plus as an almost-chart-topping song, “Hurts So Good” would also come through the tiny speaker of the radio buried under my pillow often. I still can’t stand the damn song, or really anything from the Mellencamp catalog, for reasons that include my complicated paternal relationship and my antipathy towards Midwest sincerity. But “Hurts So Good” has nothing on one of the worst songs to ever gain some sort of popularity, both aesthetically and theologically: Carman’s “The Champion.”
Carman, “The Champion”
Unless you grew up in the American evangelical church, you probably have no idea who Carman is, which is most decidedly for the best. I will defend some of the music that was forced on me during my youth as I tried to figure out whether God was upset with me for enjoying the college-rock bands I was starting to obsess over, but there’s no defending Carman, who combines the schtick of an Atlantic City lounge act with the blind zeal of a high-school dropout who somehow became a youth pastor. For a long time, Carman wouldn’t charge admission to his shows, passing a plate (well, a bucket), but these days, he’s selling subscriptions.
Generally, Carman’s musical aesthetic plan usually consists of one of two paths: ape some sort of musical style (the title track from 1998’s Mission 3:16 is an homage to Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill” in the same way @Horse_ebooks is inspired by actual human communication) or an attempt to create a Jesus anthem. “The Champion” is probably the latter, since it plays to the narrative that Jesus, while seemingly defeated, will emerge triumphant to kick the devil’s ass. But “The Champion” isn’t really a song that anyone can actually sing. Carman sing-talks his way through nine minutes of a story of an intergalactic boxing match held in “a cosmic coliseum” “enveloped by a trillion planets”. Spoiler alert: Jesus wins after the referee counts from 10 to 1, sticking it to Satan, who mistakenly believed that he had emerged triumphantly.
When I attended a Southern Baptist church as a kid, “The Champion” made an annual appearance in Sunday school, acted out by some adult who thought (and maybe still thinks) that a mimed version of a rock star’s overly long retake of the same damn story heard every freaking Lord’s Day. “Hurts So Good”? Please. “The Champion” is far longer, offensive on a number of levels (even to me, someone who still considers himself a Christian) and a miserable piece of bullshit masquerading as art.
SO HOW IS IT NOW?
Yep, still awful. And still nine minutes long.