In 1971, producers Lou Stallman and Bobby Susser released the song “Once You Understand.” The “song” consists of a spoken dialog between conservative parents and rebellious teens, coupled with a single line chorus which is repeated ad nauseam, “Things get a little bit easier, once you understand.” The song reached number 23 on the American singles chart. It is unremittingly awful, in almost every respect. The spoken lines are cliched and obvious, not terribly well-acted, and seem to have no particular sense of direction over the course of the recording. The music is as repetitive as any hit single I have ever heard – perhaps “Whip My Hair” is a strong competitor in this regard.
It ends in a way that is both horrific and hilarious. A parent (which parent? who knows) receives a phone call from a heavily reverb-laden police officer, who asks them to come to the police station, because their child is dead as the result of a heroin overdose. The officer delivers this line in a bizarrely triumphant fashion, into a sudden silence of the backing track. And then the insanely catchy, truly horrible one-line refrain starts up again, quietly, with no apparent rationale. “Things get a little bit easier, once you understand.” It is one of the most tasteless moments I have ever heard on record, tasteless in every way. It makes no sense from a narrative point of view, it insults any sense of sociological intelligence, and serves to remind the listener what a relief it was when the singing had stopped.
I understand almost nothing about the success of this recording. And it never gets the slightest bit easier to listen to. My children fell in love with it for several days, having discovered it on YouTube. They delighted in torturing me with it, to the point where this usually friendly dad had to raise his voice in a bid to retain some degree of sanity.
Bobby Susser has a highly successful career as a children’s recording and touring artist, having sold over five million albums. Apparently “Once You Understand” has been sampled numerous times by hip-hop artists, and I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that those recordings were far more tasteful and respectful to human intelligence. Here’s my question for any and all: Can anyone name a Top 40 recording that is as truly repellent and lacking so utterly in artistic merit? Alternately, can you defend this recording on any level?
Photo Credit: Image of Sony stereo set from the 1970s courtesy of Pixabay