The Guilty Pleasure Song: What’s Yours?


One question that has (kind of) plagued mankind ever since radios were installed in cars is why certain songs cause some listeners to crank up the volume while others quickly switch to a different station. Back when Boomers were teens, a limited amount of AM music stations meant there was no hiding from a despised ditty: if it was a hit, it was played over and over. And over. Those were the rules, and thus, many an earworm was born.

At some point, it became less than cool to admit to a secret love for a hit song by the Bay City Rollers or the Cowsills, even taking into account their obvious musical talents. But there are some people who just don’t give a damn who knows about their guilty pleasure song(s).

Actor W. Earl Brown cited hanging out with actor/musician Zach Throne and Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister: “Lemmy turns to me at one point and goes, ‘Earl, have you ever listened to ABBA?’ And I think he’s pulling my leg, so I’m like, ‘F**k no.’ He goes, ‘Well, you missed out on the greatest sets of pop melodies outside of Lennon and McCartney. Zach, do you know any ABBA?’ Zach goes, ‘Yeah. ‘Fernando’?’ So he starts playing and Lem is singing. And I’m like, ‘It’s Sunday morning, I’m drunk, and I’m listening to Lemmy sing ABBA.’”

Similarly, in 1973, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi wasn’t shy about stating his preferred guilty pleasure pop groups, noting, “I’ve got a few tapes of Deep Purple in the car, but I prefer to listen to things like Peter Paul and Mary, Sinatra, the Moody Blues, and The Carpenters.”

It’s not shocking that composers of some of the guiltier pleasure songs also composed memorable commercials. Barry Manilow is to be blamed for unleashing State Farm Insurance’s assurance that “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Joey Levine, who co-wrote bubblegum music like Ohio Express’ “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” and Crazy Elephant’s cool “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’” later wrote jingles that suggested scarfing down a Mounds bar (“Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut!”) then guzzling a Diet Coke (“Just For The Taste of It”).

Another commercial song that literally was a commercial is the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” It was originally written to accompany a one-minute commercial for Crocker National Bank. Richard Carpenter saw the ad, contacted fellow A&M label mate Paul Williams who was the co-writer/singer of the jingle, and landed the song #2 on the Billboard charts–and in the “Top Ten of All Time Guilty Pleasure” songs.

In the case of Rick Astley, he couldn’t tell at first if 1987’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” was being lauded as a guilty pleasure or mocked due to an infamous internet prank dubbed “Rickrolling”.

The viral spoof, which started in 2007, featured a supposedly ordinary link that, when clicked, played a clip of Astley warbling away. Astley, who recently performed a batch of Smiths’ hits at the Glastonbury Music Festival, remarked on “Rickrolling:” “It doesn’t really interfere with my day-to-day life. I know it has rekindled some interest in that song and obviously that haircut.”

Guilty pleasure pop songs offer no deep meaning, no shredding guitars — they’re simply great to listen to and make you happy. And these days, we’ll take any opportunity for a little of that.

So boldly raise your hand and champion a track that puts a smile on your face: what’s your #1 guilty pleasure song, Culture Sonaristas?

-Mark Daponte

Photo: ABBA (Getty Images)

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

35 comments on “The Guilty Pleasure Song: What’s Yours?

  1. Eoghan Lyng

    My guilty pleasure is Jason Donovan’s Too Many Broken Hearts. He really belts it out.

  2. Gary Theroux

    Who exactly is in charge of ruling on what is “cool”? When you’re an unsophisticated kid eager for acceptance by your peers, you’re likely to try to fit in by going along with what your friends and savvy marketers insist to you is “cool.” Once you start to mature and develop your own personal likes and dislikes, what the “in” crowd claims to endorse starts to fade in importance. You begin to realize that their top criteria when judging anything at all is how new it is — as opposed to that entity having any depth and lasting value. This is especially true in pop music, when the “cool” crowd insists that only “new” hits are worth listening to and any music older than those currents is fit only for unhip nostalgists mired somewhere in the past. Imagine an art museum with the same attitude. Any painting inside hanging long enough for the paint to try must be discarded as ancient — like cartons of milk past their sell-by dates. Once you do grow up and explore more of the world, present and past, you pick out to celebrate the things which specifically touch, move and speak to and for YOUR heart. You lose all interest in letting social dictators make your mind up for you. What you enjoy you enjoy — and that’s it. Your pleasures carry with them absolutely no guilt at all.

  3. Mark Hudson

    My guilty pleasure song has to be Starship’s “We built this city.” It constantly gets put in “worst ever songs” lists and is continually slated by the hip and trendy. Well, I absolutely LOVE it! It was my go-to “getting ready to go out on a Saturday night and who knows what might happen” song in the eighties. 🙂

  4. David S.

    I used to hate anything by ABBA, mostly because “disco sucked,” but later I realized I was just drinking the Koolaid of my prog rock friends. Those are amazing tunes! Now I love ABBA and prog rock (which also gets a lot of stick, for being pretentious. Pfft).

  5. Oh, so many……

    Okay, “(My Baby does the) Hanky Panky”.

    What?! Who said that?!

    • LOL! That tune swings….

    • Gary Theroux

      Originally The Raindrops. It was the B side of their 1963 single “That Boy John.”
      Tommy James bought a copy then and when offered the chance to record something himself, his remake of “Hanky Panky” became a small local hit in Ohio on the Snap label. Years later Tommy had almost forgotten about it when, in 1966, he got a call from a DJ in a distant city that his record was now a top seller there, Turns out another DJ had started playing Tommy’s Snap single and the flood of phone calls requesting its airplay had sparked a bootlegger to press and sell thousand of copies on the Red Fox label. Tommy contacted Roulette Records in New York and they agreed to release “Hanky Panky” nationally on Roulette if Tommy would only send them the master tape. That tape, though. was lost and all Tommy had was one copy of the Snap single — with a scratch on it! He sent that to Roulette and every copy of “Hanky Panky” sold ever since has been copied from it — scratch and all. Tommy James told me that story as part of my research for the weekly syndicated :History of Rock ‘n’ Roll with Wink Martindale” radio series which I write and produce.

      • I’ve actually watched that interview on YouTube, Gary. Good stuff.

        Man, James sure is a perpetual fan of Pittsburgh, huh? ;]

  6. Eddie Villanova

    Back in the day when Stones, Who, Zep and Bruce were in their prime and on my turntable, ! secretly loved Kiss’s Rock’n’Roll All Nite. Still do.

  7. Edison Lighthouse – Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes

  8. Having grown up in a small town with 1 AM radio station that played “rock music” and listening to Casey Kasem every Sunday night, my list of guilty pleasures is long. The vast majority of the “Super Hits of the 70’s: Have a NIce Day” series, contains many of them. But I guess the 1st song that came to mind was “Hair” by The Cowsills. It was the first 45rpm record I bought with the coins I slid out of my piggy bank with a butter knife. LOL

  9. David S.

    Fred, “Hair” is the first 45 record I bought too I got 25 cents allowance per week (which I thought was a lot back then), so it took 3 weeks of savings! I still love that song. (And that’s why I started mowing lawns, so I could buy more records)

    • David, there’s something about the 1st 45 and the 1st LP that stands out for a lifetime. I couldn’t tell you what the 2nd one was of either format, but my 1st LP was “Headquarters” by The Monkees. Another guilty pleasure, which I still listen to occasionally.

      • Fred, you’re right. I couldn’t tell you my second 45 or LP either! My first LP was Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” (took me a long time before I started making investments in entire albums of music), which remains just a pleasure, not a guilty one 🙂 And I finally heard the Monkees “Headquarters” album many years later, and I agree it definitely has its charms.

  10. Stuart Kazanow

    “Love is All That I Ever Needed” by the Partridge Family is one of my favorite tunes. Starts with a fantastic bass line and just builds in greatness. Though, admittedly, there are a lot of great Partridge Family songs.

  11. Marc Bieler

    “Afternoon Delight” by Starland Vocal Band and, a close second would be-
    “Moonlight Feels Right” by Starbuck.

    2 great 70’s one hit wonders. Sorry, not guilty!

    • Henry Smith

      … and don’t forget that, in addition to being a masterpiece of pop music, “Moonlight Feels Right” has perhaps the greatest mallet solo plus the greatest synthesizer solo in pop music history! (Unrelated: it’s also one of the many pop songs that mentions Baltimore!)

      • Henry, this is the ONLY mallet I’ve heard in a pop/rock song! But it is indeed the greatest. I just pulled it up on YouTube and am enjoying it right now. As for synthesizer solo, I’d vote for ELP’s “Lucky Man” but I’m not sure that qualifies as a pop song 🙂

        Yay for Baltimore! I’m a happy man right now, because the Orioles just clinched their first playoff berth in 7 years.

        • Henry Smith

          Love all those reactions, David! And, indeed, I had to carve-out into a separate category the various prog rock synth solos — especially those by Emerson and Wakeman — when nominating the Starbuck one for “best” pop/rock! Giving name-checks to David Shaver on synth and Bo Wagner (R.I.P.) on mallets on that delicious artistic masterpiece. There’s a great youtube video about Bo’s incredibly diverse and accomplished life and that improvised-in-the-studio mallet solo. And another great one of Starbuck performing it live, flawlessly, in Chastain Park in Atlanta in 2017. As I always remind my fellow musician friends, I love The Carpenters as much as I love The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and great music is great music to me. And “Moonlight Feels Right” qualifies for me in every musical, melodic, harmonic, lyrical and virtuosic way. (It sounds like you’re a Baltimorean like me — my wife and I are endlessly thrilled by how
          many movies, TV shows, and songs have to include the word “Baltimore.” We attribute that phenomenon to the very special energy that is the charm of Charm City. And, Go first place Ravens, too!

          • Henry Smith

            (Sorry about the double Reply! I thought the first one didn’t take! And thought of that great Larsen-Feiten tune during the re-type!)

        • Henry Smith

          Love all those reactions, David! Indeed, I had to carve-out prog rock synth solos — especially those of Emerson and Wakeman — to nominate this one for “best” pop/rock. And I should send out well-deserved name-checks to David Shaver on synth and the late Bo Wagner on mallets. There’s a great youtube video about Bo Wagner’s improvised-in-the-studio solo and his incredibly diverse and accomplished life. And another youtube video (maybe the one you saw) of the band performing the tune, flawlessly, live in Atlanta’s Chastain Park in 2017. For me, there’s nothing guilty about loving delicious musical masterpieces like “Moonlight Feels Right.” As I always say to my fellow musician friends, I love The Carpenters as much as I love The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and great music is great music. I think that tune is perfection: melodically, harmonically, lyrically, vocally, and instrumentally. And, because you’re a Baltimorean like me, I’ll mention that my wife and I are continually amazed by how many times the word “Baltimore” shows up in movies, TV shows, music, books, etc.. Even in the lyrics to this gem written by someone from Mississippi! An example that comes to mind immediately and might be seen as a guilty pleasure by some: the great “Phantom of the Footlights” by the Larsen-Feiten band (written by guys from NY and NJ!). We think it’s the very special energy of Charm City. And, also, Go first place Ravens!

          • Thanks Henry! I just watched the Chastain Park video. Magical! Two of my musical heroes are Wakeman and Emerson (I’m a keyboard player myself), and I used to turn up my nose at the Carpenters, but now I recognize them as the musical geniuses they were!

            I thought of a lyrical reference in The Tubes “Strung Out on Strings” – “Buy yourself a marimba! Don’t let me catch you pickin’ strings.”

            I’d never heard “Phantom of the Footlights” so I gave it a listen. Huge Steely Dan vibe! And yep there’s that Baltimore reference 🙂

            Go Ravens!

        • Henry Smith

          You’re welcome, David! Thought you might like “Phantom,” and agreed completely on that super-slick Steely Dan vibe to it. Cool that you’re a keyboard player — I’ve just been totally crazy about Keith (RIP) and Rick since my first listens in the very early 70s. Rick was featured on a rock and roll cruise we were on this year, and he just killed it in his solo acoustic piano concert, and had us all rolling with laughter during his Q&A. And I can never find the words to express my admiration and stupefication for what Keith could do. If you haven’t seen the Rachel Flowers international collaboration performance of “Endless Enigma” it not only illustrates how magnificent and impossible that masterpiece is but really shows how important Keith’s many parts were to ELP. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcWaYAOJdLQ As a guitarist, I’m also naturally crazy about the Tubes, so I love that lyrical reference. Hired gun Steve Lukather’s whipped-up-on-the-spot guitar parts on “She’s A Beauty” are as good as anything ever. And glad to hear you’re appreciating the Carpenters. Richard’s keyboard parts (and arrangements) are towering on their own. Go O’s and Ravens!

          • We must be of a similar age then, because I discovered Rick’s solo stuff in the early 70s before I’d even heard of Yes. That’s great that you got to do the cruise. I saw Rick in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago (where I live now), and you’re right, he’s still brilliant and hilarious as well.

            Rachel Flowers is amazing, even more so as she’s totally blind. I love this video where Keith addresses her on camera, and then she proceeds to play trilogy while moving between two keyboard setups: https://youtu.be/x7qujZpMHbA?si=NsacnQoKEOamSHCS

            Loved the Endless Enigma vid. I chuckle at how it took at 7 people to re-create it. And as I’m also a singer, and a stickler for quality performance, I was really impressed, especially when he hit that long high note at the end.

            Funny story: I once saw Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band with Howard Jones on keyboards and Greg Lake on bass and vocals play part of Karn Evil 9. Watching Howard flail around helplessly was hilarious! But the crowd realized what he was trying to do and gave him supportive applause. He mockingly collapsed on the keyboard when he finished that one.

            Steve Lukather, the secret weapon of many successful bands!

        • Henry Smith

          I’m getting ready to turn 70, David, and although I had the Yes albums before Rick’s solo stuff, until now I thought I was the only person in North America that owned copies of “Journey” and “Six Wives!” So cool that you went Rick-to-Yes instead of the other way around, and delighted that you got to see his show, too. That Rachel clip you sent is truly beyond even my wildest imagination! She is just extraordinary in so many ways — all that virtuosic work on the various keys, easily throwing in the pedal work and the percussion hand slapping of the bench! And I especially loved her burst of joy at the end of that miraculous medley! (And I think I heard her say “your Moog” to Keith — I wonder if he gifted or loaned on of his to her? And knowing Rachel — she’s also a killer, but very unconventional looking, guitarist if you’ve seen her do her Boston and other covers (all hail Tom Sholz’ keyboard skills) — she probably did all that programming we saw on the Moog board in the background. And so true about how it took seven virtuosos on multiple continents to do a very commendable cover of what the trilogy of E, L and P did when they were kids. I loved that singer, too: great charisma and talent. And after I saw that Endless Enigma cover the first time, I had a lovely little e-exchange with the drummer, commending him on slaying one of the greatest rock drum parts of all time, even without beating the skins to death a la Carl. Hilarious story about Howard and the audience reaction! I didn’t know he ever played with the All Star Band (of which I’m a huge fan, because of Ringo of course but also because of my other involved idols — Luke, Todd, Edgar, et al — who are involved). Ah, so much great music, and music clips, and so little time! Have a musical weekend!

          • OK Henry, so you’re a few years older than me (64). I will look into Rachel’s Boston and other covers; thanks for the recommendation! That’s great that you got to e-chat with that drummer. Enjoy your musical weekend as well!

        • Henry Smith

          My pleasure!

  12. Wendy Sussman

    So many that I like but guess I’d go with New York’s a Lonely Town by the Tradewinds and Easy Come Easy Go by Bobby Sherman who I was madly in love with as a teen.

  13. asspadtycoon

    Ride Captain Ride, Blues Image.

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