Two of the lousiest tunes ever written are, alas, two of the most ubiquitous: “God save the Queen” and “Happy Birthday to You.”
But what constitutes a lousy tune? Straight off “Queen” sounds more like a dirge than a musical tribute. And if you want proof cast your mind back to Casablanca where the Germans are making a nuisance of themselves singing the Horst Wessel Song in a bar. Up stands Paul Henried and stirs the French into roaring out Marseillaise as competition. Can you imagine Brits moaning “Thy choicest gifts in store, On her be pleased to pour” and making any headway?
Has lousiness got an identifiable musical structure? Well “Queen” has modest dynamics with the whole thing contained in less than an octave. Also, it ends feebly, with the last line trickling down (would “oozing” be better?), and slowly swallowing, all the white notes to middle C.
But “Birthday’s” worse. First, second and fourth lines are rhythmically identical and melodically slight variants of each other which is surely why it sounds so repetitive and so banal. You might think it’s popular because it’s easily managed by the human voice but in the third line there’s an octave jump beneath Happy and Birthday and no one – after all these years – is ever prepared for that. It all goes nasal and thus to hell in a hack.
How Much is That Doggie in the Window? we’ll leave for another day