Let Us Now Praise Mediocre Men
February 1, 2021 11:28 AM   Subscribe

"Let's Hear It for the Boy" is a song celebrating a total dud of a boyfriend. He's mean and sullen, he dresses badly, he's unromantic, he's a cheapskate, he's a bad singer: slow clap for this man. Is this song alone, or are there others that similarly shovel praise at a manifestly undeserving dude?

My wife thinks this would be a funny lyric-analyzing exercise to do with her students in small groups, hence the desire for a wider pool of examples.

The only other case that comes to mind is Mary Wells's "My Guy," but we disagree over it: on one hand, the narrator gives more positive assessments of her guy (he's her ideal, they're a great match, etc.), but on the other hand, the only specific details she actually provides are negations of a putative ideal (he's got no muscles, he's not handsome, he's no movie star). So we're not sure whether it counts.
posted by Beardman to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
"He's Sure the Boy I Love" by the Crystals is in the same vein as "My Guy": the lyrics imply he's not "tall and handsome" nor "rich and strong," and "all he's got's an unemployment check," while the only positive qualities are how much the narrator loves him.
posted by telegraph at 11:37 AM on February 1 [3 favorites]


21 Questions from 50 Cent kinda comes at this from the other direction.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:39 AM on February 1


This is the conceit behind "My Funny Valentine" as well.
posted by missrachael at 11:39 AM on February 1 [8 favorites]


Plus this extremely obscure song, "What Makes Me Love Him".

Last verse:

"What makes me love him?
It's quite beyond me,
It must be something
I can't define.
Unless it's merely
That he's masculine
And that he's mine."

Incidentally, she's singing about the Biblical Adam here.
posted by missrachael at 11:43 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Etta James - I Prefer You?

He's not rich and handsome and can't buy her fancy clothes, but she certainly prefers him for unstated reasons.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:46 AM on February 1


"He's Not Such A Bad Guy (After All)" is a great example of this!
posted by sagc at 11:46 AM on February 1 [1 favorite]


I think the general consensus about Let's Hear it for the Boy, for what it's worth, is that the dude makes up for his lack of any other redeeming qualities by being spectacular in bed. It's the "what he does, he does so well, makes me wanna yell" line.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:48 AM on February 1 [27 favorites]


Give Him a Great Big Kiss by the Shangri-Las

"Big bulky sweaters to match his eyes
Dirty fingernails
Oh boy, what a prize"
posted by Chenko at 11:48 AM on February 1


Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine from the musical Showboat seems like it would fit the bill:

The chimney's smokin'
The roof is leakin' in
But he don't seem to care
There ain't no reason why I should love that man
(So why you love dat man?)
It must be somethin' that the angels done planned
posted by SeedStitch at 11:51 AM on February 1 [6 favorites]


Stand By Your Man

Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him, oh be proud of him
'Cause after all, he's just a man
posted by rogerroger at 11:56 AM on February 1 [5 favorites]


The narrator would like it to be a 'My Guy' situation, but the guy in Paula Abdul's 'Opposites Attract' is, at minimum, a poor fit for the narrator, and objectively a pretty mediocre dude.

He smokes cigarettes, he's always broke, he makes a mess, he gets obsessed, he steals the covers, etc.

(Also he's an animated cat, but I'm told that some people are into that.)
posted by box at 11:59 AM on February 1 [20 favorites]


As long as we're talking Etta James, don't forget "I'm Gonna Take What He's Got," which explicitly mentions domestic violence and also explores socioeconomic standing.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 12:01 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Midnight Train to Georgia by Gladys Knight and the Pips is about the singer's decision to follow her man when his (possibly exaggerated sense of his own) talent doesn't match up to the demands of the big city.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:02 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Ugh...I can't tell you how much I hate the Uncle Kracker song - Follow Me:

"Won't give you money
I can't give you the sky
You're better off if you don't ask why
I'm not the reason that you go astray and
We'll be all right if you don't ask me to stay"
posted by brookeb at 12:03 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


I Guess I'll Miss the Man
posted by Garm at 12:09 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


In Spite of Ourselves talks about both a man and a woman who aren't very good catches.
posted by chiefthe at 12:14 PM on February 1 [8 favorites]


What's the Use of Wond'ring from Carousel probably fits the bill.
posted by holborne at 12:27 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Funny Honey from Chicago
posted by Gray Duck at 12:36 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


You Know Me Better than That about a man who is aware that his current girlfriend has an idealized picture of him, and his old girlfriend knows him better than that.
posted by chiefthe at 12:47 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Tom Lehrer's She's My Girl is gender flipped, but explicitly references this as a trope.

I’m sure you’re familiar with love songs on the order of “He’s just my Bill”, “… my man”, “… my Joe”, “… my Max” and so on, where the girl who sings them tells you that although the man she loves is antisocial, alcoholic, physically repulsive, or just plain unsanitary, that, nevertheless, she is his because he is hers, and like that.
posted by eponym at 12:48 PM on February 1 [13 favorites]


"what he does, he does so well, makes me wanna yell"

That's just the opener to the chorus, and it's done differently each verse. I think this song is mis-understood - in that by the 1980s, rich, handsome, and successful was the baseline, and this is a rejoinder or a reflection that not ever person is like that, but they are still lovable.

But since that wasn't the question asked here are a few:
Magnetic Fields - Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side Only good thing about the guy is he has a car.

Material Issue - What Girls Want " A man with lips just like Mick Jagger, Rod Stewarts hair, and Keith Richards' swagger is what girls want." Really?

Billy Bragg -Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key boy is ugly but he can sing.

Magnetic Fields - Reno Dakota is recluse, doesn't call, not an iota of kindness. But narrator wants him (her?) anyways.

Matt Martindale - Cinderella Time "your prince is probably not the guy making you cry during Cinderella time"

Robert Earl Keen - Dreadful Selfish Crime Whole song is about the mediocre guy being mediocre, but one verse about the girl who eventually did break up with him (" We spent our afternoons watchin' the TV Findin' things to do that we could do for free When we split up she said you don't do enough for me"
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:55 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Billie Holiday’s My Man is a good example. He beats her and has multiple girlfriends, and she finds him unattractive to boot!
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:05 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Lorenz Hart, My Funny Valentine
Jerome Kern, He's Just My Bill
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:07 PM on February 1 [4 favorites]


My pencil won't write no more (Bo Carter) is self-deprecating and fun for students to analyze for analogies.
posted by saucysault at 1:12 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Bill in the Fifth Dimension's Wedding Bell Blues is described as lonely and a loser, possibly paranoid, and commitment-phobic. I've always wondered, why does she want to marry this guy?

The reverse would be Sam Cooke's Wonderful World. His best self-professed quality is that he's trying to improve. Not nothing, but not much.

Expanding out a little, Sonnet 130 dunks pretty hard on the Dark Lady.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:13 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


Robyn, Bum Like You

Your car's a dump and you're broke (but that's alright)
I never liked them fancy guys
You don't even look good
God, it ain't right
But you're starry eyed and out of sight
posted by maddieD at 1:15 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Pissed Jeans - The Bar Is Low kind of fits the bill, albeit from the male perspective.

(It's also an absolute banger.)
posted by Vhanudux at 1:15 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


At the far end of this are songs like Xiu Xiu's Sad Pony Guerilla Girl and Antony and the Johnsons' Fistful of Love, about passionate first-person devotion to a boyfriend who even the songwriter themself clearly intends to be seen as abusive.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:24 PM on February 1


An interesting example might be Gilbert and Sullivan's Major General's Song. It's first person -- at first the guy seems to be singing praises to himself. Finally in the last verse he admits that all those fine qualities are irrelevant and he is totally unqualified for the job he is supposed to do.
Lots of old-fashioned wordplay which the students might enjoy -- or maybe not.
posted by JonJacky at 1:25 PM on February 1


Stphen Sondheim, Can That Boy Foxtrot
As dumbbells go,
He's rather slow
And as for being saintly,
Even faintly-- no.
But who needs Albert Schweitzer
When the lights are low?
And oh boy, oh boy,
Can that boy ... foxtrot!
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:26 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Wow, this is an avalanche of mediocre men (and a few women), thanks!

About the titular boy being good in bed... I dunno, he's said to be "no Romeo." I choose to believe that "what he does, he does so well" refers to him taking out the garbage the third or fourth time she asks.
posted by Beardman at 1:35 PM on February 1 [5 favorites]


Something Wonderful, from The King and I, performed here by the incomparable Ruthie Ann Miles.

"This is man who thinks with his heart.
His heart is not always wise. [Understatement! -Ed.]
This is man who stumbles and falls,
But this is a man who tries.
This is man you forgive, and forgive
And help, and protect as long as you live!"

Used in the current film Promising Young Woman to somewhat different effect.
posted by The Bellman at 1:43 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


That Boy Could Dance by Weird Al (lyrics) is kind of this theme taken to an extreme. And not a bad tune.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:48 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Self Esteem by The Offspring puts a twist on it - the singer realizes that the girl has few redeeming qualities, but continues in the relationship because he lacks the eponymous characteristic.
posted by mogget at 2:10 PM on February 1 [3 favorites]


Tramp by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas - a mutual slanging match.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 2:43 PM on February 1 [2 favorites]


It's only a single line, but I'm partial to "You ain't a beauty but, hey, you're alright" in the first verse to Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
posted by sideshow at 2:48 PM on February 1


Just Be Good to Me by S.O.S. Band
posted by quoththeraven at 2:52 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


About the titular boy being good in bed... I dunno, he's said to be "no Romeo." I choose to believe that "what he does, he does so well" refers to him taking out the garbage the third or fourth time she asks.

Unh-unh, he's "[her] lovin' one-man-show."

The Shirelles' "Baby, It's You" seems to qualify--the narrator names and rejects possible appealing qualities and admits he's not faithful, either, yet is unable to do anything but pine.
posted by praemunire at 3:00 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Beat My Dog, Audra McDonald.
Well, you take my car, you drive so far
Come back with the tank on "E"
Your hair all messed, and you half-dressed
And you just look at me
You're out all night, you come home tight
You fall down on my bed
And there you lay for all the next day
For all I know, you're dead
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:07 PM on February 1


Lana Del Rey’s “Off To The Races” is a good example of this, I think. He’s a bad man, he’s a thief but she’d die without him!
posted by nukacherry at 4:12 PM on February 1


Cub's "A Picnic"

My mother said to pick
The very best one and you're not it
My mother said to pick
The very best one and you're not it

But, you bring me carrots and celery
You bring me carrots and celery
You bring me carrots and celery
posted by TheCavorter at 4:20 PM on February 1


"I Guess I'll Miss The Man" from Pippin (original Broadway production)
posted by sundrop at 6:08 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the Fifth Dimension, the dude in "One Less Bell to Answer" certainly sounds like a loser, despite how broken up she is over the no more laughter and love thing: he makes her fry his eggs and pick up after him.

While no one in A Woman in Love (It's Not Me) sounds like they're a prize, the Tom Petty-voiced narrator sounds like an emotionally stunted dumbass ("I don't understand the world today / I don't understand what she needed") but the guy she left him for might be even worse, if he's to be believed ("He's gonna break her heart to pieces, she don't want to see" and "I gave her everything / she threw it all away on nothing").
posted by kitten kaboodle at 8:24 PM on February 1


Angels and Devils the Following Day by Dory Previn - compares two dudes one of who is artistic and sensitive the other who drinks, curses and is generally a bit of a low life. Latter dude wins her heart.
posted by rongorongo at 11:07 PM on February 1


All the mediocre-man songs I can think of have been covered already, but if a mediocre-woman song is okay, there's Heavenly's "P.U.N.K. Girl". The narrator heaps praise on a girl who she considers tragically misunderstood, but who is clearly just an asshole.

"She is honest and kind, but in a way that people see as telling lies and being mean"
posted by equalpants at 2:29 AM on February 2 [1 favorite]


The Supremes have way too many love songs that's about them pining over some loser

Come See About Me
https://youtu.be/3iYJwy77FPM

Baby Love
https://youtu.be/BO_zEzrJRuE

Where Did Our Love Go
https://youtu.be/FVnS8lsEHW0

Stop! In The Name Of Love
https://youtu.be/a3YWNsHOz8U
posted by brandnewday989 at 7:54 AM on February 2 [2 favorites]


"In Spite of Ourselves" by John Prine (with Iris DeMent) is a duet that mixes in deprecating lyrics about the other partner with love.
posted by Leontine at 9:59 AM on February 2


The only “negatives“ in Let’s Hear it for the Boy are that he doesn’t talk much, he’s poor and dresses casually, and he sings off-key. I don’t think that makes him a conspicuous deadbeat and it’s a little uncharitable to imply such to the students, especially if some of them are quiet and less well-to-do. Sorry to be a downer, I just really think you should think twice before encouraging your students to rake a normal dude over the coals.
posted by delight at 2:41 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Fair enough – luckily there are plenty of other examples if we want to go ahead with it. Thanks all!
posted by Beardman at 4:26 PM on February 2


I came in here to post Tom Lehrer facts, but I once asked my mother why this was the only one to flip the script (or at least was plausibly positioned that way).

She kind of gritted her teeth and rolled her eyes and said that when a lot of those songs were written, the only choice in life for a young woman was to get married to the least-bad option available. So you just had to get over the complete unsuitability of a husband because he represented your only legal source of income. It wasn't "Is he marriage material?" so much as "Are you willing to do what it takes to be marriable?"

So a lot of these are humming gently under the surface a mantra like "God I am going to hate living with this man, but at least he didn't hit me like the last guy."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:18 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss) is too dark/unartful/depressing to traumatize students of any age with.
posted by troywestfield at 7:19 AM on February 3


Peggy Lee: He's a Tramp (Lady and the Tramp, 1955)
posted by TrishaU at 5:50 PM on February 3


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