What is the cheesiest song ever written? I nominate “Afternoon Delight” as the cheesiest song in the history of cheesy pop songs. It was already so very cheesy back in the late 70s and it hasn’t gotten any less cheesy after 40+ years.
And yes, I am going to keep repeating “cheesy” until it makes you cross-eyed. The shoe fits.
What makes this song so cheesy? I am so very happy to answer this rhetorical question that absolutely nobody has ever asked me. Almost every pop song I listened to in the 70s was salted with at least a few thinly-veiled references to sex, and very occasionally a not-so-veiled reference. “Afternoon Delight” was a solid three minutes of a songwriter declaring he was in the mood for a nooner. Or an afternooner, as the case may be. Is an “afternooner” a thing? Let’s say it is, just for the sake of argument.
Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight
Gonna grab some afternoon delight
Ah, the 70s when we described our significant others as “my baby,” “my old lady,” or (gag) “my lover.”
I don’t know if “afternoon delight” meant something else before this song became a hit, but it’s pretty funny to me that you can’t say it now unless you’re talking about boinking, and even then you can use it only with a smirk on your face. It’s just that cliched. Funnily enough, it felt like a cliche back then, too.
My motto’s always been when it’s right, it’s right
Why wait until the middle of a cold dark night
It’s almost like this song was written for horny teenage boys who are trying to sound smooth.
When everything’s a little clearer in the light of day
And we know the night is always gonna be here any way
I like boinking in the day time, you like boinking at night, let’s split the difference and boink around the clock.
Thinkin’ of you’s workin’ up my appetite
Looking forward to a little afternoon delight
Rubbin’ sticks and stones together makes the sparks ignite
and the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting
Right. Well. Where to start.
First of all, you don’t rub sticks and stones together to make sparks or start a fire. You rub just sticks together, or just stones (if flint is a stone, which I’m not sure of, but I am sure it’s definitely not a stick). Not sticks and stones. That doesn’t do a thing. I hate to … no, I love to be that guy. Who am I kidding?
But leaving out the nit-picking and getting back to the smarm:
Back when I couldn’t look up pop lyrics on the internet and mostly listened to pop music on an AM radio while driving at speed down county highways in a pickup truck with the windows rolled down, what I thought I heard in the last line was “the thought of lovin’ you is gettin’ so exciting,” which made enough sense in the context of the song that I never questioned it. (Funnier version — not mine: “the bottom part of you is getting so excited.” Check out Misheard Lyrics for more laugh-out-loud versions.)
When I looked up the lyrics today to find specific examples of how cornball this song is, I was pretty sure “the thought of rubbin’ you” had to be a mistake, so I watched the music video on YouTube BECAUSE I’LL TAKE A BULLET SO NOBODY ELSE HAS TO. Tragically, I learned they are indeed clearly saying “rubbin’ you.”
So now I’m trying to imagine a situation, any situation at all, where uttering the phrase “the thought of rubbin’ you is gettin’ so exciting” would spark feelings of desire in the heart of even the most willing significant other, or even in a person desperate to get laid. I’m not saying it absolutely wouldn’t, but my feeling is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred you’d be more likely to get reactions ranging from a puzzled look at best to, at worst, being left leaning on the bar alone, muttering to yourself.
But I’m afraid I have to tell you those aren’t even the smarmiest lyrics.
Started out this morning feeling so polite
I always thought a fish could not be caught who didn’t bite
Wow, that’s an impressive triple negative. I guess that’s, what, something Aunt Polly used to say back on the farm?
But you’ve got some bait a-waitin’ and I think I might
Like nibbling a little afternoon delight
It’s time for me to talk about fish and bait. I really, really don’t want to, but I feel as though I must.
I know this is a figure of speech. I remember the fishing reference.
“You’ve got some bait a-waitin'” is a wrong turn down a bad road, if you ask me. Fishing is fun only for the one with the bait. The fish doesn’t get any fun out of it, if fish can be said to ever have any fun at all. Even when the fish doesn’t meet a gruesome end (death by suffocation, then feasted upon after being skinned and fried in oil), it still has to endure being dragged through the water with a barbed hook stuck in its mouth, then having its jaw torn off when the hook gets pulled out. Doesn’t sound as super-cute as “nibbling a little afternoon delight,” does it?
And the fish itself is a problem for me: cold, wet, slimy fish; dead-eyed animals that flop around with all the self-control of grenade exploding. If I was writing a playful pop song about sex and wanted to compare it with animals I’m pretty sure I’d go with puppies or kittens, something cute and cuddly and smarmy as all get-out. Fish would not even be on my list of choices, first or last.
Finally, comparing sex to bait is all kinds of awkward. Bait is part of a trap. Why would you want to flirt with an idea like that?
Again I GET THAT IT’S A FIGURE OF SPEECH, but it seems to me that a significant part of writing lyrics for a song like this really has to be conjuring up an image in the listener’s mind that doesn’t involve stabbing, pain, bloodshed, and betrayal.
And now, the chorus:
Sky rockets in flight
Skyrockets in flight! Volcanoes erupting! Jackhammers pounding! Popcorn popping! Yeah. So subtle.
Just in case you haven’t had the honor of listening to this Grammy-winning song, here it is as sung by the Starland Vocal Band, the group to originally record it. (The guy in the glasses wrote the song.)