Bad is a lamentably subjective term. I’d love to simply sweep all popular music into the “bad” category, but I remember when grunge was popular, and I liked that. I will say that grunge, the good stuff anyway, tried to say something in the middle of all of those crashing chords. But enough of that; I came here not to complain about pop, but rather to praise bad music that I happen to like.

The song that inspired this post is entitled “The Lads o’ Wamphray”. Yes, it’s a Child Ballad (184). Yes, it’s a Scottish Child Ballad. By now I’m sure that most of you are saying “Dammit! There’s no mystery here! You’re predisposed to like Scottish Folk music; this song simply fits inside your musical prejudices.”

I can’t really argue with that, but there’s more to it than just my preferences. Even I have my limits.

Lads of Wamphray is not one of those songs that makes a larger point about Scottish history, nor does it tap into some sort of archetypal mythology, nor does it address some sort of fear, nor yet does it tell a tragic love story, nor still does it repeat an older story in a newer form. The ballad narrates a few incidents in one of those sordid little clan feuds that pepper Scottish history; this one is the Johnston-Crichton feud.

A member of the Johnston clan, called “The Galliard”*, does something to piss off the Crichtons, and attempts to steal a horse but is caught and hanged. His nephew, who witnesses the Galliard’s death, rounds up some Johnstons, wreaks a bloody revenge, and the Johnston boys celebrate by going out for drinks. Oh, and they pat themselves on the back.

That’s it. Petty, self-congratulatory to the point of being masturbatory, and grandiose.

The arrangement is not much better. The tune is catchy, but simple. The singing is, well, mediocre Ren Faire quality at best, the recording itself is a bit hard to understand, and so on. The one thing is has going for it is the stress that the performers place on the fourth line of every verse, which underscores the action in those lyrics, thus giving the song some dramatic impetus.

I’ll link here to the lyrics:

The point I’m trying to make, at some length, is that music evokes emotion. And if it can do that, and do it well, then that ability can make up for the lack of technical skill, lyrical complexity, etc. Some more modern examples might include “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or, say, “Cum On Feel the Noise”.

Bad music has a place. Not necessarily a prominent place, not necessarily a merited place, but a place.