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10 Years, 100 Songs: #9. “Doctor Said My Mom Should Have Had an Abortion…”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 16, 2009

Over the final months of our fine decade, Intensities in Ten Suburbs will be sending the Naughty Oughties out in style with a series of essays devoted to the top 100 songs of the decade–the ones we will most remember as we look back fondly on this period of pop music years down the road. The archives can be found here. If you want to argue about the order, you can’t, because we’re not totally sure what the qualifications are either. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy.

I’m not sure what exactly punk rock was supposed to look like in the Naughty Oughties, but most authoritative sources seemed to agree on one key concept: It should have had absolutely nothing to do with malls. Nothing in this world, it appears, is as truly un-punk as a conglomerate of department stores, food courts and electronics chains you thought folded 15 years ago. Consequently, any music made by young people that sounded like its creators might own more than one article of clothing or piece of general paraphernalia from Hot Topic was thus branded as “Mall Punk,” the sole province of little girls and the socially retarded. Much of the most popular pop-punk of the decade was at one time or another branded with this appellation, a tag that few would escape from under to reach any kind of artistic credibility. Many of them–New Found Glory, SR-71, Simple Plan–might not have necessarily deserved to. But one that actually did was Sum 41.

“Fat Lip” is the best punk song of the last 25 years, the greatest anthem of disenfranchised youth since Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized,” if not even longer. Of the list of classic punk bands who have written a song better than “Fat Lip,” I’d probably put The Ramones, The Sex Pistols and The Clash in there…and that’s about it. Green Day and Blink-182 wrote the most great pop-punk songs of any bands from the post-grunge era, but neither of them ever quite wrote a song as simple, effective and purposeful as “Fat Lip.” It may or may not have registered as a true cry for social revolt by Class of ’77 standards–it’s not so much about true anarchy as it is about shoplifting Doritos from the local 7/11–but as far as songs about being young, bratty and slightly left-of-center in the societal spectrum go (and let’s be honest, that’s what punk rock had become in the 00s, for better or worse), it’s unlikely there’ll ever be a purer statement of intent than “Fat Lip.”

All you really needed was a glimpse of lead singer Deryck Whibley to get a pretty solid idea of Sum 41’s M.O. Skinny, gelled up blonde hair, wristbands, baggy pants, perpetual sneer…he was like pop-punk’s most game-entrenched foot solider, the Bodie Broadus of white suburban America (or in this case, Ajax, Ontario–for some reason, nobody seems to understand trashy American culture better than those Canadians). Whibley was already 21 when “Fat Lip” came out, but he still looked like your 14-year-old younger brother, and his band seemed like they should be playing at your high school talent show. Growing up on the Main Line, I felt like I knew about a couple dozen kids that seemed like they very easily could have been moonlighting as the Sum 41 bassist. It’s weird to talk about authenticity when discussing a band like Sum 41, but unlike the Good Charlottes and Simple Plans of the world–who seemed punk more out of convenience than anything else–there was little doubt that when it came to being true teenage pissants, Sum 41 walked it like they talked it.

And they owned it, too. No one sounded so proud and thrilled to be young and disobedient as Sum 41, especially now that they were getting to play songs about it in front of thousands of fans. The “Fat Lip” video is a four-minute celebration of social weirdness and rebellion, in forms relatively cliched (a girl shaving her head, an old guy dancing, some dude acting flippant to the cops) but triumphant nonetheless. And to their credit, it’s not just the punk sub-culture that Sum 41 embraced in “Fat Lip”–rather, they called on all three of the most authority-alienating forms of music of the last 30 years (hip-hop, punk and metal) to power their insubordination, rapping and beatboxing to an unimpressed convenience store owner in the video intro, playing to a mosh pit of skating and general stupidity in the video’s crux, and then paying tribute to their fret-shredding heroes (also name-checked in the song proper) in the “Pain for Pleasure” outro. (For some reason, the “Pain for Pleasure” bit isn’t included in any of the “Fat Lip” videos on YouTube or DailyMotion, but it’s fantastic and can be viewed separately here.)

And oh yeah, the song. “”The verses are really about what we do: growing up in the suburbs, going to parties and hanging out with our friends, and causing trouble,” said Whibley about it once. “A lot of people say they relate to it.” Yeah, you think? You’re not going to find a better opening couplet to sum up teenage insolence, arrogance and invincibility better than “Stormin’ through the party like my name was El Nino / (While I’m hangin’ out drinkin’ in the back of an El Camino!)” Or a more accepting and gleeful affirmation of outsider status than “As a kid, was a skid, no one knew me by name / Trashed my own house party ‘coz nobody came.” Or a simpler Fuck You I Won’t Do What You Tell Me statement than “Attention that we crave, don’t tell us to behave / I’m sick of always hearin’ act your age.”) And guess what? That’s all before the first chorus. There’s plenty more where those came from, including the chorus itself: “I don’t wanna waste my time / Become another casualty of society / And I will never fall in line / Become another victim of your conformity.” How the hell can you top that? If you’re not going to give Sum 41 punk credentials for any other part of “Fat Lip,” c’mon, you gotta at least give it up for that chorus.

But for a song about so basic a punk concept, the song was actually significantly more complex musically than just two minutes and three chords. I mean, that was in there too, on the verses and chorus, but they were juxtaposed with rap sections where band members traded off lines and syllables like the Beastie Boys, guitar-crunch breakdowns, and a pop-parody bridge, the whole thing coming together an overstuffed but surprisingly coherent mess of confrontational attitude. Like with the video, it’s that middle ground found between hip-hop, punk and metal where all slightly ticked-off young’ns can unite in their desire to run slightly against the grain that makes the song such a powerful anthem. Well, that and the fact that they found a great fucking riff to go with it–you hear those first chugging notes of that “Fat Lip” intro, and if you’re not prepared to start moshing (well…jumping up and down unobtrusively, at least) by the time the whole band kicks in, then congratulations on being over the age of 30 or having a nice haircut or something.

Sum 41 had a handful of nice-enough songs that followed “Fat Lip”–“In Too Deep,” “The Hell Song,” and my personal favorite (and one of the great commercial suicide singles of the 00s), “We’re All to Blame,” all among them–but they weren’t quite talented enough to mature musically the way Blink or Green Day did, never really built on their early success, and going into the 2010s, already feel more than a little bit like Naughty Oughties relics. This was their one shot at achieving pop immortality, and boy did they ever nail it. Even twenty years from now, when All Those Mall Punk Bands With a Bunch of Numbers in Their Names have completely blended together in the history books, “Fat Lip” will rise above as the shining example of how as long as there are suburban kids somewhere out there who take umbrage at having their math homework double-checked, great music will emerge, and punk rock will kind of sort of never die.

(Have any thoughts or remembrances of this song? Want to correct our lyrics or call us out for relying too much on Wikipedia? Please feel free to leave a comment here, or (gulp) Tweet us about it at twitter.com/intensities. Your input is lusted after and appreciated.)

The List So Far (Now With Links!):

100. Green Day – “Jesus of Suburbia
99. The Ying Yang Twins – “Wait (The Whisper Song)
98. Crazytown – “Butterfly
97. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops on My Guitar
96. The Fray – “Over My Head (Cable Car)
95. Fergie – “Fergalicious
94. Lidstrom – “I Feel Space
93. Chevelle – “Send the Pain Below
92. T-Pain f/ Yung Joc – “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)
91. The Arctic Monkeys – “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor
90. Cassie – “Me & U
89. Nelly Furtado – “Maneater
88. Mike Jones f/ Slim Thug & Paul Wall – “Still Tippin’
87. Bat for Lashes – “Daniel
86. The Darkness – “I Believe in a Thing Called Love
85. Dynamite Hack – “Boyz n the Hood
84. DJ Khaled f/ T.I., Rick Ross, Fat Joe, Birdman, Lil’ Wayne & Akon – “We Takin’ Over
83. Matchbox20 – “Bent
82. The Game f/ 50 Cent – “Hate It or Love It
81. 311 – “Amber
80. 3 Doors Down – “Krptonite
79. Nas – “Made You Look
78. Royksopp – “Eple
77. The Pussycat Dolls – “Don’t Cha
76. DMX – “Party Up (Up in Here)
75. Junior Senior – “Move Your Feet
74. Twista f/ Kanye West & Jamie Foxx – “Slow Jamz
73. The Streets – “Weak Become Heroes
72. Jimmy Eat World – “The Middle
71. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Maps
70. Snoop Dogg f/ Pharrell – “Drop It Like It’s Hot
69. Alice DeeJay – “Better Off Alone
68. Xiu Xiu – “I Luv the Valley OH!
67. Incubus – “Stellar
66. Mariah Carey – “We Belong Together
65. Andrew W.K. – “Party Hard
64. Jurgen Paape – “So Weit Wie Noch Nie
63. Taking Back Sunday – “MakeDamnSure
62. Kid Cudi – “Day n Nite
61. Paramore – “That’s What You Get
60. System of a Down – “Toxicity
59. dNTEL f/ Ben Gibbard – “(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan
58. Three 6 Mafia f/ 8Ball & MJG – “Stay Fly
57. Good Charlotte – “The Anthem
56. The Lonely Island – “Lazy Sunday
55. Darude – “Sandstorm
54. Yellowcard – “Ocean Avenue
53. The Killers – “Mr. Brightside
52. Luomo – “Tessio
51. Blink-182 – “Stay Together For the Kids
50. My Chemical Romance – “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)
49. Freelance Hellraiser – “A Stroke of Genius
48. Daft Punk – “Digital Love
47. Snow Patrol – “Chasing Cars
46. Sean Paul – “Like Glue
45. Ludacris – “Stand Up
44. Britney Spears – “Toxic
43. Kings of Leon – “Sex on Fire
42. Jennifer Lopez f/ Ja Rule – “I’m Real (Remix)
41. Lifehouse – “Hanging By a Moment
40. Plain White T’s – “Hey There Delilah
39. MGMT – “Kids
38. Gym Class Heroes f/ Patrick Stump – “Cupid’s Chokehold
37. Franz Ferdinand – “Do You Want To
36. Kylie Minogue – “Can’t Get You Out of My Head
35. Vertical Horizon – “Everything You Want
34. The White Stripes – “Fell in Love With a Girl
33. Jay-Z – “Takeover
32. Maroon 5 – “This Love
31. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye
30. M.I.A. – “Paper Planes
29. Timbaland f/ OneRepublic – “Apologize
28. Beyonce f/ Jay-Z – “Crazy in Love
27. Coldplay – “Yellow
26. Lil’ Wayne – “A Milli
25. Shaggy f/ Ricardo “RikRok” Ducent – “It Wasn’t Me
24. The Strokes  – “Last Night
23. Kelly Clarkson – “Since U Been Gone
22. Radiohead – “Idioteque
21. Fall Out Boy – “Sugar, We’re Going Down
20. The All-American Rejects – “Move Along
19. OutKast – “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)
18. Interpol – “PDA
17. Justin Timberlake – “Rock Your Body
16. Vanessa Carlton – “A Thousand Miles
15. The Clipse – “Grindin‘”
14. Cam’Ron f/ Juelz Santana & Freekey Zeke – “Hey Ma
13. LCD Soundsystem – “Losing My Edge
12. Soulja Boy – “Crank Dat Soulja Boy
11. StainD f/ Fred Dusrt – “Outside
10. Rihanna f/ Jay-Z – “Umbrella
9. Sum 41- “Fat Lip”

5 Responses to “10 Years, 100 Songs: #9. “Doctor Said My Mom Should Have Had an Abortion…””

  1. Joe said

    one of the best death hoaxes of 2009, too.

  2. Victor said

    Sweetness! Was on my personal top 10, but I never thought you’ve give it enough cred to make it on the top 100 let alone top 10.

  3. Collin said

    still one of my top 5 songs of all time. this was the first song where I would sit in front of MTV for an hour of crappy music just to see the video again. good memories.

  4. Dan said

    I agree with this. such and amazing song!!!!!!!

  5. MBI said

    I… do not agree with this song, and never really liked it. However, in light of your article, I do have to admit, there is something about this song that feels… definitive. I wouldn’t call it the best of what it did, but it was the most solid example of its genre, I guess. That doesn’t make it better than “Basket Case,” though.

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