1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear – William Hung x 3

1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear

#23: William Hung – Inspiration (2004)

#24: William Hung – Hung For The Holidays (2004)

#25: William Hung – Miracle (2005)

MATT KELLY traces the mercifully brief career over just three abysmal albums of former American Idol star William Hung.

 

Like many people, my favourite part of watching American Idol was the auditions. It was then, before the field had been whittled down and sanitised, that you had a chance to see something interesting, inevitably more memorable than whatever Nickelodeon sitcom cast audition call made it to the final episodes. We got more than we bargained for though when third season hopeful, engineering student William Hung, horrified Simon Cowell with a naïve, droning version of Ricky Martin’s ‘She Bangs’.

Koch Records had been hovering around the show looking for a Mrs Miller or Florence Foster Jenkins to make a quick buck off, but wary of being accused of exploitation, they wanted someone with a positive attitude in order to make it look like they were showcasing the power of self-belief rather than inviting audiences to mock the freakshow. Hung’s mild, dorky demeanour was what they’d been looking for and soon he was signed, the album recorded in two days and out three months after he’d first appeared on TV. Selling a whopping 200,000 copies, Inspiration was a surprise hit.

And it’s godawful. Managing to sound like his balls are being slowly crushed in a vice while he’s simultaneously overdosed on Prozac, the full five minutes plus of ‘Hotel California’ is difficult to survive, made so much worse by the shitty bargain-basement synth recreation of the track. ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ may be the very worst thing here though – when Hung does something fast and breezy there’s a bit of fun to be had but on a slow, vocal dependant song like ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ his inability to hit any note will drain the life from your body.

It’s hard to articulate but there’s something nasty about the album. Whereas we were clearly laughing along with Mrs Miller, it feels like we’re being invited to laugh *at* William Hung, who tragically seems to think we’re laughing with him. His Hong Kong accent is also a prominent feature of his voice which made some critics suspect there was a racist aspect to the humour.

Still, it’s an interesting snapshot of a recurring cultural moment. Given the recent advent of Sarah Brand (with Rebecca Black in between) it seems that every generation needs their own anti-star to blow a hole in the perfect, pristine sound and image of the pop industry. And Hung’s ‘Can You Feel The Love Tonight’ will certainly remind you why that perfect/pristine approach is so much more sustainable.

Tired of Mariah Cary’s Christmas album and her famous five-octave range? Well here’s the cure. For his second release, Hung For The Holidays, William Hung attempts a Christmas album with his famous one-fifth of an octave range.
Morbid jokes based on the title are too easy to make, but this certainly isn’t one to listen to if you’re already in a bad mood on Christmas day.

But aside from the hilarity around its mere existence, listening to this record is a rather inconsequential affair. Clocking in at just 18 minutes and seven songs, there’s little here and one of those songs is Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ – I don’t know why that’s on a Christmas release either but it’s probably the funniest thing here.

Not that it has a lot of competition as Hung sticks to very ordinary songs such as ‘Little Drummer Boy’ on which his geeky drone is almost tolerable. If they’d let him loose on ‘O Holy Night’ or ‘Ave Maria’ or something more ambitious there might be more entertainment value but as it is, Hung’s literal one-note performances get old quickly.

It’s a miracle he made it to a third album. Just a year after selling 200,000 with Inspiration, Miracle sold only 7000, a sales decrease of over 95%. Despite Koch Records’ efforts to make Hung a long-term thing, the masses had tired of the joke and Hung was dropped from the label. He now works in law enforcement. Was his final recorded effort any different from what came before?

Yes – I’d argue this is his worst work. Sappier and softer than Inspiration, Miracle’s easy-listening elevator music tracks will drain your will to live while Hung’s tuneless yelping neutralises any relaxation potential there might have been in the music. If you want to hear something, ‘I Left My Heart In San Francisco’ is particularly “special”, but in addition to the expected memey take on the likes of ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, there are also unexpected assaults on the likes of Randy Newman with the most piss-weak ‘I Love LA’ you could ever imagine.

Achieving the rare and dubious distinction of having his entire discography make this list is just one of many unusual achievements Hung managed in his brief but memorable career.

 

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