Most music is crap. But then again, as science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said, when asked why so much science fiction was garbage, 90% of everything is crap.
So it’s only really news when a great musician or band puts out a turgid stinker. And they do. You don’t know if they know, or know and don’t care, or if they are just U2 and know, don’t care and deep down don’t believe it anyway.
And maybe, twisted alternate universe thinking, it’s a sign of greatness that a performer/band appears on a list like this, because it means they’ve been around so long at the top that the law of averages trips them up and even the gods make a mistake. At least, if they weren’t great, we probably wouldn’t have noticed…
This list is not meant to be mean spirited! Really! Admittedly, it is not entirely generous, or very forgiving, and could be, in spots, construed as less than kind. We’ll cop to that. But, honestly, it’s not cynical. We hate cynical. No, this is cold honesty. That’s valuable, right? Don’t we get enough bullshit in our daily diets to once and a while crave, need, a dose of truthful criticism?
There’s no Sting on this list because, seriously, what do you think we are, savages? We don’t murder low hanging fruit. And it was important in creating this list to be objective and distinguish between really awful recordings and songs we just don’t like. We rejected a trove of those.
There was no consensus here — everyone involved is disappointed to see at least one song on this list and thinks someone got it wrong. But life is harsh. The truth will set us free, yes, but it’s going to hurt sometimes…
Bob Guccione, Jr.
50 PAUL SIMON / 50 WAYS TO LEAVE YOUR LOVER
I wonder, is it possible that Paul Simon gets his musical inspirations from weddings? Not from the wedding band themselves, but from that alcohol soaked time of the wedding when some idiot old relative gets on the stage and says to the drummer, “give me those sticks, son, I know how to play” then categorically proves that he doesn’t, that the most musicality he is actually capable of is striking a drum head five times in a row and then stopping for a fraction of a second and hitting it two or three more times. Listen to the beginning of this song and tell me if you don’t now have the same suspicion. This song is, frankly, not a bad Bob Dylan impression — but, c’mon, seriously, only Dylan can carry off Dylan, and every other attempt to do a Dylan is a parody — of the doer.
So it is here. There’s the whispery, faux-Dylany cleverish lines, and the introduction of a female character with that remote, Dylany, wispy, quasi-intriguing sentiment about not wishing to intrude — so far so good, this could go somewhere! — and then we get that pounding of the litany of ways to leave your lover. This is delivered in the unpleasant crescendo particular to bad bar bands (that’s bad bands in bad bars, to be clear). A horrible litany that, when you are caught in the middle of it, you, in panic, fear that he actually has fifty such examples. Thank God, he doesn’t.
Bob Guccione, Jr.
49 MINISTRY / WORK FOR LOVE
Ministry were an amazing industrial metal band. They were never a good synthpop band. Even metal and punk dudes now who go solo synthpop once their bands fizzle out sound better than this. Even Ministry’s later dated political junk food thrash is better than this! Drop the contrarian position and embrace Psalm 69.
48 U2 / VERTIGO
Oy vey. Hot off their “comeback” album, 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind and a mediocre, rushed 1990-2000 greatest hits package, on the heels of a pair of new not-greatest hits, U2 came back with fire and fury when they introduced “Vertigo” to the world in 2004. Just kidding. It definitely wasn’t fire and fury. If anything, Bono’s opening lyrics of “Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce!” make even less sense all these years on. Literally, no sense. Who the hell counts off 1, 2, 3, 14?! Exactly. Had it not been for The Edge’s woodcutter riffs, this song would be relegated to the dustbin of rock history instead of merely a low watermark in U2’s career.
47 JAY-Z / GHETTO TECHNO
Leaked in 2009 alongside other Timbaland-produced tracks that didn’t make The Blueprint 3, “Ghetto Techno” sounds like Pitbull’s “Culo” having a manic breakdown. This is the type of awful, hectic noise that simply being around can make happy little kids bite strangers and throw blocks through windows. Jay-Z’s whiny chorus about waving shot glasses is a bastardization of Lil Jon on the “Shots” hook, and a forced appeal to muscled white bros with glow sticks who pound hard seltzer and shout over each other when they talk. Jay and Timbo have certainly gifted us gold (“Big Pimpin'”, “Jigga What, Jigga Who”), but “Ghetto Techno” is more than a misstep, it’s a shit-step.
46 GEORGE HARRISON / I GOT MY MIND SET ON YOU
I find some solace knowing George Harrison actually didn’t write this song. (Rudy Clark wrote and composed it, and it was originally sung by James Ray in 1962.) Regardless, it’s certifiable ear worms at the sheer mention, with a chorus that mercilessly refuses to die. The fact that “I Got My Mind Set on You” shot to No. 1 on Billboard in January 1988, peaking at No. 2 in the UK, is a greater mystery than Stonehenge.
45 DEE DEE KING (RAMONE) / FUNKY MAN
Dee Dee Ramone rapping like Steve-O is actually some pretty fun stuff, but it’s just not the type of music people intentionally listen to. If it does somehow come on somewhere, “Funky Man” is certainly not the type of song anyone will let play its full 5 minutes. It completely sucks, and the Dee Dee King Standing in the Spotlight album is just as terrible, featuring pitiful doo-wop rap with song names like “Mashed Potato Time” and “Commotion In The Ocean”.
Dee Dee’s Ramones card allowed for this mess, until he began to arrive at gigs dressed full rapper. The band wasn’t having it, so when his solo album dropped in ’89, Dee Dee King turned in his biker jacket and peaced out. But what do you expect? He was a funky man.
44 NIRVANA / GALLONS OF RUBBING ALCOHOL
If you needed any more indications that Nirvana didn’t like being famous, here’s an avant-garde art piece ripped straight out of your (and apparently their) nightmares. While In Utero was pretty uncompromising from start to finish, hearing this dissonant piece of noise just leaves the listener scarred once the album wraps up. Coming right after the beautiful “All Apologies,” talk about audio whiplash that’s strong enough to break your neck… It might be unique, but it’s also on the wrong side of listenable.
43 VAN HALEN / WHY CAN’T THIS BE LOVE
I’m going to start this off with a confession: I love this song. But here’s another: it stinks. Confused? Don’t be. The reason this song (properly) gets a bad rap is that it absolutely shouldn’t have been the first single to introduce Van Hagar. Literally any other song off 5150 would have been a better choice. The shock value of a synth ballad with semi nonsensical lyrics (My personal fave: “And only time will tell/If we stand the test of time”) left many confused and angry at the perceived new direction of Van Halen. Though not their worst song (I’m looking at you VHIII), it did sharply symbolize a shift from the David Lee Roth era and thus alienated a lot of fans in its wake. On an album of nine songs, eight were killer, yet by throwing this out first, the symbolism more than the song itself made this a colossal dud.
42 DIANA ROSS AND THE SUPREMES / THE HAPPENING
Berry Gordy’s Motown hit-making machine’s worst fiasco was “The Happening”, for then Gordy girlfriend Diana Ross (and the Supremes) in 1967.
A “Happening” was a kind of rave, with drugs and music and art and psychedelic lights and sex in various proportions. An awful crime caper movie The Happening featured Ross and the Supes’ title tune. Best remains: a colorful vintage TV variety show clip introed by host Ed Sullivan. “Here doing the number one hit in the country, ‘The Happening’, the girls here…” followed soon by singing of the dumb chorus: “It happened to me and it can happen to you.”
Stop, in the name of love!
41 ERIC CLAPTON / I SHOT THE SHERIFF
Eric Clapton has often made the difficult look effortless, but here he surpasses himself, by somehow succeeding in making a great reggae song sound dull.
Bob Marley’s pulsating, rhythmically sexy original is of course immortal and you cover it at your own risk. But the frigging Carpenters could have done a better job. Clapton’s version is so thin it’s annoying and unnecessarily punitive. His playing starts at tinny and rises to whiny, and he and his backup singers couldn’t have been more listless if they were answering a phone survey. Incredibly, he had a number one hit with the song.
40 WILLIE NELSON / BAD BREATH
Willie Nelson has written and played so many immortal songs over 60 years, you have to forgive him one that was dead on arrival in 2018, “Bad Breath.” Writing with his favorite co-conspirator lately, Buddy Cannon, Willie must have been grinnin’ when he began this wry comment on ageing. But he should have turned his nose up, instead of unleashing such a skunky odor.
Nelson actually intones the lyric “Halitosis is a word I never could spell / But bad breath is better than no breath at all”. A true stinkeroo!
39 DONNA SUMMER / MACARTHUR PARK
Bad enough the first time around when Irish actor Richard Harris (the first Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies) recorded and had a big hit with it, “MacArthur Park” became a legendary mess with a disco beat (not a compliment) you could dance to when Donna Summer covered it in 1978.
Donna was a talented R&B backup singer in Munich, Germany when Italian producer Giorgio Moroder turned her into an International disco diva/megastar. The cake left out in the rain, old men playing checkers — these were the cinema verite backdrop for composer Jimmy Webb’s 1967 breakup with, supposedly, Linda Rondstadt’s sister when she worked across the street from L.A.’s grungiest park. If you ever partied with Giorgio, like I once did in NYC, you’d forgive him this miscue of conceptual art.
38 RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS / LOVE ROLLERCOASTER
There’s bad covers and then there’s bad covers. Hot off the commercial disappointment of One Hot Minute (debatably their most inconsistent but most interesting album), the Chili Peppers covered the Ohio Players’ hit for the Beavis and Butthead Do America soundtrack. They had success taking on Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” on Mother’s Milk, so why not try it again, right? The result? Nearly impossible to understand lyrics, chaotic composition leading to a head-spinning, earache-inducing song. There’s a reason why they haven’t performed the song ever. And that’s probably for the best.
37 FLEETWOOD MAC / RHIANNON
Please, Stevie, nix performing “Rhiannon,” though it’s been your signature song with Fleetwood Mac since 1975! You claim to have written it in 10 minutes after reading the name in a book. It sounds it. “Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night / And wouldn’t you love to love her? / Takes to the sky like a bird in flight / And who will be her lover?” When performed on stage–like it was in one particular performance in 1975—your gyrating inspired countless girls (and boys) to rip down the living room drapes and twirl at peril to their lives. You’re lucky home insurance agents never inserted a Rhiannon clause into policies, holding you personally liable for injuries…
36 NAS / WHO KILLED IT?
Concept albums and songs have always been fertile soil for lame music. Nas’ 1930s detective comic book-style tale about the murder of a character named hip-hop is not just lame, it’s grating — and odd.
Taken from his tepid 2006 Hip-Hop is Dead LP, this brick finds Nas talk-rapping about his search for hip-hop’s killer, in some irritating film-noir gangster movie voice. A Nas story-tell can be an amazing thing, vivid and riveting (see the entire Illmatic), but even the man himself knows this one’s a cornball, admitting on Desus & Mero, “I wilded out. I was binging on James Cagney movies at the time…it happens”.
35 BOB DYLAN / WIGGLE WIGGLE
Boy, the ‘80s were rough for Dylan. After finding Christ in the late ‘70s, dude seemed to lose his craft for the next ten years. Yes, there were a couple of gems here and there (“Most of the Time” off of ‘89’s Oh Mercy being one them), but for the most part the Voice of All Generations Ever was spittin’ nothing but drivel. “Wiggle Wiggle” is a very short song, even for one with pop chart-aspirations. Produced by Don Was, the tune sorta just…peters out. Almost as if the people recording it knew they had a turd.
This was the first track off Dylan’s first album in the ‘90s. Apparently Slash plays guitar on the track. Not that you could tell. And David Crosby sang back up. Not that he can remember, I’m sure. In fact, none of us should remember this song. For the album sessions, Al Kooper was recruited to play Hammond organ which proves that whole lightning in a bottle thing.
34 FRANK ZAPPA / VALLEY GIRL
Frank Zappa basically invented rock satire — after his 1968 masterpiece, We’re Only in It for the Money, his dues were paid. But he slipped into a sort of self-parody with his unlikely 1982 hit “Valley Girl,” which uses meathead riffs and abrasive vocal parodies to roast the San Fernando Valley. Funny in theory, laugh-less and cringe-worthy in reality.
33 MOBY / LIE DOWN IN DARKNESS
There’s always been something begged, borrowed or stolen about Moby since he burst on the music scene three decades ago. Richard Melville Hall has kept trading on his being born the great-great-great nephew of Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick hence his professional name, Moby. Seems he had a rough childhood, and he’s such a multimedia chameleon: EDM, DJ, photographer, famous vegan. Moby’s worst audio / video combo, “Lie Down in Darkness”, was released in 2011, and sounds and looks like a deepfake concocted by state-of-the-art artificial intelligence e-ware fed all of human knowledge to synthesize a danceable James Bond movie theme.
Then again, this could be the future of all entertainment. BE VERY AFRAID!!
32 SANTANA (FT. ROB THOMAS) / SMOOTH
One of rock’s elite guitarists pairs up with the Matchbox 20 dude for a grating late ’90s collaboration — a still-awkward fusion of Latin-rock grooves and alt-rock hooks that, compounding its eternal annoyance, took ages to wither from the radio waves. We’re a long, long way from “Black Magic Woman” (or, for that matter, “3AM”).
31 CHUCK BERRY / MY DING-A-LING
The pioneers of rock ‘n’ roll weren’t always well-served by the oldies revival concerts they played years later. Yes, Chuck Berryscored his sole #1 hit in the ‘70s, but with such a dang dumb ditty. Written by Dave Bartholomew, mentor to OG piano man Fats Domino, “My Ding-a-Ling” was recorded by Berry live in Coventry, England, on February 3, 1972, when Chuck headlined a bill including Pink Floyd.
This throwback to the era of censorship-ruled radio was a winky, wicked tale about a toy with silver bells that got played with a lot and could have been a male sex organ. Seems so quaint today when so much new music is more or less: who’s got the biggest dick now, motherfucker?
Return to a more innocent, yet still creepy time, and a wretched, annoying tune here.
30 THE BEATLES / MAGGIE MAE
I get that the whole point of Let It Be was to strip things back, but this low-stakes, looser-than-loose folk jam is beneath The Beatles’ greatness. Unlike, say, “Honey Pie,” a White Album goof-off with a naggingly catchy slide riff, this 40-second doodle offers no element of substance — it’s the very definition of filler, and good on Paul McCartney for wiping it off his revised LP, Let It Be… Naked.
29 ROLLING STONES / MIGHT AS WELL GET JUICED
On their misguided detour — or did they just get lost? — into diet-industrial electro-funk, the Stones are stripped of all mojo and left with nothing but wonky gramps who just discovered this thing called a synth. For all 5 minutes and 23 seconds someone is holding their finger on one key. Pony up, who was it? Ronnie, we’re looking at you, mate. And Mick, with the whole sloshed Dr. John thing. We hear you Prince Wigglebottom, freestyling that nonsense and gurgling on the wine creeping back up your esophagus. The Dust Brothers’ production lends fun ’90s nostalgia, but easy there boys, someone’s going to break that “Sound of a Comet” button. Oh, and what the hell is “get juiced”? No one is shooting anything anabolic, and after three listens this is starting to feel a bit pervy.
28 MICHAEL JACKSON / BAD
27 THE GRATEFUL DEAD / CASSIDY
Dye-hard Deadheads may argue against it, but “Cassidy” by The Grateful Dead could be the worst rock song ever performed (which they did in concert 334 times, starting in 1974). Composed by rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and his former roommate at prep school for well-off autists, John Perry Barlow — it should prompt the cry “Barflow” every time it’s heard. The lyrics are about a recently-born baby girl and deceased beat poet Neal Cassady — that’s right, they couldn’t even spell his name correctly…
26 BRAD PAISLEY FEAT. LL COOL J / ACCIDENTAL RACIST
Preface: Intercultural dialogue is a wholly positive and necessary thing. Exception: This awkward piece of wonky cheese. The title reeks of a bad SNL sketch, and if the subject wasn’t so serious, it could all be mistaken for one big troll maneuver. Brad Paisley apologizing to a random black Starbucks barista for wearing a Skynyrd shirt? LL memorializing confederate generals? Read it to believe it: “RIP Robert E. Lee / but I’ve gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me / know what I mean…If you don’t judge my do-rag / I won’t judge your red flag”. Mission accomplished guys, “Accidental Racist” does unite—you both sound like doofuses.
25 JUDAS PRIEST / PRISONER OF YOUR EYES
Judas Priest can write a goddamn ballad – “Last Rose of Summer” from Sin After Sin is the definition of a bittersweet kiss, and Turbo’s “Out in the Cold,” so icy and forlorn, is secretly one of their best songs. “Prisoner of Your Eyes,” recorded during the Turbo sessions but not released until Screaming for Vengeance’s 2001 reissue, attempts to marry the two but ends up falling really short. It’s just dour, like a high school prom in a dry county –- “Rob Halford” and “dour” do not go together.
If there was a ballad in need of Jim Steinman spiking the punch, this was it. Some songs should have stayed unreleased.
24 BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / 57 CHANNELS (AND NOTHIN’ ON)
Let me get this out of the way: Bruce Springsteen is on Mount Kohnmore. He’s among a handful of artists who I think is a king among kings (and I ain’t satisfied ’til he rules everything). However, my first experience with the Boss wasn’t the best, mainly because I saw/heard this clunker of a song. Looking back now, it’s even more ridiculous to hear him griping about a mansion in the Hollywood Hills and well, the life of the rich, bougie and bored. Though soaked in irony, irony isn’t something Springsteen does well, so it’s best to chalk this up as a Mulligan and acknowledge that somehow, St. Bruce isn’t perfect.
23 R.E.M. / WANDERLUST
Though singer / lyricist Michael Stipe insists the band’s name was picked at random from a dictionary and isn’t about REM sleep, there’s nothing random about the nightmare song he created in 2004, “Wanderlust.” You can’t help but think it was recorded on Quaaludes with words from a tourist’s American phrase book.
22 SNOOP DOGG / SUPERMAN
Much of Snoop Dogg’s long decline can be attributed to commercial collaborations dragging him ever lower. Currently on TV there’s that sun-stroked beach Corona beer ad, featuring him and Andy Sandberg. And what about the snooty spot for Bic lighters with Snoop and Martha Stewart? Is this comedy? High art (no pun intended, but, since it’s there…)?
But the nadir has to be a lazy-ass general endorsement for the favorite generic smoke of the pop universe’s biggest braided stoners, Calvin Broadhurst (aka Mr. Dogg) and W. Hugh Nelson (Willie). In 2011, on the album Doggumentary they unleashed the blues-y “Superman” and then puffed about it on the road, again. This should make true believers in the cult of cannabis think seriously about going cold-turkey. (Just kidding)
21 THE WHO / SQUEEZEBOX
After It’s Hard, it’s been actually hard to listen to new music from The Who. Facts are facts. But even with Keith Moon behind the kit, it didn’t save Pete Townshend from writing a clunker or two. Look no further than “Squeezebox.” An ode to a woman’s…you know…probably was a strange idea for a song subject anyway, even when it was released in 1975. Wanna know how shitty it is? Rush Limbaugh used the song as bumper music and even said somewhere that it was his favorite Who song. Enough said!
20 THE BEATLES / YOU KNOW MY NAME (LOOK UP THE NUMBER)
This was originally a B side, to a single I can’t remember now but which was a real song. I say “originally” as in, probably meant to be forgotten, it’s goofing around deliberately, forgivably, disposable. But post-Beatles break up, it has been anthologized on at least one of those self-replicating Best Of the Beatles that come out every few weeks.
Forget the “music” — the actual performance of instruments, although a toy guitar you’d give a four year old would produce more complex sounds — drunk people — very drunk people, to be clear — singing in the car park after the bar finally threw them out couldn’t sound worse. So that must be a bit of irony because the Beatles were really beautiful singers. Even Ringo, bless him, sings better than this. Normally. He took the lead here.
On a list like this, there’s a schizophrenic line between guys just fucking around and forgetting to delete, and producing a really, really bad song. This song straddles that line, and might allowably fall onto the benign side if one didn’t look at the lyrics. Lyrics written by Lennon and McCartney, perhaps the greatest songwriting duo of all time.
They start with, reasonably enough, “You know my name,” and continue with the to-be-expected “Look up the number.” From here, we are expectant of thrills to come. But first, the reprisal of “You know my name, Look up the number.”
Fair enough! Style is style, these are artists! What’s next? Two more lines of “You, you know, you know my name” followed by some comic prattle about “welcome to Slaggers,” followed by another twenty lines of “You know my name, look up my number.” After a mysterious shout out to someone called Denis O’Bell, this almost Shakespearean lyric is intoned another eleven times. Then, presumably having made its point, the song ends.
19 ARETHA FRANKLIN / A BRAND NEW ME
Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin tripped over her ermine coat when sashaying away from her Detroit R&B roots to go pop, Vegas-style. In 1971, she recorded and performed this song with a big band and too many horns.
Although written by habitual chart toppers Jerry Butler, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Aretha’s worst song was a cover of a big hit two years earlier by English singer Dusty Springfield (whose version still holds up remarkably well today.
18 OL’ DIRTY BASTARD (FT. SNOOP DOGG) / CONDITIONER
With an opiated DB and Snoop on autopilot over what sounds more like a kids keyboard demo beat than RZA track, “Conditioner” is a true clunker. Dirty’s only appearance on Wu-Tang’s third album, The W, this one was completely phoned in (literally, the guy recorded it over the phone from jail! Hence the lo-fi vocals). Art crime Exhibit A: “Old Dirty corporata, splash, I’m up on the punanny flash / Bad gas, Macintosh, the light is red / Pee in the bed, I’m frustrated”. I’m frustrated too, I just lost five and a half minutes of life listening to this dreck. Bonus points though if the song really does soothe and enrich hair follicles!
17 PINK FLOYD / SEAMUS
Whereas “Echoes” on Meddle gave us the Pink Floyd we know today, the song right before it on the track listing is an example of when experimentation goes horribly wrong, complete with a dog barking in between the music. There might be a good idea for a song somewhere, but hearing Fido in your speakers gets more than a little bit distracting. Pink Floyd would only go up from here, and here’s hoping the dog at least got rewarded for his trouble.
16 KANYE WEST / DRUNK AND HOT GIRLS
Kanye’s Dropout trilogy did set him up as a giant, but “Drunk and Hot Girls” is almost more of a joke than an actual song. It’s nice to have a hip hop song as a waltz, I guess, but lines about putting up with girls at a club come off a little creepy. This album feels like a spaced out party half the time, and this song is the party crasher, killing the buzz and ruining the moment.
15 THE WHITE STRIPES / WHO’S A BIG BABY?
At their best, The White Stripes could be jarring, provocative, invigorating. At their most terrible, they drove you totally crazy, like annoying children. Maybe that was the point of “Who’s A Big BabY?”, released in 2005 on the flip side of “Blue Orchid.” Not even close to a B-side, “Who’s A Big Baby” was more of a Z-side. Chock full of ominous chords and repetitious, cranky processed Meg White vocals (worse than anything ever maimed through Auto-tune), hear it here, if you dare:
14 NEIL YOUNG / SAMPLE AND HOLD
Neil Young doing Krapwerk is a poor example of the spirits Don Grungio is capable of summoning. No war-torn screaming eagle guitar tones, no long-form flaming-Zeppelin freakouts, not even any dreamy patchouli valley-rock — only vocoder and synth monotony, with guitars like an engine that won’t turn over. Yes, we all tire of the same-old, but huffing helium and singing one note while playing a phone like a keyboard is not the answer. Now for the heartbreaker — Neil says the song’s unintelligible vocals are meant to represent his son with cerebral-palsy’s inability to communicate. Oh, God, how do you criticize this then, awful though it is?
The reptilians at Geffen in ’83 didn’t care, and filed a $3 million lawsuit against Young for submitting the album that “Sample and Hold” was on, calling it “deliberately uncommercial work”. I mean, point…
13 DURAN DURAN / 911 IS A JOKE
On paper alone, Duran Duran pretending to be Beck covering Public Enemy is a lose-lose scenario. Yes, Lebon & Co. had earned a wank or two by ’95, but glacier-white art school ponces appropriating a protest song about slow ambulance response times in poor black communities is complete, solid gold wankery. Simon doing Chuck D sounds like a child learning to read, and the janky acoustic blues jam behind him feels like open mic night at the dumbest bar in America.
Even if Roger Taylor truly does hate paramedics, may this awkward piece of cross-cultural fixation serve as a lesson to all musicians: life does not need more acoustic-blues hip-hop covers.
12 JOHN LENNON AND YOKO ONO / CLEAN UP TIME
John and Yoko’s last planned album together, Double Fantasy, seems so tragic in retrospect. After a five-year hiatus, the former Beatle returned to recording; this album was released three weeks before his murder in December 1980. The last song he and Yoko completed qualifies, however, as their worst ever, and there was competition. Purportedly about domestic bliss and kicking bad habits, John described it as “a piano lick, with the words added.” Had he not been in that other band first, this pablum probably would not have ever been heard by the public. At least it isn’t as dreadful as the TV clip on YouTube of him strumming the guitar with his musically talentless wife wailing “Why, why why why why whyyyyyyyy.” To which we respond, indeed!
11 U2 / GET ON YOUR BOOTS
For any rock band that tries to change with the times, this is the textbook example of how not to do it. While U2 have changed up their sound many times, this song feels like it should be soundtracking some random commercial rather than being the lead single of a record. They may have been aiming for that big pop crossover (again — hey, we could maybe give this one away on the Android phone…), but they ended up looking like rock dinosaurs trying to blend in with the “kids these days.” Then again, if the shoe fits!
10 PAUL SIMON / ME AND JULIO DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD
This is unlistenable drek and its sole virtue is that it confirms, beyond all doubt, that Art Garfunkel was the greater musician, better singer and more important half of the wonderful ‘60s / ‘70s folk duo Simon and Garfunkel.
It’s a dribbly song. To call it tinny is to insult the fine if mundane qualities of tin. The lyrics are not quite inane — close, the singing makes them sound inane — but they are pedestrian. I’m guessing they have something to do with underage sex? Does anyone know? I have no idea what Julio has to do with any of this. I don’t care. At some point Simon whistles the tune — this is ill-advised in a song at the best of times. This is not the best of times and the tune itself sounds a bit like someone shaking a half empty jar of popcorn kernels. Of course it was a hit.
9 BEYONCÉ / KITTY KAT
The Twitterverse went bonkers last year when an indie writer for Glamour magazine picked Beyonce’s “Kitty Kat” as close to the worst recording ever. The truth may set you free, but it can hurt… Written by Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé, “Kitty Kat” was a throwaway even in 2006, a four-minute monologue of catty p-word remarks.
8 PAUL MCCARTNEY / MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB
Paul McCartney’s love for Linda was the drug that addicted millions listening to Wings over the years. But love can’t excuse Wings’ wincing-est tune: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” This 1972 single release even made it into the Top Ten in the UK (like that excuses cloying mediocrity). This was a Paulie music-hall pastiche, paraphrasing the public-domain (i.e. free) fleecy kids’ rhyme, written by Sarah Josepha Hale and Lowell Mason, in 1830. Not-yet Sir Paul kept releasing videos of this nauseating novelty — the absolute worst being this desert-style.
7 MEGADETH / CRUSH ‘EM
I can forgive adult alternative Dave Mustaine, I can forgive tinfoil hat dad Mustaine, but I can’t forgive quasi-industrial Mustaine. Megadeth were unfashionably late to the “middle-aged metal dudes going industrial to stay relevant” party, and “Crush ‘Em,” from 1999’s Risk, with its misplaced blues scratching and plodding atmosphere, is dreadful because it can’t commit to the bit. Mustaine undeservedly gets a lot of shit for his nasally voice, but here’s it’s begging for distortion. Guess they didn’t have Justin Broadrick’s number? If you must listen to this song, listen to the “Jock Mix” — at least there’s enough processed vocals and vaguely dancey electronics to get this on rotation in Club Hell.
6 JAY Z / EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Bad songs can be double offenders, first with their lyrics and then their after-effects. Example: “Empire State of Mind,” rapped by Jay-Z, abetted by Alicia Keys. Originally written for and by Angela Hunte and Janet Sewell-Ulepic, the song about their native New York was then polluted by Z’s BS (“…I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can” — ER, nope!) Even worse were Keys’ exhortations (“There’s nothin’ you can’t do…Big lights will inspire you”). Released in 2009, this ditty is partially to blame for a huge influx of never-gonna-make-its vying for scarce rentals, pricing talented local-borns out of their New York neighborhoods. Damn!
5 ELTON JOHN / CANDLE IN THE WIND 1997
Imagine reading a poem that you wrote to your girlfriend. She’s crying because you went out of your comfort zone to do something special for her. Then it’s discovered that it’s nearly word-for-word the same poem you wrote for another girlfriend years ago. How do you imagine that would go over? That’s this song! Elton’s dearly departed friend Princess Diana dies in a car wreck and he just changes a few words to a two decades-old song about Marylin Monroe. Both songs suck, by the way. Pure mom-music. Give me this Elton John any damn day of the week.
4 CHARLOTTE AND SERGE GAINSBOURG / LEMON INCEST
Oh…I hesitated to put this one here, as I’m such an incredible fan of both of these remarkable talents individually, but a 50-something father and his young daughter together singing a song called “Lemon Incest” has never, ever sat quite right for me. (Especially when she sings, translated from French: The love we’ll never make together/Is the most beautiful, the rarest, the most disconcerting/The purest, the headiest…) Moreover, while Charlotte’s voice is so beautiful on this track, I don’t think the song itself -– the music based on Frédéric Chopin’s “Étude Op. 10, No. 3 in E major,” with lyrics by Serge -– has much merit. Despite its controversy, it did peak at No. 2 on the French charts.
3 ELVIS PRESLEY / CONFIDENCE
To grasp its true idiocy, Elvis’ “Confidence” must be experienced in context of the film it came from, 1967’s Clambake. In what resembles a hopeless audition for Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka role, he pied-pipers a dozen kids around a rural playground, singing about the benefits of living like Christopher Columbus and turtles (eh?), while pulling ill-advised stunts on a giant iron jungle gym. Ol’ Fire Eyes, you live to love ladies, not spout empty dreck at under-10s who chase you like gnats! How did this happen? Good money says some pusher named Colonel Tom ordered his writers to replicate Frank Sinatra’s version of “High Hopes” — kid singers, self-love theme and note-for-note melody included.
2 KANYE WEST / XTCY
Ye is not known for his stellar judgment, but this 2018 mixtape cut is more than just ill-advised, it’s gross and sloppy. “XTCY”‘s first lines find him openly lusting for his Kardashian relatives, all of whom are on the single’s artwork: “You got sick thoughts / I got more of ’em / You got a sister-in-law you would smash? / I got four of ’em”. And the beat, if it can be called that, sounds like a skipping CD of acapella Middle Eastern chants with some porn moans added. Further lyrical highlights include “Scoot, whoop-dee-woop / scoot boop”, and “Toot-scooty / woop doot”.
Ye disappeared up his own ass a long time ago, a safe space where he’s forced to listen to no one but his own intestines gurgling — maybe this is what they sing to him?
1 BILLIE EILISH / NO TIME TO DIE
One is not allowed to count on much in life — the love of your parents? Maybe, not by any means guaranteed. Unbroken happiness? Haha, make me laugh! But, I would argue that, after fifty years of a proven track record, you can expect a James Bond theme song to be great. And exciting! There have been so many that have absolutely thrilled — actually, now that we have “No Time To Die” to compare them to — all of them. Yes, Sheena Easton, step proudly into the light! No need to fear the scrutiny any more! “For Your Eyes Only” is now, officially, a masterpiece.
Eilish is a great musician. Not the greatest of all time, let’s calm down, not even the greatest of her time. But she’s good isn’t she? But “No Time To Die” is crap. It’s ponderous and pompous and — well, why go on? That’s enough to get a conviction right there. But, and this may be overkill, it’s also sonically tedious, lyrically amateurish and boring, and on the listenable level of a dripping faucet.
The movie was a bore too, Bond rendered neutered and as a just-about-fitter-than-average, dull, middle-aged guy who apparently, reviewing his once thrilling career, found this a good time to die. And in that sense, as funeral dirge, the song fits!