Mixtape: Bad Songs by Good Artists

The+Clash

Sometimes, even our biggest heroes falter. Below is a list of bad songs by our favorite artists. Whether they’re disappointing, dull, or downright disastrous, these twenty tracks remind us of that lesson Billy Wilder taught us so many years ago. As always, we’ve included a Spotify playlist so you can listen as you read. Enjoy! (Or, rather, don’t.)

AC/DC – The Jack

Like any red-blooded male, I love me some prime AC/DC.  But a bloated, slow-motion track about a girl with an STD repudiates all of their strengths.  There’s a lot of “she’s got the jack, she’s got the jack” repeated over and over and effing over again here, paired with one of their lamer riffs and a soporific tempo.  I want my AC/DC tearing holes in my car speakers and filling up every inch of my car or room with explosive riffs, powerful drumming, larynx-shredding vocals, and sexual come-ons.  No one wants a languid song about one of the negative consequences of said come-ons. – Grant

Billy Joel – This is the Time

The Bridge, Billy Joel’s tenth studio album, is, in my mind, far and away his worst. It was the last album that Joel and legendary producer Phil Ramone teamed up on, and you can’t blame either for wanting to part ways: Joel’s hooks are more ponderous and clunky than ever, and listening to Ramone’s production is like watching ballerina who is wearing a trenchcoat — if there’s any grace here, it’s impossible to notice. The resulting album is soggy, sloppy, and all together wrong for most of its runtime. I’m not sure who to blame more. Either way, the most disappointing track is “This is the Time.” Joel’s hook is mediocre at best, and Ramone’s attempt to give the weak composition some stormy moodiness falls flat on its face. – Dan

Arcade Fire – No Cars Go

The Fire pretty much lost me after Neon Bible, so there are many tracks of Suburbs I could have chosen here.  But it’s more fun to pick an early song—especially since AF included this one on both an early LP and on Bible.  Unfortunately, despite having two bites at the apple, AF failed with his one.  NCG sounds a little too much like the pretentious, worst-case scenario for AF-type bands.  With the overly long intro, an excess of vocals tossing off inane fragments, general ponderousness, and some desultory instrumental noodling at the end, it contains every ingredient that you’d throw into your blender to concoct the perfect encapsulation of bad-hipster bands. – Grant

Relient K – Let It All Out 

In the arc of the album, it’s not an atrocious song — I even ranked it as one of Relient K’s 50 greatest songs. Thiessen’s lyrics, while indulgent, are far from awful, and the flash of harmonica is inspired. But this ballad feels interminable and lifeless during most of its four and a half minutes. I only ever make it to the end if I’m listening to Mmhmm from front to back and can appreciate the catharsis. – Dan

Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair

This hurts me more than it hurts you.  Generally, I think the Monkeys have moved from strength to strength with such astonishing consistency that in a couple decades they’ll be a pantheon rock band.  But they introduced their (otherwise excellent) 2011 album Suck It and See with two singles that happened to be the two worst songs on the album—the clunky ‘Brick by Brick’ and then this one.  ‘Don’t Sit Down’ is strangely sterile, lacking either atmosphere or energy, and it nullifies everything they do so well.  Rather than delivering his typically- incisive lyrics, Alex Turner mentions a list of bizarre, supposedly dangerous activities the listener can do—but just don’t plop down, since, you know, I’ve moved your seat.  Feels like the kind of song a 15-year old would write and believe to be genius. – Grant

The Beatles – Mr. Moonlight

If you’re going to lament a Beatles song, “Revolution 9” is simply too obvious. It’s less a song and more of John Lennon sticking out his bare buttcheek for the fans and the critics of the world to collectively ponder and kiss. I’m going to go with something that’s, you know, actual music. This cover padding out the first side of Beatles For Sale shows John Lennon covering an obscure R&B song to terrible effect. If not for the fact that the Beatles have great vocal harmonies and Lennon has a wonderful singing voice, this would be an embarrassment. Can you believe this band was only a couple months away from recording “Yesterday” and less than a year from Rubber Soul? It’s almost unfathomable how rapidly The Beatles’ craft evolved. – Dan

Oasis – F***in’ in the Bushes

I empathize with Noel Gallagher, I really do. Everyone had (somewhat unfairly) shat upon Be Here Now, so Oasis needed to redeem themselves in a big way. They needed to prove they were cool and daring and important again. So here’s how Noel decided to do this: On the leadoff track of the next album, Noel came up with a faux-scandalous title (“Fuckin’ in the Bushes”), spent five minutes writing the first four notes of a guitar riff, and threw in some electronica shit. The result is a God-awful song to lead off a God-awful album. – Dan

Brand New – Mix Tape

Don’t get me wrong…I can get buried in the classic feud between Brand New and Taking Back Sunday.  These two bands, pioneers of the mid-2000s emo scene, were led by childhood friends…until TBS frontman John Nolan slept with the girlfriend of BN frontman Jesse Lacey.  In response, the two did what any self-respecting emo artist would: they wrote a bunch of melodramatic songs about it.  And many of them, like BN’s ‘Seventy Times 7’ and TBS’s ‘There’s No ‘I’ in Team,’ are cathartic and powerful.  ‘Mix Tape’ is not.  Grinding everything to a halt in the middle of BN’s outstanding debut Your Favorite Weapon, ‘Mix Tape’ criticizes both the philandering girlfriend and conniving ex-friend, but it does so with mundane lyrics (“I’m sick of your tattoos, and the way you always criticize Brand New, and me.” Ugh.) and a soft, cloying melody. – Grant

Bruce Springsteen – Meeting Across the River

There are probably worse Bruce Springsteen songs, but none that have me more tempted to hit the “next” button. It’s a slow, methodical opera of a petty criminal, the type of song Bruce normally does so well… Yet here it manages to lack basically anything of interest. The jazzy sax and painfully plodding piano are almost excruciating. This should be retitled “The Song That Makes You Wait Three Extra Minutes to Get to ‘Jungleland’.” – Dan

The Clash – Train in Vain

When I was younger, I assumed adulthood would bring with it the answer to life’s great mysteries: ‘What’s our purpose here?’ or ‘What do women want?’ or ‘Why on Earth is ‘Train in Vain’ so popular?’  Unfortunately, the passage of time hasn’t provided me any more enlightenment regarding the last question as it has for the first two.  London Calling is such a great album that it’s blasphemous to pretend ‘Train’ has anything to do with it.  The annoying guitar riff and cheesy harmonica sound as cheap as anything that would accompany your entrance into a carnival.  Frankly, they’re out of their depth attempting a sincere love song that ends up making no impact whatsoever. – Grant

Streetlight Manifesto – Punk Rock Girl

I adore Streetlight Manifesto and wish more bands tried to sound this big and orchestral. Their cover album from 2010 is disappointing only because of what it isn’t, a new album of originals. These covers range from vivacious (“Me & Julio”) to expressive (“Linoleum”) to downright transcendent (“Such Great Heights”)… with one exception. The on-the-nose “Punk Rock Girl” falls into the trap the rest of the album avoids of failing to add anything original to the track. The romance and naivete and enthusiasm of the Dead Milkmen original is replaced with dullness. People hate cover albums because of recordings like “Punk Rock Girl.” – Dan

Green Day – Last Night on Earth

I SO wanted to include ‘When I Come Around’ here, but that overplayed track is merely mediocre rather than outright bad.  The same cannot be said for LNOE, the wet noodle flopping around in the middle of my favorite Green Day album.  I have truly no idea what’s going on here; Green Day can write ballads (see ‘Scattered,’ ‘Redundant,’ ‘Stay the Night’) but it appears they wanted to try one without any melody, style, or verve.  (Bold strategy, eh?) There’s just a limp piano line, Billie Joe singing in a vocal range that he needs to retire, and the air sucked completely out of the balloon. – Grant

Eve 6 – Sunset Strip Bitch

I often say that Eve 6’s original three albums had no bad songs… and when I listen to “Sunset Strip Bitch” I’m tempted to rescind that claim. The lyrics paint Max Collins in a bad light as he fantasizes about a scumbag conning his way to women and fame. There’s no melody to be found in the chorus, and check out these lyrics: “Sunset strip bitch / Sunset strip bitch / Sunset strip bitch / Yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah.” – Dan

New Found Glory – Boy Crazy

Whoo boy, this is bad.  Here, pop-punk progenitors New Found Glory try to skewer modern females, and in the process they sound worse than their prey—amateurish, resoundingly un-funny, and pathetic.  There are all sorts of lines about how “some girls are crazy” (never heard that one before, have you?) and they’ll “twist your head right off at your neck, then laugh about it with your friends,” and damn, why don’t you just never talk to one again then?  Here’s a tip: if you want to chronicle your frustrations with the opposite sex, try doing it with some subtlety, wit, precision and/or melody—you know, kind of like how the Arctic Monkeys did it on their debut album. – Grant

Weezer – Everybody Get Dangerous

I still remember 2008 when the first seven tracks of The Red Album leaked. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. I disliked Make Believe less than most Weezer fans, and the idea of a new, more upbeat reboot for the band had me intrigued. I got my hands on the leak and hit play. Here’s a journal of my thoughts:

  • Track one, “Troublemaker” — A couple decent hooks and flourishes.
  • Track two, “I Am The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” — Whoa, where did that come from? That was fun. Goofy, but fun.
  • Track three, “Pork and Beans” — Hey, this sounds like a pretty decent single!
  • Track four, “Heart Songs” — Kind of dull. But I’m still with you.
  • Track five, “Everybody Get Dangerous” — …..

“When I was younger
I used to go and tip cows for fun, yeah
Actually I didn’t do that
‘Cause I didn’t want the cow to be sad”

I don’t know if it was the obvious, belligerent inanity of the lyrics or the heartbreaking attempt of Rivers Cuomo to try and sound cool, but “Everybody Get Dangerous” was the moment I knew that Weezer would never again be a band I’d love. Sure, they might have a great track or two left in them, or they might pull out some cool stuff from the vaults, but that spring day in 2008 was when I inscribed the gravestone: RIP Weezer, 1994-“Everybody Get Dangerous.” – Dan

Radiohead – We Suck Young Blood

You know how nobody ever says that a weird movie is bad—because they just call it weird?  That sums up a lot of how I feel about late-career Radiohead, which, though largely celebrated, sounds spectacularly dull to me.*  Whereas RH’s best songs overflow with passion and great guitar playing and Thom Yorke’s iconic voice—other than Bono’s, the closest I’ve heard to What a Rock Voice Should Sound Like—their recent efforts sag under the weight of their indolent electronic touches and a refusal to ever rock out.  Apparently Thom Yorke strongly considered excluding this song from Hail to the Thief—which on some level makes me feel validated, but on the other hand makes me feel like I’m attacking a strawman.  But whatever.  For five endless minutes, WSYB provides little more than a bare piano line and some handclaps, plus some of Yorke’s worst singing.  Being sparse and slow and ‘out there’ doesn’t automatically make something meaningful and significant; sometimes, it’s just boring.

(* A few years back, SPIN Magazine, refreshingly, became the rare critic to call Radiohead out on their shift; they noted, for example, that RH’s 2007 song ’15 Step’ had “an open-ended groove with a quirky electronic beat, two-chord motif, and airy, abstract singing,” in contrast with 2001’s ‘Morning Bell/Amnesiac,’ which had “an open-ended groove with a quirky electronic beat, two-chord motif, and airy, abstract singing.”) – Grant

Kanye West – Spaceship

Remember at the end of 2009 when people tried to declare with a straight face that College Dropout wasn’t just Kanye’s best album of the decade, but the best album of the decade, period? I rank it as a good debut, but definitely his worst album yet. A good Kanye West song needs either high drama or driving energy, both of which are completely absent from the overlong “Spaceship.” The lyrics, lamenting low-paying retail jobs, also fail to get the juices flowing. – Dan

Smashing Pumpkins – Silverf**k

Yeah, this is just Billy Corgan and co. jerking off in the studio for 9 (!) agonizing minutes. – Grant

Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Oh Tay-Tay. Why? Why pair some of your best, most compelling songs ever with bland, inane tracks that require approximately zero of the charm and warmth that is your calling card. If I can just as easily imagine a song being recorded by Katy Perry or Avril Lavigne on a bad day, it’s not a good sign. Your best songs are the ones that are most distinctly YOU. But at least “22” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” the other Max Martin-produced offenders, have great hooks… “Getting Back Together” is aggressively dumb and repetitive, and the spoken word parts of this song are the stupidest things you’ve committed to tape. And yet, it paid off… This was your first #1 single… And it sounds like your next album will be further heading down the predictable-radio-pop road. You want to be a pop star, but I just want you to be you. – Dan

U2 – The Sweetest Thing

Just an abomination.  I almost chose ‘A Man and a Woman’ (off How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) for this list, but only 7 people in the world know that song, thankfully.  However, ‘Sweetest Thing,’ after being born as a B-side to ‘Where the Streets Have No Name,’ actually became a thing—reaching #1 in Ireland and #3 in the UK and inexplicably garnering inclusion on U2’s The Best of 1980-1990CD. (You know, instead of ‘Like a Song’ or effing ‘A Sort of Homecoming.’) Flaccid, cloying, and lacking anything resembling a melody or forward momentum, ‘Sweetest Thing’ veers into ‘bad Death Cab for Cutie’ territory.  It feels like the same two keyboard notes struck over and over, overdone repetition of the title in the background, and falsetto that Bono doesn’t earn.  He supposedly wrote this as an apology for his wife; I hope she never forgave him.

Just kidding, Bono, I still love you.

– Grant

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

8 thoughts on “Mixtape: Bad Songs by Good Artists

    • I actually didn’t mean it as an insult to Avril, though I can see why you read it that way. What I meant was that the song is bitchy, generic, and lacking in personality… like one of Avril’s worse pop songs (hence “…on a bad day.”) I actually championed Avril’s stronger music back in the Max Martin mixtape. I really love TBDT and much of her first two albums.

        • Can’t stand “Here’s to Never Growing Up.” It’s not even that catchy, plus: “singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs”? Seriously?

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