Like the cardamom pod in a delicious curry or a passing raincloud that disrupts a sunny day at the beach, sometimes when it comes to amazing albums you have to live by the old Dolly Parton mantra: “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” Even some of the most beauteous albums of all time are soured by the occasional dud note.
When pushing for musical perfection and the confidence is riding high, artists can be prone to falling foul of their own excellence and dishing out some dog dirt amid the splendour pastures of their munificent labour. It is these odious additions to the magical meadows that let us know our favourite artists are still fallible like the rest of us sinners.
Below we have curated a list of ten sonic turds in the punchbowl, by delving into classic albums and picking out the sorry mistakes. Some have aged badly, others were oddities all along, and a few remain truly inexplicable and have you wondering how such a horror show could’ve remained unnoticed to all involved.
10 terrible songs on classic albums:
‘Revolution 9’ – The Beatles (The White Album)
Has anyone actually endured the first 30-seconds of this song happily? In a diatribe akin to the sonic equivalent of a toddler asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ over and over again on a winding journey to somewhere like but not necessarily Scunthorpe, the word ‘nine’ being repeated over and over again breaks up The White Album with a sudden bout of motion sickness and a tension headache.
The best you can say for this eight-minute act of artistic hubris is that it imparts an important message to all future scientists: sometimes experimentation can go too far. The song is an act of sonic pretence which served to show the pursuit of pioneering can sometimes lead to you to getting ahead of yourself.
‘Cars are Cars’ – Paul Simon (Hearts and Bones)
In 1990, Paul Simon once snubbed the masterpieces he had mustered with Art Garfunkel in the ‘60s and told SongTalk that it wasn’t until Hearts and Bones that his songwriting spread its wings. He claimed: “The lagune starts to get more interesting in Hearts and Bones. The imagery started to get a little interesting.” That might be wildly harsh on his previous output but at least with masterful songs like the title track, he can at least argue his case. However, ‘Cars are Cars’ quickly derails him with a banging backfire.
Not only does this track sound awful, but also the analogy that he chose to utilise was, if anything, the direct opposite of his aim. Thus, when you actually break it down, it inadvertently seems more like supremacist propaganda than a call for equality. The car industry is simply not a meritocracy, quite the opposite. Cars are not all “similarly made”, just ask anyone who has concealed the fact that the steering wheel sometimes comes off when desperately trying to shuffle their second-hand shitbox through an unscrupulous MOT.
‘La La Love You’ – Pixies (Doolittle)
A wolf whistle should never make its way into a song let alone form the main refrain. Doolittle may well be one of the most original masterpieces of the 1980s, but it seems like by the time the Pixies got around to ‘La La Love You’ the creative well had run dry and what we are left with is the soggy constituent parts of an insincere love song that never got finished.
Not only is the song dated, but the affected Morrissey-like vocals always felt odd in the first place. Then to ram the disappointing chapter home, it is repeated all over again as the same structure and verses get a second lap. I can’t bear to count, but this near 3-minute track must only have about 25 different words in it as the band seem momentarily lobotomised.
‘Mermaids’ – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds (Push the Sky Away)
Nick Cave once said, “Songwriting is about counterpoint. Counterpoint is the key: putting two disparate images beside each other and seeing which way the sparks fly.” In ‘Mermaids’, the sparks explode like the sort of firework disaster you were routinely warned about in school. There might be a beauteous melody and moments of magic but there is one jarring moment that unsettles the song from the get-go.
This is the opening stanza that one of the greatest songwriters of all time opted for: “She was a catch / We were a match / I was the match that would fire up her snatch / There was a catch / I was no match / I was fired from her crotch.” He might be a master, and the line might have some sort of obfuscated grating intent to it, but it fails the test of justification and throws the song off course like health and safety instructions at the stag-do.
‘Meat Is Murder’ – The Smiths (Meat Is Murder)
With ‘Meat is Murder’ Morrissey was obviously making a point, but the title alone could’ve sufficed. Life is short and time is precious, particular in our busy modern lives of responding to emails and watching vital TikToks, so it seems like some sort of spiritual theft that The Smiths offered up a minute of distressing ‘moo’ noises and the sound of machinery.
Then when the song finally does get going you find yourself thinking, ‘I was waiting for a melody, and then I found a melody, and heaven knows I’m miserable now’. Not to detract from the important message of the song and the positive impact it had raising awareness of animal welfare, but some points might be postulated better with a statement rather than an abstract soundscape of death.
‘A Man Needs a Maid’ – Neil Young (Harvest)
The sentiment of this song was outdated even upon release. It led to protestation from the second-wave feminist movement and left diehard fans scratching their heads in search of a defence. Although there is an argument that Young’s intention was in fact the opposite, to empower women by flouting his own inadequacies, there’s too much ambiguity to be playing around on such slippery terrain unless the ironies are more open and the post-modernist contrast is crystal clear. The fact that the defence remains cloudy is not the failing of a close-minded listener, but a songwriter for once struggling to put his point across.
Subject matter aside, the songs sweeping tones fail to save it from the relegation zone of the album, although light and melodic, the tune struggles to be as impressionable as the other ballads. A middle eight immediately following a chorus is an interesting and innovative choice, but one that, sadly, makes the song all the more disjointed.
‘I Want It All’ – Arctic Monkeys (AM)
Sometimes a song is a skipper simply because it doesn’t seem to fit, that is largely the case with ‘I Want It All’ which sits amid the sleek patent leather and moonlight of AM as a distorted, groggy Monday morning. Beyond the jarring sonic contrasting it has with the rest of the record, it also has the most uninspired chorus of Turner’s gilded discography—and it’s repeated enough to be frankly irritating.
As masters of the near-forgotten art of the B-side, there are plenty of flipside tracks from this era which would’ve been better suited and saved us all from heading for the stylus to skip over this slightly turgid effort.
‘I Spy’ – Pulp (Different Class)
‘I think I’m gonna whisper this one,’ Jarvis Cocker must have inexpiably announced during the recording process of Different Class, and for some reason nobody seems to have questioned him on the matter. Cocker is prone to his hushed delivery style, but with ‘I Spy’ this technique bends the ear, but fails to keep it tuned in.
Beyond the strange delivery and wordplay that pales in comparison to some of the album’s masterful efforts, the song itself also seems oddly misshapen. There are moments when it defies Pulp’s output and actually seems somewhat boring, and then when it does burst into life it doesn’t really sound like Pulp, more like some Valium-laced facsimile of The Pet Shop Boys.
‘Macbeth’ – John Cale (Paris 1919)
Experimentation is the name of the game in the avant-garde world and sometimes that can lead to misfires. Cale and the Velvet Underground were forever pushing things forward with their sound and their kaleidoscopic back catalogue always threw up surprises. The difference is, you always went into a Velvet Underground expecting the odd ‘Murder Mystery’, however, Cale’s masterful Paris 1919 is so lush throughout that ‘Macbeth’ lands like the knockout punch you didn’t see and leaves you curled on the canvas.
Amid the swirling mood of the album, this overly manic detour is like the pesky fly that causes carnage in a meditation session. The musical contours of the song are a lovely fit for a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll anthem, but the bombardment of instrumentation is too busy and the result is a juxtaposition akin to a clove of garlic in an ice cream sundae.
‘Run For Your Life’ – The Beatles (Rubber Soul)
Contrary to how it may seem on the surface, it is actually a mark of the brilliance of The Beatles that they crop up twice on this list. The band were blazing a trail so brightly and so profusely that sometimes they couldn’t let the dust settle on misfires and they made their way onto otherwise iconic records. They were hurtling forwards so quickly that they rarely had time to look back but even Lennon eventually condemned this effort when he could finally pause.
Inspired by the Elvis Presley song ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’ in which the hip-swinging singer calls out, “I’d rather see you dead little girl, than to be with another man,” Lennon decided he would tell his own tale of dark domestic violence. Lennon eventually ended up hating the song when the irony seemed lost as the hidden message was somewhat subverted, and the track was hoisted by its own poppy petard.
In the years that have followed, the failed attempt at condemning the open darkness contained within has led to it being banned by radio stations for espousing a dangerous message of violence against women. In short, it’s perhaps The Beatles’ most regrettable song.