Nobody said that great music was about consistency, but some of the artistic troughs gathered below are about as pleasant as a reverse enema after taco Tuesday. Whether you’re Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, David Bowie or any number of esteemed songwriters, chances are you have a serious misstep in your career. Below, we’ve picked out ten particularly terrible tunes.
There can be no doubt that these musicians have reached great zeniths of such awe-inspiring height that they cast a transformative shadow over what followed. Nevertheless, these aural defecations are proof that even our heroes are fallible, and it is proof that absolutely nobody wanted or particularly needed.
In some ways, you could argue that the songs are also proof of just how good these artists are because they are artistically determined enough to push towards new ground of creativity. But that argument wouldn’t hold up in the clown court that these diabolical downfalls deserve.
These songs are jokes without punchlines, they’re hangovers without the night before, and they deserve none of your contextual mercy. From the misjudged to the misfired and the downright awful, these are the sonic bad days that even the greats are capable of. Enjoy…?
The ten worst songs by great artists:
‘Cars are Cars’ by Paul Simon
In the fallow years of Paul Simon’s career, he tried his hand at an anthem espousing racial equality. However, not only did it suffer a bad bout of late-eighties-production-itis, 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 in fact. 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.
With ‘Cars Are Cars’ Simon certainly backfired.
‘Wiggle Wiggle’ by Bob Dylan
Was this song a joke? Was this some sort of elaborate PR stunt that illuminated the brilliance of his back catalogue by providing a point of such sheer contrast that there is no way to judge it other than with extreme bewilderment? Does the magnitude of this inexplicable mess mean it avoids consideration itself?
Even when the tracklisting for his 1990 Under the Red Sky record was announced, a song by the name of ‘Wiggle Wiggle’ surely stood out as something that should never be uttered from the caustic mouth of the voice of a thousand generations.
The track resides to this day as an unexplainable oddity that should’ve been shot at birth if only to spare the world from the head-scratching that has followed.
‘The Laughing Gnome’ by David Bowie
With a unique cacophony of paradoxical motives Bowie’s early attempts at making an impact were unmitigated failures. These failures were bolstered by an unflinching vision, but they were failures all the same and to everyone bar Bowie their fate seemed to be akin to the proverbial lead balloon from the get-go.
A novelty song about gnomes complete with ear-piercing laughter would only ever seem like a ticket to the big time to Bowie and sadly absolutely nobody else. Now, this song seems like the 1967 equivalent of an edgy high school haircut to get your crushes attention.
‘Smart Girl’ by Brian Wilson
When you delve into the murky depths of outsider music, the first thing you’ll dredge up is the fierce debate regarding what exactly it is. While gatekeepers of the outsider world might argue that you can’t be one of the greatest songwriters of all time and an outsider artist, ‘Smart Girls’ begs to differ.
The year was 1991 and hip hop was no longer the new thing on the block, it had mutated into a ubiquitous mainstream beast. Rather than simply throw down a cheesy few bars for a hip middle eight, Wilson decided he go full-on four-minute avant-garde rap montage. Hellfire, it’s certainly something to behold, but by the end, you’re actually dreaming of some banal tonic. (Honourable mention to the line – “Wouldn’t it be nice if PhD’s were stroking me with hypothesises?”)
‘Real Men’ by Bruce Springsteen
A song about taking your girl to see Rambo entitled ‘Real Men’ is the sort of thing The Simpsons’ might parody, in a send-up to the dated ways of a 1990s blue-collar troubadour. But, sadly for Springsteen, the macho ode parodies itself and leaves him looking like a neanderthal.
Gladly, Springsteen didn’t perform the song following its summer of 1992 inception, but there was a time when he called ‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings, look on my works, ye Might, and despair’… and despair they did.
It’s certainly not anywhere close to Springsteen’s calibre.
‘Revolution 9’ by The Beatles
Has anyone actually gotten through the first the 30-seconds of this song, with the word “nine” being repeated like a bored toddler, yet? 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.
Interestingly, John Lennon has a self-professed weird link with the number nine; he was born on October 9th, lived at 9 Newcastle Road, was in The Beatles for 9 years… and on and on… like the song. Lennon himself simply found the whole thing weird but simply left it at that, it’s a shame the same didn’t happen to this sonic hellscape.
‘My Ding-a-Ling’ by Chuck Berry
The tragedy of this artistic flop is that the limp yoghurt cannon joke turned out to be the only number one of Berry’s gilded career. And worse still, it was a cover! Meaning that not only was his commercial highpoint akin to one of those cringe-inducing Numen adverts, he even had to pay royalties to Dave Bartholomew for a song espousing that his soldier is prone to losing a lot of blood.
Besides, lovemaking is no laughing matter and neither is anything that militates against it. It is a profound sanctity that such cheap humour should go nowhere near; just as Steve Martin once said: “I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.”
‘Iced Honey’ by Lou Reed and Metallica
A slightly more controversial number on this list, but it sits proudly amongst the duds as perhaps the most disappointing.
While the others are oddities, Lou Reed and Metallica offered some sort of musical promise, that sadly never materialise. And I am yet to meet anyone who says ‘I actually like it’ who also actually listens to it.
What Reed and Metallica served up throughout the entirety of the record was simply the worst of both worlds. Thus, if you’re going to defend one of Reed’s misfires then at least make it the unfathomable ‘Metal Machine Music’, that way you can argue ‘You just don’t get it, man’!
‘Jazz Discharge Party Hats’ by Frank Zappa
Is this guy having a laugh? Yes, but that doesn’t excuse it.
Frank Zappa has a swathe of awful songs, but this one really just seems like the stream of consciousness from a man who maybe shouldn’t have been so anti-drugs. The song itself seems to yell, ‘Have a beer Zappa, and don’t inflict your own boredom upon us’.
When it comes to Zappa, highs and lows are natural, but this seems purposefully inflicted, so when you’ve cashed out some pocket money for the record it’s even less bearable.
‘Street Rock (Duet)’ by Kurtis Blow and Bob Dylan
Not since Neil Armstrong has a man claimed as many firsts as Kurtis Blow. With ‘The Breaks’ he claimed the first rap song to sell over 500,000 copies and smash gold status. Moreover, it was released on a major label after the pioneering star signed to Mercury Records back in 1980. And the album itself, Kurtis Blow, made a huge mark on the rap scene and showed the genre could enjoy sustainable success. In short, he was a Promethean force who lay down the tenets of early hip hop, and naturally, some inspiration was taken from the political trailblazing ways of Bob Dylan.
Dylan, likewise, was a fan of the ways of hip hop. He claimed in his memoir that the next voice of a generation would be a kid “with a chop top hairdo, who came from that world, who knew it,” and according to Dylan, these kids would change things in the same hard-hitting way that he had back in the ’60s.
The song ‘Street Rock (Duet)’, however, proves that they should have simply kept their respect mutual, and knowledgably backed away from Dylan spitting bars, even if some folk claim he did invent the genre from the outset with ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.