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From The Beatles to AC/DC: 10 songs that have been played to death

Musicians have a funny relationship with their songs. What can start as a germ of an idea, an off the cusp accident, can quickly find itself morphed into a hit single, a classic, a moneymaker, one that people of every walk of life know and love. This is the power of music; it has the ability to grow from something so small and become something that is so culturally significant that, without it, music as a whole wouldn’t feel right.

There have been so many occasions where bands or artists have written songs that quickly it into the dense tapestry of music, adding an iconic chorus, riff or another element into the collective conscience. There has been an innumerable number of occasions where a song has become so big that it has taken on another life completely, totally outside the orbit of the artist who wrote it.

This is another brilliant element of music; it has a transformative capacity and one that many people of different eras can find various degrees of solace or resonance in.

These songs can become so massive that they end up dwarfing their parent so much that the artist starts to hate them. Radiohead, Nirvana, The Beatles, you name any iconic band. They will all have at least one track in their back catalogue that they have a complicated or outright hateful relationship with. A sincere sense of irony pervades as, often, these songs seem to be the ones that made the artists’ careers.

On the other hand, you’ve got songs that are so massive and played to death that not only do their authors hate them but everyone else does too. You know the ones, we get the same few that crop up at rubbish clubs, weddings and on the radio, does the name ‘Mr. Brightside’ ring any bells? Of course, it does.

This got us wondering then, what are the ten songs that have been played to death? Some of these songs might once have been or could be the artist’s best song. But these days they draw the ire of pretty much everyone, save from that annoying guy at the party with an acoustic guitar, who, like these records, should be put in the bin.

Join us then as we list the ten songs that have been played to death.

10 most overplayed rock songs:

‘Creep’ – Radiohead

This Gen-X anthem has been a thorn in the side of Oxford legends Radiohead since it got re-released in 1993. The song was so massive, and the band played it live so many times during this era that frontman Thom York said at the time: “It’s like it’s not our song anymore… It feels like we’re doing a cover.”

A massive song, these days Radiohead seem to have a more objective view of the song, guitarist Ed O’Brien said in 2017: “It’s nice to play for the right reasons. People like it and want to hear it.”

The song is so huge that it will never be erased from popular culture, it has permeated everywhere from TV to film, and has spawned thousands of covers. As Yorke said, it’s not really their song anymore. However, it did serve its purpose once upon a time.

‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ – Nirvana

In September 1991, Nirvana changed the world forever with the release of the ultimate Gen X anthem, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Taking the loud-quiet-loud dynamics of Boston rockers Pixies, and fusing them with the band’s visceral musicianship and Cobain’s typically oblique lyrics, there has never been a single quite like this one. It changed the course of culture and music ad infinitum.

In 1994, Cobain said: “The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It’s been pounded into their brains. But I think there are so many other songs that I’ve written that are as good, if not better, than that song, like ‘Drain You.’ That’s definitely as good as ‘Teen Spirit’. I love the lyrics, and I never get tired of playing it. Maybe if it was as big as ‘Teen Spirit’, I wouldn’t like it as much.”

A classic but well overplayed, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is still brilliant, but not when you’ve heard it a million times. It’s one of them you have to avoid for a few years before coming back to it and appreciating. It’s just dodging it that’s hard.

‘Mr. Brightside’ – The Killers

The greatest example on the list, ‘Mr. Brightside’ is so big that it has outgrown The Killers, and one would bet that people have this song saved in their libraries without really knowing anything about Brandon Flowers and Co. Like the band, the song once had a tiny indie iota of credibility, but due to its literal flogging of a dead horse, it nor the band have any credibility, regardless of what Hot Fuss stans say. 

The song is an autobiographical account of Flowers’ girlfriend cheating on him. “I was asleep and I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I have these instincts. I went to the Crown and Anchor, a bar in Vegas, and my girlfriend was there with another guy.”

Well, we’re sure the money he made off this track would have quickly allowed him to get over the infidelity. Regardless, it is one of the most annoying songs in this entry.

‘Live Forever’ – Oasis

This 1994 anthem by Oasis was once one of their most beloved songs. A huge tune and a “this is what we believe” moment for the band, the song has soundtracked the lives of many British citizens since its release. It was written with a deliberately positive outlook to contrast with the emotionally tormented grunge acts at the time. We’ve left ‘Wonderwall’ out for obvious reasons.

Noel Gallagher explained: “At the time… it was written in the middle of grunge and all that, and I remember Nirvana had a tune called ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die’, and I was like… ‘Well, I’m not fucking having that.’ As much as I fucking like him (Kurt Cobain) and all that shit, I’m not having that. I can’t have people like that coming over here, on smack, fucking saying that they hate themselves and they wanna die. That’s fucking rubbish. Kids don’t need to be hearing that nonsense.”

A once fantastic tune, it has now been played to death, and the song’s extraordinarily defiant and positive outlook has now been chipped away by society moving on. Liam and Noel Gallagher wannabes are some of the most loathsome in existence. Overplayed and lyrically futile is not a good pairing.

‘Yesterday’ – The Beatles

A Beatles and Paul McCartney classic, ‘Yesterday’ is one of the quintessential Beatles and ’60s tunes. A depressing song about the end of a relationship and one of the most covered songs of all time, ‘Yesterday’ is perhaps the original song that was played to death. Spawning over 2,000 covers of note and covered by every function band ever, Chuck Berry even said he’d written the track.

We’re sick of it. McCartney doesn’t seem to be though, remember that horrific performance at the 2006 Grammy’s when he performed the mash-up with Linkin Park and Jay-Z on ‘Numb/Encore’? God awful.

‘This Charming Man’ – The Smiths

The original indie anthem, The Smiths’ most famous track, has been overplayed by hipsters everywhere since its massive 1983 release. Johnny Marr’s iconic riff and Morrissey’s sexually ambiguous lyrics have made it a call to arms for the angsty and misunderstood on dancefloors worldwide.

Morrissey said of the lyrics: “I really like the idea of the male voice being quite vulnerable, of it being taken and slightly manipulated, rather than there being always this heavy machismo thing that just bores everybody.”

It’s just overcooked. It’s one of those songs where you have to avoid it for an extended period of time before coming back to it to fully appreciate the jangling beauty of the track. The Smiths have way better songs in their back catalogue anyway.

‘Stairway to Heaven’ – Led Zeppelin

“No Stairway! Denied!”. Never has there been such a critical take on how much a song is overplayed than in 1992’s Wayne’s World. Not only is it the forbidden riff to guitar players and banned by grassroots musicians everywhere, even Led Zep frontman Robert Plant isn’t fond of it. In 1988 he told the Los Angeles Times: “I’d break out in hives if I had to sing that song in every show”.

The song is so overplayed, I wouldn’t be fussed if I never heard it again. Used as some form of hall pass by the wrong sort of guitarists, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ needs to die a proper death and never return.

‘Back In Black’ -AC/DC

The iconic riff, the defiant lyrics, ‘Back In Black’ is AC/DC’s biggest hit. It also means a lot to them. New singer Brian Johnson wrote the lyrics after original frontman Bon Scott’s death in 1980. Johnson said: “I just wrote what came into my head, which at the time seemed like mumbo-jumbo. ‘Nine lives. Cats eyes. Abusing every one of them and running wild.’ The boys got it, though. They saw Bon’s life in that lyric.”

It’s still overplayed, though. Outside of the lyrical meaning, one would argue that ‘Back In Black’ is one of the most overrated songs of all time. This is sure to draw the ire of some, but one has always been confused at what people see in this boring song. Johnson sounds like the cat he mentions; only it sounds as if this cat is being strangled.

‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ – Guns N’ Roses

Another massive track, this song has permeated every corner of life. Its reach is so extensive that it even featured in that hilariously wrong scene in Step Brothers where Derek and his family are attempting their acapella in the car. The iconic riff, guitar solo, big chorus, it’s got everything that the public love. The riff actually stemmed from a warm-up riff Slash was doing. In his memoir, he said: “Within an hour my guitar exercise had become something else”.

Something else is what it became. It quickly became the go-to song for those who are not musically inclined but think that because they like the song’s stereotypically hard-rock composition, that this means that they’re something of a “rebel” and a fan of rock. They complete this notion all whilst also wearing baggy blue jeans and brown leather slip ons, and being a fan of Jeremy Clarkson.

Just think of how many times Simon Cowell shows have used this song. Shoot it and the band into space. 

‘Everybody Hurts’ – R.E.M.

Taken from R.E.M.‘s 1992 album Automatic for the People, this is the most depressing entry on the list. It’s up there with Daniel Powter’s god awful ‘Bad Day’ in terms of overdone and pretty flaccid lyrics. A massive hit upon release, it also took on a life of its own when lapped up by the mainstream. 

Guitarist Peter Buck wrote, “the reason the lyrics are so atypically straightforward is because it was aimed at teenagers”, and “I’ve never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the idea that high school is a portal to hell seems pretty realistic to me.”

It’s been used by everyone, from Donald Trump to The Samaritans. It is one of those songs that are now a given if you want to invoke sad emotions or mock people for losing out as Trump did. This is another song that I’m sure a lot of people would be happy with never hearing again.