This is why Kurt Cobain hated Nirvana song 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'
(Credit: Subpop)

From Radiohead to Nirvana: 7 singers who hate their biggest hits

A surprisingly common trope in music is that artists of international fame grow to hate the very song that helped give them create a major platform to build upon.

Artists including the likes of Nirvana and Radiohead have been vocal about their disdain for a certain song that most people associate them with, a piece of material which, most commonly, doesn’t rank anywhere near the top of their best work yet but still acts as their headline hit.

Having an anthem which becomes bigger than the artist is the definition of a double-edged sword. On one hand, the song has reached a plethora of people who previously wouldn’t come into contact with your work fans, a factor which means bigger shows and an opportunity to take your band to the next level.

On the other hand, however, those bigger shows start to become filled with full of people who purchase tickets in the hope of hearing that one song and, ultimately, spend the whole evening shouting at you to play it rather than getting involved with proceedings and thus damaging the atmosphere.

Here, we have compiled a list of seven artists who grew to hate their biggest hit.

7 singers who hate their biggest hits:

Oasis – ‘Wonderwall’

Oasis classic ‘Wonderwall’, which featured on the band’s faultless 1995 album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, is widely regarded as being a turning point in the history of indie music. The record achieved unparalleled commercial success and outlined a new direction for bands of that ilk to explore. Although, it made the Mancunians undoubtedly the biggest band in Britain, in the years since its release the single has become one of the most overly performed tracks of all time and even Liam Gallagher has grown sick of it.

“At least there’s no ‘Wonderwall’ on there. I can’t fucking stand that fucking song! Every time I have to sing it I want to gag,” Gallagher said to WENN in 2008. “Problem is, it was a big, big tune for us. You go to America and they’re like: ‘Are you, Mr Wonderwall?’ You want to chin someone,” he added in a way that only he could.

R.E.M. – ‘Shiny Happy People’

On first listen, the song comes across as a light-hearted big pop track. In truth, that statement is a stark contrast to the type of song that the general public would associate with being of the R.E.M. mould, referencing the darker ‘Everybody Hurts’ or ‘Losing My Religion’ as prime examples yet ‘Shiny Happy People’ became a monster hit.

The song was released in 1991, two years after the Tiananmen Square uprising when the Chinese government clamped down on student demonstrators, killing hundreds of people in the process in an event which has left a scar on humanity ever since. With the song using the phrase ‘Shiny Happy People‘, which they took from Chinese propaganda posters, there began an attempt to con the world into believing into a very different image of what was going on under the regime in the early 1990s.

Michael Stipe called this “a really fruity, kind of bubblegum song,” in an interview with The Quietus. He later admitted that he was slightly embarrassed when it became a big hit because of its light-hearted sound on the surface, one which was not in line with the kind of artist he wanted to become. The song was even once considered to be the theme tune for hit television sitcom Friends which would have put the material on an even wilder trajectory.

“Many people’s idea of R.E.M, and me in particular, is very serious, with me being a very serious kind of poet,” Stipe maintained. ”But I’m also actually quite funny—hey, my bandmates think so, my family thinks so, my boyfriend thinks so, so I must be. But that doesn’t always come through in the music. People have this idea of who I am probably because when I talk on camera, I’m working so hard to articulate my thoughts that I come across as very intense.”

Lorde – ‘Royals’

The New Zealander, who burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere aged just 16 with the release of ‘Royals’ in 2013, immediately rose to fame and the track made her one of the biggest pop stars in the world—but she’s not a fan of the song that made her a star.

Lorde went as far as describing her debut hit as “disastrous”, before adding: “I listen to people covering the song and putting their own spin on it,” she explained to Scotland’s Daily Record. “I listen to it in every single form except the original one I put out—and I realise that actually, it sounds horrible.”

She then poured more scorn on ‘Royals’ by adding, “It sounds like a ringtone from a 2006 Nokia. None of the melodies are cool or good. It’s disastrous. Awful… but for the same reason, in the context of the way I released it, it just worked out.”

The Who – ‘Pinball Wizard’

‘Pinball Wizard’ is one of The Who’s finest efforts, one which was a high point on their masterful concept album Tommy and was also a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic. Most fans The Who will have ‘Pinball Wizard’ in their top five tracks by the seminal group, but the song’s writer Pete Townshend thinks otherwise about the bonafide classic.

When describing the writing of the song, Townshend said: “I knocked it off. I thought, ‘Oh, my God this is awful, the most clumsy piece of writing I’ve ever done. Oh my God, I’m embarrassed. This sounds like a Music Hall song. I scribbled it out and all the verses were the same length and there was no kind of middle eight. It was going to be a complete dud, but I carried on.”

He continued: “I attempted the same mock baroque guitar beginning that’s on ‘I’m a Boy’ and then a bit of vigorous kind of flamenco guitar. I was just grabbing at ideas, I knocked a demo together and took it to the studio and everyone loved it.

“Damon Lyon-Shaw (the engineer on Tommy) said ‘Pete, that’s a hit.’ Everybody was really excited and I suddenly thought ‘Have I written a hit?’ It was just because the only person that we knew would give us a good review, was a pinball fanatic.”

Radiohead – ‘Creep’

Radiohead anthem ‘Creep’, a song which is unquestionably the band’s biggest hit, remains a repeated source of anguish for the group. Given their plethora of masterpieces created over a 35-year career, the fact that this one song is often the focus of people’s attention is a repeated frustration for its creator Thom Yorke.

‘Creep’ became an underground hit for the band in the United States, one which can be traced back to one Californian college who added the song to a radio playlist in San Francisco. A censored version of the number was then released to radio stations and, gradually, it became an American alt-rock anthem.

Over the next couple of years of touring, the band began to lose patience with the track and the sort of clientele it attracted to their concerts. “We seemed to be living out the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again. It was incredibly stultifying,” Johnny Greenwood said on those early tours, even recalling how audience members would scream for ‘Creep’ and then leave immediately after it was performed.

During those string of live dates for Radiohead’s third album OK ComputerYorke became hostile when ‘Creep’ was mentioned in interviews and then, in the weeks after, began to refuse requests to play it live. One night in Montreal, things escalated when Yorke shouted at the audience, “Fuck off, we’re tired of it.”

The lead singer even dismissed fans demanding to hear it as “anally retarded” and they have played it on less than half a dozen occasions since.

Nirvana – ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’

Nirvana was jet-propelled into stardom thanks to the video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ being on constant rotation during pretty much all the years MTV actually showed music videos. The clip was the distillation of America’s growing grunge movement and it left Nirvana paddling in the mainstream, which was waters they didn’t feel comfortable swimming in.

“Everyone has focused on that song so much,” Cobain once remarked to Rolling Stone. “The reason it gets a big reaction is people have seen it on MTV a million times. It’s been pounded into their brains.”

The iconic frontman then continued his denouncement of the track, “I can barely, especially on a bad night like tonight, get through ‘Teen Spirit.’ I literally want to throw my guitar down and walk away. I can’t pretend to have a good time playing it.”

Led Zeppelin – ‘Stairway To Heaven’

The track, released in late 1971, was created by Plant and his bandmate Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album and is considered by many as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. One of the people who doesn’t consider it as one of the high points of rock ‘n’ roll though is frontman Robert Plant who feels nothingness towards the lyrics.

While sitting down with UCR as part of their Nights radio show in 2019, Plant said: “The construction of the song, the actual musical construction, is very good. It’s one of those moments that really can stand without a vocal and, in fact, it will stand again without a vocal, I’m sure, because it’s a fine piece of music.”

“Lyrically, now, I can’t relate to it, because it was so long ago. I would have no intention ever to write along those abstract lines any more. I’d break out in hives if I had to sing that song in every show,” he added.

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