No one plans to have a bad day, or to put out poor work. It just kind of happens.
Sometimes, what we think is a solid, creative effort turns out to be mostly awful, even if we fail to see it that way as it is being built.
Earlier this month, Rolling Stone put out a list of “22 Terrible Songs by Great Artists,” and as I worked my way through the list I was a little surprised that I agreed with the writers on a few of their picks. Music tastes are so personal, and then those margins get even more narrow when discussing individual songs by preferred artists.
In high school, I became a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, while my friend Sean was a huge fan of The Who. I also liked The Who, but Sean detested Springsteen. Any time The Boss was mentioned, Sean would launch into the chorus of Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch:” “Cad-il-aaaac, Cad-il-aaaa-yaaac.” I had no defense, because the song is fairly weak and annoying. In the Rolling Stone list, the writers chose what for me is one of Springsteen’s weaker efforts, “Real Man” from the “Human Touch” album. It sounds so dated and sophomoric – there is a new cringe in each line. It’s just hard to believe the guy who wrote “Thunder Road” churned out such drivel.
I also agreed with the writers on their choice for The Who’s weakest effort, “Did You Steal My Money” from the “Face Dances” album, and their picks for Chuck Berry (the dreadful “My Ding-A-Ling”) and Jay Z (“Young Forever”). Going through the list, I wondered what songs don’t cut it for people who are fans of the rest of an artist’s catalog.
My wife, Melany, loves Dave Matthews Band and she had trouble coming up with a “worst” song. After scanning her iPod, she came up with “An’ Another Thing,” saying it is “too emotive, cosmic and lacks enunciation. … It is one of the only DMB songs that I skip on my All Dave playlist.”
Matt LaCasse and I are of a like mind when it comes to the Beastie Boys.
“They’re really the band that got me into hip-hop when I was younger,” he shared via email. “I think their worst song is ‘Girls.’ It’s never been a favorite of mine simply because of its rather sexist theme. From a musical perspective, it just sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the album (‘Licensed to Ill’), is too cutesy, and just all-around annoys me.”
Dustin Schmidt chimed in on a few artists. He agreed with the magazine and me on Jay Z, and finds “Shattered” to be the Rolling Stones’ weakest effort (I’d contend that “Waiting On a Friend” is worse). He also singled out “Jamie’s Cryin’” as the worst of Van Halen, but Phil Kemp would argue that “Without You” takes that prize. It is from the first album with Gary Cherone as lead singer.
“This is the first album after Eddie and his brother Alex tossed Sammy Hagar out of the band,” Kemp wrote. “I believe that this was a much bigger breakup for Van Halen than when they kicked David Lee Roth out. If you listen to the Cherone-VH, it’s truly uninspired.”
Even the band many consider to be the best ever had its down time. Brian Pettis singled out “Yellow Submarine” as a blotch for the Beatles.
“It sounds like the theme song to the worst kids show ever,” Pettis wrote. “It seems like they’re just trying to be weird for the sake of being weird. Maybe it was different when it was first released, but I’ve disliked that song since the day it was drilled into my head in third grade music class.”
Certainly these artists found value in these songs; if they didn’t believe in them, they wouldn’t have included them on albums for public consumption. And to be sure, some of these songs likely are someone else’s favorite. The thing to remember is that for every “Thunder Road,” there is a “Real Man.” That goes for all of us, not just artists. We all have good days and bad, so it is important to remember a person’s positives when they are battling those down days.
Calvin, the boy in the “Calvin & Hobbes” comic strip, once said: ““You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”
That’s a situation that no one should want to make worse.
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.