The worst best classic rock songs of all time
I was listening to the radio yesterday (I was driving my daughter’s car and without my iPod charger – I try not to make a habit of listening to radio) and a DJ on one of the too many classic rock stations around here was talking about Memorial Day weekend and the annual “Greatest Classic Rock Songs of All Time” list, also known as “Why Do We Even Have You Send In Your Votes When The List Is The Same Every Year?” weekend. You know, the listeners send in their top five or ten classic rock songs, the station tallies up the votes and you get a bunch of people barbecuing to Stairway to Heaven. The only thing worse than having that song finish first every year is when a band like Nickelback makes it into the top 20.
I grew up listening to a lot of these songs. Some of them were staples of my high school musical diet. But the older I got, the less the songs meant to me. Sure, they have some good memories attached to them, but I stopped referring to them as “Holy shit this is the greatest song ever made, man!” the minute I stopped smoking pot. Or maybe I just got sick of them.
However, even if I’m not a big fan of classic rock songs lists, I am a big fan of lists themselves. So I made a list of the worst best overrated classic rock songs ever. General disclaimers apply (opinions are like assholes, your mileage may vary, sorry I stabbed your sacred cow, etc.).
1. Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven.
I used to think this was the greatest song ever written. It was only years later that I realized the words probably mean nothing except that Robert Plant read a lot of books. He strung some thoughts and words from his favorite novels together, mixed them in a blender and called it Stairway to Heaven.
The problem here is also that Zep inadvertently invented a formula for overrated songs: Some cryptic lyrics about five stanzas too long, followed by a guitar solo that makes one envision the guitarist standing on top of a mountain, wind blowing through his hair while his screeching riffs conjure up all kinds of inclement weather because it’s that good. Don’t get me wrong. I love Zep. But Stairway makes me cringe. Maybe I’m just embarrassed that I used to believe this song meant something profound. I also used to believe that you could see the Statue of Liberty in the reflection of a lake on Bear Mountain, but both those beliefs were born of the same drug.
2. Don McLean – American Pie
It’s long. It gets tedious after a while. And most of it makes no sense to anyone but Don McLean. Yes, I get the whole “the day the music died” thing and I think it’s really nice that he was so touched he wrote a song about it, and I get the allusions to other bands of the time within the song.
But maybe he could have cut about ten verses or so. I mean, it’s great when you’re 17 , drinking Boones Farm wine around a campfire at the beach and your friend with the out of tune acoustic guitar starts strumming and you all start singing “bye, bye, miss American pie….” but, come on. It’s just too damn long. By the time the last verse came around, I was always halfway down the other end of the beach, looking for a private place to pee.
3. Eagles – Hotel California
Do you see a trend here? Maybe I just don’t like long songs. This is another one of those “rock musicians gone poetically awry” songs, in which a lyricist believes he is not just a writer of catchy rock songs, but a poet as well. A poet who likes to fill his lyrics with allegories. Dark, mysterious, cryptic lyrics that will, thirty years down the road, still be the subject of “what do you think it means” conversations. Who cares? This song is BORING. It’s like watching a horrible movie with false endings, where you keep shifting in your seat thinking, ok, credits are going to roll right………now! But no, they cut to yet another drawn out, badly acted scene, maybe one in which there are mirrors on the ceiling and pink champagne on ice. Oh, yes, how Hollywood people live in excess, that must be the theme of this song! No, wait, it’s about being stuck in a place you can’t get out of…no, it’s…hey, a guitar solo! Another long, drawn out, masturbatory guitar experience! Pass the bong!
4. Guns N Roses – November Rain
November Rain (and here I’m going to include the video with the song, because I can) is a Harlequin romance novel when all you want is Hunter Thompson. It’s GnR’s Beth. Remember Beth? How much did you want to puke every time that song came on the radio? Sex! Drugs! Rock and Roll! Love Ballads!
Err…NO. Many people call November Rain the greatest love song of the 90’s, but holy schmaltz, Batman. Is an 8 minute, 53 second heartbreaking love song accompanied by an equally heartbreaking video really what you want out of your depraved metal band? What happened to “I used to love her, but now I have to kill her?” Man up, Axl!
5. The Beatles – Hey Jude
I’m not saying it’s a bad song, musically. The thing is, the song is seven minutes and seven seconds long and I think seven full minutes of it is the Beatles singing “Na na na na na ,na na na, hey jude..” which makes me thing that Paul and John got together and said “Hey, let’s make one of those arena songs, you know, the kind where the audience stands up and flics their Bics and sings along with you and we can keep it going for half an hour at least and then turn the house lights on at the end and no one will bitch about the show ending because they had a moment with us, you know wut I’m saying, luv?” Ok, so it was 1968 and the cigarette lighter arena show hadn’t been invented yet, but everyone knows that McCartney and Lennon were ahead of their time.
6. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run in the USA in his Glory Days
Yea, all of them. All of him. And I’ll be honest and tell you right off the bat that I have a personal, visceral hatred for Springsteen that goes beyond the usual “oh he sucks” kind of hate, and embodies a bitter divorce, broken records and burned concert stubs. But there’s also that other kind of loathing where you listen to a band/artist and think to yourself “Why? Why, god, why?” And then you remember you don’t believe in god and people like Springsteen becoming world class heroes is part of the reason why.
Anyhow. I can’t stand his strained voice. I can’t stand the way he grimaces when he sings. I can’t stand the oh so meaningful lyrics about life as a down and out Jersey cowboy (wait, I think that’s Bon Jovi). Every song reads like the same Joyce Carol Oats short story. “Me and Janie went down to the boardwalk to talk about our lives and well, the boardwalk was kinda empty because this town is just dyin’, man and me and Janie said like, yea, we gotta get out of here. This town is just gonna kill us man. We can’t spend all our lives drag racin’ and fuckin’ and takin’ long walks on the beach contemplatin’ shit. And Janie’s pregnant, man and her old man is gonna kick her out of the house for not lovin’ Jesus enough and her momma done spent all the milk money gamblin’ in Atlantic City and we just work hard, you know? We work hard, man. We put on our blue jeans and work boots and go to the factories and mills and we work our fingers to the bone and we got nuthin’ to show for it ‘cept teenage pregnancy and drug overdoses and depressed kids with nothin’ to do and the streets are on fire baby. Let’s make out.”
7. The Doors – The End
The End is probably the most quoted Doors song of all time. It’s quoted by pretentious potheads who think they are being deep and meaningful; by retro beatnik poets who carry tattered paperback copies of On the Road in the back pocket of their faded jeans; by psuedo-intellectuals who claim that Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception is the single greatest thing ever written by man; and by despondent, razor-wielding, confused, emotional teenagers who think they have this connection with Morrison, a connection with the sixties, man and hey, the blue bus is calling us (disclaimer, I was one of all of those once, so maybe this is more about self loathing than anything else).
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold
Do you know that otherwise intelligent people have spent entire weekends drinking vodka and deciphering those very lyrics? Here’s a news flash:
It’s nonsense. No matter what you want to believe, no matter how allegorical and deep you think those words are, no matter how much Freud you studied or Night Train you drank, those words are the magnetic poetry of the Age of Aquarius.
So, yea. The killer awoke before dawn and put his boots on and killed his mother. Or did he sleep with her? Ohhh, the mystery! Fistfights have broken out over whether he fucked or killed her. Will we ever know? Of course not, because Morrison, realizing that he was nothing more than a sham, a bad poet and a bloated parody of his own idols, killed himself before he could tell us that, well, he had no clue what he was saying there. He ad libbed it. Winged it. Made it up as he was going along.
I’m not saying the Doors sucked in general. I was a big fan and I still dust off the albums once in a while. But if you’re over 18 and not hindered by drug addiction or alcoholism that may cloud your thinking and you still believe these words are the most powerful thing you ever heard, you might want to rethink your musical choices.
8. Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall
If you know me, you know I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan. But come on. Even I can admit that the entirety of The Wall, not just this song, is kind of overrated. There’s a whole “what the hell were they thinking” aspect to the album, most notably the disco background of this tune. The whole song is tedious – it’s as if their goal was to come up with an anthem that the kiddies would sing along to, that would resonate with them and make them believe that this album was about them, too. “We don’t need no education” was the Pied Piper line of The Wall. It suckered in millions of teens and young adults who shouted along with the lines and bopped their heads to the rhythm and never gave thought (at least not until their later years) to the fact that Waters and company were pounding out the disco beats (also heard on Run Like Hell and Young Lust, which makes the “dirty woman” line feel somehow justifiable) just a year after disco was declared dead. Was he being ironic? Was the whole album ironic? Who knows. The message sort of got muddled in between the Oedipal odes and the admonishment of eating your whole meal before you have dessert.
9. Meatloaf – Paradise By the Dashboard Light
I don’t even want to talk about. This is far and away my most hated song ever. I break out in hives if I accidentally hear it. The shame I feel for grown men and women who act this song out weddings is almost painful. Now that it’s in my head, I need to go find the Benadryl. I’m starting to itch.
10. Peter Frampton – Do You Feel Like We Do
I got Frampton Comes Alive for my 14th birthday. I asked for Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak. I had to admit, Frampton was a lot prettier than Thin Lizzy. I kind of fell in love with the face and the hair, so much so that I sat through many listens of this song, going as far as to embrace it as the anthem of the summer of 76. And then I got older and the haze of youth and smoke disappeared and I realized how much that wah-wah synthesizer thing made Frampton sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Thin Lizzy has held up a lot better than anything Frampton ever did.
I know what you’re thinking. Well, you’re probably thinking two things. The first has something to do with me being an ass for not liking your favorite songs and that’s ok. I can deal with that. The other thing you’re thinking is, what about Freebird? Freebird always makes the top of those lists. Don’t you hate that overrated, overplayed song, too? No. No, I don’t hate it. In fact, I love it. Hey, we all have musical skeletons in our closet. Freebird is stuffed in mine, somewhere between Air Supply and Slipknot.
Feel free to chastise me for dissing on your favorite bands/songs. I’d do the same.