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Mar. 29 2010 - 7:09 am | 3,887 views | 5 recommendations | 39 comments

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.

Led Zeppelin in 1968.

Image via Wikipedia

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    I’m also a huge Pink Floyd fan, and I agree about The Wall being about the worst ratio of pretension to music they put out. But I must forgive it, because Comfortably Numb is beautiful. Probably Gilmour’s best guitar solo ever.

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    I agree, Richard. I can write an entire essay on the beauty of Comfortably Numb.

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    I agree with you on all points (big surprise), except that I don’t hate Springsteen. But you did just write the greatest Springsteen song evar!

  4. collapse expand

    I’ve always suspected that ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’ was an ingenious ploy on Frampton’s part. Give disc jockeys a song so long that they have time both to smoke and go to the bathroom and they’ll make it a hit.

  5. collapse expand

    I’m just glad none of my favorites made the list. Now, of course,you have to give us your true ten best.

  6. collapse expand

    I was once asked to name albums I can listen straight through without skipping ONE song. Led Zeppelin IV would so make that list if it weren’t for that blasted stairway.

    I quite agree with this list. Maybe it’s the earnest reverence so blindly lavished on each song you mentioned. It’s more likely that all are so damned vague, like a horoscope.

    Music is far too subjective to boil down to a definitive list.

  7. collapse expand

    I agree on most counts. Except HEY, BOO! SPRINGSTEEN RULES! We’ve gone over this before, it’s a never ending circle.

    I tried to come up with a song to add but I can’t, it’s been a while since I’ve been without my iPod that I’ve had to listen to radio and remember the bad stuff out there.

    BRUUUUUCE!

  8. collapse expand

    Wow. A whole bunch of these are spot-on. Especially songs like Hey Jude and American Pie that are obnoxious, simplistic sing-alongs.

    Springsteen’s jig is up, he’s into rainbow fashion now. Charlie Sheen seems like the next one to crack. He put up a hell of a fight though.

    I’m starting to appreciate classic rock for the instrumental finesse, but it’s like classic rock musicians were born into their 40’s with the tastes they have. The older kids used to brag about The Eagles and Jimmy Buffet and it was like they were asking me to wear an ascot and riding chops. At age 19?

  9. collapse expand

    There is an advantage to American Pie and Paradise….they allow the DJ to go grab a drink, bathroom break and a smoke if needed. That is the only reason those songs exist.

    You missed; War – Lowrider and Steppenwolf – Born to be Wild

    Both overplayed songs that make me want to stab things in my ears whenever I hear them

  10. collapse expand

    I agree with most of that, especially hating springstein, but I can’t agree with Hotel California. I understand that its been playing on the radio every single day for like 35 years and everyone is sick of it, but its still a timeless composition, like Pacobells Cannon in D or something. Tired, trite, overplayed- yes; bad/worst- no.

  11. collapse expand

    “that wah-wah synthesizer thing” is the Heil Talk Box (http://tinyurl.com/y9a6b3v), which basically turns your skull into a speaker cabinet. I hear it can give you a hella headache. The other famous song with a talk box is Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” which didn’t make your list because it rulz.

  12. collapse expand

    good job overall
    1. why do I hate such a pretty song?
    2. american pie just got outgrown
    3. the eagles are just cheezy, sorry
    4. never heard the song!
    5. jude is just a made up chant about julian lennon
    6. poor bruce, its his best song after that you got nothin.
    7. did morrison really want to be manson or vice/versa
    8. pink floyd and the brick is more complicated than you realize.
    9. when you hear loaf, think of A1
    10. a hypnotic musical journey,still kinda dig it.

  13. collapse expand

    You had me at Stairway! Although I am a Zeppeleptic, I must admit that I often skip this song when I’m playing Zeppelin IV because it’s ALWAYS playing somewhere. I’d much rather hear Achilles Last Stand, or The Wanton Song!

    I feel the same way about the Floyd song. I still like The Wall, but I’m more likely to be playing Animals.

    As to the rest of the list – You are my HERO! I’ll be very pleased if I die, a long time from now, having never heard these songs again (And having never heard ANY Bruce song).

    Like Caitlin, I’d love to see a list of your “BEST best classic rock songs of all time.”

  14. collapse expand

    I’d like to add We Will Rock You, and We Are The Champions to this list. I like Queen, but these two songs are perfect examples of the worst song from a band becoming their most popular.

  15. collapse expand

    Oh yeah, I almost forgot – FREEBIRD SUCKS!

  16. collapse expand

    Caitlin and Mark, thanks for the idea. I’ll do a follow up tomorrow of my ten favorite.

    As for We Are the Champions, I only love it because of the very fond memories of my hockey team (the Islanders) skating around the ice with the Stanley Cup while that song played.

  17. collapse expand

    Dude. I was hatin’ on Springsteen when it could have got me killed (and probably almost did a coupla times). Furthermore, your opinions always smell like roses. Keep ‘em comin’.

  18. collapse expand

    What? No Bachman Turner Overdrive and Grand Funk Railroad? Few bands make me turn to NPR faster than those two…

  19. collapse expand

    bravo!

    you cracked open the door…with just a little effort, the way you feel about springsteen can easily be applied to the beatles… come over to the dark side… stand up to your baby boomer cultural oppressors and disown the fab four… you know you want to…

  20. collapse expand

    You put Springsteen on this list? Are you fucking nuts? I used to believe that everyone was entitled to their opinion until I read yours.

  21. collapse expand

    Alright, couple comments.

    1)Stairway/Hotel California

    Obviously, these songs got WAY overexposed.

    The reality is that they both have musical merit on many levels. So you don’t like Robert Plant’s impressionistic lyrics. He hardly ruins Jimmy Page’s composition. Which is very good. I started playing guitar in my teens and studying Zeppelin was an expansive, exotic buffet of guitar education. That is not overstated. His breadth was much larger than Hendrix’s even (IMHO).

    Some people hate the Eagles. I’m not a big fan of the Doors. But this song does have, again, a “psychedelic” lyric that was open to interpretation. I think you are missing the power that “loose” lyrics have on the listener – it invites a mystery. And it is hard to pin down. OOOh! It’s magical! And it is a hooky chord progression that is frosted with a sweet guitar exchange at the end.

    Another good example of this kind of overexposure is Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. Personally, I’m done hearing it – but mostly because he has a TON of material otherwise that is just as, or more, profound. Don’t underestimate the power of the Radio – it was BIG back in the 70’s and even 80’s. Seems to be fading now.

    2)I read this list after your other list, and I want to say that Foreplay/Longtime is probably underrated by some but is prog rock at its best. This song is my personal Stairway to Heaven!

    3) Now do a list of the most forgotten/unknown but best classic rock tunes. Lesser known but better songs than their famous counterparts type thing. You hate “Stairway” but love “Kashmir”? “The Rain Song”? “Bennie and the Jets” makes you want to puke but “Tiny Dancer” rocks it? I think you get the idea.

    j

  22. collapse expand

    You forgot anything by Billy Joel and Elton John. Also “Brown-eyed Girl”, which every college girl just has to play on the jukebox. And “Mustang Sally” which was ruined by the movie “The Commitments”.

    I never understood the popularity of “November Rain”. Overlong with bombastic music and treacly lyrics it was as if Axl were channeling his Elton John obsession into the worst piece of crap ever. And everything by Meatloaf blows major chunks.

    • collapse expand

      In my guitar playing experience you can always get a girl to sing if it’s either “Brown – eyed Girl” or “Bobby McGee”. There are FEW women in this country that don’t know a little bit of either of those two. But frankly, IMO, it is NOT a marvelous night for a moon dance. I’ll take B.E.G. any day.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  23. collapse expand

    I’m with you on most everything, and I could think of a couple more Doors’ songs to put on your list. And for a couple of songs, I understand even if I don’t agree. I still like “American Pie” and “Hey Jude” because they hold good memories for me, and there are so many songs out there that can break my heart that it’s nice to have a couple long ones that don’t do so. But now, about Bruce . . . Okay, he’s not God, but he might be St. Peter’s nephew or something like that. If were having a beer together (or whatever libation you drink), we’d have one hell of a discussion. That’d be okay, though. (My Facebook page links to my blog; stop by if you want.)

  24. collapse expand

    I get most of what you list, and I could think of a couple more Doors’ songs for you. Even so, I still like “Hey Jude” and “American Pie” because they hold good memories for me, and there are enough songs out there that can break my heart that it’s good to have two long ones that don’t. But now, about Bruce . . . He’s not God, no, but he might be St. Peter’s nephew or something. And there are few artists who inspire that kind of sense for me. So we could have a hell of a discussion about it, but that’s okay. We like what we like. (My Facebook page links to my blog; stop by if you like.)

  25. collapse expand

    Sorry about the repeat: I thought the first one had disappeared. Delete the second one,ok?

  26. collapse expand

    what a horrible list!!! calling masterpieces like stairway to heaven,november rain and another brick in the wall as the worst rock songs is really pathetic!!!!

  27. collapse expand

    the end is one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written!!!!

  28. collapse expand

    Geez Michelle,visceral? Relax MUCH? Anyhow the greatest song ever written is The Wall by Kansas off the Leftoverture album. Any pearls of wisdom about the Foo Fighters or Elvis Costello?

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    Music is my true passion. Listening to it, talking about it, writing about it. Definitely not playing it.

    I live on Long Island. I have two kids (17 and 20) a dog (a miniature schnauzer) and a boyfriend (a transplanted Californian). We all aim to move to California one day. I take pictures, I write stories, I eat sushi and I play video games.

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