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When great artists make not-so-great songs

You can't be a genius all the time

When great artists make not-so-great songs
05 February 2019

Look, we’re sure even Mozart wrote a dud in his time.

Being a legendary, visionary musician doesn’t necessarily mean that you bring your A-game to the studio every single time - and sometimes the results are downright dreadful.

We present 21 songs that these fantastic artists probably wish they’d never committed to tape.

David Bowie - The Laughing Gnome

An attempt by a young David Bowie to get a hit in 1967, this novelty track failed to even achieve that. However, a post-Ziggy Stardust rerelease in 1973 saw the track get to No. 6, much to the embarrassment of all concerned. A song that Bowie himself intensely dislikes, it's just not very good. However, it does include the timeless punning couplet of "Alright, let's hear it... 'ere, what's that clicking noise? That's Fred, he's a metro-gnome, haha!". Someone fetch us a doctor, our sides have split.

Lou Reed - Metal Machine Music

Whether it was a joke, a contractual obligation, or an attempt at serious art, who knows, but one thing is for sure, Metal Machine Music was terrible to listen to. It's hard to argue with Rolling Stone's description of it as "the tubular groaning of a galactic refrigerator". Take your pick from any one of the four tracks on the album - see how long you can stand.

The Stone Roses - Foz

The Second Coming proved that, just because the Compact Disc can hold 74 minutes, that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to fill it. After the album's superb closer Love Spreads, the Roses, in their infinite wisdom, decided to add 77 tracks, each consisting of 4 seconds of silence, before track 90 unleashed this cacophony of nonsense. According to keyboard player Simon Dawson, "it was supposed to shock people who'd left their CD playing while they were studying or whatever". It wasn't so much shocking, as intensely annoying.

Brian Wilson - Smart Girls

Originally planned to be released in 1991, thankfully this monstrosity never saw the light of day as its parent album Sweet Insanity was pulled - apparently due to the master tapes being stolen. Well, whoever was responsibly did us all a favour as this was four minutes of Brian Wilson rapping badly over a terrible beat, with snatches of out-of-time Beach Boys songs clunkily stuck in every so often. Lyrically awful, this has literally no redeeming features.

Guns N' Roses - My World

The first indication that perhaps Axl wasn't the most stable personality in the world, this song, the last track on Use Your Illusion II, is a truly disturbing listen. Legend has it that the rest of the band were unaware of its existence until the finished record was released.

The Beatles - Revolution 9

An eight minute sound collage, John Lennon said it was "an unconscious picture of what I actually think will happen when it happens; just like a drawing of a revolution". Well, that didn't really come across; instead, it was an unfocused, boring sound collage which Paul argued against putting on The Beatles (aka. The White Album). The longest song that the Beatles ever released; unfortunately it was also probably their worst.

Oasis - The Nature of Reality

While Dig Out Your Soul was generally a pretty strong Oasis record, sadly this plodding, dull song was allowed to be on it. The sole contribution from bass player Andy Bell, you have got to think that Noel Gallagher must have had something better than this in his locker. Maybe Andy said he'd cry and cry unless they included it. That's the only possible explanation. At least Little James was funny.

Elvis Presley - Having Fun With Elvis On Stage

Pretty much universally described as the worst album of Elvis' career, Having Fun.. was anything but fun. A ploy by his manager Colonel Tom Parker to release an Elvis album to which RCA Records would own no rights, it consists purely of between-song joking and talking, with the occasional sung "well" or humming. RCA ended up putting it out as a legitimate release, apparently to the fury of Elvis, who considered it an embarrassment. He wasn't wrong.

Van Morrison - Ring Worm

With one album remaining on his deal with Bang Records, Van Morrison decided that the smart way to get it over and done with would be to deliver an album of nonsense. And so he did, with the notorious "Contractual Obligation" sessions, which consisted of 31 songs, recorded by Van the Man with an acoustic guitar, singing whatever ramblings were in his head at the time. Bang didn't end up releasing it, but they emerged in 1997 when whoever owned the Bang masters at that point decided to cash in on his fans by licensing them to some European labels. Ring Worm - about someone with ringworm, seemingly - is our particular 'favourite'; listen to its full, terrible glory below.

Bob Dylan - Hark The Herald Angels Sing

It was part of a Dylan charity Christmas record but, even so, there’s no excuse for this. Poor Bob was never the world’s greatest singer, but his limitations were cruelly exposed by this honking, wheezing take on the classic Christmas carol. He sounds like an asthmatic donkey which, we suppose, is at least seasonal.

Listen here

Rolling Stones - Hold Back

While much of the Stones' 80s output was substantially dodgy, this really takes the biscuit. Charlie Watts playing with no groove, Keith out of time and Mick tunelessly shouting stuff over the top. Probably would have been better if you'd held this one back boys.

The Kinks - Labour Of Love

A 1983 effort where Ray Davies details in far too much uncomfortable detail, how terrible being married is. Bearing in mind he's tied the knot three times, two observations come to mind: a) we suppose he knows what he's talking about, b) why did he bother marrying again after this song? A turgid, dire effort.

The Police - Mother

An unsettling backing and Sting screaming that "every girl I go out with, becomes my mother in the end". This is just horrible. It didn't stop its parent album, Synchronicity, becoming a multi-million-selling hit though, with three standout singles in King of Pain, Every Breath You Take and Wrapped Around Your Finger. Thank God they invented the CD so we could skip this one.

U2 - Get On Your Boots

U2 have more than their fair share of haters, but few can deny that they usually come out with a belting single to kick off each album campaign: Pride (In The Name Of Love), With Or Without You, Beautiful Day, Vertigo, The Fly are all massive tunes. But they got it badly wrong with this one, with a cringeworthy Bono singing "Sexy Boots" at the age of 49, the drums appearing to go missing in the mix and the whole thing sounding like a giant mess. The public agreed, as it become their first opening single to miss out on the top 10 in 28 years.

Michael Jackson & Eddie Murphy - Whatzupwitu

Musically, it's pretty much impossible to argue with Jacko's legacy. Even when he got a bit dodgy towards the end, he was still capable of utter brilliance, while his lesser moments still outshone other acts' highlights. But we're not sure what he was thinking with this track, a hideous early 90s R&B workout with a cheesy title and Eddie Murphy in a vest. It was voted the third worst music video of all time by MTV viewers in 1999. Hard to argue.

Pink Floyd - Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict

We all know that the Floyd were partial to pushing the envelope - concept records and all the rest - but this was just rubbish. A 'noise piece' created by Roger Waters using just the human voice, it uses no instruments, with several minutes of pretend bird noises before Waters' friend Ron Geesin shouts some nonsense in a Scottish accent. Just play the bass next time Roger.

Radiohead - Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors

AKA the moment that we all realised that liking Radiohead was now going to be hard work rather than enjoyable. Kid A had confounded everyone with its left-turn to minimal electronica, but was, essentially, a pretty beautiful record. Amnesiac on the other hand, had moments of genius - Pyramid Song, for one - but also a few horrible, unlistenable half-ideas. One was this, with a claustrophic beat which repeats for four minutes of sheer tedium. Just write some tunes lads.

Jack White & Alicia Keys - Another Way To Die

A low moment in both these notable artists' careers, it just goes to show that putting two great acts together doesn't necessarily produce a stellar result. One of the worst Bond themes of all time.

Lou Reed & Metallica - The View

Poor Lou makes his second appearance in this list, and this time he’s dragging down Metallica with him. An unexpected collaboration, which Metallica claimed was “one of the best things we’ve ever done”, and Lou agreeing, saying it was “the best thing I ever did”. It wasn’t on either count. A rambling Reed, boring riffs and James Hetfield screaming “I am the table”. Pitchfork put it best when they stated that, “Lou Reed and Metallica barely sound like they’re on the same planet, let alone in the same room.”

Pearl Jam - Bugs

No one was really sure what was going on when this emerged, on Pearl Jam's epic Vitalogy. Two chords played badly on a thrift store accordion, while Eddie Vedder shouts out genuinely concerning lyrics about, erm, bugs, in the style of a demented Tom Waits (if you can imagine a more demented Tom Waits). How did this make it past quality control. How.

Prince - Animal Kingdom

Prince was, and always will be, a genius. But if there's one thing he could have done with, it's an editor. An artist with a prolific output, but with standards not always maintained, with exhibit #1 being this shocker. Evidence for the prosecution: "So I don't eat no red meat or white fish/Or funky, funky blue cheese/We're all members of the animal kingdom/Leave your brothers and sisters in the sea". The prosecution rests its case.

(Images: Rex)