Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Bad, The Bad, & The Ugly

A little over ten years ago, my business partner Tony Sachs and I wrote a very short piece for our record store newsletter describing the difference between Beatles apologists and Beatles realists. We wrote that, the job of the apologist was to find the minutes of brilliance or even competence amidst the forty minutes of dreck that made up most Beatles solo albums, and use them to justify the whole sorry mess. The realists loved The Beatles too, but they were able to hear just how bad most of these records were. This was our very snarky way of reviewing the then, just released Paul McCartney record, "Memory Almost Full." I have since reevaluated that record, as I do with many records that initially strike me as garbage. Occasionally, it is quite rewarding, as was the case with "Memory Almost Full."

Yesterday, I had an interesting conversation with a musician friend about something similar. The subject of horrible songs had come up after a McCartney track called "The Loveliest Thing" popped up at random on my iPod. This was a B-Side from the "Flowers In The Dirt" sessions, though I think it was written a few years earlier, and it was pretty god-awful. (I might change my mind in 2028. Check back if you can.) As I listened to the horrible lyrics and unpleasant melody and arrangement, I wondered if there were fans of Sir Paul who simply would not admit how awful it was. My friend had suggested that maybe certain fans had an unconditional love for an artist, to which I replied, "Everyone has written horrible songs, including Bob Dylan and George Gershwin. Do these fans think it is some sort of betrayal, that they wouldn't even cop to it among friends?" (I am also completely aware that the aforementioned "Loveliest Thing" might be a favorite to some McCartney fans, while "Band On The Run" might be terrible to others. But, let's keep this discussion reasonable.)

I was thrown out of a Todd Rundgren group, which is pretty embarrassing. (I know to some of you, just being in a Todd Rundgren group is embarrassing, but try to focus.) It happened when there was a unanimous outpouring of praise for Todd's 2013 release, "State," a record I did not like at all. After reading what seemed like endless comments about how brilliant this record was, I couldn't hold my tongue or fingers any longer. I simply asked, "Is there no one who recognizes good from bad? It seems impossible that one artist could release nothing but masterpieces since 1968. Doesn't anyone agree?" For those who have not heard "State," it is to my ears, a poor sounding, badly produced collection of EDM (electronic dance music) songs, that try desperately to stay current and in good stead with a new Rundgren audience, but completely abandons what kept the loyal Rundgren fans loyal in the first place...or so I thought. It's one thing to push boundaries and to follow your inspiration. I wouldn't deny any artist his right to create. But I don't think "State" works at all and I found it somewhat unrealistic that every Rundgren fan over 50 and pushing 60, could disagree with me so overwhelmingly. "We don't need this negativity here." And...out the door I went.

What is this phenomenon? Should there be a third category? We have apologists and realists. How about "disciples?" I see this happening with Rolling Stones fans, as well. The same people who can listen to "Let It Bleed" and "Get Yer Ya Ya's Out," have no issues at all with "Still Life" or "Voodoo Lounge," or worse, something as unlistenable as the most recent live dreck, "Havana Moon."

Admitting that the Rolling Stones sound pretty terrible in 2016 is not treason. You are not asking for a divorce because your significant other now needs a walker. From a strictly musical pojnt of view, shouldn't we be able to separate the wheat from the chaff without a feeling of betrayal?

I want to know your most despised songs and records from your very favorite artists. Tell me all about the worst Ray Davies tunes and David Bowie tunes. Dylan, McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Van Morrison, for godsake NEIL YOUNG, The Who...let's hear it. This is a safe place. I am sure Mick and Keith won't stop sending you dinner invites if you admit "You Got Me Rocking" is horrible. And please, if you are going to troll anonymously, and simply offer comments like "Every McCartney solo record since Ram," don't bother.


Honest Ed said...

I'm a huge Springsteen fan but I could never warm to Glory Days or even My Hometown, but a lot of people love them, so maybe its just me.

His officially released stuff is remarkably free of god awful dross, but somehow Outlaw Pete escaped.

Bill said...

Elvis Costello: Dr Luther's Assistant. I've always hated this song--it drags so much and the vocals on it drag it down even further.

Joe said...

Pony Boy!! Enough said.

kevin m said...

Let's stay with a simple one. When A Bigger Bang from the Stones came out in 2005, the reviews were mostly positive and I fell for that. I listened and told everyone that this was a late career landmark.

Now? I consider it worse than Dirty Work and that album had Back to Zero on it which I always thought was their absolute worst song

Tumblingdice70 said...

Two for Bruce Springsteen: Let's Be Friends, off the Rising, and Working On A Dream. Painful.

Bombshelter Slim said...

Hoo boy...
Dylan, pretty much anything after Blood On The Tracks!
Neil Young, waaay too many to mention, is it Crazy Horse time again already?
Stones, I cut them slack until Voodoo Lounge
Todd (you bet!), anything remotely resembling A Wizard is pretty much flushed
One could go on (and on...)
And Happy New Year!!

Sal Nunziato said...

Wow, Bombshelter! You're more brutal than I am. Maybe there is a 4th category- the No Slacker. Really? Everything after Blood On The Tracks?

Shriner said...

Oh, man, where to start, but focusing on specific songs.

I love -- nay LOVE -- XTC, but I can not stand a few songs on otherwise brilliant albums: "Train Running Low on Soul Coal" and "It's Nearly Africa" And I've mentioned before how I can't find much to listen to on "Go2" besides "Are you Receiving Me?". And pretty much anything Colin Moulding wrote on the later albums except for the brilliant "Standing In For Joe" on Wasp Star are skipped by me. And most of the b-sides were rightly left off the regular albums and I would have been happier if they were put at the end of the reissues instead of in the middle.

And I'm one of the bigger Monkees fans here -- and there's a good number of chaff among the wheat -- but I absolutely can not stand the Clarksville-rewrite turd that is "Tear Drop City". And this comes from somebody that has no problem with "The Day We Fall In Love", too! (And the less said about some of the Missing Links songs, the better -- like the POS that is "Teeny Tiny Gnome"...)

And many Zappa albums have some kind of "bass solo/weird keyboard solo" track I can do without -- like "Rubber Shirt" on the otherwise excellent Sheik Yerbouti.

And an obscurity I hate as a "song": "Crucifixion" from Jesus Christ Superstar. Yes, I know it's the stupid climax of the story, but as a song it's the "Revolution #9" of the album...

"More Than Meets The Eye" on the Bangle's debut album does not fit in *at all* with the rest of the album. Terrible way to end what is an otherwise flawless album. "My World" on GNR's "Use Your Illusion II" is exactly like this.

These are what jump out from a cursory skim of my iTunes/memory. The problem with a question like this is that my mind has been trained to just not listen to these song when they show up on the albums. More later if they come up.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Sal.

This is a fun exercise, but I more often love albums that the artists themselves despise.

Probably the two best examples are The Ramones' PLEASANT DREAMS which was produced by Graham Goldman and Iggy Pop's PARTY.

Rock on,

jeff said...

Lots of Bruce here, so I’ll mention the one that I would always find a way to program off my CD player: Mary Queen of Arkansas. I just never could tolerate it.

And for different reasons, Paul Simon’s song, “The Late Great Johnny Ace.” I heard it the first time when he premiered it at the Central Park concert and it was quite moving until the verse about walking through the winter when a stranger comes and tells him that John Lennon has died, so they go to a bar and listen to Lennon’s songs, and I all I could think about was all the times I had seen Simon walking through the neighborhood (and one night playing in a corner of Central Park) as he lived only a couple of blocks away and refusing to acknowledging anyone’s presence, not even a smile, so the idea of him going off with a stranger at such a terrible moment in our lives was just such bullshit that it still pisses me off when I hear it.

richeye said...

Let's see... I'll second the emotion of not liking Glory Days and acknowledge that I have a difficult time finding anything to like about it. It just makes me cringe... I mean, "When he throws that speedball by you"? What could possibly be wrong about calling a fastball a fastball?

Then, there is "Yes It Is" from The Beatles. It is proof that there is a very fine line between loathing and guilty pleasure. I think the song sucks, but I find myself still listening to it when it comes on the radio. Go figure.

Even Neil Young admits that the lyrics to Sugar Mountain are among his worst ever. Of course, when he said that, he couldn't even imagine the Monsanto Years, or Fork In the Road, but why kick a man when he's down. I'll just leave it at "Now, you're underneath the stairs and you're giving back some glares to the people you just met and it's your first cigarette." That should be in the dictionary next to the word awful.

I think I'll quit while I'm ahead, but I could easily spend the rest of the day pouring through my music in search of terrible toons. But WHY??????

Happy New Year, Sal... maybe we'll even see each other one of these days.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Yes It Is."

What a surprising choice. I happen to love the song, but that's beside the point. What about it makes it terrible, richeye?

There's very little I like about Born In The USA as a whole, but I blame the 80's. I have Ink Spots records that sound less dated. Funny though, I never paid any mind to "speedball," but now I hate that song even more.

soundsource said...

just curious, aside from a particularly atrocious sax solo the live stones track sounds as good as any competent stones cover band with a good sound mixer. what is it that is that objectionable.
ps. you know my general feelings on band that keep flogging the hits (that's what sha na na is for)

soundsource said...

and yeah i'd have to go along with Outlaw Pete

Sal Nunziato said...


Aside from the six clams Keith hits in the first 30 seconds of the intro, I guess it is better than "dreck." I guess my point was more about the big picture and how fans will rave about any and all of it. "Havana Moon" should be the very last Stones record anyone reaches for, and the "disciples" will discuss it with the same reverence as "Ya Ya's." That is what I find objectionable. As I pointed out on Facebook, if "Sweet Neo-Con" from "A Bigger Bang" is "a great song," then what is "Sittin' On A Fence?" "Rhapsody In Blue?"

Anonymous said...

Worst Springsteen tune for me is Hungry Heart. I loved the rest of The River --
a 2-LP album. - Barry

Anonymous said...

far afield, but I love all of Girl in a Coma's albums - they are just what you would expect a Latina power trio on Joan Jett's Blackheart label to sound like. They took a hiatus last year, so singer Nina Diaz (who has a pretty distinctive voice) released a solo album that sounds like . . . Hilary Duff? Mandy Moore? Remember Lindsay Lohan's albums? Unless you had a tweener daughter in the 90's you probably don't. It's so disappointing.

Noam Sane said...

I'm big - huge - on Steely Dan and Fagen solo too, but Donald's last record, Sunken Condos, has a song called "Memorabilia" that makes me want to slit my wrists. Good lord, man.

Some other stuff on the record works great (The New Breed in particular), some doesn't really come off but isn't all that objectionable, but that melody should be drowned, then shot. It actually shocked me the first time I heard it. I would need to channel Leonard Pinth-Garnell to truly describe it.

Wishing he'd put the band down now that Walter is Up In Heaven. I can only guess he's having trouble paying the mortgage on streaming revenue.

Beyond that, you can have the fucking White Album. Something I'll never understand. I don't even see a decent single album in that shit.

DaveF said...

Bruce Springsteen could do no wrong for me until I heard Dancing In The Dark. Actually the whole Born In The USA album reeked of 80's Hollywood sellout. Bridges To Babylon is the absolute nadir for the Stones. Recent Neil Young releases sound like he's phoning it in and I think he actually did on one such recent release. Dylan's Self Portrait album was excruciating though I have to admit liking the box set that came out on that album. McCartney's Press To Play was bad and McCartney II was the worst solo album by any ex-Beatle period. Well maybe Two Virgins.
Total agreement with Todd's State album. Electronic Dance Music? No. Just no. Also a big no to the Beach Boys Smiley Smile. There was a huge drop in quality from Smile to Smiley Smile. Absolutely unlistenable - minus Heroes and Villans and Good Vibrations. Electric Light Orchestra's Time album is the worst of the bunch. Other Hall of Shamers: Changes by The Monkees, Invisible Touch by Genesis, Earthling by David Bowie, The Doctor by Cheap Trick (mind you I do like the title song) Victim of Love by Elton John and the two post-Jim Morrison Doors albums. Having said all this I do have to admit that I am and will always be a big fan of all these artists regardless of the dreck.

Sal Nunziato said...

While I don't think The White Album is shit, I never understood the praise. There are so-called Beatles fans who love that record but won't listen to anything before "Rubber Soul."

Dave F.

I was not a fan of Dancing In The Dark until I heard his acoustic version from either a Bridge benefit or the Christic benefit, and then I LOVED it. It's an amazing song once stripped of its glitz. I am pretty much in agreement with all of your list, though I did warm up to McCartney II and I actually think Bowie's "Earthling" is fantastic.

Squints said...

>>"More Than Meets The Eye" on the Bangle's debut album does not fit in *at all* with the rest of the album. Terrible way to end what is an otherwise flawless album.<<

Seconded. I don't hate the song but it's not in my master list and I never listen to it in isolation, let alone next the other 10 gems (including the covers) on that record. But for that, "All Over The Place" just perfectly captures the bad-bitches-with-guitars ethos.

Anonymous said...

"Lenny Bruce" by Dylan. He surely has worse songs*, but that's on top of my list because I heard it recently and also a song by Dylan about Lenny Bruce should be good. I mean it sounds good on paper.

"I Want You," by Elvis Costello. He surely has worse songs too, but in many ways this is a great song so for me its fallings--I find the repitition irksome rather than dramatic or wrenching--irk me even more.

Bruce H

*Like "Wiggle Wiggle" but that doesn't count because he's just daring you to hate it.

ken49 said...

Jimmy Jazz off of London Calling springs to mind. The only bad song on the album but it's right in the middle of the first side. And going way back Steve Miller's Children of the Future and one of the first lp's I bought I loved until the very last song. Side 2 builds nicely and then the last song is a slow blues, Key to the Highway, ugh!. At least you can jump up and take it off since it is the last song. XTC, one of my favorites, always has a song or two per album that I can easily do without.

jmsafree said...

The Band has always been my favorite performing group. Two songs that Robbie wrote, The Last of the Blacksmiths (Cahoots) and The Saga of Pepote Rouge (Islands) always struck me as Robbie trying to hard to write a Band song and not succeeding. Joe

Honest Ed said...

Funnily enough I like the Born In The USA album on the whole, it's just those two songs that I can't bear. I have friends who can't bear Bobby Jean, but if I'm in the right mood it really hits hard.

Excellent call on Lets Be Friends. It's so bad I had successfully excised it from my memory till now.

But I can't be having I Want You in a list like this. One of EC's most intense tunes, I recall going to see the spinning song wheel show when it just came out. I got tickets, great seats right at the front, for me and my GF. Between buying them and the show we split up acrimoniously (someone else was involved) but both of us refused to miss the show. It's a song which never sounds quite as intense as when you're sitting next to your ex!

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

I've invested a lot of time in my life listening to and thoroughly enjoying the Rolling Stones. But the charms of Can You Hear the Music from Goat's Head Soup eluded me in 1973 and continute to elude me to this day.

Regards & Happy New Year!


Mr. Baez said...

First off, a belated Happy 2018 to you. I look forward to a whole new year of Burning Wood musings. The very first song that popped into my head was Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love". Just a horrible batch of cliches and moon-june rhymes. I have never understood why this particular song has been covered by so many people. But you know, to each their own. I for one love the McCartney II album.

Chris Collins said...

A lot of my comments have been covered. I've never liked "Glory Days". I can do without "Bobby Jean". I don't hate "Outlaw Pete" the way others do, but it's obviously not up to standards. The "Working on a Dream" album is mostly full of B level material. But its not terrible.

Neil Young has had so many swings and misses that I can't list them. But that doesn't take away from the great stuff.

There is so much Rod Stewart material that I think makes him possibly the finest rock n roll singer ever. And so much dreck that I can't stand. But that doesn't make "Every Picture Tells A Story" any worse.

Stones are the best rock and roll band of all time. And unlistenable after....I dunno. The mid 2000s.

Andy said...

Ignoreland & Everybody hurts by R.E.M.

Sal Nunziato said...

I think Everybody Hurts is one of THEE most horrible songs. It’s all wrong. It made me hate R.E.M. for years.

Michael Giltz said...

If we're talking Bruce Springsteen, I certainly don't get my ire up over his biggest album. That seems too easy a target -- dissing the one album album even casual fans know. What's next -- mocking "Computer Blue" despite its Tipper Gore-freaking lesbian (sub)text? The album "Born In The USA" is hardly a collapse in quality the way late period Stones may be, I'd argue. But I guess kicking the Springsteen albums no one cares about is too easy. Yet it seems more germane to what Sal was talking about. Are there fans who rave about "Human Touch?" I really dislike "57 Channels (And Nothing On)" in particular, which is a really lame "takedown" of cable tv I could have written both lyrically and melodically in seventh grade. For me, coming as a track on one of two albums released on the same day, it was so clearly a lazy and uninteresting song (one of many -- there's not even a single good album among the two combined) it didn't deserve to be a B side. But hey, nobody's perfect.

How about detailing the one really bad track on an otherwise great album? I might just go with "Computer Blue" on "Purple Rain."

Alexi said...

Painful moments from my three fave Bands: Beatles- You Know My Name; Revolution #9. Stones: Cool, Calm Collected; Please Go Home; Can You Hear The Music. Kinks: Give The People What They Want; Back To Front; Cliches of the World (B Movie). With the Stones and Kinks, there's a lot of dreck on their later albums, but the ones I picked are ones on albums that I mostly like- Between the Buttons, Flowers, Goat's Head Soup, Give the People What They Want, and State of Confusion. So in a way the weak cuts sound even worse because they're in better company, and more likely to ruin an otherwise good listen.

Bombshelter Slim said...

Sal, yes, everything! I've given the man attentive listening with every new release, and I'm just plain tired... although his "American Songbook" albums had a real chance of redeeming him in my ears. I guess that's what it is... "my ears"... gotta trust them, though. Somebody brought up Zappa, after Ray Collins left the Mothers very little of his "vocal" music appealed to me after I reached the age of majority. His guitar work was mostly killer, and his "serious" compositions usually worked for me. And regarding NY's "underneath the stairs" verse, I have a boot somewhere where he prefaces it by saying "the lamest verse I ever wrote". Doesn't seem to stop him from doing that stupid song just about every solo gig or set...

Heiko said...

"Another Side of Bob Dylan" nobody dares to talk about, but in this case all those who constantly complain about his poor voice or guitar-playing-style really get a reason to do so. "Human Touch" has been Springsteen's Waterloo (it's like all his attempts in concerts trying to sound like a soul-legend - he isn't). "Outlaw Pete" is brilliant compared to "High Hopes" (the song as well as the album profit from the lack of one good idea - I simply don't get the idea behind it at all - But since I don't see that as an album "Human Touch" remains on top). Elvis Costello - I sacrifice myself - hasn't had a good release by now...

big bad wolf said...

All bands have the good and the bad. The great ones are great for two reasons, i think. First, in the balance, the great and good songs vastly outweigh the bad ones. Second,even their meh songs are meh on a scale they established (the bad ones are truly bad, as they are for other bands. For me, the great ones complicate things by failing when they try a bit harder. So, overall, i think the stones from goat's head soup through emotional rescue are disappointing. But, if you played those albums to me as a mystery band, i'd say, hey, these guys are pretty good. yeah, they pale in comparison to their best, but they ain't bad. and in that string, i am hardest on some girls, which many people think is the best of the bunch. not me. tinny. i know. supposed to sound punkish, garage-ish. instead, to me, sounds like a bad mix. i like the double album punched up 21st century mix a lot better.

love the another side take by Heiko. bob, who i am on record as declaring the giant of his era, has lots of failures. another side is one of the more consistent failures. he knew that. i love the moment on the "royal albert hall" recording when he says this song used to go like this . . . . then he blows away the dreck-y version of i don't believe you from another side.

i also like the comment that bruce released his best materials. i think the record(S) bear this out. tracks was a bomb, 4 discs, a handful of songs that were worth paying for. editing is an underrated skill. later things could just get ugly, or as we say around here folks had high hopes