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The Worst Songs By Otherwise Great Artists

Updated September 23, 2021 3.3k votes 816 voters 104.3k views15 items

List RulesVote up the disappointing songs by otherwise great artists.

Not every song can be a hit. These bad songs by good artists prove that not even the best musicians get it right every time. 

David Bowie, Prince, and Bob Dylan are three of the most successful and talented artists in music history; however, Bowie's "The Laughing Gnome," Prince's "Jughead," and Dylan's "Wiggle Wiggle" make it hard to believe those are the same acclaimed artists who brought us "Space Oddity," "Purple Rain," and "Blowin' in the Wind." Of course, someone, somewhere, may actually be able to get through more than five minutes of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, but the rest of us will choose to play the nearly flawless "Perfect Day" instead.  

Which bad songs by great music artists do you think are the most egregious? 

  • Led Zeppelin may be considered one of the greatest rock bands in music history, but like many musicians in the 1960s, several of their songs "borrowed" from lesser-known artists. Bands of the day often took lyrics, beats, or melodies from folk artists or blues musicians without giving credit. Led Zeppelin pieced together older music even for some of their most popular tracks like "Dazed and Confused" and "Whole Lotta Love."

    Perhaps their most ungracious rip-off is their deep cut "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper." The last track off of Led Zeppelin III is a tribute to the real-life Roy Harper, who was friends with the band. The song borrows from several different country blues songs, including lyrics from Bukka White's 1937 track "Shake 'Em On Down." The group's lyricist and lead singer Robert Plant also clearly pilfered lyrics for "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" from Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me" and Oscar Woods's "Lone Wolf Blues."

    Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page pointed the finger at Robert Plant for not changing the lyrics: "As far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used. Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn't always do that, which is what brought on most of the grief."

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  • Photo: Arista Records / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Lou Reed released his highly experimental fifth studio album Metal Machine Music in 1975. The 60-minute-plus double album does not have any "songs" in the traditional sense. It's mostly freeform arrangements of guitar feedback separated into four parts. At the time of its release, it was controversial. Many critics felt that Reed was not creating songs for the average rock consumer but rather just for himself. Or, perhaps his goal was to simply irritate other people, which is something Reed also liked to do.

    A critic from Ultimate Classic Rock described how Reed created the sound for Metal Machine Music:

    Reed recorded the album entirely by himself, manipulating the tape speeds and pitch of various bits of guitar feedback, which were cycled through reverb, distortion and other amp-assisted sound effects. The result was a noise collage that worked in everything from classical to electronic to avant-garde influences. It wasn't music, and it sure wasn't listenable on any sort of level.

    That same critic wondered why Reed released the album at all:

    Even still, it's a mildly interesting work, part-noise experiment and part-f--- you, and a highlight (or lowlight, depending on your perspective) of contentious artist-fan relations. Only the most strong-willed listeners are capable of making it through even five minutes without a skull-crushing migraine creeping up. And there's no reward waiting at the end of Metal Machine Music if you do make it all the way through. You've heard one minute, you've pretty much heard it all.

    The record company behind Metal Machine Music wound up pulling it off the shelves at music stores just two weeks after its release. 

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  • Photo: RCA Records / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    David Bowie was still relatively unknown when he released the novelty single "The Laughing Gnome" in 1967. The song is about a man who meets a gnome and gives him a glass of wine. Then later, the man meets the gnome's brother named Fred. The pun-filled tune is sped up and uses high-pitched vocals for the gnome characters. It's like a psychedelic Alvin and the Chipmunks. The fun tune is perhaps more suited as a children's song rather than a rock single. 

    Although the song flopped when it was released in 1967, it was re-released several years later after Bowie had gained notoriety. "The Laughing Gnome" was received as a quirky, lighthearted song by fans. 

    The song's silly chorus goes:

    Ha ha ha, hee hee hee
    "I'm a laughing gnome and you don't catch me"
    Ha ha ha, hee hee hee
    "I'm a laughing gnome and you can't catch me"

    Bowie eventually became a rock god with a penchant for breaking the rules. He proved with his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego character that he was not just a musician, but also a showman.

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  • Queen released their funky dance single "Body Language" on their 1982 10th studio album Hot Space. The song divided the British band's fanbase but still managed to hit No. 11 on the US Billboard charts. It also got a lot of radio play. 

    "Body Language" definitely has a disco tilt to it. That may explain why some of the group's fans who were used to hearing hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are the Champions" felt that the song was not up to par with the rest of Queen's catalog.

    "Body Language" features heavy bass and little guitar. It's easy to see why it became a hit in dance clubs. Queen guitarist Brian May was not a fan of "Body Language." He criticized Queen's performance of the song for being too "obsessed with the rhythm side that we were afraid to turn up the guitars."

    John Milward from Rolling Stone called the song "a piece of funk that isn't fun."

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