When people listen to music, they hear a lot of different sounds, but mostly people hear and respond to the lyrics. While fellow musicians may understand the intricacies of guitar solos or drum beats, most of us understand only what is being communicated through words. Sometimes an awful song is saved by amazing lyrics. But more often a great song is ruined by terrible lyrics. Here are five examples (by no means a complete list).
1. Led Zeppelin: “Black Dog”
I suppose if I’d been smoking dope and rebelling against my parents back in the ’70s, maybe I would have gotten into Led Zeppelin. But I was born in 1980, and I don’t give a shit about this band. Even if they were “pivotal in the development of hard rock and heavy metal.” Just give me Black Sabbath, please.
“Black Dog,” like most Zeppelin songs, is about begging for sex. Musically, the song is OK, with some cool time changes. But halfway through the song Robert Plant belts out, “I don’t know, but I’ve been told/A big-legged woman ain’t got no soul.” Every time I hear this song, I try my damnedest to interpret these words as meaning anything other than, “Fat chicks don’t rock.” But I can’t. Because this is what the lyrics mean.
I think what annoys me the most is how naïve this line of the song is. I mean, if he’d sung, “One time someone told me/Big-legged women like ice cream,” then I would at least understand what he was saying. I could simply accept that Robert Plant is a sexist, controlling, chauvinist pig. I could say, “Fuck that fatphobic douchebag.” But, no! Robert Plant says, “I don’t know, but I’ve been told/A big-legged woman ain’t got no soul!”
Well, Robert, you DON’T know. Because a single big-legged women has got more soul than all your albums combined. Whether in the bedroom or on the dance floor, let me go on record as saying “Fat Chicks Rock.” And if you don’t know that, then don’t write a fucking song about it.
2. The Descendents: “I’m Not a Loser”
The first time I heard a Descendents song, it blew my mind. Fast, fun, silly. Made me want to dance. And to this day, I would proudly wear a Descendents shirt around town. But no band is perfect.
My qualm with The Descendents has to do with the third track off the ground-breaking album, Milo Goes to College. I spent my teen years trying to convince my peers that, “I’m Not a Loser,” so this song was an instant anthem for me. He mocks the spoiled rich kids, while showing pride in his working class background, all while dissing people whose “only goal in life is to smoke a joint.” I am down with all that. But then Milo has to call the rich kid a “fucking homo,” and then insults him again by saying, “You’re fucking gay!”
I guess the college Milo went to didn’t teach any courses on the struggles of the LGBT community. You think the working class has it rough? Please. Maybe homophobic slurs were widely accepted in the ’80s So-Cal punk scene, but I don’t know of any true punks anywhere that could get away with saying shit like this today. Maybe you’re not a loser, but you are sort of an idiot. Thanks for ruining what could have otherwise been one of my all-time favorite songs.
3. One Direction: “What Makes You Beautiful”
For the last year or so I’ve been hearing this awful and annoying song, ya know, when I’m at work, or getting a ride from an idiot. Wikipedia informs me that this song blends “teen pop, power pop, and pop rock,” which makes the song diverse enough that morons of all demographics will enjoy it. But talking about a terrible pop song is sort of like describing a bad Nick Cage movie. It’s Nick Cage, what were you expecting?
Bad pop songs are par for the course, so I’ll just focus on a single line that really irritates me. The whole song, as the title implies, is about a beautiful person, presumably a girl, but not necessarily. A number of attractive traits are mentioned, such as insecurity, but apparently what makes this person so beautiful is the ignorance of her own beauty. “You don’t know you’re beautiful/That’s what makes you beautiful.”
So, let’s break this down. The fact that she doesn’t know she’s beautiful, is, in fact, what makes her beautiful. So this moron goes and writes a song to convince her that she’s beautiful. Her new-found awareness of her own beauty undoes the very thing which contributed most to her beauty. After learning she is beautiful, we must now theorize that the level of her beauty has substantially dropped. And since she can’t know she’s beautiful if she actually isn’t, does that mean she loops back to being as beautiful as she was before the song started? Or after losing her beauty, is it gone forever?
We could argue this point forever, which is the approximate time of the song itself. I wish this song were a cleverly created temporal paradox, written by some sci-fi nerds. But it’s just some shitty song by some shitty band (from some reality show, no less!) so let’s move on.
4. Deep Blue Something: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the movie? Great. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the song? Terrible. The song is about a girl who wants to break up with a guy. She says it’s because “they have nothing in common,” which seems like a perfectly fine reason for two people to go their separate ways. But the guy, who “hates when things are over,” comes up with an amazingly convincing argument for why they should stay together.
“And I said what about breakfast at Tiffany’s?
She said I think I remember the film
And as I recall I think, we both kind of liked it
And I said well that’s, the one thing we’ve got”
Yes, the guy names a movie that they both “kind of” liked. Um, ok. So what? Seriously, SO FUCKING WHAT?! He could have at least thought of a movie they both liked. Clearly this guy is a loser, which means the girl must be way out of his league, so I can understand his last ditch attempt to save the relationship. “Uh, but, uh, you…Oh! Remember that mediocre movie we watched one time? Ah, yeah,” he says with a sly grin. He was grasping at straws, stalling, and putting off the inevitable. And it worked, she engaged him in conversation. But the next move is to name more movies, or bands, or trips they took together, to remind her of all the good times. Unless there were none, in which case you just repeat the chorus four or five times and call it a day. I wonder how many unwanted children came from that failed marriage. Oh, who am I kidding? She probably fled the scene when he continued to repeatedly ask her about the same fucking movie.
5. Train: “Drive By”
OK, I saved the best for last. And by best, I mean worst. Oh god, the worst. You might think you’ve never heard this song, but five seconds in and you’ll recognize it. It is possibly the worst fucking lyrics any band has written in the past 30 years.
Now, maybe you’re the type of person who enjoys simple, popular songs. Fine, good for you. Just don’t read these lyrics and I’m sure you will continue enjoying what is an admittedly catchy tune. Dipshit singer, Pat Monahan, starts off singing about a girl who left him, then promises he will never leave her. He even swears. So right from the get-go this song is fucking stupid. But then the chorus…
The chorus assures the girl this “is not a drive-by,” the namesake of the song. Now, when I think of drive-by, I think of gang-bangers shooting up a house. Or maybe they’re shooting a car, or just pedestrians. But guns are always involved. Is there any other meaning? Pat lets us know that he won’t be doing any of that. OK, Pat is not down with drive-bys. So, just what is the deal with Pat? Listen carefully, and he’ll tell you.
“Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love”
What!? Are you kidding me? He’s looking for a garbage bag to hold his love? These are the actual lyrics to one of the most popular songs on the air today. I checked every website I could find listing lyrics for shitty bands. Let’s count how many things are wrong with just these two lines:
1. Love is not a tangible item, therefore it cannot be put into any sort of container.
2. Finding a garbage bag is not in any way difficult, even when shopping for a specific name brand.
3. Mentioning a specific name brand in a song is as lame as it gets. Are they getting paid for this? Is this some weird endorsement? I don’t doubt that the only company willing to give money to this band is a company who specializes in trash.
4. Shy guy? He’s the singer for a rock band.
5. OK, OK, even if somehow you could figure out a way to manifest love as a physical object, why would you put it in a garbage bag? That’s how poor people move from one slum to another. Come on, Pat! At least get a sturdy cardboard box!
The next part of the chorus says, “When you move me everything is groovy,” which is fine, but then the next rhyming line says, “They don’t like it sue me.” Pat, you paranoid dumbfuck, who is going to sue you? Who is so against you feeling groovy that they would actually sue you? (*Mental note; figure out how to sue the band Train.)
The second verse informs his absentee girlfriend that his love for her “went viral,” which is not an analogy I would ever use when describing love, for obvious reasons. Then he tells the girl who left him, the one whom he previously said he would never leave, that when he does leave “there’s nothing up his sleeve.” But love. And a myriad of mixed messages.
Ya know, I shouldn’t blame Pat. Write enough lyrics, and someone will have a problem with them. I should know. I suppose I should be upset at the millions of people who like this song, who like this band, who actually make it possible for a shitty group to become popular. Thanks, America, now I want to kill myself.
Bonus Track: Insane Clown Posse: “Miracles”
It’s hard to know exactly when a song crosses over from bad, to “so bad it’s good.” For me, ICP’s “Miracles” nails it. The message of the song is basically that everything in life is amazing, which I can sort of get with. Giraffes are awesome. The stars, the ocean, these things are amazing. But to hear this message from a pair of rappers who are known for lyrics about torturing and killing people is a bit odd. Especially when they just casually mention the miracle of “UFOs” and “a river flows.” Um … ok? A few lines later he tells a story about a pelican trying to eat his cell phone. Alright, I guess if you are a super-positive person, then you could somehow consider a pelican eating your cell phone to be a miracle.
The real fun, for me, is when they bring up magnets. “Fucking magnets, how do they work?” Before I can respond, the rap continues with, “And I don’t wanna talk to a scientist, Y’all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed!” Can’t you just imagine a scientist trying to explain magnets to ICP? “Electrons?! I ain’t never seen no electron, man! The fuck!?” How can anyone take this song seriously? I mean, other than the band themselves. But man, what a good video.