Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Terrible songs from great albums

By Marc Hirsh
MSNBC contributor

“The Long And Winding Road” by the Beatles (from “Let It Be”)

Image: The Beatles, "Let It Be"

The Beatles are generally regarded as rock ’n’ roll’s greatest band, and Phil Spector was arguably its greatest producer. So how did bringing them together result in one of the most cloying moments in either party’s career? As the world would learn a quarter century later with the release of the Beatles’ “Anthology” outtakes collections, “The Long And Winding Road” is actually quite nice in its stripped-down form; maybe not one of the band’s best but certainly not the horrifically overproduced monstrosity found on “Let It Be.” Spector, clearly operating in the same mode as his uber-creepy “Silent Night” recitation at the end of his otherwise-classic Christmas album, drenched the song in strings and a choir so saccharine that the Beatles needed to end the album, their swan song, with the simple, bracing palate-cleanser of “Get Back” to remind the world of what it was about to lose forever.

“My World” by Guns N’ Roses (from “Use Your Illusion II”)

Image: Guns N' Roses, "Use Your Illusion II"
Geffen Records

Guns N’ Roses’ plan of following up one of the landmark debuts of the 1980s — simultaneously releasing two albums that would have both been doubles in the age of vinyl — was, on the face of it, insane. But despite “Use Your Illusion II” being slightly wobbly (with the name-calling tantrum in the middle of “Get In The Ring,” an inferior second version of “Don’t Cry” and bassist Duff McKagen’s lackluster “So Fine”), there was surprisingly little chaff in what was effectively four albums’ worth of material. It looked like GN’R was going to pull off the whole mess, right up until the final 84 seconds, when Axl Rose decided to rap and everything fell apart in one laughable, deeply stupid instant. If “My World” was a joke, it was funny for all the wrong reasons. And if it wasn’t, then maybe we can keep waiting for “Chinese Democracy.”

“Endless, Nameless” by Nirvana (from “Nevermind”)

Image: Nirvana, "Nevermind"
Geffen Records

From the instant Nirvana blew up huge, Kurt Cobain always had an antagonistic relationship with his own mass popularity. Nowhere is that more evident than on metallic grunge jam “Endless, Nameless,” the all-too-appropriately named hidden track that closed out “Nevermind.” The tuneless, freeform scree didn’t appear on every copy; those who were lucky enough to snatch up one of the first 50,000 before Nirvanamania went mainstream didn’t just find themselves with a collector’s item, they got a far better album. For everybody else who jumped onto the train after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the top 40, the beautiful-bummer vibe created by the tellingly morose official closer “Something In The Way” was shattered by an unlistenable barrage of interminable cacophony. If you could hear it, Cobain hated you.

“Mother” by the Police (from “Synchronicity”)

Image: The Police, "Synchronicity"

Andy Summers cemented his status as the Police’s worst songwriter early on when he marred the band’s debut “Outlandos d’Amour” with “Be My Girl — Sally,” featuring a spoken-word interlude/love poem about an inflatable sex doll. As his last gasp before the band called it a day, the guitarist took Sting’s fascination with psychology that drove “Synchronicity” painfully literally, falling into a Freudian nightmare by screaming sledgehammer-subtle lines such as “Every girl that I go out with! Becomes my mother in the end!” like a deranged blind date. To complete the picture, Summers set the whole thing to a circular ostinato with a stepladder melody and then, just for kicks, chose the awkward 7/4 as his time signature. Summers gave out an infantile yelp of “Mother!” at the end of the jagged instrumental break, and considering that “Synchronicity” was the Police’s best-selling album, a lot of folks probably did the same.

“EXP” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (from “Axis: Bold As Love”)

Image: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Axis: Bold As Love"
Experience Hendrix

If “Axis: Bold as Love” were a concept album, its leadoff track might be forgiven as an introductory scene-setting trifle. But alas, “Axis” isn’t; it’s simply a collection of songs, albeit Jimi’s most lyrical. As such, “EXP” is about as disastrous an opener as could be imagined, with goofy sped-up chipmunk voices engaged in an unconvincingly acted radio interview about UFOs that collapses into guitar noise so aimlessly chaotic that it makes Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” sound like a catchy pop tune. It’s supposed to be trippy, but it mostly just expands on the silliest aspects of Hendrix’s earlier “Third Stone From The Sun” that were otherwise well-hidden under the melody and jazz-like psychedelic improvisation. The lyric sheet actually lists the announcer’s dialogue as “Bu… but, but… glub… I, I, don’t believe it,” to which Hendrix himself responds, “Pffffttt!!... Pop!!... Bang!!... Etc!!!?” Yeah, that’s about right.

Live Vote
What do you think is the worst song from an otherwise great album?
"The Long And Winding Road" from the Beatles' "Let It Be""My World" from Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion II"
"Endless, Nameless" from Nirvana's "Nevermind""Mother" from the Police's "Synchronicity"
"EXP" by the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Axis: Bold As Love""Perfection," from Run-DMC's "Raising Hell"
"Songbird," from Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors""D'yer Maker" from Led Zeppelin's "Houses Of The Holy"
"Jimmy Jazz" from the Clash's "London Calling""The Girl Is Mine" from Michael Jackson's "Thriller"
"Welfare Mothers" from Neil Young's "Rust Never Sleeps""Love Ain't For Keeping," from The Who's "Who's Next"
"The Gift," from the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat""Let Me Put My Love Into You," from AC/DC's "Back in Black"
"Waiting for the Worms," from Pink Floyd's "The Wall""When It Started" from the Strokes' "Is This It"
"Unforgiven," from Metallica's black album"Candle in the Wind," form Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"
"'39" from Queen's "Night at the Opera""Pollywannacraka: from Pubic Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet"
"Start Me Up" from the Rolling Stones' "Tatoo You""Lovesong" from The Cure's "Disintegration"

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