It’s almost Labor Day weekend, which means a million classic radio stations across the country will have some kind of “your favorite songs of all time” countdown. Over the years, these countdowns have become so predictable, I’m pretty sure they no longer count your yearly votes on the tunes and just use the same final list they have for the past 10 years or so.
The only thing worse than having Stairway to Heaven finish first every year is when something new like Linkin Park makes it into the top 20.
The following is my list of “Greatest” Songs Of All Time That Really Aren’t That Great. In my opinion, of course. Which may not mean a whole lot to you, but it’s all I got.
1. Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven.
I used to think this was the greatest song ever written. It was only years later that I realized the words probably mean nothing except that Robert Plant read a lot of books. He strung some thoughts and words from his favorite novels together, mixed them in a blender and called it Stairway to Heaven.
The problem here is also that Zep inadvertently invented a formula for overrated songs: Some cryptic lyrics about five stanzas too long, followed by a guitar solo that makes one envision the guitarist standing on top of a mountain, wind blowing through his hair while his screeching riffs conjure up all kinds of inclement weather because it’s that good. And don’t get me wrong. I love Zep. But Stairway makes me cringe. Maybe I’m just embarrassed that I used to believe this song meant something profound. I also used to believe that you could see the Statue of Liberty in the reflection of a lake on Bear Mountain, but both those beliefs were born of the same drug.
2. Don McLean – American Pie
It’s long. It gets tedious after a while. And most of it makes no sense to anyone but Don McLean. Yes, I get the whole “the day the music died” thing and I think it’s really nice that he was so touched he wrote a song about it, and I get the allusions to other bands of the time within the song.
But maybe he could have cut about ten verses or so. I mean, it’s great when you’re 17 and stoned and sitting around a campfire at the beach and your friend has an out of tune acoustic guitar and starts strumming and you all start singing “bye, bye, miss American pie….” but, come on. It’s just too god damn long. By the time the last verse came around, I was always halfway down the other end of the beach, looking for a private place to pee.
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Freebird
So I spent a good portion of my high school years yelling “FREEEBIRD!” and playing air guitar to this song. Most people my age did. It’s just what we did. You drank beer, hung out in arena parking lots before concerts and talked about what a fantastic song Freebird is, man. With a straight face. And you had to listen to the live version, so you can hear the “What song is it you want to hear?” and also the part where he says “How ’bout you?” because man, he was talking to ME.
I’ll let my 14 year old son give you the review of Freebird from the point of view of today: “Yea, the guitar solo is ok, kinda cool, but the rest of the song blows. It’s like he’s having sex with his guitar.” I think he probably picked that up from the Guitar World message boards, but I’ll let it stand on record.
4. Eagles – Hotel California
Do you see a trend here? Maybe I just don’t like long songs. This is another one of those “rock musicians gone poetically awry” songs, in which a lyricist believes he is not just a writer of catchy rock songs, but a poet as well. A poet who likes to fill his lyrics with allegories. Dark, mysterious, cryptic lyrics that will, thirty years down the road, still be the subject of “what do you think it means” conversations. Who cares? This song is BORING. It’s like watching a horrible movie with false endings, where you keep shifting in your seat thinking, ok, credits are going to roll right………now! But no, they cut to yet another drawn out, badly acted scene, maybe one in which there are mirrors on the ceiling and pink champagne on ice. Oh, yes, how Hollywood people live in excess, that must be the theme of this song! No, wait, it’s about being stuck in a place you can’t get out of…no, it’s…hey, a guitar solo! Another long, drawn out, masturbatory guitar experience! Pass the bong!
5. Guns N Roses – November Rain
November Rain (and here I’m going to include the video with the song) is a Harlequin romance novel when all you want is Hunter Thompson. It’s GnR’s Beth. Remember Beth? How much did you want to puke every time that song came on the radio? Sex! Drugs! Rock and Roll! Love Ballads!
Err…NO. Many people call this song the greatest love song of the 90′s, but holy schmaltz, Batman. Is an 8 minute, 53 second heartbreaking love song accompanied by an equally heartbreaking video really what you want out of your depraved metal band? What happened to “I used to love her, but now I have to kill her?” Man up, Axl! Eh. Too late for that.
7. The Beatles – Hey Jude
I’m not saying it’s a bad song, musically. The thing is, the song is seven minutes and seven seconds long and I think seven full minutes of it is the Beatles singing “Na na na na na ,na na na, hey jude..” which makes me thing that Paul and John got together and said “Hey, let’s make one of those arena songs, you know, the kind where the audience stands up and flics their Bics and sings along with you and we can keep it going for half an hour at least and then turn the house lights on at the end and no one will bitch about the show ending because they had a moment with us, you know wut I’m saying, luv?” Ok, so it was 1968 and the cigarette lighter arena show hadn’t been invented yet, but everyone knows that McCartney and Lennon were ahead of their time.
8. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run in the USA in his Glory Days
Yea, all of them. All of him. And I’ll be honest and tell you right off the bat that I have a personal, visceral hatred for Springsteen that goes beyond the usual “oh he sucks” kind of hate. But there’s also that other kind of hatred where you listen to a band/artist and think to yourself “Why? Why, god, why?” And then you remember you don’t believe in god and people like Springsteen becoming world class heroes is part of the reason why.
Anyhow. I can’t stand his strained voice. I can’t stand his underbite and the way he grimaces when he sings. I can’t stand the oh so meaningful lyrics about life as a down and out Jersey cowboy (wait, I think that’s Bon Jovi). Every song reads like the same Joyce Carol Oats short story. “Me and Janie went down to the boardwalk to talk about our lives and well, the boardwalk was kinda empty because this town is just dyin’, man and me and Janie said like, yea, we gotta get out of here. This town is just gonna kill us man. We can’t spend all our lives drag racin’ and fuckin’ and takin’ long walks on the beach contemplatin’ shit. And Janie’s pregnant, man and her old man is gonna kick her out of the house for not lovin’ Jesus enough and her momma done spent all the milk money gamblin’ in Atlantic City and we just work hard, you know? We work hard, man. We put on our blue jeans and work boots and go to the factories and mills and we work our fingers to the bone and we got nuthin’ to show for it ‘cept teenage pregnancy and drug overdoses and depressed kids with nothin’ to do and the streets are on fire baby. Let’s make out.”
9. The Doors – The End
The End is probably the most quoted Doors song of all time. It’s quoted by pretentious potheads who think they are being deep and meaningful; by retro beatnik poets who carry tattered paperback copies of On the Road in the back pocket of their faded jeans; by psuedo-intellectuals who claim that Adlous Huxley’s Doors of Perception is the single greatest thing ever written by man; and by despondent, razor-wielding, confused, emotional teenagers who think they have this connection with Morrison, a connection with the sixties, man and hey, the blue bus is calling us (yes, I was one of those once).
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The snake is long, seven miles
Ride the snake…he’s old, and his skin is cold
Do you know that otherwise intelligent people have spent entire weekends drinking vodka and deciphering those very lyrics? Here’s a news flash:
It’s nonsense. No matter what you want to believe, no matter how allegorical and deep you think those words are, no matter how much Freud you studied or Night Train you drank, those words are the magnetic poetry of the Age of Aquarius.
So, yea. The killer awoke before dawn and put his boots on and killed his mother. Or did he fuck her? Ohhh, the mystery! Fistfights have broken out over whether he fucked or killed her. Will we ever know? Of course not, because Morrison, realizing that he was nothing more than a sham, a bad poet and a bloated parody of his own idols, killed himself before he could tell us that, well, he had no fucking clue what he was saying there. He ad libbed it. Winged it. Made it up as he was going along.
I’m not saying the Doors sucked in general. I was a big fan and I still dust off the albums once in a while. But if you’re over 18 and not hindered by drug addiction or alcoholism that may cloud your thinking and you still believe these words are the most powerful thing you ever heard, you might want to find the nearest bathtub and emulate your idol.
10. Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall
If you know me, you know I’m a huge PF fan. But come on. Even I can admit that the entirety of The Wall, not just this song, is kind of overrated. There’s a whole “what the hell were they thinking” aspect to the album, most notably the disco background of Another Brick in the Wall. The whole song is tedious – it’s as if their goal was to come up with an anthem that the kiddies would sing along to, that would resonate with them and make them believe that this album was about them, too. “We don’t need no education” was the Pied Piper line of The Wall. It suckered in millions of teens and young adults who shouted along with the lines and bopped their heads to the rhythm and never gave thought (at least not until their later years) to the fact that Waters and company were pounding out the disco beats (also on Run Like Hell and Young Lust, which makes the “dirty woman” line feel somehow justifiable) just a year after disco was declared dead. Was he being ironic? Was the whole album ironic? Who knows. The message sort of got muddled in between the Oedipal odes and the admonishment of eating your whole meal before you have dessert.
Well, this was a nice respite from writing about my favorite songs. Agree with me or fight me. Either one is fine. But I know you have your own to add here. Go for it.