10 Good Songs From (Relatively) Bad Albums

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At the risk of starting another deluge of comments from enraged Nicki Minaj fans, our post a few days back about the best opening lines in music got us thinking about various things, and one of those things was how “Did It On ‘Em” – a suggestion from one of our readers of an opening line we should have included – shines as a killer song on a largely underwhelming record. Of course, Nicki’s not the first artist to deliver a shitty record that is enlightened by one or two great songs, so here’s a selection of most excellent songs from records that paled in comparison to their best moment.

Nicki Minaj – “Did It On ‘Em” From Pink Friday (2010)

It’s a shame about Nicki. Her history could start and finish with the killer verse off “Monster” and she’d still warrant a decent mention in the history of post-millennial hip hop, which only makes it all the more disappointing that Pink Friday was such a pile of homogenized, commercial pap. But even though the album was largely forgettable, there were flashes of the manic energy that characterised her “Monster” star turn – and the best track by far is “Did It On ‘Em,” which contains the immortal line “If I had a dick, I’d pull it out and piss on ‘em.” Eeek.

The Clash – “This Is England” From Cut the Crap (1985)

Rarely has an album been more appropriately named than Cut the Crap, the disastrous post-Mick Jones record that’s been discreetly expunged from tellings of The Clash’s history. The album found manager Bernie Rhodes deciding that he wanted to write the music – after all, someone had to in the absence of the fired Jones, who’d been responsible for pretty much all the tunes. The resultant album was indeed crap of the crappiest sort, and the whole sorry saga was cut soon after. But! But! Against all odds, “This Is England” was a fantastic song – the last great Clash tune, and one that deserves better than being forgotten along with the rest of the album.

David Bowie – “Blue Jean” From Tonight (1984)

Also deep into a career funk by the mid-1980s was one Mr. David Bowie. For most of the ‘70s, it seemed he could do no wrong – he turned out classic after classic, exploring a range of genres and sounds with nary a misstep. The first sign that his golden run was ending was 1983’s Let’s Dance, although the success of the title track and “Modern Love,” along with his reworking of “China Girl” (which he wrote with Iggy Pop in the mid-‘70s) stopped people asking too many questions. Tonight, however, was a genuine stinker – save for lead single “Blue Jean,” a classic Bowie pop song that could quite happily have been lifted off Hunky Dory or Aladdin Sane. Sadly, the rest of Bowie’s ‘80s output falls into the category of “Terrible Albums With No Good Songs at All.”

The Rolling Stones – “Emotional Rescue” From Emotional Rescue (1980)

Like Bowie, the Rolling Stones’ best moments were well behind them by the time the ’70s turned into ‘80s – a fact made explicit by the disastrous Mick Jagger/Bowie collaboration for their cover of “Dancing in the Street.” The first Stones record released in the new decade, Emotional Rescue was largely forgettable, and is rescued from obscurity only by the light-fingered disco-influenced title track, which is an entirely justified inclusion on just about every Rolling Stones best-of compilation ever released. The band would recover their poise for Tattoo You, released the next year – curiously, it consisted partly of out-takes from the Emotional Rescue sessions, which were better than the album they didn’t make it onto – but it was all downhill after that.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — “Wonderful Life” From Nocturama (2003)

The Boatman’s Call‘s somber balladry proved that Nick Cave could write some of the most beautiful songs you’d ever hear, but its two follow-ups – No More Shall We Part in 2001 and Nocturama two years later – were largely less successful variations on the same theme. Nocturama, particularly, sounded horribly middle-aged, its songs plodding along in a mid-paced slough of tedium. Still, its opening track “Wonderful Life” was genuinely lovely, and would have sat happily on The Boatman’s Call. Thankfully, Cave moved away from the realms of piano balladry with Abbatoir Blues and The Lyre of Orpheus, released in 2004, and is now growing old disgracefully with Grinderman.

The Stone Roses – “Begging You” From Second Coming (1994)

Has there ever been a greater disappointment than Second Coming? Five years after The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut blew the cobwebs off British indie music, the band’s second album arrived late, overblown, and largely underwhelming. In fairness, the reception the album got wasn’t entirely the band’s fault – the amount of expectation was massive, and the five-year wait was as much due to record company “issues” as it was to arseing about on the band’s part – but they did play up to it with the messianic title, which the album was never going to live up to. The fact that guitarist John Squire had discovered cocaine and decided he wanted to make a blues album didn’t help, either. “Begging You” is the only track that shirks the general mood of overblown egoism and encourages you to dance.

Guns N’ Roses – “Down on the Farm” From The Spaghetti Incident? (1993

Like Cut the Crap, The Spaghetti Incident? has largely and mercifully been forgotten – a cash-in covers album released on the tail-end of a massive world tour does not a memorable release make. But despite generally being included in “Worst Albums by Good Artists” lists, it did have its moments – or, at least one, that being this comedic reinterpretation of the UK Subs’ rather amusing tale of a disastrous exile in the country. (Check Axl’s ludicrous Cockney accent!) If you take this in the lighthearted vein in which it was (hopefully) intended, it’s not half bad.

Smashing Pumpkins – “Ava Adore” From Adore (1998)

The game was largely up for the Smashing Pumpkins by 1998 – Jimmy Chamberlin had been sacked after the heroin overdose that killed the band’s touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin, and since he was the only person who ever played on Pumpkins albums apart from Billy Corgan anyway, his absence left Corgan to obsess over the contents of Adore with a series of producers while James Iha worked on his solo record and D’arcy Wretzky killed time doing, well, bad things. The album’s strange combination of industrial/electronic flavors and gentle acoustica sounds largely forced and left fans confused, but the grinding title track was a latter career highlight. Even if Corgan really looks like Uncle Fester in the video.

The Bravery – “An Honest Mistake” From The Bravery (2005)

The Bravery’s debut single was a great song, and it promised a great deal for their debut album. Unfortunately, it turned out that it was their one and only decent tune. It soon became painfully clear that “An Honest Mistake” was about a thousand times better than anything else on the album, or, indeed, on anything else they’ve recorded since. Sometimes it’s not such a good idea to shoot your bolt with your first release.

The Beatles – “A Day in the Life” From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)

OK, the last time we said something nasty about The Beatles, we nearly got strung up by a virtual lynch mob. But before you light the torches and raise the pitchforks, consider this: Sgt. Pepper’s… is an album that has huge historical significance, an album that was a landmark in terms of production and recording techniques. But it also contains “Getting Better,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “With a Little Help from my Friends,” and the ever-risible “Fixing a Hole.” If you compare Sgt Pepper’s… to The Beatles’ best work – Revolver, The White Album – the songwriting simply doesn’t stand up, and the fact that it inevitably ends up at #1 in Greatest Album Ever Ever Ever polls helmed by tedious Baby Boomers has become increasingly irritating as the years go by. But yes, before you start waving the pitchfork again, it does also have its classics – none moreso than “A Day in the Life,” which demonstrated just how good The Beatles could be when they actually remembered to write songs. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to hide in the cellar.