Yesterday, we looked at great songs from otherwise awful (or at least comparatively disappointing) records. There’s an obvious flipside to this –- songs that blot the copybooks of otherwise excellent records. Rock history is full of these -– the tracks that have you reaching for the remote control or tabbing your way across to iTunes to skip over them while wondering what on earth the artist was thinking recording them in the first place. We’ve collected a selection after the jump, but as ever, we’re open to suggestions.
The Flaming Lips – “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part Two)” From Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002)
This track gives its name to what we’ll call Yoshimi Part Two Syndrome, a curious musical phenomenon whereby a band decides to deface an otherwise flawless album with an ill-advised experimental track. Such songs are usually instrumental, invariably self-indulgent, and rarely have any sort of connection to the rest of the album. So it is here –- despite the name, this track bears no relation at all to the sublime “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part One),” nor to the rest of what’s otherwise a career highlight. It’s made all the worse by the fact that the album also contains one other beautiful instrumental, the gloriously atmospheric closing track “Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon.”
Electrelane – “Business or Otherwise” From Axes (2005)
Taking Yoshimi Part Two Syndrome to its extreme were much-lamented UK band Electrelane, who inexplicably decided to drop a steamer in the middle of an otherwise excellent album in the form of six minutes of completely unfocused, improvised noise. Thankfully, this is what the “skip” button on your CD player (or the “delete” button on your computer) were made for, but it’s a huge pain in the arse if you happen to have the album on vinyl.
The Beatles – “Revolution 9” From The Beatles , aka “The White Album” (1968)
Perhaps the earliest and most notorious example of Yoshimi Part Two syndrome comes from those tireless innovators, The Beatles. Not content to make a double album that built on the sonic innovation of Sgt. Pepper with the cunning addition of actual good songs, the band also decided to include an “experimental” track that played with tape loops and muisque concrète ideas of found sound and musical serendipity. All of this would have been fascinating if the bloody thing hadn’t gone for nearly nine minutes. First time: interesting. Second time, and thereafter: skip.
Of Montreal – “Our Riotous Defects” From False Priest (2010)
The problem with “Revolution 9” gets to the heart of the issue with plenty of the tracks we’re discussing here -– they don’t bear up to repeated listening. Unlike many fans, we loved Kevin Barnes’s opus of randiness False Priest, but the song “Our Riotous Defects” suffers from the comedy monologues that Barnes includes in place of verses. The first time you hear them, they’re genuinely funny. But by the time you’ve listened to them a few times, it’s like having to sit through your drunken uncle’s retelling of that same joke you’ve heard once too often already.
The Pixies – “La La Love You” From Doolittle (1989)
Also on The Beatles front, their career really should have convinced bands that came after that it’s never a good idea to let your slightly loose drummer sing a number –- especially if that number is a novelty love song, and your drummer is a slightly creepy individual given to performing science experiments on stage. Apparently, “La La Love You” was conceived as a “dig at the very idea of a love song” -– unfortunately, it comes across as an invitation to reach for the skip button and put the kettle on.
U2 – “Get On Your Boots” From No Line on the Horizon (2009)
Say what you like about U2, but No Line on the Horizon was actually a pretty decent record, evoking the widescreen production of The Unforgettable Fire and containing some of the best and most understated songs the band has written in years. Unfortunately, it was completely overshadowed by the sheer abhorrence of lead single “Get On Your Boots,” a song so jaw-droppingly appalling that it still defies belief. It’s like the band made the album, realized there was no single, and then tossed off a dreadful stadium rock stomper that mixed Escape Club’s “Wild Wild West” with Elvis Cotello’s “Pump It Up” and added some of the worst lyrics Bono has ever written: “I’ve got a submarine/You’ve got gasoline/I don’t wanna talk about wars between nations/Not right now.”
Leonard Cohen – “Jazz Police” From I’m Your Man (1988)
Not as risible as “Get On Your Boots,” but still, a huge blight on an otherwise flawless album –- it’s hard to know quite what Leonard Cohen was thinking when he recorded “Jazz Police.” The humor in Cohen’s music has long been underrated, but it generally works because it’s subtle and unexpected. As such, a heavy-handed satire that arose from an in-joke between the singer and his band doesn’t really qualify. Cohen fans being what they are, someone has written an essay trying to explain this song, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a stinker, pure and simple.
Nirvana – “Endless, Nameless” From Nevermind (1991)
Endless, nameless, and largely pointless. While Kurt Cobain’s anti-corporate punk rock spirit was admirable, his desire to mess up Nevermind‘s relatively slick sound with a seven-minute tantrum jam was more juvenile than anything. All that adding this song to later pressings of Nevermind really did was force fans the world over to jump up and hit stop on their CD player the minute “Something in the Way” was done (kind of like that God-awful siren at the end of U2’s Zooropa).
The Stooges – “We Will Fall” From The Stooges (1969)
If you’ve ever accidentally eaten a bunch of those delicious brownies at someone’s place and then been greeted with a look of horror when complimenting your host on his baking skills, you’ll know exactly how listening to “We Will Fall” feels. Placed smack bang in the middle of an album where virtually every other song is a four-minute garage punk snarler, “We Will Fall” is a ten-minute musical recreation of being really, really, really, really baked. And it goes on, and on, and…
REM – “Shiny Happy People” From Out of Time (1991)
Look at how aghast poor Peter Buck looks about 1:23 into this video. That’s pretty much how we feel every time we hear this song.