Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why songs about being in bands usually suck

It's a cliche and truism in the music business that most bands produce their best work on their first album and then go straight to Hell after that.

The thinking is this: you have your whole life to write the first album, so when it becomes a success, you tour and tour and tour until the only thing you have left to write about is: how you tour and tour and tour and do drugs and hang out backstage and have sex with groupies.

If "meta" is the highest level of learning (learning about learning!) then it's the lowest level of songwriting (singing and writing about singing and writing!). There are exceptions to the rule, but let's start with the worst of the worst, because those are the best.

I. The simply moronic:

1. Nickelback - Rockstar

Key line: "I want a brand-new house on an episode of Cribs." Everyone!
Worst moment: "Been there, done that."

2. Bon Jovi - Wanted Dead or Alive

Key line: "Times when you're alone, all you do is think." Ouch!
Worst moment: "I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride!"

3. Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water

Key line: "Some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground." Sounds reasonable to me.
Worst moment: The guitar riff, sorry. Even John Bender in the Breakfast Club knew a cliche when he heard it.

4. The Ramones - Touring

Key line: "Drive, drive, drive the night away."
Worst moment: Rhyming "touring" with "boring." Blitzkrieg Bop was a long, long time ago.

II. The mean-spirited:

1. Loudon Wainwright III - My Biggest Fan

Key line: "My biggest fan is a 400-pound man." Having trouble getting that singalong going, Loudon?
Worst moment: "Who knows how many stalls hang onto his balls?"

2. John Mellencamp - Pop Singer

Key line: "Never wanted to be a pop singer." Uh...then don't make albums?
Worst moment: "Never wanted to hang out after the show."

3. The Streets - When You Wasn't Famous

Key line: "So when you try to pull a girl who is also famous too - it feels just like when you wasn't famous." I would imagine.
Worst moment: "How the hell am I supposed to be able to do a line in front of complete strangers when I know they've all got camera phones?"

III. The predictable

1. Jackson Browne - Running on Empty

Key line: "I don't know how to tell you all how just crazy this life feels." Totally.
Worst moment: the bowl cut, hands down. Is this Jackson or Buster Browne?

2. Dire Straits - Sultans of Swing

Key line: "They don't give a damn about any trumpet-playing band." Zzzz....
Worst moment: "And the Sultans played Creole."

3. George Harrison - When We Was Fab

Key line: "But it's all over now, baby blue." True!
Worst moment: The lame callback to Taxman: "Back when income tax was all we had."

4. The Byrds - So You Want to be a Rock and Roll Star

Key line: "Just get an electric guitar then take some time and learn how to play." No way!
Worst moment: "Was it all a strange game, you're a little insane."

IV. The actually good!

1. Art Brut - Formed a Band

Key line: "Look at us - we formed a band!"
Best moment: "And, yes, this is my singing voice."

2. The Minutemen, History Lesson Part II

Key line: "Our band could be your life."
Best moment: "We were f***ing corn dogs."

3. The Clash - Garageland

Key line: "We're in a garage band. We come from garageland."
Best moment: "Complaints! Complaints! Wot an old bag!"

4. Pavement - Cut Your Hair

Key line: "Songs mean a lot when songs are bought."
Best moment: "Oooh-oooh-oooh-oooh-ooooh-ooohhh!"

Which ones did I miss?


  1. Hmm, I'd have to add Takin' Care of Business (HOMER: "It's BTO. They're Canada's answer to ELP. Their big hit was TCB. That's how we talked in the 70s, we didn't have a moment to spare!"). That song was primarily about how easy it is to be a musician, wasn't it?

    Plus, I hear it in my head every time I crack my knuckles and sit down at my computer to get to work.

  2. I must say, Kenton, I'm surprised you didn't mention Bob Seger's "Turn the Page", yet another song about the life of a rock star.

  3. I'd count "Maps," though that's about one's boyfriend being in a band.

  4. That Streets joint comes on whenever 101.5 is on autopilot, so I've grown to loathe it.
    I really hate to admit is, but I have a soft spot for "Wanted Dead or Alive", but only accompanied by the video. It does the exact opposite of the song, making me want to hit the road and get sweaty for the people.
    I hadn't paid much attention to Art Brut until Sound Opinions played that very song several episodes ago. It's a fine piece spazzy, punk-ish spontaneity. about Dr. Hook's "On the Cover of the Rolling Stone"? Goofy goodness.

  5. "Turn the Page" is a classic of the category (already mentioned), but how about The Who's "Long Live Rock"? And maybe Springsteen's "Tenth Avenue Freezeout", which is really more about the forming of a band (his band), but still sort of fits the theme.

    And for a great and sad song about the life of a DJ (the radio kind), you can't go wrong with Harry Chapin's W*O*L*D.

  6. I knew you guys would have a million of these...well done!


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