10 Worst Song Lyrics of All Time

Unless you’re Leonard Cohen or Gil-Scott Heron, lyrics in popular music are a secondary concern. Normally I’m happy to bop along to the music, and don’t mind if the lyrics aren’t profound. But sometimes the words are too jarring too ignore.

Here’s my list of the ten worst lyrics in rock and pop music, presented in chronological order.

10 Worst Lyrics of All Time

War Pigs – Black Sabbath

The generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses

1970
Unlike most of the tracks to come on this list, Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ is a great song. But the opening couplet, rhyming “masses” with “masses”, could have used some more work.


Riders on the Storm – The Doors

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirming like a toad

1971
‘Riders On The Storm’ was the last Doors’ single to feature front-man Jim Morrison – it entered the US charts the same week that Morrison died. That doesn’t excuse this lazy rhyme; “that’s surely the worst line in rock’n’roll history. He gave the green light to generations of pseuds.” Craig Finn (The Hold Steady) quoted in The Guardian


A Horse With No Name – America

There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings

1972
‘A Horse With No Name’ was the first single from folk-rock trio America. The song was intended to literally depict the desert, inspired by artworks and by writer Dewey Bunnell’s travels through the desert as a child. But the vague lyrics were often misconstrued as drug references; Randy Newman dismissed ‘A Horse With No Name’ as sounding like it’s “about a kid who thinks he’s taken acid.” The line “there were plants and birds and rocks and things” is particularly egregious, and later provided an album title for Scott Miller’s The Loud Family.


Sometimes When We Touch – Dan Hill

And sometimes when we touch
The honesty’s too much
And I have to close my eyes and hide

I want to hold you till I die
Till we both break down and cry
I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides

1977
This entire record by Canadian songwriter Dan Hill is soft-rock hell, but the chorus lyrics are particularly awful. There’s honesty when we touch? There’s too much honesty when we touch?


Why Can’t This Be Love? – Van Halen

Only time will tell if we stand the test of time 

1986
Well, obviously….


We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller cola wars, I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE

1989
Billy Joel is an expert tune-smith, but has written many awkward lyrics. I could have chosen his labelling of his wife as an “instant pleasuredome” in early album track ‘You’re My Home’ or numerous forced lines in his Vietnam saga ‘Goodnight Saigon’.

From 1989’s Storm Front, ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ is a clever concept – starting in Joel’s birth year of 1949, it chronologically lists the major events impacting the US baby boomer generation. But the final line of the final verse is delivered in Joel’s heartiest bellow, and it cheapens Joel’s succinct summation of American history.


Rhythm is a Dancer – SNAP!

I’m serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer!

1992
This unexpectedly dark simile is jarring in an otherwise light-hearted dance number.


Back for Good – Take That

Whatever I said, whatever I did
I didn’t mean it

1995
Before he went solo, Robbie Williams was a member of British vocal pop band Take That. They scored numerous UK number ones, but ‘Back For Good’ was their biggest hit. It reached number one in 31 countries, with lovely harmonies wallpapering over questionable lyrics.

Irish comedian Ed Byrne sums ‘Back For Good’ up perfectly with “It’s the biggest cop-out song ever, and it was voted the greatest love song of the ’90s… What’ll their next single be? ‘Of course I love you, I’m f***ing you aren’t I?'”


My Humps – The Black Eyed Peas

Whatcha gonna do with all that junk
All that junk inside your trunk

I’ma get get get get you drunk
Get you love drunk off my hump
My hump my hump my hump my hump my hump
My hump my hump my hump my lovely little lumps

2005
The addition of vocalist Fergie to L.A. hip-hop group The Black Eyed Peas turbo-charged their sales, but it also stupefied their lyrics. Popular music plumbed new depths of lyrical inanity with their 2005 single ‘My Humps’, with its references to Fergie’s “lovely lady lumps”.


Friday – Rebecca Black

Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today it is Friday, Friday (partyin’)
We-we-we so excited
We so excited
We gonna have a ball today
Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes afterwards

2011
Criticising this viral hit is like shooting fish in a barrel. I was surprised to learn that 13-year-old Rebecca Black didn’t write the lyrics for ‘Friday’ – the perpetrators were record producers Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson. The combination of Black’s dazzling smile and the song’s staggering inanity made it into the most viewed Youtube video of 2011.

Did I leave out your favourite bad lyric? Write in and let me know!

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90 Comments

  1. First of all, great idea for a post. in the past, I’ve done my favorite lyrics but it never occurred to me to do the worst. Too many. Secondly, impressed you know Gil Scott-Heron, one of the greats in any genre. As to your choices, can’t argue with ’em, at least the ones I know. We have spent a fair amount of time bashing Dan Hill over on ME. That entire song is one big turd. I made such a comment on the YouTube site where it had been posted and some guy accused me of having “no soul.” Perhaps not but I like to think I have a modicum of taste.
    That “only time will tell if we stand the test of time” lyric drives me crazy whenever I hear it. “War Pigs” is target-rich with crappy lyrics. “Politicians hide themselves away, They only started the war,” Really? As to Billy Joel, this song notwithstanding I’ve come to appreciate his lyrics more over time. A really lousy lyricist is John Mayall. Anyway, I’ll come up with my own list. Let me think about it.

      • Dan Hill? Are you kidding? Once I had this piece of schmaltz he could have written ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and I wouldn’t have listened to it. That said, I don’t believe he’s a wet blanket. I believe he firmly thinks he’s written a beautiful love song. Check out the comments on YouTube sometime. “They don’t make them like this anymore” or “What a beautiful love song,” etc. So, beauty I guess is in the eye of the beholder.

    • your line about the ‘war pigs’ couplet needing a little more work made me laugh out loud. very nice. problem is, it’s kind of perfect, really paints an eerie battlefield tableau – GOTesque. I’m workin’ on replacing one of the ‘masses’ will let ya know if i come up with anything
      billy joel’s best lyrical moment was ‘captain jack’ – i agree w you there
      some of these i can’t agree with. I think Fergie’s terrific, and the lyrics to ‘my humps’ are genius – they are self consciously inane. when she says ‘you can look but you can’t touch, or I’ll start some drama, you don’t want no drama’ is really funny. lyrics to ‘shut up’ and latin girls’ are amazing – both in the fergie era
      re: birds and trees and rocks and things -so good, so perfect. you got names for the first few nouns then you run out and go with the generic ‘things’ – perfectly captures the state of being extremely high. Because actually, one’s highness helps one return to a more preverbal absorption of the surroundings, which is pretty on point. Think Jeff Spicoli hitting his head with a shoe and saying into the phone ‘that’s how wasted i am’
      it’s not about partying, it’s about a blunt wisdom marbled into the incoherence of intoxication
      totally agree about sammy haggar’s ‘only time will tell if we stand the test of time’ – has always maddened me, and made me long for his predecessor’s poetry: ‘i don’t feel tardy’

  2. Ok. I did all the wallowing in this that I could stand:
    1. Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones
    And I will try to fix you
    -(Coldplay). I’m sorry, try to fix this person in what way? Who the hell are you, God? Fix yourself, pal
    2. Slowly walking down the hall, faster than a cannonball
    -(Oasis) Pick one, slow or fast, can’t be both
    3. Take nothing less than the second best.
    (Curtis Mayfield) A song about black empowerment advises you to take second best?
    4. I love your pants around your feet… You’re like my favorite damn disease
    Nickelback must die
    5. When Black Friday comes I’ll be on that hill. You know I will
    (Steely Dan). They stretch ‘will’ out to three syllables. How about ‘I think I will.’
    6. In the desert you can remember your name, for there ain’t no-one for to give you no pain
    Whee!
    7. If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now, It’s just a spring queen for the may queen
    I’m sorry, what?
    8. Don’t put off another day, What you could do today!
    (John Mayall) great bluesman, lousy lyricist
    9 I don’t think that I can take it ‘Coz it took so long to make it, And I’ll never have that recipe
    Again.
    (MacArthur Park, Jimmy Webb) .I know what he was referring to. But still.
    10. You ask me if I love you, And I choke on my reply, I’d rather hurt you honestly, Than mislead you with a lie
    Dan Hill again, the grand winner. Like John Mayer’s “Your Body is a Wonderland,” written for no other reason than to get sentimental googly-eyed girls to sleep with them.

    • Very generous of you – maybe you should be saving it for your own blog! Some of these – the Plant and the Webb in particular – I don’t mind – but that Nickelback line is awful. I don’t really know them, so didn’t know about it.

      • Well I was responding to your call for least favorite lyrics so there it is. I don’t plan on this particular post idea. Unless I think of some more. I don’t hate the Plant line but it makes no sense.

        • There are two basic kinds of bad lyrics right – there’s really inane stuff like Moon and June, and then there are lines that are creative but overreach. Normally I like the second a lot more than the first.

    • Ahem: Spring clean = tidying out the old, making space for the new each year. Meanwhile the May Queen was a maiden chosen by a village to represent the hopes and potential for the coming year. She was a symbol of beauty, spring and new beginnings. She’d ride on the front at parades for May Day – the first day of spring.

          • Sure. You’ll just be making stuff up. And by the end of the ciders we won’t care. I stay away from ciders. A long time ago I got shitfaced on that stuff in London. I got in a fistfight with one of your countrymen (from Weston-Super-Mare) over nothing and wound up with a fat lip and chipped tooth (which I’ve kept as kind of a souvenir.)

          • They literally called it hard cider. It went down easy but had a kick. On the plus side I learned songs like “My Old Man Said Follow the Van,” and our pal Jeff Beck’s “Tallyman.”

          • I need to get you into the good stuff, sir. Looks like there’s an increasing opportunity of celebrations soon – catching up with the events of yesterday afternoon (your time) over coffee and can almost here the ticking clock over that clown and his lawyer

          • When I heard that Pelosi (a most formidable woman and my hero) had officially called for an impeachment inquiry, I was over the moon with joy. I am still quite happy watching old dildo-head suffer. However, several days later reality has set in. I know it is absolutely the right thing to do to impeach him. But if you don’t know our system, Part B is the trial which happens in the Senate. The Republican Senate. Where he will likely be judged guilty by all the Democrats. But he will need 20 sycophantic, apologist, Republicans to vote guilty. If they do not, he stays in office and could use this as a cudgel against the Dems. This is what happened in the Bill Clinton situation. This is why we are cautiously optimistic and so, our only enjoyment is waiting for Her Majesty the Queen to slap the beejezus out of Boris for lying to her

          • aaaaaand now your Justice Department confirms he tried to pressure Australia for his own gains…. there’s some momentum here at last and I see a few Republicans are getting shaky too. Is this the end??

          • BTW, we drank massive quantities back then. I was 21. I still drink but I have long since learned my lessons. It turns out that if you get really drunk you are NOT more attractive to the ladies and they do NOT like you pawing at them.

  3. My top 3, worst lyrics of all time, (each inclusive of the entire song, not just a line or couplet or particular rhyme.)
    3. Shooting Star by Bad Company – Impossible to fathom how the great many people involved in the soup to nuts process of producing major label records can let such sub-adolescent tripe make it all the way to the record store. Precludes me from having any respect for Paul Rogers no matter what else he may have done in his career, (but honestly, ALL his lyrics are embarrassing.)
    2. Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire – The worst thing about Bob Dylan was his influence on crappy songwriters and record label execs that don’t know the difference. This calculus still applies today. But in the hippy dippy heyday it was out of control, and Eve, while the epitome of the sin, represents all such high crimes against Dylan’s influence.
    1. I Am I Said by Neil Diamond – This award could be bestowed on so many of his biggest hits really. But I Am I Said is such an egregious crystallization of Diamond’s cloying self importance expressed in idiotic-bad-poetry form, that its impossible for me to avoid listening to it over & over just to marvel at it’s awfulness. Thus making me the fool.

    • I probably should have included the couplet from ‘I Am I Said’ – “No one heard at all/not even the chair.” I do like the first verse of that song, about being pulled between LA and New York.
      I’ve actually seen Barry McGuire live.

  4. Wow, the worst lyrics – what a cheerful topic for a post!😀
    I think the reality is most of the words in rock and pop aren’t exactly Shakespeare! So I don’t know about writing about it…it’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap…wait, that’s Bruce who turned 70 today and is on my mind – to be clear, I love that song and don’t mind the lyrics!😀
    I have to admit in most cases, I don’t really pay attention to the lyrics, unless it’s singer-songwriter sit-down-and-listen type of music.
    But since we are on the topic, let me suggest one of the most nonsensical German lyrics. It’s a song by a former German band called Trio with the deep title Da Da Da. There’s also an English version, which I believe became popular in various other countries.
    Ich lieb Dich nicht, Du liebst mich nicht, aha
    Ich lieb Dich nicht, Du liebst mich nicht
    Da da da
    Da da da
    Da da da
    Da da da
    Translation: I don’t love you, you don’t love me, aha – ouch!
    Now I’m doing something that amounts to treason:
    You say “yes,” I say “no”
    You say “stop,” but I say “go, go, go”
    Oh no…
    Indeed, oh no. The harmony vocals in this tune aren’t bad, but the words are really silly. And I’m obviously saying this as a huge Beatles fan!

    • Police song:
      De do do do, de da da da
      Is all I want to say to you
      De do do do, de da da da
      Their innocence will pull me through
      De do do do, de da da da
      Is all I want to say to you
      De do do do, de da da da
      They’re meaningless and all that’s true

      • Agree, it’s not a bad song musically speaking. And, yes, I dig McCartney’s melodic bass playing. I just feel the lyrics aren’t particularly compelling.
        But as I said before, I think the same can be said for the vast majority of other pop and rock lyrics!😀
        Out of curiosity, had you ever heard of Trio and Da Da Da? Apparently, it was a hit in like 30 countries – certainly not the proudest moment of German exports!😆

  5. Some songs can mask bad lyrics with the melody but…
    As much as I admire Paul McCartney…My Love
    It’s in the hands of my love
    And my love does it good
    Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa, whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa
    My love does it good
    Styx
    Mr. Roboto…the entire song
    Come Sail Away
    I thought that they were Angels, but to my surprise
    We climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies
    Great post idea

    • McCartney is 90% about the music – the lyrics often seem like an afterthought. It’s often a positive trait, but leads to some tossed off lyrics, especially when he didn’t have Lennon to rein him in.

      • He can be clever though when we wants to be…as in Hey Jude and Fool on the Hill.
        He is more about the melody.

    • Paul McCartney has a veritable wealth (almost as large as his true net worth!) of horrific lyricism when it comes to his solo career/Wings. Some of my favourite examples, of which there are many:
      – The endless repetition of: “Someone’s knockin’ at the door
      Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
      Someone’s knockin’ at the door
      Somebody’s ringin’ the bell
      Do me a favor
      Open the door and let ’em in…”, and, “Sister Suzie, brother John
      Martin Luther, Phil and Don
      Uncle Ernie, auntie Gin
      Open the door and let ’em in, yeah,” in ‘Let ‘Em In’…
      – The entirety of the song ‘Bip Bop’, featuring gems such as, “Bip bop, bip bip bop / Bip bop, bip bip band,” and, “Take me hair and curlers / But treat me like a man.” (Huh?)
      – From ‘Temporary Secretary’: “She can be a belly dancer
      I don’t need a need romancer
      She can be a diplomat
      But I don’t need a girl like that
      She can be a neurosurgeon
      If she’s doin’ nothing’ urgent
      What I need’s a temporary, temporary secretary”
      – From ‘Driving Rain’: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
      Let’s go for a drive
      6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
      Let’s go there and back again”
      – And I think his recent attempt at evasion of a ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker, last year, takes the gold medal: “I just wanna fuh you, I just wanna fuh you!”
      Brought to you by the man who once wrote ‘Let It Be’, ‘Here, There, and Everywhere’, and ‘For No One’!

      • I forgot this one, from ‘Waterfalls’! “Don’t go chasing polar bears
        In the great unknown
        Some big friendly polar bear
        Might want to take you home”
        (What if I want to be taken home by a grizzly bear?!)

      • I think Lennon kept him respectable, right? I remember reading that Lennon made him change a lyric in Í Saw Her Standing There’ from “she was no beauty queen” to “You know what I mean”.

        • Apologies for my very, very late reply! I completely agree — they struck a perfect balance between each other, and whilst they both most deserving of solo success, they were most certainly better as a team! (I love that anecdote you mention, as well!)

  6. I think lyrics are easier to object to than music. Maybe something to do with the fact that words require a semblance of English standards, while sound quality is more subjective? I don’t know. Most of the examples above (incl. in the comments) I agree with. Jim the ME and I have already ripped apart Dan Hill. I love “War Pigs” and “Riders on the Storm,” but agree with you on the words.
    I’ve noticed that food references in song bother me a lot. Burt Bacharach’s arrangement for “One Less Bell to Answer” is sublime, but Hal David’s lyric really wounds that song. “…One less egg to fry.” I always envision a plate of scrambled eggs, and the song goes downhill from there. Another one is Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park”, with his cake in the rain, and searching for his damn recipe. Even the music bothers me on that song. But a great songwriter nonetheless (“Wichita Lineman” is one of my faves).

    • It’s easier to pick on lyrics for sure. Simple song structures can work fine with an interesting arrangement, but banal lyrics are out there in the open for everyone to see.
      Can you think of any songs with good food references?

      • Sure. Bryan MacLean of Love has two gems. “Softly to Me” with “Orange, sugar, chocolate, hot cinnamon and lovely things and you.” And his “Orange Skies,” one of my favorite songs of all time, mentions “Carnivals and cotton candy.” But these songs are intentionally innocent, they have a precocious romanticism, and the music is similarly “sweet,” so the sugary food references work (in my opinion).

        • I have Da Capo but haven’t spent much time with it – I’ll listen out for that one.
          From the same era, Syd Barrett in early Pink Floyd has ‘Apples and Oranges’ and ‘Candy and a Currant Bun’.
          I also enjoy Paul Kelly’s ‘How To Make Gravy’, which literally includes a recipe for gravy.

  7. You’re saying you never touched someone honestly?
    This made me laugh a lot. There’s just so much crap out there….
    I think ‘serious as a heart attack’ is just as bad. I think the one I take issue with is Bed of Roses. It’s not so much the god awful cliches of it but the whole ‘my love is true’ ‘you’re all that I need’ bollocks AFTER ‘some blonde… I think that she’s still in my bed’.

  8. Good collection of some pretty bad lyrics! I remember when I purchased Paranoia — it was the first Black Sabbath album I bought — I hadn’t heard a note previously, and put on the first side with headphones and that first couplet with the same word for the rhyme certainly made an impression — I had never heard this in a rock song that I could remember — I didn’t think it was a bad thing — I was more focused on the music — but thought, yes, perhaps they could have had a better start to the song, lyrically.

  9. Ugh. I’ve noticed that the worse the lyrics the more popular the song. For me, the worst song EVER recorded is that Natalie Imbruglia nonsense, “Torn.”
    I thought I saw a man brought to life
    He was warm, he came around like he was dignified
    He showed me what it was to cry
    Well, you couldn’t be that man I adored
    You don’t seem to know, or seem to care what your heart is for
    But I don’t know him anymore
    There’s nothin’ where he used to lie
    The conversation has run dry
    That’s what’s goin’ on
    Nothing’s fine, I’m torn
    I’m all out of faith
    This is how I feel
    I’m cold and I am shamed
    Lying naked on the floor
    Illusion never changed
    Into something real
    I’m wide awake and I can see
    The perfect sky is torn
    You’re a little late
    I’m already torn
    This song is otherwise entitled, “Hey mom, look at me. I’ve got a rhyming dictionary!” And the damn radio stations played it CONSTANTLY. Couple the stupid lyrics with Imbruglia’s inability to carry a tune, and you’ve got a #1 top 40 hit on your hands.

  10. I think lyrics are only bad when they’re a cliché, unoriginal, discordant with the music of the song etc. I think when writers strive to be original, they might over-reach or choose a ‘figure’ that doesn’t hit the mark. That doesn’t make them bad lyrics in my view. Also, sometimes the lyrics are just playful or ironic. I do find it annoying when someone praises a song’s lyrics because the artist is a big name or has a reputation that they are a great lyricist when probably they’re not. I mean: they’re just well marketed. So, I find fault with Taylor Swift on this account. I dislike her music and lyrics. I find them both riddled with clichés and excruciatingly uninteresting attempts at emotional affect. The problem, I suppose, is me. I kept trying because people kept saying how great she was. I even saw her on NPR Tiny Desk. But no. Not for me. EG
    Drew talks to me
    I laugh ’cause it’s just so funny
    That I can’t even see
    Anyone when he’s with me

  11. From “Dust In The Wind” – “And all your money won’t another minute buy”
    Should have been – “Not another minute will all your money buy”

  12. i’ve read through a handful of worst lyrics articles today & to my great surprise, none of them have mentioned what has to be one of the greatest atrocities in human history… i’m so overwhelmed with how much i want to say about it, that i’m at a loss for words…
    Jagged Edge – Let’s Get Married
    brace yourselves for these lyrics…
    “We ain’t gettin’ no younger, so we might as well do it, let’s get married…”
    HOLY F*** ME! so romantic (cough)

  13. What a fun list! I have to say that “Friday” by Rebecca Black falls into the “so bad, it’s good” category for me. When it went viral, I watched it a couple times a day and laughed until I cried. My favorite line is “Gotta have my bowl, gotta have my cereal.” I can barely type it because I’m shaking with laughter! I don’t know why, but the fact that someone thought to rhyme bowl with cereal strikes my funny bone. I think because it kind of works, but it’s a terrible lyric. I wish people hadn’t been so mean to her. She might have recorded more songs!

  14. this is my first time responding to a blog. I suppose nostalgia inspired me. I bring up nostalgia because I think its interesting to think about songs that I grew up on and liked that are listed are justified as suggestions. Sad to realize that many songs that we like are only liked because they just grew on you.

  15. Two of my “favorites” by writers already mentioned in the comments.
    Jim Morrison – “The killer awoke before dawn,
    He put his boots on.” Better than “he put his bunny slippers on” I suppose.
    Paul McCartney – “In this ever changing world in which we live in.” I can hear the voice of John Lennon in which he is mocking Paul.
    I’ve only recently found your blog, love it!

  16. Just about anything by Meat Loaf would make the grade, but my absolute favourite is “I would do anything for love but I won’t do that”. You sit through the song watching the video and admiring the woman who sings “sooner or later you’ll be screwing around ” and in the end you still don’t know what “that” is that old Meat wouldn’t do!

    • Jim Steinman, who wrote Meatloaf’s songs, passed away a few weeks ago. He’s very over the top – that line about “I won’t do that” drove me crazy as a teenager.

  17. Oh, and Katie Melua:

    “You don’t need no food to eat
    All you need is two bare feet.”

    Apart from ye olde mangelde grammare, that sounds like something out of a joke where a beggar tells a fat woman that he hasn’t eaten for two days and she says “I admire your willpower!”

    • I was only thinking in English really – it’s good to get outside of English-speaking songs generally though, I need to do it more.

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