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 to 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
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
‘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. Craig Finn of The Hold Steady later told The Guardian that “that’s surely the worst line in rock’n’roll history. He gave the green light to generations of pseuds.”
A Horse With No Name – America
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
‘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
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
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
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!
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
Before he went solo, Robbie Williams was a member of the 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
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
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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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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