Features | Lists

20 Great Songs by Shitty Artists

By The Staff

Filter

"Hey Man, Nice Shot"

(Reprise; 1995)

Filter’s “Hey Man, Nice Shot” is a lucid argument for the existence of predestination, and as such is scarily emblematic of the spirit of this list’s collection of artists. I’ve cultivated enough faith in CMG’s loyal readership to know that I don’t have to explain that this is not a“One-Hit Wonders” list. These are shitty bands that, for reasons likely to remain inscrutable for eternity, were able, just once, to piss on the third rail of genuine artistic achievement, and were, by that happy accident, momentarily electrified.

The trademarks of One-Hit Wonders are often obvious singles. That is, the hit doesn’t necessarily sound much like the rest of the parent album or the band’s ordinary output. Bands become drunk with the success of this abnormality, they concentrate on trying to write the same song again but fool their audience into thinking it’s a different song, and this is largely what comes to determine their overall aesthetic (do I even have to wink in your direction, Fuel? Nickelback? Fiddy?).

For Filter, this process was inverted, since “Hey Man, Nice Shot” sounds exactly like every other Filter song. It’s a perfect distillation of the sound the band started out with, and to which they remained faithful for another five years. People love that sound…for precisely the amount of time that it takes “Hey Man, Nice Shot” to spin. And this is what differentiates Filter from One-Hit Wonders: they didn’t score a hit by straining their sound in any populist direction; their sound was already populist, but of extraordinarily limited appeal. In fact, they had to strain their sound in order to ever have another hit, Title of Record’s (1999) taffy-tugging reach-around, “Take A Picture.”

Filter’s different from a One-Hitter because they didn’t have to be something else to gain success. The kids didn’t need them to be “The Band That Plays ‘Hey Man, Nice Shot’” to love them. They just wanted to hear some fuckin’ FILTER, man. Though, as it turns out, they only wanted to hear it for about five minutes.

Eric Sams

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

"The Impression That I Get"

(Mercury/Big Rig; 1997)

Built to set the curve and then fizzle out at the cusp of their commercial viability, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones set aside twelve years of vaguely punchy, agro-frat ska to embrace the very essence of their horn line in 1997’s Let’s Face It. At a time when trumpets, trombones, and Blink 182 proved to be an engaging formula—when Sublime both fueled and mitigated the tide of reggae-punk threatening to crash down on whatever paradigm of ska the Toasters were riding out on the other coast—bands in a similar light tended toward one of two extremes, either graphically stupid or ignorant, at the utter mercy of poop jokes or straightedge for Jesus. The Bosstones just seemed somewhere in the middle, pleasantly and, in retrospect, more and more the wax mold from which were smelted the Less Than Jakes, the Goldfingers, the Mustard Plugs, the Cherry Poppin’ and the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies—asshole punks and poseurs that found some mainstream success in tempering their libidos.

But since it’s so fruitless to trace these late ‘90s alterna-rock singles back to the moment of conception politic, the Bosstones may only get their proper due in “The Impression That I Get.” For a track that glows by the slivers of its finer points, it’s the least beholden to its ilk, all oddly aggrandizing vocal harmonies and guitar piddling mixed to accentuate the blaring trombones instead of just checking with the obvious melody or shrewdly rubbing against it. There’s an organ in the coda instead of a cheeky grab at the downbeat; there’s a bassline that could make it into some scary Knife song, its fervor only strengthened by the tight and the contrapuntal existing together with such a fantastic sheen. And it’s all brisk and fun, sincere and singable, a record that feels like something.

Funny enough, you can partly thank Christian rock for asserting that this track is any good, for deriding the party atmosphere of their peers in order to embrace, ironically, more juvenile and anachronistic stuff. Because at least the Bosstones were attempting some kind of salve for self-loathing, a healthy ditty about introspection, fear, and superstition, not just pimping trumpet salvos with Catholic anthems or apologias for the donkey punch. While the other notable band of the era, Reel Big Fish, sucked the last bit of marrow out of their audience and went one way, becoming totally nihilistic, the Bosstones went the higher road: sure, this is ska-punk’s last paroxysm before the rank-and-file had to choose between siding with mom-rock or suddenly obsolescing, but I consider it an achievement, at least, that Dicky and the gang approached the fork with some sense of maturity in pocket.

Dom Sinacola

Robert Palmer

"Looking for Clues"

(Island; 1980)

Nervy, jagged and teetering on schizophrenic Clues (1980) is the sound of a man awakened by the world changing around him. After releasing six relatively schleppy faux-soul albums Palmer seemed to take stock of the musical climate—the taut, paranoic funk of Talking Heads, the icy synths of Gary Numan, and the future-pop of Grace Jones—to produce an erratic and adventurous album. This spirit would stay with him as he stepped even further afield with the My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981) soundalike “The Silver Gun,” replete with Urdu vocals.

Although he may better remembered for the monster MOR hits like “Addicted To Love” or “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor),” it is for this lead single from Clues that Palmer should be praised. With a double tracked murmur Palmer meanders and dithers through relationship woes over a hypnotic new wave effervescence, only to stumble at the jagged guitar after the chorus which makes the song sound as though it stops, reverses and then lurches forward again. Relentlessly danceable despite its inherently warped take on romance it, for me, holds a place alongside Grace Jones’ glorious take on “Love Is The Drug” and Talking Heads’ afro-funked “Crosseyed and Painless.” That said, the video is ridiculous (check out for the Lolsome skeletons that come out for the xylophone solo at the two minute mark).

Danny Roca

Andrew Lloyd Webber

"Heaven on Their Minds"

(MCA; 1970)

Two musical numbers in one list? Screw it. Webber’s such a deplorable “serious” musician that he deserves playing second fiddle to Grease, and given that he only ever had a couple of decent tracks (“Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” “Everything’s Alright,” “I Don’t Know How to Love Him,” um…one of those Cats songs is probably okay maybe) with “Heaven On Their Minds” towering above them like a Minotaur in heat with its a-little-to-like-“Let Their Be Light” riffage (the first time Webber seemed to openly ape Pink Floyd, the second being that bass riff from “Echoes” that seems to keep popping up in The Phantom of the Opera (i.e. the most abominable piece of “art” ever created)). Whether sung by the brilliant Murray Head or the differently but equally brilliant Carl Anderson, “Heaven on Their Minds” proved Tim Rice’s early brilliance at reducing complex economic and political issues to simple song, a trend which offsets even the more saccharine musical bits of Jesus Christ Superstar (excepting the overblown and ludicrous title track) enough to make a Lloyd Webber musical almost bearable. Barely. But “Heaven on Their Minds” is cool with me, and can come over to hand whenever it wants to. Just leave the rest of the ALW discography at home, please. Especially the ones where Madonna is singing.

Mark Abraham

Eve 6

"Inside Out"

(RCA; 1998)

“I got that CD in the mail from Columbia House when I forgot to send the reply card back. I took off the shrinkwrap anyway thinking every song would be as awesome as ‘Inside Out.’ That was dumb.”

- Ryan, my office mate.

That’s not entirely fair. You can’t expect any of Eve 6’s other songs to really hold a candle to the Catchiest Punk-Pop Song of the Late ’90s. But the California teens couldn’t even produce one song an eighteenth as memorable as “Inside-Out”; thus their inclusion on this list. There are few life situations that can’t be significantly improved by blaring “Inside-Out” in the background, and here’s why—altogether now:

“I would swallow my pride / I would choke on the rind / But the lack thereof / would leave me empty inside / I could swallow my doubt / turn it inside out / find nothing but / FAITH IN NOTHING! / Wanna put my tender / heart in a blender / watch it spin round to a beautiful oblivion / rendezvous then I’m through with you!”

Frontman Max Collins sings that chorus all in one breath. It’s catchy awesome like LFO’s “Summer Girls” produced by Butch Vig, and the rest of the verses are delivered in a cocksure strut suggesting that Collins got members of the opposite sex to “tie me to the bedpoooost!!!!” on a fairly regular basis. Seldom does every element in a mainstream pop-rock song come together so seamlessly, and Collins knows his band’s signature tune is some hot shit. Not for nothing that it soundtracked a crucial house party scene in Can’t Hardly Wait, easily the apex of the rash of late ’90s PG-13 teen flicks.

Neither myself, nor the other seven people I spoke to in preparation of writing this, can recall another Eve 6 song aside from the nauseating prom night treacle of “Here’s to the Night” off their second album. Then they got dropped from RCA after the non-existent sales of album #3 before calling it a day. Or so I thought. A recent website visit has revealed a reunion and myriad college gigs. If they could guarantee “Inside Out” thirteen times in a row, I’d totally go.

David M. Goldstein

Paul Wall

"Girl"

(Atlantic; 2006)

I guess it’s debatable whether this is a great song by a shitty artist or really just a great song (“Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites) sampled by a shitty artist. What’s not debatable is that Paul Wall is, definitely, a shitty artist.

Yet it’s that very shittiness that lends an extra measure of stupid poignancy to this rap song about Paul Wall’s paranoia over being dumped. Because the paranoia doesn’t even register as paranoia, it registers as leering cluelessness, like a drunk or/a.k.a. T-Pain trying to woo back a classy model. But then there’s that sample that speaks truth to Mr. Wall’s pretty grim situation: “Oh girl / I’d be in trouble if you left me now / ‘Cuz I don’t know where to look for love / I just don’t know how.” Paul Wall keeps smiling in that laff riot of a video, doing the silliest looking shimmy ever in his O.G. big T and teaching his girl how to dice vegetables golf-swing style. In fact, the only part of the video that’s not hilarious is the moment it takes a break to let Katt Williams tell jokes. The song itself slays when Paul suggests that he and his girl are falling out due to the girl’s jealous friends and Mr. Wall’s ostensible career, skirting or more likely oblivious to the issues of his supreme ugliness, his ridiculous mannerisms, and the fact that he’s, well, he’s Paul Wall. If the song were the slightest bit self-aware it’d be The Office (BBC) of rap, a tragicomic character study unrivaled. Paul Wall is both character and creator, however, his idiocy undermining his blind stab at poetry. He needs to look in a mirror and learn self-loathing.

Or not. This song would probably lose an intangible something if Paul Wall were winking at us. It might end up just another shitty song by a shitty rapper, like Planet Terror was just another shitty movie by a shitty director because it tried to satisfy all conventions while also poking fun at itself. And, if nothing else, “Girl” sounds good (thanks to the Chi-Lites).

Chet Betz

Jermaine Jackson

"Let's Get Serious"

(Motown; 1980)

After the label’s peak years in the late sixties and early seventies, Motown somehow managed to squander its staggering energies pumping out track after track of wire-thin disco and lifeless adult contemporary bullshit. There are exceptions, of course, most notably Stevie Wonder’s mid-‘70s records and the odd transcendent single (“Three Times A Lady” high five! Anyone? No?), but for the most part to be a Motown artist in the mid/late seventies was to be stretched too thin across the attempt to regain past greatness and ape contemporary trends.

Jermaine Jackson fits this mold to a T—his solo work pops up on the charts now and again, but always with either a coma-inducing slow jam or some kind of proto-Wham! (in the worst way) upbeat shit. Enter: Stevie Wonder, with God’s thunder in one hand and the sack-out audacity to carry Jermaine Jackson for a track that runs an astonishing eight minutes in the other. “Let’s Get Serious,” co-written and produced by Wonder, is “Superstition” burned in effigy for the death of disco—the same pop-lock guitar holds forth but the horns are sharper, punctuating the wide-open, beat-focused arrangement. Most surprising is Jermaine’s vocal; he actually rises to the occasion and delivers an incisive, rousing take that’s easily his best. In an act more generous than giving a schlub one of the year’s best tracks, Wonder saves the shitty bridge for himself, over-singing “S. E. R. I. O. U. S. / Ba. By. Let’s. Get. Ser. I. Ous” to an almost comic level (and really, with that lyric, what choice did he have?). Neither length nor bridge, however, could deter the progress of this red giant. It was a smash: Billboard rates it the #1 highest rated song on the 1980 R&B chart, and it netted Jermaine a Grammy Award nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The winner that year? His brother for “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Sibling rivalry may not allow him to admit it, but when you’re up against Off the Wall, it’s an honour just to be annihilated.

David Ritter

The Doobie Brothers

"Black Water"

(Warner Bros; 1974)

I feel like the Doobie Brothers have found some comfortable dingy between the shore and Yacht Rock to be ignored. Make no mistake: the band sucks—their other singles can suck it, seriously, except possibly “Takin’ It to the Streets,” but only because it makes me giggle—but “Black Water” is…well, it’s equally stupid with it’s tailor-made singalong chorus and its wanky honky tonkness, but I don’t care. I wanna dance with my daddy all night long too!

I mean, I think the reason I like this more is because where the other stuff tries to be all coy with its weird appropriation of delta whatevers this one just out and out embraces the lie, resulting in a bunch of white aging-hippies in the audience clapping along, which makes me giggle even more. This is the least sincere song in the history of music, and for that it is inevitably a great song to throw on at parties.

Mark Abraham

Korn

"Blind"

(Epic; 1995)

The first minute of the first track on Korn’s first record is so fucking great that they started an entire genre. Pity for Korn, though, that the remaining sixty-four minutes (and ensuing seven records) were all ear-stabbing fuckjobs—and not like Slayer ear-stabbing fuckjobs, either, I mean ear-stabbing fuckjobs that suck. But, god (lowercase g, b/c daddy doesn’t love me lol): forty seconds of percussive twittering before that drop-D seven-string Ibanez (sigh) growls and he-of-the-permanent-eyebrow-ring Jonathan Davis growls but real loudly, “ARE YOU READY?” and then everyone plays together! If the idea of moshing were transmuted into a sequence of vibrations picked up by the ear, these last couple seconds of the first minute are it: sweaty corpulent chords crashing, most of them with eyebrow rings of their own, drum rolls between measures acting as that one moment when you (the puny kind with the eyebrow ring) clamber up the nearest overgrown Hot Pocket/neo-nu metal fan and shove it in the back of the head, a moment of successful aggression before the sweltering suburban undertow pulls you back in and under the Airwalk stampede. To this clarion call the city of Jacksonville responded, soon the eyebrow ring was a backwards red baseball cap. Sigh.

Clayton Purdom

The Frogs

I'm Sad the Goat Just Died Today

(Matador; 1996)

It’s a song about a dead goat. Of course it’s awesome. It’s also a perfect example of why this band is awesome and why they suck.

And the universe eats itself once again.

Mark Abraham