Harmonies in the Left Ear:
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Poor Songs from Wonderful Albums
IT is inevitable you’ll find an album…
IN THIS PHOTO: Blur/PHOTO CREDIT: Zanna
you adore and think every track could not be as good as the last – and, then, the horrid sensation when a rogue and ill-fitting song arrives in your earbuds. There are few albums that are flawless but there are those classic albums that are let down by a solitary number. Whether it is something in the lyrics – or it is repetitive and does not add to the aesthetic of the record – one feels obliged to skip and demarcate it from the (brilliant) herd. Fitting and timely of nothing: I have been thinking about those wonderful albums that, for some reason, have that small crack in them.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
It is fascinating examining and theorising what drives an artist to have that momentary weakness - let the quality slip for a bit and allow a poor song get into the mix. I have encountered very few albums, as I say, where all the tracks stick in the brain - but I am talking about those big and historic records - the kind that gets critics drooling and have inspired legions of musicians.
Here, for your delectation, is a select of less-than-incredible songs on rather-bloody-stunning albums…
The Beatles: Run for Your Life – Rubber Soul (1965)
John Lennon claimed this was the worst song he ever wrote – or at least, up until that point. It is the finale from the otherwise-majestic Rubber Soul. Run for Your Life is not the worst thing The Beatles ever wrote but, considering the sexist, aggressive and offensive nature of the lyrics – this one could have remained on the studio floor, no?!
Pixies: La La Love You – Doolittle (1989)
It was rare for Pixies, in those days, to make such an error of judgement. Their early albums were paens to quality and consistency. It is a surprising that their most-famous album, Doolittle, contains such an obvious filler. La La Love You Featuring drummer Dave Lovering on vocals; it is an atonal, messy misfire that adds an acidic tang to an album that many see as one of the all-time best.
Led Zeppelin: Boogie with Stu – Physical Graffiti (1975)
We all know the place Physical Graffiti holds in the Rock cannon. It is a sprawling, masterful work from one of the greatest bands to stomp the planet. Physical Graffiti boasts sweat-dripping workouts like Custard Pie; epics such as Kashmir and euphemism laden cuts like Trampled Underfoot. Any double-album is going to have a weak track but in the case of Physical Graffiti, there is the one: the lumpen, forgettable and plain-ordinary, Boogie with Stu. One feels it could have been left off the album - it is the sole negative on an album of immense (and timeless) positives.
Kate Bush: Mother Stands for Comfort – Hounds of Love (1985)
Strange sound effects, wistfulness and experimentation are what we expect (and love) from Kate Bush. Hounds of Love, arguably her finest album, contains monster hits like Hounds of Love, Cloudbusting and Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). The second side, despite being less popular than the first half, is a flawless conceptual suite that deals with a woman caught at sea – dreaming of rescue against mounting odds. On its first side, there is a notable weakness: Mother Stands for Comfort tries to win the heart but leaves one feeling a little underfed and unsatisfied.
The Beach Boys: Caroline, No – Pet Sounds (1966)
There is no doubting the chops of The Beach Boys’ masterful, Pet Sounds. It is a gorgeous and decade-defining record from an immaculate band. Among the embarrassment of riches is a rather disappointing swan-song in Caroline, No. Brian Wilson compared the song to the work of Glenn Miller – and his song, Hey Girl. There are various stories that explain the origins of the song but, whatever way you look at it; this does not remain in the memory. Alongside genius tracks like God Only Knows, Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulders) it is a bit of a let-down – and not a fitting way to end one of the finest albums the music world has seen.
The Velvet Underground: The Black Angel’s Death Song – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967)
I am one of those people who feel The Velvet Underground & Nico is an overrated album – not fitting of the immense praise and God-like acclaim people afford it. I, in my mired state, can appreciate the quality of the songwriting and why people relate to the record. I confess, there are some phenomenal songs but, let’s be honest, The Black Angel’s Death Song is not one of them! Lou Reed claimed the idea (of the song) was to string words together with no particular meaning – the fun of their sound rather than the purpose of their meaning.
Fugees: Mista Mista – The Score (1996)
There is no denying L-Boogie, Pras Michell and Wycleff Jean can produce a damn fine tune when they want. The Score is one of the classic Rap albums and contains Ready or Not, Killing Me Softly and Fu-Gee-La – No Woman, No Cry and Family Business in there for good measure! Mista Mista appeared as a bonus track on The Score and, to be fair, I am not sure why it is a ‘bonus’. Wyclef Jean whips the acoustic guitar out; repeats the same lyrics again and again and soundtracks a song that shouldn’t have made it onto an immaculate record!
The White Stripes: The Air Near My Fingers – Elephant (2001)
Detroit’s The White Stripes transformed the Garage scene in the late-1990s and 2000s. One of the most important artists of the past two decades: their unique brand of Rock/Blues/Garage has found few adequate comparisons since their split. Elephant is, quite rightly, considered one of the best albums of the '00s. There is, on the album, guitar exorcisms; tight and pointed songs and air-punching anthems (Seven Nation Army the definitive cut). Among all the fascinating and spectacular songcraft is a track which, even Jack White felt lacked killer-bite and necessity. The Air Near My Fingers is promising in parts but, on an album such as Elephant, sound weak and anemic.
Blur: Lot 105 – Parklife (1994)
During the white-hot heat of Britpop; the main pugilists, Blur and Oasis, were tussling for chart superiority. 1994 was the year both bands produced equal albums – Oasis released their debut, Definitely Maybe. It is just as well Parklife contained so many great tracks because, for some reason, Lot 105 was included on the record! It is a weird instrumental – Phil Daniels was meant to provide a vocal, I think? – and has no place on any album. If they HAD to include it, then put it near Bank Holiday. It is a mid-L.P. filler that left many scratching their head. What’s worst is Lot 105 followed the majestic, This Is a Low – a song that should have ended the album on a high.
The Smiths: Never Had No One Ever – The Queen Is Dead (1986)
Two things annoy me about The Smith’s Never Had No One Ever. The first is, when it was written; Morrissey was in his 20s.The song looks at a lack of sex and, literally, counting the days and years since he has been a virgin. One feels the balance has been redressed – he has had sex a few times, in any case – but there are some (naming no names!) who had to wait a lot longer before they got laid. The other downside of the song is the fact it is not very good. It is weary and tired; has very little point and could have easily been left off the album. It is the only blot on The Queen Is Dead and proof not everything Morrissey and Marr touched at that time was gold.
Green Day: Extraordinary Girl – American Idiot (2004)
Green Day’s American Idiot is one of the finest political albums of the modern age and perfectly articulates the annoyance and rebellion felt by large sectors of the U.S. public. It is an album that sounds perfectly appropriate for today – even more relevant, in fact – and possesses some extraordinary songs. The title track is a blistering and memorable anthem that sticks in the head for all the right reasons. Extraordinary Girl is a weary Beatles-esque song that never gets out of second-gear (its second-half - it is two songs welded, essential - Letterbomb, is a bit more like it). Its lyrics are pale and cliché; the music lacks any melody or bite – awkwardly stumbling around without making any impact on the listener.
Eminem: Ken Kaniff (Skit) – The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Forget all the debates and controversies surrounding Eminem’s immense album, The Marshall Mathers LP. It is an album that has divided opinion but, in my view, is a tremendous record from one of the most accomplished lyricists and performers of this generation. The Marshall Mathers LP is a near-perfect album that fully thrust Eminem onto the map. One of the reasons it is not (totally) perfect is the truly hideous Ken Kaniff. An uncomfortable, oral-sex reference ‘skit’ that, on an album that managed to make its interstitial pieces on-point and appealing, raised eyebrows and stomach contents. A noxious effort.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
Radiohead: Treefingers – Kid A (2000)
Kid A is one of my favourite albums – and one of the best of the '00s – and completes a remarkable one-two-three after The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997). One can marvel in the Electronic pioneering and groundbreaking material throughout Kid A. Four phenomenal tracks kick Kid A off. Everything in Its Right Place and Kid A are wondrous: The National Anthem and How to Disappear Completely even finer. The steam and momentum is taken out of the sails when Treefingers arrives. Optimistic arrives to restore order but there is something lamentable and sterile about Treefingers. It is the only weakness of Kid A and is a shame – the band could have jettisoned the song, one feels.
Nirvana: On a Plain - Nevermind (1991)
If one were bold enough to claim a song from Nevermind deserved execution – they would probably find themselves tied to a lamppost and all their body hair removed! Such is its place in history it seems sacrilegious highlighting any tracks for judgement. Nevermind is another of those records that is perfect...except for the one song. On a Plain trundles and, whilst Cobain’s lyrics are impressive and sharp, the composition is neither swaggering enough to bring the song to life - nor textured so it remains in the memory. It is as close as the album comes to ‘bad’ and is a song I always skip. Not one for the Nirvana ‘best of’ collections...
Michael Jackson: The Lady in My Life – Thriller (1982)
Thriller has, quite rightly, gone down in music history and is one of those albums ever serious music-lover should own! Whether it is on a par with Off the Wall is for debate but The Lady in My Life gives an advantage to Off the Wall. The taut and frenetic intensity of Beat It; the legendary status of Billie Jean; that remarkable opening number and that stonking title-track. The Rod Temperton-written finale is, without being unkind, not befitting of an artist of Michael Jackson’s status. It is a sleepy, formulaic and contains none of the hooks, qualities and nuances that make Thriller such an achievement. I can see why it was left until the end of the album but one feels Quincy Jones, when producing the album, could have forgotten to hit the ‘Record’ button.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience: EXP – Axis: Bold as Love (1967)
One of the best albums of 1967 – which, in turn, is one of the best years for music – should not contain something as forgettable and ill-advised as EXP. It a shot at ‘comedy’ that mocks-up an interview about flying saucers with accelerated vocals and stereo panning – perhaps Hendrix should have concentrated on the guitar rather than sub-standard humour. Mining the kind of zaniness/effects Benny Hill fans would find amusing – not a song that had any business appearing on such a fine and inspiring album as Axis: Bold as Love!
Björk: Headphones – Post (1995)
I am one of the biggest Björk but feel a song like Headphones does not represent her best side. Post, following the incredible Debut, put her new music to new audiences and proved what a unique and sensational talent she was. Army of Me and It’s Oh So Quiet are classics from the Icelandic innovator: Isobel and Hyperballad are two of her most arresting songs. Headphones is the final track and, rather than ending Post with a bang - sort of fades and dissipates without really saying much. There is much intrigue but not a lot of impact. It is as close to a ‘bad’ song as Björk has on the album - and one of her weaker songs from her early period.
The Libertines: Don’t Be Shy – The Libertines (2004)
Amidst the chaos, in-studio brawls and drug abuse, surprisingly, came an amazing album. Not as refined, epic and economic as the band’s debut, Up the Bracket – The Libertines contains a stinker in Don’t Be Shy. Pete Doherty is on lead vocals on what sounds like a post-pub effort. It is caterwauling and has no real purpose and profit. It is an aimless and drawling song that contaminates the remainder of the album. The tensions and rifts make the band’s eponymous album such an exciting and unpredictable creation. Most of the songs and experiments hit the heart (and mark) but not Don’t Be Shy. How the hell it made it onto The Libertines is beyond me!
Neil Young: There's a World – Harvest (1972)
For such a prolific artist; it is understandable there will be one or two minor songs in the cannon. Harvest, however, is an album that defined Neil Young in the 1970s and was his high-point. Albums with such a legendary status should be free from filler. There’s a World does not stack up against gems like Heart of Gold, Old Man and The Needle and the Damage Done. Featuring the London Symphony Orchestra; there is something jarring and unusual about There’s a World. The Orchestral added a certain something to A Man Needs a Maid but royally soiled There’s a World. Timpani, harp and over-emotive strings do not really elevate any song: they make Harvest's seventh track cloying and saccharine.
The Stone Roses: Don’t Stop - The Stone Roses (1989)
The Manchester band released two albums: one of them legendary; the other a bit crap. Their debut is the one we all remember. The psychotropic experimentation and confidence; the head-spinning, mind-altering music that bonded a generation. Waterfall, early on the album, is one of those huge numbers that everyone holds dear to their heart. The band loved it so much they thought they’d rewrite in the form of Don’t’ Stop. The fact it appears right after Waterfall makes it a rather clunky and ill-judged track. It is similar to Waterfall but a bit bigger and, well…backwards. Maybe it is their attempt at a Tomorrow Never Knows-style head-f*ck. It is, when you strip it down, a rather lazy and wasteful track that brings an odd disrepute and poverty to an otherwise epochal record.