Have you ever had someone ruin a good song?
You know. It’s that tune that used to make you want to dance, but now you run screaming from the room.
How does a song go from being your favorite to the absolute worst?
We’re looking at how shiny gems can turn into chunks of coal.
How a Perfectly Good Song Becomes a Ruin
When a new single drops from your favorite artist, it can be your new favorite. You want to listen to it repeatedly and absorb all of the details.
Maybe you’re one of those people who can listen to the same song for hours, and it never gets old. Good for you.
The ruin of a good song is an art unto itself. DJs may remix it for a new audience, the band could license it for that Volkswagen commercial, or could autotune it to death. Maybe your kids will only listen to that one song for weeks.
Any of these can take your number one jam and ruin it forever. Never play it again. Take it off your Spotify playlist. Forever.
Recorded music is a constant in our society. From commercials to TV shows, recorded music makes up the soundtrack of our lives.
Singers sometimes crack under pressure to be perfectly in tune all of the time. A perfect take ruined by being just a microtone under or over the pitch. Enter autotune.
In 1997, the company Antares Audio Technologies introduced autotune to make minor adjustments to a note here or there. Almost immediately, Cher grabbed autotune and used it in her song Believe, released in 1998.
Audiences were either blown away by autotune or hated it.
In early 2000, Radiohead used the effect on Amnesiac to create a digital voice that seemed inhuman. T-Pain used autotune extensively as well. As a result, autotune became a part of the musical palette of producers creating music in the modern world.
But not everyone was so enthusiastic.
Christina Aguilera famously wore an “Autotune is for pussies” shirt in 2009. Death Cab for Cutie wore blue ribbons at the 51st Grammy Awards to protest its use. Jay-Z also came out against the overuse of autotune in music in a 2009 interview.
Critics say that it can ruin a good song by degrading the quality of the music. If a singer uses autotune, you can’t be sure that you hear their authentic voice. You hear a digitally perfect version.
Autotune has taken the soul out of the contemporary artist. It has utterly ruined good music. Unless you love autotune.
Once the mark of a band that has lost its relevance, selling out is now just part of doing business. That top hit you love might also sell you a new car, a Caribbean cruise, or a refreshing Pepsi.
No matter the product, commercials use popular music to hook viewers. If the song is cool, the product should be too. But if your walk-up tune is now selling chips, you may crave Doritos instead of getting ready to knock one out of the park.
Massive budgets make licensing songs for commercials worthwhile for bands. Famously, Iggy Pop’s hit Lust for Life glorifies drug use but also sells Royal Caribbean.
In light of her anti-materialism stance, Janis Joplin’s Mercedes-Benz, licensed by Mercedes-Benz, angered fans. Viva Las Vegas, a hit for Elvis in 1968, used to sell Viagra. The list goes on.
Fans almost all agree that they want their favorite artists to be able to keep making music. Is it worth it if a national commercial makes it possible for the band to keep creating? We’re not buying it.
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard someone say they just listen to a song for the beat. The lyrics are so important! If you’ve ever listened to some of the top hits’ words, you’ll notice they aren’t all Shakespeare. Here are some of our (least) favorites.
"There were plants and birds and rocks and things" ~America, A Horse with No Name ~Lyrics by Dewey Bunnell
I was always, baby I was always Well, almost always true to you Met a pretty mademoiselle Her papa owned a small hotel Oh, I was almost always true to you ~Elvis, Almost Always True ~Lyrics by Ben Weisman and Fred Wise
I ain't the worst that you've seen Oh, can't you see what I mean? Ah, might as well jump (Jump!) Go ahead and jump ~Van Halen, Jump ~Lyrics by David Lee Roth
Left alone with big fat Fanny She was such a naughty nanny Hey, big woman You made a bad boy out of me ~Queen, Fat-Bottomed Girls ~Lyrics by Brian May
Sure, many tunes with horrible lyrics were big hits, and we respect all the musicians we mentioned. But some of the words songwriters write. Wow.
Variety is the spice of life, but that doesn’t always work for music. Songs on the radio have to follow the rules. Spotify uses an algorithm to send you the next hit. Pandora creates a radio based on your original tune.
They all have the same problem; playing the same song to death. And we understand there is money to be made. But hearing the same five songs on repeat is enough to make anyone hate Good Riddance by Greenday.
Pretty much every song that radio ruined was a top 40 hit.
One of the most overplayed songs is Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. What started as a stadium anthem became a karaoke nightmare. You’re almost guaranteed to hear someone screeching out the lyrics at your local watering hole on any given night.
Other overplayed hits include Smooth by Rob Thomas and Santana and almost anything by U2.
The rise of the producer has led to a massive influx of remixes. Remixes aren’t remastered tunes – your favorite classic albums polished up and refinished. They’re when producers take the original song and add their spin to it.
Remixes are common in the techno and dance worlds, where DJs take the original version of a song and throw beats on top. Luude took the hit Down Under by Men at Work and reinvented it with the help of Colin Hay.
But is remixing an homage or a bastardization? That’s entirely in the eye, or ear, of the beholder. If you’re a dance music fan and love to hear familiar favorites flipped and chopped, remixes may be perfect for your taste.
On the other hand, if you’re a purist and like your music the way God intended, then remixes are an abomination.
What is the worst remix of all time? Well, we have some opinions on this one.
The absolute worst we’ve ever heard, thank us later, is Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit remixed by New Age Wave. Take a moment to watch it, if you dare. On the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, he’s certainly rolling in his grave over this one.
Imitation, it has been said, is the sincerest form of flattery. In some cases, though, the flattery is better left unsaid.
Covers are a time-honored tradition. Folk music started as recreations of classics. However, a cover can destroy any good feelings you had for the original piece.
Take The Sound of Silence by consummate American songwriter Paul Simon. The original is a cry for recognition by a lost generation.
Jump to Disturbed’s cover, and, oh lord, it’s so awful. The mystery of the original is gone, and the strained vocals and overproduced, distorted guitars murder the original.
But nothing is as wrong as William Shatner’s Mr. Tambourine Man. Recorded as part of a Star Trek tie-in, Shatner’s version of the Bob Dylan classic is so terrible it’s almost unlistenable. If you can make it through the full version of the song without hoping for an alien invasion, our hat is off to you.
Not all covers are awful. Some of them are better than the originals. Aretha Franklin recorded a cover of Otis Redding’s Respect in 1967, and the song was hers from then on.
Tina Turner turned on the heat when she sang Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary. Guitar god Jimi Hendrix burned everything down when he recorded Bob Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower.
But these are exceptions. Most of the time, the original version is leagues beyond the cover.
So Many Ways to Ruin a Perfectly Good Song
These are some of the main reasons a once favorite jam becomes something you can’t stand.
From Take Me To Church by Hozier to Aerosmith’s cover of Come Together by The Beatles, many songs are either overplayed or too awful even to imagine.
What’s on your list?