Sunday, August 29, 2010

Top Ten Songs Bashing Music Critics

It’s easy to hate music critics. They get free CDs and concert tickets and then are paid to give their opinions about what they heard. They actually make a living offering subjective opinions about something intangible. Technically, music reviewers can never be wrong – they are telling us what they think. Where this goes wrong is when we decide to give weight to their opinions and treat them as the gospel.

So it’s not surprising that occasionally the musicians fight back, take up their pens against the poisoned pens of the critics, and have their say. I was listening to some songs with my daughter and noticed just how many of them were directed at “the critics.” She was able to rattle off a number of recent songs that shared the same theme – that music critics are not out to educate or inform but to tear down. We decided to come up with a list of anti-music critic songs, some old and some new.  In no particular order, here are our top ten.  Cathartic and angry, honest and indignant, these songs remind us that critics only carry as much weight as we give them. So let’s take a load off of them!

1. The Academy is… “Black Mamba”

One of the many recent rock bands unfairly saddled with the “emo” label, Chicago-based pop-punk impresarios The Academy Is… were criticized early in their career for their lead singer’s voice, a subject that fueled this track on their first, ironically positively reviewed, album, “Almost Here.”

Oh, Mr. Magazine
I never wrote one single thing for you
Or your so-called music scene
You don't mean a thing to me

Well they can love it or leave it or rip it apart
We're living what we're singing

2. Cage the Elephant… “In one ear”

The alternative/punk/blues/rock band from Bowling Green, Kentucky, turned their attention on those who are empowered to make the thumbs up or down decision that have such potentially serious repercussions.

They wanna criticize, scrutinize, cast another stone
Burn me at the stake and sit and watch it from the throne

They think they know my thoughts, but they don't know the least
If they listened to the words they'd find the message that's beneath

3. Cobra Starship "Guilty Pleasure”

Fellow label-mates of The Academy is…, Cobra Starship play similar alternative rock/punk music, but with a fun edge. Their first single, after all, was “Snakes on a Plane (Bring It).” They also had a hit featuring Leighton Meester, of Gossip Girl fame, called “Good Girls Gone Bad.” So it is not surprising that they would write:

And I don't even read
What the papers gotta say about me
Oh no, I can't believe
They take it so serious, seriously

4. Good Charlotte “The Young and the Hopeless”

And no one in this industry
Understands the life I lead
When I sing about my past
It's not a gimmick, not an act

These critics and these trust fund kids
Try to tell me what punk is
But when I see them on the streets, they got nothing to say
5.  Oingo Boingo "The Imposter"
One day I'll do an entire post about Oingo Boingo.  The Los Angeles band with the weird name and strange, even for the new wave era, vibe influenced musicians around the world with their complex rhythms, textured sound and avant garde image.  They became part of our cultural references with catchy songs (well placed in popular movies) like Weird Science and Dead Man's Party.  After they broke up, their lead singer Danny Elfman went on to write the theme song for The Simpsons and the score for endless Tim Burton movies.  Yet, even with all their success, they were not enthralled with music critics, as you can see from this song.
You never lived in the streets though you wish you had.

Not enough talent to play a guitar,
You failed as an artist 'cause you lacked in the confidence.
Now you're a critic and you're at the top (The top of what?)

You don't believe what you write (you're and imposter).
You can't get used to the fact that you ain't a kid.
You like to think that you speak for them all.
You'd cut off your nose if you thought it would make you hip.
You don't believe what you write (You're an imposter).
You take the credit while others do all the work.
You like to think you discovered them first.
But we all know you moved in after it was safe.
That way you know you could never get hurt (You like to play god!!).
Yes, for the record, I know imposter is misspelled -- it should be or not er, but knowing the band's sense of humor, I assume that was intentional.

6. Frank Zappa "Packard Goose"

Gotta love Zappa, the guy did not beat around any bushes.  He didn't think much of music critics, once famously saying "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read."  So it was not surprising that he would skewer those who he felt really had no clue what they were talking about.

All them rock 'n roll
Writers is the worst
Kind of sleaze
Selling punk like
Some new kind of
English disease
Is that the wave
Of the future?
Aw, spare me please!

7. Graham Parker "Don't Let it Break You Down"

One of the most underrated singer-songwriters around, he does with lyrics what Tiger Woods used to do with a golf club.  Being as gifted as he is, he makes his point in very few, expertly chosen, words.
Some people are in charge of pens
that shouldn't be in charge of brooms.
They have the nerve to rip up a man's life
in a paragraph or two

8.  Nick Cave  & the Bad Seeds "Scum"

Not as lyrical or artful as Graham Parker, Nick Cave was po'd and wanted eveyrone to know it.  Don't get on his bad side -- it causes him to write melodically-challenged, vile, venal rants.   This is the only part of the lyrics I can print here.  Click on the link with care!
You gave me a bad review
And maybe you think that it's all just water under the bridge
Well my UNfriend, I'm the type that holds a grudge

9. Billy Joel "Still Rock and Roll to Me"

He's been maligned and mocked, but Billy Joel is a talented guy who doesn't deserve the treatment some critics have lobbed his way.  He, better than most, knows you can't please all the people and has had a long, successful career pleasing a lot of the people.  In this song, he gave a nod towards the fact that when it comes to music someone's going to have to show how cool they are by being insulting or dismissive.  But the music will last long beyond the critic's words.

it doesn't matter what they say in the papers
'cause it's always been the same old scene
there's a new band in town but ya can't get the sound
from a story in a magazine aimed at your average teen
10.  Pete Townshend "Jools and Jim"

In response to some negative writing about his late fellow bandmate, drummer Keith Moon, Townshend wrote this little ditty.  This is just one long screed set to music.
Typewriter bangers on
You're all just hangers on
Everyone's human 'cept Jools and Jim
Late copy churners
Rock and Roll learners
Your heart's are melting in pools
Of gin
In researching this post, I came across this terrific article in the Boston Globe by Steve Almond, a former music critic who makes clear where he stands on the profession.  "Am I suggesting that music criticism is a pointless exercise?  Yeah, I guess I am."  Read it, you'll thank me!

In today's instant-news world with Twitter and Facebook and other ways to report on the scene in real time, do we need to wait for the morning paper to see what one person, who may not have wanted to go to the concert but had to because it was their job, had to say about the experience?  I don't think so.  I rather read what the fans who paid their own money to see the show thought.  They aren't worrying about how cute or eloquent their words are, how many hits their article will get or how many comments will be posted, they just want to express their honest opinions about something they just witnessed.  And because they're not "professionals" we can read them and accept them for what they are -- one person's opinion and not the word coming down from  theTemple Mount.

That's why I have always included the feedback from the fans in the review section of each concert post and that's why my favorite part of my own blog is actually your comments.  Because they are every bit as valuable as something someone who is paid to write has to say.  Scratch that, they are more valuable because those comments are freely given and from the heart.


  1. Nicely done Shari. I am lovin' it...where did this topic come from? Hmmm.... I wonder. I'm thinking Guiseppe Spumoni would agree. And I love that Boston Globe peice by Steve Almond. A must read for everyone. Yay you!

  2. LOL! By the way, did you know we just missed National Spumoni Day? It was August 12th. But we still have time to hop up to Canada for theirs in November. I'll bring the spoon.

  3. Darn it all! He has a day dedicated to him? How does he not have a huge head with this kind of adoration? Count me in. I'll bring the trough. You know, when ya really think about it...every day is Spumoni day (awwww....). You are so awesome Shari and we all love and appreciate you so much!! So lucky to have you!

  4. Well said, Shari and appreciated Steve Almond's article. The point has been made. Give it up to those great fans.