One hit song can make a career -- Carly Rae Jepsen will probably still be cashing "Call Me Maybe" checks after she checks into a nursing home. But not all musicians are happy about it. Sometimes they slap together what they think is their worst song, only to see it become the hit that makes them famous. Among the iconic hits that became their singer's nemesis, you'll find ...
"Creep" was the song that broke Radiohead into the mainstream, because for some reason an angst-ridden, atmospheric alt-rock anthem about being an alienated nobody instantly connected with teenagers in the 1990s. With the success of that song, Radiohead became a Top 40 band almost overnight and began touring nonstop, while soul-patched doucheketeers in coffee shops around the world began the storied tradition of playing "Creep" on open mic night to try to impress girls with the sustained high note in the bridge.
It didn't just connect with kids, either. Everyone loved "Creep" -- the song was rated No. 31 on VH1's Top 100 Songs of the '90s, and it re-entered the charts as a single in the U.K. when Radiohead's greatest hits album was released in 2008 (16 years after its original debut), which is a feat normally only accomplished by dead musicians.
"Does it count if I wish I were dead?"
Everyone loved the song ... that is, except for Radiohead's frontman, Thom Yorke.
Even though Radiohead had skyrocketed to worldwide fame, at the time they were only famous because of "Creep." People would show up to Radiohead concerts just to hear that song and then leave, which frustrated the famously temperamental Yorke to no end (despite the fact that Radiohead deliberately capitalized on its success by specifically touring in countries where it was popular).
"How are we feeling tonight, Creepatonia? Are you ready to cry?!"
Worse yet (in Yorke's eyes), people were connecting Yorke himself with the song, believing that he was the lonely, depressed subject of its narrative. He quickly grew to despise "Creep" for making him a poster boy for self-loathing (in addition to, and we cannot stress this enough, making his band both popular and relevant). He rechristened the song "Crap," and displayed about as much affection for it as that would suggest (Yorke claims that Radiohead "sucked Satan's cock" when they rode "Creep" to stardom, a statement likely made from within the mansion that Satan's cock paid for).
When fans inevitably request "Creep," Yorke has responded on various occasions by telling them to fuck off, storming offstage, and inexplicably calling everyone in the audience "anally retarded," which is an affliction we cannot begin to imagine. The band has even asked other artists they tour with to play it for them, just so they won't have to. Keep in mind that tickets to see Radiohead routinely sell for hundreds of dollars, so imagine paying that price, as a fan, only to see their biggest hit get sweatily mashed out by an unwashed Moby. That is exactly how Thom Yorke feels about "Creep."
"Who here wants to see the entire world go fuck itself?"
Pinkerton, Weezer's second studio album, enjoyed a Phantom Menace type of reception when it was initially released. Fans and critics alike, who had loudly sung the praises of the band's previous record, unanimously declared Pinkerton to be the shittiest piece of shit of all time, and frontman Rivers Cuomo ran away and hid for the next five years.
However, much like Star Trek and Death Race 2000, it just took people a long time to recognize Pinkerton's genius. Over the years, it slowly gained momentum and is now considered to be Weezer's best work (when examining the band's post-millennium efforts, this should come as a surprise to exactly nobody). Rolling Stone readers voted it the 16th greatest album of all time in 2002, and Rolling Stone themselves retracted their original mediocre review and rewrote it, awarding Pinkerton a five-star rating nearly a decade after its original release. The album's recent re-issue even has a perfect Metacritic score, officially making it a more favorably reviewed piece of '90s culture than Schindler's List.
It wasn't quite as happy and light-hearted as Schindler's List, though.
When Weezer finally returned in 2001 with The Green Album, Cuomo was once again blasted for letting fans and critics down with such an unworthy follow-up to the unmitigated brilliance of Pinkerton (keep in mind, this was the exact same thing everyone had said about Pinkerton back in 1996). Frustrated over both the amount of personal juice he let spill in composing the songs for Pinkerton and the fickle entitlement felt by his fan base, Cuomo vented in a few different interviews about how much he wished he'd never written everyone's favorite Weezer album:
"It's a hideous record. It was such a hugely painful mistake that happened in front of hundreds of thousands of people ... and [it] just won't go away. It's like getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone and feeling incredibly great and cathartic about it, and then waking up the next morning and realizing what a complete fool you made of yourself."
"The most painful thing in my life these days is the cult around Pinkerton. It's just a sick album, sick in a diseased sort of way. It's such a source of anxiety because all the fans we have right now have stuck around because of that album. But, honestly, I never want to play those songs again; I never want to hear them again."
After spending the next decade sufficiently distancing himself and his band from the dark introspection of that album by wearing cowboy hats and making music videos with Muppets, Cuomo's attitude toward Pinkerton has softened enough to discuss it candidly when asked about it, and even played it live in its entirety in 2010. However, he presumably bookended the set with performances of "Beverly Hills" and "Island in the Sun" to remind everyone that as far as he is concerned, Pinkerton can go fuck itself.
"Now on to my more serious album. Sponsored by Axe: Get your cock sucked by wearing Axe."
The Who's rock opera Tommy was the first album of its kind. Each song serves as a chapter in an overarching story about a blind, deaf, and mute boy who becomes a religious leader (we didn't say it was a good story). Tommy went on to sell 20 million copies and was adapted into an Oscar-nominated motion picture, the most memorable sequence of which is arguably when Tommy beats Elton John at pinball.
The song playing while Sir Elton does his best to look like Clint Howard in space goggles and moon-shoe stilts is "Pinball Wizard," the lead single from Tommy and one of the Who's most popular hits. The success of the album, and its ultimate adaptation into film and stage versions, can be traced directly back to the success of this catchy, upbeat pop number about a half-retarded kid playing pinball after getting molested by his uncle a few songs earlier in the story. It became a fixture of the Who's concerts from then on, and it's been covered countless times by as many bands over the past 40 years.
No, really, if you've never seen it before, go back up and play that video.
Pete Townshend, the Who's lead guitarist and songwriter, refers to "Pinball Wizard" as "awful" and "the most clumsy piece of writing I've ever done" (we assume this also includes the statement he wrote while under investigation for child pornography). It was never meant to be included in the album -- the fact that the Tommy character would be inexplicably good at pinball was an afterthought, thrown into the mix at the last minute to try to get a good review from Nik Cohn, one of the most influential music critics in the industry, who, by the way, happened to be a big pinball fan.
Ken Nahoum via Random House
From Soho down to Brighton, he must've played 'em all.
When Townshend first gave an early mix of the album to Cohn, Cohn thought it sounded like a confused pile of shit. But when Townshend offered the rejoinder that perhaps he could add a song about pinball, Cohn immediately said that Tommy would be "a masterpiece" (he was REALLY into pinball). So Townshend sped home and scribbled out a generic stream of enthusiastic pinball-related gibberish, called it "Pinball Wizard," and brought it to the rest of the band, who stunned him by declaring it the obvious hit single of the record. But not even they could have known that it was the track that would follow them all to their graves.