6 Classic Songs That Were Supposed to Be Jokes
We tend to think of successful songs as the carefully crafted result of great artistic vision and hours of grueling, dedicated work. This isn't always the case, though. Every so often a song explodes into the mainstream completely by accident, tearing up the charts to the surprise (and sometimes chagrin) of the musicians responsible. Like ...
"Loser" -- Beck
The first and biggest hit of Beck's life would be the result of a bored Beck and his ability to make up random bullshit on the fly.
He had a lot of practice. Before he got famous, Beck played his music anywhere he could -- in clubs, in coffee houses and on the streets of L.A., usually to crowds who couldn't give less of a shit about him. Being the type of guy he is, he'd eventually break out of whatever song he was playing and start making up random lyrics instead, just to see who was paying attention.
"Heathcliff the cat, fucking a midget, with a pigeon's foot in the skyyyyy!"
This particular skill came into play later when Beck and Carl Stephenson, a producer for Rap-A-Lot Records, spontaneously decided to record a song in Stephenson's kitchen. Beck started rapping, and they both got a laugh out of how terrible he sounded. As they were playing it back, Beck just started sarcastically singing, "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me." Everything else is just random nonsense Beck made up while staring at things in Stephenson's kitchen.
Suddenly the lines about dog food, beef and Cheez Whiz make sense. Well, more sense, anyway.
The track took six and a half hours to record and produce from start to finish. Beck wasn't happy with the song, it being something he slapped together as a demonstration of how bad he was at rapping, and only agreed to release it under pressure from his label at the time, Bong Load. Because who wouldn't recognize the wisdom of every business decision made by an organization with such a name?
U2, for example, got their first big break while signed to Boner Fart Records.
"Loser" got Beck the attention he needed, and he soon got picked up by a real label, Geffen Records, which reissued the song in 1994. It peaked at 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, made Beck a star and was ultimately ranked #203 in Rolling Stone's "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." Not bad for a bunch of gibberish made up in a kitchen.
"(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" -- Beastie Boys
Featured on the Beastie Boys' debut album, Licensed to Ill (1986), "Fight for Your Right" was the group's first hit and helped establish the persona of the badass, take-no-shit, hard-rocking party boys that they totally weren't, at all.
In fact, the Beasties hated the whole rocker scene, feeling it was populated by obnoxious, testosterone-laden douchebags. They wanted to poke fun at mindless party anthems like "Smoking in the Boys Room," so they cut the lyrics to "Fight for Your Right" as an in-joke before going on tour.
Their producer, Rick Rubin, added some drums and a blaring guitar riff and released the track, which soon became a big hit. Thinking the song's success was hilarious, the Beasties made what they assumed was an equally ridiculous video to go along with it.
This, shockingly, is disingenuous.
Slowly, they began to realize that the whole "parody" part was lost on most of the listening public, and the majority of their newfound fan base was now made up of the same toolbags they were making fun of.
The kind who would happily waste good pie.
Despite being the song that put them on MTV, the Beastie Boys publicly denounced "Fight for Your Right" and haven't performed it live since 1987. They would not be the first or the last band to find out that the whole "make an intentionally stupid song mocking other bands" thing can come back to bite you ...
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" -- Nirvana
When "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was released in August of 1991, it virtually changed mainstream music overnight, allowing us to finally forget about the popular music of the 1980s.
Nirvana would go on to inspire a whole new generation of artists, with their breakout single eventually ranking in the top 10 of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list (which is a fine pedigree, but before we proceed it should be noted that the list recently dropped Iggy Pop in favor of Kelly Clarkson).
The world dropped Iggy Pop quite a while earlier.
The name of the song came about when Cobain walked into his bedroom one day to see that his friend Kathleen Hanna had spray-painted "Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the wall. Being somehow totally unaware of Teen Spirit deodorant, the brand that his then-girlfriend Tobi Vail wore, he thought it was some kind of badass revolutionary slogan and didn't realize that Hanna was actually making fun of him.
Surprisingly, this was not in Kurt Cobain's wheelhouse.
When he finally found out, Cobain didn't care, because he felt the song had been a joke from the start. He said in a Rolling Stone interview that he was trying to rip off the Pixies and write the ultimate pop song, and came up with his version of the riff from Boston's "More Than a Feeling." When he showed the riff to the rest of his band, bassist Krist Novoselic instantly dismissed the song as "ridiculous," so Kurt made the band play it repeatedly for an hour and a half because his ability to write music was eclipsed only by his ability to be a shithead.
Then he started writing the lyrics, which may sound deep and full of imagery but according to him were "just making fun of the thought of having a revolution."
"Load up on guns and bring your friends. Who are idiots. Like you."
When "Teen Spirit" became a hit, Cobain resented having to play it all the time, and would sometimes lead into it with "More Than a Feeling" just to tell everyone exactly how much of his ass they could kiss. Damn, Kurt, you should have asked the Beastie Boys about the dangers of sarcastic music. Then again, both of them could have asked Quiet Riot ...
"Cum On Feel the Noize" -- Quiet Riot
"Cum On Feel the Noize" was originally released by the glam rock band Slade in 1973, but the version everyone knows is the one done by Quiet Riot in 1983, which reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and propelled their album Metal Health to the #1 spot. This is truly an amazing accomplishment, because the band tried their best to make sure it was the worst song they'd ever recorded.
When their producer took the idea of doing a cover of "Noize" to them, the band was less than thrilled. Lead singer Kevin DuBrow hated the song outright, to the point where he and drummer Frankie Banali conspired to sabotage the recording and make it impossible to release. The band didn't rehearse the song at all and let their production engineer, Duane Baron, in on what they were planning to do. When the time came, he really only hit the record button for shits and giggles.
Banali tooled around on the drums, making things up as he went along, and when it came time for DuBrow to sing the lyrics, he tried his best to make it sound terrible. He screamed loud and off-key, doing his best not to give a fuck while ironically forgetting that rock music is all about not giving a fuck.
Well, that and "actually making good music." A lot of bands forget that.
So DuBrow's vocals just ended up sounding like raw, hard rock awesomeness to everyone else, especially once backing vocals were added to smooth things out a bit, and the track went on to enjoy massive success. Years later, he admitted that covering "Noize" had been good move for the band.
"The rest of our songs were all terrible by accident."
Related: 40 Facts About 70s Songs
"Stuck in the Middle With You" -- Stealers Wheel
Many of you only know this as the tune that accompanies the ear-severing scene from Reservoir Dogs (NSFW). If you heard it on the radio, you probably thought it was a Bob Dylan song:
But "Stuck in the Middle With You" was actually written and recorded by a band called Stealers Wheel. Would Gerry Rafferty, the band's lead singer, have been offended by your confusing it for Dylan? Probably not. Odds are he would have thought it was hilarious, since sounding like Bob Dylan was the whole point because they specifically wrote the song just to make fun of him.
Normally a man who commands the highest degree of respect.
"Stuck in the Middle With You" was written as a parody of Dylan's more paranoid, drug-induced ramblings, which is another way of saying it's a parody of every single Bob Dylan song ever recorded. The line "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right" is a dig at how Dylan would often generalize a group of people by cleverly referring them to as clowns or jokers. Rafferty also borrowed Dylan's distinctive singing style, which sort of sounds like Neil Diamond trying to eat oatmeal while having a stroke.
We have a whole laboratory in the basement for checking such things.
Rafferty couldn't believe it when their little joke hit big and peaked at #6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1973. Exactly how much of its success it owed to people mistaking it for a Dylan song isn't clear, but all told "Stuck in the Middle With You" sold over a million copies, so we're betting Stealers Wheel didn't really give a shit.
As long as the checks were in their name.
"Sweet Child O' Mine" -- Guns N' Roses
"Sweet Child O' Mine" boasts one of the most recognizable guitar riffs of all time (the "greatest guitar riff ever," as voted by readers of Total Guitar magazine). Hard to argue with this shit:
Thanks to that riff, a generation of rock fans can identify that song within three notes. So how does Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash feel about that?
Not great, considering the riff was just a string skipping exercise he was doing for practice. It was never meant to be an actual song. It'd like if Beethoven got a standing ovation for performing chopsticks.
"Beethoven, you've done it again!"
You see, "Sweet Child O' Mine" was written in a total of five minutes. Slash and Izzy Stradlin were just having a jam session, tooling around on their respective instruments while singer Axl Rose was upstairs playing with his action figures or something. Slash started doing his string skipping exercise and thought it sounded kind of like circus music, so he kept playing it and making goofy faces at his bandmate. Rose, on the other hand, heard the riff and came downstairs to tell Slash that it was going to be their next song. It went something like this:
"Dude! That shit is awesome. It's going to be our next hit!"
"What? No man, I was just ... I was joking around. That can't be a song. It's just nonsense."
"No no, it's perfect! I wrote this poem about my girlfriend a little while ago. We can use it for lyrics!"
"I don't think you understand ..."
It took a while for Slash to begrudgingly get the unusual riff to match with a drum beat, but they eventually started recording. Their producer listened to what they'd put together so far and told them that they should add a dramatic breakdown in place of the last verse, with Slash busting out a killer solo and Rose singing something. After thinking for a moment about what that something could be, Axl asked "Where do we go now?" As in, "Where do we go with this song?"
Nobody had any better suggestions, so for a solid chunk of the song, Rose just keeps shouting, "Where do we go now?"
"Anywhere but here, you crazy bastard."
It could have just as easily been any other sentence someone decided to say at that particular moment, like "Where are my cigarettes?" or "Why does Slash's hat smell so bad?"
"Sweet Child" went on to hit number one on the charts, helping Guns N' Roses' album Appetite for Destruction secure its spot as the top-selling debut album of any band in the U.S. So let this be a lesson to every creative person reading this: What you like, and what your audience likes, are probably going to be very different. It's probably best to just go with it.
(It's midget porn all the way down.)
We've got plenty more music trivia for you in 10 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Albums and 6 Pieces of Music That Mean The Opposite of What You Think.