If I asked you to give me a list of the whiniest songs ever written, you'd know exactly what to do. You'd start thinking about The Smiths and Morrissey. You'd run through a bunch of Cure songs in your head. You'd ponder Depeche Mode. Everyone knows where to go when looking for mopey, pathetic lyrics, and nine times out of ten, they're coming out of the mouth of an Englishman with a silly haircut.
"Heaven knows I'm miserable now."
But did you know there are a bunch of songs in the rock genre that are every bit as whiny and annoying as the most emo-y Brit pop, but for some reason never get called out for being whiny? Well, it's true. I just said so, and I did it on the Internet, no less, so it must be true. So for your reading enjoyment, I set about compiling a list of the most deceptively whiny songs of all time. And as I compiled this list, I realized the way I was defining "whiny" was as singers bitching about things that were no big deal. Songs featuring a bunch of unearned anger or disdain. Songs with singers complaining about things that really aren't worthy of the anger. So without further ado, here are five rock songs that no one seemed to notice were incredibly whiny.
When I was a teenager learning to play guitar, "Father And Son" was one of the first songs I butchered. And why not? It's guitar-based, it's simple as fuck, and its message appealed perfectly to my half-formed little boy mind. To the masses, "Father And Son" is an anthem of individuality. A song about vibrant youth kicking off the shackles of the establishment. A song of rebellion. But to anyone with a modicum of life experience actually listening to the lyrics, it's a song about a whiny little bitch getting overly angry that a seemingly totally decent dad doesn't fully understand what a rare precious snowflake his boy is.
"If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them you know not me.
Now there's a way and I know that I have to go away."
Sure, this song sounds like an oppressed youth acting out, but where exactly is the oppression? The song has two characters speaking: a father talking to his son and advising him to lead a stable, fulfilling life like the one he has known, and a son whining at the listener about how he's sick of this shit. Yes, there is one lyric about being "ordered to listen," but that is absolutely it. The father we are presented with here only wants his son to be happy, and is giving the best advice he knows based on his personal experience -- y'know, the way every single human being gives advice. And holy hell does that get Cat nuts! I mean, look at him:
Cat's head exploded mere moments after this photo was taken.
Let me explain the overreaction with a personal anecdote. When I was in my early 20s, my dad, a certified public accountant, shared office space with a law firm, and he noticed that tax attorneys made a good living. So, knowing he had an English major son, he said, "Y'know, Wayne, you should consider becoming a tax attorney. They make a good living." In response, I said, "Yeah, that's not really my thing." What I did not say was, "Oh my God, you don't know me, old man! I'm different. Fuck you! I'm running away!!!!"
"Little Red Corvette" was Prince's first big hit, and it let the world know two things: He could write quite a strong melodic hook, and he really liked singing about fucking. Those would remain constants in the Purple One's career, and it all started here. But while many took notice of the quality of Prince's ear candy and the sassiness of the sexy lyrics, few seemed to notice what a whiny little bitch Prince was being. How so? Well, listen, because essentially it seems that Prince sets about having casual sex with a woman, and then decides to start spinning car-based metaphors about what a whore she is once he realizes he's not the only penis in her life.
"I guess I should've closed my eyes
When you drove me to the place where your horses run free
'Cause I felt a little ill when I saw all the pictures
Of the jockeys that were there before me"
Where do you keep horses in this thing?
Now, I know the obvious problem with this song -- especially in 2015 -- is how Prince seems to be "slut-shaming" this woman / car metaphor. I get that. I agree, and I think that's wrong, but that's not my ultimate point. (We're talking whiny songs here.) I was having a conversation about this with a friend of mine. I said to her, "Yeah, but I don't think he actually thinks she's improperly promiscuous. Instead," I offered, "it seems to me he had real feelings for this girl, and then when he found out he was one of many, he got hurt and pouty and mean."
And in response to that brilliant statement, my friend said, "Yeah, like a whiny brat. First of all, there's no reason to believe that she was anything more than a hookup to him, and even if he had real feelings and found out she didn't on their first night out, that is no reason to write some degrading screed about her." So yeah, what she said. Solid point. When a sexually active woman wants to have cheap first-date sex with you, Prince, you don't get to whine about it just because she likes screwing other guys too.
This is clearly the dark horse candidate of the list. But you see, I grew up on Long Island, where Billy Joel is revered as a god, along with IKEA Swedish meatballs and the 1983 Islanders. So I'm actually obligated by Long Island law to talk about Billy, whether the topic applies or not. While "Just The Way You Are" is a standard among love songs, there was always a lyric that drove me nuts. But before I tell you what it is, why not sit back and pretend you're at a 1978 wedding in Ronkonkoma, New York. As the groom in fashionably wide lapels takes his lady love (her hair parted strictly down the middle) to the dance floor, the wedding band begins to play this little ditty:
"I don't want clever conversation.
I never want to work that hard."
Basically, there are two ways to interpret this lyric. The first is incredibly patronizing. Like, "Hey honey, it's OK that you can't talk so smart, because I don't like intelligent chicks anyway!" That would be Billy putting himself above his partner, and I don't think he's doing that. But what's the alternative? It's Billy complaining that he doesn't want his soulmates to provide demanding conversations. And who can blame him? Isn't it just the worst thing when you come home from a long day making hit records and the woman you love engages you in an intellectually challenging conversation? "Hi Billy, welcome home. How was singing 'Only The Good Die Young' on The Midnight Special? Good? Cool. So anyway, what did you think of My Dinner With Andre?"
Suddenly Billy stops in his tracks and asks, "What did I say about not wanting clever conversation?!"
Indeed, once you see the song this way, it's hard to unsee all the lyrics as whiny. Even "I said I love you. That's forever," starts to sound like a whiny reply to a girlfriend asking, "Yeah, you love me now, Billy, but will you always love me?" Billy rolls his eyes and says, "I said I loved you. That's FOREVER. Duh!"
I've heard this song my entire life. It is a classic rock radio staple, and I have to confess that I'm a Joe Jackson fan. But it wasn't until I reexamined the song as an adult that I was knocked out by just how miserable it is lyrically. At the end of the day, our singer is checking out hot chicks on the street and is appalled that they are dating big strong men. Or, in a slightly less ironic interpretation, he just doesn't think pretty girls are dating pretty enough boys. Yeah, this isn't a song about quality women foregoing relationships with quality men in order to date flashy horrible people. It's a song about an angry piano man getting pissed off that the women he's superficially attracted to are dating dudes he doesn't think look right with them.
"Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street
Here comes Amy with her new boyfriend
They say that looks don't count for much
and so there goes your proof."
As mentioned, there are a couple of ways to interpret these lyrics, but none of them are good. First, there's "pretty women" and "gorillas." These are not people the singer knows. He's making a purely visual evaluation, thinking the chicks are hot and their dates are not. The men are gorillas. That could mean they're unsightly or that they're big strong men. So let's see -- the singer is superficially attracted to hot chicks and is annoyed that these hot chicks are superficially attracted to big strong dudes. That seems fair.
How dare she.
But let's remove that irony and say Jackson just means attractive women are dating ugly guys. So? Why is that so infuriating for the singer? Wouldn't that mean maybe the relationship is based on more than looks? Now, in fairness, Jackson has said it was meant to be funny, and was surprised when people interpreted it as angry. Surprised? How about these lyrics:
"But if looks could kill
There's a man there who's more down as dead
Cause I've had my fill
Listen you, take your hands from her head
I get so mean around this scene ..."
While that's certainly douchey, there just aren't enough clues to believe we're supposed to think the song is ridiculing the antsy, unfounded anger of our lovelorn protagonist. So basically, all we're left with is, "Why won't pretty girls date meeeeee?! Waaaah."
Bog Seger has made an entire career of being a no-frills, blue-jean, straight-ahead, all-American rock-and-roller. You know him from "Old Time Rock And Roll," featured in Risky Business, and "Like A Rock," featured in truck commercials that usually involve some kind of eagle or other symbolic form of American testosterone. But this Seger song -- maybe the most famous "rocker on the road" song ever written -- always came off oddly whiny. Yeah, we get it, Bob -- playing music for a living, banging chicks, and riding in a bus is hard.
"Well, you walk into a restaurant all strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you as you're shaking off the cold
You pretend it doesn't bother you, but you just want to explode
Most times you can't hear 'em talk, other times you can
All the same old cliches, is it woman, is it man?
And you always seem outnumbered, so you don't dare make a stand."
So, just to clarify: This song has Seger at his "Segeriest," growling his gritty, soul-drenched truths, and the unbearable things he's suffered include riding a long time on a bus "with nothing much to do." But then the worst part comes when he stumbles into some late night diner and people are looking at him! Now, in the early '70s, when the song was written, the only "restaurants" open after a rock show finished would be all-night diners and truck stops, and the only people in them would likely be truckers. Then 20 rock stars would walk into the place, and those people would have the audacity to stare at Seger. Even worse, some of these small-town truckers, who'd probably been awake for 36 hours -- traveling far more than Seger -- made dumb jokes about his hair. His gloriously feathered long hair.
Malcolm Clarke/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Look at that hair. Look! It's glorious!
OH, THE HUMANITY!!! I'm sure none of those trucking warriors, scraping out a living on the road, taking respite from their existence over truck stop coffee, would trade places with a man like Bob Seger, who "gives every ounce of energy" on the stage, and has to suffer being bored on a bus and/or looked at.
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