Typically, every musician dreams of finding a song that speaks to millions of people across the world.
Life is rarely that simple though, and many musicians wind up hating the song that catapults them into super stardom. But before you call an artist entitled or ungrateful for not enjoying their success, there are a lot of complex issues that can emerge.
Whether it’s a label pushing a band to write a hit single, or an artist feeling like the public at large isn’t fully appreciating the work, there are numerous reasons why bands wind up resenting their hits. We look back at ten rock bands who wound up hating their biggest hits.
‘Back to School’ – Deftones
Deftones never set out to be one of the biggest bands in the world. The Sacramento group was always most interested in merging different genres and doing their own thing, and their connection to nu-metal happened mostly due to coincidence.
Labels are always going to want to capitalize on a trend though, and Chino Moreno never liked the fact that Deftones compromised on White Pony. While the band put together the finishing touches for the album, their label was cold on it, with the experimental direction having no viable radio single.
In Chino’s mind, the record was supposed to stand on its own, and he ended up writing ‘Back to School’ almost as a retort to his higher ups by writing some of his most inane lyrics that he could so that the label wouldn’t even take them seriously.
Too bad that didn’t happen though, since the label absolutely loved what they heard and raced out to make the song the next single and have it open White Pony. Ever since its release, Chino had always maintained his dislike for ‘Back to School,’ saying that it was more about getting the band on TRL for a few weeks than anything artistic that they wanted to do.
It’s illustrative over the power major labels had over bands, with Chino and company baring the brunt of that control. Via Kerrang
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
From day one, Kurt Cobain always had a bit of a strained relationship with stardom. He may have wanted Nirvana’s music to speak to people but he certainly wasn’t ready for what happened once Nevermind took over, with some heralding him as the voice of a generation. Worst of it all, the attention was due to a song that Kurt absolutely hated, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’
Kurt didn’t always hate the megahit. When the band first put the song together, Krist Novoselic talked about Kurt being incredibly proud of the song and making the rest of the band sit down and read the lyrics to really understand what he was trying to convey.
Once the rest of the world fell in love with the song, Kurt wasn’t happy about everyone missing the point of the song. It got to the point where Kurt never wanted to play the song, saying that the idea of him performing it just made him want to throw his guitar down and walk away.
There are also a few times where he did just that in concert, like during one performance of ‘Come As You Are’ where he basically scream-sang most of the verses and tried to take the piss out of his own song so no one could enjoy it.
Having everyone understand your song though is not always your call to make. Via Rolling Stone
Sweet Child O Mine – Guns N’ Roses
When you’re sitting down to write a song, inspiration can always come from the strangest of places. In the case of Guns N Roses, it was Slash making a classic riff from a joke. As the band were setting up shop in their rehearsal space, Slash actually based the iconic riff for ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ on one of his warm up exercises, thinking that it sounded like something you would hear at the circus.
While the band rehearsed the song, Axl Rose overheard the song while in a different room and fell in love. He penned lyrics around his relationship with girlfriend Erin Everly, which became ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ when he came down for rehearsal.
Even though the song is probably one of the most recognizable songs in the Guns’ canon, Slash has always been uncomfortable with the tune, never really taking it all that seriously and not being in love with it when they had to play it night after night. Granted, the badass second section of the song certainly made up for that, having a much more aggressive tone to it that sounds like the opposite of the initial song they started with.
It’s hard to really understand why a song that made you a millionaire is terrible, but as for any Guitar Center employee who hears this song every single day, you can kind of see where Slash is coming from. Via Music Radar
Cherry Pie – Warrant
At the end of hair metal’s dominance, Warrant found themselves the butt of every joke. When it comes to the band’s break out single ‘Cherry Pie’ however, singer Jani Lane would probably laugh too. There’s not much to ‘Cherry Pie,’ as another sophomoric sex euphemism in a hair metal track. The band was never going to write the until one of their label execs went to Lane saying that they needed something that was more in line with Aerosmith’s ‘Love in an Elevator.’
The label seemingly knew what they were talking about, as ‘Cherry Pie’ became one of the most over-the-top songs and videos in the history of hair metal. After the initial popularity subsided though, Jani talked about being horrified about the song taking over the band:
“Now I’m ‘The Cherry Pie Guy.’ I could shoot myself in the fucking head for writing that song.’”
For as much flak as you want to throw at Warrant for how ridiculous their schtick may have seemed, you have to wonder how much of it the band wanted and how much their label actually forced them to do. Via VH1
My Immortal – Evanescence
Musicians are notorious perfectionists when it comes to recording. So when an audio mistake ends up being in your most recognizable song, it’s probably going to haunt you for the rest of your days.
While the making of Evanescence’s debut Fallen already had the drama of label heads wanting to add a rapper into the mix, the real nightmare came when the band released ‘My Immortal’ as a single, with what singer Amy Lee called one an unlistenable recording. When Amy first heard the version that made it to the public, she was horrified knowing that the song was not nearly the final version of the song and was actually put together from one of the scratch recordings that the band were making when they were still trying to get a deal.
While the strings might be a nice touch added onto the song, what you’re hearing on the final version is only a rough demo of what Amy wanted the song to be, only to be taken out of the can and slapped with some new strings to make it sound like it was finished.
It’s never easy to get over production snafus like this, but if this was the blemished take, can you imagine what the actual version might have sounded like if given the proper treatment? Via MTV
Closer – Nine Inch Nails
Not many people come out of listening to The Downward Spiral without a few scars to show for it. It says a lot about an album when its biggest crowd pleaser is a song as dirty and grimy as “Closer.” Though Trent Reznor may be proud of the album, he tends to be uncomfortable with what “Closer” became in later years.
As much as this song helped introduce the world to the warped sounds of the band, Trent wasn’t stoked when he found out that this song was being used in different strip clubs around the world. If you listen to this song for more than a minute though, you can tell that this is not a fun song in the slightest.
The song comes about halfway through the record where the protagonist of the album is looking to dominate his partner in the sickest way possible. The song may have been about sex, but there’s a good chance that you will never find a less sexy song to play to your significant other than this. Either the fans are ignoring the meaning, or maybe we’re a little more warped than even Trent gave us credit for. Via ‘Nine Inch Nals: Self-Destruct’ by Martin Huxley
Rainbow In the Dark – Dio
When Ronnie James Dio first struck out on his own with Dio, power metal was born.
Despite already having worked with the likes of Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi, Holy Diver was the first time Ronnie’s more theatrical side took center stage. There is a line between epic and cheesy though, and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ crossed that line more than a few times for Ronnie.
When asked about some of his classic hits, Ronnie talked about not being that in love with what ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ did for his career, thinking that it was far from the kind of message that he was looking to get on the rest of the album. It’s not hard to see where he’s coming from though when you listen to the rest of the record, with ‘Stand Up And Shout’ having a lot more force behind it and the title track taking the time to sprawl out and get more grandiose as it plays out.
While the song that we have here is fine, the actual production combined with the goofy sounds of the piano makes it sound tongue in cheek. Regardless, ‘Rainbow’ still remains one of the best gateway drugs into the world of power metal, and has given us metalheads a great karaoke track. Via VH1
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
When talking about some of the most important records ever made, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ belongs in a class by itself.
Over time though, the power of the song seemed to cool for singer Robert Plant. It didn’t start out that way though, with Robert knowing the power of the song when they started playing it live, encouraging the band to not tune up after the song was over and to show the song a bit of reverence so that the audience can soak in what they just heard.
After years of playing it onstage, Robert started to really get sick of playing the song over and over again, thinking that it was one of the more grating songs that he’d ever written. When asked recently about ‘Stairway,’ he even went so far to say that he would break out in hives if he were asked to play the song again.
Then again, if you’re going to see Robert Plant at his solo shows though, it does feel like there’s something missing if you don’t hear some Zeppelin tunes. It might remain a staple of rock radio and a pivotal moment in rock and roll history, but there’s also a good chance that we’ve heard the original members of Zeppelin play this song for the last time years ago. Via The LA Times
Alone Again – Dokken
Every hair metal band worth its salt knows how to write a good ballad. If you were to ask George Lynch though, Dokken’s power ballads were always the band’s weakest material. When asked about the idea of writing them, George’s response was “does anybody get excited about writing power ballads? I think we thought it was a necessary evil.”
It’s not hard to see where he’s coming from, being one of he premier guitar players in his genre and then playing below his skill level. That wouldn’t be the last time that George would badmouth Dokken’s hits though, mentioning how the band were getting spit on during a handful of their shows once the grunge revolution kicked in and people had had enough of them.
“Don went up to the mic to sing ‘Just Got Lucky’ or some *expletive* song, and I saw a huge loogie go right down his throat. We had to eventually take him to the hospital to give him a tetanus shot after that.”
If it wasn’t clear that the times were changing, the fans will have no problem reminding you that you’re yesterday’s news. Then again, it’s probably not hard to argue when you’re not as big a fan of your own material either. Via Metal Evolution
Dancing in the Street – Van Halen
During the mid ‘80s, Van Halen were getting worked like dogs and were in desperate need of a break. Even though David Lee Roth had the idea to knock out a quick cover of ‘Pretty Woman’ to give the fans something to chew on while they were away, their label wanted something a little extra, basically strong-arming them into making an entire record.
While Diver Down is practically an odds and ends collection for Van Halen, Eddie did have one bone to pick with one of the covers that they made. Although the band’s cover game has always been solid, Eddie was never that comfortable with the group’s version of ‘Dancing in the Street,’ thinking that it didn’t fit the kind of attitude that the band was going for a lot of the time.
Roth did get the support of producer Ted Templeman to do the song though, and since the band didn’t have much to work with, they eventually went ahead and recorded it anyway, without giving Eddie any credit. Although the song is technically a hit Motown song from back in the day, Eddie had a major issue with some of the licks he put into the song, making an atmospheric-sounding synth passage that he wrote himself and never being given any credit for it, making what he thought could be the basis of an actually good Van Halen song into just some strange intro for the tune.
There’s definitely some merit to this song, but this practically feels more like a David Lee Roth solo song than anything to do with Van Halen. Via ‘Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen’