There is little doubt that for some bands, writing an enormously successful hit can be as much a rewarding gift as it can be a devastating curse.
While many groups crave international fame and flourish beneath the sudden and often unprecedented focus of a global microscope, others would prefer to shy away from such an intense spotlight. Both perspectives are easy to appreciate, considering how such a triumph can not only become the heart and focal point of a band, but further, actually define them.
What makes the phenomenon of a success even more frustrating is the sheer unpredictability of how audiences, including producers, record labels and – ultimately – the fans interpret and respond to tracks.
That said, there are still many reasons a band or its select members may despise some of their greatest rock and roll achievements, and this list aims to uncover and make sense of such sheer disdain.
Nirvana, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’
Nirvana’s 1991 sophomore release, Nevermind came with unprecedented commercial success, thanks to the album’s opening track and lead single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
The song quickly became an anthem for the rebellious youth of the generation, and is often marked as the first time grunge and alternative rock were accepted into into mainstream culture. Widespread domination of the hit only made the band increasingly uncomfortable performing it live, often sabotaging the intro and its lyrics, while sometimes skipping over the song entirely.
“It’s fun to play,” drummer Dave Grohl admitted during an interview in 1993, “but it seems for a lot of people it’s the only Nirvana song they know and that’s kind of upsetting.”
Perhaps the track that brings the most self-loathing from its artist, Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ reportedly was even disliked by guitarist Johnny Greenwood as early as the song’s recording in 1992.
Much like Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Creep’ quickly became the bane of the band’s existence, overplayed and commercialised, and saw the group unwillingly transition into mainstream audiences.
Once more, the band became renowned for sabotaging the track and omitting it from setlists, with fans yelling out requests for the track often becoming the target of a tirade of abuse from frontman Thom Yorke, who says the band are “tired of it”.
While discussing their 1995 mega-hit ‘Wonderwall’ during a commentary for their greatest hits album, Stop The Clocks, Liam Gallagher stated “I’d have left that out. I wouldn’t have put that on there”.
“It’s not my favourite,” Noel admits of his song; the fourth single taken from (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?.
“Outside of England, it’s the one song we’re famous for all over the world”, the elder of the Gallagher brothers stated in an interview with NME. “I think, ‘fucking hell, have you heard ‘Live Forever’?’” Noel has also discussed how he once struggled with the arrangement of the popular track when playing it solo on acoustic guitar, until he was heavily influenced by American singer-songwriter Ryan Adams’ cover version in 2001.
Led Zeppelin, ‘Stairway to Heaven’
Described by many as the greatest song ever written, Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is described by lead vocalist Robert Plant as “that bloody wedding song”.
After forging a relatively successful solo career for himself post-Zeppelin, Plant revealed in a 1988 interview with the Los Angeles Times that he would “break out in hives if I had to sing that song in every show”.
“I wrote those lyrics and found that song to be of some importance and consequence in 1971, but 17 years later… it’s just not for me”.
Following two special reunion shows at Live Aid in 1985 and Maddison Square Garden in 1988 – the first since the death of the band’s drummer John Bonham in 1980 – and despite multiple reunions and tours years later, it wasn’t until 2007 the band returned to the track in a one-off show at London’s O2 Arena, albeit in the middle of their set and not at the finale, so as to “restrain [guitarist Jimmy Page] from turning the song into an even more epic solo-filled noodle”.
Guns N’ Roses, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’
Both of the key spearheads of the recently reformed Guns N’ Roses have discussed their displeasure of their smash hit ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, and for surprisingly different reasons!
Though he didn’t hate it, legendary guitarist Slash described in a 2014 radio interview that he “wasn’t fond” of the track. “The actual riff I love, but the song itself…,” trailing off before crudely adding “this was an up-tempo ballad – that’s one of the gayest things you can write”.
Despite admitting he was a fan of many of the wide-ranging cover versions of the song, Slash revealed in an interview with Metro that he has been “horrified” by muzak versions. “I’ve been sitting in a doctor’s office thinking, ‘That sounds familiar,’ and then realising it’s someone’s interpretation of what I’ve written. That can be a creepy feeling”.
Lead vocalist Axl Rose on the other hand (surprisingly) despised the radio edit of the song, which sliced almost two minutes from the album version by cutting Slash’s slow guitar solo. “There’s no reason for it to be missing except to create more space for commercials, so the radio-station owners can get more advertising dollars.”
Queen, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’
Brian May’s hesitation when talking about the quintessential Queen hit ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (which is perhaps overshadowed only by the six-minute epic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’), is evident in an interview with Absolute Radio from 2011, declaring the track to contain an undercurrent of “danger” – likely referring to former lead singer Freddie Mercury’s hedonistic behavioural tendencies.
“I think that feeling lingers,” he continues, no doubt still reflecting on the tragic death of his great friend, though he concedes the song was “a stroke of genius from Freddie”.
May’s reluctance towards the track may have even be evident from the original recording; only featuring for a short guitar solo.
The Beatles, ‘Let It Be’
Setting the impossible task of ranking the biggest and best Beatles tune aside, one of their highlights in ‘Let It Be’ was later dismissed by John Lennon following the band’s infamous split in 1970. “That’s Paul. What can you say? Nothing to do with the Beatles. It could have been Wings,” Lennon remarked in a 1980 interview with Playboy.
“I don’t know what he was thinking”.
It’s not the only track of McCartney’s to be passed off as “garbage” by Lennon, who also labelled ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ as “granny music” and stated the “best bit” of ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was “at the end”.
The Pretenders, ‘Brass In Pocket’
Despite ‘Brass In Pocket (I’m Special)’ becoming the band’s only UK Number 1 single, frontwoman Chrissie Hynde later revealed that she “hated [it] with a vengeance”.
Written as a deliberately “obvious” hit released in 1979, the track has seen much commercial use and was covered by English rockers Suede for an NME charity album, before another cover version appeared in the soundtrack for the 2005 romantic comedy Just Like Heaven starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, yet Hynde states she just “wasn’t very happy” with the song’s not-so-special final recording.
“I didn’t like it because I didn’t think it knew what it was. I thought it sounded like it was trying to be a Motown song, but it didn’t quite… make it”, she stated.
The track was eventually released on the band’s 1980 self-titled debut, in spite of Hynde’s original claims to their producer that he “could release it over my dead body”.
Simple Minds, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’
Recorded for the 1985 soundtrack to The Breakfast Club, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ seemed like a tainted jinx from its roots, being turned down by The Fixx, Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol, before Simple Minds eventually agreed to record the song, despite also initially turning it down.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have cashed in,” the headline in The Guardian reads for a 2012 interview with the band, who were uncomfortable recording songs they hadn’t written themselves.
“I’d hate to seem begrudging of success, but at the same time I’d like to be honest enough to say maybe we shouldn’t have cashed in all the chips. It’s a bit overwhelming when your band is no longer your own, you become an industry within an industry,” lead singer Jim Kerr stated, after clarifying he still held no regrets over recording the soundtrack anthem.
Kings of Leon, ‘Sex On Fire’
Though their first three albums had been highly praised by critics and fans alike, it was 2008’s, Only By The Night which saw Kings of Leon achieve mammoth international recognition.
Much of the album’s success was attributed to the records’s lead single, ‘Sex On Fire’ which had originally become a running joke after the production team misheard the lyrics in a jam session. For that it almost didn’t make the final cut of the album.
The song quickly became a source of contempt for lead singer Caleb Followill, who often vocalised his displeasure with crowds and even famously labelled it “a piece of shit”. Only recently have the band come to terms with attributing its huge success to their worldwide fame and rekindled their love for playing it live.
Neil Young, ‘Heart of Gold’
Neil apparently hated the widespread attention the track brought to him.
Bruce Springsteen, ‘Born To Run’
Supposedly hated writing the whole album and was displeased with the final result. Hard man to please!
The Pixies, ‘Here Comes Your Man’
A concert favourite, but “we couldn’t even play [it] live if we tried,” Frank Black told The Catalogue in 1989. “It’s too wimpy-poppy”.
R.E.M., ‘Shiny Happy People’
This track was originally rumoured to be used for the theme song to the hugely popular American television sitcom Friends, until the producers heard ‘I’ll Be There For You’ by the Rembrandts. Maybe if history had unfolded differently, the band would have decided to include in on their Greatest Hits compilation. Instead the band performed the song as “Furry Happy Monsters” on Sesame Street in 1999…
The Doors, ‘Light My Fire’
Jim Morrison reportedly never really liked the song, resenting that much of the band’s popularity was derived from a song he had little input in writing.
Motörhead, ‘Ace of Spades’
The late great, binge-drinking, chain-smoking rocker Lemmy Kilmister reportedly grew tired of singing the song: “I’m glad we got famous for that rather than for some turkey, but I sang ‘the eight of spades’ for two years and nobody noticed”.
Flock of Seagulls, ‘I Ran (So Far Away)’
Yes, Flock of Seagulls are the band behind that song. Now, can you name another track of theirs?