Metal Blade Records On May 17, As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis appeared in…
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Nobody made you go around wearing UFO pants and sucking a pacifier after you got smart enough to drop those duds. But despite the pop star high life, musicians don't have the luxury to abandon ship. Fans don't care if a star is misunderstood, or past that particular phase. The audience pays, so the musician plays. Here's how some handled it.
Beastie Boys, 'Fight for Your Right (to Party)'
It's hard to imagine the irony of this song being lost on anybody who's seen the caricatured gold-chained chumps partying in the accompanying video, but this song's ubiquity must have damaged the context. Not only do the Beasties say in the liner notes of 'The Sounds of Science' that the song "sucks," but Mike D laments that the guys pounding their fists and singing along "were oblivious to the fact that it was a goof on them."
R.E.M., 'Shiny Happy People'
Michael Stipe talks as if he wishes he could abandon this song, but he's too loyal to his fans to completely disavow it. "I wouldn't say I'm embarrassed by the song, but it has limited appeal for me," he said, pointing out he meant it to be ironic commentary. To further the artistic misunderstanding, Stipe says he adapted the phrase "Shiny Happy People Holding Hands" from a Chinese propaganda poster issued just after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Most artists are glad to have a hit that will draw crowds to their shows, but when the crowd boos until that one song is played, it's bound to make musicians feel like machines. This is the apt metaphor 'Creep' auteur Thom Yorke chose when he wrote 'My Iron Lung,' which describes Radiohead being dependent on and almost incapacitated by the success of 'Creep': "This is our new song/Just like the last one/A total waste of time/My iron lung."
Bobby McFerrin, 'Don't Worry Be Happy'
McFerrin, a classically trained musician, wrote 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' in about an hour. The Grammy-winning song became so popular that George H. W. Bush used in his 1988 presidential campaign. "It's not that I don't love the song," says McFerrin. "My songs are like my children. Some you want around and some you want to send off to college as soon as possible." Now he conducts Mozart pieces.
Robert Plant, 'Stairway to Heaven'
Led Zeppelin would possibly be back together if it weren't for "that bloody wedding song," as Robert Plant refers to 'Stairway.' He told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, "I'd 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, I don't know. It's just not for me." And how about those Satanic back maskings, Mr. Plant?
Nirvana, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'
The explosive success of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' made Nirvana rich and famous, so it was the likely culprit for Kurt Cobain, known for his anti-corporate slacker stance, to get sick of. He is quoted as calling the song a "sell-out" and told Rolling Stone that it was "almost an embarrassment to play it ... Everyone has focused on that song so much."
Sinead O'Connor, 'Nothing Compares 2 U'
Soon after this exquisitely sad song topped the charts, O'Connor was invited to meet its diminutive author Prince ... to disastrous result. She told the Mirror that their exchange ended with both expletives and punches thrown, and some spittle for good measure. "All I could do was spit. I spat on him quite a bit," she admitted. Years later, when fans at a 2005 concert shouted "Prince!" during an encore, Sinead snapped, "F--- that f---ing midget!"
France Gall, 'Les Sucettes'
When Ms. Gall was 19, 'Les Sucettes' topped the French singles charts. It's literally about a little girl enjoying lollipops, but like Lil Wayne's similarly themed 'Lollipop,' there's a racy double-entendre in each lick. Unlike the young Weezy, the innocent Gall didn't understand the saucy meaning at the time she recorded it, and now she's so offended about being used by pop provocateur Serge Gainsbourg, who penned the tune, she won't ever sing it again. Who would've figured a Frenchwoman to be such a prude?
Madonna, 'Like a Virgin'
There are divas, and then there are divas who are so diva, they can refuse to sing the songs that earned their diva status in the first place. Actually, there's only one, and her name is Madonna. "I'm not sure I can sing 'Holiday' or 'Like a Virgin' ever again," she told New York radio station Z100. "I just can't -- unless somebody paid me, like, $30 million or something. [Like if] some Russian guy wants me to come to the wedding he's going to have to a 17-year-old, you know it." They don't call her the Material Girl for nothin'.
After years of struggling, it's a mixed blessing when you finally hit big with a leftover song from your previous band that someone made you record. Despite Petty's reluctance, producer Jimmy Iovine, persuaded him to record the five-year-old Mudcrutch song 'Don't Do Me Like That.' Released as a single, it made the Top Ten as the first in a string of chart successes for Petty. That sound you hear is Tom Petty griping -- all the way to the bank.