Times Bands Butchered Their Songs On Purpose

If the spirit of rock and roll is rebellion, then no one should be surprised when bands do exactly that: rebel. Throughout rock history, bands have thrown up the middle finger to political entities, social institutions, their own labels, you name it. Sometimes rebellion comes in the form of butchering the very thing that bands are being used to commodify: their own songs.

Smells like rebellion

Most notorious amongst these is Nirvana's massacre of its era-defining "Smells Like Teen Spirit," where the band was asked to play their hit song against a pre-recorded backtrack on BBC television series Top of the Pops in 1991. Instead, Kurt Cobain and company mimed their music in an absurdly stilted, mannequin-like way, or else strummed or struck drums obviously out of sync. Kurt himself practically ate his mic while singing an octave lower than usual, ad-libbing lyrics, and generally making a mockery of the proceedings. Of course, this didn't harm their counter-cultural reputation — rather the opposite — and all it took was hacking apart a beloved track.

Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong sees red

Years later in 2012 at the IHeartRadio Festival, Green Day didn't so much as shred apart their song (or even shred their guitars) when lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong straight up stopped playing their old hit "Basketcase," and commenced to curse out the show's moderators for apparently cutting their time from 45 minutes to 25 minutes. During the final minute of their set, Billie Joe proceeded rave in front of the audience and break his guitar, citing his long history in the music industry as reason enough to let his band play longer. Granted, this wasn't so much a purposeful rebellion as it was a drunken rant, but the result was much the same.

Iron Maiden's comedy routine

Years before Green Day or Nirvana entered the scene, punk, new wave, and thrash metal icons alike were trashing their own songs for the sake of rebellion. In 1986, Iron Maiden said a symbolic "screw you" at the P.I.T. music festival in Germany, when they, like Nirvana years later, were asked to mime their performance to a backing track. Instead, they just flailed their guitars around and swapped instruments mid-song, passing them from hand to hand while randomly singing into mics in a vision of glorious, mocking chaos.

A Rotten show

Years earlier in 1980, Public Image Ltd. essentially gave up on singing "American Bandstand" on TV because they were asked to lip sync. Instead, singer Johnny Rotten belts his song out of key before stopping singing altogether and running into the audience to grab people and drag them on stage. He also walked into and around the cameras, breaking television's fourth wall.

Iggy Pop satirizes boredom

Even before them, punk legend Iggy Pop in 1979 perfectly satirized his track "I'm Bored" by prancing around stage in the most over-the-top, absurdly non-bored way possible. He did this while exaggerating his enunciation to a — you guessed it — backing track, to make his lip syncing clear. All in all, it was a disruptive, amazing display of rebelliousness perfectly fitting a punk singer. We can also assume that he was perhaps actually bored of being asked to fake something that came from a real place: his music.

The message in all these stories is clear: labels, producers, and big businesses don't have the final say in the work of the creative artist, even if it comes at the expense of butchering their own work.