Embarrassing songs of beloved rock stars

Writing music is easy — writing good music is hard, and it's what separates the megastars from rank amateurs struggling to piece together two-chord rock. But even the best rock stars can whiff from time to time. Sometimes, they whiff big time, producing humiliating schlock they wish we'd all forget.

Bob Dylan: 'Wiggle Wiggle'

Nobody knocks it out of the park every time — even Bob Dylan can't make Blonde on Blonde on command. But "Wiggle Wiggle," from his 1989 album Under the Red Sky, is way worse than a mere misstep. There's an extremely good reason he hasn't played it live since 1992, according to his own website, and not just because he's too old to actually wiggle.

Musically, it's fine, which means it should've been an instrumental. That way we wouldn't have to hear lines like "Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a bowl of soup / Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle like a rolling hoop." The other lyrics aren't any better — they direct you to wiggle like other things that, in Dylan's world, wiggle a lot. Did you know that a ton of lead wiggles? Dylan says it does, but he's a musician, not a scientist.

So why would he write this song? It's possible he did it for his 4-year-old daughter; he did dedicate the album to her. No one knows for sure if he actually wrote this song just to make "Gabby Goo Goo" giggle, but because this is Dylan and he doesn't tell us anything, most likely yes. If that's the case, what's up with lines like "wiggle 'til you vomit fire?" That doesn't sound fun for anyone.

Liz Phair: 'Why Can't I?'

"Why Can't I?" would've sounded delightful from the mouth of 2003's hottest teen pop starlet. Instead, we got Liz Phair, one of the edgiest, most badass indie darlings of the '90s, the woman who wrote "love songs" with lyrics like, "Johnny, my love, we got us a witness / Now all we gotta do is get a preacher / He can probably skip the 'until death' part / 'Cause Johnny, my love, you're already dead." Debbie Gibson she was not.

Then, with her self-titled 2003 album, she became Gibson and then some. She signed with a major label, who promptly teamed her with The Matrix (the pop producers behind much of your favorite Avril) and had them brew up some singles. She did just that with "Why Can't I?", a teeny-bop ode to finding the perfect guy. The sound is safe and super-catchy, the composition is formulaic, the multi-tracked chorus sounds like old school Miley Cyrus, and the lyrics are cheesy cliches like, "It's an itch we know we're gonna scratch / Gonna take a while for this egg to hatch." This song is the epitome of a sonic sell-out.

Phair probably knows this, as her follow-up album, 2005's Somebody's Miracle, was rougher and Matrix-free. By 2010's Funstyle, she was — as she put it — "un-tethered-from-the-machine," back on indie labels, and trying to get her Exile In Guyville groove back. Maybe Exile from Machineville is next.

Guns n' Roses: Oh My God

In between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy, rock star Axl Rose decided to tackle Ministry-style industrial music because he was sick of making money with "Paradise City." He spent years of his life in the studio, blowing untold dollars in the process, and the result was one song: "Oh My God," an ode to Axl hearing Nine Inch Nails, thinking "I can do that," and then not doing that. It's all distorted guitars, distorted vocals, random noises, arrhythmic screeches, and everything else people who hate industrial music think of when they hear "industrial music."

The lyrics, meanwhile, mean next to nothing. As Axl explained it, the lyrics tackle "the societal repression of deep and often agonizing emotions — some of which may be willingly accepted for one reason or another — the appropriate expression of which (one that promotes a healing, release, and a positive resolve) is often discouraged and many times denied." So yeah, next to nothing. Plus, the words are so garbled and screwed you barely understand them. The chorus goes "Oh my God, I can't deny this / I've been taught just to kill and fight this," but it sounds more like "I've been taught just to kill in Vegas." That certainly would've made for a more interesting (and more disturbing) song.

The song was so bad, it didn't make any actual Guns albums. Thank goodness.

Dee Dee Ramone: Funky Man

In 1987, Dee Dee Ramone found himself tired of doing Ramones stuff every day, so he rebelled against rebellion with "Funky Man," where he rapped — yes, rapped — about being funky. There were two problems. First came the fact that he wasn't funky. Then came everything else in the song.

Ramone's rapping voice sounded like he'd been smoking asbestos cigarettes. Lyrically, he gave us sick rhymes like this: "Let me tell you about myself / I play the bass in a punk rock band / Been to all the world / Even to Japan." Yes, even Japan, like one of the world's most significant nations is actually some remote alien world. Later, he explains that he's funky because he's "the one who sings ya … warthog!" Don't ask, we don't know. Oh, and he also boasts "I like hot dogs, franks, and beans / I grew up in Forrest Hills Queens." This is what happens when people who can't rhyme try a genre where the entire point is rhyming.

How Ramone listened to the completed song and concluded, "I should make a whole album like this," we'll never understand. But he did just that, with 1989's Standing in the Spotlight. Mercifully, he eventually realized that he did not have "funky bones," and he never rapped again.

Alanis Morissette: Too Hot

Years before the rock star did naughty stuff in a theater or predated Buzzfeed with a long list of things her dream man better well have, Alanis Morissette was a teenage dream in a swank jean jacket, releasing generic early '90s dance-pop that Canada just adored. Her hit single "Too Hot" was her at her new jack swingest, with tons of Janet Jackson-esque popping and locking, and plenty of ORCH5 samples (the first note of the song), the cornerstone of every cliched dance-pop song from the '80s. Pop-Alanis drenched herself in it.

Lyrically, "Too Hot" is bland, generic, and nonthreatening – Alanis sings about how "you gotta go for gold," and how something is "always too hot, never too cold," and that we should "throw [our] hands in the air / And wave 'em like [we] just don't care."

Amazingly, Alanis acknowledges this song and sometimes even plays it live. Of course, her recent live version sounds absolutely nothing like the original, but at least she's faced her teen-pop demons. RIP ORCH5.

Everclear: Honeymoon Song

Everclear's "Honeymoon Song" is the sweetest slop of goop the band has ever put out. It's a ukelele-driven ode to a really nice honeymoon in Hawaii, sung with all the enthusiasm of a hungover groom.

The song reaches peak embarrassment about a minute in, when stereotypical-hula slide guitar kicks in and the singer brags about how he and his lady "got lei'd together." That was a bad pun when you heard it as a giggly teenager — from the mouth of a middle-aged rock star, it's downright depressing. And that's apparently the most exciting part of the honeymoon. This isn't some Jim Croce-esque story where everything descends into chaos halfway through the first verse. Rather, the following verse describes the honeymoon perfectly: "We said I do / Then ate some food / And smiled / Until the sun went down." Hallmark cards have more action.

But at least they'll "get loaded tonight / [they'll] drink on the flight" home as the honeymoon ends. Perhaps Art wants to do the same whenever somebody requests this song.

Trent Reznor: 'House On Fire' (with Slam Bamboo)

While developing his musical chops (and paying his rent) working for Cleveland's Right Track recording studio as a janitor, Trent Reznor was lending his keyboard skills to some aggressively mediocre bar bands attempting to cash in on the already-waning '80s new wave scene. Slam Bamboo might've been the silliest of all. Also, the band's lineup was every loud, colorful, terrible '80s fashion in one big pile.

Slam Bamboo's song "House on Fire" wouldn't even make a Nine Inch Nails encore on April Fool's Day. It's all happy drumming and cheesy synth trumpets while the singer does his best to sound like Tears For Fears on caffeine. Lyrically, it's as sophisticated as you'd expect, with lines like "I can see / you and me / as one" and "my desire / burning like a house on fire." Masterful. 

Nothing compared to the live performances, however. Check out the badly lip-synced one above, featuring Trent 55 seconds in. He looks exactly like himself, which means he looks absolutely nothing like the rest of the band, particularly the singer with his bright yellow jacket and puffy hair all parted to one side. Meanwhile, you've got Reznor, the future musical icon, sleepwalking his way through mimed keyboard parts, occasionally remembering to smile, and trying to decide which bill to pay first when the check clears.

Smashing Pumpkins: 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'

Yes, the Christmas song. Now, there's nothing wrong with playing a sloppy mess of a holiday song live — most every band does it at least once. What makes this one particularly embarrassing, however, is that it's an official Smashing Pumpkins release, from right around the time of their wildly popular breakout album Siamese Dream. With all the actually awesome material they had available and knowing they were only going to get better over time, they decided a one-minute warble about Rudolph was what the world needed to hear. Billy Corgan doesn't even get the words right — he sings "then all the others loved him" versus "then how the reindeer loved him," which might be forgivable if this song wasn't a pillar of culture. Meanwhile, guitarist James Iha shows up accidentally for a couple misplaced guitar slides, like he forgot he was even there.

Then this goof of a song appeared on a compilation with the title No Toys for OJ, and its only other appearance is on a rare early recordings album box set called Mashed Potatoes that's considered one the most coveted rarities by hardcore Pumpkins fans. It makes you wonder why these fans would do this to themselves. Just listen to "Tonight, Tonight"; it's fine.

Pearl Jam: 'Bugs'

It's hard to argue against the idea that Vitalogy was a turning point for Pearl Jam. This was a band coming into its own in the rock pantheon: at its most solid and occasionally daring to experiment with weird, different song styles. Unfortunately, experimenting often sucks, just like "Bugs" sucks.

The basic setup of "Bugs" is Vedder, playing an accordion he clearly never learned how to play, ranting about "bugs in [his] room" and bed and ears and everywhere else on his body. They're taking over the Vedder, which might explain why his accordion-playing is so awful. He literally repeats two notes the entire song. Bugs swarming all around him and laying bug eggs in his hair must be pretty distracting. Presumably the drummer is overwhelmed by the bugs, too, because his "drumming" is more like repeatedly punching a tambourine.

By the end of the song, Vedder audibly wonders what he should do about the bugs. Eat them? Kill them? Join them? He chooses the latter, because "they're always taking over" and "deciding his fate." He then strips down and becomes a bug, like Kafka for the grunge crowd. And that, like it or not, is "Bugs." It's pretty clear that Vedder was going for a grimy, surreal, Tom Waits vibe here, but what's even more clear is that, as talented as Vedder is, he is absolutely not Tom Waits. 

Lou Reed: 'Your Love'

Rock star Lou Reed defined cool throughout his career. Considering all the risque stuff he sang about and how he was so willing to put out an entire anti-album like Metal Machine Music, it seemed like the man would be impervious to embarrassment. That said, digging back in his career reveals a bunch of shockingly earnest sock-hop anthems that would make even Frankie Valli sick.

One of the goofiest songs Reed created would be "Your Love," which he recorded alongside other timeless doo-wop anthems like "Merry Go Round," "So Blue," and "Leave Her For Me." There isn't an ounce of Reed's trademark swagger here, as he sings about his very best girl and how gosh-darn keen she is. He crafted lines like "Don't you know you set my soul on fire / It's gonna be in my heart's desire," as if they were actually profound. Then there's the saxophone solo that sounds completely broken, like the sax is being forced to wail under duress.

At least he got straightened out later on. Thanks, Lou.