ne of the great things about the iPod age has been the ability to program your own music. Previous generations who wanted to kick out some jams had to rely on their own collections of records that—get this—they had to pay for, or else they had to listen to the radio.
And radio is the primary culprit when it comes to taking perfectly good songs and turning them into Pavlovian triggers capable of inciting homicidal rage in even the gentlest soul. But radio isn’t the only culprit; movies, commercials, and annoying friends can ruin songs too by forcing you to listen to them again and again and again.
No matter what the cause, there are just some songs that we never ever need to hear again, as long as we live. Here is our list of songs we wish could be banished forever.
1. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
This song has the distinction of frequently being voted as the greatest rock song of all time, mostly by people who listen to too much classic rock radio and probably don’t own a copy of Led Zeppelin IV. Because if they did own a copy, they’d know that there are no fewer than four songs that are more deserving of that honor on that album, let alone within the entirety of the Zeppelin catalog.
So what is it that makes this song so bone-chillingly bad, at least once you’ve heard it for the 300th or 400th time? Is it that terrible quadruple-tracked recorder played during the Renaissance-Fair-sounding intro? Is it the fact that the drums don’t kick in until the four-minute mark? Or is it the preposterously pretentious lyrics, with lines like “if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow” and “the piper’s calling you to join him” that mean absolutely nothing whatsoever? Yes.
Even Robert Plant once subtly acknowledged his own dissatisfaction with “Stairway” when he pledged money to a public radio station that promised to never again play the song.
2. “More Than a Feeling” (Boston)
Some songs torment you twice. Once when they first become hits and get played ad nauseam on the radio, and again when they become part of nostalgia culture. Like the feathered hair and thick mustache sported by singer Brad Delp back in ’76, “More Than a Feeling” is not even ironically cool anymore. It just needs to go away.
3. “Don’t Stop Believing” (Journey)
While Boston actually sounded good the first few times you heard them, Journey, born of the same mid-‘70s payola-infused FM rock radio culture, always made us wince. The best that can be said of them is that it was exactly this kind of vapid, overproduced music that caused punk rock to happen. This song found a second life (and even a return to the Top 40 charts) when it was used in the horribly unsatisfying series finale of The Sopranos. There was something fitting about using that song as the soundtrack to Tony Soprano’s final moment, because if we ever hear this song again we hope that we get put out of our misery by an assassin’s bullet.
4. “Imagine” (John Lennon)
John Lennon was one of the great rock singers and songwriters of all time, as most people would agree. But while Paul McCartney is always thought of as the Beatle most likely to write a wimpy ballad, Lennon was no slouch in the schmaltz department himself. The song’s lyrics evoke a post-conflict world in which religion, possessions, and life after death are no longer needed—a hippie paradise. Blech. Imagine no “Imagine.” It’s really hard to do.
5. Every Song by The Eagles
We’re sure there are still some of you who like to check into “Hotel California” and kick back to “Peaceful Easy Feeling” to escape your “Life In the Fast Lane,” but the rest of us will be perfectly content to never hear a single song by The Eagles ever again. Hating this band was good enough for El Duderino, and it’s good enough for us.
6. “Solsbury Hill” (Peter Gabriel)
We’re not really sure why Peter Gabriel’s wistful, nostalgic ode to the verdant England of his childhood became so popular on this side of the muddy pond, but somehow it has. All we know is, whenever this comes on, we instantly feel nostalgic for a time before we heard this song.
7. “Brown Eyed Girl” (Van Morrison)
Van Morrison’s first release as a solo artist (after leaving his group Them), “Brown Eyed Girl” has actually been officially recognized for being overplayed. It has been honored for having been played 10 million times on U.S. radio and 9 million times on U.K. radio. It’s also been featured in several movies, including The Big Chill, the film responsible for ruining Motown for an entire generation.
8. “Dancing In The Streets” (Various Artists)
This song has the distinction of having been recorded by several different musicians, none of whom came close to capturing the spirit of the original by Martha and the Vandellas. The Kinks tried in 1965, only a year after the original, and their version was terrible. Van Halen did their take on the song in 1982, and the less said about that the better. But it was David Bowie and Mick Jagger who dealt the fatal blow to the song, in a bafflingly bad performance that was accompanied by one of the worst music videos of all times.
9. “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen)
This song has everything. A ballad that leads into a wicked guitar solo that leads into an operatic vocal interlude that leads into a heavy hard rock song that leads back into a ballad. Which is everything you need to make a song that gets less enjoyable with every listen, especially when you’ve heard it nine-thousand times. Yes, it was funny when they sang along with it in Wayne’s World. No, it’s not funny when we hear it now.
10. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Nirvana)
Ever wonder why Kurt Cobain really killed himself? We think it was because this song, which was written as a joke (it even includes a musical allusion to “More Than a Feeling”) became Nirvana’s signature song. Alternative stations played this song to death, and it was further beaten into the ground when “Weird Al” Yankovich parodied it, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came to define the grunge era, which is one reason why no one remembers the grunge era fondly.
11. “Tainted Love” (Soft Cell)
When it came out, Soft Cell’s cover of this obscure soul song originally recorded by Gloria Jones was a brilliant updating of the ‘60s soul groove. But after endless plays on the radio, in clubs, and on any TV show or movie set in the 1980s, this song is the thing that’s truly tainted.
12. “Two Princes” (Spin Doctors)
As we said at the outset of this article, many of the songs on this list are good songs that have been ruined by overexposure. This song is the exception. We were sick of this dippy faux-hippy-jam-band throwaway the first time we heard it.
13. “Louie Louie” (Anyone)
Do we really need to explain this? It’s “Louie Louie” for gosh sakes.
14. “Love Shack” (B-52’s)
Nothing against the B-52’s—they’ve got many great songs—but this one is like one of those jokes that’s hilarious when you first hear it, makes you chuckle the second time, then makes you groan every time thereafter.
15. “Sweet Caroline” (Neil Diamond)
This song was killed by karaoke, where for some reason, it’s become a song you’re forced to hear at every bar where drunk people who can’t sing feel the urge to do so in public.
16. “Come On Eileen” (Dexy’s Midnight Runners)
For some reason, Dexy’s is revered in England, where they are beloved by critics and music fans alike. Maybe some of their other songs are good, but we’ll never know, thanks to the many times we’ve been forced to endure this Celtic-folk-music-inspired ‘80s abomination.
17. “Rehab” (Amy Winehouse)
This clever Northern Soul-inspired ditty was the perfect showcase for Amy Winehouse’s incredible voice, but the sad irony of the song in the wake of Winehouse’s death hasn’t made us any less sick of this way-too-overplayed hit.
18 “Forever Young” (Rod Stewart)
Rod Stewart's career cliff dive—from being one of the best rock singers of all time to becoming one of the most laughable caricatures of a former rocker—hit its low with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” but it’s this awful ballad that makes anyone who hasn’t heard his amazing work with The Faces and Jeff Beck shudder with fear.
19. “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” (Green Day)
It’s not just that it’s a ballad from a “punk” band. It’s that it’s a ballad from a “punk” band sung with a fake British accent. We’d love to say good riddance to this song once and for all.
20. “Dream On” (Aerosmith)
There are so many better songs by this band that should be as huge as this song. But maybe it’s for the best that this throwaway ballad has been chosen as the dead horse in the Aerosmith catalog for radio to flog. We’re much happier knowing that “Seasons of Wither” hasn’t been spoiled like this song has.
21. “Start Me Up” (The Rolling Stones)
This respectable later-day Stones song was ruined forever after it was used in TV commercials for Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system. But when it started being used at every sporting event ever it went from being annoyingly overplayed to becoming an instrument of torture.
22. “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Bob Seger)
Rock songs about rock are almost never good. And as this song proves, they almost never rock. Blame this one on Risky Business and the image of Tom Cruise lip-syncing in his tighty-whiteys.
23. “Don’t Speak” (No Doubt)
Please, Gwen, don’t sing. It’s really not something you’re good at.
24. “American Pie” (Don McLean)
Don McLean’s ode to “the day the music died”—the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and that other guy no one ever remembers—was a bit much even the first time you heard the full 8-minute version (calling Holly et. al. “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” is the height of pretension), but how many times can you hear a story that you already know the ending of?
25. “Happy Birthday” (Everyone)
It’s the song that no one likes to sing, and no one likes to have sung to them, yet for some reason we’re subjected to it many times a year, not only at birthday parties, but even when we’re out to eat and just trying to enjoy our meal. If there’s one upside to dying, it has to be the knowledge that we’ll never have to hear this song again.
*CORRECTION: This article originally misindentified the singer of Boston as Tom Scholz. Thanks to our attentive readers for catching this oversight. Our only defense is that we never owned a Boston album in our lives. Also, our apologies to Tom Scholz for impying that he once had a mustache.