In March of 1981, Billboard introduced Top Tracks, a new chart designed to measure the airplay of songs aired on “album-oriented rock radio stations.” Since then, the list’s had several face-lifts and name changes — from Top Rock Tracks to Album Rock Tracks to Mainstream Rock Tracks. Why tracks over singles? Because not all the stuff getting airplay on the radio was a single.
Over the past three decades, the chart’s seen its golden days (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “You Got Lucky”; Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield”), its proud moments (The Replacements’ “I’ll Be You”; R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”), its loud times (Soundgarden’s “Blow Up the Outside World”; The Offspring’s “Gone Away”), and its confusing twists (Kiss’s “Psycho Circus”; Eddie Money’s “The Love in Your Eyes”).
The chart’s also had its share of lousy stretches — many of them downright horrific. And because we’re pessimists, we decided to collect the very, very worst of them* and carve it down to a list of 25 scumbag tracks. So, as you click on through, remember that each entry we included was once on top of the world… of rock, that is.
* We opted to ignore Nickelback, namely because we wanted to challenge ourselves.
Artwork by Sam Moore; titles by Steven Fiche.
25. Slash feat. Miles Kennedy – “You’re a Lie”
When Axl Rose finally tossed out Chinese Democracy back in 2008, there were the old-school Guns N’ Roses fans who pined for Slash ad nauseum. (Admittedly, I was one of them. No matter how good any guitarist may be, they’ll never play “November Rain” with the chutzpah of this guy.) Though, if I had to write Slash fan fiction, I’d probably start every story with a prologue similar to Dexter‘s opening title credits, complete with extreme descriptions of his everyday mundane activities, like polishing his hat, choosing which aviator glasses to wear, eating a bowl of Smacks, and texting Axl the following: “I’m so sorry for working with Miles Kennedy. I’m an idiot. Lol.” How this overproduced, antiseptic, cornballer of an “anthem” ever topped anything other than a bargain bin is beyond me. America’s backyard of morons, congratulations — this one’s on you. -Michael Roffman
24. Tantric – “Breakdown”
Nu metal or post-grunge or whatever you want to call it has many cliches, from big, stupid chords to adding a big, stupid, James Hetfield-aping “eeeyah” to the end of every phrase. However, the most common—and perhaps most subtle—calling card of all is the mini rap. Now we’re not talking Limp Bizkit levels of rhyme-spitting douchebaggery, but rather a tiny inflection of white-bread rapping weaved into a phrase here and there. Nickelback sprinkles it throughout the verses of “How You Remind Me”, specifically on the words “paperback novel” and “I’m gonna make it alright, but not right now” in “Someday”. But Tantric pulls off the sly trick of doing it throughout the entirety of their smash hit “Breakdown” without ever pushing the song into full-blown rap-metal territory. To paraphrase Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick The Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he wasn’t shittily rapping, when, in fact, he was shittily rapping.” -Dan Caffrey