We already went down this road with the worst hip-hop fails, but rock music has been around twice as long, giving the genre's figureheads a lot more time to embarrass themselves. It also helps that the rock star lifestyle basically guarantees regular missteps. We're talking "African Child"-level failure. Come on, what would you do with a steady stream of drugs, money, women, and an out-of-control ego that the public reinforces every time your next record goes platinum? You'd probably get a few regrettable tattoos, fight with your best friends, and make some terrible choices with your music along the way, too. These fuck-ups paved the way for the modern cultural obsession that can turn a musician's ill decision into an Internet meme within hours. We recently worked with journalist Dave Bry to come up with a definitive list of these shortcomings. No one is exempt, either. From punchline-worthy targets of the late '90s rap-rock era to some of the most revered legends, everyone screws up. Wanna find out who? Crank that proverbial amp up to 11 and get ready for the The 50 Worst Rock Fails of All Time...
Led Zeppelin Fails to Credit Blues Artists
These guys did black music so selfishly and used it to get themselves wealthy. Compare Willie Dixon's "You Need Love" to Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" and you'll see what we mean. The similarities hold true for several of the band's early records. We get that they were trying to channel their blues roots, but how about crediting the guys who wrote the original songs?
Pete Wentz's Camera Phone Dick Pics
Krist Novoselic's Bass Toss
Nirvana was nominated for "Best New Artist in A Video" for the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, so it could be that aerial debacle during their performance at the ceremony was just the result of nerves. Bassist Novoselic tossed his instrument in the air to get the crowd going...and then gravity returned it to his face. To add insult to (literal) injury, Kurt Cobain kicked the guy when he stumbled off stage after the incident.
Kid Rock and Tommy Lee Fight Over Pamela Anderson
The Beatles Treat Pete Best the Worst
Fred Durst's Cobain/Elvis Tattoo
The Doors Continue As a Band After Jim Morrison's Death
The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony" Money Goes to The Rolling Stones
John Entwistle's Prediction About Jimmy Page's Post-Yardbirds Group
Sex Pistols Tour the U.S.A.
Who really failed is hard to say. They set out to shock and they did. They made one great album and an eternal legacy's worth of headlines. But in the end, with Sid Vicious heading toward murder charges and death by overdose at age 21, and the genuinely talented Johnny "Rotten" Lydon obviously sickened by his part in what would become to be known as manager Malcolm McClaren's Great Rock n' Roll Swindle, the spectacle of punk rock exploded in everybody's face. "Ahh ha ha!" said Lydon after playing the last song at their last show, at San Francisco's Winter Garden, "Anybody get the feeling you've been cheated? Good night."
Paul McCartney Gets Busted for Weed in Japan
Simon Le Bon Attempts to Sail Around the World
Neil Young's "Trans" Album
Prince Skips "We Are The World" Recording Session
The reasons remain mysterious. Rivalry with Michael Jackson? Shyness? Sore throat? Whatever it was, His Royal Badness pulled a no-show while just about all the other stars of his stature made it and made history. Bob Geldoff called him a creep, but it was Billy Crystal's turn on Saturday Night Live that really landed blows.
R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People"
It's rare that ONE SONG can definitively mark the point at which one of the dopest rock bands of its day went soft and sold the fuck out, so this track is almost valuable for its quantifiable levels of suck. It was their biggest hit to date, reaching No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, but "Shiny Happy People" is generally regarded as the band's worst (and most annoying) song.
David Lee Roth's Assless Chaps
Terence Trent D'Arby Compares Himself to The Beatles
Kiss Takes Off The Makeup
Jimmy Page Clears "Kashmir" Sample for Puffy
Scott Stapp Gets Sued By Fans
Meat Loaf Gets Injected with His Own Urine
Dave Navarro Hosts CBS Reality Show "Rock Star"
Dave Navarro spent years documenting his addiction to both drugs and fame by videotaping everyone that came to his house. The footage includes some low moments, but we think his stint on Rock Star was the real rock bottom. Holding a cheesy American Idol-style competition to find the next lead singer for INXS a decade after Michael Hutchence's death? FOH!
Billy Corgan's New Age Spiritualist Website
Dave Mustaine Drinks His Way out of Metallica
Dave Matthews Band Empties Tour Bus Septic Tank onto Chicago Pedestrians
Huey Lewis and the News "It's Hip To Be Square"
Hootie and the Blowfish Blow Chunks on Second Album "Fairweather Johnson"
John Mayer's "Playboy" Interview
Mama Cass Chokes to Death
J Mascis Kicks Lou Barlow Out of Dinosaur Jr.
Ted Nugent Tells Russell Simmons Something Racist
Starship Builds A City On Schlock & Roll
"We Built This City" topped Billboard's pop charts in November 1985, evidence of the judgment-impairing effects of using cocaine. It was sampled 18 years later by Harlem rap group the Diplomats for their song, "Built This City," evidence of the judgment-impairing effects of bragging about selling cocaine. Finally, in 2004, the editors of Blender magazine got it right, naming it the worst of song of all-time. And through it all, Marconi still plays the mamba.
Neil Young Blows It At "The Last Waltz"
You can see how it might happen at a rock ’n' roll celebration in 1976, but when Young came onstage to sing "Helpless" for Martin Scorsese's classic documentary of the Band's farewell concert, The Last Waltz, he had a visible chunk of cocaine hanging from his left nostril. So visible, in fact, that Band guitarist and co-producer of the film, Robbie Robertson had to pay several thousand dollars to have it Rotoscoped out of the final cut. "The most expensive cocaine I've ever bought," Robertson quipped. Years later, asked about the incident, Young replied, "I'm not proud of that." It's okay, though—while you can still see some shadowy remnants of the snow booger in the doctored edit, the performance remains one of the great moments in music history.
Sebastian Bach's "AIDS Kills Fags Dead" T-Shirt
George Michael Gets Arrested for Engaging in a Lewd Act
So a world-famous pop superstar and an undercover police officer go into a public restroom in a park in Beverly Hills and... Well, we'll let George Michael tell it (as he did soon afterward to MTV News): "I got followed into the restroom and then this cop—I didn't know it was a cop, obviously—he started playing this game, which I think is called, "I'll show you mine, you show me yours, and then when you show me yours, I'm going to nick you!'" Major embarrassment and hullabaloo ensued, of course. Michael was fined $800 and sentenced to 80 hours of community service. But he gets major props for making a truly fabulous video spoofing his own scandal later that year.
Fred Durst Eggs On Rapists at Woodstock '99
As Limp Bizkit were getting ready to perform at the 30th anniversary of an original festival of peace and music (which was fast descending into violence and vandalism), concert organizers asked frontman Fred Durst to say something to help settle things down. Instead, he got on the microphone, in front of an unruly crowd of 200,000 people, and said this: "I don't think you should mellow out. This is 1999, motherfuckers—stick those Birkenstocks up your ass!" Then they played their song "Break Stuff." The result, of course, was further mayhem. Including a reported gang rape in the mosh pit right in front of the stage during Limp Bizkit's set.
Jewel's Poetry Saves No One's Soul
Rod Stewart Goes Disco with "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy"
This is the song that led esteemed rock critic Greli Marcus to say, "Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely." And it's basically why they blew up all those records at Death to Disco Night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. (Twenty years later, Puffy would spread wack juice over the Lox by having the supposedly hardcore Yonkers trio reinterpolate the track as, amazingly, "If You Think I'm Jiggy.")
Elvis Costello Uses Very Inappropriate Language to Describe James Brown and Ray Charles
The Who Show Their Age at the Super Bowl
First the Flo TV commercial comes on and we learn that The Who have allowed the loathsome will.i.am to remix their classic, "My Generation," and that, yes, he actually changed the lyrics (from "I hope I die before I get old" to "I don't want to die, I want to get old"). Then the band—well, the band's remaining two members, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey—come out for the halftime show and Roger looks way too much like the night's other star, Betty White, and Pete's shirt is unbuttoned where it shouldn't be, and they screw up a bunch of their awesome songs by cramming truncated versions into a very ill-conceived medley. And the sad thought arises that perhaps they should have hoped harder. (Not really, of course. But, y'know.)
Lars Ulrich Takes on Napster
It doesn't matter who was wrong and who was right. When Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich became a music industry spokesmen in the fight against file sharing, when he testified for a Senate committee on the topic, when his band filed a lawsuit against Napster—a company started by a music-dork college student, for god's sake—he broke the one unbreakable rule in the largely rule-free world of rock stardom. He sided with The Man.
Metallica's "Some Kind of Monster" Documentary
The members of Metallica were having trouble both as a band (recording their eighth album, St. Anger) and as a group of human beings trying to get along. So they decided to enter group therapy...and film it for a documentary. As would be expected, it was excruciating to watch. The psychobabble about "feelings" and "hearing" each other was about as far away from rock ’n' roll as anything could ever be. But when their shrink, Phil Towle, started offering suggestions to James Hetfield about song lyrics, well, you knew everyone involved with this was very, very lost. "I am aware a lot of other musicians seem to have lived a lot of those moments," Ulrich told the Sydney Herald Sun earlier this year. "They weren't necessarily stupid enough to film them like we were and share them with the rest of the world."
Mike Love Gives a Hateful Speech at 1988 Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
In an acceptance speech ostensibly about the importance of harmony, and how he and his group "love all people," the Beach Boys' Mike Love suddenly veers left and attacks Paul McCartney and Diana Ross for not being in the room, and says that "Mick Jagger has always been chickenshit to get on the stage with the Beach Boys." Later that night, Bob Dylan starts his own by speech by saying, "I'd like to thank Mike Love for not mentioning me."
Guns N' Roses "Chinese Democracy" Album
Kurt Cobain Wears "Corporate Magazines Still Suck" T-Shirt On The Cover of "Rolling Stone"
Sting's "What Rock Stars Dream Of" Commercial
Fine. You make your own disgusting music video about how, when you're performing in front of an audience of people who have paid hard-earned money (for some reason) to come see your wan brand of easy-listening jazz fusion, what you're really thinking about is how you'd rather be being driven around by your fucking chauffeur in your goddamned Jaguar. Then you pitch the clip as a commercial to Jaguar, who put it on TV a million times a day, and the song becomes a huge hit, reviving sales of your Brand New Day album, which eventually sells two million copies. The story becomes a testament to power of synergy in marketing. Fine. I hope you're satisfied, sir. But your soul will burn in hell for this.
Rolling Stones Hire Hells Angels to Provide Security at Altamont
Mick: I've got an idea.
Keith: What's that, Mick?
Mick: What say we give the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer to watch over the stage for us at the music festival in California?
Keith: I don't see why not. What could go wrong?
Mick: It's not like they'll be beating people with leaded pool cues.
Keith: Right. Nor stabbing anybody to death.
Mick: I should think not.
Axl Rose Challenges Bob Guccione, Jr. to a Fight
Ozzy Osbourne Bites The Head Off a Bat Onstage
In Des Moines, Iowa, performing a date on his Diary Of A Madman tour, Ozzy Osbourne finds what he thinks is a toy bat onstage. Being Ozzy Osbourne, with a certain reputation to uphold, and in the spirit of things, he picks it up and bites its head off. Unfortunately, as his more clear-headed wife and manager Sharon was trying to indicate to him from offstage, it was a real bat. Dead, but real. A month of rabies shots ensues. (This video is not the actual real-bat incident, but gives a good indication of how such a thing might happen.)
Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonight" Music Video
Sure, it's the most laughable, ridiculous, embarrassing relic of early-MTV musical culture that exists. Yes, it serves as a far better send-up of the more regrettable aspects of the '80s aesthetic than anything Saturday Night Live fictionalized at the time. True, Sacha Baron Cohen could never choreograph something so hilarious with a million-dollar budget. But before you dismiss the video for Billy Squier's "Rock Me Tonight" outright, consider the part around the 1:20 mark, where he prances past the satin-sheeted bed and does the sort-of waving-the-pom-poms thing with his arms and then the air-guitar before ripping that Flashdance T-shirt off his chest (a climactic moment to be played again in slow-motion and... freeze frame!) and know that you have never ever in your entire life felt so free.