I spend a lot of time on this blog exhuming fantastic “lost classics” and “diamonds in the rough” — rock songs that never got the airplay they deserved. I love shining the light on such tracks, bringing them to my readers’ attention.
This week, I have a more distasteful act of service to perform. I need to be brutally honest and admit that some of my former favorites have been blackballed from my playlists because, over the years, I’ve heard them way, WAY too often. There are few things more exasperating to me than outstanding songs ruined by radio overexposure.
I could list hundreds, maybe thousands, of overexposed tunes that I never liked in the first place. I’ve featured some of the worst offenders as “cringeworthy songs” in past posts on Hack’s Back Pages. This week, though, I’m talking about songs I really enjoyed upon first hearing but now avoid like the plague (or coronavirus, these days).
These days, with Sirius/XM radio offering multiple listening options, and streaming music platforms that can feature your own playlists, overexposure to songs is less of a problem. But still, favorite songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were ruined for us long before such forums appeared. And we’re always vulnerable to exposure when in stores, public transport and other places where we can’t control the music being played.
I have picked 15 songs for this list of “songs that need to be temporarily retired,” some of which will no doubt generate debate. One friend suggested The Stones classic “Satisfaction,” but for me, I just can’t get tired of that one. So there’s no accounting for different emotional appeals and which songs reach the point of fatigue — for me, but perhaps not for you. These are my choices.
Oh, and no playlist with this post. I mean, why would anyone in their right mind ever want to hear all these overexposed songs in one excruciating sitting?
“More Than a Feeling,” Boston, 1976
In the ’90s and 2000s, it became a running joke for me. It seemed as if every time — EVERY time — I got in the car and tuned in to my classic rock station, this song was playing, or about to be played. Surveys used to show that “Freebird” and “Stairway to Heaven” were the most played songs on the radio, but for me, it was “More Than a Feeling.” The Boston debut album was so strong, and I played it a lot at home at first, but I had to shelve it away, pretty much for good, thanks to the radio overkill of this track, “Peace of Mind” and “Long Time.” What a shame, one of the best album sides ever, tainted by mind-numbing repetition…
“Dreams,” Fleetwood Mac, 1977
When I polled a few friends about which songs were ruined by overexposure, more than one said, “the whole ‘Rumours’ album.” It’s true — this LP has 11 tracks, and I think nine of them have been in suffocating rotation on classic rock radio ever since 1977. It’s a close contest between “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun” and “Dreams” as to which most needs to be retired, but I’m going with “Dreams” as the one that annoys me the most at this point, mostly due to Stevie Nicks and her nasal delivery.
“Another Brick in the Wall,” Pink Floyd, 1979
I loved Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” albums, but I couldn’t get into the 1977 LP “Animals,” so I was hesitant to drop the necessary bucks for the double LP behemoth “The Wall.” But once I heard “Another Brick in the Wall” and its sublime guitar solo at the end, I had to have it. I didn’t anticipate it would become not only a single, but an international #1 single, played incessantly until I felt like one of those children in lock-step marching off a cliff in the music video.
“Dream On,” Aerosmith, 1974
As far as I’m concerned, Aerosmith is one of the Top Ten most overrated rock bands of the classic rock era. Sure, they’ve had their moments, but in those rare cases where these guys have come up with a decent tune, rock radio grabbed it by the throat and choked the life out of it. “Dream On” is a case in point. Upon first hearing, I was mesmerized. By the 50th hearing, it had completely lost its luster for me, never to return. The fact that I still like it better than anything else in their catalog is a sad commentary indeed.
“Carry On Wayward Son,” Kansas, 1976
First time I heard this on the radio, I ran out and bought “Leftoverture,” the album it came from. Kansas had a certain American prog-rock groove that seemed to fit in nicely with the British prog-rock I was crazy about at the time (Floyd, Genesis, ELP, Tull). However, this kind of music is not meant to be heard ad nauseam every time you turn on the radio. I almost can’t listen to “Wayward Son” anymore (nor “Dust in the Wind” either, for that matter), although I still enjoy the deep tracks from this LP…
“Layla,” Derek and the Dominos, 1970
As a fan of Cream, Blind Faith and Clapton’s first solo album, I immediately bought the double album by Eric’s new group, Derek and the Dominos, upon its release in late 1970. I immersed myself in all the great blues tracks, but “Layla” was the one that stood out, with Clapton and guest Duane Allman collaborating, followed by the piano melody grafted on afterwards. It didn’t become a Top Ten hit until two years later, and then once it had a second life in its “Unplugged” form in the ’90s, it reached saturation point for me. Now I tend to turn it off so as to preserve some of what grabbed me back in 1970…
“The Joker,” Steve Miller Band, 1973
I’ve grown to dislike Steve Miller. A lot. He’s shown himself to be kind of an asshole, and he’s a master at stealing riffs from other (better) songs — you can hear Free’s “All Right Now” on the intro to “Rock ‘n Me,” and Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” is the basis of “The Stake.” I recommend checking out his early stuff from the late ’60s when he was more original and Boz Scaggs was in his band. As far as “The Joker” is concerned, it’s fun, wry, amusing, almost a novelty hit with the “woh-wow” sound effect, but that stuff long ago stopped being cute and is now just irritating.
“Old Time Rock and Roll,” Bob Seger, 1978
I’ve had a love/hate thing going with Seger from the beginning. Starting with “Night Moves” in 1976, I would hear his records, enjoy them for a hot minute, and then my interest would wane just as the radio would begin playing them WAY too often. When disco was dominant in the late ’70s, I totally related to the lyrics on “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which yearned for the soul and passion of roots rock. But the song is really simple, 4/4 beat, with Seger’s vocal growl growing more tiresome with each listen.
“Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin, 1971
A majestic work, to be sure, which makes its overexposure all the more criminal. The band members knew at the time they were writing, arranging and recording “Stairway” that it was going to be pretty special, but its exceptionalism soon wore off for them, and for all of us, I think. This is a textbook example of a brilliant record that has lost its ability to thrill me. Robert Plant’s vocals, Jimmy Page’s guitar work, the way the arrangement builds and builds… It’s right up there as one of rock’s best. But because we heard it too damn often, I pass when it comes on.
“Hotel California,” The Eagles, 1977
“Anything by The Eagles” was the most frequent response from friends I asked about songs ruined by overexposure. Maybe because most of The Eagles’ hit singles were the ones you heard every 12 minutes for weeks, months, years… I don’t think any Eagles tune got more airplay than “Hotel California,” which WAS a masterpiece, especially the lyrics and the amazing guitar interplay between Joe Walsh and Don Felder that continue to impress me. But man, I just can’t anymore. Just STOP.
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974
I’m not really much of a Skynyrd fan, but something about this song appealed to me for maybe the first three or four times I heard it. By the fifth or sixth listening, its simple structure (basically three chords) became simplistic and boring, and I started hating it. Then I moved to Georgia, and wow, down there, it’s an anthem of mindless regional pride that pretty quickly bugged the hell out of me. Can’t listen to it at all anymore…but it’s inescapable. Arrrgh.
“Long Train Runnin’,” The Doobie Brothers, 1973
Boy, I still really love the early Doobies albums, especially “Toulouse Street” and “The Captain and Me.” Pretty much every track grabs me. Tom Johnston and Pat Simmons wrote and sang beautifully, from “South City Midnight Lady” and “Ukiah” to “White Sun” and “Toulouse Street”…but “Long Train Runnin'” has definitely worn out its welcome for me. Truth be told, I think radio ought to retire “China Grove” and “Black Water” as well…and don’t get me started on “What a Fool Believes” from the Michael McDonald era…
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen, 1975
I recall going to the house of a new friend one day in the spring of 1976. He had an unbelievable stereo system, and he wanted me to hear it. He chose to play Queen’s “A Night at the Opera” album. I didn’t know Queen, and thought they were another glam rock group I wouldn’t like. I was blown away by the sound, particularly on the album closer, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If it had remained an album track instead of a single, I might still like it, but it eventually took on “larger than life” status, reaching the Top Ten not once, not twice, but three times, with blanket radio coverage in each instance. Now all I need to hear are the first words — “Is this the real life?” — before I lunge for the radio to change the channel.
“Brown-Eyed Girl,” Van Morrison, 1967
A great song from my youth, but a song that Morrison himself eventually refused to perform because he’d grown so sick of it. Van the Man has 50 albums of material, most of it gorgeous ballads or energetic R&B tunes, but all we hear, day after day, is “Brown-Eyed Girl,” and maybe “Moondance.” It’s a crowd-pleaser that I still sing around the fire pit, but when I hear it in the grocery store, I cringe. Please, not again…
“Band On the Run,” Paul McCartney, 1973
When he had John Lennon nearby to rein in his penchant for cutesy pablum, McCartney was capable of astonishingly great songs. But since he went solo, nearly every LP has been an exercise in frustration for me. One or maybe two strong tunes per album, and then a bunch of shallow, unlistenable dreck. “Band on the Run” is recognized as his most consistent project, and I really liked it a lot upon release, but then the title track with its insipid intro got played five or six times a day everywhere I went. I’d much rather listen to his surprisingly strong latest album, “McCartney III,” which successfully takes risks, trying new sounds instead of the same old same old (although there are still a few of those too).
“Celebration,” Kool and the Gang, 1981; “You’ve Got a Friend,” James Taylor, 1971; “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” Bachman-Turner Overdrive, 1974; “Nights in White Satin,” The Moody Blues, 1967; “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” Creedence, 1971; “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton John, 1973; “Aqualung,” Jethro Tull, 1971; “Color My World,” Chicago, 1970; “Follow You, Follow Me,” Genesis, 1978; “Honky Tonk Woman,” Rolling Stones, 1969; “Do It Again,” Steely Dan, 1972; “Hey Jude,” The Beatles, 1968.
Now maybe it is because I have not perused your entire blog YET, but is there a companion post to this? 15 musical gems that are criminally underplayed? 1) Rock Candy by Montrose; 2) Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison; 3) Going up the Country by Canned Heat; 4) Ballrooms of Mars by Marc Bolan and so many others.
Every three months or so, I write about another dozen “lost classics,” which are fabulous songs we’ve forgotten about or were never familiar with because they were underplayed or never played at all. Thanks for the suggestions. I know and love “Tupelo Honey” and “Going Up the Country” well, but I don’t recall “Rock Candy” or “Ballrooms of Mars,” so I’ll check those out. I’ll add them to my list of candidates for the next “lost classics” blog post. Thanks for writing, Marty!
For someone who loves his music like you Bruce this must have been a mixed feeling piece to do. However I totally get it when you loved something so much and then you move on and it starts to bug you to go back to it. I am going through the same thing with my favorite local Santa Monica public radio station which has been the source of 80% of my music discovery and play lists for over the last 20 years and now they have gradually lost their way and gone more retro and narrowly predictable in just a few genres with their play lists. I find myself constantly changing stations as I can’t bear to listen to 70% of what they now play.
I haven’t totally given up yet and continually switch back only to be disappointed again. Thank god they still have great local news programming in the afternoons so it is not a total loss.
Radio stations are always subject to changing on-air personalities and/or program directors, or are suddenly under new management who change their genre/format sometimes overnight. I rely on my music-loving daughters to keep me hip to new artists, and I’m always rediscovering good stuff on old records that I never gave a proper listening. The only radio station I rely on anymore is “Deep Tracks” (ch 27) on Sirius/XM, and even they’re fallible…
Ok but I’m still not ready to miss Layla…
Maybe you’ve written a piece already about music featured by band names and artists associated to Royalty – could be a fun playlist..