One crucial tenet of music criticism is being able to see a piece or performance as the multifaceted work it truly is. Seldom are songs, albums or concerts ever completely without blemish, and in that same vein, seldom are they ever irredeemably bad and devoid of any favorable characteristics.
If we wanted to, we could explicate some flaws in the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds or Otis Redding’s April 1966 show at the Whisky a Go Go, but that would be easy since both are classic achievements in pop culture whose good qualities far exceed the bad ones. It wouldn’t challenge our preconceptions as does listening to artists we don’t enjoy and trying to find attributes worthy of praise.
It can sometimes be challenging, but this practice makes us more open-minded, and it helps us find common ground with people who enjoy artists we don’t. As such, we outlined 10 decent songs from 10 not-so-decent artists.
Some readers will vehemently disagree with Bush’s placement in this list, and hey, we totally get it. Gavin Rossdale seems like a nice dude (at least until he cheated on Gwen), and Chris Traynor worships at the altar of Tom Verlaine and Robert Fripp, so to some degree, they certainly have our respect. But the fact remains that Kurt Cobain’s death created a ripple effect wherein derivative post-grunge bands dominated the culture, and Bush is a relic of that time. However, one of the band’s earliest singles, “Machinehead,” has probably one of the best opening guitar riffs of any song in the late '90s, and it actually stands out among the sea of songs penned by Pearl Jam wannabes.
The Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”
Images of the Black Eyed Peas’ 2011 Super Bowl halftime show in Arlington are permanently seared into our retinas, but the pop/hip-hop juggernauts truly came through on the 2009 single “Boom Boom Pow.” It’s infectious, and while Taboo sounds like a Kirkland Signature Lil Wayne, Fergie nails the breakdown as she sings in her higher vocal register, and along with will.i.am, she spits some verses that are rather decent by Black Eyed Peas standards.
The Darkness, “I Believe In a Thing Called Love”
The Darkness frequently gets knocked for their Queen worship, and Foxy Shazam was certainly better at it, but The Darkness were ridiculous and embraced it. The ridiculousness of the British rock band has, for the most part, excesses that never end up being justified by some stellar penmanship or onstage conviction, but they deserve thanks for giving us a hit that perfectly suits karaoke nights at dive bars.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Thrift Shop”
Remember back in 2013 when music critics were baptizing music listeners in a river filled with Macklemore’s Kool-Aid? If there’s one thing Macklemore deserves credit for, it’s the impressive Jedi mind trick he pulled on the public with his breakout hit “Thrift Shop.” The production is top-notch, the hook is catchy and Macklemore actually exudes charisma. Macklemore’s fall from grace started when he tricked the public so well that it caused Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city to get snubbed for a Grammy. At that point, Macklemore seemed to carry excessive guilt for what he felt was his intrusion into hip-hop, and regardless how you feel about “White Privilege II,” there’s no denying that it sealed his fate as a has-been. The albums This Unruly Mess I’ve Made and Gemini have proved that The Heist was truly an anomaly, but at least with this single, Macklemore and his partner-in-crime Ryan Lewis made it count.
The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar”
The Archies were essentially the Spinal Tap of bubblegum pop, as they were a fictional band based on The Archie Show. The stigma surrounding the band is a bit deserved, but their 1969 hit “Sugar, Sugar” actually goes pretty hard. It has, by today’s standards, a warm, analog pop sound, and the hook overstays its welcome in your brain. Also, one of the song’s co-writers, Jeff Barry, worked closely with Phil Spector and wrote some of The Ronettes’ most famed hits. Give the man his due.
The tragedy of Desiigner is that he could have been one of trap music’s biggest artists had he just kept belting out bona fide hits. “Panda” was certainly that, and it was interpolated on Kanye West’s “Pt. 2” (an amazing and well-produced song, by the way). West also took Desiigner under his wing in signing him onto GOOD Music, and when the Brooklyn rapper had at his disposal an infrastructure that most artists would harvest both their kidneys for, he squandered it on the mediocre mixtape New English, and the even worse EP L.O.D. As a result, he is going to go down in history as yet another Chingy, Mims or Hurricane Chris, but at least the hit he’s remembered for is an infectious banger.
Papa Roach, “Last Resort”
There are three songs that are impossible to not sing along to: Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” the “800-588-23-hundred, Empire ... Today” jingle and this song.
Attila, “Wonder Woman”
No, this isn’t THE metalcore band although, yes, their music is also atrocious. Before Billy Joel went on to become the singer-songwriter and de facto cultural ambassador of New York City that we all know and love today, and before “metalcore” even threatened to make a presence in the musical lexicon, he started a short-lived band in 1969 called Attila. This was a time when hippies and beatniks were becoming passe, and when bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple started to gain traction, so naturally, Joel tried to hop on that trend. The band’s self-titled album is considered by many to be one of the worst records of all time, next to The Shaggs’ Philosophy of the World, but honestly, the single “Wonder Woman” is actually all right. I mean, it’s at least better than Greta Van Fleet.
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Aaron Carter, “Summertime (ft. Baha Men)”
Our history with Aaron Carter aside, this song slaps. And Baha Men is the terrible artist that factored into our decision to include it on this list. I recognize the irony in asking people not to judge on an article where we are doing exactly that, but please don’t judge, OK?
Iggy Azalea, “Fancy (ft. Charli XCX)”
Iggy Azalea’s descent into irrelevance is a spitting image to that of Macklemore’s, only the breakout hit that got Azalea into the spotlight was mostly redeemed because of Charli XCX. When Azalea made a breakthrough with “Fancy,” she followed it up with duds like “Black Widow” and “Booty,” and not even Jennifer Lopez could save the latter. She had a chance to remain a household name, and she blew it. But hey, she made a hell of a first impression with this song.