Posted Sep 4th, 2015 (12:54 pm) by Sean O'Leary
The Beatles
Image by Wikipedia Commons

Sure hip-hop has had a number of high-profile beefs recently, but let's not forget the beefs of Rock N' Roll.

Granted, rap music has the quantity, but none of N.W.A's diss tracks charted - over half the songs on this list were number one hits. It's gotta sting seeing songs about yourself cracking Rolling Stone "Best-of" lists and winning Grammys (although the fact that rap music and hip hop doesn't win Grammys is a whole other issue). With that in mind, here are 10 great diss tracks from rock n' roll history.

The New Radicals - "You Get What You Give"
This one's a bit of a stretch, so we'll get it out of the way. The diss aspect of the track doesn't pop up 'til the last verse, where singer Gregg Alexander packs a full song's worth of anger at health insurance, the FDA, Beck, Hanson, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson into a verse. Apparently he was (mostly) kidding, but he also got so bored and irritated at being famous that he disbanded the New Radicals, so there was clearly something there.

Dire Straits - "Money For Nothing"
Money For Nothing is mostly known for it's video, which was considered groundbreaking when it came out. The lesser known story is that it was, according to Nikki Sixx (about Motley Crue) - in an interview he said that Knopfler heard clerks in a department store commenting on a Motley Crue video. Dire Straits also wrote "Sultans Of Swing", which was apparently about an awful bar band that Knopfler once so, so it's not out of the question.

Derek And The Dominoes - "Layla"
This one's a diss track indirectly - the song is about how Pattie Boyd is breaking Eric Clapton's heart by being with George Harrison and not him, and how much better he'd be for her. The amazing part is that it worked - Boyd's marriage to Harrison was in shambles, and she and Clapton were married in 1979. She left him five years later, and divorced him four after that, but the moral here is that you can, in fact, write a song so good it'll win you the girl. It just has to be good enough to crack every "Greatest Rock Song" list ever, apparently.

Carly Simon - "You're So Vain"
"You're So Vain" is famous for one reason - who Carly Simon was calling out is a closely guarded secret. The Wikipedia section on the subject of the song is a small novel - you can browse at your own pleasure, but the takeaway is that in the 40 years since the song's release, it has been confirmed to not be Mick Jagger, confirmed to be Warren Beaty, confirmed not to be Warren Beaty, confirmed to be a little about Mick Jagger... It goes on. Whoever it is, we pity him, since the criticism is vicious. "Well you said that we made such a pretty pair/And that you would never leave/But you gave away the things you loved and one of them was me." Ouch.

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama"
"Sweet Home Alabama" was written in response to "Southern Man" and "Alabama" by Neil Young, both of which criticized racism and segregation in the South, and basically tells him to piss right off. Young took it in stride, commenting that "Alabama" was "accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue." Good on him for acknowledging that his heart was in the right place but his execution was poor - because that song lead to "Sweet Home Alabama", we'll forgive him.

Queen - "Death On Two Legs"
The track that launched a lawsuit, "Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To..)" was written by Queen singer Freddie Mercury about Norman Sheffield, the band's former manager. It was "so vindictive that Brian felt bad singing it", and Sheffield sued the band and the label for defamation following its release. "Do you feel like suicide (I think you should)/Is your conscience all right" and "Kill joy, bad guy/Big talking, small fry" are some highlights, but from start to finish the track is vicious.

Paul McCartney/John Lennon - "Too Many People"/"How Do You Sleep"/"Dear Friend"
This one's more a diss saga than a single track. "Too Many People" is by Paul McCartney and was on his solo album Ram, and is written as a dig at John Lenon and Yoko Ono - "Too many people preaching practices". Lennon responded with "How Do You Sleep", which contained slide guitar contributions from George Harrison as well. With lines like "The only thing you done was yesterday," and "Those freaks was right when they said you was dead,", it noticeably ratcheted up the level of anger - Ringo was reported to have visited the studio and said "That's enough, John." Years later, Paul released "Dear Friend" on a Wings album, offering an olive branch and hoping to end hostilities.

Fleetwood Mac - "Go Your Own Way"
Inter-band dating is historically a dangerous proposition, and Fleetwood Mac is pretty much the prime example (maybe just after Sonic Youth). "Go Your Own Way" is about guitarist Lindsey Buckingham's deteriorating relationship with vocalist Stevie Nicks. In particular, Nicks asked for the line "Packing up, shacking up is all you wanna do", but Buckingham refused - that's gotta be rough to hear a bandmate sing about you, day in and day out.

The Sex Pistols - "New York"
Before there was East Coast vs. West Coast in hip-hop, there was another (marginally less violent) feud between east and west - the rivalry between the London and New York punk scenes. The Sex Pistols released "New York" as a dig at the famously androgynous New York Dolls. The song hasn't aged well - it being forty years old and written by English people means that some of the language comes off as alarmingly homophobic, as opposed to just mildly. But the Sex Pistols were never exactly known for varnishing their opinions, and the track has all the fury the London punks could muster.

The Foo Fighters - "I'll Stick Around"
Courtney Love is the subject of more than a few rock insults, but "I'll Stick Around" from the Foo Fighter's self-titled album really takes the cake. Grohl denied the song was about her until 2009 when he finally admitted it to biographer, Paul Brannigan. The original idea for the video would have made it clearer - instead of the giant floating spore that made the final cut, it was supposed to be a "charred, bloated, inflated girl" representing Courtney. Grohl's management vetoed the idea, and we might have to say we're glad they did.

© Inyourspeakers Media LLC