By Joel Francis
A few weeks ago, Rolling Stone made a list. It seems like that’s all they do these days, mainly because it’s too darn hard to get anyone to pay attention to what you’re saying unless it’s in a list or a Tik Tok video. (Old man yells at clouds, shakes fist.)
This time Rolling Stone made a pretty good list, 50 Genuinely Horrible Albums by Brilliant Artists. As I read the list, I was struck by how many of these albums I either currently own or have owned at one point. Thankfully, the number wasn’t as high as I feared, but it still comprised just under 25% of the total.
Masochist that I am, I thought it would be fun to walk through the 11 genuinely horrible albums by brilliant artists that have found their way into my collection at one way or another. I sold off or traded in 99% of my CD collection many years ago, just before the disc bubble collapsed, so only five of these titles are part of my current music library. The number by the album is where Rolling Stone has ranked it.
50. The Who – It’s Hard
As a fan of The Who in general and Pete Townshend’s songwriting in particular, I own all of the Who’s studio albums on LP, including this one. Aside from the OK single “Athena” and incredible “Eminence Front,” I knew this wasn’t a gem when I bought it for about $5. It was also the last of the historical Who albums I purchased. (I’ve since picked up the band’s 2019 self-titled album.)
49. Billy Joel – The Bridge
I got this as part of a budget-priced, triple-pack of CDs in college. The other two albums in the set were The Nylon Curtain and Storm Front. Released in 1982, The Nylon Curtain contains “Allentown,” “Pressure” and “Goodnight Saigon,” a poignant portrait of Vietnam and one of Joel’s best story-songs. Storm Front has “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and isn’t as good as you remember, although my mom, and everyone else’s, loved “And So It Goes.”
While the cliché says that you can’t judge a book by its cover, the artwork for The Bridge should have been my first warning. The horrible pastels scream waiting room or budget hotel lobby, which is probably the most appropriate space for these bland songs. “A Matter of Trust” was the big single, and the duet with Ray Charles on “Baby Grand” is the album’s high point. In retrospect, I should have removed The Nylon Curtain from this set and gifted the other two discs to the person at the register
48. Van Halen – Van Halen III
Van Halen was my favorite band in high school. One of the first concerts I saw was Van Halen on the Right Here, Right Now tour in 1993. I saw the band again on the Balance tour two years later, and caught Sammy Hagar’s first post-Van Halen tour in 1997. When Eddie and company came back through town in support of this album, you know I couldn’t miss them. My favorite part of the night was hearing bass player Michael Anthony sing “Somebody Get Me a Doctor,” which probably says all you need to know about new singer Gary Cherone and the VHIII material performed. I revisited the entire Van Halen catalog after Eddie’s passing a couple years ago and, yeah, aside from the instrumental opening and lead single “Without You,” there’s nothing memorable happening here.
Incidentally, that 1998 show was the last time I saw Eddie in concert. Don’t feel too sorry for me – I did catch Chickenfoot.
46. Outkast – Idlewild
Planning a wedding is a lot of work. As a longtime Outkast fan, I jumped at the chance in the late summer of 2006 to take a break from planning my upcoming wedding, sit in the air conditioning and think of nothing but the magical story unfolding on the movie screen in front of me. It worked. For two hours, I didn’t think of the wedding. I haven’t really thought about the movie Idlewild since.
Speakerboxx/The Love Below was packed with so many great ideas, that some residual creativity had to seep into the grooves of the Idlewild soundtrack, right? I remember the singles off this album being pretty good. At least good enough to buy this LP at Amoeba on sale when my wife and I were in Los Angeles on vacation. Although I haven’t played my copy in years, Idlewild strikes me more as forgettable than horrible.
44. R.E.M. – Around the Sun
On Tuesday, October 5, 2004, I bought Around the Sun and Real Gone, the new Tom Waits album also released that day, on my lunch break. After work, some friends an I piled into a car and headed to Columbia, Mo., to see the recently reformed Pixies in concert. The two discs were the perfect soundtrack for the two-hour car ride.
Around the Sun definitely took some of the buzz out of that evening. It seemed uninspired upon first listen and the water-treading live album the band released as the follow-up seemed to confirm they felt the same way. I added “Leaving New York” to my 72-song, nearly five-hour R.E.M. playlist, but the chorus lyric of “leaving was never my proud” always stains the song for me. My favorite track is the one everyone seems to hate, “The Outsiders,” with Q-Tip. Tip’s laid-back delivery is the perfect complement to Michael Stipe’s singing. Who could deny Peter Buck’s simple but fantastic guitar part? “Final Straw” is pretty good, too, but I haven’t given the other 10 songs on the album any thought. As the only R.E.M. album I don’t own on LP, I would buy this again if it was reissued. I’m sure the queue at the register would be very short, which I why I don’t expect this to get the 20th anniversary treatment next year.
42. The Clash – Cut the Crap
Loyal readers may have noticed this site is a bit fervent in its adoration of Joe Strummer. Dedicated Clash fans know the band’s manager Bernie Rhodes ruined the songs on Cut the Crap with chintzy, dated production that embarrassed all the musicians involved.
But …. OK, there is no but. The song “This is England” is the Clash’s final masterpiece. Put it, “Dirty Punk,” “Three Card Trick” and “North and South” with “This is England” on an EP and there still might be one song too many. I own all of Joe Strummer’s albums, so I own Cut the Crap, but honestly, I play the Walker soundtrack more often. You can read more about my thoughts on Cut the Crap and the two tribute albums it inspired, Re-Cutting the Crap.
41. Genesis – Calling All Stations
At this point, I’ve owned seven of the 10 albums on this list. I guess if you’re going to own a bunch of horrible albums, you want them to be the least horrible from the lot, right? Thankfully, I only have four of the subsequent 40 titles.
Invisible Touch, a very, very not-horrible album, was percolating just as I was starting to discover popular music in late elementary school and junior high. By the time We Can’t Dance came out, I was in high school and knew the score. I was looking forward to seeing Genesis on that tour, but they skipped Kansas City, Mo., and headed to Ames, Iowa, instead. Ames is only three hours from Kansas City, but when you’re 15 and don’t have a car, Ames may as well be Mars.
In the six years between We Can’t Dance and Calling All Stations, Genesis lost Phil Collins and – shades of Van Halen III – brought in a relatively unknown singer to fill the void. There are a few good moments on this album. The title song and singles “Shipwrecked” and “Congo” are solid. “The Dividing Line” rock harder than anything the band had done since Duke (even if the lyrics leave a bit to be desired).
The silver lining in Calling All Stations was that this new iteration of Genesis had exhumed several classic, long-overlooked songs for the tour. Not that anyone would in the United States would hear them. Poor ticket sales ended the tour – and singer Ray Wilson’s tenure in the band – in Europe. It would be almost 25 years until I experienced Genesis in concert, finally checking that long-vacant box on my wish list. (By the way, Rolling Stone also has a recent interview with Wilson that is well worth your time.)
35. Pete Townshend – Psychoderelict
I bought this from the cut-out bargain bin at Best Buy for a buck.
That should be where the story ends, but it doesn’t. A few years later, I bought the dialogue-free edition of Psychderelict for five bucks or so at the used CD store. Freed from the radio-drama acting of the first version, Townshend’s songs breathed a little bit more. That said, I haven’t really given Pscyhoderelict much thought since jettisoning it from the collection.
34. Aerosmith – Nine Lives
If nothing else, this exercise proves that I remain a loyal fan well past the sell-by date. After discovering Aerosmith in junior high through the song “The Other Side” and seeing the band four long years later on the Get a Grip tour as a high school student, I was primed primed for whatever the band wanted to give me next. Unfortunately, what they gave me, four years later, as a college student, was Nine Lives. Lead single “Falling In Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” felt like it was trying too hard (although the horn arrangement is fantastic). The second single, “Hole in my Soul” was a retread of the “Crazy”/”Cryin’” ballad formula that worked so well earlier in the decade.
To quote Cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “If that thing had nine lives, she just spent them all.”
Nine Lives got some spins the spring it came out and over the summer, but by the time everyone returned to campus in the fall it had been replaced in my rotation by the Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole, Coil from Toad the Wet Sprocket and Wyclef’s The Carnival.
12. Van Morrison – Latest Record Project, Volume 1
Van Morrison is a legend, but he’s also a legendary crank. When my then-fiancée and I travelled to Washington, D.C., to watch him perform in the summer of 2006, a large digital clock sat at the extreme edge of stage left, pointed toward the center. It started at 90:00 and by the time it hit 0:00 Van the Man was walking off the stage.
The title alone is reason to see Morrison’s 42nd studio album as nothing more than a cynical cash grab. But it was a cynical cash grab with solid marketing. I bought this triple-LP set because it promised to be signed by Van himself. Since I couldn’t picture Morrison going down the line, signing autographs for fans (his limo zipped right past me after the D.C. concert), this seemed to be the best option. So now I have Van Morrison’s autograph. And an album I’ve only played partially. You know what they say about a fool and his money.
I have three items in defense of Latest Record Project:
- The autographed edition the autographed edition was the same price as the unsigned version.
- Unlike the next artist on this list, the signature I received is authentic.
- There’s been no Volume Two.
5. Bob Dylan – Down in the Groove
I have more albums by Bob Dylan than anyone else in my record collection. I have all of Bob Dylan’s records, including Triplicate, a three-LP set of Dylan singing standards (which is also his third standards album), Self-Portrait and Dylan, a mid-‘70s collection of outtakes from the dreadful Self-Portrait album. Is Down in the Groove worse than those albums? Rolling Stone seems to think so. I don’t feel compelled to play them all in succession and find out. In for a penny, in for a pound.