Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’ went to No.1 on the Billboard album chart this month in 1975. ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is of course celebrated as one of the great break-up albums and, in ‘Idiot Wind’, it serves up a platter of fermented bile to Bob’s then-wife Sara Lownds – “You’re an idiot, babe,” coos Dylan, “It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”
He could learn a thing or two about romance. Anyway, in honour of that grey day ‘Blood On The Tracks’ took to the summit – and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner – it’s a salutary time to enjoy some spiteful songs. The well is deep, although a famous example like Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ surely misses the mark. The narcissist, be it Jagger, Beatty or Geffen, will enjoy being the subject whatever the content. Here are 10 songs to make their target shuffle awkwardly instead.
John Lennon, ‘How Do You Sleep?’
Noel Gallagher should write one of these about Liam – that’ll bring a clunking full stop to any Oasis reunion questions. Lennon had a lot to get off his chest in 1971, taking down former chum Paul McCartney with a mix of withering barbs – “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead” – and gruesome puns on Macca song titles – “The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you’re gone you’re just another day”. Nothing that couldn’t be cured by knocking their heads together, ‘How Do You Sleep?’ nonetheless hits the odd bullseye. “The sound you make is muzak to my ears,” can be applied to plenty of solo McCartney compositions. Plenty of Lennon ones too, mind.
In the middle of ‘Yonkers’, Tyler took time out from scattergun homophobia to announce he would, “Stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn oesophagus/And won’t stop until the cops come in”. He also managed to tell B.o.B he’ll crash his “fucking airplane” as his rampage through pop’s biggest stars continued unabated. Not one of rap’s more refined disses, but an admirably wide field in the crosshairs.
“When I was pushin’ weight/Back in ’88/You was a ballerina”. Now that’s how you do a diss track, Tyler. Hova puts pretenders to the sword in a splenetic, spite-soaked show of strength that takes Nas to one side to tell him he had a “spark when you started but now you’re just garbage” and pours scorn on Mobb Deep’s collective stature – as well as, yeah, calling them ballerinas.
The music might be lush hey-nonny-nonny folk, but Costello’s words are pure agitprop punk, sitting then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher down and offering a lengthy treatise on what he thinks of her. He sets the scene nicely – “When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam/And the future looked as bright and as clear as the black tarmacadam” – before reeling off her ‘accomplishments’ and finishing off, with morbid glee, “When they finally put you in the ground/They’ll stand there laughing and tramp the dirt down”. And that was pretty much the essence of Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech a year later.
If the band name wasn’t enough to give DJs breakdowns, the sentiment’s just as uncomfortable. Our pal Question Mark, to give him his real name, or Rudy Martinez, to give him his realer name, is planning on getting back together with the girl who dumped him – “We’ll be together for just a little while/And then I’m gonna put you way down here/And you’ll start crying 96 tears”. Nice. Naturally, those charming men The Stranglers covered ’96 Tears’ in 1990.
Lily Allen, ‘Not Big’
“How’d it make you feel if I said you never made me come?”, “I’m gonna tell the world you’re rubbish in bed now/And that you’re small in the game”, “As if that weren’t enough to deal with/You became premature”. Yeah, don’t wrong Lily Allen.
A misunderstanding to rank alongside Ronnie Reagan punching the air to ‘Born In The USA’, there’s a widespread assumption REM’s international breakthrough is a love song. Possibly something to do with it being called ‘The One I Love’. “This one goes out to the one I love,” we croon along, dewy-eyed. “A simple prop to occupy my time…”. Oh. Michael Stipe – or, let’s give him the benefit, the character he’s playing – is tossing his lovers aside like used tissues. Don’t examine that image.
Wainwright got a bit narked with dad Loudon Wainwright III speaking to her (and brother Rufus) through song, so she got her revenge. She wrote one of her own about him called ‘Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole’. Surprisingly, there is a bit of room for ambiguity here. The title has a double meaning obviously, and there’s an every(lover)man sense to lines like “I’ve been poked and stoked/It’s all smoke, there’s no more fire/Only desire/For you, whoever you are”, but really – it’s a blaze to burn Pop’s ears.
Bob had pedigree in the acerbic arena of course, and between-albums-single ‘Positively 4th Street’ is a paragon of controlled sneering. In fact, it’s almost polite. “You gotta lot of nerve”, “Do you take me for such a fool?”, “You don’t mean it” – this is all very reasoned. But when he kisses off all those Greenwich Village luddites upset by his electric ‘conversion’ with “I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You’d know what a drag it is to see you,” the smackdown is all in the understatement.
The Cure, ‘Shiver And Shake’
Oh dear. If this one is really about Lol Tolhurst, it’s little wonder he didn’t stick around long after ‘Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’. Then again, if his drink and drug problems were bad enough to render him “three sick holes that run like sores” then The Cure probably didn’t fancy him being in the room either. In the end Tolhurst was sacked during the sessions for 1989’s ‘Disintegration’, possibly with Robert Smith screaming, “When I think of how you make me hate/I want to smash you to pieces” in his ear. And no one wants that.