Last night, while waiting for our train to pull up in the subway, Marc and I overheard a street performer start to play “No Woman No Cry”. Simultaneously, we both made “aw jeez really?” faces, and then I stopped. I said, “You know, if you think about it, this really is a beautifully written song. It’s just that it’s been played to death and you can’t really hear it for what it is anymore.” And with that, boom! Blog post idea. (With Marc’s help brainstorming.) I decided to make this list of 10 songs that have really been ruined by overplay. There’s two simple rules to getting on the list:
1) The song in question has to be truly great. If you had never heard it before, and you heard it for the first time today, it would have this amazing power to move you. Songs that are tired because they sound dated or songs that were never that great to begin with don’t make the list.
2) They are truly done to death. You would never play them while DJing, even if everyone was in the mood for a beloved song, because they are that tired. You wouldn’t sing them at karaoke, for the same reason. They have no more fascination left. Overplay has robbed them of something essential.
Here’s the list. Feel free to add more suggestions in comments. In a handful of these, I offer some suggestions for songs to play instead.
1) “No Woman No Cry” by Bob Marley. The song that started it all. The choice of the Fugees to cover this was as tedious as their choice to cover “Killing Me Softly” was awesome, because “No Woman No Cry” has really been done to death. And it’s a shame, because it really has a lot of power, or it did before the power was robbed through overplay.
2) “Whip It” by Devo. You never want to hear it again. When they play it at concerts, you can tell they’re even more bored with it than their fans. That the band is almost solely defined by this song is heart-breaking, not because it sucks, but because it obscures all their other great songs. It’s too bad, too, because if it hadn’t been done to death, “Whip It” could have retained value as a classic, due to it’s subversive lyrics and awesome bass line. Alternative suggestion: “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” or “Going Under”.
3) “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson. Such an overplayed song that it’s hard to take a moment and think about how great it would sound if you’d never heard it before. Alternate suggestion: “Bloody Mary Morning”.
4) “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. I resisted believing that this song, which is still a classic in my mind, deserves to be on the list. But honestly, I can’t say that it will ever give me that thrill again.
5) “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. If you could hear this cover of the 60s era Gloria Jones song with fresh ears, you’d marvel at how what is basically an extremely faithful cover could have so much inventiveness and passion. But you can’t hear it with fresh ears, and so that joy is lost to the ages. And it’s a shame that people don’t know that Soft Cell was actually pretty fucking awesome in general, and even had a song called “Sex Dwarf”.
6) “Fell In Love With A Girl” by the White Stripes. There’s no excuse for having ruined this song with overplay, since Jack White is so prolific and there’s a ton of other stuff to play that is not this song. Thanks, assholes in radio, TV and soundtrack selection.
7) “Kiss” by Prince. When this song first came out, it was like having someone have sex with your ear, but in a good way. The lyrics aren’t really that scandalous, and yet the song felt dirtier than almost anything that had ever been released. And then it was played until all the mystery drained out, and you know what losing the mystery does to Eros. Alternate suggestion: “Shockadelica”.
8) “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. Some songs get a new life when a surprising band covers them. “I Will Survive” became fresh when Cake covered it, and Johnny Cash himself made “Hurt” sound all new. Unfortunately, the Social Distortion cover did the opposite to “Ring of Fire”.
9) “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. The summer this came out, we couldn’t get enough. Then we did. Though the whole thing with the Star Wars characters still makes me smile. Alternate suggestion: “Smiley Faces”. It was a better song anyway.
10) “Imagine” by John Lennon. The simplicity of the lyrics, if you could hear them fresh, actually gives them power. But after being completely overplayed, this song sounds trite. Which is a shame, because it takes on the sacred cow of religion in a way that should be shocking, but isn’t anymore. You could probably get away with playing this in church, it’s so de-fanged.