There comes a time in almost every music-obsessive’s life when hearing a once-loved tune—no matter how great it may be perceived by millions of people—begins to pall instead of palpitate the heart and stimulate the mind. The older one gets, the more likely one is to accumulate a long list of such songs—music that has passed its sell-by date in the pantry of your brain.
As a middle-aged motherfucker who listens to music almost nonstop every day, I have some thoughts about this not-as-trivial-as-you-think matter. Below, I list 10 songs I don’t ever want or need to hear for the rest of my godforsaken life. (The irony of this post is, I have to listen to these songs one last time to make my points. This is sheer masochism, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for you, dear reader.)
James Brown, “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine”
Even the most enthusiastic James Brown fan has to be tired of this one. In the realm of canonical funk bombs, “Sex Machine” ranks pretty high, but its repetitiveness isn’t as interesting as many other JB tracks’ repetitiveness, and its over-familiarity has taken a toll on my stamina to listen to it. Nevertheless, I’ll always have fond memories of the time when I did the most clichéd thing I've ever done while naked. In Detroit circa the summer of 1982, I was having sex with my girlfriend while the television was tuned to the David Letterman Show. James Brown was the musical guest, and… you can probably guess where this is going. Yes, while we were fucking, the godfather of soul and his band broke into “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine.” I felt like a tool, but YOLO.
Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Somebody—my memory's kind of fuzzy, but it may have been me—once dubbed Joy Division's best-known tune as "the 'Stairway to Heaven' of post-punk," with all the aesthetic exhaustion that that epithet implies. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is, of course, a lovely song, full of lush drama, doomed romance, and an orchestral synth melody to die for (maybe literally). But sometimes even the most classic, nostalgia-riddled, heartbreak-consoling, Martin Hannett-produced song can lose its luster after thousands of listens. And that's why I beat a hasty retreat as soon as I hear the sepulchral tones of Ian Curtis as he sings, "When routine bites hard/And ambitions are low."
New Order, “Blue Monday”
This track by the folks from Joy Division who aren’t Ian Curtis sounded fresh for its, oh, first 150 spins or so. However, its status as a staple of “’80s nights” has resulted in the 1983 electro smash hit becoming as overplayed as “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” "How does it feel?" New Order's vocalist asks. Square and a bit stiff in the joints, if you really want to know, Barnie. If you play “Blue Monday” in a DJ set at this late date, you should have your headphone privileges revoked. Talk about the easy, lazy option…
Michael Jackson, “Billie Jean”
This is a great song expertly executed and it sounds very expensive (thanks, Quincy). Plus, it's sung by one of the most talented human beings ever to set foot in a studio. And yet... I cannot abide "Billie Jean" anymore. It's not my lover, so to speak. Like the Beatles' "She Loves You," the most famous track off Thriller has become so iconic, you can't even enjoy it without thinking of the millions of normies who mistakenly think that it represents the pinnacle of Jackson's career. Granted, the first 30 seconds, before MJ starts singing, deserve a privileged spot in the Song Intro Hall of Fame, but you can have the rest of it. Also, it bears repeating: If you play “Billie Jean” in a DJ set at this late date, you should have your headphone privileges revoked. Talk about the easy, lazy option…
John Lennon, “Imagine”
There are some songs that you feel that you're just automatically supposed to like, and this sensation triggers a certain repulsion in me. "Imagine" is one of them. Now, I love hundreds of John Lennon songs, but I have to draw the line at the title track from his 1971 album. Lennon's penchant for sentimentality is practically McCartney-esque here, but with an extra helping of solemn sanctimony that makes me feel as if I'm suffocating in pie-in-the-sky platitudes. Not that I disagree with the general thrust of Lennon's message; I'm not a total monster. But the way in which Lennon delivers it—those soggily lugubrious piano chords shoulder much of the blame, as well—submerges me into a morass of apathy.
Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
This entry may get my credentials to drink Starbucks coffee in the Space Needle while wearing flannel revoked, but IDGAF. Oversaturation has rendered "Smells Like Teen Spirit" innocuous... and to be honest, I've always been a Bleach man. (Tangent: I saw Nirvana on the 1989 tour supporting that LP, and I bought a T-shirt off of Mr. Cobain himself. They were opening for the Flaming Lips in a 150-capacity club in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That's my exciting Kurt story.) Oh, hey, did you know that "Teen Spirit" sounds a helluva lot like Boston's "More Than a Feeling," another song I don't need to hear for the rest of my godforsaken life? Of course you did.
House of Pain, "Jump Around"
Not gonna lie—I liked "Jump Around," guilty-pleasure-style, when it came out. But, you know, I couldn't actually express my admiration for its relentless, tough rhythm, its crucial sample of Junior Walker and the All Stars' "Shoot Your Shot," and its name-checking Strawberry Quik in public—especially during a year, 1992, when albums like Gang Starr's Daily Operation, Eric B. & Rakim's Don't Sweat the Technique, Das EFX's Dead Serious, Showbiz & A.G.'s Runaway Slave, EPMD's Business Never Personal, Beastie Boys' Check Your Head, and the Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde were dominating the landscape. But this Irish-American hip-hop banger has had remarkable durability in popular culture and among DJs who cater to mooks and other aficionados of the lowest common denominator. How any disc jockeys can play "Jump Around" in 2018 and still respect themselves in the morning is a mystery that will take years to solve. Now this track only serves to work my (Ever)last nerve.
Bauhaus, “Bela Lugosi's Dead”
The "Stairway to Heaven" of goth-rock, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" is a spine-tingling, dub-informed epic that hits all of its lyrical checkpoints squarely on the nose (capes, racks, tombs, the undead, dead flowers, etc.). It's full of intrigue, bracing, sculpted guitar, FX fuckery, tension-ratcheting bass, and Peter Murphy's stentorian thespianisms. Now, I liked "Bela Lugosi's Dead" the first 50 times or so I heard it in nearly every Detroit club I frequented throughout the '80s and '90s. But the song's charms have faded and all I can think about now when I hear it is the stale stench of clove cigarettes from my inconsiderate fellow show-goers in those pre-indoor-smoking-ban Dark Ages. Oddly, though, I will never tire of Bauhaus' jacked-up cover of T.Rex's "Telegram Sam."
LCD Soundsystem, "Losing My Edge"
Don't get me wrong—I still love "Losing My Edge"... in theory. It's just that I've heard it so often and memorized every word and every sound (yes, it rips off A Certain Ratio's "Do the Du"; give yourself a gold star) and internalized its message so deeply and noted how closely I relate to James Murphy that I can no longer revel in the self-loathing that that realization induces. When I hear this track now, it fills me with an unbearable pathos that is peculiar to those sad nerds who value knowledge and ownership of obscure records above all else. The sense of Pyrrhic victory is overwhelming here.
Harvey Danger, “Flagpole Sitta”
Kidding, kidding! I just wanted to get a rise out of my coworker, Sean Nelson, who sings and writes the hell out of this iconic ’90s hit, which recently was deemed the best song of 1998 by Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone. You should stream “Flagpole Sitta” every damn day, so Mr. Nelson can live like royalty—by the year 2044. (Since this isn't a legit entry, let's just say any and every Billy Joel song—but especially "Big Shot.")