longtime rule of thumb as a music critic has been to target
the good and ignore the bad.
I know some critics who intentionally select music that they
know is gonna stink, thereby allowing their reviews
to be chock full of zesty wit, sledgehammer scorn and searing
sarcasm. Which makes for an entertaining read, but still requires
the critic to waste precious hours of his or her life—moments
that can never be reallocated or recovered—rolling in swill.
I value my precious moments, and so have tried to avoid swill,
making it a point of pride, practice and principle to seek
out positive musical experiences. I have hoped that my reviews
might shine a light on some magical musical rarity for my
readers, exposing them to something powerful or beautiful
or even just plain fun. That seems noble, somehow. Or at least
more noble than smirking at swill.
And with that as my longstanding standard operating procedure,
it’s with no small amount of embarrassment that, through the
wonders of the World Wide Web, I now find myself standing
tall online as the King of Rock Bands That Suck.
Go to Google and do a search for “worst rock band.” Since
sometime in March, the top-ranked result of that search, out
of over 509,000 Web pages currently suggested, has been a
Web page called “The Worst Rock Band Ever: A Detailed Survey
of Popular Badness,” which lives at www.jericsmith.com/worstbands.htm.
I suppose the URL of that page gives away the fact that it
was me who wrote it.
Last winter, Guitar World ran an article naming Limp
Bizkit and Creed as the Worst Rock Bands of 2003. The article
was picked up by several major Internet information portals
(I saw it first on Yahoo’s news page), and then bounced around
the Web via the usual assortments of blog links, message boards
and mailing lists.
At the time, I was on a self-imposed music criticism sabbatical.
After nearly 20 years of critiquing, I had reached that saturation
point where I had used, in print, every adjective the English
language has to offer to describe the sounds that a guitar
or a drum can make. Twice. So I needed a break, and I returned
to the arena where I had first achieved published writing
success: poetry. Being both an obsessive writer and a masochist,
I turned my Web log into a public statement of intent, setting
out to write and post a poem a day throughout 2004, which
(I thought) would keep me busy enough to preclude a return
to music criticizing.
But that Guitar World article nagged at me, in large
part because a lot of pundits were opining that Limp Bizkit
and Creed were, in fact, the worst rock bands ever.
Which didn’t feel right to me, because I believe that artistic
affronts that are in our faces right now will always feel
more odious than those that have been moved to the back burner
for a few years. Time heals. Memories fade. We forget just
how bad some of Limp Bizkit and Creed’s forebears really were
in their own swill- flavored heydays.
So I got to thinking: Who really was the worst rock band ever?
And how would one determine such a thing? And who would do
I was dumb enough to answer the last question: “Me.”
It occurred to me that for a band to claim the “Worst Ever”
title, they had to be commercially successful in a big way.
Picking some obscure nonentity would be pointless, since for
a band’s badness to be legendary, their offal has to have
been spread around the world by the record and radio industries,
then lovingly lapped up by millions of consumers.
I decided that in order to lay claim to all-time badness,
a band needed to have had at least one record go five times
platinum, as certified by the Recording Industry Association
of America. (In the era of file-sharing, it seemed only fitting
and just to hang all-time badness on pegs set by one of the
Web’s most hated regulatory bodies). Using the RIAA’s records,
and after eliminating solo artists and non-rock bands, there
were about 80 contenders left.
I posted this list on my blog, in between the poems, and then
committed to weeding through those 80 bands to identify which
one of them was, truly, the Worst Rock Band Ever. After subjectively
knocking out 16 pretty clear noncontenders for the title (the
Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Sly and the Family Stone, Bob
Marley and the Wailers, etc.), I was left with 64 bands.
These, then, were the contenders for the title of Worst Rock
Over the ensuing six days, and in about 12,500 words, I used
my blog to run those 64 bands through an NCAA-style head-to-head
tournament, boiling them down, round by round, into one hard,
pure rock of badness, the worst rock band ever. (And, no,
I’m not going to tell you who “won.” . . . You can read it
on the Web site, since the justification for the selection
is longer than the space allotted for this entire article.)
The responses, rebuttals and “you suck” e-mails began rolling
in almost immediately, with Day One’s match between the Beastie
Boys and the Bee Gees generating the most initial flack. (I
picked the Beasties as the worse of those two bands, and stand
firm in that position: I believe there are only three contemporary
vocalists worst than Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, and all three
of them sing for the Beastie Boys.)
Boston fans were particularly irked by the process, although
their band didn’t take the title. I heard from a lot of Nirvana
and Pearl Jam fans, insulted that their heroes were even considered
(hey, you’re the ones who bought five million copies of their
records). And a lot of folks weighed in to affirm Limp Bizkit
or Creed as, indeed, the worst rock bands ever (neither of
them earned the title either).
When it was complete, I pulled the competition off of my blog,
set it up on its own stand-alone page, got back to my poems,
and pretty much forgot about bad music. Until March, when
overnight (literally) the Worst Bands page achieved some strange
and nearly instant critical mass in the Web’s unpredictable
crucible and exploded around the world, generating vast amounts
of e-mail, large numbers of posts on many different bulletin
boards, a number-one Google search-engine position, and requests
for interviews or supplemental information from (among other
places) a radio station in Canada, a magazine in New Zealand
and a newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The reporter from Sioux Falls asked me (by phone, as I vacationed
in North Carolina, no less) if I thought this would be my
“moment of Internet fame.” I was embarrassed by the question,
although I suppose the answer is probably “yes.”
Despite my desire to get back to my roots and reaffirm myself
as a poet, despite my intentions to always uplift the noble
and good when it comes to music, I find myself sitting here
today as the King of Rock Bands That Suck.
I suppose there’s a moral here about giving the people what
they want. All I know is that I’ve got the stink of swill
on me now, and I have a feeling it’s not going to go away,
so I figure I might as well roll with (or in) it and enjoy
my 15 minutes of Internet fame while they last.
So, uh, anyone wanna get together and listen to some Motley
Crue records this weekend?