Home / Insult ‘n’ Roll: My Top 11 Put-Down Songs In Rock

Insult ‘n’ Roll: My Top 11 Put-Down Songs In Rock

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“I’ve got this camera click, click, clickin’ in my head,” said Elvis Costello in “I’m Not Angry.” These following songs, f-stop at f-off, offer up some cherished memories of put-downs and general piss-offedness. Here are my Kodak moments:

11. “Waitress In The Sky” by the Replacements. A mild enough rebuke, perhaps, but I’ve had my own share of problems with stewardesses, too–so this time it’s personal:
Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer
Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear
A real union flight attendant, my oh my
You ain’t nothin’ but a waitress in the sky…

10. “Reelin’ In The Years” by Steely Dan. See you in September…then again:
You been tellin’ me you’re a genius
Since you were seventeen
In all the time I’ve known you
I still don’t know what you mean
The weekend at the college
Didn’t turn out like you planned
The things that pass for knowledge
I can’t understand.

9. “Holiday In Cambodia” by the Dead Kennedys. It may have been more of an extended weekend at the college, but real life still has its rude awakenings:
So you been to school
For a year or two
And you know you’ve seen it all
In daddy’s car
Thinkin’ you’ll go far
Back east your type don’t crawl.
Play ethnicky jazz
To parade your snazz
On your five grand stereo
Braggin’ that you know
How the niggers feel cold
And the slums got so much soul.

8.“Stupid Thing” by Aimee Mann. She makes me feel like shit:
Maybe that’s just how I am
to fall where I stand, or I’m
weak for that kind of man
one who looks helpless and brave
but you turned into a coward
I don’t care for the parts you saved.
You stupid thing.

7. “Parting Gift” by Fiona Apple. Okay, at least we’re good for something, but I still feel like shit:
Oh you silly stupid pastime of mine
You were always good for rhyme.

7. “Mercury Poisoning” by Graham Parker. Spittle virtually flies off albums like “Squeezin’ Out Sparks” from the trenchant relationship attacks. This time around, Graham aims at his old record company–but hey, nothing personal. Right?:
For them it’s inconvenience for me it’s hell
The geriatric staff think we’re freaks
They couldn’t sell kebabs to the Greeks, the geeks
Inaction speaks, and …
…Is this a Russian conspiracy, no it’s just idiocy
Is this a Chinese burn
I gotta dinosaur for a representative
It’s got a small brain and refuses to learn

6. “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols griped about their record company, too, but they also had enemies in higher places– and were gracious enough to remember them:
God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential h-bomb.
God save the queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
in England’s dreaming.

5. “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones” by Fear. They’re bad, they’re city-wide:
New York’s alright if you like drunks in your doorway!
New York’s alright if you wanna freeze to death!
New York’s alright if you wanna get mugged or murdered!
New York’s alright if you like saxophones!

4. “Brilliant Mistake” by Elvis Costello. There was a reason that “Armed Forces” was originally called “Emotional Fascism.” By the time of “King Of America,” Elvis was branching out, and toning down the venom a bit while remaining just as caustic:
She said that she was working for the ABC News
It was as much of the alphabet as she knew how to use
Her perfume was unspeakable
It lingered in the air
Like her artificial laughter
Her mementos of affairs
“Oh” I said “I see you know him”
“Isn’t that very fortunate for you”
And she showed me his calling card
He came third or fourth and there were more than one or two.
He was a fine idea at the time
Now he’s a brilliant mistake

3. “Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. Familiar, but never loses its fulminatory force. Though I would’ve thought Bob could’ve fit in “fulminatory” somewhere amid the language that he used:
Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re all drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you’d better take your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

2. “How Do You Sleep” by John Lennon. Just in case anyone wondered how John and Paul were getting along after the split, John spells it out in some vicious but petulant cheap shots. “The only thing you done was Yesterday/ And since you’re gone you’re just Another Day,” offers Lennon, but it really doesn’t matter because “Those freaks were right when they said you was dead.” Moreover, John hits “the cute one“ where he thinks it might hurt the most:
A pretty face may last a year or two
But pretty soon they’ll see what you can do
The sound you make is muzak to my ears
You must have learned something in all those years
Ah, how do you sleep?
Ah, how do you sleep at night?

1. “Idiot Wind” by Bob Dylan. It’s Bob’s world, you just piss him off in it. Dylan’s a little more inclusive in his finger-pointing here, bringing himself finally into the fray, too. Mr. Anti-Congeniality gets the top nod here for his transition to a pan-discontentedness and a certain empathy. He’s mad at the world and everyone in it, but at almost eight minutes, he has time for both individualized conferences and self-recriminations. Here’s how “Idiot Wind” plays out in the closing stanzas:
Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead.
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy,
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory.

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free,
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me.
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above,
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We’re idiots, babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

I was going to tack on some honorable mentions, but, being the idiot that I am, it would be a wonder that I’d still know how to breathe any more life into this compilation of contempt. But I’m thinking others might be able to enrich and embellish . . .

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • You come up with some groovy examples. The problem is that it’s so much territory. You ought to do just a Dylan put-down list, or definitely an Elvis Costello put-down list.

    You got me, too. From the title, I came charging in with “ABC News” thing to add- and you beat me to the punch. Good show!

  • Wait, Wait you left out “You’re so vein!” which is a well kown insult song

  • vain — but you probably think this comment is about you 🙂

  • Al–good idea about specializing–would focus things more. And thanks–I pride myself on my Costelloiana, or some such sic stretch of the concept.

    Scott–good one, but there was a lot of good ones I had to put on the back burner, which is why Al’s approach might’ve been a better way to go (and still might be a go)

  • Temple: Well skinny ol’ Mick Jagger (one of the rumored subjects, and back-up singer on the Carly Simon song) is as vein-ey as he is vain.

  • Baronius

    Positively 4th Street – Bob Dylan

    I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes/And just for that one moment I could be you
    Yes, I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes/You’d know what a drag it is to see you

    I don’t even think that’s the nastiest line in the song. It’s just a series of insults without any real expanation of what the target did to deserve them. It’s fun because they’re not broad social critiques; it’s just dumping all over someone.

    Excellent choice with “Brilliant Mistake”, especially the first three lines of the sample quote. There’s another Lennon song, something about school, that was remade by Tin Machine. Very caustic. If I were awake I could suggest a Simon and Garfunkel song that’s equally nasty, but I can’t think of it right now. Good topic.

  • No, way too conservative.


    “The sign that leads the way
    The path we can not take
    You’ve caught me at a bad time
    So why don’t you piss off.”
    – New Order “Your Silent Face”

    “Getting rid of the albatross
    I know you very well
    You are unbearable.”
    – PiL “Albatross”

  • Baronius: I opted out of Positively 4th St. at the last minute mostly because I had it listed recently in a “top closing lines” list. “Working Class Hero,” the Lennon song, was considered. If you ever think of that Simon & Garfunfel, let me know–it sounds like refreshing change of pace for them.

  • rob

    Here’s another great put down from Aimee Mann’s “How Am I Different?”, although I’m not sure if she’s putting herself down more then the potential partner.

    “And just one question before I pack–
    When you fuck it up later,
    Do I get my money back?
    I can’t do it
    And as for you–
    Can you in good conscience even ask me to
    Cause what do you care
    About the great divide
    As long as you come down
    On the winner’s side”

  • Barry: Mine’s the “boring old fart” edition. But I like the New Order mostly for the title, and I can see how Lydon’s snarl can make his rather prosaic words only seem less “conservative.”

  • rob–your Mann suggestion is much better than mine. I’m kicking myself.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Elvis-wise, I’ve always been fond of every last spitting minute of “How to be Dumb,” but especially:

    I guess that makes you a full time hypocrite
    or some kind of twisted dilettante
    Funny though people don’t usually get so ugly
    ’til they think they know what they want

  • I’ve never found “Brilliant Mistake” all that brilliant — especially that ABC line. It sounds juvenile. Costello was at his most truly bilious in his early discs. After that, it became a bit of an act — and yes, I’m including “Tramp the Dirt Down.” I also think he’s at his most sharp and pointed when the anger is turned inward.

  • Clubhouse: “How To Be Dumb” was, as you probably know, about and directed toward former Attractions bass player Bruce Thomas, who sealed his dumb doom by writing a thinly-disguised tell-all novel, pretty much worth a full look-see:

    I was hell-bent on destroying my powers of concentration
    While you were living like a saint
    And all the time the very one you trusted was washing off
    somebody else’s paint

    Now you’ve got yourself a brand new occupation
    Every fleeting thought is a pearl
    And beautiful people stampede to the doorway
    of the funniest fucker in the world

    They’re here to help you
    Satisfy your desire
    There’s a bright future for all you professional liars

    Now you know how to be dumb
    Are you ready to take your place in the modern museum of mistakes?
    Don’t you know how to be dumb?
    Like a building thrown up overnight in one of those reverse earthquakes

    They emptied out all the asylums, they emptied out all the gaols
    The “New Bruise” was the name of a dance craze
    By “Jesus Cross and the Cruel Nails”
    Followed up by “Torturing Little Beaver”
    With their contraption of barbed wire
    Between the fear and the fever lies all the rejection they require
    They’ll be howling by midnight, they’ll be drooling by dawn
    Skulls shrunk down to the size of their brains
    Heads shaven and shorn


    Trapped in the House of the Perpetual Sucker
    Where bitterness always ends so pitifully
    You always had to dress up your envy in some half-remembered

    Now you’re masquerading as pale powdered genius
    Whose ever bad intention has been purged
    You could’ve walked out any time you wanted but face it you
    didn’t have the courage
    I guess that makes you a full time hypocrite or some kind of
    twisted dilettante
    Funny though people don’t usually get so ugly ’til they think
    they know what they want
    Scratch your own head stupid
    Count up to three
    Roll over on your back
    Repeat after me

    Don’t you know how to be dumb?
    Are you ready to take your place in the modern museum of mistakes?
    Don’t you know how to be dumb?
    Like a building thrown up overnight in one of those reverse earthquakes

  • ClubhouseCancer

    Yeah, and it’s always been amazing, to me, that Elvis lacked the self-awareness to realize how egostistical this (admittedly great) song really is. I mean, only a collossal narcissist could imagine this kind of nightmare scenario — complete with drooling zombies — resulting from a soon-to-be-forgotten novel by his bass player.

    I know it’s supposed to be about Bruce, but I always imagined it would be a great song to sing to an ex-girlfriend who was a TV network executive.

    He really sings this one great, too, absolutely straining that voice amazingly. I think Mighty Like the Rose is really quite good. “So Like Candy” is a huge fave of mine.

  • CC, double check on “So Like Candy.” An underappreciated gem.

  • “So Like Candy”–one of the songs written with Paul McCartney

  • Baronius

    Gohah, now that I think about it, “Working Class Hero” is more raging against The System than actual insult.

    Has anyone mentioned “You Oughta Know”?

  • gonzo marx

    “All you read and
    Wear or see and
    Hear on TV
    Is a product
    Begging for your
    Fatass dirty

    “hooker with a penis” – Tool

    “you can’t be somethin’ you’re not
    be yourself
    by yourself
    stay away from me”

    “Respect” – Pantera


  • “You Oughta Know”–good one overlooked

  • I guess I didn’t mention – superb post GoHah. Considering it’s you*.

    No one’s even ventured into the Rap field yet.

    * For the humor-impaired, meet humor.

  • “Idiot Wind” is certainly the biggest put-down song of all time. But you definitely missed out on the rap genre – it’s an entire put-down culture unto itself. And no put-down songs list is complete without a Morrissey or Smiths song!

  • Max: Smiths/ Morrissey’s drolly witty put-downs are definitely worthy. Here’s a line not really all that savage but one I thought was one of the most memorable:
    Nothing’s changed
    I still love you, oh, I still love you
    …Only slightly, only slightly less than I used to, my love

  • Queen – Death on Two Legs

    You suck my blood like a leech
    You break the law and you preach
    Screw my brain till it hurts
    You’ve taken all my money
    And you want more
    Misguided old mule with your pig headed rules
    With your narrow minded cronies
    Who are fools of the first division
    Death on two legs
    You’re tearing me apart
    Death on two legs
    You’ve never had a heart of your own
    Kill joy bad guy big talking small fry
    You’re just an old barrow boy
    Have you found a new toy to replace me?
    Can you face me?
    But now you can kiss my ass goodbye
    Feel good are you satisfied?
    Do you feel like suicide?
    (I think you should)
    Is your conscience all right
    Does it plague you at night?
    Do you feel good feel good?

    You talk like a big business tycoon
    You’re just a hot air balloon
    So no one gives you a damn
    You’re just an overgrown schoolboy
    Let me tan your hide
    A dog with disease
    You’re the king of the ’sleaze’
    Put your money where your mouth is
    Mister know-all
    Was the fin on your back
    Part of the deal? (shark)
    Death on two legs
    You’re tearing me apart
    Death on two legs
    You’ve never had a heart (you never did) of your own
    (right from the start)
    Insane you should be put inside
    You’re a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride
    Should be made unemployed
    Then make yourself null and void
    Make me feel good I feel good

  • David

    Nice list. I was thinking of Positively 4th Street, but I see that’s already been mentioned. Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick” also comes to mind.