Rock star insults




This blog entry starts with Kate Bush… but isn’t about Kate Bush.


The other day I read a news report about how Kate Bush’s 1985 song Running Up That Hill had just gone to number one in the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium and Sweden and reached number five in the United States.  The renewed popularity of the song was due to it being featured in season four of the American sci-fi / horror TV series Stranger Things.  My curiosity was sufficiently piqued for me to go to YouTube and type ‘running up that hill’ into its search-bar, wondering if it would provide the clip from the TV show where the song was used.  That didn’t happen, however.  Instead, YouTube – presumably its algorithms had taken note of my past musical preferences at the site – sent me to a cover version of Running Up That Hill performed by the late 1990s / early 2000s band Placebo.  I have to say the cover version didn’t sound bad at all.  And incidentally, the comments below were full of Americans saying things like, “I’d always assumed this was an original Placebo song.  I hadn’t known some English chick had sung it first, back in the 1980s!”


Meanwhile, my reaction at that time was: Placebo?  Wow, I haven’t heard of them for years…


And then I thought: Hold on! They were responsible for the greatest rock ‘n’ roll insult I’ve ever heard live!


Let me explain.  In 1999, I attended T in the Park, then the biggest annual music festival held in Scotland.  Placebo was one of the bands performing on the main stage and I was near the front of the crowd at the start of their set.  Also appearing that day was the rock band Gay Dad, who’d recently scored hit singles with the songs To Earth with Love and Joy, although sceptics grumbled that the hype surrounding the band was nothing to do with quality and everything to do with the fact that its singer Cliff Jones had previously been a music journalist – his former colleagues in the media were promoting his outfit as a favour.  Placebo’s singer Brian Molko was obviously one of the sceptics.  Before they began playing, Molko apologised for the band being slightly late in coming onstage.


This, he said, was because: “I was getting a blowjob backstage from the singer of Gay Dad.”  He paused, then added with timing worthy of a master comedian: “Believe me, it’s not just their music that sucks!”


Anyway, that memory got me thinking about the following question.  What are the best rock star insults of all time?


There are a few famous ones that come immediately to mind.  I recall Robert Smith of the Cure saying of the self-consciously fey and militantly vegetarian frontman of the Smiths, “If Morrissey says not to eat meat, then I eat meat. That’s how much I hate Morrissey.”  Also memorable was Nick Cave’s comment on a well-known Californian funk-rock band: “I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the f*ck is this garbage?’ And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”  Van Halen singer Dave Lee Roth was pretty brutal about a certain post-punk troubadour of the late 1970s and early 1980s: “Music journalists like Elvis Costello because music journalists look like Elvis Costello.”  Though for brutality, you can’t beat the Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards talking about Slowdive, one of the key bands of the shoegaze movement of the late 1980s: “We hate Slowdive more than we hate Hitler.”


George Melly, though strictly speaking not a rock star – he was a jazz / blues singer – deserves inclusion here for his response to Mick Jagger.  Melly had drawn attention to the deep grooves on the Rolling Stone’s face and Jagger had tried to dismiss them as ‘laughter-lines’.  “Nothing,” pronounced Melly, “is that funny.”  Meanwhile, I was never a fan of Boy George but I’ve always chuckled at his verdict on Elton John: “All that money and he’s still got hair like a f*cking dinner lady.”  And just to prove that the art of the rock-star insult remains alive and well in 2022, there was recently a spat between Joan Jett and gun-humping, Trump-worshipping rock-neanderthal Ted Nugent, which produced this Jett-gem: “Ted Nugent has to live with being Ted Nugent.  He has to be in that body, so that’s punishment enough.”


From / © Will Fresch


The world of rock contains certain individuals who can be relied upon to denigrate their contemporaries practically every time they open their mouths.  Two who spring to mind are siblings Liam and Noel Gallagher, late of Britpop mega-band Oasis.  Among those suffering the wrath of Liam Gallagher have been Keith Richards and George Harrison (“jealous and senile and not getting enough f*cking meat pies”), Bob Dylan (“a bit of a miserable c*nt”), Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day (“I don’t like his head”), Bono (“he looks like a fanny”) and Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine (“sounds like someone’s stood on her f*cking foot”).  For my money, though, his best insult was heard at a Q Magazine Awards ceremony, where he yelled at Coldplay’s Chris Martin, “You’re a plant pot!”


As the older and supposedly more cerebral Gallagher, Noel’s insults have been more elaborate, if a tad less savage.  Of the musical output of Justin Bieber, he once opined, “My cat sounds more rock ‘n’ roll than that.”   He likened the appearance of the White Stripes’ Jack White to “Zorro on doughnuts” and mused about skatey Canadian punk rockers Sum 41: “After I heard Sum 41, I thought, I’m actually alive to hear the shittiest band of all time.”  Needless to say, Oasis’s Britpop arch-enemies Blur came in for some stick too: “I wish Blur were dead, John Lennon was alive and the Beatles would reform.”  And inevitably he’s had some choice words for his wayward younger brother since they acrimoniously parted company in 2009.  That same year he famously described Liam to “a man with a fork in a world of soup.”  (For his part, the younger Gallagher has repeatedly referred to Noel as a ‘potato’ and called his post-Oasis band the High Flying Birds ‘the High Flying Smurfs’.)


© Weidenfeld & Nicolson


The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards has also had a famously barbed tongue, powered by his apparent disdain for any form of music that isn’t structured around a 12-bar blues progression.  He’s dissed Prince as “an overrated midget”, REM as “a whiny college rock band” and P Diddy as “bereft of imagination.  What a piece of crap.”  He dumped on the Grateful Dead for “Just poodling about for hours and hours.  Jerry Garcia, boring shit, man. ”  Of Metallica he speculated, “I don’t know where Metallica’s inspiration comes from, but if it’s from me, I f*cked up.”  Hilariously, he said of Elton John after the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and after John had reworked his 1973 ode to Marilyn Monroe, Candle in the Wind, as a tribute to the deceased princess: “His writing is limited to songs about dead blondes.”  (To which Elton John retorted that the venerable Stones guitarist resembled “a monkey with arthritis.”)


But surely the man who’s suffered the most ignominious put-down from Keith Richards is his long-term singer, writing partner and fellow Rolling Stone Mick Jagger.  Jagger’s image as a tireless lothario took a dent when Richards wrote about his manhood in his 2010 autobiography Life: “Marianne Faithful had no fun with his tiny todger.  I know he’s got an enormous pair of balls but it doesn’t quite fill the gap.”




However, when it comes to rock-star insults, one man is – or alas, was – the undisputed champion.  Mark E. Smith, for four decades until his death in 2018 the driving force behind the fascinatingly off-the-wall post-punk / alternative rock group the Fall, was never more entertaining in interviews than when he directed his guns at his peers and rivals in the music world.  Among those getting it in the neck from Smith over the years were Badly Drawn Boy (“fat git”), Echo and the Bunnymen (“old crocks”), Garbage (“like watching paint dry”), Bob Geldof (“a dickhead”), Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore (“should have his rock licence revoked”), Mumford and Sons (“We were playing a festival in Dublin…  There was this other group, like, warming up… and they were terrible.  I said, ‘Shut them c*nts up!’  And they were still warming up, so I threw a bottle at them…  I just thought they were a load of retarded Irish folk singers”), Pavement (“They haven’t got an original thought in their heads”), Ed Sheeran (like “a duff singer songwriter from the 70s you find in charity shops”) and Suede (“Never heard of them,” said Smith cruelly, just after off coming off a tour where Suede were the support band).


And in fact, not even a songstress as lauded as Kate Bush escaped Smith’s vitriol.  In 2014, when Bush’s Before the Dawn concerts – her first live performances since 1979 – triggered massive interest in her and her music again, Smith told the Manchester Evening News: “Who decided it was time to start liking her again?  I never even liked her the first time round.  It’s like all these radio DJs have been raiding their mam and dad’s record collections and decided that Kate Bush is cool again.  But I’m not having it!”


It’s a shame the wonderfully curmudgeonly Smith isn’t around today to witness Kate Bush’s latest return to prominence with Running Up That Hill.  I’m sure he’d have some entertaining pronouncements to make on the matter.



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