The hit songs the musicians refused to play
A hit song can be a professional achievement for record artists, who can sometimes dine on a handful of popular singles for decades. But for some musicians, expecting them to play the same tune on tours or in public appearances leads to exasperation and sometimes even outright refusal. Take a look at 11 hit songs that were never guaranteed to make it to a concert.
1. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” // Nirvana
The grunge era of the 1990s was summed up – and often dismissed – by Nirvana, the Seattle-based rock band led by Kurt Cobain. In 1991, the group exploded with their no matter and “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a hugely popular anthem that was so commercially successful that it seemed contrary to the group’s counter-culture approach. Shortly after the band performed the song on Saturday Night Live, Cobain began to refuse to play it in live performances. Cobain’s apathy seemed to reach a crescendo in Buenos Aires in 1992, when a loud crowd booed the opening act for Nirvana, the all-girl group Calamity Jane. Cobain was so exasperated by the disrespect of the audience that he taunted them by continually playing the opening notes of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” without ever really going for it.
“Before each song I would play the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and then I would stop,” Cobain said later. “They didn’t realize that we were protesting what they had done. We played for about forty minutes, and most of the songs were off Incesticide, so they didn’t recognize anything. We ended up playing the secret song of the noise [‘Endless, Nameless’] it’s at the end of no matter, and because we were so angry and so pissed off about this whole situation, this song and the whole set was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.
2. “(You must) fight for your right (to party!)” // Beastie Boys
The improbable rap group rose to prominence in the 1980s with this single from their 1986 Licensed to sick album which was intended to satire the frat boy and jock culture. When the real boys in the fraternity began to appreciate it without irony, the band became reluctant to repeat it in concert. When the Boys released a best-of compilation album, the cover notes referred to “Fight For Your Right” as “sh * t”.
“I don’t think we realized that was going to be the kind of primary focus of the album,” the late Adam Yauch told NPR in 2011. “I think the way we looked at it, we were just right. sort of doing this stupid song that would be somewhere on the album. But I think CBS and [producer] Grinding wheel [Rubin] saw it as possibly being something much bigger than we imagined, and they kind of made it the main focus of the album.
3. “Big Me” // Foo Fighters
That 1996 hit from the Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut album in 1995 didn’t quite land as frontman Dave Grohl and the band had expected. After filming a hit music video for the single that threw the band into a parody of the kitschy Mentos commercials of the time, fans began tossing candy at them during live performances. Grohl later estimated that they had stopped playing the song for six or seven years thereafter and did not return to it until Weezer started playing it as a tribute.
“And they played it every… night,” Grohl said in 2006. “And we started to miss it. So once the tour was over and we went on our own again, we kind of put it back in. The set list. But we stopped playing this song for a while because, honestly, it’s like getting high. Those little… things are like pebbles, they hurt.
4. “Stairway to Heaven” // Robert Plant
The iconic rock anthem had been a signature of Led Zeppelin since its release in 1971, but when lead singer Robert Plant stepped out on his own, he largely ignored calls from audiences to play it for the next 40 years, only succumbing when the group met. in 1985, 1988 and 2007. (“Stairway to Heaven” was also the subject of a copyright case in 2014 in which a trustee suing on behalf of the music group Spirit claimed that the song was inspired by heavily from a 1968 tune, “Taurus.” won a lawsuit in 2016.)
5. “Nothing compares 2 U” // Sinéad O’Connor
This slow, sad and beautiful ballad helped make Sinéad O’Connor a star in 1990 and moved millions of copies of his debut album, I don’t want what I don’t have. In 2015, O’Connor announced that the song about love and loss, written by Prince, was something she could no longer personally identify with.
“I don’t want audiences to be disappointed to watch a show and not hear it, so I’m letting you know here that you won’t,” O’Connor wrote on Facebook. “If I had to sing it just to please people, I wouldn’t do my job well, because my job is to be emotionally available. I would be lying. You would be lying. My job is to give you honesty. I am trained in honesty. I cannot act. It’s just not in my training. I have stopped singing other songs over the years for the same reason.
O’Connor reconnected to the song in 2016, performing it as a tribute to Prince shortly after the musician’s death that year.
6. “Mr. Roboto” // Styx
Fans Said “Domo Arigato” To That Silly Synth Song From The Band Kilroy was here album in 1983, but the cheerfully broad air created a division in the group. Members James Young and Dennis DeYoung disagreed over the creative direction triggered by “Mr. Roboto, ”with Young feeling like it robbed some of his audience and DeYoung looking to broaden his horizons. DeYoung separated from the group in 1984; the other members thought it was his song and that they had no reason to perform it live. The group didn’t change course until 2018, when encouragement from their merchandising department and fan requests led them to play it for what Young first dubbed it. DeYoung, he said, had only sung it on tape in 1983.
“For the most part that gets a huge response,” Young told AZCentral.com in 2019. “I mean, we had a few people waving to us in the front row, but not a lot.”
7. “Don’t worry, be happy” // Bobby McFerrin
Whether you listened to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” when it was released in 1988 or saw it on YouTube later, you might have been shocked to learn that the a cappella track is Bobby McFerrin no diluted. The singer recorded six separate tracks and did not use any musical instruments in the song, an ironic ode to optimism that takes its title from a phrase used by Indian guru Meher Baba. McFerrin, however, was concerned that the song was oversaturated and he was not happy to perform it. “I got tired of singing it,” he said. United States today in 2013. “I’ve sung it millions and billions of times.”
8. “Ramp” // Radiohead
When Radiohead scored with “Creep” in 1992, elation gave way to disenchantment. The band reportedly stopped playing it live because it had become too popular and led the band to experience a kind of groundhog day moment. “We seemed to be going through the same four and a half minutes of our lives over and over again,” group member Jonny Greenwood said of the song’s live performance. “It was unbelievably mind-numbing.” Greenwood added that some members of the audience stood up and left after hearing “Creep”.
The ban lasted until the 2000s, when the band performed it at concerts and at the Reading Festival in 2009. It resurfaced in 2017, when the band returned for the Glastonbury Festival. Lead singer Thom Yorke later said performing it “can be cool sometimes,” but they just might not always be in the mood.
9. “Bright and happy people” // REM
REM’s “Shiny Happy People” was one of their biggest hits when it debuted in 1991 on their Out of time album, but the contagious and somewhat deceptively optimistic song quickly became a source of contention for the band, who not only stopped playing it live but refused to allow it on their biggest hits album of 2003, On time. Lead singer Michael Stipe said he had “limited appeal” to him.
10. “My same” // Adèle
“My Same” was a track from Adele’s debut album in 2008 19, and she was inspired to write the song based on a friendship that began at the age of 16. At one point, the two fell out and Adele stopped playing “My Same” live on the premise that she didn’t want her friend to know she was singing about her. After the two reconciled in 2011, Adele added him back to her set list.
11. “1999” // Prince
The artist, who would later adopt a symbol as his stage name, caused a sensation in 1982 with 1999 and singles like “Little Red Corvette”. The title song came from Prince and his entourage who watched a special about the turn of the century, which got him thinking about what this celebration might look like. Naturally, when the year 1999 rolled out two things happened: Prince got the unique opportunity to perform the song with maximum relevance, which he did for a pay-per-view concert, Rave One2 year 2000. He also knew that it would immediately be dated the next day.
“This will be the last time we play it,” Prince said. The first show on CBS in 1999. “We’re going to retire it after that, and there won’t be [a] need to play it in the 00s.
Dated or not, fans were still in love with the song. Prince brought him back for a 2007 Super Bowl halftime show and performed him at concerts until his death in 2016.