Diss Tracks In Rock Music

A diss track is a song primarily intended to disrespect the target (a person or a group).

While diss tracks are more common in the hip hop genre, one of the first diss tracks was actually composed by a famous soul musician, Joe Tex. He had some heavy beef with James Brown because of a woman. Joe’s wife, singer Bea Ford, left him for James, but then, apparently, James wrote Joe a letter telling him he could have Bea back. Joe couldn’t stay silent, and responded with the 1963 single, “You Keep Her.”

That track opened Pandora’ box, and since then the beef between musicians is often revealed to the whole world to see. Here is a list of some memorable moments.

The Beatles VS. Their spiritual leader

“Sexy Sadie” is also one of the earliest diss tracks in rock’n’roll history. This track appeared on the legendary White Album. The song is about John Lennon dealing with his disillusionment with spiritual leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

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John Lennon VS. Paul McCartney

The Beatles breakup was one of the biggest precedents in pop culture. And then the diss saga began. Ringo Starr, reportedly, even had to visit both musicians in their studios in attempt to stop the ‘war’ between ex-bandmates.

In 1971, Paul McCartney released “Too Many People,” a song that rolls its eyes at self-righteous activists “going underground,” “preaching practices,” and “sharing party lines.” It seems like Paul felt that John Lennon and Yoko Ono were being too preachy.

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Lennon responded with a sardonic attack on McCartney via “How Do You Sleep?” that contained lines such as:

“Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
The one mistake you made was in your head.”

and

“The only thing you did was yesterday
And since you’re gone you’re just another day.”

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Years later, Paul released “Dear Friend” on a Wings album, offering an olive branch and hoping to end hostilities.

Queen VS. Their ex-manager

In “Death On Two Legs’ Freddie Mercury expressed his hatred toward Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield. The track was so brutal that it launched a lawsuit – Sheffield sued the band and the label for defamation following its release.

“You suck my blood like a leech
You break the law and you breach
Screw my brain till it hurts
You’ve taken all my money – and you want more
Misguided old mule
With your pigheaded rules.”

“Do you feel like suicide (I think you should)
Is your conscience all right”

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Lynyrd Skynyrd VS. Neil Young

Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote their famous ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ as an answer to two Neil Young songs ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama.’

In his tracks ‘Southern Man’ and ‘Alabama’ Neil Young pointed a finger at the South and wrote about its record of racism and slavery.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd, being a southern rock band, were offended, and answered with their famous ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’

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Neil actually enjoyed the diss track, but unfortunately, he didn’t have a chance to extend an olive branch of peace before Skynard’s plane went down.

Guns N’ Roses VS. Metallica

When the two heavy metal giants toured together in 1992, it seemed to be all peachy. But presumably there was not enough space for both of them, and the partnership began to crack. Metallica members were not diggin’ Axls escapades such as the riot incited by cutting Guns’ set short at a concert in Montreal just after James Hetfield was seriously injured in a pyrotechnic accident.

Axl heard people speak behind his back and didn’t take it well. He wrote a vicious diss track “Double Talkin’ Jive,” aimed at his former friends.

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Wild Man Fischer VS. Frank Zappa

In 1980 Wild Man Fischer wrote a song called “Frank”, which was aimed at his former record producer Frank Zappa, who enabled him to record his debut album An Evening with Wild Man Fischer (1969) but afterwards broke all contact when the mentally disturbed Fischer threw a bottle at Zappa’s infant daughter and missed.

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Nick Cave VS. Music journalist, Mat Snow

Mat Snow put Nick Cave and his girlfriend up at his house in Brighton. A couple of years later he wrote a review of the latest album in NME, calling it ‘disappointing’. Cave came out with the song ‘Scum’ in retaliation.

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Snow later explained:

“In 1980 my old school buddy Barney Hoskyns was writing for NME and wanted someone to go to gigs with. I became his plus one. The Birthday Party (an early band of Cave’s) were just fantastic, incredibly exciting, wild and feral, and we became part of their scene, which consisted of hanging out, playing records, doing drugs and drinking. I had a straight job and by night morphed into a nocturnal creature. It was an exciting scene to feel vicariously part of. It felt like you were living through a Velvet Underground song. I remember Nick [Cave] setting his hair on fire with a candle: everything was part-Baudelaire, part-Keith Richards. But by 1983 the Birthday Party had broken up and Nick was forming the Bad Seeds. He and his girlfriend Anita were asking for somewhere to crash for a while, and the pair moved in with me. He was still doing heroin but he was discreet. He was a good housemate. It was funny because he was always nagging Anita about her diet, yet he was shooting up! They moved down the road and we lost touch.
I raved about his From Here To Eternity album in NME but then, in a singles review, happened to drop in that the forthcoming – second – Nick Cave album ‘lacked the same dramatic tension.’ A year or so later I found myself interviewing Nick formally for the first time. He kept me and the photographer waiting for hours. The PR was very jumpy. I got a very unusual interview. I asked him what the problem was and he said, ‘I think you’re an arsehole’ and mentioned that he’d written a song developing this theme. Weeks later, I bought for £1 a green seven-inch flexidisc called ‘Scum.’ I think it’s one of his best songs, and very funny. Like Dylan’s Mr Jones, I’d rather be memorialized as the spotlit object of a genius’ scorn than a dusty discographical footnote. My wife to be was a big Nick Cave fan – Scum is ‘our song.'”

Deep Purple VS. Ritchie Blackmore

Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore did not get along very well and Gillan would leave the band after ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ was recorded.

Ian Gillan wrote “Smooth Dancer” as a diss track towards Ritchie Blackmore.

He even threw some shade at Richie Blackmore’s dress sense.

“Black suede, don’t mean you’re good for me
Black suede, just brings your mystery”

“You’d better hang on tightly
You want to rule the world,
But you’re acting like a girl
Who’s got a false pregnancy
You’ve swollen up inside
With nothing but your pride”

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David Bowie VS. Gary Numan

When Bowie didn’t like somebody, he let them know, though few people seem to have rubbed him the wrong way like Gary Numan did in the late 1970s.

Numan owed a lot to Bowie’s experiments with sound and public image, as did many of the synth poppers who were coming up at the time. In 1980s Bowie started worrying that his time on top might be coming to an end. So, instead of encouraging young talents, the Thin White Duke composed his vitriolic “Teenage Wildlife.” Bowie didn’t bother to hide his feelings towards Numan on the lyrics.

“A broken nosed mogul are you
One of the new wave boys
Same old thing in brand new drag
Comes sweeping into view, oh-ooh
As ugly as a teenage millionaire
Pretending
it’s a whizz kid world
You’ll take me aside, and say
“Well, David, what shall I do?”

Fueled by Bowie’s anger, the song turned out a real masterpiece.

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Pavement VS. Smashing Pumpkins

After 1992’s “Slanted And Enchanted,” critics have awarded Pavement with a title “the voice of the slacker generation.” Feeling himself on the top of the world, Steven Malkmus playfully took a swipe at Smashing Pumpkins in his country shuffle “Range Life”:

“Out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins
Nature kids, they don’t have no function
I don’t understand what they mean
And I could really give a fuck”

Billy Corgan was reportedly so irritated by the song that he kept Pavement off the Lollapalooza bill in 1994.

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Limp Bizkit VS. Trent Reznor

In a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, Reznor called Durst a “moron” and said a famous phrase, “Let Fred Durst surf a piece of plywood up my ass.” Durst’s feelings were hurt, so he decided to strike back.

Fred wrote a diss track “Hot Dog,” that included such lyrics as:

“You wanna fuck me like an animal
You’d like to burn me on the inside
You like to think that I’m a perfect drug
Just know that nothing you do
Will bring you closer to me
Ain’t life a bitch?”

However, Reznor is credited as a writer of the song “Hot Dog” on Limp Bizkit’s album, “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.” This is due to the use of lyrics from the Nine Inch Nails song “Closer.”

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Sex Pistols VS. New York Dolls

In 1976, when Sex Pistols had their first breakthrough, many claimed that the London scene was merely a pale reflection of the New York scene. New York Dolls, to be precise. Both bands felt the need to put down their competitors. The rivalry was further fueled by the fact that Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren had formerly helmed the New York Dolls.

The Sex Pistols included a diss track “New York” on their debut album, which mocks the Dolls for their success in Japan (and not in the U.S.)

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In 1978, former Dolls’ member Johnny Thunders, replied with a track “London Boys” on his “So Alone” album.

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NOFX VS. Le Tigre

NOFX’s “Kill Rock Stars,” was written about feminist icon Kathleen Hanna, referencing both her and her band’s label by name.

“Kill the rockstars?
How ironic, Kathleen
You’ve been crowned the newest queen.”

“Kinda like the punk rock Gloria Steinem
You can’t change the world by blaming men
Can’t change the world by hating men.”

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Hanna took the lyrics close to her heart and replied with the song “Deceptacon”:

“You bought a new van
The first year of your band
You’re cool and
I hardly want to say
“Not” because I’m so bored
That’d I’d be entertained even by a stupid fuckin
Linoleum floor, linoleum floor,
Your lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor [a reference to NOFX’s song “Linoleum”]I’ll walk on it
I’ll walk all over you.”

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Primus VS. Courtney Love

“Coattails of a Dead Man” by Primus is about a man who accidentally comes upon fame and marries a greedy woman seeking it herself. As the years wear on, the man grows tired of fame and becomes an alcoholic. He finds himself reaching for help from her but she is only concerned with herself, so he shoots himself with a shotgun. For the rest of the widow’s life, she rides on the coattails of her late husband for fame and fortune, crying shamelessly in public.

Well…You get the idea,right?

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Nightwish VS. Tarja Turunen

“Bye Bye Beautiful” from the album “Dark Passion Play” was a diss track about Nightwish lead vocalist Tarja Turunen, who was removed from the band, in part, because she was too focused on money and her own selfish demands.

The lyrics by Tuomas Holopainen make it clear how the remaining members of the band felt:

“Did you ever hear what I told you?
Did you ever read what I wrote you?
Did you ever listen to what we played?
Did you ever let in what the world said?
Did we get this far just to feel your hate?
Did we play to become only pawns in the game?
How blind can you be, don’t you see,
You chose the long road but we’ll be waiting,
Bye bye beautiful”

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Did we miss something? Feel free to share the shadiest diss tracks you know in the comment section!


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