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50 Genuinely Horrible Albums by Brilliant Artists

Dylan, Lennon, Bowie, Outkast — even the greatest of greats screw up sometimes. These are the epic duds that diehard fans would like to pretend never happened

50 Genuinely Horrible Albums by Brilliant Artists

From left: Lou Reed, Elton John, KISS, David Bowie, Kanye West.


“THERE IS NO great genius without a touch of madness.” Greek philosopher Aristotle made this observation roughly 2,300 years ago, long before legit geniuses like Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Carole King, Elton John, Madonna, and Prince proved him right. Among the many celebrated masterpieces these artists have given the world, they have also turned in albums so monumentally putrid that nothing short of “a touch of madness” can explain their existence.

Some of these albums were the products of way too much cocaine. (Elton, we’re looking at you.) Some of them came from label pressure to move beyond a cult following by creating commercial music. (Hello, Liz Phair.) Some of them were crafted before a band found its true sound (Pantera, take a bow), while others came long after key members parted and the band had no earthly reason to still exist. (Cough-Genesis-cough).

A huge percent of them were sad victims of horrid Eighties production choices, most notably the dismal period from 1985 to 1988, when cheeseball synths and shotgun-blast snare drums created a sound that has aged worse than a tuna fish and sardine sandwich left in the sun.

Needless to say, rock fans are notorious contrarians and one person’s garbage album is another person’s overlooked classic. We’re sure there are people out there that love Elton John’s Leather Jackets, the Velvet Underground’s Squeeze, and Carol King’s Speeding Time. Some of you will feel that we picked the wrong Elvis movie soundtrack, or that we were insane to leave off Tom Petty’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) or Public Enemy’s Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age. (We happen to enjoy both those records.) There’s also no U2 record because we like them all, even Songs of Experience and October. Those are fighting words to some, and we’re sure many readers will have their problems with this list. True suckiness — like true greatness — is a subjective quality.

Did we rank them? We sure did. Beginning with least-worst and counting down to the most historic flop.


The Jacksons

Michael Jackson had little artistic or commercial use for his brothers in the Eighties, but he felt an obligation to join them for 1984’s underwhelming Victory. He even brought them on the road in 1984 when, by all logic, he should have been playing stadiums as a solo act. When it came time to cut 1989’s 2300 Jackson St., Michael was unwilling to contribute anything more than vocals to the painfully saccharine title track. The rest was handled by his brothers and top-notch collaborators like Diane Warren, Babyface, and Teddy Riley. Despite a few decent moments like “Nothin’ (That Compares 2 U),” nothing here even dented the public consciousness. The Jacksons split up in the aftermath of its failure, only reforming for the occasional oldies gig.


Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills had good reason to try and revive his solo career in 1984. It had been a very bumpy few years for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, thanks to David Crosby’s addiction issues and legal problems that would soon land the singer in a Texas prison. Despite all that, the Stills-penned CSN tune “Southern Cross” was a genuine hit single in 1982. But he simply didn’t have another “Southern Cross” in his pocket when he entered the studio to cut Right By You. What he had was a collection of subpar songs like “50/50,” “Stranger,” and “No Problem” that couldn’t even be enhanced by guest guitarist Jimmy Page. The low point comes near the end when he tackles Neil Young’s acoustic “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and layers on synths, drum machines, and a hint of reggae. The end result is almost an act of violence against one of his friend’s most beautiful songs.


Elton John

Elton John was an absolute train wreck in 1986. He was hopelessly addicted to cocaine, dealing with major vocal problems due to polyps on his vocal cords, and trapped in a loveless marriage to recording engineer Renate Blauel. He was in no condition to record a new album, but he pounded out one a year like clockwork in those days no matter what was happening in his life. This one, however, was his first without a Top 40 single since the early Seventies. That’s because there isn’t one memorable melody or hook on the entire record, and the production is horrid even by the feeble standards of 1986. “Leather Jackets has a lot of awful songs on it, and there’s some very uneven work in the ’80s and ’90s due to the fact that I wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing,” he said in 2001. “And because of the drugs, of course.” He’s called it the worst album in his catalog several times, even though his writing partner Bernie Taupin differs. “I think there’s actually a couple of good songs on there,” he told Rolling Stone in 2013. “I certainly don’t think it’s the low point.” Sorry, Bernie. We’re going to go with Elton on this one.


Van Morrison

Van Morrison has always been an eccentric, but he crossed over to right-wing troll territory on 2021’s Latest Record Project, Volume 1. “Morrison’s new record bears a strange resemblance to the unhinged, rambling feel of the pandemic-era internet,” Rolling Stone’s Jonathan Bernstein wrote in a review, “more often than not, its 28 tracks come across as a collection of shitposts, subtweets, and Reddit rants set to knockoff John Lee Hooker grooves.” That is not a typo. There are 28 songs across two discs and 127 interminable minutes, with titles like “Stop Bitchin, Do Something,” “Why Are You on Facebook?”, and “They Own the Media.” (Who exactly is the “they” you’re referring to here, Van?) Sadly, the music is as lazy as his thinking. We’d almost feel bad for the guy if he wasn’t using his art as a way to spread dangerously stupid messages about vaccines. Let’s just hope there’s not a Volume 2 coming at some point. We don’t need to hear Van’s take on Hunter Biden.


The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys may have been estranged from Brian Wilson when they released Summer in Paradise in 1992, but they did have a renewed sense of purpose thanks to their hit “Kokomo” four years earlier. Mike Love decided they should make an album to serve as the “quintessential soundtrack to summer,” so they mixed redos of old hits like “Surfin’” and “Forever” with covers like Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and the Shangri-Las’ “Remember (Walking in the Sand”). The whole thing is as pointless as it sounds, and it certainly doesn’t get any better when John Stamos pops up to sing the Dennis Wilson parts on “Forever.” Discounting their 1996 country crossover effort Stars and Stripes Vol. 1 — which is the definition of discountable — they wouldn’t even attempt another proper album until 2012’s That’s Why God Made the Radio.


Creedence Clearwater Revival

In some ways, it’s easy to have sympathy for the Creedence rhythm section of Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. Watching bandmate John Fogerty write and produce all of their original songs must have been deeply frustrating. In the minds of the public, they became his mere backup musicians even though the group had been slogging it out together since high school. But the sad truth of that matter is that Fogerty is brilliant at writing songs, and they are not. This is painfully evident on the group’s 1972 LP Mardi Gras, where Fogerty agreed to give them a chance at songwriting, singing, and producing. Jon Landau spoke for many critics when he wrote that it was “the worst album I have ever heard from a major rock band.” They broke up not long after it flopped. When Clifford and Cook came back together in 1995 as Creedence Clearwater Revisited, minus their former frontman, they didn’t include a single Mardi Gras song in their stage show. It turns out basing a whole band’s repertoire off Fogerty’s music wasn’t such a bad idea after all.


Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

At the peak of David Crosby’s drug addiction in the early Eighties, Neil Young promised that he’d agree to a new CSNY album if Crosby cleaned up his life. It took a stint in prison for Croz to kick his freebase habit, but Young stuck to his word when he was set free. The problem is that Crosby, Stills, and Nash had been in a songwriting lull for years and didn’t have another set of tunes like “Wooden Ships” or “Teach Your Children” on hand. Young, meanwhile, was saving his best songs for his solo records, and giving them bottom shelf dreck like “This Old House” and “American Dream.” Stills and Young did attempt to revive their Buffalo Springfield-era songwriting partnership on “Got It Made” and “Night Song,” but the Sixties magic was gone. The album was a total dud, and they didn’t even tour behind it. When they finally hit the road in 2000, they didn’t play a single song from American Dream. By that point, it was a half-forgotten footnote to their long saga.


Elvis Presley

In 1963, Meet the Beatles, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and the first couple of Rolling Stones singles came out. Elvis Presley, meanwhile, was down in Acapulco filming yet another movie, Fun in Acapulco. In this one, Elvis plays a lifeguard (who sings, of course) caught in a rivalry with a fellow lifeguard. By the low standards of Elvis movies, it’s semi-watchable. It was also a hit. The quickie soundtrack is another story. At a time when Elvis needed to up his game to compete with a new generation of rock stars, he was singing “The Bullfighter Was a Lady,” “(There’s) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car,” and “You Can’t Say No in Acapulco.” It’s very tough to find a low point of Presley’s recording career since there were so many of them, but many true Elvis aficionados point to this album, and with good reason.


John Lennon and Yoko Ono

From a strictly historical perspective, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins is an extremely important album. The 1968 LP marked the beginning of John Lennon’s solo career, and his creative collaboration with Yoko Ono, while offering a window into their private world. The nude image of Lennon and Ono on the cover outraged the religious right, and helped generate a ton of attention for a fledging rock magazine called Rolling Stone when the publication put it on the cover. From a musical perspective, however, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins is painfully dull and generally pointless. The two 14-minute sides consist of little but inaudible bits of spoken dialogue, tape loops, sound effects, and Ono wailing. There’s almost nothing musical about it, and getting through the full 28 minutes is a brutal slog. Two years later John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band hit shelves. It’s the polar opposite of Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins in every imaginable way. In other words, it’s perfect.


Black Sabbath

Forbidden is a Black Sabbath record in only the loosest possible sense. Guitarist Tony Iommi was the sole remaining member at this point, and even latter-day members like Ronnie James Dio are nowhere to be seen. The group had essentially been in the wilderness for a decade at this point, and their label convinced them that Ice-T could come into the studio and make the band seem hip and modern again. “It was sold to us that Ice-T was going to be producing,” bassist Neil Murray told Rolling Stone in 2021. “And then it turned out to be his guitar player [Ernie C] from Body Count. I don’t think anybody really thought that he brought any suitable ideas to the production or how the mix wound up. We were mostly pretty disappointed. But it was like, ‘Here you are, journalists and fans, here’s an album you can really tear into it.’ It gave them too much ammunition with how the album sounded. The band wasn’t happy with it, and nobody else was either.” When the album tanked with fans and critics, Iommi had little choice but to reunite the Ozzy Osbourne lineup and pretend like the whole Ice-T thing never even happened.


Bob Dylan

Dylan aficionados have been arguing for decades about whether or not he reached the nadir of his Eighties creative funk on 1986’s Knocked Out Loaded or 1988’s Down in the Groove. It’s certainly a close call, but Knocked Out Loaded has one certifiable masterpiece: his epic Sam Shepard collaboration “Brownsville Girl.” Down in the Groove, meanwhile, doesn’t have a single redeeming moment. It’s a stiff, lifeless collection of covers (“Rank Strangers to Me,” “Shenandoah”), collaborations with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter (“Silvio,” “Ugliest Girl in the World”), and originals(“Death Is Not the End,” “Had a Dream About You, Baby”) that are marred by cheesy Eighties drum and synths sounds and an overall feeling of extreme laziness. Eric Clapton, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, Mark Knopfler, and the Clash’s Paul Simonon join the festivities, but even their collective star power cannot salvage this disaster. Days after it came out, however, Dylan began his Never Ending Tour. It was a rejuvenating experience that meant we never got an album quite as awful as Down in the Groove ever again, even if he came pretty close with 1990’s Under the Red Sky.



Pantera are undoubtedly one of the greatest metal bands of their era. What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that they were one of the worst metal bands of an earlier era. If you need to be convinced, check out their 1983 debut, LP Metal Magic, where they sound like a generic, B-list hair band. To be fair, Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul were still teenagers when they made this album, and it was produced by their father, country singer Jerry Abbott. They also hadn’t joined forces with frontman Phil Anselmo. His predecessor, Terry Glaze, is a hopeless Paul Stanley wannabe. This is Pantera in name only, but it still counts as a genuine Pantera album. And it’s absolutely horrid.



By the late Eighties, prog-rockers Yes had split into two feuding versions of the band on the verge of a very expensive court battle. There was the “Owner of a Lonely Heart” Yes featuring drummer Alan White, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and guitarist Trevor Rabin, and there was the Seventies throwback Yes featuring drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, guitarist Steve Howe, and singer Jon Anderson. They ultimately realized that a Yes divided against itself cannot stand, and they formed into a singular version of Super Yes and booked an arena tour. They also decided to cut an album. “The problem was that we were three quarters of a way through an album,” Wakeman told Rolling Stone in 2019. “They were three quarters of a way through an album. So the album was given to a guy who shouldn’t even be allowed a food mixer, let alone an album. He did the most dreadful job on the Union album.” Part of that “dreadful job” involved bringing in anonymous studio musicians even though this was a band with two guitarists, two drummers, and two keyboardists. “I called it the Onion album,” Wakeman said, “because it made me cry.”


The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground were a band in name only when they released Squeeze in early 1973. The four original members of the hugely influential New York band had left one by one over the previous few years due to internal tension and the group’s failure to have even a tiny bit of commercial success. This was probably a good time to call it quits, but manager Steve Sesnick had the deranged idea they could somehow go forward with bassist Doug Yule — who replaced founding member John Cale in 1968 — taking over as leader. Yule was a real asset when they recorded 1969’s The Velvet Underground and 1970’s Loaded, but on those records, he still had Lou Reed around to write all the songs and sing the vast majority of them. With Reed out of the picture, Yule had to handle everything himself. In his own words, it was like “the blind leading the blind.” Squeeze might have been OK as a Doug Yule solo effort, but as an album by one of the greatest rock groups of all time? Definitely not. It did, however, inspire an upstart U.K. group led by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford to call themselves Squeeze. In many ways, that’s its greatest legacy.


Kanye West

The past five years of Kanye West’s life have been so unbelievably sad and self-destructive, culminating with a horrifying series of interviews in late 2022 where he praised Hitler and defended Nazis, that his recent albums have almost been an afterthought to most people. They are certainly the worst works of his career, and it would be easy to pick Jesus Is King or Donda as the single lowest moment. But we’re going with 2018’s Ye because it marks the beginning of the most disastrous artistic and personal collapse in the history of popular music. Clocking in at a mere 23 minutes, the chaotic, half-baked album was cut in Wyoming right around the time he told TMZ that slavery was a “choice” and started wearing a MAGA hat in public. The uproar over his slavery remark caused him to rework many of the Ye lyrics over a frantic two weeks shortly before the album dropped, which explains screeds like “Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day/Now I’m on 50 blogs gettin’ 50 calls/My wife callin’, screamin’, say, ‘We ’bout to lose it all.’” The Kanye scandals of 2018 seem almost quaint compared to his recent issues, but he’s never made music less vital than this.