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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.



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.