Songs You Never Realized Are Actually Diss Tracks


It’s no secret that Dave Grohl and Courtney Love’s animosity goes back a long way, or that several of the Foo Fighters’ songs are rumored to contain unflattering references to her. In 2007, however, Grohl more or less admitted to reporters that the song “Let it Die” (off 2006’s Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace) was largely about Love. Of the line “a simple man and his blushing bride / Intravenous, intertwined,” Grohl said:

“[It’s] a song that’s written about feeling helpless to someone else’s demise. I’ve seen people lose it all to drugs and heartbreak and death. It’s happened more than once in my life, but the one that’s most noted is Kurt. And there are a lot of people that I’ve been angry with in my life, but the one that’s most noted is Courtney. So it’s pretty obvious to me that those correlations are gonna pop up every now and again.”

Trent Reznor’s relationship with Marilyn Manson goes back a long way, and it’s definitely had its ups and downs. So it’s perhaps no surprise that most people believe that the song “Starf*ckers, Inc.” (off 1999’s The Fragile) is largely a none-too-veiled attack on Manson. In an interview with Mojo, Reznor had this to say about his “former protegee”:

“He is a malicious guy and will step on anybody’s face to succeed and cross any line of decency. Seeing him now, drugs and alcohol now rule his life and he’s become a dopey clown.”

However, Reznor and Manson also collaborated on the song’s music video. So if the lyrics were in fact inspired by Manson, he didn’t seem to mind it that much. Which is the mark of a true professional.

David Bowie’s Teenage Wildlife Took A Shot At Gary Numan

At almost seven minutes long, David Bowie’s “Teenage Wildlife” is one of Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)’s most extravagant tracks. But its flamboyance is also an exercise in full-fledged satire. As the A.V. Club puts it:

“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. The new-wave pioneer 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 – but instead of a nod of approval from the Thin White Duke, what they inspired was the sprawling, poison-pen ‘Teenage Wildlife’… The song’s lyrics are cutting: ‘Same old thing in brand new drag’, taking aim at Numan and his peers’ obsession with technology and repetition.”

Tori Amos’s Professional Widow Might Be About Courtney Love

Lyrics like “Don’t blow those brains yet / we gotta be big, boy,” certainly suggest that Tori Amos’s “Professional Widow” (off 1996’s Boys for Pele) might be about Courtney Love. Amos’s reasons for taking issue with Love appear to be well established: she and Kurt Cobain were friends, and NIN’s Trent Reznor has famously blamed Love for ruining him and Amos’s friendship/possible romance.

Amos has neither confirmed nor denied Love’s influence on the song. But she has strongly hinted that the tune was at least inspired by her, even if it did take on a poetic and open-ended life of its own after the fact (as works of art will).

Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl Is About Courtney Love, Randomly

Though most people probably don’t even associate Courtney Love with Gwen Stefani, legend has it that the latter’s “Hollaback Girl” is, in fact, a veiled attack on the former. In any case, Love has publicly admitted to Howard Stern… albeit perhaps facetiously … that she and Stefani’s then-husband, Gavin Rosdale, slept together while he and the No Doubt singer were still married. So where rumor ends and truth begins, nobody knows.

Nick Cave’s Scum Takes On His Former Housemate

Nick Cave is a master of both searingly brutal and heartrendingly romantic musical tour-de-forces, and his abrasive track “Scum” is said to be about his former housemate, journalist Mat Snow. As Snow recalled for the The Guardian:

“By 1983 the Birthday Party [Cave’s former band] 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… I raved about his From Her To Eternity album 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 said, ‘I think you’re an arsehole’ and mentioned that he’d written a song developing this theme.”

Despite the song’s lyrics (“f*ckin traitor, chronic masturbator… / I unload into his eyes / Blood springs / Dead snow / Blue skies”) Snow claims there are no hard feelings:

“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.”

Bob Dylan’s Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat Might Diss Edie Sedgwick

“Well, I see you got your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat… / Honey, can I jump on it sometime? / Yes, I just want to see / If it’s really that expensive kind.” Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat” may be a slightly silly … and essentially good-natured … song, but many people believe that it’s also a satirical ditty about Warhol superstar Edie Sedgwick, with whom Dylan had a brief relationship. As Nico of the Velvet Underground put it:

“Bob’s song ‘Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat’ is written about Edie. Everybody thought it was about Edie because she sometimes wore leopard. Dylan’s a very sarcastic person… it’s a very nasty song, whoever the person in it might be.”

Hole’s Nobody’s Daughter Slams Courtney Love’s Dad

“Nobody’s Daughter,” the frankly brilliant title song off Hole’s final studio album, is almost certainly an epically profound diss track about Courtney Love’s father, Hank Harrison. Harrison continues to make headlines with his conspiracy theories about his daughter’s possible involvement in her late husband’s death, and  Love continues to claim, quite convincingly, that her father was abusive. In any case, the writing certainly appears to be on the wall – and in the liner notes.

Radiohead’s A Punchup At A Wedding Is About A Bad Review

Radiohead’s lovely, plaintive “A Punchup at a Wedding” might sound like it’s about a love affair gone wrong, but according to Rolling Stone, its actual meaning is a lot more specific:

 “Written in response to a nasty review of a hometown gig the band played in July 2001 (one of Yorke’s favorite performances), ‘A Punchup at a Wedding’ helps Hail to the Thief bridge the gap from the simmering frustration of its first half to the sneering rage of its second one. ‘You’ve come here just to start a fight / You had to piss on our parade,’ Yorke foams, the taunting piano transforming the song into the badass older brother that Karma Police always wanted.”

The Crystals’ He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss) Speaks Out Against Domestic Violence

When Phil Spector produced The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” in 1962, the song caused a scandal. Many interpreted it an an endorsement of abuse, but in fact it was exactly the opposite: a scathing indictment of it. As journalist Dave Thompson described it:

“It was a brutal song, as any attempt to justify such violence must be, and Spector’s arrangement only amplified its savagery, framing Barbara Alston’s lone vocal amid a sea of caustic strings and funereal drums, while the backing vocals almost trilled their own belief that the boy had done nothing wrong.”

Songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King penned the song for The Crystals after the band questioned singer Little Eva about the injuries she’d sustained at the hands of her abusive boyfriend; Little Eva had insisted that his actions were the result of his “love” for her. The song, which has been covered by everyone from The Motels to Hole, hasn’t lost any of its power, and it continues to be controversial.

Bongwater’s Folk Song Takes On Just About Everything

Bongwater’s 1991 album The Power of Pussy is filled with gems, but “Folk Song” is unquestionably one of its standout track. Within minutes, lead singer Ann Magnuson manages to satirize daytime TV, glam rock, yuppies, New Ageism, religious fanaticism, the fashion industry, and much more; and the song’s refrain (“sucking, and shopping”) famously skewers well-tended groupies, in particular.

John Lennon Is One Angry And Bitter Beatle In How Do You Sleep

This legendary diss track is rumored to be a direct response to another legendary diss track by Paul McCartney. In his 1971 song “Too Many People,” McCartney implies that Yoko Ono was the reason the Beatles broke up. In response, Lennon released his own song, “How Do You Sleep” … and the Spinal Tappish battle was on.

Amy Winehouse’s Fuck Me Pumps Criticizes The Groupie Mentality

Buoyed up and sent soaring by her fabulous voice, Amy Winehouse’s Fu#k Me Pumps is a fantastically witty takedown of the vapid-groupie mentality. Lyrics like “Don’t be mad at me/cause you’re pushing thirty/and your old tricks no longer work/you should have known from the jump/that you always get dumped/so dust off your fu#k me pumps” leave little to the satirical imagination, but the track is also compassionate in its way, warning party girls that sex for posterity is destined to eventually lead to heartbreak.