Top 10 ‘No! No! No!’ Songs
This list of the Top 10 No Songs celebrates the rock legends who have just said “no” – well, in their songs at least. Why so negative? What recourse do you have if you can’t get any sugar, or provoke an answer from your girl, or find a way to have a good time? And sometimes you just have to put your foot down, whether you’re refusing to grow old, or to drink moonshine, or to keep playing nice. If you feel like being more positive instead, check out our list of the Top 10 ‘Yes’ Songs. Otherwise, with no further adieu, here are the Top 10 No Songs.
What better way to kick off the Top 10 No Songs than Ringo’s novelty hit? The No. 3 single (No. 1 in Canada) was written by country singer Hoyt Axton and bassist David Jackson as a playful ditty about something always worth a laugh: substance abuse. Years later, Ringo revealed to Time magazine that he, Axton and Harry Nilsson (who sings backup on the track) weren’t practicing what they preach in the anti-drug song. “We were doing ‘No No Song’ with the biggest spliff and a large bottle of Jack Daniel’s.”
The story goes that Guess Who guitarist Randy Bachman was walking down the street in Berkeley, Calif. when he came upon a few tough-looking biker dudes. All of a sudden, a car pulled up and a woman got out and began yelling at one of the men because he had left her at home all day with their kids. As he got in the car, she yelled, “And one more thing, you’re getting no sugar tonight!” The phrase stuck in Bachman’s memory and he wrote a song based on it. It turned out that frontman Burton Cummings had written a short tune in the same key (F#), and the boys sandwiched them together to make something more substantial.
Rock and roll, in many ways, is the music of youth. In this ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ gem, Springsteen displays rock’s power to make older folks feel young once more – “I’m ready to grow young again.” It’s a declaration against resigning yourself to doddering off into old age and a proclamation in favor of vitality through music, brotherhood and sheer will. It might as well as be the Boss’s own mantra, seeing as the rocker continues to slide across arena stages into his 60s. “No retreat, baby, no surrender.”
Iggy Pop’s ode to boredom and frustration came out of a Stooges jam session. While the band was playing the pre-punk dirge, Iggy improvised lyrics inspired by Johnny Cash’s ‘I Walk the Line.’ The slow-motion sludge, and Iggy’s attitude, would prove hugely influential to future punk and alternative acts. Half of the Ramones’ catalog is probably dedicated to songs about hanging around and having “no fun.”
According to Beatles publisher Dick James, ‘No Reply’ was the first song John Lennon wrote that told a complete story. In David Sheff’s ‘All We Are Saying,’ Lennon said that the impatient composition was inspired by the 1957 doo-wop hit ‘Silhouettes’: “I had that image of walking down the street and seeing her silhouetted in the window and not answering the phone.” The song led off ‘Beatles for Sale’s’ opening sad-sack triad; it was followed by the similarly depressed ‘I’m a Loser’ and ‘Baby’s in Black.’
This ‘Pet Sounds’ ballad was the song that firmly established Brian Wilson as an individual musical force. Released as a single in the months before ‘Pet Sounds,’ it was credited to Wilson, and not the Beach Boys, because Wilson was the only member of the group featured on the wistful tune. The Wrecking Crew formed the rest of the band, along with the flutists who brought a baroque feel to the track. Of course, ‘Caroline, No’ wouldn’t have qualified for the Top 10 No Songs under its original title: ‘Carol, I Know.’ When co-writer Tony Asher completed his lyrical work, Wilson misheard the line as ‘Caroline, No.’ The collaborators decided the new title was a better match for the song’s mournful tone.
This mysterious swamp of a song became quite the concert staple for Zep during the band’s touring days. In particular, it was a showcase for co-writer John Paul Jones’s keyboard skills, because the multi-instrumentalist would often perform lengthy piano pieces as a lead-in to the tune. The lyrics don’t refer to being without 25 cents, but to a military phrase meaning “no mercy.” The brave and weary travelers in the song ask no quarter, and will give no quarter to those they encounter.
This haunting ballad took on extra significance following the death of founding Stone Brian Jones, who died about a year after ‘No Expectations’ was recorded. The lyrics, which carry a bit of Robert Johnson-esque imagery, feel like a preemptive eulogy for the drug-addled Jones: “Your heart is like a diamond / You throw your pearls at swine / And as I watch you leaving me / You pack my peace of mind.” Of course, that’s Brian playing the distinctive, woozy acoustic slide guitar part, which Mick Jagger would later remember as last notable contribution to the band.
One of the hardest-rocking tracks from the Alice Cooper band, ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’ was Alice’s response to those who believed everything they read about his stage persona in the newspapers. The “Ma’s been thrown out of the social circle” lyric was inspired by the women in Cooper’s mother’s church group, who were upset by the reports of what Alice had done was doing in rock concerts across the country. Not one to retreat from controversy, Cooper decided to amplify his character’s nastiness on this classic.
Nothing could or should be at the zenith of the Top 10 No Songs than this ’60s gem, in which the word “no” is repeated more than 60 times. (The only song that can compete is the Human Beinz’s ‘Nobody But Me,’ but that’s a nobody song, now, isn’t it?) Keyboardist Rod Argent wrote this song as a plea to a friend to resist the advances of his girlfriend, who doesn’t appear to be too hung up on the whole monogamy thing. It’s pretty simple advice, as long as you can master the two-letter word: no, no, no, no, no-no-no-no-no, no, no, no…