Taylor Swift has stormed the charts with her comeback single, Look What You Made Me Do, breaking several streaming records in the process.
As you’ll no doubt be aware, the lyrics concern her long and tedious feud with Kanye West, which began when the rapper rushed on stage during Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Awards.
The song comes hot on the heels of Katy Perry’s Swish Swish, allegedly about her own beef with Team Taylor and itself a riposte to Swift’s song Bad Blood.
None of these songs, it has to be said, are among their authors’ best work – which got me wondering whether pop feuds had ever resulted in noteworthy songs.
I put the question to Twitter last week, and instantly received dozens of brilliant replies. So here are seven of the best verses with vendettas.
1) Lynyrd Skynyrd vs Neil Young – Sweet Home Alabama
In his youth, Neil Young had a very dim view of the American South. He wrote two songs – Southern Man and Alabama – which criticised white citizens for building their wealth on the back of slave labour, asking: “When will you pay them back?”
Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant was incensed. “We thought Neil was shooting all the ducks in order to kill one or two,” he said, pointing out that many people had opposed racism and segregation.
His riposte came in Sweet Home Alabama, where he sang: “Well, I hope Neil Young will remember / A Southern Man don’t need him around.”
The song became a huge hit, and even Young loved it.
“Alabama richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me in their greatest song,” he wrote in his 2012 memoir. “I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.”
2) Destiny’s Child vs Destiny’s Child – Survivor
When girl group Destiny’s Child lost three members in quick succession, commentators compared the band to the rotating cast of US reality show Survivor.
That prompted Beyonce into the studio, where she penned a strident anthem to empowerment and resilience.
“Now that you’re out of my life, I’m so much better,” she castigated her former bandmates. “You thought I wouldn’t sell without you, sold nine million.”
Survivor won a Grammy, but two of those former bandmates, Letoya Luckett and LaTavia Roberson, sued Destiny’s Child over the lyrics, contending they made derisive comments about them, in violation of a previous settlement which prevented either party from making “any public comment of a disparaging nature concerning one another”.
The case was eventually dropped – and Beyonce went on to become Beyonce.
3) Prince vs his bodyguard – Old Friends 4 Sale
Written as a response to the turmoil in his personal life after the mania surrounding Purple Rain, Old Friends 4 Sale was one of the most scathing songs Prince ever composed.
It was triggered, in part, by the betrayal of his trusted bodyguard “Big” Chick Huntsberry (above left), who sold a fictitious story about Prince to the National Enquirer, allegedly to fund his cocaine habit.
Prince also takes aim at two former friends “who got stuck in the snow” – another cocaine reference – before concluding: “Some things are better left unsaid / And some people are better left untrusted.”
It’s a mournful, sombre song, unlike almost anything else in Prince’s back catalogue – but it was either too personal or too painful to be released. Prince sat on it until 1991, at which point he re-recorded the vocals, neutering the most caustic lyrics out of sympathy for Huntsberry, who had died a year earlier.
Sadly, that inferior version is the only one that’s been officially released, appearing on the 1999 compilation The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale.
4) Maria McKee vs Benmont Tench via Feargal Sharkey – A Good Heart & You Little Thief
My original plan was to exclude break-up songs from this list – otherwise the entire thing would be the tracklisting for Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – but Feargal Sharkey’s story is too good not to tell (thanks to Penny Andrews for bringing it to my attention).
A Good Heart was a number one single for the former Undertones frontman in 1985, but it was written by Maria “Show Me Heaven” McKee about the end of her relationship with Benmont Tench, the keyboard player in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
As break-up songs go, it’s fairly anodyne – but it prompted a furious response from Tench, who dashed off a red ink reply and sent it to Sharkey.
Called You Little Thief, it contains one of the coldest lyrics in pop: “You little dream / You little nightmare / You little nothing / You little girl”.
The poison darts keep coming for a full five minutes, until Tench rounds off his rant with the devastating couplet: “There’s no hard feelings / There no feelings at all.”
Sharkey released You Little Thief as his next single, and placed the tracks side-by-side on his album – effectively becoming the mouthpiece for this lovers’ quarrel.
Interestingly, Tench recently denied writing You Little Thief about McKee, rewriting this slice of pop history.
5) Pete Doherty vs Carl Barat – You Can’t Stand Me Now
Perhaps The Libertines’ best song, You Can’t Stand Me Now was written in a two star Parisian hotel, just after Pete Doherty was released from prison for burgling guitarist Carl Barat’s flat.
The lyrics are a thinly-veiled account of their love/hate relationship, with references to Doherty’s heroin addiction and his “light fingers”.
The first verse finds them apportioning blame. “You twist and tore our love apart,” accuses Barat, “You know you’ve got it the wrong way round,” retorts Doherty, reprimanding his bandmate for getting him locked up. By the chorus, they’re trading the line “You can’t stand me now”.
Although the song is shot through with affection, the relationship couldn’t withstand Doherty’s addictions, and the Libertines split six months later.
6) Mariah Carey vs Eminem – Obsessed
“Mariah, what ever happened to us, why did we have to break up?” rapped Eminem on his 2009 track Bagpipes From Baghdad.
Mariah’s response? “You’re delusional, boy, you’re losing your mind”.
The pair had allegedly dated for six months in 2001, with Eminem referencing their dalliance in several of his later songs. Mariah always denied the relationship, telling Maxim she’d “hung out” with Eminem “a total of four times. And I don’t consider that dating somebody”.
So when he continued to write about Mariah, she snapped.
“Why you so obsessed with me?” she sang in a barely-disguised tirade. “Lying that you’re sexing me, when everybody knows / It’s clear that you’re upset with me.”
Then came the sucker punch: “Finally found a girl that you couldn’t impress.”
7) Robbie Williams vs Take That – No Regrets
Robbie’s departure from Take That was notoriously rocky. They issued him an ultimatum – “clean up your act or quit the band” – and he called their bluff by quitting to become the UK’s biggest pop star.
But he still harboured a long-standing grudge against Gary Barlow, saying in 2010: “I wanted to crush him. I wanted to crush the memory of the band – and I didn’t let go.”
The anger spilled out on No Regrets, the second single from Williams’ second solo album, I’ve Been Expecting You.
The backing vocals (performed by Neil Tennant) recount his bandmates’ criticisms – from the banal “we’ve been told you stay up late”, to the cruel, “you’re too short to carry weight”.
“I don’t want to hate but that’s all you’ve left me with,” Robbie seethes, before declaring: “I guess the love we had is officially dead”.
They’ve patched things up since – even performing the song together on Take That’s 2011 Progress tour. When Robbie sings it now, the closing lyric is rewritten to say: “The love we have is officially alive.”
Taylor Swift, take note.
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