15 Non-Rap Diss Songs Done Right

When we think of diss records, our minds immediately jump to hip-hop, a world often predicated on competition, one-upmanship, and clever lyrical jabs. We could spend hours listing favorites, debating the best and the most scathing--Jay-Z's "The Takeover," Nas' "Ether," 2Pac's "Hit Em Up," Common's "The Bitch In Yoo," KRS-One's "The Bridge Is Over," to name but a paltry, famous few.

Today, however, our attention turns away from rap to other genres that don't typically get attention for their use of diss songs (or, as is the case with several songs in this list, "response" songs inspired by a particular happening or person that don't necessarily attack anything or anyone directly). Rock, soul, pop, and even drum n' bass can, of course, prove just as witty, cutting, and vicious as any rap diss, often introducing a level of cleverness and obscurity uncommon to style of song usually best served by directness.

Buckle up and enjoy some of the finest examples of non-rap diss songs done right.

[Justin Timberlake - "Cry Me A River&" Disses: Britney Spears ]

Justin Timberlake - "Cry Me A River"
Disses: Britney Spears

"Cry Me A River" is infectious proof of the old adage "success is the best revenge." As the second single from Justin Timberlake's debut solo album, "Cry Me A River" climbed to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, #3 on the Billboard US Pop Chart, and #2 on the UK Singles Chart, topping his first single "Like I Love You" and ultimately landing the singer a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Written and recorded after an argument with ex-girlfriend Britney Spears, Justin hopped in the studio with producer Timbaland and exorcized his relationship demons with a massive, cutting chorus, "You told me you loved me/Why did you leave me, all alone?" The video added further insult to injury, depicting Timberlake exacting revenge on a Spears doppelgänger.

[Twisted Individual -"Bandwagon Blues" Disses: Distorted Minds ]

Twisted Individual - "Bandwagon Blues"
Disses: Distorted Minds

In 2003, a particular brand of dancefloor-ready drum and bass was gaining prominence, and, subsequently, being reworked by different producers. Twisted Individual had logged numerous releases on DJ SS' Formation Recordings, establishing his unique style and humor (along with a knack for imaginative, crude song titles). A new duo on the scene, Distorted Minds, had one of their first massive hits, "T-10," on the now-legendary Breakbeat Kaos imprint, and the heavyweight banger definitely bore resemblance to Twisted's style, from the energy-fueled bassline to the sound of the drums.

Drum & Bass, and much of EDM itself isn't really built on "beef" or diss tracks, mind you, so when Twisted decided to mock this tune with a track entitled "Bandwagon Blues," even mimicking the "t-minus" countdown from "T-10" (ending with the nasty "oh fuck this"), it set the online dnb community into a tizzy. It was sharp, humorous, and left no question who the darts were aimed at.

[Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl" Disses: Courtney Love ]

Gwen Stefani - "Hollaback Girl"
Disses: Courtney Love

As she worked to complete her first solo album, Gwen Stefani found herself in the studio with super producer Pharrell, discussing what the album lacked--there was no "attitude song." In searching for inspiration, Stefani turned to a quote from Courtney Love she recalled reading: "Being famous is just like being in high school. But I'm not interested in being the cheerleader. I'm not interested in being Gwen Stefani. She's the cheerleader, and I'm out in the smoker shed."

Stefani responded in a 2005 interview with NME: "Y'know someone one time called me a cheerleader, negatively, and I've never been a cheerleader. So I was, like, 'OK, fuck you. You want me to be a cheerleader? Well, I will be one then. And I'll rule the whole world, just you watch me.'"

The sound of saying fuck you to Courtney Love and marching to rule the whole world? "Hollaback Girl," which climbed all the way to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and cemented Stefani (at least for a time) as marquee solo act.

[The Beatles - "Helter Skelter" Disses: The Who]

The Beatles - "Helter Skelter"
Disses: The Who

"Helter Skelter" isn't an out and out attack on a particular artist, but rather a sly thumbing of the nose. In Fall of 1967, Paul McCartney read a review for The Who's "I Can See For Miles," which described the song as a wailing apocalyptic force coming to devour unsuspecting rock listeners.

When Paul actually heard the record, he recalls being unimpressed: "I thought 'that's a pity. I would like to do something like that.' Then I heard it and it was nothing like it. It was straight and sophisticated. So we did ['Helter Skelter']. I like noise."

The resultant record--a hellish, clarion-call of a rock record, prefiguring some of metal's maximalism and heavy tuned-down tendencies--responded to critical perception of The Who, a sweltering bout of oneupsmanship that announced in typically shrewd Beatles fashion: Anything you can do, we can do better.

[Morrissey - "Margaret on the Guillotine" Disses: Margaret Thatcher]

Morrissey - "Margaret on the Guillotine"
Disses: Margaret Thatcher

Morrissey begins the lilting, melancholy "Margaret on the Guillotine" with some harsh words for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher: "The kind people/Have a wonderful dream/Margaret on the Guillotine."As if the message wasn't already clear enough, the famously outspoken former Smith's frontman repeats the charming refrain "When will you die?" six times to close out the song's first verse.

"Margaret on the Guillotine" (the closing track from Morrissey's appropriately titled Viva Hate) is a diss far darker and more globally-minded than many other's in rock's canon, calling for the queen's head as it starts and ending abruptly with what sounds like the slamming shut of a prison door or, for the more morbidly inclined, the thwack of the guillotine.

[Queen - "Death on Two Legs" Disses: Norman Sheffield (Queen"s ex-manager)]

Queen - "Death on Two Legs"
Disses: Norman Sheffield (Queen's ex-manager)

Hell might have no fury like a woman scorned, but the ire of a rock singer in peak form can come pretty close. After years of alleged mistreatment at the hands of former manager Norman Sheffield, Queen sharped their knives and aimed them squarely at Sheffield, never referencing him by name, but leaving little room for interpretation as to the band's feelings: "You suck my blood like a leech/You break the law and you preach/Screw my brain till it hurts/You've taken all my money--and you want more."

Upon the song's release, an indignant Sheffield attempted to sue Queen for defamation, reportedly settling out of court with EMI (the owners of the publishing rights) before the album's release.

Though Queen never apologized, lead singer Freddie Mercury did note in a 1977 interview with Circus Magazine, "It's so vindictive that Brian [May] felt bad singing it. I don't like to explain what I was thinking when I wrote a song. I think that's awful, just awful."

[Paul McCartney - "Too Many People" Disses: John Lennon & Yoko Ono]

Paul McCartney - "Too Many People"
Disses: John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Shortly after the dissolution of the Beatles, Paul McCartney released two solo albums, McCartney and Ram. The latter, released in 1971, contained the charged "Too Many People," which chastised John Lennon for being a bit of an empty moralizer, claiming, "too many people preaching practices/don't let 'em tell you what you want to be" in response to John getting a bit preachy in the Beatles' waning days.

McCartney also mocks Lennon's decision to ostensibly choose Yoko Ono over his former band, with the refrain "you took your lucky break and broke it in two" suggesting that Lennon traded his shot at greatness in a singular, successful unit for the sake of romance and, secondarily, experimentation as a musical duo.

Though brief jabs, these lines (and "3 Legs" and "Dear Boy," other songs on Ram that Lennon perceived as slights) would awaken the ire of McCartney's former songwriting partner.

[Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know" Disses: Dave Coulier (Full House actor)]

Alanis Morissette - "You Oughta Know"
Disses: Dave Coulier (Full House actor)

In the pantheon of scornful songs about exes, "You Oughta Know" reigns supreme, an absolutely blistering four minutes that introduced Alanis Morissette to the wider world as the voice of jilted, empowered women in the 1990s. Unflinching, unabashedly sexual, and anything but kind, "You Oughta Know" sunk its teeth into a former lover with anthemic abandon.

A litany of celebrities and semi-stars have been rumored to be the object of Morissette's rage: comedian Bob Saget, pro hockey player Mike Peluso, actor Matt Leblanc, and musician/producer Leslie Howe (who produced Morissette's first two albums). The man in question? Full House's Dave Coulier, a seemingly unlikely target, considering no one is writing diss songs about other Full House stars (off the hook, there, Saget!).

Though Morissette has enjoyed a lengthy career, "You Oughta Know" remains the incisive, unforgettable cornerstone of her catalog.

[Carly Simon - "You"re So Vain" Disses (Allegedly): Warren Beatty, Dan Armstrong, Jim Hart]

Carly Simon - "You're So Vain" Disses (Allegedly): Warren Beatty, Dan Armstrong, Jim Hart

Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is one of the great musical send offs to an ex-lover, a blistering take down of an arrogant former flame and reflection on youthful naivete. To be sure, it nails someone, but the identity of that someone has been subject to debate.

Once believed to be Mick Jagger, that rumor was shot down on a number of occasions by Simon (whose denial is possibly corroborated by Jagger's presence on the track as a backup vocalist).

The three prime suspects for Simon's ire are actor and 70s sex symbol Warren Beatty, guitarist, guitar-maker, and former Simon paramour Dan Armstrong, and ex-husband Jim Hart. Each of the three fits into the "letter clues" Simon has revealed over the years, the name of the man in question contains the letters A, E, and R (Armstrong's full name is Daniel Armstrong).

Regardless of the song's subject, "You're So Vain" remains a classic indictment of naive young lovers (Simon)

[Foo Fighters - "I"ll Stick Around" Disses: Courtney Love]

Foo Fighters - "I'll Stick Around"
Disses: Courtney Love

In the wake of Kurt Cobain's suicide, widow Courtney Love and former bandmates Dave Grohl and Krist Novaselic engaged in a contentious, often highly personal battle for royalties and song rights--a feud that, particularly between Love and Grohl, has persisted with serious vigor well beyond its initial stages in the dark days after Nirvana's untimely dissolution.

Though Love has fired a number of shots at Grohl in the media, the former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters lead singer used the Foo's debut album to rip Courtney with scathing salvo "I'll Stick Around."

With its shouted chorus, "I don't owe you anything," Grohl made two things abundantly clear: one, he wanted nothing to do with Love, and two, he didn't feel any stake in Nirvana should be hers. Having told Cobain about Love, the Foo Fighters singer both lamented his introduction and chastised Love, singing "I should have known, you were better off alone" and questioning the widow's entire image: "I'm the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity."

[The Sex Pistols - "New York" Disses: New York Dolls]

The Sex Pistols - "New York"
Disses: New York Dolls

The Sex Pistols' scathing "New York" wastes very little time in assaulting its target, the New York Dolls:

"An imitation from New York
You're made in Japan from cheese and chalk
You're hippy tarts hero
Cos you put on a bad show
Oh don't it show"

As punk's primary rabble rousers and a band that perceived themselves originators of the sound and attitude, the Pistols looked at the Dolls as, well, "just a pile of shit." Unlike some of the songs on this list, "New York" lobs a viciously unsubtle and often vulgar series of barbs and insults the Dolls, impeaching the band's sound, style, tour locations, and even their drugs of choice. In typical Pistols fashion, "New York" pulls no punches.

[Woody Guthrie - "This Land Is Your Land" Disses: Irving Berlin]

Woody Guthrie - "This Land Is Your Land"
Disses: Irving Berlin

As one of the most enduring songs from one of America's great songwriters, Woody Guthrie, "This Land Is Your Land" is one of the most covered celebrated entries in the American songbook. In its most widely known form--showcased on first published version of the song in 1944 and taught to countless schoolchildren across the states--it reads largely as a celebration of America, its land and its culture.

The original version, written in 1940, reveals a far different reality, containing two subsequently omitted verses about private property, poverty, and hunger.

The pointed political observations of the 1940 version (which you can hear below) came as a response to Irving Berlin's jingoistic "God Bless America," which Guthrie considered a foolish vision of the United States. Written out of frustration with having to hear "God Bless America" on the radio, Guthrie penned "This Land Is Your Land" (originally titled "God Blessed America"), striking back at Berlin's unwavering patriotism with a vision both critical and celebratory.

[Marvin Gaye - Here, My Dear Dissing: His wife & Motown]

Marvin Gaye - Here, My Dear
Dissing: His wife & Motown

In the history of the music industry there have been some spectacular middle finger's raised to exes, ex-bandmates, public figures, and labels alike. Rarely do any of these so completely wish to spite their targets as Marvin Gaye's sprawling double album Here, My Dear, a brilliant assault.

As Gaye's popularity crested inn 1976, two years before the release of Here, My Dear, his wife Anna Gordy Gaye (whose name might ring familiar: she is the sister of Berry Gordy, Motown founder and Gaye's boss at the time) served him with papers for a divorce. Though he was experiencing tremendous popular success, Gay had squandered most of his earnings on a lavish lifestyle (which included his steadily worsening cocaine habit), making alimony and child support payments an impossibility. Gaye's attorney provided a solution: split royalties from Marvin's next album with his wife.

Gaye jumped into the studio intent on making a dull album that would tank commercially. Somewhere along the way, he decided to transform it into a dazzlingly acerbic meditation on his ex, the process of divorce, and a number of mature and occasionally puzzling topics (such as on the demonstrably titled "A Funky Space Reincarnation").

As Gaye had hoped, the album landed in stores and critics' minds with an absolute thud, accomplishing the dual goal of limiting his alimony payments and sending deeply personal shots at his ex-wife.

In the time since its release, Here, My Dear has seen tremendous reevaluation from critics who came to praise its inventive, raw songwriting, complex composition, and overall ambition.

[Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama" Disses: Neil Young]

Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama"
Disses: Neil Young

As the almost undisputed crown jewel in Lynyrd Skynyrd's cultural legacy (someone's always gonna shout "Freebird," after all), "Sweet Home Alabama" has been performed, covered, and karaoke'd to death. It is one of rock radio's towering pillars, a song we'll likely never get rid of. Over saturation, however, doesn't prevent "Sweet Home Alabama" from packing one of music's greatest disses, a dismissal as bitter and succinct as anything rap has to offer (a kindred spirite to the end of Jay-Z's "The Takeover": "And to y'all other cats throwin shots at Jigga/y'all only get half a bar/fuck y'all n*ggas").

On 1973's "Southern Man" and "Alabama," legendary rocker Neil Young delivered critical indictments of the culture of the American South that perpetuated the racist sentiments historically harbored in the region.

A year later, Lynyrd Skynyrd fired back with what has come to be rather incorrectly interpreted as an anthem of unabashed Southern pride, aiming a four-bar arrowhead straight at Young for painting Southerners with too broad a brush:

"Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow"

As Ronnie Van Zant sings the first line of the four at around 55 seconds, producer Al Kooper can be heard quietly singing "Southern Man," imitating Neil Young and adding another layer to the jab. Though the war of words between Young and Skynyrd ultimately packed no personal venom (the artists declared mutual respect for one another), "Sweet Home Alabama" contains one of music's great, plainspoken responses, a lasting reminder that Lynyrd Skynyrd was a bit cleverer than the drunk guy belting "Lord I'm coming home to you!" at the end of the bar would have you believe.

[John Lennon - "How Do You Sleep?" Dissing: Paul McCartney ]

John Lennon - "How Do You Sleep?"
Dissing: Paul McCartney

After Paul took a swipe at John and Yoko on "Too Many People" 1971, the typically peaceful Lennon awoke his sharp tongue and acerbic wit for the absolutely searing "How Do You Sleep." In a charged, orchestral five and a half minutes, Lennon accuses McCartney of being a washed up cuckold surrounded by yes men, cleverly incorporating lyrics and titles of Beatles and McCartney songs to to mock his former bandmate's abilities.

The most damning words may come in the third and final verse:

"A pretty face may last a year or two
But pretty soon they'll see what you can do
The sound you make is muzak to my ears
You must have learned something in all those years"

What began with McCartney critiquing Lennon for being too preachy ended with Lennon damning McCartney's music as soft, empty trifle, disposable and soon to be forgotten, the final line suggesting John (and, by extension, the experience of working with the Beatles) as teacher and McCartney as student.

"How Do You Sleep" assaults McCartney as a man and artist, aggrandizing Lennon by comparison, a bout of incisive braggadocio as biting as any in the hallowed halls of diss songs.

The recording was reportedly so harsh--with certain more vulgar sections being edited out for the final cut--that Ringo Starr told Lennon, "That's enough, John," during a visit to a session.


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