For all their hubris, musicians are mostly an abnormally sensitive bunch. Any perceived slight, perhaps on a haircut or the colour choice of a designer bandana, is likely to reduce them to a gibbering, feral wreck, lashing out at industry foes, competitors, even friends.
Others love nothing more than stirring the pot, sniping at the first famous name that comes to mind while luxuriating in the sound of their own voice.
The results are often hysterical. These zingers show musicians’ inherent talent for wordplay and wit – plus pettiness, pomposity and profanity.
1. Noel Gallagher on Liam Gallagher
“Liam is the angriest man you’ll ever meet. He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.”
You could write a whole piece in tribute to Gallagher’s acerbic, frequently hilarious one-liners – in fact, we did. Like this one, his best quips are often directed at his now-estranged younger brother.
2. Liam Gallagher on Bono
“You see pictures of Bono running around LA with his little white legs and a bottle of Volvic and he looks like a fanny.”
Bono and Noel Gallagher are great mates, so it probably comes as no surprise that brother Liam isn’t much of a fan. This quote was from an interview back in 2002, but he also gave the following sneering advice to the U2 singer while speaking to The Telegraph in 2007: “Play One and shut the f--k up about Africa.”
3. Bono on Chris Martin
“A completely dysfunctional character and a cretin.”
In a bizarre interview with Radio 1’s Jo Whiley back in 2009, the Irish frontman had already called Coldplay singer Marin a “w---er” before he had a think and doubled down on his criticism. He later added he thought Martin was “a great melodist and up there with Ray Davies, Noel Gallagher and Paul McCartney”.
4. Mark E Smith on Mumford and Sons
“There was this other group warming up… and they were terrible. I said, ‘Shut them c---s up!’ And they were still warming up, so I threw a bottle at them… I just thought they were a load of retarded Irish folk singers.”
A stone-cold classic from the ever-caustic Mark E Smith. The Fall’s frontman gave his colourful review of Mumford and Sons after playing on the same bill as them at the 2010 Electric Picnic festival in Dublin.
5. David Lee Roth on Elvis Costello
“Music critics like Elvis Costello because music critics look like Elvis Costello.”
The Van Halen singer attempted to deflect journalistic criticism of his band with this top-draw one-liner. The actual quote may have been slightly less perfectly formed but the truncated version has gone down in rock insult lore nonetheless. He also added: “Now we have a whole world full of Clark Kents out there.”
6. Elvis Costello on Morrissey
“Morrissey writes wonderful song titles, but sadly he often forgets to write the song.”
Costello is one of pop’s undisputed greats when it comes to words – and he’s never been afraid to use them for bitter or snarky ends. Even the most devoted Morrissey acolyte would struggle to stifle a chuckle at this absolute humdinger. For reference: “I Have Forgiven Jesus”, “The World is Full of Crashing Bores”, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”, “Kick the Bride Down the Aisle”.
7. Morrissey on Brett Anderson
“He’ll never forgive God for not making him Angie Bowie.”
The former Smiths singer is prone to both capricious about-turns and speaking his mind. Here, the androgynous gutter-glam persona of Suede’s Brett Anderson bore the brunt, just months after Morrissey had deemed Anderson’s group likeable enough to cover their early B-side My Insatiable One on his 1992 world tour.
8. Frank Sinatra on Elvis Presley (and rock ’n’ roll)
“It’s the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.”
Ol’ Blue Eyes’s 1957 slur didn’t name any names, but came at a time when Presley was a cultural sensation. Presley was so incensed when he heard the comments that he called a press conference to defend rock ’n’ roll as “the greatest music ever.”
9. Johnny Borrell on The Kooks’ debut album
“It sounds like the band are literally rolling over, sticking their arse in the air and begging Radio 1 to f--- them.”
Showcasing the same elegant command of the English language that saw him rhyme “America” with “America” four times in the chorus of Razorlight’s biggest hit, Borrell expressed his sweary distaste for Brighton indie act The Kooks at a time when the respective bands were chart rivals.
10. Paul Young on Boy George
“Boy George reminds me of an aubergine – all shiny and plump.”
This Eighties pop pair may have performed together on the Band Aid single in 1984, but the usually mild-mannered Young evidently wasn’t a fan of his contemporary.
11. Boy George on Elton John
“All that money, and he’s still got hair like a f-----g dinner lady.”
When Sir Elton decided to perform with Eminem at the 2001 Grammys, Boy George took offence due to the rapper’s perceived homophobia. In his autobiography, he wrote that Sir Elton singing with Eminem “is like me singing with Pol Pot”, but he saved the more personal playground jibes for the tabloids.
12. Elton John on Keith Richards
“It’s like a monkey with arthritis, trying to go onstage and look young.”
Sir Elton fired this verbal volley at The Rolling Stones guitarist in 1997 after Richards called him a funeral accompanist best known for “writing songs for dead blondes”. The B-tch is Back etc.
13. Keith Richards on Mick Jagger
“Marianne Faithfull had no fun with his tiny todger. I know he’s got an enormous pair of balls – but it doesn’t quite fill the gap.”
The Glimmer Twins were once inseparable, but by the Eighties the egos were clashing. Writing in his 2010 autobiography, Richards aimed this low blow at his Rolling Stones bandmate. Unsurprisingly, Jagger was unimpressed, and made a private apology from Richards a prerequisite to the band touring again.
14. Paul Simon on Art Garfunkel
“Arthur and I agree about almost nothing, but it’s true, I have enriched his life quite a bit, now that I think about it.”
When Simon and Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, Art Garfunkel attempted to bury the hatchet with Simon after years of acrimony by praising the latter’s songwriting as having “enormously enriched my life”. His former partner couldn’t quite bring himself to return the compliment.
15. Axl Rose on Slash
“Personally, I consider Slash a cancer and better removed, avoided – and the less anyone hears of him or his supporters, the better.”
Guitarist Slash left Guns N’ Roses in 1996, but tensions had been simmering between him and singer Axl Rose for years. The falling out is variously attributed to Slash’s spiralling drug abuse, Rose’s tempestuous tantrums and egomania – or mere burnout. But their former manager Doug Goldstein told Rolling Stone Brazil in 2015 that Slash’s decision to work with Michael Jackson in the early Nineties had upset Rose, who was a victim of sexual abuse as a child.
16. Slash on Axl Rose
“I once asked Axl why he left the ‘E’ off his name. He started crying and said he thought he’d spelt it right”.
Right back at you, Axl(e)…
17. Paul Weller on James Blunt
“I’d rather eat my own s--t than duet with James Blunt.”
The Modfather articulated the thoughts of a nation ahead of the 2006 Brit Awards, where he and singer-songwriter Blunt were both due to perform. See also Weller’s thoughts on Sting: “He’s a horrible man. Not my cup of tea at all. F---ing rubbish. No edge, no attitude, no nothing.”
18. James Blunt on Damon Albarn
"I was just the only one who didn't hide my accent. I mean, come on, Damon Albarn, he's right up there. He's got an orchard full of plums in his mouth and a silver spoon stuck up his a**e."
It’s now universal knowledge that British singer-songwriter James Blunt is as sharp in real life as he is dull on record (see his Twitter for confirmation). Here, he went on the attack after one too many pejorative comments about his “poshness” – and Blur’s sometime-mockney frontman gets caught in the crossfire.
19. Dave Davies on Ray Davies
“Ray’s an a---hole. You’ve heard of vampires? Well, Ray sucks me dry of ideas, emotions and creativity.”
Before the Gallaghers, there were the Davies. The Kinks’ eternally warring brothers have traded barbs (and often punches) since the 1960s. Dave never felt like he got enough recognition for his contribution to the band from his “narcissist” older brother, while Ray has said Dave is too proud to bury the hatchet. Time hasn’t been a healer; this quip from Dave came from an interview in 2010.
20. Nick Cave on the Red Hot Chili Peppers
“I’m forever near a stereo saying, ‘What the f--- is this garbage?’ And the answer is always the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
This waggish swipe by the Bad Seeds frontman at funky American alt-rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers upset bassist Flea enough for him to write about it on the band’s official website. You can almost hear his lip trembling as he calls Cave “one of my favourite songwriters and singers and musicians of all time.” Poor old Flea.
21. Jack White on The Black Keys
“I’ll hear TV commercials where I think it’s me. Half the time, it’s the Black Keys.”
The White Stripes’ frontman has taken considerable umbrage with what he sees as the derivative blues-rock style of Ohio counterparts The Black Keys. After a war of words mostly propagated by White, the two factions almost came to blows at a gig in New York in 2015. They’ve since cooled tensions and declared their respect for one another.
22. John Lennon on Ringo Starr
“He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles.”
A slightly dubious one, this. The oft-quoted quip was attributed to Lennon by The Times decades ago; he supposedly said it in response to a journalist’s question in the late-Sixties about whether Starr was the best drummer in the world. It seemed plausible; towards the end of The Beatles’ career, Paul McCartney played drums on a handful of tracks. But when author Mark Lewisohn was writing a biography of Starr in 2013, he did some digging and found that the quote likely originated from a comedian’s joke in 1983. Never let the truth get in the way of a good rock insult.
23. Marc Almond on Jimmy Somerville
“He thinks I should do more for the gay community, and he’s right. I should strangle him.”
Just a year after these two Eighties pop stars collaborated on a cover of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love in 1984, the relationship appeared to have soured. In a 2015 interview with The Quietus, however, Somerville spoke fondly of recording the song with Almond, so it seems they’ve buried the hatchet.
24. Rat Scabies (The Damned) on Billy Bragg
“What’s Billy Bragg gonna change? All he’s doing is telling people that Thatcher’s a cow. Well, I think most people know that, don’t they?”
The drummer for London punk band The Damned wasn’t impressed by Bragg’s tenure as the leader of Red Wedge, a collective of Labour-supporting musicians who attempted to engage young people in politics.
25. Richey Edwards on The Levellers
“You could go to any Levellers concert and stand in the middle and shout, ‘Jeremy!’, and 75% of the audience would turn round.”
The then-Manic Street Preachers guitarist and songwriter had a piercing wit and wasn’t scared of skewering contemporary bands – in this case Brighton anarcho-rock-folk act The Levellers (and their hippy-ish fans). Around this time, Edwards also said “I’ll always hate Slowdive more than I hate Hitler”.
26. Courtney Love on Trent Reznor
“Don’t call your band Nine Inch Nails if you have a three-inch one”.
Courtney Love’s public spats (Dave Grohl, Billy Corgan, Kathleen Hanna, Steve Albini) could fill their own Wikipedia page. Here she does her version of a one-line kiss-and-tell story about the man she reportedly had a fling with in 1994.
27. Trent Reznor on Chris Cornell
“You know that feeling you get when somebody embarrasses themselves so badly you feel uncomfortable? Heard Chris Cornell’s record? Jesus.”
This 2009 Twitter mudslinger from the Nine Inch Nails man was a reaction to the former Soundgarden singer’s largely derided solo album Scream, a collaboration with hip-hop producer Timbaland. But the beef between the two Nineties US rock icons has a sad postscript. Cornell committed suicide in 2017 and Reznor expressed his regret at the tweet, describing Cornell as a “gentleman” and revealing that the two had buried the hatchet years before.
28. Robbie Williams on Noel Gallagher
“He’s a mean-spirited dwarf.”
Two more pop stars with previous. Liam Gallagher was befriended by Williams shortly before he exited Take That in 1995. The union culminated in the pair partying at Glastonbury together, but, perhaps sensing it was hurting the credibility of what was then the biggest band in Britain’s credibility, Noel soon got the hump. He called Williams “the fat dancer from Take That” and the rest is history.
29. James Hetfield on Mötley Crüe
“One time we saw some hookers but when we got closer we realised it was Mötley Crüe.”
Where do you start with Mötley Crüe? As if the hair-metal music wasn’t bad enough, the hair was pretty awful too. Extremely cruel on the local working girls, if you ask me. For a (slightly) more eloquent roasting, see veteran critic Robert Christgau’s review of their 1984 album Shout At the Devil.
30. Joni Mitchell on Bob Dylan
“Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”
These two folk legends met in 1969 and shared the same bill on several occasions. But apparently they never got on. Mitchell was reportedly hurt when Dylan feigned falling asleep and snoring when the Canadian singer played him a preview of 1974 album Court and Spark. She publicly got her own back with this quote from an LA Times interview in 2010.
31. Bob Dylan on Led Zeppelin
“I don’t come to you with my problems, do I?”
The notoriously grouchy Robert Zimmerman gave this prickly riposte to Led Zeppelin’s manager after he had the temerity to introduce himself at a concert in the mid-Seventies with “Hello Bob, I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin.” After a short pause, Dylan made his feelings on the band crystal-clear.
32. Moby / Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on Eminem
“He should lighten up. I mean, my mom was a b---h too, but I don’t go writing songs about it.”
These two’s beef began when the bespectacled electronic act called the rapper a “misogynist, a homophobe, a racist and an anti-Semite” at the 2001 Grammys. Eminem responded by dissing Moby in his hit Without Me, and then threatened to punch him at the 2002 VMAs. In a quote which seems to have been wrongly attributed over time, this stinging retort actually came via the website of hand puppet Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, whose puppeteer Robert Smigel was sat close to Moby at the VMAs. We like to think Moby had a hand in it too though, so to speak.
33. Billy Joel on Christian Aguilera
“Pick a note and sit on it for a while, OK?”
American pop singer Aguilera is famed for her melismatic delivery and ostentatious vocal “runs”. Joel, however, was mightily unimpressed when quizzed on her in 2001.
34. Gene Simmons on Carlos Santana
“I’m sick and tired of these bands like Carlos Santana looking at his shoes and thinking that’s a rock concert. Get off the stage.”
Back in 2005, virtuoso Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana described Simmons’ glam-metal act Kiss as “Las Vegas entertainment” and thus they “wouldn’t know what music was”. Simmons waited five years to devise a comeback befitting of his band’s penchant for rock pyrotechnics. See also: “I admire bands like Radiohead, but the idea of being that serious? F--- that, get up on stage and blow s--- up.”
35. Alan McGee on Coldplay
The firebrand former Creation records owner – and the man who discovered Oasis – didn’t pull his punches when writing about the Mercury Prize list in 2000. McGee later described Coldplay as “the dictionary definition of corporate rock”, and described singer Chris Martin as “about as weird as Phil Collins”.
36. Joanna Newsom on Lady Gaga
“Lady Gaga? She’s Arty Spice.”
In a 2010 Guardian interview, the American harpist and singer-songwriter delivered a meandering screed about how her countrywoman Lady Gaga was being lauded by “smart outlets for music journalism”. To cut a long quote short, Newsom’s main gripe was that Gaga was no better than the usual platinum pop product – she just had better clothes. For emphasis, she added: “[Gaga] is the new Madonna, but Madonna’s a dumb-ass.”
37. Corey Taylor from Slipknot on Nickelback’s Chad Kroeger
“Chad Kroeger is to rock what KFC is to chicken.”
Bashing Nickelback’s poodle-haired frontman may be the rock-insult equivalent of taking candy from a baby, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t still funny. Here, the Slipknot frontman was responding to Kroeger’s assertion that his mask-wearing metal act were a “gimmick”. Just to keep things strictly schoolyard, Taylor added that Kroeger has “a face like a foot”.
38. Etta James on Beyoncé
“She’s gonna get her ass whupped. I can’t stand her. She had no business up there, on a big ol’ President day, singing my song that I’ve been singing forever.”
After Beyoncé performed At Last at the US president’s inauguration ball in 2007, legendary soul singer James unleashed this scornful rant at a gig in Seattle. James later claimed she had just been joking – and Beyoncé paid tribute to her when she died in 2012.
39. John Lydon on The Offspring
“Punk is like looking at a mirror. I already have a mirror so I don’t need The Offspring to remind me how gorgeous I am.”
Does this quite make sense? Is it a non-sequitur? It’s difficult to tell. Either way, the former Sex Pistol manages to be both thought-provoking, silly and a bit offensive all at once – his signature triumvirate of emotional triggers.
40. Charlotte Church on Pete Doherty
“He creates all this misery for himself to write songs, and then doesn’t even turn up to play them”.
The classical singer turned pop act gave short shrift to The Libertines man Doherty’s well-documented personal issues. To top things off, she also called him a “w---er”.
41. Freddie Mercury on Billy Idol
“Is he just doing a bad Elvis pout, or was he born that way?”
The Queen singer had an uneasy relationship with the punk scene – indeed, many punk bands felt it was their duty to stamp out the kind of floral rock classicism that Mercury and co delivered. The feeling was mutual, judging by this 1979 barb about the peroxide-blonde punk Idol.
42. Terry Hall on The Specials
“Basically, the rest of The Specials were a load of prats.”
In 1983, two years after he left The Specials and formed Fun Boy Three along with fellow former Specials Lynval Golding and Neville Staple, Terry Hall took aim at his other ex-bandmates with this quintessentially English insult.
43. Pete Burns on Lionel Richie
“He’s got a chin like an ironing board.”
Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns was another Eighties star who liked to talk (see also: Boy George, Morrissey). Some might contend that this was a compliment on the strength of the soul-lite singer’s jawline – but Burns’s form suggests that this probably wasn’t the case.
44. Alison Moyet on Culture Club’s Helen Terry
“I used to be compared with [Culture Club’s] Helen Terry. But that was simply because we were a couple of fat birds.”
The ex-Yazoo singer is nothing if not self-deprecating, though her Culture Club counterpart may have been been understandably cheesed off at being collateral damage in this 1987 quote.
45. The Cure’s Robert Smith on Morrissey
“If Morrissey says not to eat meat, then I’ll eat meat. That’s how much I hate Morrissey.”
Despite both being heroes for successive generations of British indie fans, The Cure’s Robert Smith and The Smiths’ Morrissey never saw eye-to-eye. The two have slung mud in each other’s directions since the Eighties, when Morrissey called Smith “a fat clown with make-up weeping over a guitar” in the NME.
46. Shane MacGowan on Morrissey
“If Morrissey’s a genius, then what’s he doing in a f---ing pop group?”
When The Pogues’ singer was sober enough to be intelligible, he had a gift for one-liners, like this 1987 Morrissey missile. See also his quote on Elvis Costello: “We chose Steve Lillywhite to produce our album because he wasn’t as fat and sweaty as our previous producer.”
47. Morrissey on The Smiths
“Anything I know about them is unpleasant, so why on earth do we want to be on stage together making music?”
Eighteen years after the band had split, this was Morrissey’s response to the suggestion of a reunion. He joins Terry Hall in the not-so-exclusive “Eighties legends slagging off their old bandmates” club.
48. Alice Cooper on Marilyn Manson
“Marilyn Manson? Yeah, really original. Stick some make-up on and give yourself a girl’s name. That’s never been done.”
In the time-honoured tradition of musicians pilfering what they can from past generations but being extremely non-plussed when any new pretenders do the same to them, Cooper called out the alternative-metal frontman in 1999.
49. John Martyn on Phil Collins
“Everything has gone wrong in my life and I blame it on Phil Collins. He told me I should buy this computer, but after 18 months of going ‘plink plonk’ I lost half the tracks.”
Folk singer Martyn and pop behemoth Collins became close in the early Eighties when they were both going through divorces, and the latter produced the former’s 1981 album Glorious Fool. The two were still friends when Martyn died in 2009, so this quote from nine years earlier can probably be viewed as good-natured joshing.
50. Derek Smalls (Spinal Tap) on Craig David
“You see blokes like Craig David meet a girl on Monday and make love by Wednesday. What’s the delay? Craig needs to work on his approach.”
Spinal Tap might be a fictional heavy metal band, but it doesn’t stop their members weighing in on pop culture every once in a while. Here, Derek Smalls (played in the film/real life by Harry Shearer) scoffs at British garage/RnB singer David’s pulling technique.
51. Joni Mitchell on Taylor Swift
“I don't know what her music sounds like, but I do know this – that if she’s going to sing and play me, good luck.”
Clearly not one to pull punches, Joni Mitchell discussed the idea of being played by Taylor Swift in a biopic with palpable disdain. She did concede that there was a physical similarity: “She looks similarly small hipped and high cheekbones.”
52. Bryan Ferry on Brian Eno
“It's too easy to make music like that.”
Speaking of his former bandmate back in 1979, Roxy Music’s founder and frontman couldn’t summon much enthusiasm. Ferry is now more affectionate about Eno, who is credited with being a pioneer of modern music. Ferry admitted in 2014 that “some guys, like Brian Eno, are completely remarkable”. Credit where credit’s due.
53. Aretha Franklin on Nicki Minaj
“Nicki Minaj, hmm… now I’m gonna pass on that one.”
The Queen of Soul didn’t even dignify Minaj with an insult. When asked about today’s biggest popstars, Franklin was keen to compliment Beyoncé and Adele; but Taylor Swift and the Super Bass singer weren’t afforded much praise. Although she did admit that Swift wore “great gowns”. Better than nothing.
54. Cher on Miley Cyrus
“I didn’t think it was her best effort.”
Sounding like a disappointed teacher, Cher subtly slammed Cyrus’s appearance at the VMAs back in 2013. A performance which brought the word “twerk” into the public lexicon, Cher wasn’t the only onlooker who was less than impressed by the controversial display.
55. Noel Gallagher on Ed Sheeran
“He’s got a heart of gold – he’s got a heart of ginger, actually – but I do think his music is vastly overrated.”
Prefacing his insult with an uncharacteristic nicety, Noel Gallagher couldn’t resist making a jibe about Ed Sheeran’s music, and his hair colour. Taking the rock legend’s digs in good spirits, Sheeran once offered Gallagher tickets to his Wembley show. Gallagher took the opportunity to continue the ribbing, saying, “You cheeky so-and-so. My daughter would love some.”
From Liam Gallagher to Billy Joel, share your favourite rock insults in the comments section below.