Non hip-hop diss tracks, from The Beatles to Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift

Kendrick Lamar and Drake may currently be embroiled in one of rap’s biggest beefs, but these nine songs are proof the diss track goes way beyond rap

Taylor Swift is the queen of the modern pop diss track, taking exes, former friends and managers to task in song. Reuters
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The diss track is firmly back in the spotlight thanks to rap titans Kendrick Lamar and Drake going head-to-head online.

Rap and hip-hop may have the modern monopoly on the diss track, but the notion of tearing someone apart in song or subtly critiquing them in a way that keeps fans guessing has been around for a long time, as these pop, rock and RnB tracks show…

1. And Your Bird Can Sing, The Beatles (1966)

Biggest diss: “You tell me that you've got everything you want, And your bird can sing”

Released on The Beatles Revolver album, And Your Bird Can Sing was purportedly about Rolling Stones’s frontman Mick Jagger and his singer girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull.

With “bird” a slang term for girlfriend in the UK, the song is about a man who seems to have everything but, wrote Lennon and McCartney “You don't get me", seemingly a reference to Jagger not being able to have their song writing skills.

The two bands had initially engaged in a friendly artistic rivalry as each jockeyed for chart supremacy, and it was George Harrison who helped the Stones sign to The Beatles' record label, Decca.

Trouble started brewing when John Lennon began to feel that the Stones, who McCartney had previously dismissed as a "blues cover band”, were copying The Beatles' sound and direction.

Lennon later told Rolling Stone magazine: "Every ******* thing we did, Mick does exactly the same – he imitates us. You know, Satanic Majesties is Pepper.”

2. You’re So Vain, Carly Simon (1972)

Biggest diss: “You're so vain, You probably think this song is about you”

One of the most famous take downs of an egotistical ladies man in music history, speculation about who Simon wrote the song about continues to this day.

Having dated Mick Jagger, Kris Kristofferson and Jack Nicholson, among others, it was long rumoured that the song was about Oscar-winning actor and director, Warren Beatty.

Simon later told People that the second verse is about Beatty and that another of its subjects had the letters a, e and r in his name, making Jagger and Simon’s ex-husband, singer James Taylor, prime suspects.

3. Sweet Home Alabama, Lynyrd Skynyrd (1974)

Biggest diss: “Well, I heard Mr Young sing about her, Well, I heard ol' Neil put her down, Well, I hope Neil Young will remember, A Southern man don't need him around, anyhow”

Arguably the Florida rock band’s most famous song, Sweet Home Alabama features a chorus dedicated to singer-songwriter, Neil Young, after two of Young’s songs, 1970 track, Southern Man and the 1962 song Alabama, took the American south to task for what he saw as its racist attitude.

Young's song, Alabama featured lines such as: "Oh, Alabama, The devil fools with the best laid plan", while in Southern Man he sang, "I saw cotton and I saw black, Tall white mansions and little shacks."

Lynyrd Skynyrd thought Young was generalising the entire south and Young would later write in his book Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream that Southern Man was "accusatory and condescending".

For their part, Lynyrd Skynyrd felt their song was misconstrued and in fact carried an anti-racism message, evidenced in lines such as: "In Birmingham, they love the governor (boo boo boo)", a reference to Birmingham, Alabama governor George Wallace who enforced segregation in the 1950s and 1960s.

4. Ego Tripping Out, Marvin Gaye (1981)

Biggest diss: “Hey homeboy how come everywhere you go you have to go by limousine man”

Gaye’s track Ego Tripping Out is rumoured to have been written about soul and RnB singer Teddy Pendergrass.

Pendergrass rose to solo fame after leaving Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in 1976 and went on to release five consecutive platinum albums.

Gaye was said to have felt Pendergrass lacked humility and so took a fictional narcissistic man to task in the track.

5. Miracle Man, Ozzy Osbourne (1988)

Biggest diss: “Now Jimmy, he got busted, With his pants down, Repent ye wretched sinners, Self-righteous clown”

Ozzy Osbourne wrote Miracle Man with his bandmates Zakk Wylde and Bob Daisley about the American Pentecostal televangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggart.

Swaggart had constantly railed against Osbourne since 1985 when a story emerged about a teenager in the US who had killed himself while listening to Osbourne’s Suicide Solution.

Swaggart was later caught by police in two separate scandals and cried on US television while admitting, “I have sinned".

6. You Oughta Know, Alanis Morissette (1995)

Biggest diss: “Did you forget about me, Mr Duplicity?”

In the lead track from the Canadian singer-songwriter’s third album, the five Grammy award-winning Jagged Little Pill, Morissette takes an ex-boyfriend to task in one of rock’s most rage-filled anthems.

Although Morissette has never revealed who the song is about, it’s widely believed that US actor and comedian Dave Coulier, who she dated from 1992 to 1994, is the Mr Duplicity in question.

The pair met and started dating while both starring in different Nickelodeon shows in Canada. Coulier revealed he first heard the song on the radio while in his car and initially called rumours attaching his name to the song an "urban legend", later admitting he believes it is about him.

"I’m listening to the lyrics going, ‘Ooh, oh no. Oh, I can’t be this guy’," he told Sirius XM. "And I went to the record store, bought the CD and I went and I parked on a street and I listened to the whole record. I started listening to it and I thought, ‘I may have really hurt this woman'."

7. I’ll Stick Around, Foo Fighters (1995)

Biggest diss: “How could it be I'm the only one who sees, Your rehearsed insanity?”

The track accompanied Foo Fighters' first music video and for years fans believed the song, with its “I don’t owe you anything” chorus was about lead singer Dave Grohl’s late Nirvana bandmate, Kurt Cobain.

In 2009, Grohl told his biographer Paul Brannigan: “I don't think it's any secret that I'll Stick Around is about Courtney [Love]".

8. Get What You Give, New Radicals (1998)

Biggest diss: “Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson, Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson, You’re all fakes run to your mansions”

They may have been one-hit wonders, but New Radicals’ Get What You Give has remained a radio stalwart since its 1998 release and was also played at US President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration.

In 1999, Marilyn Manson told MTV he would “crack” lead singer Gregg Alexander’s “skull open if I see him”, to which Alexander responded in the same year, “I don't have a strong view on any of the artists mentioned in the song".

9. All Too Well, Taylor Swift (2012)

Biggest diss: “I was never good at telling jokes but the punch line goes, I'll get older but your lovers stay my age”

While a large chunk of Swift’s back catalogue could be considered diss tracks aimed at some of the famous men she has been connected to, All Too Well sparked a global reaction from the singer’s fans, who dissected the lyrics and accompanying video.

First released in 2012, the track was re-released with an extended version for Swift’s re-recorded Red (Taylor's Version) and is universally agreed to be about Road House actor, Jake Gyllenhaal, who Swift dated from October 2010 to January 2011.

Updated: May 07, 2024, 1:46 PM