Fight Songs: 10 rock anthems attacking well-known rock stars

Two boys fighting
(Image credit: Erich Auerbach/Getty Images)

From John Lennon's anti-McCartney anthem How Do You Sleep? to countless hip-hop diss tracks, there's a proud tradition in music of artists throwing shade and taking shots at their peers, rivals and former friends.

Here are 10 of the best examples from the alt. rock world, with songwriters putting Courtney Love, The War On Drugs, Courtney Love, Billy Corgan, er, Courtney Love and more in the firing line.

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Hole - Violet

"This is a song about a jerk. I hexed him and now he's losing his hair." As song introductions go, Courtney Love's preface to performing Violet on the BBC's flagship music show Later... in May 1995 was an intriguing one. Love wrote the song about her former boyfriend, Smashing Pumpkins' bandleader Billy Corgan, a man who initially sought her acquaintance after seeing her photo on the back of a Hole single sleeve.

A more forgiving man than most, Corgan stuck by Love even when Hole's singer was constantly bad-mouthing him, and ended up co-writing Hole's best known song, Celebrity Skin, with Courtney. Then Love used three more Corgan's co-writes on Hole's Nobody's Daughter album without his permission, and it all got a bit ugly again: "My songs are MY songs," Corgan tweeted at his ex. "If you can't write your own songs maybe you should just be happy that you fooled someone into doing your work for you. Maybe you should go [somewhere] nice [and] live off your husband's money, [you] know, the money he made for writing all those great songs."

To her credit, Love then posted a rather sweet apology to her old friend on Facebook. "I hope you will take my sincerest apologies for all the thousand ways I sometimes offend you, because I know you are a king, a prince, and my beautiful noble boy," she wrote. "I love you and can never thank you enough.Your soul (and you know this)."

Don't expect the truce to last forever.

Foo Fighters - I'll Stick Around

"I don't think it's any secret that I'll Stick Around is about Courtney," Dave Grohl told this writer in 2009. "I've denied it for fifteen years, but I'm finally coming out and saying it. Just read the fucking words!"

Lyrics such as "How could it be I'm the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity?" and "I've been around all the pawns you've gagged and bound" are as caustic as Grohl's songwriting has ever been, and the bad feeling between the pair persisted for years, only seemingly resolving itself around the time that Nirvana were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2014. “This is my family I’m looking at right now,” said Love at the ceremony, before hugging Grohl and Krist Novoselic.

Seven years on, however, it all kicked off again.

"Three months before I left LA, I signed a document that effectively gives Dave [Grohl] (and Krist [Novoselic]) my descendants money in perpetuity," Love posted on Instagram. "I was so broken. So scarred, so exhausted by him, I just fucking signed it. But it's a lie. So I'm unsigning it. Because it's nonsense. The chaos and fury over Kurt's death being directed at me, deflected by Dave, while he enriched and continues to enrich himself, gorging on Kurt's fortune and Kurt's goodwill. 27! Years!!! I've had enough.... Nicest guy in Rock? No."

Again, Love subsequently issued an apology. Again, don't imagine this is over.

Inger Lorre - She's Not Your Friend

"People would tell me, 'Don't be friends with her, she's crazy,'" Inger Lorre told ALLSTAR magazine in 1998, recalling the origins of her long-running feud with Courtney Love. "Then I get this phone call out of the blue and it's Courtney going, 'Hi, I really like your band and I think we should be friends... We look like sisters, don't we?' I'm like, Huh? I got off the phone crying, thinking, I don't look like her, do I? It was before the plastic surgery and when she was fat."


As Lorre remembers it, the pair's friendship ended with Love stealing her best friend, fucking her then-boyfriend, and ripping off her whole persona. At one point, The Nymphs vocalist left an answering machine message for Love saying, "You're so stupid, I would have done anything for you: honey, your reputation is shit in this town." Love duly included the message on the song Sassy on Hole's debut album Pretty On The Inside.

She's Not Your Friend, on Lorre's solo album, Transcendental Medication, was Lorre's response, and it features one of the most brutal opening lyrics ever. Referencing Kurt Cobain's death by suicide, and a key lyric from Nirvana's Come As You Are, the song begins, "I thought you swore you didn't have a goddamn gun, well son of a gun..."


NOFX - Kill Rock Stars

Finally, some love, of sorts, for Ms Love... albeit with a decidedly unpleasant overtone. When NOFX's Fat Mike sang, "I wish I could have seen Courtney / Demonstrate some real misogyny" on Kill Rock Stars, he was referencing an incident in 1995 when Love punched Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna in the face backstage at a Lollapalooza show. ("That punch was so well-deserved," Love later boasted. "I wouldn’t take it back for anything.") Exactly why Courtney Love was mad at the singer who coined the phrase Smells Like Teen Spirit for her husband was never really explained, and exactly how Kathleen Hanna wound up Fat Mike is equally unclear, but on Kill Rock Stars he dismissively calls the singer "the punk rock Gloria Steinem" and sings, "You can't change the world by blaming men."

The ever-cool Hanna was equally dismissive in her reaction to NOFX's diss. Referencing the band's best-know song on Le Tigre's Deceptacon, Hanna sings "Your lyrics are dumb like a linoleum floor / I'll walk on it / I'll walk all over you."

The Dandy Warhols - Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth

In the opening minutes of Dig!, the brilliant 2004 documentary charting the love/hate relationship between Anton Newcombe, frontman of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Courtney Taylor-Taylor, frontman of The Dandy Warhols, Newcombe is shown talking up the Portland, Oregon band as a group which, alongside his own, is about to kickstart "a full musical revolution". Zia McCabe, The Dandy Warhols keyboard player, later describes Newcombe's band as "our buddies" and says that the two acts are "inspiring each other to create and be successful." This love-in would not last. 

As documented in the film, Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth - featuring lyrics such as "I never thought you'd be a junkie because heroin is so passé" and "I always knew that you were insane" was Taylor-Taylor's none-too-subtle dig at both an ex-girlfriend and his old pal Newcombe. "The guys in The Brian Jonestown Massacre actually did some the drugs we were singing about, and still they seemed to miss the irony in the song," said Taylor-Taylor. "And whereas some members were able to use dope [heroin] and be somewhat functional, it seemed to bring out a really dark side of Anton."

The first single from the band's second album, ...The Dandy Warhols Come Down, accompanied by a $500,0000 video shot by fashion photographer David LaChapelle, the song reached number 13 in the UK in the summer of 1995.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Not If You Were The Last Dandy On Earth

It may not surprise you to learn that The Brian Jonestown Massacre did not take The Dandy Warhols' 'tribute' particularly well.

"You got speed to burn and you look so cool, and you look so fine," Anton Newcombe sings in response on the cheekily-titled Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth, actually written by his bandmate Matt Hollywood. "And you know where we live, come on, drop us a line." While this single didn't crack the UK Top 20, or any other worldwide chart, it did get included on the soundtrack to super-cool indie film-maker Jim Jarmusch's 2005 movie Broken Flowers, which we can easily imagine might have annoyed Courtney Taylor-Taylor more.

Sun Kil Moon - The War on Drugs: Suck My Cock

Does this really need explaining? Oh, go on then. Former Red House Painters frontman Mark Kozelek wrote this attack upon Philadelphia indie rock band The War On Drugs in the wake of an Ottowa folk festival appearance when the sound from their stage was bleeding across to his: "This next song," he joked, "is called The War On Drugs can suck my cock". To be fair, Kozelek issued a statement in the wake of this, pointing out "It could have been any band's music blaring from over the hill, and I still would have made jokes. I hope to catch your set someday when it's not drowning out my own... Peace and all the best." Somehow, this escalated into the singer/songwriter penning this song, featuring chorus lyrics such as "Suck my cock, War On Drugs" and "The whitest band I ever heard is War On Drugs."

Initially, The War On Drugs frontman Adam Granofsky aka Adam Granduciel, took the song in good humour, and was actually in email contact with Kozelek about a collaboration, but when this fell apart, he labelled the Sun Kil Moon man a "douche", a "fucking child" and a "fucking idiot", concluding "Get over your fucking self."

Boys will be boys.

Hayley Williams - Dead Horse

Brutally honest, the deceptively upbeat Dead Horse, on Hayley Williams' Petals For Armor solo album, details the disintegration of her marriage to New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert, after she discovered the pop-punk guitarist had been cheating on her. To her credit, Williams points the finger at herself too - one lyric, referencing the fact that she got together with Gilbert when he was already married, reads “I got what I deserved, I was the other woman first” - but it's hard not to wince at lines such as "I sang along to your shitty little song" and "When I said goodbye, I hope you cried."

“My angst and rage has been a protective layer for the softer sadness and shame that I feel," Williams told NME. "Dead Horse came just after ripping off the last band-aid. It was about finding this bubbling lava underneath a hard stone... I needed to get some of that shit out; a splinter of shame needed to get pulled."

Sebadoh - The Freed Pig

After being booted out of Dinosaur (later Dinosaur Jr.), Lou Barlow formed Sebadoh, and took his revenge on J. Mascis in this perky little hate song. "You were right, I was battling you" runs The Freed Pig's opening line, with Barlow going on to state, "I've got nothing better to do than pay too much attention to you" and "I was obsessed to bring you down."

"I carried that grudge for a long time and resorted to small-minded revenge tactics," Barlow subsequently admitted. The two musicians later re-built their friendship, re-forming Dinosaur Jr. in 2005, and releasing five albums since.

Pavement - Range Life

Let's bring things back full circle with another swipe at Billy Corgan.

After the release of their 1992 debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, Pavement became every indie rock journalist's favourite band. Their reputation was only enhanced when, on Range Life, the third single from their second album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Stephen Malkmus sang about going "out on tour with Smashing Pumpkins", a band he reckoned, "have no function."

"I don’t understand what they mean," Malkmus added. "And I could really give a fuck."

Billy Corgan was not impressed, and put the song down to "jealousy" on Pavement's part. "People don’t fall in love to Pavement," he mused, "they put on Smashing Pumpkins or Hole or Nirvana, because these bands actually mean something to them."

Someone get Stephen Malkmus an ice pack for that burn...

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.