Popular / Hit songs with bad mixing

NOT AT ALL intended to start any flame wars, but genuinely interested. On forums / podcasts / books there’s always good recommendations for what to listen to as examples of great recording, production or mixing.

I’m curious about songs that were popular or hits, that have (in your opinion) bad / awful / criminally bad mixing or productions. I know when I’m going through my song collection a lot of 80’s stuff (that I love) makes my teeth itch when I sit and listen to them critically.

Are there any songs guilty of this?


One thing i noticed a couple of years ago when in the car but forgot that i wanted to test on the monitors is U2 - Achtung baby seems as a whole the the masters have the high end pushed too hard, almost painfully hard.

The one that comes to my mind is what UBK’s podcast called “the most over compressed album ever” - Death Magnetic

Yeah… but it sounds really good cranked for the first 15 seconds… then it’s painful :slight_smile:

I can’t think of any “bad” mixes offhand.
But in Bad Company’s “Can’t get enough of your Love” the guitar is woefully out of tune in the 2nd or 3 break… just hangin out there. Nobody thought it would be a good idea to punch in there, I guess… :slight_smile:

The Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” comes to mind. A number of the individual songs are sketchy mix wise and the album song to song is not well mastered to my ears. I find that punk in general seems to suffer. Some of the Black Flag stuff is also that way. I suppose that there is a little anti-establishment, raw and rough sound going on but a song can have balance and still be raw.


Metallica St Anger

…but that wasn’t really a hit

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You sir have lost your damn mind. The production on Bollocks is spectacular…

Black Flag…okay, maybe you have a point, but keep it in context. They didn’t have the same kind of budget shit bands like Genesis had. I’d argue that if you could remix Black Flag stuff by more modern super glossy software perfection standards, it would lose a lot of it’s magic.

Or something like Misfits Earth Ad. Really it sounds terrible, but it is perfect as it is. Operation Ivy’s Energy. Pretty bad mix, but it can’t be any other way.

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[quote=“venuestudios, post:6, topic:861, full:true”]
The Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” comes to mind. A number of the individual songs are sketchy mix wise and the album song to song is not well mastered to my ears. [/quote]

That’s a fair criticism of that record.

I find the second comment you made rather intriguing. And the statement about the punk mixes held fairly true all the way through the 90’s. I kind of lost track of what happened to the productions in that genera in the early 2000’s.

I would differentiate between two distinct variables though. One is the way music technology and recording techniques have evolved in the last 40 years. In other words, what we expected a record to sound like then vs what we’re used to hearing now. The other is the acceptable standard within that genera. People almost didn’t want a punk record to be mixed like a pop track. So you have the limitations of the equipment and knowledge on one end, then the counter cultural anti-pop mentality on the other. Both contribute to those records not sounding as polished as a mainstream mix.

And another part seemed to be budget. Punk bands never hit the sales mainstream guys did. If they did (take Green Day or Metallica for instance), they had play by the rules to do it, which meant they gave up their indie sound and let real producers call the shots. Consequently, no one is going to invest the same amount of cash in the productions. Some may say the artists wouldn’t have wanted their work sounding mainstream anyway - and that was part of the reason why the indie and underground mixes sounded ‘bad’ per se. This is irrelevant. From a financial standpoint, the artists preference as to how their work was mixed never mattered to begin with. The decision always has and always will lie in the hands of the media investment firms and their banks.

As much as someone might identify with the musicality on an indie record (or the lack thereof) its still acceptable to say there are problems with frequencies, compression, timing, performance, and a number of other things that are not necessarily constructs of our personal opinions or preferences. If a band sounds shit out of sync (Oasis comes to mind), thats an inexcusable fuck up from the producer. Should have never put it on the shelf.

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That was actually the point of me starting this thread… I’ve got literally hundreds of songs where the limitations of the equipment did not affect the musicality or the production - the Beatles come to mind here, in the later albums where you could literally feel George Martin and co wildly pushing and pulling sliders and knobs to get the sounds they way they wanted them - yet no one would say that they weren’t produced or mixed properly.

I was very curious which songs / albums had actual bad mixing on them and yet were released.

You have a reverse scenario with some Nirvana recordings. Where the mix masks a not so flattering performance. But not in the way an autotuner was used on early Taylor Swift records. With Nirvana, the things that are not so flattering in the performance seem to mesh and jell with the raw energy of the take to the point where the two compliment each other…sort of.

Have you ever taken a close listen to Billy Joel’s original recording of Piano Man? Cluster fuck on the chording and the arrangement. Its like he goes on a wild goose chase and the band runs in circles playing follow the leader. The band is not together because the song is so god damn disorganized. If you don’t believe me, sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and try to map out the form of the song. The measures are irregular, the bass player and guitar player have to anticipate a chord and they both guess wrong at the same time…its really really bad. But it still sold. Why? Really. Why? Its because the merit of the music and the lyrics were to so timeless that they transcended the piss poor production. Could I make a cleaner, structured, better sounding recording myself? Absolutely. A number of us on this website could exceed the recording quality of that track. Would it have the authenticity of that original? No.

And I’ll throw one more out there. Ever listened to the original recordings of Jesus Christ Superstar? OH MY GOSH!! You want suck ass? This one is gonna deliver big time lol.

…and listen to the acoustic guitar on the ballad! Horrible bad piezo pickup plugged directly into a DI.

Oh boy, I actually remember seeing the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit on MTV back in the day - I can honestly say I hated it that first time. It was an assault on the ear drums compared to what was in the charts at that time. It was later, after I got into Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and the like that I went back and bought a copy of Nevermind. It might have helped that I had also upgraded my sound system as well!

I’m really struggling with the premise of the question! It’s a good question, don’t get me wrong, and I’d love to jump in with examples. But the more I dive into it, the more it turns into soggy biscuits in my hands.

Despite the popular and compelling idea that he internet has opened up the music world to the point where anyone can have a hit, the resulting millions of releases every week have made it harder to break through the noise. So I don’t think it’s possible to have a popular hit without a sizeable investment in production and promotion.

If I was part of a production team with a good budget, and the song became a hit, then whatever I did in the mix wasn’t bad. Even if I made technical errors, like clipping inputs, mixing the bass wrong, audibly pumping the drums, leaving out of tune vocals on there - a number of things might happen.

If those errors mean it’s a genuinely bad mix that ruins the song, I’ll be fired and the act will go somewhere else to get a good mix.

If those errors are ignored and the song is released, it’s likely the mastering engineer will fix the worst of them - at the very least the ones that are a barrier to being able to listen to the mix at all.

At that point, if it’s released and flops, well it’s not a popular/ hit song and the question doesn’t apply.

If it’s released and is a massive hit… how can it be a bad mix? It can’t. Whatever you did is loved by millions. If it’s a hit, then whatever you might identify as a problem is just irrelevant to the appreciation of the art, or enhances it in ways you might not have predicted. And you’ll find copycat acts releasing songs that mimic those same mix errors.

The point being, to a certain extent, a hit song defines its own standards and criteria for success. That’s not to say that you’re not MUCH MUCH MUCH (as evidenced by the last 100 years) more likely to have a hit if you conform to genre standards… but however you get there, if your song is a hit it’s judged on its own merit.


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If adding autotune to vocals is part of the mix…then all the hit songs with “autotuned to the max” vocals are bad mixes to me!!

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I’m struggling with it too. The very idea that a bunch of internet nobodies can sit around and judge famous professionally released albums or songs is laughable to me.

I actually was thinking of the time I worked with a film studies teacher. In my mind, making films mixing music very similar. As in making a finished product requires artistic and technical knowledge while trying to stay true to the vision you started with. When films are released critics tear them apart. It can be no holds barred - the acting, script, direction, editing, cinematography, sound, whatever is up for criticism.

Now without being pretentious, I was just interested in what a group of music / mixing fanatics thought about this in terms of music. I’ll agree that a hit is a hit- but from a mixing point of view it can still be bad. This is the same as a badly acted, scripted, directed and edited movie making kazillions of dollars. Film schools have no respect for the box office. They’ll tear a film apart that was badly made in terms of the art.

So I thought we would tear apart some songs - regardless of their popularity or sales - purely from a point of EQ, balance, reverb and anything else we are all striving to get right on each mix.

There is no good or bad or right or wrong. It’s all subjective. If there was some template or mix-by-numbers criteria that all mixes had to follow, then sure, we could pick them apart. But it doesn’t work like that.

Probably in the same way that an internet nobody can sit around and criticise a famous professionally released make of amplifier.

You mean your Blackstar? I know it’s not the amp’s fault that people don’t hear how bad they are.