Vengeance Is Mine: The 5 Best Revenge Songs

To hell with “living well.” Revenge is the best revenge.

Some say creativity is fueled by sublimated lust, but what gets me into the “zone” is the juvenile, ultimately soul-destroying desire to give the world the metaphorical finger.


Maybe its’ the “revenge of the nerds” impulse, mixed with a Napoleon complex, and an unhealthy sprinkling of free floating, anti-authoritarian resentment. Whatever.

I know full well that if I were to really go back to my high school reunion the way I always did in my cheesy Grade 10 fantasies — stepping out of a limo, wearing a floor-length mink – the fact is, nobody would even remember who the hell I was anyhow.

I still don’t care.

(And those stunts can backfire, as Janis Joplin discovered. What she didn’t get is that letting yourself die means the losers win.)

Neil Young's Traveling Lionel Layout

The man plays with toy trains. What else do you need to know?

So naturally my favorite film sub-genres are vigilante and rape-revenge, and many of my favorite songs are “f-you’s.”

Take Lynryd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Sweet Home Alabama” is the Vatican of rock songs, an exponentially superior structure built upon the bones of its defeated enemies.

The only reason anyone still remembers Neil Young’s whiny dirge (but I repeat myself) “Southern Man” is because it pissed off the Van Zants so much they called him out on it in their epic, unforgettable anthemic answer song:


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

Like many Canadians of his (and my) era, Neil Young had an anti-American (and specifically, anti-southern) streak a kilometer wide.

Unlike them, what he didn’t have was an excuse.

As a well-travelled musician of renown, Young knew for a fact that everybody in the South wasn’t a racist hick. But so what? He figured “Some of my best friends aren’t Klansman” wasn’t a lucrative song concept, especially in 1970.

By the way: the “controversy” surrounding the “governor” lines has always baffled me. The Southern singer is simply declaring that he feels no more collective guilt about Jim Crow than any Northern liberal would or should feel about Watergate. Duh.

The depressing thing about this whole story is that everybody’s friends now. Blech.

Sinead O'Connor Troy

I die
But I will rise
And I will return
The Phoenix from the flame
I have learned
I will rise
And you’ll see me return…

“Troy,” by Sinead O’Connor.

Quite simply: one of the greatest female vocal performances of the last thirty years.


The prospect of banshee ghost Sinead O’Connor extracting her revenge on you for using and dumping her (and knocking her up) has got to be pretty scary, no?

Louisville Slugger

 “Before He Cheats,” performed by Carrie Underwood.

No additional comment necessary.

Except to say that the specific is the universal.

Dave Coulier Full House

Yep. Still alive.

I hate to bug you in the middle of dinner…

Tricked you: this song isn’t number one.

Jagged Little Pill is the 21 of 17 years ago, except every idiot in town didn’t sing “You Outta Know” on karaoke nights and American Idol auditions. Thank God.

Like Tapestry before it, Alanis Morissette’s debut album (and searing single) became the essential “hot crazy lonely drunk rabbit boiler girl” musical accessory/signifier of its time. The album was as much a part of single female life in the 1990s as a Bust subscription and the pair of Tamara de Lempicka posters over the IKEA futon.

“You Outta Know” is unusual because the singer is tossed aside for an older woman.

(Considering said singer was a teenager when she had her affair, that would be hard not to do. Yeah, it’s sleazy and illegal, but I’d have probably lost my virginity to Bob Saget, too, if he’d been interested. But Dave Coulier? Holy hell, no wonder she’s bitter.)


That gives the song its one-of-a-kind brattiness; Morissette’s snotty Valley Girl phrasing on lines like “I bet she’d make a really excellent mother” are a kick in the balls by a chick wearing really cute shoes.

The lyrics perfectly capture the evolved “new age” phrases we all know we were supposed to say to an ex (“I wish nothing but the best for you both”) but are expertly (un)balanced by those nasty, more honest thoughts we’re supposed to keep to ourselves (“But you’re still alive…”)

Lotte Lenya Bogen

Is there a higher number than one?

Better than Shakespeare.


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