A Thin Line...

David Byrne has done it right. Destined to live high on the hog by way of Talking Heads royalties until the day he dies, the adventurous quirkmeister has been nothing but ballsy since his seminal new-wave outfit parted ways. You may not like everything he's tried since his career apex, but complacency has, to his credit, been Byrne's worst enemy.

Sting, meanwhile, is another story. The turtlenecked Jaguar shill has so desecrated his Police legacy that we're not entirely convinced the current soft-rock incarnation isn't the original Stinger's evil twin. He is, without question, the most hated man in rock.

But who are Nos. 2 through 10? According to San Francisco Chronicle pop music critic Aidin Vaziri, the runner-up is Eric Clapton, a ranking based almost exclusively on the guitar god's recent synth slop. We don't necessarily agree with this ranking. The criterion for what makes a rocker hated is simple: Have talent, use it well for a substantial period of time, then squander it for commercial riches, fame or forced mass appeal.

Admittedly, it's tough to find ten artists who strictly adhere to such requirements, so we've chosen -- with the help of a secret, 11-man panel -- to implement a graded system that gives talented sellouts weightier consideration than, say, Johnny Rzeznik or Fred Durst. Yet excluding such ass clowns from this list outright would be a disservice. (And we've already covered Sting.) So without further ado, let the hatred begin!

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1. Paul McCartney. Barely qualified to carry John Lennon's roach clip in the days when both toiled with an overrated boy band known as the Beatles, Sir Paul has shown horribly true colors since Mark David Chapman put a tragic slug in Yoko's hubby. "Band on the Run" could have been written by a third-grader, and McCartney's duets with Michael Jackson and the ensuing public pissing match over Jacko's savvy purchase of the Beatles' catalog cemented McCartney's legacy of poor taste and idiocy. And wasn't it great when Sir Paul, sharing the stage with Madonna at the close of the 1999 MTV Music Awards, thought Lauryn Hill was a man, referring to the Artist of the Year Award winner as "some guy named Lawrence Hill"? Nice one, asshole. Worst of all, who can forget the post-9/11 ode to freedom, named, with typical genius, "Freedom"? Marrying a young, blond, one-legged starfucker 12 hours after burying your dead philanthropist wife was a good one, too, mate. We can only hope Satan delivers the goods to Sir Paul in hell, where knighthoods carry no currency.

2. Carlos Santana. We wish we could just forget about it, Carlos, like your Matchbox Twenty buddy Rob Thomas suggested on "Smooth." And maybe we could have forgotten if you made just one album of duets with flash-in-the-pan pop stars like Thomas. But no, you followed it up with a little bit of that teen tart Michelle Branch on the dreadful Supernatural sequel, Shaman, and proceeded to ride the low-rent pop-culture train all the way to a spot on NBA playoff-game lead-ins with the Black Eyed Peas. It's a pathetic career trajectory for a man once considered the heir to Jimi Hendrix, and Santana has no one to blame but himself. It's not like his record label swooped in and said, "Carlos, we need you to do this duet with the guy from Nickelback, or else we're going to drop your ass."

3. Jimmy Buffett. Alcohol rehabilitation counselors, antidepressant manufacturers and shrinks should thank this Key West ukulele hack for supplying half of their paying clientele. Here's how the vicious cycle works: a) begin liking Buffett during perpetually drunk collegiate years; b) prolong perpetual drunkenness by becoming a parrothead and attending Buffett shows until age 40; c) crash car while driving drunk from Buffett show at Pensacola Fairgrounds; d) enter court-mandated rehab program; e) get sober; f) recognize how hollow life was during personal "Cheeseburger in Paradise" bender; g) start seeing shrink and taking Prozac; h) realize that entire wardrobe consists of imitation Hawaiian shirts, huaraches, golf visors and jams; i) start drinking again; and j) hit the road for Chattanooga stop of Buffett's Four Inebriated Horsemen Tour with Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Randy Travis. Turns out, Margaritaville has inescapable walls made of petrified ape dung, an apt description of Buffett's entire catalog.

4. The Adams family (Ryan and Bryan). You've been asking for this double entry, Ryan, by consistently refusing to cover "Summer of '69" in concert. If you didn't want to be confused with Bryan Adams or be teased for being one consonant short of Canada's pint-sized pride, you should have changed your fucking name. Lots of rock stars do it, bro. Releasing three mediocre albums a year and mounting the likes of Winona Ryder and Parker Posey haven't helped, either. And for that Robin Hood song, the gravel-throated Canuck will never be forgiven, even if the aforementioned "Summer " is a true-blue gem.  

5. Elton John. Bernie Taupin's not-so-tiny dancer was way better in the pre-Studio 54 era, when he was as high as a rocket man and actually cranked out adventurous pop hits with gusto. Now sober, Sir Elton seems content to belt out cheesy power ballads for animated feature soundtracks, host garish awards-show afterparties and retrofit "Candle in the Wind" to cash in on the dead princess of the moment. Leavin' Levon far behind, indeed, and much the worse for it.

6. Johnny Rzeznik. Feel free to debate whether the Goo Goo Dolls' albums can even be considered rock. Also feel free to debate whether they're music. Any way you slice the pie, this moronic, saccharine, neo-glam outfit is the worst band in America, with Rzeznik being the synthetic cherry filling. Quick, name one Goo Goo Dolls song. That's okay, you're not alone. That Rzeznik could ascend to this ranking without ever having exhibited an ounce of artistic talent is testament to how much people just want to drop-kick his pretty-boy bean through the goal posts at Fuckface Field. At least this Calvin Klein underwear-model wannabe has one thing going for him: Avril Lavigne evidently wants to ride him. And in Missouri, that'd be barely legal.

7. G.E. Smith. We know: How can a Saturday Night Live bandleader named after a power company qualify for this list? Here's how: Smith served as Hall & Oates's lead guitarist from 1979 to 1985, which marked the peak of the Philly duo's commercial viability. And -- come on -- was there any blond ponytail more ubiquitous than Smith's during his ten-year SNL run? Absolutely not -- homeboy played on every imaginable televised tribute concert, including Live Aid and Farm Aid. Indeed, where there was an Aid -- and a camera -- there was a blond ponytail, which Smith took great pains to flap across his face like a horse's tail across its ass. Smith was Michael Bolton before Michael Bolton was Michael Bolton, only Smith didn't even have to open his mouth to attain such reviled status. His "look at me!" facial expressions did it all.

8. Conor Oberst and Chris Carrabba. Who wants to hear sad, sad songs about the day-to-day pathos of well-to-do suburban white kids? Well-to-do suburban white kids, that's who. And that's about it. "Emo," then, is really a genre within a genre within a genre, which makes it a mystery why these two wimps have been garnering so much ink. Every song they write is overwrought and intellectually dishonest. Everybody's got problems, but we'd love to transplant this double entry (two whiny weenies equal one man, by our count) of pastoral crackers to the ghetto for a few decades. Then we'll see if they continue to pump out the same prepubescent pussy bait that's gotten them this far.

9. Fred Durst. Regardless of whether you believe Durst's claim that he drilled Britney Spears six ways till Sunday, this rap-rock goofball is largely responsible for rock's darkest era: the late '90s. (Kid Rock, too, can take a bow.) Fortunately, it looks like Durst's career is over. Otherwise, he'd likely outstrip Rzeznik for the sixth spot. He'd be at the top of the list if this poll were more concerned with sonic proficiency.

10. Bob Weir. You can actually stop truckin' now, Bob. The Dead's insistence upon staying on the road post-Jerry Garcia has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the band was just a collection of semi-competent nerds with a prodigiously charismatic and talented front man. And Rock Star Bobby is the worst of the bunch, a bona fide gravy-trainer who probably would have invited frequent guest Huey Lewis to join the band as a full-time harmonica player had Garcia not understandably kept his pink-Izod-wearing ass in check. Weir's side project, Rat Dog, is basically a below-average bar band with a front man who needs a TelePrompTer to remember his own lyrics. But given our unyielding love for all things Garcia, we were willing to forgive and forget -- until Weir and company appeared on The Tonight Show recently. With Garcia on the injured list (for good), Weir stepped in to sing lead vocals on "Touch of Grey." Horribly. Why didn't he just defecate on Jerry's headstone instead?

Rounding out the top 20 (in descending order): Glenn Frey and Don Henley (they count as one), Scott Stapp, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Lenny Kravitz, Steve Miller, John Mellencamp, Michael McDonald, Max Weinberg, Lars Ulrich.

Honorable mention: Clapton, Anthony Kiedis, Kid Rock, Scott Weiland, Liam and Noel Gallagher, Zack de la Rocha, Peter Gabriel, Kenny Loggins, George Thorogood, Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bruce Springsteen, Axl Rose, James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Winwood, Bruce Hornsby, Billy Joel, Dave Matthews, John Popper, Julian Casablancas, Jack White, Rob Thomas, Huey Lewis, Jackson Browne, Dave Grohl, Chris Cornell, Mark McGrath, Melissa Etheridge and the lead singer of Maroon 5.  

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