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19 Songs You Should Never Use as Ringtones

A few years ago, using actual songs for ringtones was a feature reserved only for the most privileged cell phone user. The rest of us were stuck with “polyphonic” ringtones, which amounted to nothing more than a crappy MIDI song that no one could really recognize, anyway. Now, though, even the phones you get free with a two-year contract can play MP3 snippets as ringtones. Best of all, they are made readily available not only through service providers, but at roughly 18,000 Internet sites.


This is considered a boon for the record industry, which is making a fair share of dough from ringtone sales. Unfortunately, it is a bane for most average people: we are now subjected to a wide array of crappy music blaring from cell phone speakers. The worst part is that even some good or even great songs simply cannot translate well to a ringtone.

What can we do, though, to let people know that their ringtone is crappy? Being blunt about it will only raise contempt in the crappy ringtone bearer. Well, we can do what everyone else does to illustrate a point: make a list! While it could probably go on forever, here is a shortlist of 19 songs you should never use as a ringtone. Are you a guilty party?

1. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

The first aspect of ringtones that needs to be understood is that cell phone speakers are unfailingly crappy. That may change in the next few years, but for now we’re stuck with something just above the level of your PC speaker (no, not the Bose set you got with your computer, the one that is built into the machine. Yes, they still have those). Therefore, songs with extremely high- and low-range vocals or instruments simply sound terrible. Just imagine hearing Whitney’s “and iiiiiiiiiiii-eee-iiiiiiiiiiii will always love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu” emanating from your cell phone five times a day. Okay, so now that you’ve imagined it, you’ll never download it, right?

2. “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani

Look, Gwen already saved the world from illiteracy when this song came out in 2005 by teaching us all how to spell “bananas.” There is no need to keep reminding us of her Hooked on Phonics lesson. Plus, she was definitely better when she was just a girl than as a hollaback girl. No Doubt ringtones are certainly acceptable.

3. “Thong Song” by Sisqo

This one isn’t a problem for most people, as there is a pretty universal recognition that the novelty of “Thong Song” wore off long ago (like, a week after it came out). However, this song is perfect for those “ironic guys” lurking among us. If they’ll sing outdated karaoke songs tongue-in-cheek, they’ll surely use such songs as ringtones. Which is a shame, since this song is terrible even by ironic guy standards. How about some rockin’ irony, like “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You” by Kiss?

Others that fall into this “terrible, even to the ironic guy” category: “Backstreet’s Back” (aren’t the ironic guys in this home video enough proof?) by the Backstreet Boys, “Barbie Girl” by Aqua, and “Rico Suave” by Gerardo. Especially “Rico Suave.”

4. “Fur Elise” by Beethoven

Why do people use classical music as a ringtone? Do they think it makes them sound sophisticated and classy? “Fur Elise” makes the list because it is the most grossly overused, but there are plenty of other offenders, like “Canon in D.” As a rule, no classical music should ever be used to signify that your phone is ringing. Except “Ride of the Valkyries.” That song is kickass!

5. “Face Down Ass Up” by 2 Live Crew

Hey, maybe face down and ass up is the way you like to get it on. But does that mean you have to proclaim it to everyone within a hundred-foot radius? This represents perhaps the biggest problem with ringtones: everyone hears them, and most don’t want to. So yeah, songs like this needn’t be played to a crowd of total strangers.

Yes yes, there is an article in the Bill of Rights that guarantees us free speech. Does that mean we have to go out and abuse it? There is such thing as tact and courtesy. Then again, ringtones in general violate those virtues.

6. “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

We all know this song rocks; we also know that it is heavily overplayed. In fact, it may be the most overplayed song in the history of songs. Classic rock and mixed rock radio stations have it in their rotations, TV shows and commercials use it, each and every one of your friends has it on his or her iPod, it’s in every jukebox in every bar in America, and you can’t go to a summer social gathering without hearing it. Is it really necessary to have it indicate that you’re receiving an incoming call? Perhaps the better question is, how many times can you hear it before you’re declared clinically insane? Those who employ “Sweet Home Alabama” as their ringtone may soon find out.

7. “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung

Many people would scoff at this notion. “That song is awesome,” they’ll say. That may be true, but it in no way means that it would make a good ringtone. You may get a favorable reaction when it goes off for the first time, but just watch people’s reactions thereafter. It will go from “haha, killer song!” to “heh, Wang Chung” to “dude, you need a new ringtone.”

But if you must, by all means, go ahead, especially if your motto is “no regrets.” That, and “everybody Wang Chung tonight.”

8. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey

Much love has been bestowed upon this song recently. Between the 2005 World Series champion Chicago White Sox, Family Guy, and Laguna Beach, we hear this song now more than when it was released in 1981. Does it make a good ringtone, though? Absolutely not. Steve Perry may rock, but no one should want to hear his howling voice when their phone rings. Leave the Journey in your car (where you sing along at the top of your lungs — we know you do).

9. “Final Countdown” by Europe

Commonly played as an anthem at sports arenas, “Final Countdown” gained a further cult following when it appeared as Gob’s theme on the TV show Arrested Development. Problem is, it’s not one of those songs that you can hear ad nauseum and still think it’s cool; the synthesizer is rather taxing on the ears. A few Arrested Development fans may rock out with you the first couple of times (because there are certainly no Europe fans), but even they’ll be sick of it by the end of the day.

10. “Rockstar” by Nickelback

Let’s face it: Nickelback sucks. How they continue to get radio play is beyond all human comprehension; it’s surely part of some vast Canadian conspiracy. Go so far as to make this song your ringtone, though, and risk having someone lob your phone into oncoming traffic. I guess Chad Kroeger’s insidious voice incites that in people. This can really be the rule for any Nickelback song, though. After all, their songs all sound the same.

11. “Glamorous” by Fergie

First, she ruined Black Eyed Peas. Then, she offended America’s ears with “London Bridge” (though “My Humps” was nearly as bad). But the former Kids Incorporated star keeps pumping out music and climbing the charts. You may enjoy her music, but ask yourself this question before downloading her as a ringtone: aren’t you better off just waiting until she releases another single in two weeks?

12. “Because I Got High” by Afroman

There is a definite similarity between the Afroman song and actually smoking marijuana: both, done in moderation, could be highly enjoyable. Unfortunately, when a song plays over your cell phone speaker multiple times per day, it is called excess, and this kind of excess ruins a fringe-good song like “Because I Got High.”

Plus, do you really want to go around announcing that you smoke pot? “Look at me, I smoke pot, I’m so cool.” Real potheads don’t make it public information, you poseur.

13. “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC

This is the quintessential example of a great song that doesn’t translate well into a ringtone. First, it suffers from “Sweet Home Alabama” syndrome, described above. Second, Brian Johnson’s high-pitch squealing can be likened to that of Steve Perry or Whitney Houston, at least for cell phone speaker purposes. Third, since ringtones are only 20 to 30 seconds long, you probably have the chorus play when your phone rings, which is the most boring part of the song. You can slightly mitigate this wrong by going with the guitar solo, which absofreakinlutely rocks.

14. The theme from Mission: Impossible

If Tom Cruise compels you to set this as your ring tone (if not Peter Graves), fine, so be it. Be forewarned that you will annoy everyone around you when a call comes in. However, if you do insist on choosing this as your ringtone, please spare us your “secret agent” antics. No one wants to see you creeping around a corner sporting a finger pistol. Worst of all, the song may even inspire others to do the same, and the last thing we need in the world is mass idiocy.

15. “Fuck tha Police” by NWA

Here’s the thing: the theme of this song is the prejudice against and oppression of inner-city black males. Yet, NWA’s target demographic is middle- and upper-class suburban white males. And, fittingly, they are the ones who most frequently employ this song as a ringtone. First off, it sounds ridiculous coming from a preppy white kid (but the song still rocks). Second, it’s along the same lines as “Face Down Ass Up.” The people around you don’t need to hear Eazy-E decrying cops.

16. “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

The Jimi Hendrix cover of this gem usually comes to mind first, and it would make a fine ringtone. There are some Dylan purists out there, though, that would actually consider the original to be better. While that’s not necessarily wrong, it sure doesn’t translate to a usable ringtone. It’s not exactly his voice that makes it unbearable, though that doesn’t mitigate the song much. Rather, it’s the harmonica. A formula to keep in mind: harmonica + cell phone speaker = tonal atrocity.

17. “The End” by The Doors

There’s a rumor that some fraternities lock their pledges in a basement for six hours and play “The End” on a continuous loop. Surely that sounds like torture, and the same should be considered for this song as a ringtone. Jim Morrison may have been a poet (or thought he was a poet, depending on who you’re talking to), but his lyrical musings can be put to much better use. You know what would make good Doors ringtones? “Break on Through” or “LA Woman.” Really, anything but “The End.” Hell, does it even count as a song?

18. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

What’s wrong with Bohemian Rhapsody, you ask? Absolutely nothing. It is certainly one of the most impeccably written songs in rock history. The problem is that it is most commonly associated with a scene in Wayne’s World. You know which one I’m talking about: five guys squeezed into a tiny car, pantomiming the operatic build-up and headbanging during the heavy part. Great song, great scene. Unfortunately, everyone has seen that movie, hence everyone makes that association. The result is a sea of headbangers whenever this song is played. It’s cool the first couple of times, but gets really annoying after that. After four or five calls, it can become real painful to the neck.

19. “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

No Stairway? Denied! There are roughly 18,000 excellent Led Zeppelin songs. Why choose the one that is so overdone that it has been banned from being played at a handful of guitar shops? Stick with something like “Moby Dick” or “Immigrant Song,” and leave Stairway to the amateur guitarists who still think it’s cool to play. No one needs to hear the song more than they already do.