Best Of the Blockbusters: The Greatest (Popular) Record Ever

(Note: Originally published at jericsmith.com, copyright 2005, J. Eric Smith. All rights reserved).

Best of the Blockbusters, Part One: Setting the Stage

I think it’s time to take on the third in our series of periodic music geek essays, structured head-to-head style, following in the footsteps of The Worst Rock Band Ever and Rock’s Greatest Secret Band.

I’m calling this one “Best of the Blockbusters,” and here’s the premise: at the time of this article, there are 99 albums, ever, that have been certified by the RIAA as having moved 10 million units or more. These 99 albums are, from a sales standpoint, the most successful records ever released. Some of them are good records. Some of them are not. So of the 99 records most likely to be found in an average music listener’s collection, which one of them is the best? What record is . . . the Best of the Blockbusters?

As has been the case with prior music geek essays here, each round will feature a head-to-head competition between two records (once we get past the preliminary stage, that is, which is designed to get us to 64 records, more on that below), until we get to the final four, at which point a winner will be selected via round robin of the four surviving records. After each round, surviving records will be re-sorted from top to bottom, on basis of sales, and the highest surviving record will go head-to-head against the lowest surviving record, again, based on sales, not quality.

As always, this essay comes with the following three caveats . . .

1. Readers, please note well that I don’t hate you if I end up eliminating your favorite record(s), I don’t think you’re stupid if you like record(s) that get eliminated, and I’m not insulting you if you if I insult your favorite record(s). I’m insulting the record(s) themselves. There’s a difference. I welcome e-mail feedback of all varieties, except this format: “Dude . . . [your favorite record(s) name here] rocks . . . and you suck!”

2. Yes, of course this is all subjective. All music criticism is subjective. If there was an objective standard for judging music, then we wouldn’t need music critics, and we wouldn’t need record labels, and we wouldn’t need press flacks: corporations would just put out a very small number of records that met the objective standard for “good music” and everyone would buy and listen to the same small number of things. It’s subjectivity, both in terms of artists’ aspirations and talents and critical and commercial response to them, that makes music exciting. You can’t have a happy train wreck or an inspired mistake in a world ruled by objectivity.

3. Yes, of course this is just my opinion. But, ultimately, it’s me that’s making the call. But, then, ultimately this is my blog, innit? Why would I fill my blog with somebody else’s opinion? If you want to know what Kurt Loder or Dave Marsh or Greil Marcus think about these records, go read their blogs.

Okay . . . those formalities out of the way, let’s get through the preliminary rounds and set our first 32 competitions between 64 records. What’s that I say? 64 records? Didn’t I say there were 99 records that qualified? Yes, I did. In order to weed that list down to 64, I’m talking a World Cup approach. Records 1-48 (i.e. the 48 highest selling records of all time) automatically move into the competition bracket. Records 49-99 are clustered into qualifying groups, which I run through a simple round robin review to carry only the strongest contender from each group into the final field of 64. I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining my justifications for the qualifying rounds, although when you look at them, I’m thinking that the reasoning will (most of the time) be pretty obvious, from a critical standpoint.

Each of the record listings in the following groups (forgive the all caps thing; that’s how they appear on the RIAA website and I don’t want to retype all of the information when I can cut and paste it instead) are in the following format:

Sales Rank, Number of Units Moved (in millions), Record Title, Artist, Label

Here’s how each qualifying round works: each record in a group (of three or, near the bottom, four records) is compared to the others in the group. The better record gets two points, the worse record gets zero points. In the case of a tie, they both get one point. The record with the most points in the group moves on to the field of 64.

Here’s how I parse numbers 49-99 . . .

QUALIFIER GROUP A
49, 12, FORREST GUMP, SOUNDTRACK, EPIC
50, 12, THE WOMAN IN ME, TWAIN, SHANIA, MERCURY NASHVILLE
51, 11, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, BEATLES, THE, CAPITOL
Shania (2) beats Gump (0)
Beatles (2) beat Gump (0)
Beatles (2) beat Shania (0)
Totals: Beatles (4), Shania (2), Gump (0)
Group Winner: 51, 11, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, BEATLES, THE, CAPITOL

QUALIFIER GROUP B
52, 11, HUMAN CLAY, CREED, WIND-UP RECORDS
53, 11, FALLING INTO YOU, DION, CELINE, 550 MUSIC
54, 11, EAGLES GREATEST HITS VOLUME II, EAGLES, ASYLUM
Creed (1) ties Dion (1)
Eagles (2) beat Creed (0)
Eagles (2) beat Dion (0)
Totals: Eagles (4), Dion (1), Creed (1)
Group Winner: 54, 11, EAGLES GREATEST HITS VOLUME II, EAGLES, ASYLUM

QUALIFIER GROUP C
55, 11, PIECES OF YOU, JEWEL, ATLANTIC
56, 11, DEVIL WITHOUT A CAUSE, KID ROCK, LAVA
57, 11, HOUSES OF THE HOLY, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC
Kid Rock (2) beats Jewel (0)
Zeppelin (2) beats Jewel (0)
Zeppelin (2) beats Kid Rock (0)
Totals: Zeppelin (4), Kid Rock (2), Jewel (0)
Group Winner: 57, 11, HOUSES OF THE HOLY, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC

QUALIFIER GROUP D
58, 11, NO STRINGS ATTACHED, ‘N SYNC, JIVE
59, 11, TITANIC, SOUNDTRACK, SONY CLASSICAL
60, 11, CRAZYSEXYCOOL, TLC, LAFACE
N’Sync (1) ties Titanic (1)
TLC (2) beats N’Sync (0)
TLC (2) beats Titanic (0)
Totals: TLC (4), N’Sync (1), Titanic (1)
Group Winner: 60, 11, CRAZYSEXYCOOL, TLC, LAFACE

QUALIFIER GROUP E
61, 11, JAMES TAYLOR’S GREATEST HITS, TAYLOR, JAMES, WARNER BROS.
62, 11, DIRTY DANCING, SOUNDTRACK, RCA
63, 11, UP!, TWAIN, SHANIA, MERCURY NASHVILLE
James (2) beats Dirty Dancing (0)
Shania (2) beats Dirty Dancing (0)
James (2) beats Shania (0)
Totals: James (4), Shania (2), Dirty Dancing (0)
Group Winner: 61, 11, JAMES TAYLOR’S GREATEST HITS, TAYLOR, JAMES, WARNER BROS.

QUALIFIER GROUP F
64, 10, AEROSMITH’S GREATEST HITS, AEROSMITH, COLUMBIA
65, 10, DAYDREAM, CAREY, MARIAH, COLUMBIA
66, 10, THE HITS, BROOKS, GARTH, LIBERTY
Aerosmith (2) beats Mariah (0)
Aerosmith (2) beats Garth (0)
Garth (1) ties Mariah (1)
Totals: Aerosmith (4), Garth (1), Mariah (1)
Group Winner: 64, 10, AEROSMITH’S GREATEST HITS, AEROSMITH, COLUMBIA

QUALIFIER GROUP G
67, 10, 1, BEATLES, THE, CAPITOL
68, 10, MUSIC BOX, CAREY, MARIAH, COLUMBIA
69, 10, UNPLUGGED, CLAPTON, ERIC, REPRISE
Beatles (2) beat Mariah (0)
Beatles (2) beat Clapton (0)
Clapton (2) beats Mariah (0)
Totals: Beatles (4), Clapton (2), Mariah (0)
Group Winner: 67, 10, 1, BEATLES, THE, CAPITOL

QUALIFIER GROUP H
70, 10, PYROMANIA, DEF LEPPARD, MERCURY
71, 10, LET’S TALK ABOUT LOVE, DION, CELINE, 550 MUSIC/EPIC
72, 10, FLY, DIXIE CHICKS, MONUMENT
Leppard (2) beats Celine (0)
Leppard (2) beats Dixie Chicks (0)
Dixie Chicks (2) beat Celine (0)
Totals: Leppard (4), Dixie Chicks (2), Celine (0)
Group Winner: 70, 10, PYROMANIA, DEF LEPPARD, MERCURY

QUALIFIER GROUP I
73, 10, BEST OF THE DOOBIES, DOOBIE BROTHERS, WARNER BROS.
74, 10, LEGEND, MARLEY, BOB & THE WAILERS, ISLAND
75, 10, PLEASE HAMMER DON’T HURT ‘EM, HAMMER, CAPITOL
Marley (2) beats Doobies (0)
Doobies (2) beat Hammer (0)
Marley (2) beats Hammer (0)
Totals: Marley (4), Doobies (2), Hammer (0)
Group Winner: 74, 10, LEGEND, MARLEY, BOB & THE WAILERS, ISLAND

QUALIFIER GROUP J
76, 10, VAN HALEN, VAN HALEN, WARNER BROS.
77, 10, COME AWAY WITH ME, JONES, NORAH, BLUE NOTE
78, 10, GREATEST HITS, JOURNEY, COLUMBIA
Van Halen (2) beats Jones (0)
Journey (1) ties Jones (1)
Van Halen (2) beats Journey (0)
Totals: Van Halen (4), Journey (1), Jones (1)
Group Winner: 76, 10, VAN HALEN, VAN HALEN, WARNER BROS.

QUALIFIER GROUP K
79, 10, TAPESTRY, KING, CAROLE, ODE
80, 10, LED ZEPPELIN, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC
81, 10, HYBRID THEORY, LINKIN PARK, WARNER BROS.
Zeppelin (2) beats King (0)
King (2) beats Linkin Park (0)
Zeppelin (2) beats Linkin Park (0)
Totals: Led Zeppelin (4), Carole King (2), Linkin Park (0)
Group Winner: 80, 10, LED ZEPPELIN, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC

QUALIFIER GROUP L
82, 10, THE IMMACULATE COLLECTION, MADONNA, SIRE
83, 10, ‘N SYNC, ‘N SYNC, RCA
84, 10, GREATEST HITS, PETTY, TOM & THE HEARTBREAKERS, MCA
Madonna (2) beats ‘N Sync (0)
Petty (2) beats ‘N Sync (0)
Petty (2) beats Madonna (0)
Totals: Petty (4), Madonna (2), ‘N Sync (0)
Group Winner: 84, 10, GREATEST HITS, PETTY, TOM & THE HEARTBREAKERS, MCA

QUALIFIER GROUP M
85, 10, FAITH, MICHAEL, GEORGE, COLUMBIA
86, 10, LIKE A VIRGIN, MADONNA, SIRE
87, 10, NEVERMIND, NIRVANA, DGC
Madonna (1) ties Michael (1)
Nirvana (2) beats Madonna (0)
Nirvana (2) beats Michael (0)
Totals: Nirvana (4), Madonna (1), Michael (1)
Group Winner: 87, 10, NEVERMIND, NIRVANA, DGC

QUALIFIER GROUP N
88, 10, TRAGIC KINGDOM, NO DOUBT, TRAUMA/INTERSCOPE
89, 10, LIFE AFTER DEATH, NOTORIOUS B.I.G., BAD BOY/ARISTA
90, 10, SPEAKERBOXXX / THE LOVE BELOW, OUTKAST, SO SO DEF
91, 10, DOOKIE, GREEN DAY, REPRISE
BIG (2) beats No Doubt (0)
Outkast (2) beats No Doubt (0)
Green Day (2) beats No Doubt (0)
Outkast (2) beats BIG (0)
BIG (2) beats Green Day (0)
Outkast (2) beats Green Day (0)
Totals: Outkast (6), BIG (4), Green Day (2), No Doubt (0)
Group Winner: 90, 10, SPEAKERBOXXX / THE LOVE BELOW, OUTKAST, SO SO DEF

QUALIFIER GROUP O
92, 10, CAN’T SLOW DOWN, RICHIE, LIONEL, MOTOWN
93, 10, THE LION KING, SOUNDTRACK, DISNEYLAND
94, 10, OOPS!…I DID IT AGAIN, SPEARS, BRITNEY, JIVE
95, 10, THE JOSHUA TREE, U2, ISLAND
Ritchie (1) ties Lion (1)
Richie (1) ties Britney (1)
U2 (2) Beats Ritchie (0)
Lion (1) ties Britney (1)
U2 (2) beats Lion (0)
U2 (2) beats Britney (0)
Totals: U2 (6), Ritchie (2), Lion (2), Britney (2)
Group Winner: 95, 10, THE JOSHUA TREE, U2, ISLAND

QUALIFIER GROUP P
96, 10, THE STRANGER, JOEL, BILLY, COLUMBIA,
97, 10, 1984 (MCMLXXXIV), VAN HALEN, WARNER BROS.
98, 10, SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, WONDER, STEVIE, MOTOWN
99, 10, ELIMINATOR, ZZ TOP, WARNER BROS.
Van Halen (2) beats Joel (0)
Wonder (2) beats Joel (0)
ZZ Top (2) beats Joel (0)
Wonder (2) beats Van Halen (0)
Van Halen (1) ties ZZ Top (1)
Wonder (2) beats ZZ Top (0)
Totals: Wonder (6), Van Halen (3), ZZ Top (3), Joel (0)
Group Winner: 98, 10, SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, WONDER, STEVIE, MOTOWN

To summarize all of that, here are the records that advance to the field of 64 from the bottom part of the top 99:

51, 11, SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, BEATLES, THE, CAPITOL
54, 11, EAGLES GREATEST HITS VOLUME II, EAGLES, ASYLUM
57, 11, HOUSES OF THE HOLY, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC
60, 11, CRAZYSEXYCOOL, TLC, LAFACE
61, 11, JAMES TAYLOR’S GREATEST HITS, TAYLOR, JAMES, WARNER BROS.
64, 10, AEROSMITH’S GREATEST HITS, AEROSMITH, COLUMBIA
67, 10, 1, BEATLES, THE, CAPITOL
70, 10, PYROMANIA, DEF LEPPARD, MERCURY
74, 10, LEGEND, MARLEY, BOB & THE WAILERS, ISLAND
76, 10, VAN HALEN, VAN HALEN, WARNER BROS.
80, 10, LED ZEPPELIN, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC
84, 10, GREATEST HITS, PETTY, TOM & THE HEARTBREAKERS, MCA
87, 10, NEVERMIND, NIRVANA, DGC
90, 10, SPEAKERBOXXX / THE LOVE BELOW, OUTKAST, SO SO DEF
95, 10, THE JOSHUA TREE, U2, ISLAND
98, 10, SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, WONDER, STEVIE, MOTOWN

But what about the blockbusteriest of the blockbusters? What about the Top 48? Here they are . . .

1, 28, EAGLES/THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971 – 1975, EAGLES, ASYLUM
2, 27, THRILLER, JACKSON, MICHAEL, EPIC
3, 23, THE WALL, PINK FLOYD, COLUMBIA
4, 22, LED ZEPPELIN IV, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC
5, 21, BACK IN BLACK, AC/DC, EPIC
6, 21, GREATEST HITS VOLUME I & VOLUME II, JOEL, BILLY, COLUMBIA
7, 20, COME ON OVER, TWAIN, SHANIA, MERCURY NASHVILLE
8, 19, THE BEATLES, BEATLES, THE, APPLE
9, 19, RUMOURS, FLEETWOOD MAC, WARNER BROS.
10, 17, BOSTON , BOSTON , EPIC
11, 17, THE BODYGUARD (SOUNDTRACK), HOUSTON, WHITNEY, ARISTA
12, 16, THE BEATLES 1967 – 1970, BEATLES, THE, APPLE
13, 16, NO FENCES, BROOKS, GARTH, CAPITOL
14, 16, HOTEL CALIFORNIA, EAGLES, ASYLUM
15, 16, CRACKED REAR VIEW, HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH, ATLANTIC
16, 16, GREATEST HITS, JOHN, ELTON, MCA
17, 16, JAGGED LITTLE PILL, MORISSETTE, ALANIS, MAVERICK
18, 15, THE BEATLES 1962 – 1966, BEATLES, THE, APPLE
19, 15, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (SOUNDTRACK), BEE GEES, RSO
20, 15, DOUBLE LIVE, BROOKS, GARTH, CAPITOL NASHVILLE
21, 15, APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, GUNS ‘N ROSES, GEFFEN
22, 15, PHYSICAL GRAFFITI, LED ZEPPELIN, SWAN SONG
23, 15, DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, PINK FLOYD, HARVEST
24, 15, SUPERNATURAL, SANTANA, ARISTA
25, 15, BORN IN THE U.S.A., SPRINGSTEEN, BRUCE, COLUMBIA
26, 14, BACKSTREET BOYS, BACKSTREET BOYS, JIVE
27, 14, ROPIN’ THE WIND, BROOKS, GARTH, CAPITOL
28, 14, BAT OUT OF HELL, MEAT LOAF, CLEVELAND INTERNATIONAL
29, 14, METALLICA, METALLICA, ELEKTRA
30, 14, SIMON & GARFUNKEL’S GREATEST HITS, SIMON & GARFUNKEL, COLUMBIA
31, 14, …BABY ONE MORE TIME, SPEARS, BRITNEY, JIVE
32, 13, MILLENNIUM, BACKSTREET BOYS, JIVE
33, 13, WHITNEY HOUSTON, HOUSTON, WHITNEY, ARISTA
34, 13, GREATEST HITS 1974-1978, MILLER, STEVE BAND, CAPITOL
35, 13, PURPLE RAIN (SOUNDTRACK), PRINCE AND THE REVOLUTION, WARNER BROS.
36, 13, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & E STREET BAND LIVE 1975 – ’85, SPRINGSTEEN, BRUCE, COLUMBIA
37, 12, ABBEY ROAD , BEATLES, THE, APPLE
38, 12, SLIPPERY WHEN WET, BON JOVI, MERCURY
39, 12, II, BOYZ II MEN, MOTOWN
40, 12, NO JACKET REQUIRED, COLLINS, PHIL, ATLANTIC
41, 12, HYSTERIA, DEF LEPPARD, MERCURY
42, 12, WIDE OPEN SPACES, DIXIE CHICKS, MONUMENT
43, 12, BREATHLESS, KENNY G, ARISTA
44, 12, LED ZEPPELIN II, LED ZEPPELIN, ATLANTIC
45, 12, YOURSELF OR SOMEONE LIKE YOU, MATCHBOX TWENTY, ATLANTIC
46, 12, TEN, PEARL JAM, EPIC
47, 12, KENNY ROGERS’ GREATEST HITS, ROGERS, KENNY, LIBERTY
48, 12, HOT ROCKS, ROLLING STONES, THE, LONDON

Now, finally, to stage the first round competitions, we pit the highest selling album (EAGLES/THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971 – 1975, EAGLES) against the lowest surviving album (SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, STEVIE WONDER) in round one. Then the second highest against the second lowest, third against third, etc. This creates the following first round matchups (and at this point, I will start cleaning up some of the all caps stuff, deleting the record labels and total sales, and just leaving their sales rank):

1. EAGLES/THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971 – 1975, The Eagles vs.
98. SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, Stevie Wonder

2. THRILLER, Michael Jackson vs.
95. THE JOSHUA TREE, U2

3. THE WALL, Pink Floyd vs.
90. SPEAKERBOXXX/THE LOVE BELOW, Outkast

4. LED ZEPPELIN IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
87. NEVERMIND, Nirvana

5. BACK IN BLACK, AC/DC vs.
84. GREATEST HITS, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

6. GREATEST HITS VOLUME I & VOLUME II, Billy Joel vs.
80. LED ZEPPELIN, Led Zeppelin

7. COME ON OVER, Shania Twain vs.
76. VAN HALEN, Van Halen

8. THE BEATLES, The Beatles vs.
74. LEGEND, Bob Marley and the Wailers

9. RUMOURS, Fleetwood Mac vs.
70. PYROMANIA, Def Leppard

10. BOSTON, Boston vs.
67. 1, The Beatles

11. THE BODYGUARD (SOUNDTRACK), Whitney Houston vs.
64. AEROSMITH’S GREATEST HITS, Aerosmith

12. THE BEATLES 1967 – 1970, The Beatles vs.
61. JAMES TAYLOR’S GREATEST HITS, James Taylor

13. NO FENCES, Garth Brooks vs.
60. CRAZYSEXYCOOL, TLC

14. HOTEL CALIFORNIA, The Eagles vs.
57. HOUSES OF THE HOLY, Led Zeppelin

15. CRACKED REAR VIEW, Hootie and the Blowfish vs.
54. EAGLES GREATEST HITS VOLUME II, The Eagles

16. GREATEST HITS, Elton John vs.
51. SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, The Beatles

17. JAGGED LITTLE PILL, Alanis Morissette vs.
48. HOT ROCKS, The Rolling Stones

18. THE BEATLES 1962 – 1966, The Beatles vs.
47. KENNY ROGERS’ GREATEST HITS, Kenny Rogers

19. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (SOUNDTRACK), The Bee Gees vs.
46. TEN, Pearl Jam

20. DOUBLE LIVE, Garth Brooks vs.
45. YOURSELF OR SOMEONE LIKE YOU, Matchbox 20

21. APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, Guns n’ Roses vs.
44. LED ZEPPELIN II, Led Zeppelin

22. PHYSICAL GRAFFITI, Led Zeppelin vs.
43. BREATHLESS, Kenny G

23. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, Pink Floyd vs.
42. WIDE OPEN SPACES, Dixie Chicks

24. SUPERNATURAL, Santana vs.
41. HYSTERIA, Def Leppard

25. BORN IN THE U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
40. NO JACKET REQUIRED, Phil Collins

26. BACKSTREET BOYS, The Backstreet Boys vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men

27. ROPIN’ THE WIND, Garth Brooks vs.
38. SLIPPERY WHEN WET, Bon Jovi

28. BAT OUT OF HELL, Meat Loaf vs.
37. ABBEY ROAD, The Beatles

29. METALLICA, Metallica vs.
36. LIVE 1975 – ’85, Bruce Springsteen

30. SIMON & GARFUNKEL’S GREATEST HITS, Simon and Garfunkle vs.
35. PURPLE RAIN (SOUNDTRACK), Prince and the Revolution

31. …BABY ONE MORE TIME, Britney Spears vs.
34. GREATEST HITS 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band

32. MILLENNIUM, Backstreet Boys vs.
33. WHITNEY HOUSTON, Whitney Houston

And, hey presto, there we go. Those 32 competitions will be analyzed and winners picked tomorrow (or whenever I next sit down at the computer to think about and type this thing), thereby moving us one step closer to declaring . . . The Best of the Blockbusters!

Best of the Blockbusters, Part Two: First Round, Top Half of the Bracket

Okay, it’s looking like a slow and quiet night tonight, whereas tomorrow is looking like a long and busy one (got a concert in the evening and a full slate by day), so I think I’ll knock off the top half of the bracket of the first round. To see how this first round was derived, and get the rules and regulations, read Part One (below) before this part, if you’re catching this post before you’ve caught the intro.

The first 16 head-to-head pairs in Best of the Blockbusters (i.e. what’s the greatest record in the 10 million units moved and over category) are as follows:

1. EAGLES/THEIR GREATEST HITS 1971 – 1975, The Eagles vs.
98. SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE, Stevie Wonder

2. THRILLER, Michael Jackson vs.
95. THE JOSHUA TREE, U2

3. THE WALL, Pink Floyd vs.
90. SPEAKERBOXXX/THE LOVE BELOW, Outkast

4. LED ZEPPELIN IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
87. NEVERMIND, Nirvana

5. BACK IN BLACK, AC/DC vs.
84. GREATEST HITS, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

6. GREATEST HITS VOLUME I & VOLUME II, Billy Joel vs.
80. LED ZEPPELIN, Led Zeppelin

7. COME ON OVER, Shania Twain vs.
76. VAN HALEN, Van Halen

8. THE BEATLES, The Beatles vs.
74. LEGEND, Bob Marley and the Wailers

9. RUMOURS, Fleetwood Mac vs.
70. PYROMANIA, Def Leppard

10. BOSTON, Boston vs.
67. 1, The Beatles

11. THE BODYGUARD (SOUNDTRACK), Whitney Houston vs.
64. AEROSMITH’S GREATEST HITS, Aerosmith

12. THE BEATLES 1967 – 1970, The Beatles vs.
61. JAMES TAYLOR’S GREATEST HITS, James Taylor

13. NO FENCES, Garth Brooks vs.
60. CRAZYSEXYCOOL, TLC

14. HOTEL CALIFORNIA, The Eagles vs.
57. HOUSES OF THE HOLY, Led Zeppelin

15. CRACKED REAR VIEW, Hootie and the Blowfish vs.
54. EAGLES GREATEST HITS VOLUME II, The Eagles

16. GREATEST HITS, Elton John vs.
51. SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, The Beatles

Let us begin at the beginning . . .

1. Their Greatest Hits, 1971-1975, The Eagles vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder
Let me say this right up front: I don’t think the Eagles are as bad as most people of a critical bent seem to. Back in their Bernie Leadon days, (i.e. 1971-1975, the span covered by this greatest hits collection), they did a pretty interesting job of merging country and rock and making hits with the combo, as opposed to languishing in critical obscurity like Gram Parsons and/or The Flying Burrito Brothers (who also counted Leadon among their members). There is no doubt that Their Greatest Hits is, indeed, the best Eagles album of the era, since only Desperado managed to hold together from beginning to end, the others coming across as padded delivery units for the hits. If you want the Eagles biggest hits, here they are. Same can be said to some extent of Songs in the Key of Life, which spawned “Sir Duke,” “I Wish,” “Isn’t She Lovely,” and “As,” all of them big spanking popular numbers, with both the critics and the music buying public. Where Key of Life separates itself, however, is with its amazing cohesiveness and the span of its social, political and emotional concerns. “Already Gone” just can’t hang with “Village Ghetto Land,” and “Take It Easy” doesn’t pack the thoughtful musical and philosophical punch that “Have A Talk With God.” A record-company cobbled hits collection by a band that blazed a few trails before ending up defining the SoCal slick sound vs. the masterwork by one of the century’s most gifted and creative spirits? That’s an easy pick.
The winner: 98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder.

2. Thriller, Michael Jackson vs.
95. The Joshua Tree, U2
It’s hard to imagine a time when Michael Jackson was cool, isn’t it? But Thriller really was an impressive blast on the collective radio psyche at the time of its release . . . and the months and months and months that followed as its singles and videos kept bouncing up the charts. Thing is, though, that it was such a defining soundscape of its era that it sounds terribly dated these days, and the John Landis video for the title track is positively painful to watch at this point. The Joshua Tree is definitely a piece of the ’80s as well, but U2 still manages to make its sounds and styles work for them, so it doesn’t have the same stale synth sounds and beats that Thriller clangs against the contemporary listening aesthetic. (Note to wannabe hitmakers: do not buy the latest and greatest and synthesizer at the time you make your breakthrough album and use all the preset patches and tones . . . nothing will date your music faster than that).
Winner: 95. The Joshua Tree, U2

3. The Wall, Pink Floyd vs.
90. Speakerboxx/The Love Below, Outkast
I love me some Pink Floyd. And I love me some Outkast. These discs are their best selling records . . . but in neither case are they the artist’s best records. The Wall, a sweeping two disc set, marked the point where Pink Floyd really ceased to exist as a band, as Roger Waters and David Gilmour duked it out after canning Rick Wright and bringing in loads of session players and guests to fill in the spaces. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, a sweeping two disc set, marked the point where Outkast really ceased to exist as a band, as Big Boi and Andre 3000 each delivered their own solo disc, filled with session players and guest to fill in the spaces. The Wall spawned one of the most catchy, recognizable and replayed hits of its era: “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II.” Speakerboxxx/The Love Below spawned one of the most catchy, recognizable and replayed hits of its era: “Hey Ya!” Both albums adressed themes of love, sex, lust, fame, money, music, God and excess. Both could have been improved with some better interplay between their principal creators and lots of editing. Still . . . at least Pink Floyd’s key members appeared on the same tracks together, and two vinyl albums are a lot shorter than two CDs.
Winner: 3. The Wall, Pink Floyd

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
87. Nevermind, Nirvana
Oh man . . . this pairing probably has no business occuring in the first round, since you could make a very good case that Led Zeppelin IV (that’s the officially untitled one, also known as Zoso) was the sound of the ’70s, and Nevermind was the sound of the ’90s. But, hey, the draw is the draw, and we deal with it. Now . . . long time readers of Flexible Tetragrammaton/Giant Nylon Hair Net will have read the Anti-Nirvana Rant. Despite that rant, I don’t bear any particular ill will toward Nevermind, I just think that its influence has been way, way, way overstated. I think it is without question Nirvana’s high point, and I’m one of the few people who evidently actually likes the crunchy production that Butch Vig (later of Garbage) gave the record; it’s certainly nicer on the ears that the Steve Albini produced In Utero. Zep IV, as well, is a production masterpiece: Andy Johns, George Chkiantz and Jimmy Page made one of the greatest sounding rock records ever. Stylistically, Nevermind covers one base: “grunge.” (Oh, how I hate that word, but you know what it means, so I will use it). Zep IV is a polyglot of styles, with slamming hard rock dancing with folk, blues and metal, sometimes all in the same song. That’s hard to argue with.
Winner: 4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
84. Greatest Hits, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
I like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Their Greatest Hits album is better than most such compilations, because Petty writes smart pop songs, has a unique and instantly recognizable vocal style, and works with a superior band who routinely rise above the “backing” status that so many other “Name and the Band” type outfits earn and deserve. But I love AC/DC, and Back in Black is such an archetypal, titanic example of a genre that it’s hard to imagine any career-spanning collection by any band, even one as good as Petty and Company, knocking it off its podium of big, loud, stupid rightness. Toss in the fact that it was recorded mere months after the band replaced its dead, founding lead singer, Bon Scott, and its cohesiveness and quality are all that much more impressive. You may say “that’s just because the music is so rudimentary that anyone could have sung that album,” and you may be right in saying it. But it’s still the better record.
Winner: 5. Back in Black, AC/DC

6. Greatest Hits Volume I and II, Billy Joel vs.
80. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
I have a special spot of loathing in my heart for Billy Joel, because I moved to Long Island as a teenager right around the time that he became a superstar, and his local hometown fans were positively disgusting in their slavish, obnoxious devotion to his music. Particularly when it came to the girls that I wanted to make out with. Nothing was more annoying than going to a teenage grope party, making your best moves on a girl, and then at the moment when mutual lust seemed ready to work its magic, having her jump up to dance around the middle of the room with her friends, pantomiming “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”. I guess it could have been worse. They could have pantomimed “Piano Man.” Zeppelin’s first album is probably the least appealling and engaging of their early discs, but at least their powerful take on (or theft of, depending on your perspective) classic blues was groundbreaking, and didn’t give high school girls as many opportunities to leave their boyfriends on the couch, frustrated.
Winner: 80. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin

7. Come On Over, Shania Twain vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen
Van Halen’s first record changed the way people hear the electric guitar, mainly in guitar stores where teenage boys try to impress each other by hacking away at “Eruption.” Come On Over changed nothing, other than the way that lite, country-flavored music could be marketed when it was delivered by a sultry, sexy woman who happened to be married to a calculating craftsman of a record producer. I don’t really need to explain any more about this one, do I?
Winner: 76. Van Halen, Van Halen

8. The Beatles, The Beatles vs.
74. Legend, Bob Marley and the Wailers
The Beatles is The White Album, for those who didn’t know that it actually had a title. Or not, if a band’s name doesn’t count as a title. It’s a classic stew of a record made by a dysfunctional band falling apart in the studio, taking too many drugs and experimenting with too many experiments, some of them interesting, some of them not. I like the first disc of the two record set, but haven’t listened to the second record all the way through in years and years and years. Legend is, sadly, all the Bob Marley that 90% of the American listening public has ever heard, and will ever hear. Not sadly because it’s a bad compilation (it’s not), but sadly because there are so many deep cuts on so many other albums that it doesn’t do justice to Marley himself, much less the classic Wailers (Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer), who only appear on a few cuts from this ’70s-skewed collection. For sheer easy listening pleasure, you’d probably be happier popping Legend in the stereo, but I still have to choose the Beatles own trainwreck to a compilation slapped together to capitalize on the death of its title artist.
Winner: 8. The Beatles, The Beatles

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
70. Pyromania, Def Leppard
Rumours was unspeakably huge when it came out, an amazing pop confection from a blues-based band that had labored for a decade in semi-obscurity before tacking on a couple of Southern California granola heads to make things go down sweet and smooth for the radio. Like Thriller a few years later, it just dominated radio for months and months, as single after single was released to chart success and acclaim. And even its non-single cuts have since permeated the collective consciousness of the music world; if there’s a record that’s as recognizable as this one, start to finish, every cut, odds are it’s a greatest hits album, not a standalone work like this one. Pyromania was similarly unavoidable in its day, although that was largely due to the fact that it was a product of the MTV era, and the video for “Photograph” played constantly, everywhere that videos had any reason playing, and many places where they didn’t. Looking back, Rumours now seems far slicker than it needed to be, but the same complaint applies to the buffed-to-a-sheen production given to Pyromania by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (a.k.a. Mr. Shania Twain). Since “slick” is probably an expected and desirable quality for Southern California pop, and it is not an expected and desirable quality for metal, we’re gonna pick the Mac.
Winner: 9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac

10. Boston, Boston vs.
67. 1, The Beatles
As Beatles compilations go, 1 is without doubt my least favorite. The concept (put all the songs that were chart toppers in the USA, UK or both on one disc) seems sound . . . until you look at the track listing and realize that means that 80% of their interesting stuff doesn’t make the cut. Not the deep album cuts, mind you, but just the quirky things that didn’t have the sheen of treacle and gloss that so many of the Beatles most pandering hits (most of them McCartney’s) bore. 1 is just dull without some of those oddball cuts. Boston is dull too, for the most part, and the studio hacks and flacks that shepherded it into the public domain were probably just as crassly motivated as Capitol Records was when it burped up 1 . . . but, still, they didn’t know that it was going to be a hit, and that element of risk-taking has to count for something, as does the fact that Boston did add some rock to a radio continuum at a time when the final, disgusting death throes of disco were still dominating the airwaves.
Winner: 10. Boston, Boston

11. The Bodyguard (Soundtrack), Whitney Houston vs.
64. Greatest Hits, Aerosmith
I don’t really have to explain this one, do I? If so, I think you are probably reading this website by mistake and might be happier and more comfortable elsewhere.
Winner: 64. Greatest Hits, Aerosmith

12. The Beatles 1967-1970, The Beatles vs.
61. Greatest Hits, James Taylor
This particular Beatles record is “The Blue Album”, the two disc set with the hairy, hippy Beatles looking down from an apartment balcony on the cover. It’s much better than the much later 1, because it doesn’t just nab the popular hits of that particularly era of the Beatles history, but at least deigns to sample some of the more electic, experimental stuff as well. (Although I’d much prefer to have George Harrison represented by “Within You, Without You” than with “Old Brown Shoe.”) Still . . . even an incomplete late Beatles compilation has got more going for it than a complete collection of James Taylor’s early ’70s hits on Warner Brothers, since his more interesting (and, hence, less popular) stuff came later on Columbia Records.
Winner: 12. The Beatles 1967-1970, The Beatles

13. No Fences, Garth Brooks vs.
60. Crazysexycool, TLC
As fluffily consumable pop albums go, Crazysexycool was pretty darned good stuff, and it was a breath of fresh air at the time of its release, featuring as it did more funk and soul and sass and musical arrangement and thought than most of the crossover pop-rap making it to the radio at the time did. These days, it doesn’t sound particularly special or extraordinary, because so many manufactured pop divas and diva collectives (this means you, Destiny’s Child) have followed the template put down by the La Face Records brain trust. No Fences also does not sound special or extraordinary today, but, then, it didn’t when it came out either. Tepid country fluff that would have at least looked more entertaining if Shania Twain had delivered it.
Winner: 60. Crazysexycool, TLC

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
57. Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin
“D’yer Mak’er” is Led Zeppelin’s most annoying song, and sadly probably their best known, after “Stairway to You Know Where.” Rock snobs will correct you if you pronounce it the way it’s spelled, since it’s actually pronounced “Jamaica,” after a lame post-music hall joke and/or its podgy, stodgy reggae beat. (Zeppelin were a lot of things, but they were not a reggae band). So that’s annoying too. As is much of Houses of the Holy, actually, the first album where the seams began to show in Zeppelin’s ambitions. I suppose it’s a necessary step between the titanic Zoso (IV) and Physical Grafitti, but much of its eclecticism seems forced and strained and just not a whole lot of fun. Now . . . Hotel California also carries copious baggage, standing as it does as the quintessential document of the generally odious Southern California rock movement of the ’70s. It’s the first Eagles album without the under-appreciated Bernie Leadon, and they replaced him with Joe Walsh, for heaven’s sake. Joe Walsh! Sheesh! Still, though, it’s a catchy beast of a record, a disc that you (and I) just hate to love, even though we probably do. “Life in the Fast Lane” is one of the hardest rocking hits of the era, a darn good slab of chunky ’70s riffmongering that could have fit seamlessly on a Van Halen record, if you didn’t mind hearing the singer’s voice crack on the high notes. The title track is, (like “Stairway to Bustle in a Hedgerow”), one of those long epics of the ’70s that you just can’t quite bring yourself to turn off until it winds its way to its conclusion, by which point you’ve probably given up and started singing along. Sniff . . . sniff . . . sniff . . . you know what I think I smell? I think I smell rock and roll heresy.
Winner: 14. Hotel California, The Eagles

15. Cracked Rear View, Hootie and the Blowfish vs.
54. Greatest Hits Volume II, The Eagles
Yowch. I’m not going to go back and edit what I just wrote, but had I peeked ahead to see this matchup looming, I might have rethought my critical heresy from the prior contest and given Zeppelin a little more love than I gave the Eagles. But . . . we deal with what we have before us. Personally, I think that the greatest mass musical delusion of my adult lifetime was the success of Hootie and the Blowfish, who somehow managed to convince millions and millions and millions of people that they need to hear a moderately entertaining bar band while sitting in the comforts of their own homes. I am certain that if I was drunk at 11 PM on a Friday night in a bar in South Carolina, then listening to Hootie and Friends singing their Van Morrison wannabe clone songs might just make me want to order another Scotch and Soda . . . but I just can not conceive of how anyone, anywhere would have wanted to take that home with them. So . . . Greatest Hits Volume II, huh? By definition, that’s going to cover the post-Bernie Leadon era, and will probably include things sung by the frighteningly-haired Timothy B. Schmitt. Still . . . I’d rather listen to the ex-Poco bassist warbling “I Can’t Tell You Why” than anything that Darius Rucker has to offer.
Winner: 54. Greatest Hits Volume II, The Eagles

16. Greatest Hits, Elton John vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
When’s the last time you actually listened to Sgt. Pepper’s all the way through? I mean, really listened? It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Yeah, I know it has. After decades of having every music critic in the world singing its many and manifest praises, it’s become one of those artistic documents that everyone knows about and understands . . . but nobody listens to. It’s the Citizen Kane of music. And, you know, that’s probably with good reason. I mean, there’s the title track (two versions), the incredible and amazing “A Day in the Life” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and the fluffy pop hits “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “When I’m Sixty Four.” There’s the slighty lesser known but sometimes still played on the radio, “Lovely Rita.” There’s George’s sitar workout, “Without You, Without You,” which should have been included on The Blue Album, but wasn’t. And then there’s some other stuff, much of which nobody ever pays much attention to, even if you might recognize it if it was played for you. “Fixing a Hole,” anyone? “Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite?” Can you hum either of those without hurting some brain cells? Probably not . . . although I’ll bet you can hum every single song contained on Elton John’s first (and best) Greatest Hits compilation. You know it’s true. You know you can. Mmmmm . . . they sound good, don’t they? And, yes, I think so too. They do sound good. Except for one cut: “Candle in the Wind,” the most odious, unctuous and yucky single Elton ever issued, made even worse by its association with Princess Diana after her untimely (and sickly overhyped) death. I was thinking of posting an upset here, but I can’t pick an album that contains that song. I just can’t. You understand?
Winner: 51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

Okay . . . so there’s the first half of the first round. 64 albums have now become 48. When next I post, I will tackle the other half of the first round, and 48 will become 32. At that point, when we know who and what survived the first round, we will resort the list from highest selling survivor to lowest selling survivor, and post the matchups for the second round. I’m guessing it will be Saturday before I get to that, maybe even Sunday. But I may surprise myself. If schedules allow tomorrow, we will see what we will see.

Best of the Blockbusters, Part Three: First Round, Bottom Half of the Bracket

Today we will finish the first round of the Best of the Blockbusters competition and set the matchups for Round Two. The bottom half of the first round bracket looks like this:

17. JAGGED LITTLE PILL, Alanis Morissette vs.
48. HOT ROCKS, The Rolling Stones

18. THE BEATLES 1962 – 1966, The Beatles vs.
47. KENNY ROGERS’ GREATEST HITS, Kenny Rogers

19. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (SOUNDTRACK), The Bee Gees vs.
46. TEN, Pearl Jam

20. DOUBLE LIVE, Garth Brooks vs.
45. YOURSELF OR SOMEONE LIKE YOU, Matchbox 20

21. APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, Guns n’ Roses vs.
44. LED ZEPPELIN II, Led Zeppelin

22. PHYSICAL GRAFFITI, Led Zeppelin vs.
43. BREATHLESS, Kenny G

23. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, Pink Floyd vs.
42. WIDE OPEN SPACES, Dixie Chicks

24. SUPERNATURAL, Santana vs.
41. HYSTERIA, Def Leppard

25. BORN IN THE U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
40. NO JACKET REQUIRED, Phil Collins

26. BACKSTREET BOYS, The Backstreet Boys vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men

27. ROPIN’ THE WIND, Garth Brooks vs.
38. SLIPPERY WHEN WET, Bon Jovi

28. BAT OUT OF HELL, Meat Loaf vs.
37. ABBEY ROAD, The Beatles

29. METALLICA, Metallica vs.
36. LIVE 1975 – ’85, Bruce Springsteen

30. SIMON & GARFUNKEL’S GREATEST HITS, Simon and Garfunkle vs.
35. PURPLE RAIN (SOUNDTRACK), Prince and the Revolution

31. …BABY ONE MORE TIME, Britney Spears vs.
34. GREATEST HITS 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band

32. MILLENNIUM, Backstreet Boys vs.
33. WHITNEY HOUSTON, Whitney Houston

So let’s get listening!

17. Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones
When Jagged Little Pill came out, I really didn’t get it. Probably because I have never been an attractive, yet angry young woman (who happened to have access to a studio flack producer-songwriter like Glen Ballard), and the album doesn’t really have a lot of psychic universality outside of that demographic. I found the songs that got played on the radio over and over again annoying for the same reason I find the Cranberries’ songs that got played on the radio over and over again annoying: hiccuping is just not an appealling vocal trick. And, you know, I’m sorry your boyfriend was a jerk, but get over it, huh? Even when you sound mad, it’s still whining. (Take note, Eminem). Hot Rocks, on the other hand, I get: it’s a collection of hits and album cuts from 1964-1971, a good layman’s primer to what made the Stones so darned good. Here’s a hint: they didn’t whine about their breakups.
Winner: 48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

18. The Beatles, 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
47. Greatest Hits, Kenny Rogers
Okay, so this Beatles compilation is The Red Album, the one with the young, clean shaven Fab Four looking down at you from that iconic apartment block balcony. It covers the group’s evolution from their earliest radio successes up through Revolver, arguably their best album. (Although it leaves off that record’s greatest and most influential track, “Tomorrow Never Knows”, which seems somewhat inexcusable, although in 1972 when this compilation was released, I don’t think anybody yet knew how inflential it would be). As for Kenny Rogers, I don’t think it’s possible to use his name and the word “influential” in the same sentence, unless it’s a sentence that reads something like this: “Kenny Rogers was influential in the watering down of country music, a trend later exploited to maximum effect by Garth Brooks and Shania Twain” or “One of the most influential lyrics on contemporary television’s presentation of professional poker was ‘You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em’ by Kenny Rogers.” And those are stretches.
Winner: 18. The Beatles, 1962-1966, The Beatles

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
46. Ten, Pearl Jam
These two records really tapped and, to a certain extent, defined the spirits of their respective ages, with Saturday Night Fever providing the highwater mark for commercial disco, and Ten providing the point at which “the Seattle sound” became a movement, not a Nirvana-driven anomaly. I think most cultural commentators would observe that the return of guitar driven rock and flannel shirts in the ’90s was probably a better development than the mass popularization of disco culture in the ’70s. And I wouldn’t argue with that. What I would argue with is the worthiness of these records as defining points of their respective canons. Saturday Night Fever is a very, very good disco record. Ten is not a very, very good ’90s guitar and flannel record, if for no other reason than having inflicted “Jeremy” (the song and the video) on the world. I get actively annoyed whenever I hear Eddie Vedder doing his “woo woo” part at the end of that song. The Bee Gees and friends just bemuse me. And I’m a lesser of two evils guy.
Winner: 19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees

20. Double Live, Garth Brooks vs.
45. Yourself or Someone Like You, Matchbox 20
Ewww . . . even as a lesser of two evils guy, this is an icky pick. Yourself or Someone Like You is the template for mostly harmless ’90s rock, the record that just would not go away, as radio hit after radio hit kept oozing off of it. If you are not a Matchbox 20 fan, you probably don’t know the names of any of them . . . but I guarantee you have heard them. Garth’s Double Live is one of the more crass albums of the ’90s, a career spanning double disc recorded at a couple of dozen different venues and then buffed to a polish in the studio, and released just in time for the holidays in 1998, with a special discount price and all sorts of different versions to ensure that the punters purchased as many units as possible. And purchase the punters did, although even compared to the rest of Garth’s reductive canon, this record feels tepid and wan. I guess in this case I’m just going to have to go with the record with fewer cowboy hats on its cover.
Winner: 45. Yourself or Someone Like You, Matchbox 20

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
44. Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin
Holy Moly. I thought the first round duel between Nirvana’s Nevermind and Zep’s Zoso was a bad one to have so early, but this is worse. Appetite for Destruction is one of the most phenomenal, world-changing records ever released, a slap upside the head to radio, video and everyone who watched/listened to them at the time of its release. Do you remember where you were the first time you heard “Welcome to the Jungle”? I do. And I bet you do, too, if you think about it. Metal was never the same after this record hit the streets, for better or for worse. (Probably better from a musical standpoint, and worse from a posing/appearance standpoint). Zep II is equally influential, as its relentless, thudding and thundering whallop set the template for pretty much everything metal, and heavy, and heavy metal that followed. For sheer shock value, though, one has to lean in the direction of the Gunners: these guys were nobodies when Destruction blew modern radio apart, while Zep already had a reputation for awesomeness when they belched out Zep II in between dates on an international tour that had them playing packed houses on multiple continents. Nobody really thought they could be Zep, because at least a couple of those guys had ten years of A-list studio and other band work on their resumes before they started playing together. Every weedy metal kid thought he could be like Guns n’ Roses, though, since they were a bunch of bozos from the sticks who happened to put out exactly the right record at exactly the right moment. That has to count for something, since rock music is ultimately the soundtrack to teenage boy fantasies.
Winner: 21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses

22. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin vs.
43. Breathless, Kenny G
Heh. Heh heh. Snrrk! Giggle. Pffft! Heh. Heh heh. Yeah, that’s a funny one. Phew.
Winner:
22. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin

23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
42. Wide Open Spaces, Dixie Chicks
As tame country-flavored pop goes, the Dixie Chicks aren’t as bad as some of their compadres, since there’s some legitimate instrumental and vocal prowess tossed in among the costume changes and the big hair. Still . . . that’s faint praise, in case that isn’t obvious to you. Dark Side of the Moon is one of the most tenacious albums in music history, in that it remained on the Billboard Top 200 album charts for something like 327 years. It’s a record that every teenager discovers and loves for a few months, usually right after they have bought their first Kurt Vonnegut book. Most of them outgrow it, though, although that’s a pity, since it’s a fine, forward-looking album filled with all sorts of studio trickery and technology that would become more than standard in the years that followed. (Pink Floyd was sampling before there were samplers. Pink Floyd was looping before there were loops. Pink Floyd was playing in 7/4 before there was math rock). Not much a contest, really.
Winner: 23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

24. Supernatural, Santana vs.
41. Hysteria, Def Leppard
This is a contest between pieces of product. Supernatural was Santana’s big comeback move, a slick record filled with collaborations with young, fresh, mostly harmless folks like Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas. It succeeded admirably, as product. Hysteria was the squeaky clean and perfect follow-on to Def Leppard’s squeaky clean and perfect (as product) Pyromania. It succeeded admirably, as product. Thing is, I don’t expect anything more than product from Def Leppard, or just about anybody produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (a.k.a. Mr. Shania Twain) for that matter. Carlos Santana, on the other hand, is capable of transcendence and wondrousness and beauty and art. I have to gig him for settling for product accordingly.
Winner: 41. Hysteria, Def Leppard

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
40. No Jacket Required, Phil Collins
I really like Genesis a lot. Even the first half or so of the Phil Collins as lead singer era. I like the copious amounts of studio work he did throughout the early part of his career, pretty anonymously lending his chops to great albums by the likes of Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel, Brand X and all sorts of other prog and near-prog bands. I loved his debut album, Face Value: while “In the Air Tonight” has been over-played into insignificance (of not annoyance) in the years since it hit, it was truly an impressive and unusual hit for its era. Hearing a Genesis chestnut like “Behind the Lines” done up as a soulful, horn-fueled funk fest was fun and eye-opening. I wasn’t quite as thrilled with Phil’s second solo album, Hello, I Must Be Going, largely because of the stiff cover of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” a because it seemed like a track-by-track mirror of the first record, with poorer songs. No Jacket Required, unfortunately, was closer to the latter than the former. I was receptive and ready to receive it, and was crushingly disappointed when I actually heard it. I think that’s when I stopped liking Genesis too, so unpalatable did it make Phil. As for Springsteen, I never liked him. Nope. Not one bit. Other than Patti Smith, I’d rate him as the most over-rated artist of the past 25 years, easy. No amount of “Oh, dude, you need to listen to Nebraska” or “Whoa, man, he’s the voice of blue collar America” or “Hey, bro, ‘Blinded By the Light’ is freaking poetry” is going to change my mind. That said, Bruce never let me down. The way Phil did. With No Jacket Required. Disappointment is a powerful emotion.
Winner: 25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen

26. Backstreet Boys, The Backstreet Boys vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men
I’m not real big on the whole “pretty young men singing sweetly together” school of pop music, so this contest offers me very little of tangible enjoyment to assess. My gut, though, and my memory for radio fodder tells me that Boyz II Men were (a) better singers, (b) less of a manufactured commodity and (c) of authentic urban roots, not urban roots that they bought at the mall. Plus, I have actually met the Backstreet Boys on a television commercial shoot, and the number of empty helmets among their ranks is high. (If you ever have to work with them, I suggest you don’t have them read cue cards. Ahem). Boyz II Men may be dumb as a box of hammers, too, but I don’t know that first hand. Authenticity and talent and critical distance score over prefab prettiness and up close cluelessness any day of the week.
Winner: 39. II, Boyz II Men

27. Ropin’ the Wind, Garth Brooks vs.
38. Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi was one of the four finalists in the Worst Rock Band Ever competition. But they didn’t take the overall prize. If I did a “Worst Country Artist Ever” competition, there is little doubt in my mind that Garth Brooks would take the title in a cake walk. Plus . . . when things are wet, they are slippery, so that album title makes sense. What the hell does Ropin’ the Wind mean, though? It sounds like some cryptic name for a fart to me.
Winner: 38. Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
37. Abbey Road, The Beatles
I can hear what you’re thinking: “Sheesh, that album is over the top! Could you possible over-produce something more than that? And those pop hooks: just totally pandering to the radio listeners! And what’s up with how long all the songs are? And all those fake strings and orchestrations? And the over-emoting on songs that don’t really require it?? Please! This record is just too much!” And, yeah, I kind of agree: Abbey Road is a bit too rich for its own good, and the Beatles should have known better. Meat Loaf, on the other hand, fresh from his support role in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, brought his appetite for bombast with him and vomited up an album so over the top that it almost became sublime again. It’s like Abbey Road without the pretention. Or a Bruce Springsteen record, only fun, and not about people in New Jersey who I don’t care about. How can you argue with that?
Winner: 28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

29. Metallica, Metallica vs.
36. Live ’75-’85, Bruce Springsteen
Metallica is better known as The Black Album, because it is, uh, black. It’s the Metallica record that Old School Metallica fans most love to hate, the place where they sold out and started having hits and writing songs with recognizable riffs and singing them in understandable voices and producing them with a degree of sonic clarity that made them sound like more than thrashy slabs of screaming and dissonance. So, you know, that’s all bad . . . even though the record is very, very good, and got very, very popular, which is the thing that most annoys the Old School Metallica fans. Live ’75-’85 is a five-disc beast that provides an overview of Springsteen’s live career from, uh, 1975 to 1985. It’s the box set that launched the box set era, when the record industry realized that people would pay big bucks for packages of songs they’ve already heard, delivered with thoughtful liner notes by semi-famous music critics, and with lots of pictures for the don’t-read crowd. While there are those who would say that Bruce and the E Street Band were the pre-eminent live concert act of the era, most of these live cuts don’t do justice to either (a) their studio versions, or (b) the actual concert experiences from which they were culled. Did you feel like a chump when you realized this?
Winner: 29. Metallica, Metallica

30. Greatest Hits, Simon and Garfunkle vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution
Yeah, sure, the songs on Simon and Garfunkle’s Greatest Hits are pretty great, can’t argue that. But almost every one of them sounds and plays better in its original album configuration than it does on this compilation. Case in point: “I Am A Rock” and “The Sound of Silence” are the anchor tracks of the album Sounds of Silence, the most dismal, depressing and dark (in the good senses of those words) pop album ever released, bar none. (Read the lyrics if you don’t believe me . . . this is a sad record). On Greatest Hits, however, “The Sound of Silence” and “I Am A Rock” follow “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovy).” That just ain’t right. Purple Rain, on the other hand, despite being a soundtrack record, stands a solid, cohesive whole, a fully integrated record whose songs actually suffer when they’re taken out of sequence and placed in other contexts. It is Prince’s Sounds of Silence, only its about having sex instead of feeling sad.
Winner: 35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

31. . . . Baby One More Time, Britney Spears vs.
34. Greatest Hits, 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band
Steve Miller gave us the Pompatus of Love. Britney gave us the Pudenda of Tease. Miller was a joker, a smoker and a midnight toker. Britney is a faker, a shaker, and a midnight mistaker. Miller sang about taking the money and running. Britney did it.
Winner: 34. Greatest Hits, 1974-1975, Steve Miller Band

32. Millenium, Backstreet Boys vs.
33. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston
Whitney Houston is a paradox, blessed with one of the greatest voices of her generation, which she applies to some of her age’s most tepid and treacly material. Plus, she can’t dance. The Backstreet Boys dance real well, offer similarly wan material, and are not blessed with five of the greatest voices of their generation. This being an essay about music, I’m going to have to pick the singer before the dancers, even if both of their music is tedious and tired.
Winner: 33. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston

So! There we have it! Round One is complete! How do we set up Round Two? We take our 32 winners, sort them from highest to lowest in terms of sales (the numbers listed in front of each album title), and then pit the highest survivor against the lower survivor, second highest against second lowest, etc. and so forth.

What does that give us for round two? It give us this . . .

3. The Wall, Pink Floyd vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
95. The Joshua Tree, U2

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
80. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin

8. The Beatles, The Beatles vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
64. Greatest Hits, Aerosmith

10. Boston, Boston vs.
54. Greatest Hits Volume II, The Eagles

12. The Beatles 1967-1970, The Beatles vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

13. CrazySexyCool, TLC vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
45. Yourself or Someone Like You, Matchbox 20

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
41. Hysteria, Def Leppard

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
38. Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi

22. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
34. Greatest Hits 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
33. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
29. Metallica, Metallica

Tune in next time, when we boil these 32 albums down to the round of Sweet 16. It’ll probably happen over the weekend, but I ain’t making any promises.

Best of the Blockbusters, Part Four: The Second Round, Top Half of the Bracket

Okay, sports fans (or music fans)(or music and sports fans) . . . today we identify half of the Sweet Sixteen survivors in our Best of the Blockbusters competition. If you’re jumping in late, full rules and caveats are available if you scroll down to Part One. The short form: what record is the best of the 99 albums that have been certified as Ten Times Platinum?

The matchups for today, in the top half of the second round, are as follows:

3. The Wall, Pink Floyd vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
95. The Joshua Tree, U2

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
80. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin

8. The Beatles, The Beatles vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
64. Greatest Hits, Aerosmith

10. Boston, Boston vs.
54. Greatest Hits Volume II, The Eagles

12. The Beatles 1967-1970, The Beatles vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

13. CrazySexyCool, TLC vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

Without further ado, here’s how it breaks down for these eight contests . . .

3. The Wall, Pink Floyd vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder
This is an interesting contest, with a pair of titanically popular and influential two-disc sets from the 1970s, offering competely divergent views of life and the world and how people live in it. The Wall, of course, presents Roger Waters’ dire and dismal view of rock stardom, with back story that includes a dead father, a domineering mother, cruel and sadistic schoolteachers, a sadistic harpy of a wife, substance abuse, war and Lord knows what else. The concept album’s protagonist steadily builds a wall to isolate himself from the world around him, until in the over-the-top, operatic “The Trial,” he is forced to tear down the wall, exposing himself to his deepest fears and the scathing views of those he has hurt and damaged throughout his life. The album’s most popular radio tracks are about children being churned through the meat-grinder of public education, a superstar being drugged before taking the stage, a young man cruising for sex and running like hell from some unspoken psychic menace. Grim stuff, mated to some of the hardest, harshest music that Pink Floyd ever produced. Songs in the Key of Life, on the other hand, is a powerfully affirming document of Stevie Wonder’s love of and, uh, wonder at the world around him. Considering the hand that life dealt him, one could excuse Stevie for being as much of a bitter crank as Roger Waters, but there’s nary a glimmer of such negativity on this disc, although it does examine some of the darker sociocultural issues of its day. Both records are triumphs, although they both sound today to be very much products of their days, with a bit more stridency and obviousness than it chic in critical circles these days. Both have their annoying bits: the cooing baby at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely” goes on far longer than is necessary, and the “wanna take bath” sequence on side two of The Wall is imminently skippable in the digital fast-forward age. Which, I guess, takes us back to the music: absent it’s story, The Wall isn’t one of Pink Floyd’s greatest or signature recordings, and Side Three (in the vinyl format) is positively sluggish. Strip the lyrics off of Key of Life, and you’re still left with a wild cornucopia of styles and talent, without a 25% dead spot in its middle. That decides it, I think.
Winner: 98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
95. The Joshua Tree, U2
Led Zeppelin’s last studio album came out in 1979 (if you don’t count 1982’s posthumous Coda), and U2’s first hit in 1980. The case has been made many times that these two groups were the greatest rock and roll bands of their eras, so between them you can pretty much cover the top of the rock mountain from 1969 to the present, if you subscribe to that notion. Of course, their philosophical, lifestyle and musical approaches were radically different from each other, as were the facts that U2 has been a fairly successful singles band all along, while Led Zeppelin never was. Zep IV (Zoso) and The Joshua Tree are not only their respective creators’ largest selling works, they’re arguably their most influential and creatively significant productions as well. (An overlap that’s sadly not typical, as evidenced by the amount of blockbuster dreck we’ve already had to shed just to get to this round). Zep IV‘s eight tracks have all become fairly archetypal and easily recognizable over the years: you may not know their titles, but if you’ve spent any time listening to radio since the mid-’70s, then you can sing (or at least hum) along with everyone of these cuts. The Joshua Tree, on the other hand, has got one awesome side of solid radio fodder, and one side that’s not quite as bracing, familiar or, frankly, good. Personally I want the full glass, not the half full one (which is, after all, also half empty).
Winner: 4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
80. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin’s first album, unlike Zep IV, isn’t anything close to a full glass. It was influential, it provided a statement of intent from the as-yet-corononated greatest rock band of the ’70s, it’s got its high points . . . but the sound, as a whole, is pretty monochrome compared to the creative breadth they’d tackle in the years ahead. You’ve got to start somewhere, sure, but you don’t have to keep going back and revisiting it once you’ve grown into something better. Back in Black was AC/DC’s sixth album, but the first recorded after Brian Williams replaced the croaked Bon Scott. It’s not AC/DC’s greatest album, (I’d give that nod to Scott’s swansong, Highway to Hell), but it contains the template on which pretty much all ’80s metal was built, and it took metal away from the more ethereal, highminded, thoughtful practitioners (a la Led Zeppelin) and gave it to the scurfy masses who wanted to chase beer and babes while listening to songs about chasing beer and babes . . . as opposed to chasing beer and babes while listening to songs about battles for everymore, songs remaining the same and their times of dying. Back in Black made popular metal dumb, and that was the smartest thing that could have happened to it. Even if Robert John “Mutt” Lange (a.k.a. Mr. Shania Twain) had to produce it.
Winner: 5. Back in Black, AC/DC

8. The Beatles, The Beatles vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen
The Beatles’ White Album (as everyone calls it, except for music snobs) contains 30 songs, about 17 to 19 of which are pretty good. Most of those 17-19 songs are clustered on the first disc of this two-record set. Most of the time, I never listen to disc two accordingly. Van Halen’s debut disc has 11 songs, and they’re all pretty good. No need to ignore any parts of this record. The White Album includes an instrumental (“Revolution 9”) that nobody ever listens to, except for music snobs and conspiracy theorists. Van Halen has an instrumental (“Eruption”) that in less than two minutes completely changed the way that people listened to and played the electric guitar, the biggest single seismic change in rock music’s instrumental approach since Jimi Hendrix gargled vomit. The White Album has a plain white cover with the name of the band simply typeset on it, and four headshots of the Beatles inside, all looking thoughtful and pensive. Van Halen features garish cover shots of the group’s four members rocking out like rockstars (even though they weren’t, yet, when the images were shot), and the band’s name is in a cool logo that looked great when carved into your desk in eighth grade. Seems like a no brainer, when you get right down to it.
Winner: 76. Van Halen, Van Halen

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
64. Greatest Hits, Aerosmith
Like Zep IV, Rumours is one of those records with near universal recognition factor, beginning to end, every song on it having been programmed into some pop radio niche since its release, with the possible exception of “Oh Daddy,” a clunker by the otherwise usually tasteful Christine McVie. You’d think that a greatest hits album by a band as great as Aerosmith would be able to meet that same criteria, but it really doesn’t: beyond “Dream On, “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk This Way,” odds are the casual non-fan listener wouldn’t recognize the rest of the cuts on this 1980 collection. Well, except I guess for Aerosmith’s deconstruction of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” culled from the odious 1978 film disaster, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That cover is followed sequentially by another terrible cover spin through “Remember (Walking in the Sand”), and when you cut those two mistakes out, you’re left with about half a record worth of crunchy solid goodness. “Oh Daddy” aside, Rumours is a better, longer top to bottom spin.
Winner: 9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac

10. Boston, Boston vs.
54. Greatest Hits Volume II, The Eagles
Do you really want to buy a collection of the best songs the Eagles released after their first Their Greatest Hits collection? If so, the record is called Hotel California. The record actually called Greatest Hits Volume II just takes several cuts from Hotel, plus the later (and extremely lackluster) The Long Run, creating something in the process that’s woefully inadequate and direly misnamed. (I mean . . . if I was an Eagles fan, and I was going to shell out for this second hits collection, shouldn’t it at least include the charting single-only release “Please Come Home for Christmas” from that era? Isn’t that what compilations like this are supposed to do?) Anyway. Buy Hotel California and Their Greatest Hits (first volume) if you want an instant Eagles collection. It’s the best combination of their work you can get. As, I suppose, Boston is the best combination of Boston’s work you can get, largely because every Boston record that followed it was essentially the same record, with more anal oversight by mastermind Tom Scholz, and less quality control of the material contained thereon. At least when the first Boston album came out, we didn’t yet know they were all going to sound the same.
Winner: 10. Boston, Boston

12. The Beatles 1967-1970, The Beatles vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
Hmmm . . . Beatles vs. Beatles, eh? Well . . . I suppose in a case like this, we really do have to advance the album that the Beatles themselves conceived, as opposed to the one that the suits in their offices conceived when the cash flow started to look a little dicey in the early ’70s. Although as far as Beatles’ compilations go, this one really was the best, but that’s not enough to dislodge their signature studio record, is it?
Winner: 51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

13. CrazySexyCool, TLC vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones
If Hot Rocks was going up against Exile on Main Street, then I’d take exactly the same approach I took with the Beatles above, and say the band-created record has to advance against the suit-created record. But when you put the suit-created Hot Rocks up against CrazySexyCool, which is a very, very good pop-funk-soul disc, you’re dealing in a case where the material the suits had to work with is of such a different order of magnitude in influence and quality, that even if they wanted to mess it up, they couldn’t. “Waterfalls” was a nice fluffy single, but it can’t stack up against “Satisfaction”. (I have to note, too, that while I’m sorry she died young, Lisa Lopes was the least appealing part of TLC to me . . . the La Face production team was awesome, and I liked listening to T-Boz and Chilli a whole lot more than I liked listening to Left Eye. May she rest in peace.)
Winner: 48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

Tomorrow (or whenever I next have time), we will tackle the bottom half of the second round, and when that’s done, we will pair our Sweet Sixteen finalists top to bottom and get on with the Elite Eight brawling. As preview and reminder, here’s what coming next time:

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
45. Yourself or Someone Like You, Matchbox 20

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
41. Hysteria, Def Leppard

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
38. Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi

22. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
34. Greatest Hits 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
33. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
29. Metallica, Metallica

Tune is soon to see which eight of those records join today’s eight winners.

Best of the Blockbusters, Part Five: Second Round, Bottom Half of the Bracket

Moving right along, today we finish round two and identify our Sweet Sixteen Finalists for the Best of the Blockbusters tourney. (For complete rules/caveats, scroll down to Part One). Here are today’s contests:

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
45. Yourself or Someone Like You, Matchbox 20

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
41. Hysteria, Def Leppard

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
38. Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi

22. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
34. Greatest Hits 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
33. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
29. Metallica, Metallica

And here’s what we do with them . . .

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
45. Yourself or Someone Like You, Matchbox 20
As noted in yesterday’s contest, Hotel California should actually be titled Eagles Greatest Hits Volume II, since it contains everything you need from their catalog after Their Greatest Hits Volume I. Hotel California marked the end point to any claim the Eagles once had to being a country-tinged act, as founding picker Bernie Leadon was replaced by fleet-fingered, slick soloist Joe Walsh. To their credit, Walsh and Don Felder really do crank up some big, big stadium styled riffs and leads on this record, most particularly on “Life in the Fast Lane”, which musically really wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on a contemporaneous Led Zeppelin disc. The biggest problem with Hotel California, though, is how front-ended loaded it is: the second side of the record gets saddled with Randy Meisner and Joe Walsh’s token songwriting credits, while the good stuff (relatively speaking, I mean) is pretty much over and done with after three cuts. Still . . . a quarter of a century later, most folks know the titles and tunes of “Hotel California,” “Life in the Fast Lane” and “New Kid In Town,” whereas 25 years after Yourself or Someone Like You‘s release, I doubt that anyone will be able to name or hum any of its endless series of mediocre, middle of the road lite rock hits, unless somebody in 2020 decides to cover them, tapping into the aging Gen Y’s middle-aged nostalgia node.
Winner: 14. Hotel California, The Eagles

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
41. Hysteria, Def Leppard
The Red Album (a.k.a. 1962-1966) covers the Beatles career from Meet the Beatles through Revolver, charting the Fab Four’s evolution from fun-loving mop tops to serious artistes. As I’ve noted before, I consider it fundamentally flawed for excluding “Tomorrow Never Knows” from Revolver, their greatest recording accomplishment, but I suppose in 1972 when trance, rave, electronica, world music and darkwave weren’t really blips on the horizon yet, it might have been hard to appreciate its pending influence. Of course, there’s plenty of other influential cuts on this compilation, since the Beatles’ were the first internationally successful rock band to include singers, players and songwriters as a self-contained whole, the template on which all modern rock music is based. (Pop music, on the other hand, is still for the most part created as product, by committee, each cog in the manufacturing line chipping in their little piece, never actually working or interacting with the other cog-providers, until a shiny new confection rolls off the end of the line). And speaking of shiny new confections: Def Leppard’s Hysteria, the fluffiest piece of metal-coated pop ever crafted. Under, of course, the supervision of uber-polisher Robert John “Mutt” Lange (a.k.a. Mr. Shania Twain). Hmmm . . . isn’t kind of disturbing how many times I’ve needed to type Mr. Twain’s name in this essay? Let’s do something about that.
Winner: 18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
39. II, Boyz II Men
Here’s a (probably) surprising statistic for you: Boyz II Men are the most commercially successful R&B act in history. That surprised me, anyway, although it probably shouldn’t have, since II (their biggest seller) came out during a particularly dire era for popular radio. Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston first rocketed to superstardom in this same period, if you need some refreshing comparisons. While Boyz II Men’s material wasn’t as bad as the product shipped by those well manufactured divas, it was still committee-based, over-polished, assembly-line pop, and as such doesn’t really stick in the head or heart with much staying power. It was what it was, when it was. Then it wasn’t. Saturday Night Fever, however, has stuck through the ages, for better or worse, as the landmark recording of the disco era, the Bee Gees’ singularly greatest commercial moment, but yet the moment that also effectively destroyed their already long and varied careers completely when disco was finally shuffled off of popular culture’s center stage. (Well . . . I suppose, actually, that their involvement in the spectucularly bad Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie didn’t help them either. Or Peter Frampton, for that matter). It’s worth noting, for those who don’t remember, that Saturday Night Fever isn’t completely a Bee Gee’s effort: although their involvement as producers and songwriters extends well beyond the cuts on the album that actually bear their names, Yvonne Elliman, Tavares, Walter Murphy and David Shire also bear credit (or responsibility) for this overwhelming divisive cultural artefact. It’s hard to argue with influence (positive and negative) like this record had, especially when comparing it to something as passing and fleeting as Boyz II Men’s nice enough lite R&B music, that could have (and has) been made by any number of people, any number of times over the past fifty years.
Winner: 19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
38. Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi
Slippery When Wet was the big flavor of metal-flavored rock in 1986, a slick and shiny confection of prefab guitar-based pop, delivered by a quintet of mostly harmless, good dude, pretty boys, the sorts of fellows who the girls in the audience could idolize without making the guys in the audience jealous, since they wished they could go drink beer with them, too. One year later, Appetite for Destruction blew up the shiny, happy world of parent-friendly metal that Bon Jovi had so diligently and thoroughly crafted, re-introducing to radio all the scaly, ugly, mean and sociopathic facets of metal that had been festering just below the surface all along. This one’s a non-contest, really.
Winner: 21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses

22. Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution
Physical Graffiti is Led Zeppelin’s White Album, a two-record set with moments of towering brilliance intercut with moments that might best have been left on the studio floor, or slapped on a B-side somewhere, had Zeppelin ever bothered to release any singles. While its length allows Physical Graffiti to cover a lot of musical moods and styles, Zeppelin had proven that they could do that equally well, and far more concisely, on the single-disc Zep IV (Zoso) four years earlier. Zep wobbled on for another four years (with two more studio albums) before Bonzo’s permanent nap ended their decade of debauchery and distinction, but Physical Graffiti is the point where all the cracks in the facade really begin to show, again like the Beatle’s White Album. Purple Rain, on the other hand, is the place where Prince patched up the cracks that had marred his earlier work and created the most prominent and appealling musical ediface of its age, one of those rare music soundtracks that works equally well on the screen and on the turntable. What Saturday Night Fever was to the ’70s, Purple Rain was to the ’80s, only Purple Rain was a better, tighter and more diverse album. It’s more akin to Zep IV than it is to Physical Graffiti accordingly, and like Zep IV (and Saturday Night Fever), it moves on.
Winner: 35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
34. Greatest Hits 1974-1978, Steve Miller Band
I liked me some Steve Miller Band during the period that’s covered on this Greatest Hits album, which would be 1974-1978, for the less observant among you. The 14 cuts on this compilation are culled from a mere three records, and represent pretty much all the Steve Miller Band stuff you need, since the stuff that came before and (especially) after these songs isn’t quite up to the same standards of smooth and tasty rock. (“Abracadabra,” anyone? Didn’t think so). Of course . . . I’ve pretty much said everything I can say about this compilation in these three sentences, whereas tomes and troves can (and have) been written about Dark Side of the Moon, the first Pink Floyd record to stand as a fully integrated suite of Roger Waters’ dark and troublesome lyrical visions, supported by some of the group’s most appealling performances, and some pretty cool studio trickery that still sounds fresh over 30 years later. I never turn the radio off when a Steve Miller Band song from 1974-1978 comes on, but I always turn the radio up when a Dark Side of the Moon cut appears. Plus, anything that’s warped or shaped the sociocultural perceptions and self-images of three or four generations of teenage boys is a pretty good thing in my book. The lunatic is in my head, indeed.
23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
33. Whitney Houston, Whitney Houston
I believe I have mentioned the fact that I don’t like Bruce Springsteen at all. Not one bit. Not even Nebraska, so don’t suggest it. I am not, however, stupid or deaf.
Winner: 25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
29. Metallica, Metallica
Bat Out of Hell is an album that the world’s simple, lo-fi souls would likely hold up as an archetypal example of everything they stand against: over-produced, bombastic, hyperbolic, needlessly baroque and emotionally shallow. Metallica (or The Black Album) is an album that the world’s Metallica fans would likely hold us as an archetypal example of everything they stand against: it is popular among non-Metallica fans, and it is not Kill ‘Em All. Lo-fi weenies may hate Bat Out of Hell, but at least Meat Loaf fans like it. Radio listeners may like like Metallica, but most “serious” Metallica fans hate it. And it’s hard to pick an album that offends its creator’s most ardent fans, isn’t it?
Winner: 28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

Okey dokey. That’s it for round two. We have 16 records surviving, and when we sort them from highest selling to lowest selling, and pit the highest survivor vs. lowest survivor, all the way through the list, we end up with the following third round contests:

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

10. Boston, Boston vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

Next time, we boil these sixteen records down to eight. There’s gonna be some tough picks . . .

Best of the Blockbuster, Part Six: Third Round

It’s a dreary, dismal, rainy weekend, and I’m not inclined to sit in front of the television anymore after watching the Jets squeaking one out against Tampa Bay, and then the Cowboys putting a big whipping on the Eagles. So I think I’ll move another round forward, taking sixteen records to eight. If you haven’t read this page in a couple of days, and you don’t want to miss anything in this contest, scroll down to pick it up at the applicable point where you left off. Once this is done, I will de-blog it, reverse the order so it reads top to bottom instead of bottom to top, and put it on its own page, like the Worst Bands and Secret Bands pages, so it’s easier to read. I’ll also edit it for typos and grammar, since when I’m doing this the first time, I’m generally letting the fingers fly as the thoughts fall out of my head, and not going back and re-reading (and re-thinking as a result) my initial gut reactions to each of these matchups.

Okay, having said that, here are the third round contenders:

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

10. Boston, Boston vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
23. Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

Let’s make an Elite Eight out of them . . .

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
98. Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder
I think one of the worst aspects of the digital age, when it comes to recorded music, is the fact that a compact disc holds about 80 minutes worth of music. This means that most single-disc recordings these days have a lot more music on them than they should have, since creative impulses tend to expand to fill space made available to it. Back in the vinyl era, albums tended to typically run in the 30-40 minute range, and since you didn’t necessarily flip them over and play both sides, you often digested an artist’s material in 15-20 minutes slugs. That seems ideal to me, as it limits the amount of filler you have to endure to get to the really choice cuts. Led Zeppelin IV runs at about 43 minutes, and there’s not a minute of fluff or filler in there, as each of the albums eight songs packs a wallop in its own particular way. Songs in the Key of Life was a double vinyl album in its original configuration, clocking in at about 87 minutes. (In its CD incarnation, four extra tracks have been tacked on, and they really don’t do the overall album any favors). With a little bit of a trim (like, say, cutting down the baby babbling at the end of “Isn’t She Lovely”), Key of Life would be just a typically lengthy release of the CD era. Of course, Stevie Wonder is a better singer, songwriter and band leader than most folks putting out 80-minute slabs of plastic these days, so a single disc Songs in the Key of Life would still pack more emotional and creative punch than the average contemporary filler-rich release. But, still, when you get right down it, 80 minutes is a lot of time to dedicate to a single listening project, even one as good as this. When I listen to Zep IV, I don’t come across a single thing that I’d slice or skip to improve it. When I listen to Songs in the Key of Life, there are a couple of point when I tend to reach for the “skip” button to get on to the best stuff sooner. I used to work for a guy whose motto was writing was “Sorry for the long note . . . I didn’t have time to write a short one.” I think that philosophy ultimately has to pertain to recorded music as well.
Winner: 4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin

5. Back in Black, AC/DC vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen
When I think about heavy rock history, my brain always puts AC/DC in the chronology ahead of Van Halen, which is correct, in terms of their founding dates: AC/DC put out its first album in 1975, while Van Halen’s debut disc hit in 1978. Thing is, though, that while VH’s debut was their defining disc in both commercial and critical terms, AC/DC didn’t hit their creative pinnacle until Back in Black, which was released in 1980. Which from a hard rock chronology seems wrong: creatively speaking, Back in Black feels like a precursor to Van Halen, because it is absolutely and completely uninfluenced by Eddie Van Halen’s guitar pyrotechnics, which tended to infuse just about everything else in rock and metal that followed. It’s as if AC/DC created Back in Black in a time vortex that allowed them to jump straight from 1975 to 1980 without being affected by or picking up any pointers from anything that came between those dates. Had Back in Black come out before Van Halen, I think I would have had to pick it as the winner of this contest, noting that Van Halen wouldn’t have been to able to do what they did without AC/DC having blazed the trail for them. But given the actual time sequence of these recordings, I find myself having to penalize AC/DC for clinging (however tenaciously, and however successfully) to a pre-Van Halen musical world, after Eddie had changed it for everyone else. Plus, Van Halen managed to rock the world titanically without help from Back in Black producer Mr. Shania Twain (a.k.a. Robert John “Mutt” Lange), and it’s much easier to stomach leering misogynistic lyrics from the charming and (at the time) buff David Lee Roth than is it to take them from Brian Johnson, who looks like the sort of guy who would most likely have to pay for the erotic acts he sings about, from women who aren’t likely to appear in either rock videos or teenage fantasies. That settles it.
Winner: 76. Van Halen, Van Halen

9. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
I think Lindsey Buckingham is a flat out, no holds barred musical genius: a brilliant guitar player, a wonderful singer, an insightful and clever songwriter, and a sonic technician of the highest caliber. I also think Christine McVie is a classy and distinguished musician blessed with copious skills in the singing, writing and keyboarding departments. Furthermore, I believe that John McVie and Mick Fleetwood make up one of the most under-appreciated rhythm sections in rock music history; everyone gets all gushy over the various singers and guitarists who have passed through Fleetwood Mac over the years (Buckingham, C. McVie, Stevie Nicks, Bob Welch, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan, etc.), but not a one of them would have sounded anywhere near as good as they did without J. McVie and Fleetwood anchoring them with just perfect rhythmic frameworks, unobstrusive most of the time, and admirable precisely for that reason. I really like all those other guitarists, too, even Bob Welch, who tends to get ridiculed and critically bashed for being the guy who left the band to let Buckingham take them into the big leagues. But there’s one part of Fleetwood Mac that I really don’t like one bit, and that part’s name is Stevie Nicks. Stevie contributes three cuts to Rumours: “Gold Dust Woman” (marginally annoying), “I Don’t Wanna Know” (above average annoying) and “Dreams” (extremely annoying, especially the “when the rain wa-SHES you clean, you’ll know” bit). The usually dependable Christine McVie also drops a rare clunker on Rumours with “Oh Daddy,” which is uncomfortable if you think she’s singing about her father, but really gets skeevy and weird when you learn that she’s singing about her soon-to-be-ex-husband, John. It’s a testament to the work that Buckingham, John “Daddy” McVie and Fleetwood do on this record that it’s gotten as far as it has, because they are good enough to outweigh the Stevie and (one time only) Christine clunkers. That’s kind of the case for the Beatles, too, when it comes to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: there are certainly annoyances on that disc (“When I’m Sixty Four” and “Fixing a Hole” pop to mind), but they’re relatively easy to gloss over when confronted with the brilliance of such cuts as “A Day in the Life” or “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” or “Within You, Without You.” At the bottom line, though, even at their most annoying, the Beatles never produced anything as teeth-grittingly bad as “Dreams” or “Oh Daddy.” Well . . . at least not when they were playing together, anyway.
Winner: 51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

10. Boston, Boston vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones
I have to admit that it’s been bothering me a bit to keep carrying Hot Rocks forward, because there’s a part of me that says that a compilation of greatest hits and selected misses can’t be taken as seriously as a fully artist-conceived record can. But when it comes to the Rolling Stones, this sort of seems appropriate . . . in case you didn’t notice, Hot Rocks is the only album that the Stones got into the 99 ten times platinum list. The Beatles placed several hits compilations on that list, and it’s easy to let them go because they have so many of their original studio albums also on the list. Not so with the Stones. This is the group that can arguably claim to be rock’s greatest band, and in large part that’s because of their unbelievably good singles, not because of the albums that spawned them. Which isn’t to say that they don’t have some great, cohesive albums. They do, certainly: Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street and Beggar’s Banquet are every bit the peers of the Beatles greatest artistic accomplishments. But they didn’t sell as well as the Fab Four’s discs did, leaving Hot Rocks as the Stones’ sole Blockbuster, as defined in this survey. So . . . am I willing to chuck a collection of singles from the greatest rock band’s greatest era (1964-1971) for a non-compilation album by Boston, the nearly-transparent band of ciphers created to bring studio weenie Tom Scholz’s musical visions to life? I don’t think I am. I don’t think I should be expected to. I don’t think I will.
Winner: 48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

14. Hotel California, The Eagles vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution
As noted in the prior round, Hotel California is about half of a great album, with a tight and memorable first side backed by a B-side of true B-sides. (Note to CD era readers . . . once upon a time, records and tapes had two sides. I encountered both of these albums for the first time during the vinyl era, and will always regard them in A and B side configurations accordingly, even if they are all on one side on compact disc). Purple Rain, on the other hand, has “Let’s Go Crazy” at the top of its first side, and a second side framed by “When Doves Cry” and “Purple Rain”. There are six other cuts on the record as well, every one of them a keeper. There are no songs written by Randy Meisner and Joe Walsh on Purple Rain. Ultimately, that’s enough, isn’t it?
Winner: 35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

18. The Beatles 1962-1966, The Beatles vs.
28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf
The Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks caught some slack for being the sole representative of that formidable group in the original list of 99 deca-platinum records. It’s hard to grant The Beatles 1962-1966 the same pass, because they have other original studio recordings on this list, and because its not even the best Beatles compilation out there. (I’d give that nod to its companion disc, 1967-1970, which had the misfortune to go against stiffer competition earlier in the brackets than The Red Album did). But then I think, “Seriously, self . . . can you really pick a Meat Loaf album over anything the Beatles did?” And then I think “Self . . . I think you need a cookie” and I go and get one, and come back and sit in front of the computer some more, and actually pop Bat Out of Hell into the CD player while chewing, and think “You know . . . it is overwrought, sure, but there are some great melodies and lyrics here, and they are recorded and delivered with such enthusiasm and lust for life, that, sure, I can see picking this over a Beatles compilation, absolutely, especially while eating a cookie.” So I do.
Winner: 28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

19. Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack), The Bee Gees vs.
25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen
Once again, I have to note: I really dislike Bruce Springsteen. Wholly, completely and totally. Him at Patti Smith, probably my two least favorite famous and critically regarded musicians of the past 50 years. The fact that they actually recorded a song together (“BE-cause . . . the NIGHT”) actually allows me to package all of my loathing into a dense ball of disgust and shuddering, which I can invoke at will just by finding and playing that odious little nugget of badness. Still . . . I’m neither deaf, nor stupid, nor insensitive to the fact that I’m a minority in my Bruce loathing, no matter how good and satisfying it may be. (And, truth be told, I like the Bee Gee’s pre-disco stuff a whole lot more than I like Saturday Night Fever.) I shudder with disgust, but I do the right thing when it needs to be done.
Winner: 25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen

21. Appetite for Destruction, Guns n’ Roses vs.
23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
Oh dear . . . this is a tough one. Both of these albums are classics, both of them destined to be discovered and loved by generation after generation of young people looking for music that matches the confusion and rebellion they feel as they begin sawing away at the apron strings that attach them to their childhoods. Dark Side of the Moon offers a world view that questions authority, challenges assumptions, and admits to confusion and consternation when confronted by a world that seems hell bent on its own destruction. Appetite for Destruction, on the other hand, is less concerned with the destruction of the world than it is with the destruction of the self, through risk-taking, drugs, sex, drugs, alcohol, drugs, risk-taking, sex, drug, alcohol and drugs. The music featured on these two discs couldn’t be more different: Dark Side of the Moon is the place where space rock and prog most seamlessly mesh, where drones and blips and whooshes are perfectly integrated with true virtuoso playing, most of it of a hashed out, world-weary variety. Appetite for Destruction, on the other hand, sounds like Aerosmith on crack, a bruising, straight-ahead, blues-based rock and roll record with two guitars sparring and dueling atop a four-to-the-floor rhythm bed that rumbles when it needs to rumble, and swings when it needs to swing. As I jostle back and forth between these two discs, I keep coming back to Axl Rose and Roger Waters, the pair of misanthropes who provided Guns n’ Roses and Pink Floyd with their lyrical messages. When I read the lyrics of these two records, I see Roger Waters as a man who hates humanity because he thinks it should be more noble and pure than it actually is, while Axl Rose stands as the man who hates humanity because he thinks its nobility and purity are keeping him from doing and being what he wants to do and be. Neither Waters nor Rose were (or are) particularly stellar singers, although they’re both distinctive in their own ways. Waters, to his credit, often enlisted Rick Wright and David Gilmour to deliver his words, while Axl was never willing to let the mic be pried out of his fist. And that, ultimately, is the Achilles Heel of Appetite for Destruction: I can only take so much of Axl’s squealing before it overwhelms the boss and righteous work of Messrs. McKagan, Adler, Stradlin and Slash and starts making all the songs sound the same. And that’s one thing that never happens on Dark Side of the Moon, as Waters, Wright, Gilmour and guest diva Claire Tory keep things sounding different and fresh from track to track to track. That variety tips the see saw in Pink Floyd’s direction.
Winner: 23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

And guess what? That takes us down to eight finalists, pretty quickly, no less. We stack them up, top to bottom, in terms of sales, put the highest against the lowest, and end up with the following contests, which will take us down to the Final Four:

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen

23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

An advance reminder: when we get to the Final Four, we shift back into Round Robin mode, where each album competes against all three of the others, and the champion is the one that earns the most points in that multi-disc competition. One more day of weeding and we will be there. Golly gee.

Best of the Blockbusters, Part Seven: The Fourth Round

I didn’t originally intend to get through this thing so quickly, but having a rainy, yucky three-day weekend to play with lends itself to typing, especially since the week that follows is looking a bit tight on the work and family front. That said, let’s take our Elite Eight down to a Final Four today. Here are the contenders:

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen

23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution

And here’s the analysis:

4. Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin vs.
76. Van Halen, Van Halen
Feh . . . I wish this contest came in the Final Four, because I think both of these albums are seminal, influential and just flat-out damn good listens. Zep IV was the place where Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham put all the pieces together perfectly for the first (and, arguably, last) time, merging the blooze and boogie of Zep I with the power sludge and noise of Zep II and the acoustic mythologizing of Zep III into a grand, cohesive whole. Zep’s timing was impeccable, too, as they launched this beast on the world right around the time when freeform FM radio stations were opening up the airwaves to long, deep album cuts. Epic songs like “Stairway to Heaven” and “When the Levee Breaks” might never have gotten spun into the communal psyche had they been released five years earlier. Another thing about this record that doesn’t get written about much (or at least I haven’t read it anywhere else) is how accessible it made some really, really weird music: “Four Sticks,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Black Dog” are all eminently head-bangable these days, but if you actually listen to them, there are some unique, unusual things happening rhythmically and melodically, things that not many other people have attempted, much less gotten radio play with. It’s impressive to hear ambitious music like that work so well. Zep IV is a mature, fully-realized album for the ages. Van Halen, on the other hand, is nothing if not brash. Eddie, Alex, Roth and Michael Anthony (a.k.a. the other guy whose name people never remember) popped up seemingly out of nowhere with a bizarre and influential new take on rock guitar, glamtastic stage moves and songs, and a simple, yet alluring, pulse-like rhythmic style that really defines the band’s sound, even more than Eddie’s oft-since-immitated guitar (and synths) or the efforts of their rotating cast of singers over the years. I would normally gig a band for putting two cover cuts on an 11-track album, but fact of the matter is, I’d rather listen to the Van Halen versions of “You Really Got Me” and “Ice Cream Man” than the originals. Like Zep IV, Van Halen (I) is filled with songs that have become classic rock radio staples over the years. Unlike Zeppelin, though, the VH guys actually released some of them as singles, scoring in the pop charts as well as the album sales charts. And, ultimately, I think the ways in which radio embraced these records ultimately tips the scale on this distressingly tight contest. Whenever anything from Van Halen comes on, I’m going to turn up the radio and enjoy the snot out of whatever it is, for no more than four minutes, and probably closer to three. But when “Stairway to Heaven” comes on the radio, odds are I’m going to lose interest before the eight-plus minutes have run their course. And when “Rock and Roll” comes on, I’m going to think “Damn, those new Cadillacs are ugly cars.” I think I’m going to pick brash, tight and less co-opted over mature, sprawling and commercially compromised.
Winner: 76. Van Halen, Van Halen

23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs.
51. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles
There’s certainly no arguing the titanic influence of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: it made the album an art form in and of itself, as opposed to having be little more than a compilation of singles with some fluff to round out the running time, it introduced the lyric sheet to the world, making what singers say nearly as important as how they said it, it was arguably the first “concept album” of thematically linked songs telling a story, it was a masterpiece of packaging and marketing. As I’ve said earlier, it was the Citizen Kane of music. Like Citizen Kane, though, it changed everything that came after it so fundamentally, that when you go back to the source with modern eyes, you often find yourself wondering “What was the big deal?” Citizen Kane doesn’t look that radical now, since it altered the way we look at film. And Sgt. Pepper doesn’t sound that radical now, since it altered the way we listen to albums. A concept album like The Dark Side of the Moon never could have existed without the Beatles having blazed the trail with Sgt. Pepper. So that means we have to pick Sgt. Pepper here, right? No, not necessarily. Let’s take a more reductive view of origins vs outcomes: The Jazz Singer was the first movie released with sound embedded on its film, as opposed to sound being provided by in theatre musicians or foley artists. (Did they call them foley artists back then? I don’t know!) The first feature film to use three-strip color was Becky Sharp. Does that make The Jazz Singer the greatest “talkie” ever and Becky Sharp the greatest color film ever? No. Pioneers are important, but they aren’t necessarily the pinnacle of their craft, and more often than not, probably aren’t. And I think that’s the case in this contest: The Dark Side of the Moon owes a great debt to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but its scope, its execution, its material and its overall, lasting effect strikes me as greater and more powerful than its precursor.
Winner: 23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

25. Born in the U.S.A., Bruce Springsteen vs.
48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones
Alright, Bruce . . . hit us with your best shot from Born in the U.S.A. “Glory Days,” you say? Touche! Hot Rocks counters with “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Streetfighting Man.” Oh, you want to offer the title track instead? En garde! The Stones counter with “Satisfaction” and “Jumping Jack Flash”. “I’m On Fire” you say? Hotcha! “Time Is On My Side” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Wild Horses” can out love ballad that one anyday. “Dancing in the Dark”? Jab! Parry! Thrust! “Let’s Spend the Night Together” doesn’t mince around with euphemisms for bumping uglies. And it’s a better song to boot. Gonna put a picture of your ass on an album cover? Pssh . . . a late, lame copy of the Stones’ infamous crotch shot on Sticky Fingers, one of the records anthologized on Hot Rocks. Face it, Bruce. You made it this far on the luck of the draw, facing tepid competition all along the way. Your E Street Band can’t begin to compete with 1964-1971 vintage Stones. Game, set, match.
Winner: 48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
35. Purple Rain (Soundtrack), Prince and the Revolution
Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell is one the most over-the-top, hysterical pop artefacts ever created, with seven songs spread out over 46 minutes, bombast and pomp oozing from every single second of every single one of them. Jim Steinman’s songs scan like mini-operas, with big stories of big passion and lust and more lust and passion and big, big lust serving as the perfect vehicles for the big man born Marvin Lee Aday’s big belt-tastic performances. This is a big, big, big record: in its ambition, in its sound, in its uniqueness (no one else every tried anything like this, and even Meat Loaf wasn’t able to duplicate it) and in its instrumental performances, which (trivia time) were mostly delivered by producer Todd Rundgren and his Utopia bandmates (John Willie Wilcox, Roger Powell and Kasim Sulton), with assists from E Streeters Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg. Not to mention some choirs and philharmonic orchestras, of course. Recorded and released 28 years ago, it still sounds big to modern ears. Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain, on the other hand, suffers a bit on the sonic front to the modern ear: while Bobby Z’s boom-pock electronic percussion was hotsy hot in 1984, it badly dates this recording today, and leaves it sounding more trebly and shrill than it should have. Wendy and Lisa’s psychedelic flourishes were appealingly retro in the ’80s, but again, they date this record to the Paisley Underground era, and that’s not really appealling with 20/20 hindsight. Don’t get me wrong: Purple Rain is a trememdous album, and one of the defining recordings of its era. But Bat Out of Hell completely transcends time, sounding as giggle-inducing and garish now as it did in 1977, or as it would have had it come out in 1963. Or 1927. Or 1726. It’s cheese for the ages.
Winner: 28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

So, looky looky . . . we have a final four:

23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

76. Van Halen, Van Halen

The next time I type, I’ll name a winner. As was the case for prior contests of this ilk here, the Final Four get to go head-to-head with all three of their competitors, not a simple single elimination. Points are tallied in the round robin (as was done in the preliminary round of this competition) and the record with the most points is dubbed, for Flexible Tetragrammaton purposes, the Best of the Blockbusters.

It should happen within the next 48 hours. Stay tuned.

Best of the Blockbusters, Part Eight: This is the End

Alright. Let’s go ahead and kill this thing. I’m having a hard time imagining working on it during the week ahead, and it’s started feeling more like a long weekend project than a sustained effort anyway.

Here are the final four:

23. The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd

28. Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf

48. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones

76. Van Halen, Van Halen

Rules are as follows: each record will be compared to each other record, for a total of six round-robin competitions. (Six? yes, six, because Van Halen vs. Meat Loaf is the same thing as Meat Loaf vs. Van Halen). The winner of each mini-competition will get two points. The loser gets no points. If the records tie, they get one point each. At the end of the six mini-contests, we tally the points. The record with the most points is the winner. If there’s a tie, we’ll go a level deeper with a sudden death track by track analysis, winner takes all. I’ll figure out how that works if I have to. Since I’ve spent eight installments going over these records, I’m not going to do a lot more analysis in this round. It’s summary and decision. Rug cutting time. With that as preamble, let the judging begin . . .

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf
I’ve got a fond spot for Bat Out of Hell because it came out when I was a horny teenager, and hadn’t yet been trained to realize what an uncool album it was. The bombast doesn’t bother me, really, on five of the album’s seven cuts. Those are the rockers of the set. The place where this one bogs down is when Meat gets a little too deep in the balladry on “Heaven Can Wait” (a short tune, by his standards, clocking in at just under five minutes) and “For Crying Out Loud” (nearly nine minutes long). Now . . . those nine minutes were one thing when you were putting your best moves on your girlfriend at a high school house party and you wanted the mood sustained for as long as possible, but outside of such circumstances, and 28 years later, it’s kinda tough to ride ’em out. Dark Side of the Moon has a dodgy spot, too, (“Any Colour You Like,” the instrumental jam between “Us and Them” and “Brain Damage/Eclipse”), but it’s only about three minutes long. It also features “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which is almost as bombastic and dramatic (though wordlessly so) as anything Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman and Todd Rundgren concocted. Still . . . if given the choice, it would be a rare day that I didn’t choose Dark Side over Bat for an afternoon of entertaining listening.
Result: Dark Side of the Moon (2 points) beats Bat Out of Hell (0 points).

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs. Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones
I’ve been carrying Hot Rocks forward on the justification that it’s the best compiled batch of classic Rolling Stones singles, and the only Stones record represented in this contest of the blockbusters. The material contained on it is, obviously, pretty darned good . . . although it’s missing one important piece, to my ears, of the Rolling Stones story from its coverage period (1964-1971): their psychedelic period. Their Satanic Majesties Request has been slagged repeatedly over the years by those who insist the Stones must adhere to their straight up blues riff roots, but it’s not really that awful a record, and two of its songs (“She’s A Rainbow” and “2000 Light Years from Home”) certainly should have been included on Hot Rocks to make it a complete overview of that period of the Stones existence. There’s another factor working at Hot Rocks, too, from an historical perspective: it was not officially sanctioned by the Stones, and was released as a “ha ha gotcha” type deal when Jagger and pals left ABKCO to start their own label. Ironic, I guess, since it’s the best-selling album ever to bear the Rolling Stones name. But that’s a further strike against it.
Result: The Dark Side of the Moon (2 points) beats Hot Rocks (0 points).

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd vs. Van Halen, Van Halen
This is a much tougher choice. Both of these records are tight, both of them are sanctioned and embraced by the artists whose music they contain, both are very influential, both continue to sell well, both generated pop and album oriented rock radio singles. Dark Side of the Moon is a gentler and darker record than Van Halen, but that’s a strength. Van Halen is more life-affirming and rousing than Dark Side of the Moon, but that’s a strength too. Both records feature sterling guitar parts (Eddie Van Halen certainly was more of an innovator than David Gilmour, but the Floyd’s string-bender was no slouch working within his own chosen idiom, and he sang and played synths to boot, that last point being something Eddie V had to wait five albums for before David Lee Roth would let him do it)(at which point, Eddie tossed him out of the band) and both feature workmanlike (but perfectly appropriate) rhythm work. At this level of the competition, these two albums are equally superb, each in their own way.
Result: Dark Side of the Moon (1 point) ties Van Halen (1 point).

Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones
As a recorded artefact, Bat Out of Hell is hard to top: even Phil “Wall of Sound” Spector never managed to cram as much sonic activity into a pop song as Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman, Todd Rundgren and their cohorts did on this disc. This was product, but it was product with a lot of love and labor poured into it. As noted above, Hot Rocks contains some superb songs, but it was a product with a lot of greed and spite poured into it. Creative intent has to count for something.
Result: Bat Out of Hell (2 points) beats Hot Rocks (0 points).

Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf vs.
Van Halen, Van Halen
Not really much of a contest, honestly. While not as bombastic as Meat Loaf, David Lee Roth was at least his equal, and probably his superior when it came to over-the-top vocal and stage theatrics, and it only took three other guys to make all of the noise Van Halen made, not a studio filled with several dozen violinists and tympani players. Van Halen tied Dark Side of the Moon, and Dark Side of the Moon beat Bat Out of Hell . . . so if we apply stable logic here, the choice is obvious.
Result: Van Halen (2 points) beats Bat Out of Hell (0 points)

Hot Rocks, The Rolling Stones vs.
Van Halen, Van Halen
Not much more to be said here than we’ve said already: tight, influential debut disc by revolutionary thirdd generation rock and roll band, long (but still incomplete) corporate concoction built around the work of a revolutionary second generation rock and roll band. Sorry, Rolling Stones. A collection you didn’t collect yourselves can only carry you so far.
Result: Van Halen (2 points) beats Hot Rocks (0 points).

So that’s that, but what does it leave us with?

Van Halen, Van Halen: 5 points
The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd: 5 points
Bat Out of Hell, Meat Loaf: 2 points
Hot Rocks, Rolling Stones: 0 points

Hmmm . . . a tie. That hasn’t happened before when I’ve done these sorts of things, but I guess I’m really not surprised, since Dark Side of the Moon and Van Halen were sort of clearly superior records to their competition at this stage of the contest. But I didn’t set out to make this thing end in a tie, so we’re going to go one level deeper and do a quick song-by-song sort, and see what we end up with.

Van Halen has 11 songs, listed thusly:

1. “Runnin’ With the Devil”
2. “Eruption”
3. “You Really Got Me”
4. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”
5. “I’m the One”
6. “Jamie’s Cryin'”
7. “Atomic Punk”
8. “Feel Your Love Tonight”
9. “Little Dreamer”
10. “Ice Cream Man”
11. “On Fire”

Dark Side of the Moon has 10 songs, originally listed thusly (some CD re-releases combine “Speak to Me” and “Breathe” as a single track, some combine “Eclipse” and “Brain Damage” as a single track, but this is how they were listed and tracked in its initial release):

1. “Speak to Me”
2. “Breathe”
3. “On the Run”
4. “Time”
5. “The Great Gig in the Sky”
6. “Money”
7. “Us and Them”
8. “Any Colour You Like”
9. “Brain Damage”
10. “Eclipse”

Let’s go track by track through the records and see what a comparison does for us that way, keeping a running tally as we go . . .

1. “Runnin’ With the Devil” vs. “Speak to Me”: No contest, as Van Halen’s kick ass introductory statement of intent dusts Nick Mason’s tape collage any day (Van Halen: 1, Pink Floyd: 0).

2. “Eruption” vs. “Breathe”: Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo was short, but it carried long influence, as it was the most concise and comprehensible introduction to his then novel fret tapping solo style. Still . . . it was just a guitar solo, while “Breathe” is a lush and fully realized song, and more interesting to listen to, once the novelty of “Eruption” wore off. (Van Halen: 1, Pink Floyd: 1).

3. “You Really Got Me” vs. “On the Run”: While “You Really Got Me” is a very good cover, it’s a very good cover of a pretty tired song. “On the Run” may well be the quintessential Pink Floyd instrumental cut, the place where all the headphone and tape and synth tricks click into a collage that actually works brilliantly. Advantage, Floyd. (Van Halen: 1, Pink Floyd: 2).

4. “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” vs. “Time”: I consider “Love” to be Van Halen‘s greatest track, a perfect combo platter of chops, attitude and performance. “Time” is one of Dark Side’s more accessible numbers, but it’s intro clock fest gets a little tiresome after repeated listens, much like “Eruption”. (Van Halen: 2, Pink Floyd: 2).

5. “I’m the One” vs. “The Great Gig in the Sky”: A pumpy, jumpy rocker against a sweet Rick Wright melody capped with a Meat Loaf-worthy vocal performance by guest diva Clare Torey. The shrieking gets old. The leering and posing doesn’t quite as much. (Van Halen: 3, Pink Floyd: 2).

6. “Jamie’s Cryin'” vs. “Money”: Toughest pairing so far, a great album cut by Halen toe to toe against Dark Side‘s hit single. While I like the descending “Whoa whoa whoa” part of “Jamie’s Cryin'” a lot, I’m going to have to pick “Money” in this contest, if for no other reason that because it’s a hit song in seven time, and there’s not a whole hell of a lot of those around. (Van Halen: 3, Pink Floyd: 3).

7. “Atomic Punk” vs. “Us and Them”: “Atomic Punk” strikes me as the one cut on Van Halen that’s somewhat dated, probably because of it’s title, which seemed cool in 1978, but not so much now. “Us and Them” is Dark Side’s greatest track to my ears, a beautifully written and sung song, the lyrical centerpiece of the whole album, really. (Van Halen: 3, Pink Floyd: 4).

8. “Feel Your Love Tonight” vs. “Any Colour You Like”: Weakest contest so far, with a marginal Van Halen rocker up against a transition piece that links “Us and Them” to the final “Brain Damage/Eclipse” suite. Still, though, at least “Feel Your Love Tonight” is a song. (Van Halen: 4, Pink Floyd: 4).

9. “Little Dreamer” vs. “Brain Damage”: Another of Van Halen‘s weaker cuts, paired against the moody and evocative “lunatics are in the grass” ditty from Dark Side, featuring (surprisingly to most folks) the first Roger Waters solo lead vocal on the entire album. The scale is tipping. (Van Halen: 4, Pink Floyd: 5).

10. “Ice Cream Man” vs. “Eclipse”: A fun and fluffy cover frolic against the capping track of Dark Side, the track that ties up this evocative concept album and gives it its title. Soaring transcendence vs. double entendre giggle. The scale has tipped. (Van Halen: 4, Pink Floyd: 6).

11. “On Fire” vs. nothing. “On Fire” isn’t a great song, either, really. But, hey, it’s better than listening to the needle in the fade out groove on Dark Side. Point to Van Halen, too late. (Van Halen: 5, Pink Floyd: 6).

And, voila, with that narrow victory in a song by song shoot out, Pink Floyd narrowly eclipses Van Halen, and we declare . . .

Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd is the Best of the Blockbusters!

Does that feel good in my gut right now? Yeah, I think it does. Right now, anyway. Sometime over the next week, I will turn this whole thing around and set it up on its own independent page, reading in proper order, not backwards blog order, so if you want to read it again, or send someone else to read it, it will be easier for them to track and scan.

Thanks for following along, those who did. And thanks for the e-mailed comments and suggestions, for those who sent them. I considered them, but as is always the case when I do these sorts of things, the final decisions were mine and mine alone.

4 thoughts on “Best Of the Blockbusters: The Greatest (Popular) Record Ever

  1. I would like to see you do a “Worst Country Artist Ever” tournament much in the same way you did with the rock bands. I agree with and appreciate the way the you arrived at your conclusion…you know your music!

    • Thanks, Chris . . . I wish I knew enough about country to do such a tournament! Did you see some of the other similar tournaments here at Indie Moines? Best of the Blockbusters, Slaughtering the Sacred Cows, March of the Mellotrons, etc. The next one I pondered was a Best Debut Album ever contest . . . I framed it up, but never got around the writing it. Someday, maybe . . .

  2. Enjoyed re-reading this one when I should have been doing work instead. An amusing thing is how much my wife (who is normally open to almost anything musical) hates, hates, HATES, Stevie Nicks. (I do too, but her sheer loathing of All Things Stevie makes the blazing heat of Larry Niven’s exploding galactic core look like a sputtering candle.)

    One criticism of Dark Side of the Moon vs. Van Halen: you can listen to Van Halen pretty much any time you like, but listening to Dark Side of the Moon while the sun is up has always seemed somehow wrong to me. Still the right choice, though, IMHO.

    • My thing with “DSOTM” is that I don’t appreciate it as much when I hear it piece meal . . . it doesn’t lend itself well to iPod shuffle, for example. But you can pretty much chop “Van Halen” up into whatever bits you want, and it all still sounds good!!

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