(Note: Originally published at jericsmith.com, copyright 2004, J. Eric Smith. All rights reserved).
Guitar World‘s article about the worst rock bands of 2003 (they picked Limp Bizkit and Creed) got me to thinking . . . which band is the worst band in the history of rock and roll? Being a stats and numbers and research geek, I’ve developed a system for who qualifies and a process for then honing the qualifiers down into a sheer hard ball of ultimate badness. It’ll probably take a week’s worth of posts to type it all out here with explanations and what have you, so watch this space to see the worst of the worst pulled from under their rock and beaten to death with sticks.
The Worst Rock Band Ever Competition (Part One):
So, as promised, this week I will investigate, critique and name the worst rock band ever.
Today, setting the field. It seems that to qualify as a really significant atrocity, a band has to have had dramatic commercial success. Naming some obscure nonentity as the worst rock band of all time is pointless. If a band’s badness hasn’t been spread from coast to coast by the record industry, and then lapped up by the record buying rabble, then they really don’t have a right to claim the all-time worst title, do they?
So how do we identity such bands and set the stage for the suck-fest? First, I went to the RIAA website (they’re the folks who award gold and platinum records) and did a search for artists who have had at least one record sell over five million copies. There’s a bunch of them. A surprisingly large number of them, in fact, well over 100. So, since this is a survey designed to assess the worst rock band ever, we first eliminate solo artists (with the exception of cases where a solo artist and a band are viewed as a single entity: Shania Twain doesn’t qualify for the list, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do, for example). Then we eliminate vocal groups (N’Sync, Boys II Men, etc.); if a group’s members don’t or didn’t at some point provide the primary instrumentation for their music, then they really don’t deserve scrutiny for all time worst band. It’s kind of a gimme that groups backed by anonymous session musicians are gonna score higher on the suck scale. Finally, we eliminate groups who exist completely outside of the rock spectrum: if a group has never released a record that featured rock music as a basic part of their sound (Alabama, Mannheim Steamroller, etc.), then they don’t belong in this competition either, since there’s not really a fair apples-to-apples comparison to be made there.
After that process, there were 79 bands left on the list. I wanted to get to an even 64 teams, so they can be pitted against each other, head to head for suck content, which means that I needed to judge 15 of the qualifying bands as “bubble teams” who really don’t belong in a competition for worst band ever, due to consistent critical success, influence on entire genres of music, etc. So in the first subjective cut, 15 bands were eliminated from consideration, judged (by me) as being the least likely to “win” the worst bands title. (After the Fact Note: The “bubble team” that gave me the most trouble was The Eagles . . . and with 20/20 hindsight, I probably should have let them into the field of 64, if for no other reason than for spawning Glenn Frey’s solo career). The 15 so eliminated were:
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Earth, Wind and Fire
Bob Marley and the Wailers
The Rolling Stones
Sly and the Family Stone
This leaves us with our field of 64. Now . . . to ensure that we have a decent blend of styles and genres as we get closer to our final atrocity selection, these 64 bands are broken into eight divisions, loosely by stylistic approach. Of course, it’s not possible to exactly fit them all into clusters that make sense . . . but in the same way that Duke sometimes gets sent to the West Regional in the NCAA basketball tournament, some bands have to go into groupings that aren’t quite right, just to get them spread out evenly. Within each group, we will sort the bands in alphabetical order, then look at them, head-to-head, to assess which group sucks more. That group will then advance to the next round to be pitted against another advancing group.
Here are the groupings:
Classic Rock (Pool A): Aerosmith vs. Bad Company, Boston vs. Foreigner, Genesis vs. Heart, Journey vs. Van Halen.
Classic Rock (Pool B): Bon Jovi vs. Dire Straits, Guns n’ Roses vs. Steve Miller Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers vs. R.E.O. Speedwagon, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band vs. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.
Punk/New Wave/Hardcore/Neopunk: Blink 182 vs. the Cars, Green Day vs. Korn, Limp Bizkit vs. Metallica, No Doubt vs. the Offspring.
Metal: Def Leppard vs. Motley Crue, Poison vs. Quiet Riot, Skid Row vs. Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden vs. Whitesnake.
Blues/Jam: Black Crowes vs. Blues Traveler, Counting Crows vs. Doobie Brothers, Dave Matthews Band vs. Santana, Spin Doctors vs. Z.Z. Top.
Soul/Funk/Rap: Beastie Boys vs. Bee Gees, INXS vs. Linkin Park, Prince and the Revolution vs. the Police, Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. Sublime.
Pop: Chicago vs. the Cranberries, Hootie and the Blowfish vs. Huey Lewis and the News, Matchbox 20 vs. Men at Work, Tears for Fears vs. Third Eye Blind.
Modern Rock: Bush vs. Creed, Live vs. Nickelback, Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins vs. Staind.
When the suckiest band in each grouping have been identified, Classic Rock (Pool A) will go up against Classic Rock (Pool B), Pop will go up against Soul/Funk/Rap, Punk/New Wave/Hardcore/Neopunk will go up against Metal, and Blues/Jam will go up against Modern Rock to give us a final four. We’ll look at the final four as a round robin, comparing each band to each of the others, ultimately identifying one as the Worst Rock Band in History. Stay tuned . . . or write if you’d like to offer comments, insights or votes.
Keep an eye on this page . . . each day this week, I’ll move us forward another round towards . . . . ULTIMATE SUCKINESS!
The Worst Rock Band Ever Competition (Part Two):
Today we work through the first round of increasing suckishness. Remember: the bands that advance are the worse bands, not the better bands.
Aerosmith vs. Bad Company: Right off the bat, we’ve got to note that Aerosmith aren’t as good as everyone thinks they are, and Bad Company aren’t as bad as everyone thinks they are. While Aerosmith has more good songs and records than Bad Company, they’ve got many more bad songs and records. Let’s be controversial right up front, shall we? The suckier: Aerosmith.
Boston vs. Foreigner: Boston has always been the emodiment of cold, calculating corporate rock. Foreigner turned into that, eventually, but they were actually reasonably interesting through their first few records, when King Crimson alumnus Ian McDonald gave ’em some zip and cred. The suckier: Boston.
Genesis vs. Heart: Genesis issued some of the most amazing albums ever recorded early in their career, before becoming the feeder band for Phil Collins’ treacly career and Mike and the Mechanics. Heart has pretty much been Heart all the way through their career: flashy radio rock with the occasional power ballad tossed in to leaven the mix. Still, Genesis’ overall quality average ends up higher than Heart’s consistent mediocrity, although Genesis’ worst albums are worse than Heart’s. The suckier: Heart.
Journey vs. Van Halen: No contest. Van Halen redefined rock guitar, while Journey was originally build around the castoffs of Santana, a pioneering band, sure, but not because of the members who founded Journey. And that, of course, is before Steve Perry joined, so it doesn’t get better as you go forward. (To be fair, Van Hagar and Van Horrible, the latter day incarnations of Van Halen, are pretty dire themselves, but not so dire that they obviate the power of the original band). The suckier: Journey.
Bon Jovi vs. Dire Straits: I think this one is closer than most people would think too. Bon Jovi is corporate rock of the most lowest-common-denominator variety, but Dire Straits are pretty tedious themselves, Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing notwithstanding. “Money for Nothing” may be one of the most annoying songs of the ’80s, but Bon Jovi has to advance here, if only because one of their band members dated Cher. Shudder. The suckier: Bon Jovi.
Guns n’ Roses vs. Steve Miller Band: As powerful as Gn’R were out of the blocks, they’ve reached new peaks of suckiness since the whole band adandoned Axl to his own devices. The live cuts I saw from the Chinese Democracy tour were truly some of the worst rock I’ve ever seen. Plus . . . without Steve Miller, we wouldn’t have the Pompatus of Love. The suckier: Guns n’ Roses.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers vs. R.E.O. Speedwagon: Again, no contest. Petty is a great songwriter with a great band. Kevin Cronin and company are neither. The suckier: R.E.O. Speedwagon.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band vs. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band: Honestly, I dislike both of these bands, a lot, but Seger takes the cake here for penning “Turn the Page,” the most odious of the “Oh, woe is me, I’m a famous rock star” songs. The suckier: Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.
Blink 182 vs. the Cars: Duh. The suckier: Blink 182.
Green Day vs. Korn: Korn is pretty good, actually, once you get past their odious public persona. They innovated (there wouldn’t be as many 7-string guitars in your local music shop if they hadn’t taken ’em to the mainstream), Green Day copied. The suckier: Green Day.
Limp Bizkit vs. Metallica: St. Anger is so awful that it almost, almost, makes me want to take a slap at the Metallica, but, c’mon, who are we kidding, there’s bad records, and then there’s bad careers. Limp Bizkit has mastered the latter. The suckier: Limp Bizkit.
No Doubt vs. the Offspring: Ehhhh . . . . both of these groups are wan imitators of things done better elsewhere, but at least No Doubt have tried to develop themselves musically, while the Offspring have launched a string of songs destined to be played by obnoxious frat boys for generations to come. The suckier: The Offspring.
Def Leppard vs. Motley Crue: The New Wave of British Heavy Metal vs. Bad American Hair Band? No brainer. The suckier: Motley Crue.
Poison vs. Quiet Riot: Sheesh . . . two Bad American Hair Bands. Dock Quiet Riot points for having to steal from Slade to get their first hit. The suckier: Quiet Riot.
Skid Row vs. Stone Temple Pilots: God, this category is nauseating me, but not as much as Sebastian Bach does. The suckier: Skid Row.
Soundgarden vs. Whitesnake: I find Chris Cornell to be an astoundingly annoying singer, but I liked Soundgarden’s songs. Can’t say either about David Coverversion and friends. The suckier: Whitesnake.
Black Crowes vs. Blues Traveler: No contest, Black Crowes had the muscle and fire to mop the floor with Blues Traveler. The suckier: Blues Traveler.
Counting Crows vs. Doobie Brothers: The Doobie’s also didn’t know when to quit, and their Michael McDonald era is pretty weeniefied, but in their ’70s heyday, they kicked serious ass, and wrote great singalong songs. Counting Crowes have done neither, and their desecration of Joni Mitchel’s “Big Yellow Taxi” is one the suckiest of all time sucky cover songs. The suckier: Counting Crows.
Dave Matthews Band vs. Santana: Two big improvisors, one with lasting influence, one with lasting annoyance. Plus, Carlos Santana didn’t need to call Tim Reynolds in to play his parts in the studio. The suckier: The Dave Matthews Band.
Spin Doctors vs. Z.Z. Top: Dusty Hill would eat Chris Barron for breakfast, with a side of bacon. The suckier: Spin Doctors.
Beastie Boys vs. Bee Gees: (Note: this entry edited a day later after it was made clear to me that I had not stated my case clearly or explained my logic thoroughly enough. Making a heretical pick like this one requires that the picker at least explain his position). Heresy alert! Heresy alert! I consider the Beastie Boys to be the most over-rated band of the past 20 years: mostly obnoxious fake hip-hop from guys who started off making mostly obnoxious fake punk. Give ’em credit for spotting the better wave to ride when they did. Things got better as they got more organic (their mid-period albums where they functioned as a reasonably self-sufficient instrumental trio are their best), but the vocals have always remained teeth-gratingly shrill and whiny, with not a powerful voice in the bunch. It’s like having a band with three Flavor Flavs . . . everybody loves the Flava, sure, but you need some Chuck D in there to anchor the proceedings and to make your sinuses stop vibrating in resonance with the group’s high-pitched, dental-drill-buzzing raps. The Bee Gees get damned eternally for Saturday Night Fever and all that it spawned, but their early pop works are lasting pop masterpieces, and if I needed to hire a songwriter, I’d call Barry Gibb before the Beastie of your choice. There’s some apples-against-oranges here, but when push comes right down to shove, we’ve got to conclude that “Fight For Your Right to Party” is more of a blight on classic radio than the Bee Gees disco hits were. Sorry, Grand Royal posse. The suckier: Beastie Boys.
INXS vs. Linkin Park: Smooth and cool funk-styled pop against surprisingly melodic and well-written rap-rock. A closer contest than it would seem on the surface, since Linkin Park are far better than most other bands in their genre. Still, it’s hard to argue with the number of great, lasting songs that INXS managed to get onto radio over the years, and their Australian pub rock background gives them some cred that most other bands lack. The suckier: Linkin Park.
Prince and the Revolution vs. the Police: A very, very, very tough call: two great bands, both of which spawned really annoying and pretentious solo artists. I’ve got to stick it to Prince here, though, if only because the Police were more of a band, Sting’s grandstanding notwithstanding, while the Revolution was more of a collection of (very talented and worthy) backing players. So with some chagrin, the suckier: Prince and the Revolution.
Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. Sublime: Pioneering rap-rock versus derivative rap-rock, from a couple of bands savaged by heroin addiction. You gotta keep the originals and let the one-hit wonders go. The suckier: Sublime.
Chicago vs. the Cranberries: Bleurgh. Can we skip this one? No? Well . . . I find the hiccuping, over-wrought vocals on the Cranberries’ recordings to be unlistenable, while Chicago’s smooth pop goes straight through my head without making an impression at all. You’ve gotta keep the invisible over the annoying, right? The suckier: the Cranberries.
Hootie and the Blowfish vs. Huey Lewis and the News: Double bleurgh! Two terrible, popular acts, but at least Lewis and company had some interesting early session work to their names, while Hootie emerged full blown in their awfulness, and didn’t have the sense to leave the scene after their unimaginably successful first record. The suckier: Hootie and the Blowfish.
Matchbox 20 vs. Men at Work: You just gotta take the Aussies here, since they’re outsiders by definition, and Matchbox 20 have got “corporate” stamped all over them, and they get docked for Rob Thomas’ participation in Santana’s cheesy comeback album. The suckier: Matchbox 20.
Tears for Fears vs. Third Eye Blind: Tears for Fears are overwrought, but they did cover a lot of stylistic ground, and grew dramatically over their career. Third Eye Blind sounds like lots and lots and lots of other college rock radio bands, and don’t appear to want to change that. The suckier: Third Eye Blind.
Bush vs. Creed: Fake Nirvana vs. Fake Pearl Jam. We don’t like either of the original bands, but Creed’s preachiness comes with a whiff of hypocrisy to it, and their over-emoting and anthem-writing gets real old, real fast. The suckier: Creed.
Live vs. Nickelback: Nickelback are another one of those bands that sounds like all the other college rock radio bands. Live think too much, and fall prey to the same over-emoting and anthem-writing that Creed indulge in. Relax, guys, it’s only rock n’ roll, but when you do it, we don’t like it. The suckier: Live.
Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam: Phew!! The grand pappies of grunge slugging it out in the first round. Again, another heresy alert: if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve read my Anti-Nirvana screed. I pity Kurt Cobain (and even more pity his child), but he and his band were only as good as Dave Grohl and Butch Vig made them. Pearl Jam are very, very annoying, but they get points for evolving and taking on new challenges. But they’re still annoying. The suckier: Nirvana.
Smashing Pumpkins vs. Staind: Billy Corgan is a shrill whiner, but you gotta give him credit for being ambitious. Staind have successfully mined the lowest common denominator points of modern rock with verve and applomb, but that’s not a good thing, is it? The suckier: Staind.
And so, for tomorrow’s second round, that leaves us with the following matchups:
Classic Rock (Pool A): Aerosmith vs. Boston, Heart vs. Journey
Classic Rock (Pool B): Bon Jovi vs. Guns n’ Roses, R.E.O. Speedwagon vs. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.
Punk/New Wave/Hardcore/Neopunk: Blink 182 vs. Green Day, Limp Bizkit vs. the Offspring.
Metal: Motley Crue vs. Quiet Riot, Skid Row vs. Whitesnake.
Blues/Jam: Blues Traveler vs. Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band vs. Spin Doctors.
Soul/Funk/Rap: Beastie Boys vs. Linkin Park, Prince and the Revolution vs. Sublime.
Pop: The Cranberries vs. Hootie and the Blowfish, Matchbox 20 vs. Third Eye Blind.
Modern Rock: Creed vs. Live, Nirvana vs. Staind.
Tune in tomorrow as we move ever closer to determining . . . . the worst rock band in history!
The Worst Rock Band Ever Competition (Part Three):
Today we weed the prospects into a dense sweet sixteen of suck. Remember: to qualify for this list, each band had to have at least one album sell five million copies, and it’s the worse, not the better bands that advance. So without further ado:
Aerosmith vs. Boston: Aerosmith has put out some really dismal albums and singles over the past 15 years, ever since they started relying heavily on outside songwriters for hits and/or beginning to craft aggressively adolescent lyrics and/or featuring too-much-too-young pre-starlets in their videos: I see “Love in an Elevator” and “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)” and “Janie’s Got A Gun” as the watershed transitional singles for them, when they passed from dangerous rockers to winking superstars. That having been said, they issued some tough, hard, nasty albums in their heyday, and they did work their up from clubs and pubs on their way to superstardom. Boston, on the other hand . . . didn’t. They were always the canned vision of Tom Scholz: while they played clubs in their early days, it was Scholz’s meticulous basement demos that earned them their contract, not their live chops. Scholz’s studio geekery/freakery got worse with time, although the longer he took on Boston’s records, the worse they got. Rock and roll is ultimately about soul and passion and rebellion, and a band as cold and calculating as Boston doesn’t satisfy those primal requirements. The suckier: Boston.
Heart vs. Journey: Heart’s Dreamboat Annie and Little Queen were pretty stunningly shocking when they hit pop/rock radio in the mid-’70s, since we’d been programmed by that time to accept women singers, but not ass-kicking female guitarists, or a pair of sisters serving as their own musical directors and writing their own songs. Those two records presented material by a surprisingly mature emergent band: the seeds of Heart go all the back to 1963, so the Wilson sisters had been doing their thing for a long time before they broke big with it. Of course, when they had to start churning out the obligatory album a year during the ’70s, the quality level dropped off dramatically. They had a commercial renaissance with their self-titled ’85 album, but by that time, they’d taken the Aerosmith path of hiring outside songwriters to write more formulaic hits for them. Most of which were, let’s be honest, pretty lame. Journey’s career path took the opposite approach: the first three albums by this Santana spin off band were critically and commercially tepid jazz-fusion flavored records, before they took on singer Steve Perry and broke huge with 1978’s Infinity and 1979’s Evolution. The jazz rock stuff was pretty weak, while the pop-rock stuff became annoying radio fodder for years to come: “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” is particularly shudder inducing to this day. I think, ultimately, this one comes down to the radio test: I don’t switch the station when “Barracuda” or “Straight On” or “Magic Man” come on, but I’m quick with the dial when “Anyway You Want It” or “Open Arms” or (shudder) “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” come on. The suckier: Journey.
Bon Jovi vs. Guns n’ Roses: Guns n’ Roses were so good when they first started, and the Use Your Illusions albums too long by half, but show an astounding degree of ambition for a genre of music that wasn’t known for it. The bottom fell out at that point, though, once Izzy Stradlin left, beginning the steady sequence of departures that have left Axl to putter about in his hair piece and girdle, playing unbelievably bad live shows with a cobbled-together band of merceneries, when he feels up to it. Bon Jovi, on the other hand, have been paeans to the consistency of mediocrity: they are what they are, and that’s all that they are, and you know what you’re getting, and that’s all there is. We have to go with a band that once had big vision and ambition over the middle of the road rockers. The suckier: Bon Jovi.
R.E.O. Speedwagon vs. Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band: Both of these bands were classic middle of the road radio rockers at their commercial apexes. Seger, however, had some pretty significant back story: his late ’60s releases Ramblin Gamblin Man and Mongrel were piledriving Detroit rock records, the place where the MC5 met Mitch Ryder; Seger’s “2+2 = ?” is one of the more powerful anti-war songs of its era. He was still rocking hard and mean with 1974’s Seven, but with 1975’s Beautiful Loser he walked into the mainstream and spent the next five years sitting pretty near the top of the charts with a series of accessible, mostly harmless pop rock records. Right around the time that Seger’s key commercial period ended, R.E.O. Speedwagon shot to the top of the charts with Hi Infidelity in 1980, capping a ten-year, ten-album slog through various subgenres of arena-ready rock. They got their arenas in the early ’80s, but they were sharing them with Styx and Journey, so what does that tell you about the spirit of that age? The suckier: R.E.O. Speedwagon.
Blink 182 vs. Green Day: Both derivative neo-punk bands, both with huge crossover success, but Green Day got through the door first, letting Blink 182 pop through in the wake they created. Green Day get points for tackling the occasional non-genre cut, most notably “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” while Blink 182 get docked for one of the worst album covers and titles in rock history with Enema of the State. (Which outsucks even Green Day’s own puerile Dookie disc). The suckier: Blink 182.
Limp Bizkit vs. the Offspring: Rapcore vs. neo-punk, how appealing. Not. While the Offspring’s frat friendly fare gets obnoxious quickly, at least it’s catchy enough to stick in your noggin for a while, whether you want it to our not. Limp Bizkit, on the other hand, can get painfully amelodic at times, and not in the good/experimental sense of that word: they’re trying to write melodies, they just can’t do it, or if they can, then Fred Durst can’t sing them. We have to ask ourselves: how did such an unappealing vocalist come to front such a successful group? Well, we’ll certainly be able to talk about them more tomorrow, since they are . . . The suckier: Limp Bizkit.
Motley Crue vs. Quiet Riot: It’s frightening to remember that the first heavy metal record to top Billboard’s charts was Quiet Riot’s Metal Health. It’s also frightening to consider that a metal band with a guitarist as bad as Mick Mars could rise to the commercial apex of this guitar-intensive genre. Quiet Riot were essentially one hit wonders (they sold plenty of copies of Condition Critical, the followup to Metal Health, but it’s a blueprint of its predecessor, making it one hit spread over two discs, right down to the paired Slade covers, which are the best songs on both albums), while Motley Crue managed to offend over a long series of discs and tours and excesses and VH1 television shows. I started this paragraph thinking I was going to give the nod to Quiet Riot as the suckier band, but as I type, I think we’ve got to honor Motley Crue’s long-term commitment to making bad music in public places, since Quiet Riot at least had the dignity to fall off the radar screen after their moment in the sun. The suckier: Motley Crue.
Skid Row vs. Whitesnake: As noted yesterday, I find Sebastian Bach to be a particularly annoying metal singer/persona. Maybe it’s the hair, I dunno. Of course, as annoying as he is, he is the person you think of when you think of Skid Row, so when a couple of the other members of the band got back together to put out a new record under the Skid Row monniker without him, it dinged the band as an entity down a couple on notches on the integrity scale. Whitesnake is derivative, sure, but at least they came by their derivativeness honestly: most of them were veterans of Deep Purple, so if they weren’t blazing trails with Whitesnake, it might be because they’d done so already and were ready to just take the rock god dollars without having to redefine the rock god rules again. The suckier: Skid Row.
Blues Traveler vs. Counting Crows: I have a confession to make. When I first sketched out this strategy for identifying the worst rock band of all time, these two bands were both in the final four of suckiness, along with another lightly jam-flavored band (and, yes, I know the Crows aren’t really a jam band, but they craft music that’s textured and flavored in the same ways that most of the jam bands texture and flavor their music, they just don’t wank on it as long). It occured to me that, as odious as the jam scene can be, picking three of the final four bands from a single genre seemed a bit reductive. So I came up with the eight categories to make sure that the final four represented a little bit more variety when it came to badness. Of course, that means that now I have to chose one these bands to advance and one to fall off the radar screen, even though I think they’re both pretty awful and both could stand to go another round or two. Oh well, you can’t change the rules once you’ve posted them (well . . . you can, but I won’t). I’m going to give the Counting Crows the benefit of being less straightly jam driven and more song oriented, and because their debut album is actually reasonably dark and reflective, indicating that they were thinking about something other than how the hell they were gonna get back to the root chord after a 20 minute harmonica workout. The suckier: Blues Traveler.
Dave Matthews Band vs. Spin Doctors: Dave Matthews and company have been carrying the Dead/Allmans torch for much of the past decade, drawing huge throngs to watch their onstage pyrotechnics and improvisations, based on and build around reasonably accessible pop songs. They deserve credit for creating their fare from a very unusual instrumental configuration: how many other guitar-drum-bass-violin-sax bands can you think of? (Here’s two: Hawkwind and Roxy Music, at different points in their careers). Spin Doctors, on the other hand, were one-hit jam band wonders, dropped by their own label five years after releasing a six-times platinum record. With so little to recommend them, they are clearly . . . The suckier: Spin Doctors.
Beastie Boys vs. Linkin Park: I dislike the Beastie Boys, I really do, and I find Linkin Park one of the more appealing post-rapcore crossover bands (and before you write to snark about this, listen to their records . . . I’m always amazed at how quickly people are to dismiss things based on having caught a piece of a video or a part of a song on the radio). However, this contest is unbalanced in terms of career length and prospects that there’s not really any good model that I could come up with to judge Linkin Park as a superior band to the Beastie Boys, however much I dislike them. So, on the strength of their career, their reasonably innovative early work with Rick Rubin, their nurturing of other artists, and their one great song (“Sabotage”), we let the purveyors of “Fight for Your Right to Party” off the hook, and reluctanly reward . . . The suckier: Linkin Park.
Prince and the Revolution vs. Sublime: No contest, again both in terms of career arc, influence, longevity, creativity, originality, etc. etc. etc. etc. The grossest mismatch of the second round, clearly, although there’s nothing really wrong with Sublime. They just can’t hang with Prince. Or Wendy and Lisa, for that matter. The suckier: Sublime.
The Cranberries vs. Hootie and the Blowfish: I don’t know which is the chicken and which is the egg, but I suspect we have the Cranberries Dolores O’Riordan to thank for the hiccuping vocal trick that Alanis Morrissete rode to superstardom a couple of years after the Cranberries first popped up on American (and presumably Canadian) radio. While it’s interesting the first time you hear it, it makes listening to records (or even songs) by artists who sing that way very, very repetitive sounding, very, very quickly. But, to their credit, the Cranberries were inspired by artists like the Smiths, and were trying to do some interesting instrumental things early on in their careers, until O’Riordan decided to focus the band’s attention onto topical subjects, writing about them badly, becoming a lightweight counter to the already over-rated Sinead O’Connor in the process. Hootie in the Blowfish? Well, they were sort of the steroid-fueled version of the Spin Doctors, a band that astounded everyone, and I mean everyone, by selling millions and millions of copies of a wan and tepid debut album, then slowly, steadily, falling out of everyone’s consciousness, leaving millions and millions of people to wonder: what was I thinking? Ambition, however misguided, always trumps easy listening, however lucrative. The suckier: Hootie and the Blowfish.
Matchbox 20 vs. Third Eye Blind: Third Eye Blind are mostly harmless radio rock, really. As are Matchbox 20, come to think of it. Both of these groups fit so seamlessly into the sounds of pop format radio these days that it’s kinda hard to think which songs are theirs until you look at a listing of their albums: “Oh! That’s them? Oh!” Once again, this one comes down to the margins . . . Matchbox 20 get dinged because Rob Thomas has become a go-to guy for tepid comeback songs by classic rockers, and when I saw them in concert (hey, I was reviewing the show, I didn’t want to be there), their live presentation was so innocuous on one hand, but manipulative and calculating on another. They pushed each of the stock live show buttons systemically, sequentially, goading the audience right to where they wanted them. If you hadn’t seen a lot of rock shows, I could see how you could have walked out of that room thinking you’d seen a classic. If you’d seen a lot of rock shows, then you’d know that you’d been had. The suckier: Matchbox 20.
Creed vs. Live: Before I assess this one, I have to strain real hard to make the tendons in my neck stand out, and scrunch my eyes together, and lift my hands up in the air to show how thoughtful and earnest and sincere I am as I spill my guts onto the computer. Both of these bands are way, way, way, way, way too pompous and histrionic and preachy for their own good, Creed from an ostensibly Christian perspective, Live from a more Eastern/pantheistic standpoint. Look at us! We’re so sincere! We’re so thoughtful! Buy our records! Uhh . . . no. Instrumentally, Live are the more ambitious of the two groups, with Creed’s music being as heavy-handed and plodding as their philosophy and preaching. I shiver as I untense my shoulders, let out a deep breath, and declare . . . The suckier: Creed.
Nirvana vs. Staind: Nirvana launched a revolution, even if it was a backward looking one, even if it died on the vine, even if their legacy now hinges more on the pillaging of poor Kurt Cobain’s backstory and diaries than it does on the music. At least they mattered, once upon a time. I first encountered Staind on a triple live bill with Static-X and the Clay People. I adored the sets that those two bands offered, but found Staind to be dull and tepid by comparison, clearly the inferior act. Six months later they were sitting atop the charts, so what do I know? Well, I do know this . . . The suckier: Staind.
Alright, that’s it for today! Tomorrow we pick the final eight, one finalist from each of our eight categories. To sum up, tomorrow’s competition will be between:
Classic Rock (Pool A): Boston vs. Journey
Classic Rock (Pool B): Bon Jovi vs. R.E.O. Speedwagon
Punk/New Wave/Hardcore/Neopunk: Blink 182 vs. Limp Bizkit
Metal: Motley Crue vs. Skid Row
Blues/Jam: Blues Traveler vs. Spin Doctors.
Soul/Funk/Rap: Linkin Park vs. Sublime
Pop: Hootie and the Blowfish vs. Matchbox 20
Modern Rock: Creed vs. Staind
Watch this space, as the ball of badness gets smaller and denser, each and every day.
The Worst Rock Band Ever Competition (Part Four):
We’re back . . . and today we pick the final eight, one from each category. Before we get to the selections, though, a couple of thoughts on the process and reactions to feedback received:
1. As a general rule, I’m not a fan of destructive criticism: it’s always better to write a good review of an unknown band just starting out than it is to take potshots at bands who have already succeeded (commercially, that is). Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship, and all that. This competition, of course, is all about the negative . . . but that’s the main reason that I made the criteria for participation sales of at least five million copies of one or more albums. Once you’ve achieved commercial success at that level, the price of fame is that you’re open for having your bubble popped, both in the national press and on private journals like this one. You can’t put your art statements out in front of millions of people without accepting, and expecting, a more stringent critical view than a band that’s playing for peanuts and beer money is going to get from the same critics. That’s why people often accuse critics of going soft on our own hometown bands. In general, it’s not that we’re going soft on them, it’s that we’re not going as hard on the big name bands that we could savage, if there was a point to doing so.
2. Every one of these bands is commercially successful, which means that every one of these bands has millions and millions of fans. I don’t hate you if you like these bands, I don’t think you’re stupid if you like these bands, I’m not insulting you if you like these bands. I’m insulting the bands themselves. There’s a difference. You are a fan. You are not the band, and not responsible for upholding their honor. They have press flacks to do that for them. They can afford that luxury, having sold at least five million albums. Based on responses I’ve heard already, I’m sure that when this all gets indexed into the search engines that I’ll be hearing from an increasing number of people saying “Dude . . . [your band name here] rocks . . . you suck!” And, well, hey . . . no argument there, really, but if you don’t like what I’m saying, then why are you reading my blog?
3. 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 trainwreck or an inspired mistake in a world ruled by objectivity.
4. Yes, of course this is just my opinion. (Well, not really, I have been getting input from readers, and have been taking their points into consideration). 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 bands, go read their blogs.
Alright, then, that taken care of, we can now move subjectively, negatively and personally into selecting the final eight.
Boston vs. Journey: Both bands are, ultimately, creatures of their sole permanent member guitarists: Tom Scholz for Boston and Neal Schon for Journey. The difference between them is that Journey has at least functioned as a fully formed band for most of their history: you can hear that a drummer and a bassist and a guitarist and a keyboardist actually got together to make music together. It’s hard to hear that with Boston, since so much of their recorded output has been so heavily and tightly controlled, composed, produced and processed by Scholz, which has made his bandmates expendable. Or so Scholz imagined, since the problem with him using his mad, precise studio wizardry to polish his band’s sound to a reflective sheen is that the only really, truly unique thing that listeners recognize as a distinctive sound to Boston’s music is singer Brad Delp’s voice. Scholz forgot that on 1994’s Walk On, spending seven years in the studio and cavalierly replacing Delp with another singer. Fans and AOR radio weren’t buying it by that time, though. As much as Scholz is the brains behind Boston, Delp is the voice, and it ain’t Boston without him. Some folks would make the same argument about Journey, that they’re not Journey without Steve Perry, but Perry wasn’t an original member, and the first Journey album without him (2001’s Arrival) is actually better than the last Journey album with him (1996’s Trial By Fire). Ultimately, it comes down to a competition between a band that has steadily mutated its membership over the years (Journey) and a marketing construct that hires and fires musicians and singers as necessary to serve the musical overlord. I’ll always pick a band over a marketing construct. The suckier: Boston.
Bon Jovi vs. R.E.O. Speedwagon: The Heartland vs. the Jersey Shore. Both of these bands are real bands (unlike Boston), both of them slogged their way up through clubs, although Bon Jovi had a bit of a head start in that department, given that Jon Bon Jovi’s cousin is Tony Bongiovi, owner of the Power Station recording studio, and young Jon had the chance to hobnob, rub shoulders and record demos with members of Springsteen’s E Street Band, which presumably R.E.O. Speedwagon’s members didn’t. It took R.E.O. Speedwagon ten years and ten albums before they broke the five-times-platinum barrier with the chart-topping Hi Infidelity, but they did it themselves, and their breakthrough album didn’t have any particular pot sweeteners or additives crassly added to take it over the hump. Bon Jovi, on the other hand, scored big with their third album, Slippery When Wet: for which they brought in mercenary schlockmeister Desmond Child to write the hits, and behind which the emphasis in the marketing package shifted to making sure that the very telegenic Jon Bon Jovi was given male pin-up heart throb treatment. R.E.O. Speedwagon were never going to be poster boys: they got what they got through the music, not by being cute, and not by hiring hacks to do their songwriting for them. With that distinction in hand, we salute the Heartland and decree . . . the suckier: Bon Jovi.
Blink 182 vs. Limp Bizkit: Okay, I’ll admit it: I actually liked Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” the first time I heard it. There. It’s out. I’ve said it. Of course, I thought it was Korn the first time I heard it, since what I liked about it was its bottom-heavy bass and seven string guitar crunch, not the dreadful vocals on top of it. It’s understandable that Limp Bizkit would issue a song that sounded (instrumentally) like Korn, since Jonathan Davis and company served as the conduit through which Limp Bizkit got its crack at the big time: without Korn, Fred Durst would still be a tattoo artist somewhere. (Hmmm . . . maybe I need to rethink how much I like Korn). Durst went on to actually perform a with Korn on Follow Your Leader, dragging Jonathan Davis through what is probably supposed to be a spontaneous free-style rapped dis fest, but which actually becomes one of Korn’s most empty and hollow and pointless sounding songs. Limp Bizkit’s career opened with a dreadful cover of George Michael’s “Faith” (one where you’re not quite sure if you’re laughing with the band, or at the band), and their desecration of the Who’s “Behind Blues Eyes” is currently on the charts. In between those points, the band lost guitarist Wes Borland (who, despite the idiocy of his onstage costumes, actually offered some of the few interesting moments his band produced), the music stayed pretty much exactly the same (except that the guitar parts got worse) and Fred Durst’s lyrics grew to be almost as whiny as his voice: nobody understands him, boo freakin’ hoo. Blink 182 rose out of the whole surf/skate/punk/Warped/Vans scene, playing mostly harmless neopunk, although as I’ve noted before, I cringe every time I see their Enema of the State record in the racks, one of the worst record covers ever, certainly the worst by a five-times-platinum band. However, I’ve got to give them credit for realizing that it’s time to grow up and put aside the skateboards after ten years of surf rat fodder: their self-titled 2003 album finds them stretching themselves in new directions, going so far as to recruit the Cure’s Robert Smith to sing on a track. Give ’em credit for balls, if nothing else, and for looking in the mirror and realizing that it was time to grow up. I suppose we can hope that someday Fred Durst has such a moment. The suckier: Limp Bizkit.
Motley Crue vs. Skid Row: Motley Crue were one of the first prominent hair metal bands of the ’80s, while Skid Row emerged at the tail end of the hair metal era. We can blame Motley Crue for that unfortunate phenomenon accordingly, while with Skid Row we just have to shake our heads and wonder how they could have been sucked into such things. Skid Row, to their credit, tried some interesting modern metal tricks in between the rock radio friendly fare, particularly on their more speed-metal flavored mid’90s records. Motley Crue, on the other hand, were always about pushing the same buttons that Kiss pushed on their rise to stardom, only several years later, the make-up, the devil references, the girls, the explosions, etc. etc. etc. If you can find a stitch or a spark of originality in the Motley Crue canon, then you’re a more detailed observer than I could ever be. I will always see them as Kiss Ultra-Lite (now with 20% more pasturized cheese food product!) The suckier: Motley Crue.
Blues Traveler vs. Spin Doctors: It’s very, very interesting that these two slug it out against each other here, since Spin Doctor Chris Barron went to high school with the founding members of Blues Traveler, and is a close friend of Traveler frontman John Popper; the two even jammed together in their formative years, and there are apocryphal tales to be found online of Barron being an original member of the Blues Traveler’s earliest incarnations, before he was given the boot. Blues Traveler made it out of the starting blocks first, and were instrumental in the founding on Spin Doctors: Popper and company encountered Barron while on tour, and brought him back to New York City with them, saving him from having to continue playing in such bands as the Funbunnies and Dead Alcoholics With Boners. (This is true, I’m not making this up, or if it’s not true, then the All Music Guide is making up facts again). He met his fellow Spin Doctors there, which probably relieved Blues Traveler, since they probably didn’t really want to bring him back into their band again. Both bands rode the Grateful Dead fueled jam train to their unexpected (in Blues Traveler’s case) and amazingly unexpected (in the Spin Doctor’s case) pop breakthroughs. It’s how they handled the post-breakthrough success that separates them: Spin Doctors oscillated wildly between pushing the sorts of straight pop that got them onto the radio (and MTV) and pushing the sorts of jam fare that their original following liked, and by trying to please everyone, they pleased no one, including Epic Records, who dumped them after 1994’s dreadful Turn It Upside Down. Blues Traveler, on the other hand, have aged with some dignity, and their musical changes seem to be driven less by market considerations that by internal forces (the death of bassist Bob Sheehan, John Popper’s struggles with weight and illness, attempts to incorporate new instrumentation or to mix up their classics acoustic style, etc.). Ultimately, it seems that Blues Traveler did the right thing when they left high school chum Chris Barron to his own devices, since if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be able to declare . . . the suckier: Spin Doctors.
Linkin Park vs. Sublime: Now this is an unfortunate final for the soul/funk/rap division of our competition, in that neither of these bands really suck. They just has the misfortune of going up against heavier hitters in the early rounds, with Linkin Park being defeated by INXS and the Beastie Boys, and Sublime falling to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Prince and the Revolution. Who’da thunk that this category would have been the highest quality one when push came down to final shove? Not me! Anyway . . . Linkin Park is melodic rapcore (no mean feat) with a cool jones for Aphex Twin styled rhythms and textures. Sublime was melodic post-punk with a splash of reggae sunsplash thrown into the mix for good measure. We’re gonna give Linkin Park the benefit of the doubt here in that they’re an ongoing concern, and have thus far been smart enough not to lose their creative sparkplug to a heroin overdose. We’ll dock Sublime’s surviving members, too, for the things they’ve done with Long Beach Dub Allstars, which veer perilously close to jam band wankiness, even when they’re done in the name of dub. A little bit less dope might tighten it up a bit, perhaps? Punchline is, one of these bands has to advance, although basically this amounts to a “free ride to the final four” for whoever they meet in the next round. Therefore . . . the suckier: Sublime.
Hootie and the Blowfish vs. Matchbox 20: Hootie and the Blowfish were the little bar band that could . . . chugga chugga chugga chugga solo chugga chugga chugga chugga chorus chugga chugga chugga chugga fade. It’s almost hard to blame or credit them for their success, since they were the beneficiaries of an unexpected mass and widespread desire by American listeners to hear a bar band at home, instead of in the bars where their unoffensive fare goes down smooth with bourbon and smokes. Hootie and the Blowfish were onetime offenders: it’s easy to let ’em off with a slap on the wrist and probation, telling them that they’ll only have to do their prison time if they offend again. Which they’re never going to. Problem solved. Matchbox 20, though, are repeat offenders, recidivists of the most pernicious variety. Their debut album Yourself or Someone Like You just . . . would . . . not . . . . go . . . away!!! Ten million copies sold and counting, singles on the charts and on the radio for years after it was issued, never a chart-topper, just a constant, nagging reminder of how rock music can be so well packaged and marketed. Singer Rob Thomas then became ubiquitous with his performance on Santana’s “Smooth,” a truly lowest common denominator version of the Latin rock that Carlos Santana single-handedly invented 25 years earlier. And then . . . Mad Season . . . and then More Than You Think You Are . . . all of them sounding exactly the same, all of them polished to a tee and perfect in their construction, sleek and aerodynamically designed to permeate the airwaves and stay there, forever, songs that could have been written, recorded and issued anytime in the past 25 years by any number of bands, they’re so generic and fit so well with whatever else is on the radio or MTV. But, they were actually made by only one band, and therefore . . . the suckier: Matchbox 20.
Creed vs. Staind: This one’s the opposite of the Linkin Park-Sublime contest, in that both of these bands have many, many, many strikes against them, and I’d be happy to see both of them move forward in the contest. But we need to pick the worse of the two to preserve the sanctity of the event (how could I have been so dumb . . . why didn’t I put them in separate categories?? foolish! foolish!!!). In the same way that we have to damn Korn for inflicting Limp Bizkit upon us, we have to damn Limp Bizkit for inflicting Staind upon us: Fred Durst just loved the band, and helped get them studio time and a record deal. Thanks, Fred, for sharing. While Staind had faux rough chops early on, playing light a lighterweight counterpart to Tool or Korn, they really found their niche (such as it is) when they sawed the edges of their music and began issuing singles that are sort of the power ballads of the nu metal era. They are very sensitive, and earnest, and will tell you so in their songs. But they’ve got nothing on Creed in the earnest department: as you can tell by the title of their debut album My Own Prison, these guys are just all torn up inside, and they’re gonna tell us all about it, you bet, in their best post-grunge leather-lunged knock-upside-the-head fashion. And then on Human Clay, they’re gonna tell us about how we’re all clay, see, and we can be molded, if you shout really loudly over trundling riffs and mid-tempo slabs of mediocrity. And now they’re Weathered, they’re older and more experienced, and they’re gonna shout, shout let it all out (sorry, Tears for Fears), but it sounds the same as it’s always sounded, and stop yelling at me, dammit, I hear you, I just don’t care!!! The suckier: Creed.
And, so that takes us down to our final eight, one from each category, which means we merge the categories tomorrow to get a final four. Tomorrow’s Elite Eight matchups will be:
Classic Rock (Pools A and B): Boston vs. Bon Jovi.
Punk/New Wave/Hardcore/Neopunk/Metal: Limp Bizkit vs. Motley Crue.
Soul/Funk/Rap/Pop: Matchbox 20 vs. Sublime.
Blues/Jam/Modern Rock: Creed vs. Spin Doctors.
It’s getting tense and intense . . . as we move ever closer towards recognizing: The Worst Rock Band Ever!!
The Worst Rock Band Ever Competition (Part Five):
Today we pick the final four, combining our original eight categories into four super categories, seeking the four most heinous offenders to move on to the final round robin tournament of badness. By this time tomorrow (well, maybe by a later time tomorrow, since it’s Saturday and I’ll probably sleep in, sorry), we should have our winner. Or loser, I guess would be the better way to honor them. So . . . without further ado, today’s contests are:
Boston vs. Bon Jovi: A New England vs. New Jersey slugfest between two bands who are as tightly marketed, glossily produced and manipulatively packaged as any others to ever come out of the classic radio rock genre. In Bon Jovi’s favor, there is the fact that they really are a band, not a shell concept for pushing the monomaniacal impulses of a single producer/guitarist, a la Boston’s Tom Scholz. Look at Scholz’s credits on the last Boston album, 2002’s Corporate America: Bass, Guitar, Drums, Guitar (Electric), Keyboards, Vocals, Art Direction. Hmmm . . . that’s pretty much everything, isn’t it? (Note, too, that Boston has now resorted to revolving lead singers: Scholz knows that people associate Brad Delp’s voice with Boston, but if Delp only sings occassionally, he can’t erode or impede Tom’s total control). Bon Jovi have a lot of hired guns on their discs, but there is a band buried under there, somewhere. The problem is, though, that most of the songs that you recognize from the radio also feature the songwriting and production talents of Desmond Child, one of the most serious purveyors of pop rock pablum to ever take pen to hand or sit behind a mixing board. Boston, at least, wrote their own hits. Or, uh, Tom Scholz wrote their hits. But he is Boston, so that means the same thing. Boston wins on the marketing front to some extent to: as antisceptic and soulless as it can, it’s all about the music with Boston. Do you even know what any of the band’s member(s) look like? Have their faces ever appeared on the front of an album cover? Bon Jovi, on the other hand, has ridden pretty boy looks and style that perfectly mesh with their (Desmond) Childish musical approach, playing as cute young things to cute young things, or at least to the guys who want to hang out with cute young things. To some extent, they built on the radio rock that Boston pioneered in the ’70s, and gave it a hairband era brush cut and make-up job. Which also reminds us that when Boston hit the airwaves with the best selling debut album ever (at the time, they’ve seen be supplanted by Whitney Houston), they were actually something of a breath of fresh air in a radio environment that was packed with things like disco and “You Light Up My Life” and “Afternoon Delight” and all sorts of other timeless horrors. They were innovative (if calculating) in their day. Bon Jovi was derivative (and calculating) in theirs. And the radio dial test stands: when I hear Boston’s earliest cuts on the radio, I don’t change the station. I haven’t listened to a Bon Jovi cut sitting in my car all the way through since, oh, I dunno, maybe ever, although I’ve been subjected to them at parties and clubs and social settings far more often than I would have liked. Looking at all the pros and cons, we therefore decree . . . the suckier: Bon Jovi.
Limp Bizkit vs. Motley Crue: Allmusic Guide‘s review of Limp Bizkit’s latest album, Results May Vary, pretty much hits the crux of this band’s problem right on the head: “Part of its weakness stems from two perennial Limp Bizkit problems: for a metal band they sound, well, limp, and in Fred Durst they have the worst frontman in the history of rock.” He really, truly is about as bad a singer and public face as any band could ever ask for, or ever ask to avoid, and there’s something really, savagely wrong with us as a nation that we don’t recognize that this in an emperor wearing no clothes deal here. Durst’s influence on his own band has grown over its career, particularly since Wes Borland departed, leaving Durst to provide the creative spark and impetus for the truly odious Results May Vary. Not that the earlier discs were all that much better mind you: you’ve gotta shake your head over the fact that an album with the title Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water (with content that lived down to its cover) could actually top the American charts. The other problem with Limp Bizkit is that they are in our faces right now: this whole survey started when I read an article citing Limp Bizkit and Creed as the worst bands of 2003, and both of them are still surviving now in the final eight. Does that mean that things are worse now than they’ve ever been? I don’t think so . . . I think it’s just that time heals, and recent affronts to good taste are going to feel bigger than slights from 20 years ago. So to fairly assess the odious Limp Bizkit against Motley Crue, we’ve really got to go back and give the Crue’s career a thorough scrub: they’re off the radar screen now, but they were really, really, really pointlessly stupid and bad in their glory (?) days. In summary . . . their terrible, horrible makeup and hair on the cover of breakthrough album Shout at the Devil launched a thousand hair band photos . . . the devil imagery on that record was so shallow and transparent, right down to covering the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” (they probably thought Charles Manson wrote it) and inserted an instrumental called “God Bless the Children of the Beast” . . . their breakthrough single was a lousy cover of Brownsville Station’s stupid song “Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room” . . . .”Home Sweet Home” was arguably the first metal power ballad to break through on MTV . . . “Dr. Feelgood” and “Girls, Girls, Girls” are two of the worst songs to continually recycle on rock radio to this day . . . Vince Neil killed Nicholas Dingley of Hanoi Rocks in an auto accident . . . Tommy Lee served time for beating up Pamela Anderson . . . Nikki Sixx served as songwriter for hire to Meatloaf, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw . . . Vince Neil’s ex-wife accused him of spousal abuse . . . . married family man Sixx slept with tour drummer Samantha Maloney and slammed her for it on his website after the fact . . . . and what the hell is that thing sitting on top of Mick Mars’ head? Is that hair? He is a scary troll, he is. And not scary in the good sense of the word. So as you wrap things up and look at the cons and more cons on both sides of the argument, and discount the fact that Limp Bizkit’s horrible presence is in the now, while Motley Crue’s heinous offenses are historical (but many and multifaceted), I actually end up in a different place than I would have expected as I began writing this paragraph. Limp Bizkit aren’t worth the ink to damn them, they’re going to be historically insignificant in the grander scheme of music: you’ve got to aim bigger to win this contest than Limp Bizkit will ever be able. Motley Crue (right down to the umlauts over their letters, which I refuse to type, and which they stole from Motorhead) are badness for the ages, and badness that inspired a lot of other badness, and as such, we must acknowledge them as . . . . the suckier: Motley Crue.
Matchbox 20 vs. Sublime: Well, this one doesn’t take a lot of thought. As noted yesterday, Sublime made it to the final eight not on the merits of their own scant suckiness, but because they had the misfortune of going up against obviously superior, non-sucky bands in the first two rounds. But their bad luck streak ends here, because there is no question that Matchbox 20’s ubiquitous, lowest common denominator radio rock is of a more insidious, perfidious stripe that Sublime’s passing (and passed) moment in the reggae-punk limelight, even when we adjust for present aggravation against past aggravation. Plus, there’s no doubt that Matchbox 20 are going to offend again, and in anticipation of that, we decree them to be . . . the suckier: Matchbox 20.
Creed vs. Spin Doctors: This contest, on the other hand, is a tough one. We have to take the Limp Bizkit Factor into consideration: does Creed seem more annoying to us because they’re a present annoyance, rather than a past annoyance? Because they are really, really annoying, there is no doubt about that at all, with their midtempo anthemic rockers and Scott Stapp’s “I’m oh so serious and emotive” baritone yell. If you boil everything about mainstream post-grunge rock music down into a heartless, tasteless broth, you could can it and package it and sell it as “Campbell’s Creed Soup.” Sad thing is, you’d make millions doing it. On the upside (such as it is), Stapp did duke it out in the public domain with Fred Durst over the Limp one’s “mobster mentality” business tactics (Durst, in addition to being the worst front man in rock history is also a senior Vice President for Interscope Records, which is as telling an indictment against the state of the rock industry as any I can come up with). But that outburst aside, Creed are just too damn serious for their own good, and their records have gotten weaker and weaker as they go along, even as their sales grow higher and higher. Stapp has compared his band to Led Zeppelin, who were also routinely slagged by critics while selling millions and millions of records, but the difference is that Zeppelin made something people still want to hear 30 years later, while Creed is more likely to end up on the soundtrack of “I Love the Nineties” 15 years from now, while people watching the show sit on their couches saying “Oh, are those the guys that did that ‘arms wide open’ song? What were they called again?” But this competition isn’t between Creed and Led Zepellin, it’s between Creed and Spin Doctors. And Spin Doctors are (or were) pretty dire too, but in the opposite end of the spectrum: perennially, heinously goofy and lightweight. The first cut on their debut live EP was called “Big Fat Funky Booty.” Cringe! But, then, later on that disc, we get “Yo Mama’s a Pajama.” Double cringe!!! Their breakthrough single was “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” I have a hard time accepting anything with the words “Little Miss” in them, and the album that rode that song to super multiplatinum status, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, (ha ha, ha ha, I get it) played like a watered down version of the Grateful Dead’s Arista era records, which were pretty watery to start with. (Maybe we need to market “Campbell’s Cream of Spin Doctors” broth, too, for the older, toothless listeners). That one-hit wonder was followed by three albums of decreasing quality and decreasing sales (the opposite of Creed’s “reduce quality/increase sales” approach), before a throat problem forced Chris Barron to take a vow of silence for a year, which he followed with a solo album. (I do have to give him credit and props for that: that’s a level of commitment that requires some serious discipline, certainly more discipline that he and his band evidenced in their recordings and performances). So I’m really torn on this one: expired one-hit wonder vs. growing ongoing concern. Modern Rock (a bad genre) vs. Jam Band (a very, very bad genre). Ultimately, though, I think we have to pick the band that’s perpetrating the greater damage to pop culture as a whole: the Spin Doctors represented the temporary penetration of jam band subculture into the record buying mainstream before the noodle dancers went back to trading tapes and being mostly harmless in their own little world; Creed, on the other hand, represent to total neutralization and standardization of modern rock radio, standing as the perfect strip mall band for play on strip mall radio stations, all of which are owned by the same companies, who also own the bands. How convenient. The suckier: Creed.
So! To recap, our final four are:
Classic Rock: Bon Jovi
Punk/New Wave/Metal/Hardcore/Neopunk: Motley Crue
Pop/Funk/Soul/Rap: Matchbox 20
Modern Rock/Blues/Jam: Creed
Remember that the final four will be held round-robin style: each band against the others, the one with the most “suckier” points at the end of the process deemed and dubbed . . . the worst rock band ever!!
The Worst Rock Band Ever Competition (Part Six):
Today’s the day we pick a champion. Our final four are:
Classic Rock: Bon Jovi
Punk/New Wave/Metal/Hardcore/Neopunk: Motley Crue
Pop/Funk/Soul/Rap: Matchbox 20
Modern Rock/Blues/Jam: Creed
Up to this point, it’s been straight one-on-one process of elimination, with the worst band in each pair moving forward in the bracket. To really get our hands around the final four, though, we shift into a round robin mode: each band pitted against every other finalist, this time picking the more worthy and awarding two points for a win, one point for a tie, and no points for a loss. There will be six pairings (do the math: and remember that “Motley Crue vs. Matchbox 20” is the same thing as “Matchbox 20 vs. Motley Crue”). At the end of the process, the band with the fewest points is decreed the Worst Rock Band Ever. The essays over the past five days explaining how each band has moved forward have laid out in great detail the reasons for each of these finalists being here. We’re not going to repeat or recap all that information, so if you need it again, please review the submissions to the blog over the past week. And so, without further ado.
Bon Jovi vs. Motley Crue: Bon Jovi’s middle of the road rock offers few edges and blazed few trails, and ultimately they are about packaging easy-to-swallow songs and nice-to-stare-at looks into a marketable rock product. Motley Crue is supposed to be all about decadence, but on one hand they offer a stock-shock, no imagination affronts (“Ooo! The devil! That’s scary!”), and on the other hand, the decadence they offer is of a distinctively white trash variety; the Rolling Stones are elegantly decadent, Motley Crue is just gross. The better band: Bon Jovi (2 points).
Creed vs. Matchbox 20: Easy to swallow rock for the new millenium in both cases: if you averaged the sounds of these bands together, you would have the exact middle point of commercial radio, the place where everything is safe and comfortable, the format that fits everything from Adult Contemporary to Pop to Modern Rock. We have to give Matchbox 20 the edge here, though, simply because they seem slightly more relaxed and fun about what they’re doing, while Creed scowls intently and puts on their best serious face when talking about the power of music to change lives. Hey . . . rock and roll can change lives, but not by being mediocre. The better band: Matchbox 20 (2 points).
Motley Crue vs. Matchbox 20: While we normally give bands nods for inspiring whole genres of music, it’s hard to consider that an accomplishment in Motley Crue’s case, since pretty much everybody is ashamed of our nation’s Hair Band phase, and the numbers of albums we bought while drunk on the fumes of hairspray and mascara. Motley Crue and their spawn set popular metal back a decade, and if there’s one lasting benefit of the stillborn grunge revolution, it’s that it knocked teased hair off the charts. Matchbox 20? No innovation, just perfectly precise monitoring of the popular trends of their day, and a comprehension of how to work an increasingly homogenized radio universe. The better band: Matchbox 20 (2 points).
Creed vs. Bon Jovi: Creed loses to Bon Jovi for the same reason that they lose to Matchbox 20: Rock and roll is supposed to be fun, not like passing an impacted stool, and then telling all your friends about it. Bon Jovi’s fluffy, sure, but at least they don’t make you feel guilty because your human clay hasn’t been weathered in your own prison. The better band: Bon Jovi (2 points).
Matchbox 20 vs. Bon Jovi: Matchbox 20 is Bon Jovi for a new generation, playing to the same crowds, filling the same radio niche. It’s only a matter of time before Rob Thomas follows Jon Bon Jovi to Hollywood to star in chick flicks. Tie: Matchbox 20 (1 point), Bon Jovi (1 point).
Motley Crue vs. Creed: Maggoty, fake-devil rock made by low rent scumbags vs. earnest, God-rock made by too-too-serious sensitive new age guys. On the surface, it looks like you’ve got to pick Motley Crue, because rock is supposed to be about rebellion and fun. But on the other hand . . . rock is also supposed to be about passion and sincerity and being true to your own vision and beliefs. Do any of you really think that Motley Crue believes in (or even understands) the devil-oriented fare they use in their artwork and lyrics? They looked at how Black Sabbath and Kiss used such imagery (better), and they made a calculating choice to incorporate it, soullessly, into their own work. At least Creed can claim some strength of conviction, and when you’re singing along to their songs, you can at least know that they believe what they’re saying. With Motley Crue, when you sing along you know it’s because they chose those words and images because they were designed to piss off your parents in the quickest and most obvious ways, thereby helping you feel rebellious, even as your money went from your pockets to theirs. Creed represent the pinnacle of how the sanitized, strip-malled modern music industry puts the mediocre atop the commercial pile, but they are the beneficiaries of that system, not the perpetrators. Motley Crue, on the other hand, represent everything that’s bad about spoiled rich people acting obnoxiously in the most cliched, pointless and obvious ways imaginable. And I, for one, demand some imagination from the spoiled rich people I support. The better band: Creed (2 points).
So to wrap it all up, to finish the deed, our final four round robin standings are as follows . . .
Bon Jovi: 5 points
Matchbox 20: 5 points
Creed: 2 points
Motley Crue: 0 points
. . . which means, of course, that we have a champion:
MOTLEY CRUE IS THE WORST ROCK BAND EVER!
Thanks to everybody who’s been reading and/or commenting on this process over the past week: your input and insights made a difference. I welcome feedback and reaction on the process and the results . . . only asking that it take some form other than: “Motley Crue rocks! You suck!” Because I know that there are millions and millions of people out there who have gotten great joy and entertainment from Motley Crue’s records and concerts . . . and the ultimate, reductive, bottom line of any of this is: whatever makes you happy is cool for you, as long as you’re not hurting anybody by enjoying it. Happy listening, everybody!
This article went on to give me my first experience with Internet virality, per this story, and I still get hate mail about it, all these years on. Upon reflection after finishing the piece, I felt somewhat bad about wallowing in awfulness for as long as it took to produce this piece, so I took the “March Madness” concept again and evaluated a more enlightening scenario — the best band that few people have ever heard of — in a series called Beneath the Radar: Rock’s Greatest Secret Bands. Then, once again, I pivoted and evaluated Best of the Blockbusters: The Greatest (Popular) Record Ever, which sought to identify the highest quality album among the 64 most purchased records in history.
I started a series called Slaughtering the Sacred Cows, designed to pick the most over-rated albums in rock history, but I aborted that one, since I decided that I knew what the likely answers were going to be before I wrote it, and I didn’t want to spend two weeks getting there. Then I took on a real labor of love: a 26,000-word essay called March of the Mellotrons: The Best Classic Progressive Rock Album Ever. That’s probably the defining gem of the bunch, if I say so myself.
After a long sabbatical on such articles, I decided to tackle Great Out of the Gate: The Best Debut Album Ever as a impassioned response and rebuttal to Rolling Stone magazine having recently named The Beastie Boys’ License to Ill as their choice as best debut ever. Ugh. That essay ended up being quite the epic: over 34,000 words, running to 54 printed pages with normal MS Word fonts and margins. The original of this series (this one) only ran about 12,000 words, for comparison, so I certainly got more wordy, if not more entertaining, over the years as I’ve written these things.
The next one I tackled as Let’s Take It To The Stage: The Greatest Live Album Ever, though I reduced my workload on that one by recruiting two colleagues to group write it with me. In 2015, I couldn’t decide on an album of the year, so I used one of these tournament style articles to settle the matter. And as of summer 2018, that’s the last one of these thingies I’ve undertaken . . . though I may return to the concept, if someone pitches an angle that merits such consideration.
THE COMPLETE LIST OF JERICSMITH.COM MUSIC TOURNAMENTS
The Worst Rock Band Ever (2004)
Slaughtering the Sacred Cows (2005)