VERSUS: Episode 2: Division I: Rock Album Deathmatch: And the Winner Is . . .

I set all of this up in my previous VERSUS post.

Sixty-four classic music albums that I have owned, separated into eight divisions (of eight albums each, naturally), with the overall winner of each division, after a series of head-to-head battles, moving on to face the winners of the other divisions. I’ve separated the entire field into two conferences of thirty-two albums, and I hesitate to label these conferences as East and West, or even Left and Right. Words sometimes carry unintended messages. In my head, I’ve labeled them This Conference and That Conference. Even these labels are dicey, and may suggest that I have a personal preference. Which I don’t. At least, as far as I know.

This post concerns Division I, which also included the albums in the first episode.

You may recall, that episode pitted Pet Sounds (The Beach Boys) against Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles). The winner of that round, according to me, was Sgt. Pepper’s.

To me, it was a slam dunk, a home run, a foregone conclusion, a fait accompli (if you’re fancy). It was also entirely my opinion, which matters to me much more than it possibly could to you. My conclusions invited competing opinions, of course. Not as many as I would have liked to hear, but a couple. One friend believed that the foregone conclusion was that Pet Sounds was the clear winner. Another suggested that the albums were so dissimilar that I was essentially comparing apples and oranges (I’m paraphrasing here).

I do compare apples and oranges. Today, the winner is oranges (specifically, Cuties). But, it was a photo finish.

In the first-round battles, I’ve chosen album pairings based on how the albums made me feel, along with how the feelings of others have affected me. Many people think the two albums from the first battle represent the best work of each band. The bands themselves were in competition with each other. Or, at the very least, they were heavily influencing each other. The Beatles album Rubber Soul definitely inspired Pet Sounds. Perhaps those two albums are the ones that should have gone head-to-head. I don’t know. I made a decision and what’s done is done.

The Beatles still would have won. Sorry, BBFC members.


There are six other albums in Division I. I’ve chosen the pairings, and today they are duking it out.

Who’s Next (The Who)

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Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin)

I love both of these bands, and I consider these to be the best albums of each band. For me, this was a tighter contest than the previous battle.

Both albums have monstrous hit songs on them. Who’s Next has “Baba O’Riley,” “Bargain,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” (And, John Entwistle’s “My Wife” is no slouch either.)

Led Zeppelin IV offers up “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” the wonderfully overplayed “Stairway to Heaven,” and a raucous cover of “When the Levee Breaks.”

After listening to each again, my decision didn’t become any easier. It boiled down to just two factors. Which one I enjoyed more this time, and which one I’d play again sooner. My answer was the same to both. At least, today.

AND THE WINNER IS . . .Who’s Next (The Who)


The next bout is between two rock albums that were released about a year apart in the mid-’70s. They also happened to be the first albums I purchased by each band. I would remedy that decision later, but these were the first. Each further shaped my personal definition of rock-and-roll.

Rocks (Aerosmith)

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Straight Shooter (Bad Company)

It nearly goes without saying that each of these is a great album. Aerosmith’s fourth release (following their breakthrough hit Toys in the Attic), and Bad Company’s second.

Straight Shooter had “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” and “Shooting Star.” These are solid tracks. Not my favorite Bad Company songs, and, arguably, their first album had better songs on it, although I never owned the entire album, just specific tracks. My favorite Bad Company song, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy,” wouldn’t come along until 1979, on Desolation Angel, one of many albums I’ve worn out while playing only a single track over-and-over.

I prefer Paul Rodgers’s voice to Steven Tyler’s, but Rodgers shines on the slower songs, the melodic ballads. Tyler can sing a ballad, but his idiosyncratic voice works best in a driving rock-and-roll song.

Rocks offers up “Back in the Saddle,” “Last Child,” “Nobody’s Fault,” “Get the Lead Out,” “Lick and a Promise,” and “Home Tonight.” If I were listening to two “greatest hits” compilations of these bands, it would probably have been a closer contest. I think it would have turned out the same, however.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Rocks (Aerosmith)


The final Round 1 bout in this division is between two bands who have recorded individual songs that I absolutely love, but whose total output doesn’t move me quite as much. Both are what I consider to be “greatest hits” bands. But, I owned these two albums, so they’re going head-to-head here.

Pieces of Eight (Styx)

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Leftoverture (Kansas)

Pieces of Eight has “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights),” which are both Tommy Shaw songs, even though I didn’t know that at the time. I purchased this album because of these two songs. Turns out I’m more of a Tommy Shaw fan than a Styx fan, really. (Okay, Shaw wrote “Sing for the Day” on this album as well, and it seems more like a DeYoung song to me.)

Leftoverture had only a single hit, “Carry on Wayward Son.” You might think that would definitely tip the balance in Styx’s favor in this contest. I thought it might as well, because I really like “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights).” But, you can’t discount the other factors involved in listening to an entire album, as a single work of art.

The other songs on the Styx album actually lessened my enjoyment of listening to it. The non-hits on the Kansas album were all interesting, if not commercially viable, and made the album, as a whole, seem more consistent. Both bands had a tendency to reach for the ambitious and grandiose. “Carry on Wayward Son” is, arguably, no better than the two hits from the Styx album. But, there is something to be said for internal cohesiveness. Plus, I’d be willing to listen to the entire Kansas album again before I would the Styx. In fact, I may put on Leftoverture again this afternoon.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Leftoverture (Kansas)


ROUND TWO

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles)

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Who’s Next (The Who)

When I tell you who I picked as the winner of this second round contest, you’re not going to believe what I write next. But, this was a closer contest than I expected. I love both albums. The Who’s album for all the reasons listed above. The Beatles’ album because . . . well, The Beatles. But, on this day, only one emerges victorious.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Sgt. Pepper’s (The Beatles)


Rocks (Aerosmith)

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Leftoverture (Kansas)

The Kansas album is good for maybe a two-times-a-year listen. I respect the album for its one hit track and the crazy-good musicianship. But, the gritty, slightly off-kilter but effective rock ‘n’ roll of the Aerosmith album is something I can return to time and again without it becoming cloying.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Rocks (Aerosmith)


Which brings us to . . .

THE DIVISION 1 CHAMPIONSHIP

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles)

Rocks (Aerosmith)

No use in dragging this out any further. There is a clear winner here.

THE DIVISION 1 CHAMPION IS . . .

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles)

If it seems as if I stacked the deck in this contest, I probably did. I do like Sgt. Pepper’s a lot. Is it my all-time favorite album? I’m not certain. It’s in the running for the title. Of course, all 64 albums in this VERSUS project are my “favorites,” if we want to get technical.

Rocks appears to be the runner-up in this divisional rivalry, but in hindsight I’m not so sure that’s accurate. Who’s Next would have defeated Rocks in a head-to-head. Maybe I should have structured the Round 2 battles differently. In any case, the final result would have been the same, only with The Beatles and The Who in the championship bout.

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