VERSUS: Episode 4: Division III: Rock Album Deathmatch: There Can Be Only One . . .

Previously, on VERSUS . . .

The eight albums of Division II—featuring works from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Blue Öyster Cult, KISS, The Cars, Foreigner, Electric Light Orchestra and The Eagles—battled it out, head-to-head, with the eponymous debut of The Cars emerging as the sole survivor.

In this episode, another eight albums enter the fray. This time, the competitors are Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, Boston, ZZ Top, 38 Special, Motörhead, and Metallica. This is Division III, the penultimate division of four in THIS Conference, all of the rock albums on the left side of the championship tree you’ll just have to imagine in your mind. The 32 albums on the right side of the tree is THAT Conference, which we’ll get to later.

ROUND ONE (4 bouts)

Dreamboat Annie (Heart)

VERSUS

Rumours (Fleetwood Mac)

Both of these albums are the kind I put on when I want to achieve a more laidback state of mind. Both are beautiful albums with hit songs on them that still get airplay.

Dreamboat has “Magic Man” and “Crazy on You,” which would have been enough to make the album worth the price of admission. The rest of the album is nice, but decidedly less rock-‘n’-roll.

Rumours has “Go Your on Way,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” and “You Make Loving Fun,” all of which reached the US Top-10. But, it also had “The Chain” and “Gold Dust Woman,” two of my personal favorite Fleetwood Mac songs.

A good race, but not necessarily a close one.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Rumours (Fleetwood Mac)


Moving Pictures (Rush)

VERSUS

Boston (Boston)

Yes, it’s true that I reviewed the Rush album before, and I fairly gushed over it. I wouldn’t blame you for believing that this head-to-head match was rigged. However, in truth, it was the closest contest in all of Division III.

After the fact, I realized that if I had combined these album bouts any other way, this battle would have been the Divisional Championship match. Which makes the losing album a contender for a wildcard slot, certainly.

The Boston debut album is the more pure rock-‘n’-roll of the two. Like the first album of The Cars, this one work has most of my favorite of the band’s songs on it. You could call it their “greatest hits,” and I wouldn’t think you were wrong. “More Than a Feeling,” “Foreplay/Long Time,” and “Rock & Roll Band” sound just as strong to me today as they did 44 years ago. Yeah, you heard me correctly. 44 years.

The Rush album isn’t quite 40 years old yet, but it’s close. Rush tends to get tossed into the Progressive rock or prog rock category, like early Genesis and Yes. That’s as good a label as any. Moving Pictures demonstrates the Canadian band’s many influences, including jazz and reggae. This album has “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” the instrumental “YYZ,” and “Red Barchetta” on Side One alone. Side Two has only three tracks listed, which harkened back to the band’s earlier albums, which seldom got radio play because the songs were too long. “Witch Hunt” is as eerily apt today as it was four decades ago.

This was almost too close to call. But, I’ve called it.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Moving Pictures (Rush)


I know. You still think I put my thumb on the scale here. And maybe you’re right. Who’s running this contest, anyway?

Eliminator (ZZ Top)

VERSUS

Wild-Eyed Southern Boys (38 Special)

I think I was trying to be cute when I chose this particular matchup. You know, pitting the Southern rock bands against one another.

I’ll admit that I liked “Legs,” “Gimme All Your Lovin” and “Sharp Dressed Man” when Eliminator came out. I was also caught up in the early MTV imagery: the classic car, the beards and sunglasses, the spinning guitars. But, my favorite ZZ Top songs were all from their older albums. Eliminator sounded a little too slick, maybe a little over-produced. In the end, the recordings were basically Billy Gibbons and electronic bass and drum machines. I missed the raw, uncut sound of earlier ZZ.

The 38 Special album had some super tracks in “Hold on Loosely,” “Fantasy Girl,” and the title track “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys.” The remainder of the tracks were okay, if not particularly memorable.

Even though this wasn’t my favorite ZZ Top, it’s still undeniably Billy Gibbons wailing on his guitar.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Eliminator (ZZ Top)


Ace of Spades (Motörhead)

VERSUS

Kill ‘Em All (Metallica)

Until I listened to these metal albums, one after the other, I wasn’t convinced that I knew what the outcome of this match would be.

Motörhead was always in-your-face, raw and unembellished rock-‘n’-roll. You could just as easily categorize them as punk rock. I admit that it was an acquired taste the first time I listened to the band in the early ’80s. But the taste, once acquired, isn’t an easy one to get over.

I’m also a Metallica fan. Dave Mustaine, who later formed Megadeth, co-wrote several songs on this debut album prior to getting kicked out of the band for being too rock-‘n’-roll. He didn’t appear on the recordings, however. “Seek & Destroy” remains one of my favorite Metallica songs, and it’s here. Kill ‘Em All is the first thrash metal album released in the US, and, as such, deserves all the accolades it continues to earn. To my ears, the recording isn’t great and James Hetfield’s voice doesn’t sound as good as it will on later albums. For some reason, he’s pitched too high on this recording.

I think even the guys in Metallica would agree with my decision.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Ace of Spades (Motörhead)



ROUND TWO (2 bouts)

Rumours (Fleetwood Mac)

VERSUS

Ace of Spades (Motörhead)

Sorry, Lemmy. I love “Ace of Spades” and “We Are the Road Crew” as much as the next guy, but the variety and musicality of Rumours takes this round.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Rumours (Fleetwood Mac)

I still dig the umlaut, though.


Eliminator (ZZ Top)

VERSUS

Moving Pictures (Rush)

I obviously don’t have any problems with electronic music. However, while there were some okay songs on the album, it felt like ZZ Top sold out a little on this one. I’ll give credit where it’s due, though: they sold out well.

BUT, THE WINNER IS . . . Moving Pictures (Rush)



Now, at long last . . .

THE DIVISION III CHAMPIONSHIP!!!

Rumours (Fleetwood Mac)

Moving Pictures (Rush)

This contest was a tough one for me. Both of these are go-to albums for me. They also both summon scores of memories from me when I listen to them, good and bad. I could sit here and defend the right of either album to win this specific head-to-head match. But, it boils down to which album I want to listen to again, sooner.

There was a clear answer to this for me.

THE DIVISION III CHAMPION IS . . .Moving Pictures (Rush)



With the decision made for Division III winner, we’ve reduced the field of combatants from 64 albums to only 43. Twenty-one albums have been eliminated, though I am considering adding wildcard albums to each conference

Currently, in THIS Conference, the following albums are moving forward in the competition:

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

The Cars (The Cars)

Moving Pictures (Rush)

As of this post date, the competitors for the next round include Guns N’ Roses, Audioslave, Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, Sammy Hagar, Def Leppard, Sheryl Crow, and Alanis Morissette.

See you then.

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