VERSUS: Episode 5: Division IV: Rock Album Deathmatch: Wrapping Up THIS Conference

Previously, on VERSUS . . .

The eight albums of Division III—featuring works from Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Rush, Boston, ZZ Top, .38 Special, Motörhead, and Metallica—battled it out, head-to-head, with Rush’s Moving Pictures taking the divisional trophy.

In this episode, another eight albums enter the fray. This time, the competitors are Guns N’ Roses, Audioslave, Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, Sammy Hagar, Def Leppard, Sheryl Crow, and Alanis Morissette. This is Division IV, the final 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)

Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses)

VERSUS

Audioslave (Audioslave)

The Guns N’ Roses album came out during a transitional period of my life. I had moved from Columbia, South Carolina, to a small town in western North Carolina during the summer of 1987. It was the first time I had lived in another state since I was seven years old, and I was moving alone, after a messy end to an off-and-on relationship that I was ready to see in my rearview mirror. I was starting a new job, meeting new people, making new friends, and was convinced that I wanted to avoid serious relationships for a while in order to concentrate on my career. This album made me feel like new life had been injected into rock-‘n’-roll, which had grown increasingly slick and overproduced. GNR had a rough, unfinished sound that harkened back to the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith in their prime. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was the obvious draw of the album, but then we got hit with “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and “Mr. Brownstone.”

Audioslave didn’t release their eponymous album until late 2002, when I was moving again, from Memphis, Tennessee, to Arkansas, this time with the woman who would become my second wife. Audioslave was the supergroup that formed after Zack de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, leaving the band to search for another vocalist. Chris Cornell, the vocalist for Soundgarden, had been writing his second solo album, but he shelved that for the opportunity to work with Rage. This bizarre Soundgarden-Rage hybrid somehow worked. I was happy that they called the resulting band Audioslave instead of Rage Against the Machine (with Chris Cornell). This resulting album doesn’t sound like Soundgarden or Rage. But, it sounds good. The album showcases some now-classic tracks such as “Cochise,” “Show Me How to Live,” “Like a Stone,” and “I Am the Highway.” The album eventually went triple-platinum.

Before this head-to-head match, it had been many years since I had listened to either album all the way through from beginning to end. While I liked both albums, it was clear which album I wanted to listen to again sooner, and which album had higher energy during this spin. The answer was the same in both cases.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses)


Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

VERSUS

Shout at the Devil (Mötley Crüe)

Paranoid was Black Sabbath’s second album, released in 1970. “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and “Iron Man” on Side One of the vinyl, alone. “Fairies Wear Boots” is on the flip side, and the rest of the songs are good, even if they don’t quite measure up to the four tracks I mentioned. As a person who has bought an entire album for one song, I tell you this one was a good deal. These songs still get played on rock radio, fifty years later.

Shout at the Devil was the second studio album byMötley Crüe, and the first of their albums I heard at a friend-of-a-friend’s house party, way back in the winter of 1983. The tracks “Shout at the Devil,” “Too Young to Fall in Love,” “Looks That Kill,” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” quickly earned Crüe a place in the hard rock/heavy metal pantheon, along with Sabbath.

In an album-to-album faceoff, like two chromium rams clashing, fire streaming from their nostrils, Black Sabbath would have to prevail between these two. I think Nikki Sixx would agree with me as well. I still dig those crazy umlauts, though.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Paranoid (Black Sabbath)


Standing Hampton (Sammy Hagar)

VERSUS

Pyromania (Def Leppard)

Sometimes, I don’t think that Sammy gets the credit that he is due. I’ve been a fan since his days in Montrose and the song “Bad Motor Scooter.” I missed some of his early solo stuff with Capitol Records (as most people did), but I was on board with his first Geffen Records 1982 release, Standing Hampton. I continued to be on board with Three Lock Box and VOA, both of which generated hit singles.

I admit that I wasn’t the biggest fan of his work with Van Halen, after David Lee Roth left the group. There are a few good Van Hagar tracks, I’ll admit. But, although I owe Roth no loyalty whatsoever, I always preferred his version of the group. In Hagar’s post-Van-Halen era, I didn’t follow his career quite as closely, although there was a greatest-hits release somewhere in there that I purchased, and at least one Waboritas album. Oh, and the two Chickenfoot albums. Yeah, I bought those, too. I guess I really am a Sammy Hagar fan.

Standing Hampton was always my favorite. I never really wondered about the origin of the album’s title. The “SH” of Standing Hampton are also Sammy’s initials, and, even though this was mostly subconscious on my part, I had dismissed it as such. Only today, some 38 years later, did I find out that the title was derived from Cockney slang for an erect penis. I think I was better off not knowing. This album has the tracks “I’ll Fall in Love Again,” “There’s Only One Way to Rock,” and a cover of “Piece of My Heart” that’s not as good as Janis Joplin’s version (also a cover), but still pretty good. My favorite track is “Heavy Metal,” a song written by Hagar with Jim Peterik, who was a member of Survivor at the time, for the animated film Heavy Metal, released in 1981. An alternate take of the track was actually used in the film (not as the title song, however), but I prefer the album version.

I remember blasting Def Leppard’s Pyromania during a Summer 1983 trip to Myrtle Beach with my friends. It was a great trip and a fun stay, so I have a lot of good associations with this music.

However, as a fan of Def Leppard’s earlier work on their debut On Through the Night, I wasn’t a fan of the band’s transition to more radio-friendly fare. The album was produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (why does that name sound familiar?). Don’t get me wrong, I liked the songs “Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Foolin’,” it’s just that the sudden move towards glam metal gave me a mild case of whiplash. The transition was complete by the time Rick Allen lost his left arm and Hysteria was released in the summer of 1987. I thought Pyromania was the better album, but it seems the world didn’t agree with me. Leppard’s new brand of hard rock was more accessible to female fans, though, so that was a plus.

Both of these are solid albums. But, for me, one is clearly better.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Standing Hampton (Sammy Hagar)


Tuesday Night Music Club (Sheryl Crow)

VERSUS

Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morissette)

The final first-round bout in Division IV takes a decidedly female turn. Both of these albums were well-received and produced hit singles for the artists.

Honestly, this bout didn’t end the way I thought it would. Jagged Little Pill was the Canadian’s third studio album (don’t feel bad if you’ve never listened to the first two: most people haven’t). It was produced and co-written by Glen Ballard, and the result was an alternative rock album, with post-grunge and pop rock influences, that ended up selling over 33 million copies worldwide.

The first time I heard “You Oughta Know”—which features Dave Navarro and Flea, who were both in Red Hot Chili Peppers at the time, on guitar and bass, respectively—I was living in North Carolina again. I was working for Hills Department Stores, a retail company out of the Northeast. Hills (no apostrophe) had embarked upon what it called its Southern Expansion, a plan to make inroads into the South after decades of success along the upper east coast. I opened a new Hills store in a mall in central North Carolina, in a tobacco town just barely large enough to have a mall. The store closed almost exactly one year later, and Hills disappeared entirely not long after, but that’s a tale for another time. “You Oughta Know” immediately struck me with Morissette’s idiosyncratic voice and what felt like volumes of honest anger and venom. Like many people, there were other catchy songs on the album that I liked, such as “Ironic” and “Hand in My Pocket.” I was one of the 33 million who purchased the album.

Likewise, I was an early booster of Sheryl Crow’s debut, Tuesday Night Music Club. Well, maybe not as early as some. I probably didn’t know her name until “All I Wanna Do” was released as a single in 1994. I was working for Hills Department Stores then as well. I may be misremembering the dates, but I think I was still in Virginia then, either opening a new store in Chesapeake or about to move back to North Carolina. I loved “All I Wanna Do,” and after buying the album, I also enjoyed “Run Baby Run,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “I Shall Believe,” and “Strong Enough” a lot. Crow has an excellent voice that probably never gets described as “idiosyncratic,” and much of the album straddles the line between folk rock and country. This album had maybe a quarter of the sales of Morissette’s album. Still a lot of albums.

Before this contest, I expected Alanis to win the head-to-head easily. What I failed to take into account is the fact that I have rarely listened to either album in its entirety in one sitting. Just the hits. After listening to Jagged Little Pill from beginning-to-end, I no longer liked it as much as I did twenty-five years ago, and Morissette’s voice was becoming a slight irritant. Don’t get me wrong. I still like the tracks I like. But, I don’t think I’ll ever listen to the album all the way through again.

Whereas listening to Crow’s debut this way made me appreciate the album even more. I will definitely listen to all of it again.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Tuesday Night Music Club (Sheryl Crow)




ROUND TWO (2 bouts)

Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

VERSUS

Standing Hampton (Sammy Hagar)

Sorry, Sammy. I love the album, but today Black Sabbath’s pessimistic, dark metal wins the bout. “Heavy Metal” doesn’t look as heavy when compared to “War Pigs” and “Iron Man.”

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Paranoid (Black Sabbath)


Tuesday Night Music Club (Sheryl Crow)

VERSUS

Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses)

Because my personal tastes still tend to run more to the heavier stuff (even though I can appreciate the ballads and singer-songwriter material), it seems unlikely that I would ever choose Sheryl Crow’s album over any decent rock group. Back in the day, GNR was a decent rock group. At the time, I felt like they were helping to restore some of rock’s integrity. They disappointed me later. But, that was later . . .

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses)




And now, the main event . . .

Division IV Championship Match

Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

Appetite for Destruction (Guns N’ Roses)

It’s the Old Guard versus the . . . well, also Old Guard, at this point. I will always have fond memories of the Guns N’ Roses album, and will have no problem playing the album from first track to last in the future. Appetite for Destruction is an iconic rock album. Of this, there can be no further debate.

However, Paranoid is Black Sabbath, with Ozzy Osbourne. Many people credit Led Zepplin with laying the foundation for true heavy metal. I say, let them have the credit for pushing music in a heavier direction. But, Black Sabbath took the music in a harder and darker direction, and, arguably, was a larger influence on the heavy metal bands that followed. Before you disagree with me, keep in mind that I used the word “arguably.”

Or, maybe I’m just an old guy who will favor older over younger in most cases. It’s anybody’s guess.

THE DIVISION IV DIVISIONAL CHAMPION IS . . .

Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

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)

Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

We’ve managed to reduce the field from 64 albums to only 36. The left side of our playoff tree is now complete. Beginning next time, with Division V, we’ll begin to whittle down THAT Conference. After those bouts are fought and won, we may introduce a few wildcard entries into the mix as well. I can think of a couple albums from THIS Conference that may deserve another shot.

As of the date of this post, our competitors in Division V will be Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Huey Lewis & The News, Men at Work, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and AC/DC.

Until next time, Rock On, Everyone.

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