VERSUS: Episode 6: Division V: Rock Album Deathmatch: Moving On to THAT Conference

Previously, on VERSUS . . .

The eight albums of Division IV—featuring works from Guns N’ Roses, Audioslave, Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, Sammy Hagar, Def Leppard, Sheryl Crow, and Alanis Morissette—battled it out, head-to-head, with Black Sabbath’s Paranoid winning the division.

In this episode, another eight albums enter the fray. This time, the competitors are Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Huey Lewis & The News, Men at Work, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and AC/DC.. This is Division V, the first division of four in THAT Conference, all of the rock albums on the right side of the championship tree. We have four divisional winners from the left side of the tree already, and only 32 additional albums to put through the VERSUS grinder.


ROUND ONE (4 bouts)

Number of the Beast (Iron Maiden)

VERSUS

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

I’ve written about Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast in these pages before. You don’t have to read my review to guess that I liked this album. It’s a fast-paced, bass-heavy record with songs such as “Run to the Hills,” which is maybe—just maybe, mind you—the best heavy metal song ever written. Bassist Steve Harris wrote many of the tunes on the album, which explains why the rhythm section is featured so prominently on them, with Harris’s galloping style of bass-playing in the spotlight. Bruce Dickinson’s operatic singing voice complements the music, virtually eclipsing Paul Dianno’s previous work with the band.

Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance hasn’t been featured in my album-review series It’s a Good Record, Man yet. It has always been a part of my plans to do so. It’s just that this deathmatch project came up first. This album blew me away the first time I listened to it (which I believe was when I was a passenger in my friend Bryan’s Datsun 280z , in Lancaster, South Carolina). “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” was the hit single off the album. It’s a good song, but it’s not my favorite. Honestly, I like every single track, but my favorite—to this day—remains the title track, “Screaming for Vengeance,” which led off the second side of the album.

The dual-guitar sound of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton set the standard for many heavy metal acts who followed Judas Priest, and Rob Halford’s operatic vocal style and incredible range are indelibly linked to the compositions. Halford’s vocal hero was Freddie Mercury, of course, which begs the question of how I never guessed Halford was gay under all that studded leather and chains. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The best thing for me about Screaming for Vengeance is that it led me to previous Priest releases, such as British Steel and Hero, Hero (a compilation of earlier Priest material that I had to purchase as an import), and motivated me to purchase subsequent releases such as Defenders of the Faith and Turbo. The band and I lost touch after that until Nostradamus, their first concept album. I had to listen to that one six times before I could make myself say, “Eh, I guess it’s all right.”

Both of these albums opened my mind to other rock bands in the Second British Invasion. When I listen to them back-to-back, I like one just slightly more than the other.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)





Can’t Buy a Thrill (Steely Dan)

VERSUS

Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits)

Rock music is incredibly flexible as a genre. I guess all genres are flexible, but, as a rock guy, I am admittedly biased. For instance, although I’m no expert on country music, I know that I prefer the outlaw country of Cash, Haggard, and Jennings because it’s more closely related to rock in my mind. I’ve often said that bluegrass music is the heavy metal of country. I’ve been corrected on this, since bluegrass was the precursor to country, which makes it more analogous to southern blues music, the precursor to rock. I’m not arguing the history of music here, just telling you how the music makes me feel. Bluegrass is pure metal.

Neither of these albums are metal. But, they are rock.

Can’t Buy a Thrill was Steely Dan’s 1972 major studio debut. It’s generally categorized as soft rock, but definitely shows jazz and Latin musical elements. Maybe not as jazzy as their subsequent albums, but it’s still there. “Do It Again” has that jazzy Latin beat, for instance, while “Reelin’ in the Years” features jazzy guitar solo work.

My two favorite tracks on the album are “Reelin’” and “Dirty Work,” the latter of which features the vocals of David Palmer. This is the only Steely Dan album that Palmer appears on. Donald Fagen wrote the song, which is more commercial-sounding than the band’s other material, and it includes a tenor saxophone and Wurlitzer electric piano in its instrumentation. Rumor insists that Fagen and Walter Becker didn’t want the track on the album, thinking it more suitable for a band like Three Dog Night to record. That may have been why Fagen didn’t sing it. Palmer’s tenor voice sounds great on the track, however.

I remember how I ended up buying Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. Butch, one of my good friends since grammar school, worked at Square Records in Lancaster, South Carolina, where I purchased most of my music. He knew that I had been bowled over by Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. I suppose I talked about it a lot. I was obsessed with it for a while, for sure; it’s just the way I roll. Butch told me that since I was a Dylan fan, there were a couple of Dylanesque tracks on Brothers in Arms that he thought I would enjoy. In my mind, he was talking about “Ride Across the River” and “The Man’s Too Strong.”

Butch was correct about me enjoying the album. Not necessarily because it sounded like Bob Dylan, though. Mark Knopfler’s voice may also be idiosynchratic, but it is not as strident as Dylan’s can be. It is definitely more melodic. But, lyrically, there are similarities. The lyrics leave a lot of blank spaces so that the listener becomes a collaborator, filling in the parts left out. This is something Nobel laureate Dylan has mastered, of course.

The Dire Straits album received a big push from its videos on MTV, which actually was primarily music videos in those days, kids. Because of the media saturation, songs such as “Money for Nothing,” “Walk of Life,” and “So Far Away,” soon became once-a-year-is-enough tracks for me. I still like the songs, don’t get me wrong, but I no longer love them. “Walk of Life” is playing in the background of a commercial that’s currently in heavy rotation, probably shilling a pharmaceutical. But, the sound quality and guitar work on the album is nothing short of amazing.

I recently heard the song “Brothers in Arms” during the series finale of Supernatural. It’s still a great tune. My two favorite tracks on the album are probably “Your Latest Trick” and “Ride Across the River.”

Both Steely Dan and Dire Straits have that jazz connection, and their musical compositions are much more complex that your run-of-the-mill four-chords-and-a-wah-wah rock bands. On the day I listened to both albums, however, one album probably benefitted from being slightly less overplayed.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Can’t Buy a Thrill (Steely Dan)




Sports (Huey Lewis & The News)

VERSUS

Business as Usual (Men at Work)

I identify both of these albums with a certain period of my life from the early to mid ’80s. My musical tastes were beginning to broaden.

I would never quit being a diehard rock ‘n’ roller, but I was beginning to like different kinds of rock, the more melodic type that would include more instruments than guitar, bass and drum. Michael, an old acquaintaince of mine, has often freely given his opinion that any band that includes horns, cellos, or even keyboards is not rock ‘n’ roll. I respectfully disagree with this statement. Rock is more about a feeling or a mindset, not just musical instruments.

Sports includes a couple of my favorite Huey Lewis songs, “The Heart of Rock & Roll” and “I Want a New Drug.” I didn’t become a real Huey Lewis and the News fan until later in the ’80s. I think it was 1986, but could have been late 1985. I saw Huey Lewis and the News in concert in Columbia, South Carolina. Blues guitarist Robert Cray was their opening act, and who I had really come to see. I stayed for the Huey Lewis show and was blown away. The Tower of Power horn section, from San Francisco, was playing with them and it was a rollicking good time. Robert Cray was good, too, I should probably add.

Business as Usual was just so different from the other music playing on the radio in those days. “Down Under” and “Who Can It Be Now?” were the two big hit tracks off this album. While I never noticed it at the time, I’ve become convinced that the lead singer of Men at Work, Colin Hay, was copying some of the vocal stylings of Sting, since The Police predated the Australian band’s success. I like Hay’s later solo stuff as well.

After I listened to both of these albums again for this event, I thought Sports narrowly defeated Business as Usual because its best tracks are arguably better than those on the other release, and quality of all the songs were just a bit more consistent.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Sports (Huey Lewis & The News)




Damn the Torpedoes (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

VERSUS

Back in Black (AC/DC)

I love both of these albums. I suppose that goes without saying, since they both made the List of 64. It’s a dead heat when I look at the rating category I think of as “which one do I want to listen to again, soonest.”

Damn the Torpedoes was the Heartbreakers’ first album to hit the Top-10. It peaked at #2 because Pink Floyd’s The Wall refused to give ground. Tracks such as “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Even the Losers,” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” are still played with such regularity—at least on classic-rock radio stations—that they have become ingrained in the collective unconscious. This 1979 album went on to become certified Triple Platinum by the RIAA and appears on numerous “greatest albums” lists, including this one.

Back in Black was AC/DC’s follow up to their 1979 breakthrough album, Highway to Hell, which was also produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (there’s that name again). It was their first album following the death of lead singer Bon Scott. He was replaced by former Geordie singer Brian Johnson. AC/DC had considered disbanding following Scott’s death, but went on to record this album in the Bahamas while they were still grieving. The all-black album cover was intended to be a sign of mourning for Scott.

I was already a huge fan of Highway to Hell when I first listened to this album. While I will always be a Bon Scott fan, Back in Black blew the previous album away. In my admittedly biased opinion, there is not a bad track on the album. My favorites remain, to this day, the title track, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” “Hells Bells,” and “Shoot to Thrill.” Most of the songs, like most good rock-and-roll, seem to be about sex. The album would go on to sell in excess of 50 million copies, 25X Platinum. I’m not the only person who liked this one.

When I dropped these albums into Lady Justice’s scales, one clearly outweighed the other.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Back in Black (AC/DC)








ROUND TWO (2 bouts)

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

VERSUS

Sports (Huey Lewis & The News)

Mad props to Huey Lewis and the boys, but there’s no way Sports is going to defeat Screaming for Vengeance in this bout.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)




Can’t Buy a Thrill (Steely Dan)

VERSUS

Back in Black (AC/DC)

Yeah, I may be a little predictable. Heavier often tops softer when I’m choosing music to listen to. Eighty percent of the time, I’ll choose to listen to Back in Black over Can’t Buy a Thrill. Today is one of those eight-out-of-ten times.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Back in Black (AC/DC)





And now, the main event . . .

Division V Championship Match

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

Back in Black (AC/DC)

Now we’re talking about a real match. The title fight.

This is the definition of mixed emotions here. Whichever album comes out a winner, I’m going to regret that the other had to lose.

As much as I love the Judas Priest album, as much as it speeds up the blood in my veins and makes me pump my fist, the AC/DC album is the one I know I’ll want to listen to again sooner.

This was a tough choice for me.

THE DIVISON V CHAMPION IS . . .

Back in Black (AC/DC)

In THAT Conference, one album—so far—is going forward in the competition, in addition to the four divisional winners from THIS Conference:

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

The Cars (The Cars)

Moving Pictures (Rush)

Paranoid (Black Sabbath)

Back in Black (AC/DC)

We’ve managed to reduce the field from 64 albums to only 29.

As of the date of this post, our competitors in Division VI will be Marcy Playground, Weezer, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Some good times, good tunes. Y’all come back now, hear?

Rock On, Everyone.

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