VERSUS: Episode 7: Division VI: Rock Album Deathmatch: Grunge, Post-Grunge, Desert Rock and Dueling Sabbath Singers

Previously, on VERSUS . . .

The eight albums of Division V—featuring works from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Huey Lewis & The News, Men at Work, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and AC/DC—faced off in the squared circle, with AC/DC’s Back in Black taking home the belt.

In this episode, another eight albums enter the fray. This time, the competitors are Marcy Playground, Weezer, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. This is Division VI, the second division of four in THAT Conference, all of the rock albums on the right side of the championship tree. We have five previous divisional champions and only 24 albums left to face their first face-offs.


ROUND ONE (4 bouts)

Marcy Playground (Marcy Playground)

VERSUS

Weezer – Green Album (Weezer)

The Marcy Playground single “Sex and Candy” burned up the radio charts towards the end of 1997. I was going to work for a new company at the time, moving to a new state, while navigating some rough waters in my first marriage (I would eventually crash into the rocks and drown, but that’s another story). Everyone liked the single. For a while, I felt like I was the only person who liked the entire album.

There is something I think of as optimistic pessimism that permeates this entire alt rock/post grunge collection of songs. Dan Weiss of LA Weekly said, but for a couple of singles, this eponymous album was “folksy, opiate-obsessed bullshit.” That actually sounds pretty accurate, if your definition of bullshit isn’t 100% negative. I thought this album was a lot of fun.

The big hit off of Weezer‘s second self-titled LP, also known as the Green Album, was a single titled “Hash Pipe.” It’s still my favorite song, and I crank it every time it comes on. I was living in Memphis, Tennessee, when this one hit in 2001, pretty sure I was going to get murdered every day. This song brought a smile to my face. The rest of the album is solid, produced by the late Ric Ocasek of The Cars. All of the tracks but “O Girlfriend” are under 3 minutes long, the album itself clocking in at 30 minutes. Call it alt-rock or geek-punk, it’s not hard to listen to this one, but every time I do I’m just waiting for “Hash Pipe” to come around again.

From start-to-finish, I like one of these more than the other.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Marcy Playground (Marcy Playground)




Diary of a Madman (Ozzy Osbourne)

VERSUS

Holy Diver (Dio)

This is the battle of the Black Sabbath singers. When Ozzy left Sabbath, the lead singer job eventually went to Ronnie James Dio. For years, I wouldn’t listen to new Sabbath records, out of loyalty to Ozzy. Eventually, I came around, but not until after I became a Dio fan through his work in Rainbow and his solo work in Dio.

Diary of a Madman was the second studio album recorded by Ozzy as a solo artist, released in 1981, and the last one to feature Randy Rhoads, who would tragically die in a plane crash. This is a great hard rock/heavy metal album that wasn’t initially as well-regarded by music critics as it would come to be. Rhoads was getting all the comparisons to Eddie Van Halen that any accomplished guitarist with a bit of flash was getting in those days. Now, almost four decades later, Rhoads is more widely appreciated as the musical genius he was.

“Over the Mountain,” “Flying High Again,” and the title track are my favorites from this one. I’ll accept the opinion that Blizzard of Ozz is a better album, but I never owned that one (just most of the songs from it from other compilations).

Ronnie James Dio realeased his first album with his own band Dio after completing a stint as the lead singer of Black Sabbath. Dio was no dewy-eyed virgin in the world of hard rock. Even before Sabbath, he was the frontman for his own band Elf, and for Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Dio had a powerful singing voice that he attributed to the breathing exercises he had to do playing trumpet in the school band. Dio’s rock vocals are iconic. Jack Black obviously idolizes the man. He had a penchant for grandiose lyrics filled with fantasy-themed references such as wizards and dark towers and such.

Holy Diver has four of my all-time favorite hard rock songs on it. The title track, “Stand Up and Shout,” “Straight Through the Heart,” and “Rainbow in the Dark.” The other tracks are good, too.

This surprised me a little when I listened to both albums together, but I clearly prefer Ronnie James in this bout.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Holy Diver (Dio)




Nevermind (Nirvana)

VERSUS

Songs for the Deaf (Queens of the Stone Age)

My youngest brother, Mike, is fifteen years younger than I am. He was also a bigger Nirvana fan than I was.

I remember Mike coming to visit me once, I think in Virginia. He was still a teenager, and I was much, much younger than I am now. I know it was some time after Kurt Cobain committed suicide in 1994, because that was what our big argument was about. I had said something about Cobain being “weak” and a “coward,” because I think that venerating people who kill themselves is irresponsible and just wrong. I still think that heaping praise upon people who commit suicide or overdose just encourages too many copycats among the impressionable.

It was the word “suicide” that set Mike off, however. He believed that Kurt Cobain was murdered, probably by Courtney Love. He went on to talk about how people from “my” generation couldn’t understand the music of the younger generation. We had a good laugh after I told him that Cobain was closer to my age than his. But, he was mostly correct in his assessment. Most of my rock heroes were older than I was, and we are really from two different generations, even though we’re brothers and love each other.

I didn’t become a true Nirvana fan until after Cobain’s death (suicide/murder—you decide). My first Nirvana album was Nirvana/MTV Unplugged in New York, which was released in 1994. That one is still a good record, too, man. I acquired Nevermind and In Utero soon after. I love this album and most of the tracks on it, especially the one-two-three opening salvo of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “In Bloom,” and “Come As You Are.”

But, I still hate Cobain for killing himself.

This Queens of the Stone Age LP was released about a decade after Nevermind. Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighters, played the drums on these tracks. The album’s genre has been called hard rock, stoner rock and desert rock. It’s still rock-and-roll to me. The two tracks that got the most airplay, “No One Knows” and “Go with the Flow,” are my favorites on the album, although I admire all of the songs. Josh Homme is a weirdly inventive musician.

The battle between these two albums was closer than I probably make it sound. In spite of the suicide thing, Nevermind just has that certain extra something that gives it the edge. I think it was Kurt, honestly. The dumbass.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Nevermind (Nirvana)




Ten (Pearl Jam)

VERSUS

Superunknown (Soundgarden)

Nirvana‘s success made other bands in the Pacific Northwest area suddenly more accessible. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden are two additional bands that invariably get mentioned when talk turns to the grunge movement.

I own other Pearl Jam albums, but their first is still my favorite. I can’t remember exactly when I bought this one. It must have been around the same time I began listening to Nirvana. I believe I developed a temporary obsession with Pearl Jam during the mid-’90s, when I lived in Virginia. I like every track on Ten. Every track. I think “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” “Black,” and “Alive” are just as powerful thirty years later as they were when released. I also still think the lyrics are mostly unintelligible, but I love Eddie Vedder’s voice anyway.

Superunknown is the only Soundgarden album I ever bought. Not surprisingly, I think I purchased it around the time I was getting into Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I still think “Black Hole Sun” is an amazing track, and I also like “Fell on Black Days.” There’s a lot of other good stuff on this one, but nothing that packs the same punch. In my opinion, Chris Cornell had one of the best voices in rock-and-roll.

Since I gave Kurt Cobain a hard time earlier, I need to chastise Cornell for taking his own life. Stupid idiot, why’d you have to go and do that?

That’s not why Pearl Jam wins this bout, although we all need to celebrate the rockstars who are still alive.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Ten (Pearl Jam)






ROUND TWO (2 bouts)

Marcy Playground (Marcy Playground)

VERSUS

Ten (Pearl Jam)

At times, the eclectic Marcy Playground album tries to emulate the Seattle sound. Pearl Jam doesn’t have to emulate.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Ten (Pearl Jam)




Nevermind (Nirvana)

VERSUS

Holy Diver (Dio)

Have I mentioned that Seattle sound? I’m throwing up the devil-horns to Ronnie (when I’m not typing), but Nirvana takes this one going away.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Nevermind (Nirvana)






And now, the main event . . .

Division VI Championship Match

Ten (Pearl Jam)

Nevermind (Nirvana)

Funny how it works out. This is the head-to-head match that I really wanted. I love both of these albums, and always listen to each in its entirety, the way God intended for us to listen to music. But, one is just a little more consistent than the other.

Take the flowers you were going to put on Cobain’s grave and give them to Eddie Vedder, who’s still alive and rocking. Even if it may be on the ukelele.

THE DIVISON VI CHAMPION IS . . .

Ten (Pearl Jam)

In THAT Conference, two albums—so far—are 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)

Ten (Pearl Jam)

We’ve managed to reduce the field from 64 albums to only 22.

As of the date of this post, our competitors in Division VII will be The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, The Doors, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and The Grateful Dead. A little glam, a little psychedelia, a lotta rock. You just have to see how this plays out.

Rock On, Everybody.

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