VERSUS: Episode 8: Division VII: Rock Album Deathmatch: A Pinch of Glam, A Dash of Psychedelia, and a Genesis Frontman Grudge Match

Previously, on VERSUS . . .

The eight albums of Division VI—featuring works from Marcy Playground, Weezer, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden—faced off in the Octagon, with Pearl Jam’s Ten taking home the trophy.

In this episode, another eight albums enter the fray. This time, the competitors are The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, The Doors, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and The Grateful Dead. This is Division VII, the third division of four in THAT Conference, all of the rock albums on the right side of the championship tree. We have six previous divisional champions and only 16 albums left to face their first face-offs.



ROUND ONE (4 bouts)

Californication (The Red Hot Chili Peppers)

VERSUS

Purple (Stone Temple Pilots)

Californication was released at just the right time for me. Believe it or not, this was the first RHCP album I purchased, in the summer of 1999, just as my first marriage was imploding. I would later purchase By the Way and Stadium Arcadium, and a greatest hits compilation, but this was the first. I was aware of the band’s existence, of course, and even liked a few of their songs. When I separated from my spouse and then moved to Memphis, Tennessee, (two majorly stressful events that happened very close to one another) this album was in heavy rotation at my apartment. It was how I became what I would call a fan of the group.

This one is better than the two that came after it (I can’t speak for any additional albums). It’s alternative. It’s punk. It’s funk rock. That all comes through in the fifteen tracks on this disc. I would listen to it from beginning to end, and ended up liking most of the songs it contained.

Purple was not the STP album I was listening to at the same time I listened to Californication. That would have been No. 4, which I actually purchased after moving to Memphis. Purple is the STP album that was released around five years before, and was a better record, in my opinion. The Stone Temple Pilots were never an easy band to pigeonhole, experimenting with their sound from song-to-song, let alone from album-to-album. I’m not going to heap too much praise upon Scott Weiland. You know I stick to a hard line against suicides. Let’s just leave it at he was a talented frontman.

This album has earned its spot on many separate Best All-Time Rock Albums lists through the tracks “Interstate Love Song,” “Vasoline,” and “Big Empty” alone. The fact remains that the remainder of the tracks are powerful as well.

I wasn’t sure which of these two albums would be on top at the end of this bout. It was a close call.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Purple (Stone Temple Pilots)



So (Peter Gabriel)

VERSUS

Face Value (Phil Collins)

I purchased a greatest-hits Gabriel album years later, after CDs replaced cassettes as the dominant recording medium. But, honestly, this 1986 album was enough to scratch that particular itch. Most of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs are on it.

“Red Rain,” immediately followed by “Sledgehammer.” A powerful one-two punch combination. Then, “Don’t Give Up,” a song that features Kate Bush. It’s a song that always makes me cry, but I don’t know why. It’s involuntary, and feels more cathartic than sad. But, every time. I wouldn’t lie about this. Then we get “In Your Eyes” and “Big Time,” plus a couple of other tracks.

The songs are influenced by traditional world music, especially African and Brazilian music. But, rather than seeming entirely derivative, the songs are clearly Peter Gabriel first, with world-music sensibilities. An impressive work, however you look at it—or, listen to it.

The 1981 album by that other lead singer for Genesis, Phil Collins, has “In the Air Tonight” on it. It has other catchy tunes on it as well, some of which you’ve heard played on the radio over the years. But, the song on this was was “In the Air Tonight.” Still is. I remember working at Radio Shack in Lexington, South Carolina. We had a video tape of Phil performing this song in concert that played on a loop, to showcase both the VCR and the stereo speakers. I always looked forward to the part in the song where Phil gets behind his drum kit and the two drummers play that one part—you know the one I’m talking about—in unison. Powerful stuff.

Weighed against each other, there is a clear winner here, though.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . So (Peter Gabriel)



Strange Days (The Doors)

VERSUS

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

I’ve never gotten high and synched up Dark Side of the Moon with the movie The Wizard of Oz. At this point in my life, I doubt I ever will. The truth is, I don’t like the movie that much.

Strange Days was The Door’s 1967 follow-up to their eponymous release The Doors (also 1967). It had “Strange Days,” “Love Me Two Times,” and “People Are Strange” on it. All good tracks, but it wasn’t as strong as the first album. Which, surprisingly, I never owned. I later had most of the tracks on the first album from greatest-hits compilations or bought them singly on iTunes (remember iTunes?). But, this album I owned. And liked it.

I have listened to Dark Side of the Moon many times over the years. I think the first time I listened to this 1973 album was in a room with blackout shades drawn, the only lights those in the stereo components. It was at a party of sorts. While I can’t swear to everything that happened at this party, I remember that I liked this album enough to later go out and purchase it. Yes, it has individual tracks, and if I listed one I’d have to list them all. For me, this is a single performance that clocks in at a little over forty minutes. It was on the Billboard album chart for fifteen straight years. It was around the cusp of 1980 that I first listened to the entire album, rather than singles on the radio. I was blown away.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)



The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)

VERSUS

American Beauty (Grateful Dead)

I’ve written about this 1972 Bowie album before, in my It’s a Good Record, Man series. You can read what I said about it here. Just know that I love this album, especially the run that closes the album, from “Ziggy Stardust” and “Suffragette City” to “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”

Then there’s this 1970 Grateful Dead album. Fifty-one years ago now. It has “Box of Rain,” “Sugar Magnolia,” and “Truckin’” on it. It was recorded just a few months after the release of Workingman’s Dead, which also had some of my favorite Dead tracks on it. On both of these albums, the focus was more on Americana than psychedelia, and it paid off for the band, I think.

However, I’ve put myself in a situation where I have to choose one album over another. It wasn’t a terribly hard decision.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)




ROUND TWO (2 bouts)

So (Peter Gabriel)

VERSUS

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

Not such a heated bout this time. I like So. A lot. I love Dark Side of the Moon.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)



The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)

VERSUS

Purple (Stone Temple Pilots)

Two good albums released about twenty years apart. Some of the people who’ve pointed out that I seem to favor older releases may be onto something.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)




And now, the main event . . .

Division VII Championship Match

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (David Bowie)

You’re not going to believe that I didn’t predict this final outcome when I drew up the list. Both albums were released in the early ’70s, about a year apart. They are iconic releases by iconic performers. This is truly a heavyweight bout.

I had to listen to both again to make this final decision.

THE DIVISON VII CHAMPION IS . . .

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

After today’s bouts, we have seven albums going into the next round:

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)

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

We’ve managed to reduce the field from 64 albums to only 15. Only one division of first face-to-face matches to go.

As of the date of this post, our competitors in Division VIII will be Paul Simon, Billy Joel, KISS (yes, again), Bob Seger, Prince, Van Halen, Rage Against the Machine, and Foo Fighters. A little lighter rock, rage rock, bubblegum metal, and His Purpleness.

Rock On, Everybody.

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