VERSUS: Episode 10: Rock Album Deathmatch: There’s Something to be Said for the Silver Medalists: The Wildcard Round

Previously, on VERSUS . . .

The eight albums of Division VIII—featuring works from Paul Simon, Billy Joel, KISS, Bob Seger, Prince, Van Halen, Rage Against the Machine, and Foo Fighters—faced off on center stage, with the pleasantly melodic soft rock of Billy Joel pulling off a surprising upset victory.

In this episode, we’re going to celebrate our eight divisional winners, while, at the same time, we’re going to take another hard look at every album which won the second-place silver medal in their divisional battles. While I warned you at the very beginning of this contest that it was going to be unfair, highly subjective and completely biased towards my favorite albums, I want to make completely certain that all of our runners-up get a fair shake. These are our wildcard contenders.

Here are our eight divisional winners:

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)

The Stranger (Billy Joel)

These are all excellent rock albums, running the gamut from heavy metal to lite rock. Within the rock genre itself, I feel that this is a diverse collection. I am proud of myself for reducing the original field of 64 albums (all good records) to only 8.

However, that nitpicking side of my psychological makeup thinks this contest needs a wildcard round to inject some chaotic energy and ensure that the foundation of the finals is solid. The VERSUS wildcards are the albums that finished up in the #2 position in their respective divisions. Which means, yes, another eight albums.

And, here they are:

Who’s Next (The Who)

Boston (Boston)

Hotel California (The Eagles)

Rocks (Aerosmith)

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

Nevermind (Nirvana)

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

Purple Rain (Prince)

It’s entirely possible that one or more of these albums are subjectively better than the lowest ranked album in our divisional finalists list. It’s a pretty solid list on its own, I think. But, the first order of business is to turn all of the silver medalists against each other. We want to reduce this list of eight albums to only two. Then, we’ll compare these two albums against each of the divisional winners. Conceivably, both of the wildcard finalists could end up in the final competition.

I will concede that this is peculiar methodology. My goal is that only what I perceive to be the best-of-the-best make it to the World Super Series Bowl of the Rock Album Deathmatch.




ROUND ONE (4 bouts)

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

VERSUS

Rocks (Aerosmith)

Allmusic.com—a perfectly fine music website—categorizes the Bowie album as glam rock (something we’ve heard many times) and, among other things, as proto-punk. The leap from Bowie to punk rock is, in fact, a short hop, but this fact is not something that I normally read in reviews of his music. Ziggy Stardust was a work of performance art that transcended music and cemented David Bowie’s status as both a rockstar and a visionary artist. Bowie would continue to create, would continue to be a respected artist, but he would no longer be Ziggy once this phase of his career was over.

The Aerosmith album is raucous and raw, an off-the-rails rocker that is a true companion piece to Toys in the Attic. There was always something sleazy and dangerous about Aerosmith in their prime, and this balls-out track list of hard rockers capped off with the oddly beautiful Steven Tyler solo composition “Home Tonight” will remain one of my favorites.

But there can be only one.

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



Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

VERSUS

Hotel California (The Eagles)

Screaming was my entree into the lurid, twin-lead-guitar-driven, aggressively theatrical metal of Judas Priest, and would lead me to explore their back catalogue as well as some of their future output. In many ways, this album also encouraged me to seek out other bands in the NWOBHM (the common abbreviation for “New Wave of British Heavy Metal”), including Motörhead, Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, and groups influenced by these bands, too numerous to list but including Metallica, Megadeth, and the ridiculously-epic Manowar. I’m stuck on Ms for some reason. I enjoy many subgenres of rock music, as you can tell from this series of posts, but this type of metal is what I gravitate to, time and again. If I’m ever in a retirement home, I’ll still be listening to it, but I’ll wear noise-cancelling headphones out of respect for my neighbors.

Hotel California has earned its iconic status in rock music. I’ve heard the title track so many times at this point that I could probably transcribe it note-by-note without having to listen to it in real life. It has become one of those tunes that I don’t want to hear more than once a year, but it’s one of the first that comes up on any classic rock playlist. “Life in the Fast Lane” is another great song on this album, and I haven’t hit the saturation point with that one yet. Play it as often as you like. There are other good songs on the LP, but they are best described as easy-listening, wistful or melodic. None of the other tracks have the same cool, cocky Joe Walsh-ness of the two songs I named.

It’s a numbers game. The songs on the Priest album are more consistent and aggressively rock. In most cases, hard beats soft, and the winner of this battle isn’t difficult for me to pick.

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



Who’s Next (The Who)

VERSUS

Nevermind (Nirvana)

Another of my unwritten—and frequently broken—rules is that “older beats newer.” While I enjoy the gloomy, rebellious energy of Nirvana’s breakout album, The Who’s classic album is perhaps more rebellious without being quite as gloomy. I don’t love every track on either album, if I’m being completely honest here, and my choice of which one I would rather listen to might change based upon my mood.

My mood today says that this time older beats newer.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Who’s Next (The Who)



Boston (Boston)

VERSUS

Purple Rain (Prince)

I love Boston’s first album. That probably goes without saying. The soaring vocals of the late Brad Delp. The fierce guitar work of Tom Scholz, as well as Scholz’s studio wizardry. There is something bright and earnest about all of the tracks on this album. You think you know all of the songs by heart, but upon each time listening to the album, you pick up on further layers of sound not always obvious in the foreground, contrapuntal melodies and harmonies that are a tribute to visionary production techniques (many of which were pioneered by Scholz). This was arena rock before the term “arena rock” was coined. Every song on this debut album is still played on classic rock radio.

Purple Rain easily defeated Van Halen‘s 1984 in the Division VIII bouts. While I will always respect Prince’s talents and many of the songs on this album, I think Boston’s first album has to win this time. It wasn’t as easy a decision for me as it was when Prince was in a head-to-head with Billy Joel’s The Stranger, but the outcome is nevertheless the same.

AND THE WINNER IS . . . Boston (Boston)




ROUND TWO (2 bouts)

Boston (Boston)

VERSUS

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

Since this is the penultimate episode of this Versus project, I’m going to pull the curtain back—just a bit—on the judging categories I used to help me decide the results of individual bouts.

I used only five categories, for simplicity’s sake. The first was a binary result for which album I liked better when listening to them one after the other; the winner received 4 points to the loser’s 0 points. Right off the bat, I was stacking the deck, proving once again that all contests such as these are biased. The other categories each received a score from 1-to-4 (purposefully not 1-to-5 to avoid the middle-of-the-road problem). These categories were: the album’s perceived consistency; my overall score of the album; the artistic merit of the work; and, finally, how soon I’d listen to the LP again, with 1 being “not too soon, maybe next year” and 4 being “as soon as I finish this sentence.”

Artistic merit—the perception of a record album as “art”—is different from overall score, although the two sometimes go hand-in-hand when I’m judging a contest. Looking back at each divisional championship, it strikes me that each of the finalists usually scored high in both categories.

However, it is the “art” question that was the deciding factor in this bout. Boston is more internally cohesive and impeccable from an engineering perspective, but the pure artistry of Ziggy Stardust wins the day.

Also, older beats newer.

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



Who’s Next (The Who)

VERSUS

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

I’ve mentioned a couple of “rules” that seem to be a part of my central programming. “Harder beats softer” was one so-called rule, and in this bout, that’s Judas Priest, hands down. “Older beats newer” was another rule: The Who wins if that’s the true standard.

I’m at an impasse, numerically speaking, in several judging categories. The Judas Priest album is only marginally more consistent than The Who’s. I gave both the same top scores in the “art” and “overall” categories. Who’s Next had a one-point advantage in the “listen to it again” category (4 versus 3). The tiebreaker in this bout was truly the head-to-head score, the binary 0 or 4 point category, with the points going to which album I enjoyed the most this time.

This time, it was Screaming for Vengeance. A day, and a change in mood, can make all the difference.

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




And here’s where we do something a bit different. We’re not going to pit Judas Priest against David Bowie directly. Instead, both will get the opportunity to enter our Final Field of 8.

THE WILDCARD FINALISTS ARE:

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

AND

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


If nothing else, my status as an Anglophile seems bolstered.

In the Division V Championship Match, Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance lost to AC/DC’s Back in Black. I stand by that decision. I also realize that, if they go head-to-head again in the playoffs, the same result is likely.

However, in comparing the Priest LP to the list of divisional winners, there are a couple that I regard slightly less favorably. As much as it pains me to write this, I’m going to swap out Black Sabbath’s Paranoid for Screaming. It’s a straight British metal swap.

But, what about David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars?

My gut reaction is that the Bowie album ranks a little higher to me, at this moment, than one finalist album. Possibly two. In the spirit of this feeling, I’m replacing Pearl Jam’s 10 with Ziggy Stardust. I think Eddie Vedder would understand.

I can hear the cries of outrage from up here in my plush private box. Perhaps I have permanently destroyed the integrity of this competition that I have already rigged to suit my personal tastes. Regardless, I believe that Bowie deserves a shot in the finals.

I know, Bowie lost once to Pink Floyd already, which means the odds are against him in the finals as well. But, you never know. I may change my judging categories.

For the playoffs, I’m going to listen to all eight of the albums on the “new” list of finalists again. The initial bouts will be determined by a random drawing rather than pairing the albums off by perceived subgenre or thematic similarities. The winner of the ultimate Deathmatch should transcend such things.

So, here’s our list of (slightly changed) finalists:

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

The Cars (The Cars)

Moving Pictures (Rush)

Screaming for Vengeance (Judas Priest)

Back in Black (AC/DC)

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

Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd)

The Stranger (Billy Joel)

I was proud of the previous list. I think this one is even stronger.

One chapter left.

Rock On, Everybody.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.