Wednesday, December 29, 2004

DB Up in Your Ear: Between Under and Overrated

Spin has a fun and oddly compelling article that lists the “10 Most Accurately Rated Artists in Rock History.” Noting that musical discussions invariably focus upon which bands are overrated (Sonic Youth) and underrated (Thin Lizzy), Chuck Klosterman took it upon himself to set the record straight and level on the most perfectly rated bands of all time.
Of note:

- The Black Crowes’ (#10) first album sold more than five million copies, which is “exactly the right number.”

- Madness’ (#9) best single, “Our House,” “was a pretty great single, but it’s nobodies favorites song. No one seems to dispute that.”

- Matthew Sweet (#5) albums contain exactly one good song, the first one, and it’s “always utterly perfect… He sells enough albums to live comfortably, and that seems reasonable.” Sweet.

- The Beatles (#4) “are generally seen as the single most important rock band of all time, because they wrote all the best songs. Since both of these facts are true, the Beatles are rated properly.”

- Van Halen (#1) “should have been the biggest arena act of the early 1980s, and they were. They had the greatest guitar player of the 1980s, and everyone (except possibly Yngwie Malmsteen) seems to agree. They switched singers and became semi-crappy, and nobody aggressively disputes that fact. They also recorded the most average song in rock history: “And the Cradle Will Rock.” What this means is that any song better than “And the Cradle Will Rock” is good, and any song worse than “And the Cradle Will Rock” is bad. If we were to rank every rock song (in sequential order) from best to worst, “And the Cradle Will Rock” would be right in the fucking middle.”

All this talk about rating got me to thinking about the way that music fans, real music fans, think about music. There’s something great about owning a bunch of albums by an underrated or unknown band, a band you know in your heart of hearts is super-cool. (For the record: the bands that fall into this mode for me at present include Jurassic 5, Boss Hogg, The Von Bondies, and The Distillers.) These bands and the music they play define you in a way, give you a personal air of the exotic that no one else even knows about. But you know, and that’s what counts.

Occasionally, an underrated band will ascend to perfectly rated or even overrated glory. When The Mighty Mighty Boss Tones leapt to fleeting superstardom off the power of their ska-lounge album Let’s Face It (Dickie Barrett even intones on their superior live album "Live from the Middle East," in reference to the smash single “The Impression That I Get”: “Who wants to hear this fucking song again?”), it was a little bit sad in a way, like seeing one of your children off into the world. You’re happy and elated that they found success, but you kind of miss that completely irrational sense of connection you felt with them, their music, their way of life. And if you ever see snotty 14-year-olds with baggy pants wearing a tee-shirt with that band’s name on it, you’ll walk straight into an elementary school and slowly scratch your fingernails slow and hard against the nearest blackboard until it’s all, all better.

That’s the cool thing about music, though: the pendulum constantly swings. Thanks to the Gods that’s so, as it makes for plenty to talk about, and plenty more to listen to.


MRBenning said...

I'm really glad they acknowledged that Diamond Dave was the best lead singer of Van Halen's tragic legacy. They may have been a glorified cover band, but damn, they sure rocked.

Eric Berlin said...

MR - Thanks for adding your thoughts; welcome to DB.

It's almost too bad that Dave is the far better frontman for VH as he's clearly a louse. As to your point about them being a "glorified cover band," I'm wondering where you draw that conclusion from. Sure, "Panama" and "Jump" aren't Mozart, but I think they're generally given credit for the setting the tone for 80s hard rock, particularly with the inspired guitar play of Eddie VH.

Plus, it's a little hard to remember now, but circa 1984, there was no cooler band in the world than Van Halen. And the Hot for Teacher video wasn't bad either...

MRBenning said...

On Van Halen's first few albums they did quite a few covers. When I say "cover band," I was just making reference to the fact that they heavily relied on other people's material. Alongside a great song like "Running With The Devil," they had The Kinks' "You Really Got Me."

Don't get me wrong, I love Diamond Dave, even if he is a crazed egomaniac. Much better than the Sammy material. And, for the record, I think Hot For Teacher is quite possibly the greatest rock song ever recorded.

My Two Cents

Eric Berlin said...

I'm curious if there's really anyone out there who would dispute that Dave was by far the better front-man, crazed ego and all.

I've never really been much of a fan of VH (though I do like Hot for Teacher as song AND video experience). I must admire Eddie's guitar skills from afar and get slightly jazzed by nostalgia for roller-skating parties of childhood lore when a song like Panama pops up on the radio every now and again.

Therefore, I wasn't even aware of VH's early cover heavy roots. What's interesting, in a way, is that more bands don't do more covers today. Back in the early days of rock, that seemed to be more acceptable practice.

A quick flashback to my childhood: It was the sixth grade, and I sat next to Danny Something in homeroom. Danny was cool, and I was pretty much the quiet/nerd type. We had some project/busy work to complete where we were to fill out "favorite things" in different categories. Danny Something, for "LP," listed "OU812." I looked over and asked, "what does that mean?" He scanned back a rather ambivalent stare which told me not to ask again, ever. To make matters worse, I didn't know what LP or OU812 meant, but luckily that was never revealed. To top it all off, "1984" was one of the first tapes ever to enter my music collection. Ah, the old days...

Anonymous said...

I never understood why Eddie VH got so much respect as a guitarist. He was technically competent and he could play very fast, but to my mind his solos were lifeless and unimaginative. I can't think of a single good solo he's performed. Shit, I'd take Slash in a heartbeat over Eddie.

Eric Berlin said...

I mostly agree with you regarding Eddie VH -- a lot of his fret-board antics are stuff that any guitar school geek today can rattle off for you lickety-split, but at the time it was innovative.

Very agreed regarding Slash -- Appetite for Destruction, at least in terms of its guitar-work, still sounds very fresh. Actually, I find it to be one of the better rock albums to have come around... Top 50 most likely?