Music/Popular Culture

Tournament of Rock II: The Legends … begins tomorrow

Tomorrow we launch Tournament of Rock II: The Legends, and we wanted to take a moment to lay out the ground rules and to explain how we set it up.

Jim Booth and I, who have wasted more hours of our lives on music than a civilized society should really tolerate, have spent the past few weeks pulling together and considering all the bands that ought to be in the contest. We have some loose criteria that we employed.

  • The period under consideration begins roughly with the arrival of The Beatles. There were fantastic artists before that, and we’ll do a ToR for them at a later date.
  • This tournament is about “rock & roll,” writ large, more or less. We can argue until the cows come home about where the lines are drawn between rock and R&B, or blues, or various strains of techno, or pop, or even country in some cases. So we had to operationalize the definition of the genre and accept that there are arguments to be had on the fringes.
  • We did consult the AllMusic Guide later on in the process to make sure we weren’t missing anybody (we were). They have a thorough breakdown of genres and subgenres that highlights top artists and that helped us align with broader critical opinion a little bit better.
  • We also consulted our S&R colleagues. Some had opinions, which we dutifully noted and incorporated. Others continued to ignore us, which we’re used to.
  • As a general rule, rock has been guitar driven. It has been the domain of the creative performer – that is, the artists and the writers tend to be the same people. It has frowned on acts that are pure industry creations and put-up jobs – even where corporate rock is concerned, the artists controlled who was in the band and what the band was up to.
  • In particular, we see rock and R&B as separate styles (albeit styles with a substantial shared border and plenty of crossover). We’d have had no problem including Prince, Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder here, but felt like if we did then we’d never find a place to draw a line. As a result, we’re going to do a future ToR that focuses more on R&B and keep this one more closely oriented toward a popular understanding of rock and roll. After all, if the term means everything, then it means nothing.
  • Further – and for better or worse – rock has tended to be a white, male genre. There have been some fantastic minority and female artists (this is more true today than it was in the 1960s, and if you need proof drop by and I’ll show you my CD collection), but if we consider the entire history of rock women still haven’t caught up numerically. When we do ToRs on more contemporary themes down the road women and non-white artists will be well represented, I assure you.
  • The ultimate artist is one who’s widely popular, earns significant critical acclaim, helps define the sound and tone of an age, exerts significant influence on later artists, and perhaps even alters the social landscape beyond the realm of music. Not all of the bands in this ToR succeed equally on all counts, but we tried to focus our nominations to bands that have achieved a combined level of success: they should have a certain “household name” element about them – that is, a moderately informed listener has probably heard of them, at least; they have enjoyed a measure of commercial success; and they have earned a decent measure of critical consensus. If they have less in one area, they have compensated for it by doing a bit more in other areas. Not an exact science, to be sure, but this is what we were aiming for.
  • Finally, we invited reader input. In the interest of involving as many perspectives as possible we have included most of the nominations we received. In the end, ToR Legends will involve over 150 bands and solo artists. We expect that will provide everyone with several acts to love and several more to hate.


With that decided, we worked hard to seed the top 48 artists. Jim and I were arguing over a number of these ourselves right up to the last minute, so we’ll be stunned if our choices don’t start an argument or two with our readers. But we tried our best to balance our own sense of the band’s place in history with that of other critics out there. As a result, there are bands seeded higher than we personally think they should be, other bands we feel ought to be higher, and in a couple cases we had to really swallow hard to include the band at all. So whatever criticisms may be leveled, rest assured that we’ve gone well beyond simply rating our favorites.

The top 16 artists were divided into four regions: Hollywood Bowl, Red Rocks, Budokan and Fillmore, each with a 1, 2, 3 and 4 seed. The 5-12 seeds were each placed into a “pod” with three or four unseeded bands. While we did not spend a lot of time rating the unseeded bands, we did use an intuitive sense of general quality to make sure that the 5 seeds have a slightly easier road than the lower seeds. As a result, when you look at the 12-seed pods, they’ll be generally tougher than what the 5s and 6s are up against.

Still, this is an imperfect science. Just because we think a particular band isn’t as good as another, that doesn’t mean that our readership won’t include a lot of that band’s fans. So we expect some upsets.

We will ask our readers to vote on the pods one at a time (probably doing two or three of these a week). In each pod, the top vote-getter will advance to the Great 48. Each of the top 16 seeds will face two competitors instead of one, and the top vote getter in those matches will advance. The #1 seeds will face the winners of the #6 and #12 brackets. The #2s will face the #7 and #10 winners. The #3 seeds get #8 and #9, while #4 gets #5 and #11.

And then The Beatles win. Or … do they? Obviously they’re a massive favorite, but I believe they can be beaten. I have a specific band in mind that I think can take them out, in fact, and will let you know after the fact if I was right. Jim, of course, thinks that if The Fabs lose it’s only further proof of the complete collapse of civilization….

So, there it is. We hope you’ll have as much fun playing as we have putting it all together, and we encourage you to invite your music-loving friends to stop by and cast a vote, too.

See you tomorrow.

12 replies »

  1. boy, good luck. I hope your friends are still speaking to you when this is done! I can’t think of many things more fraught with peril than explaining to someone why their band isn’t here. “What!? No GrassRoots!?” Sadly, what comes perhaps too easily to mind is that Rolling Stone 100 greatest guitarists list, which managed to exclude both Chet Atkins and Dave Navarro. Quite a feat. Fortunately, you guys are smarter than Jan Wenner.

  2. I don’t know that we’re smarter than Wenner was in 1970 or so, but somebody shoot us now if we aren’t smarter than he is today.

    In any case, thanks for the well wishes. We expect fistfights. Although, if somebody’s band ain’t there, it should be noted that we DID invite reader nominations…..

  3. I know, I’m kicking myself for forgetting Fairport Convention. Borderline, but still, Richard Thompson…It’s refreshingly different here in the UK, btw–there’s huge overlap between the Fairport Convention crowd and the Glastonbury crowd. And here’s a fun story for you (that I posted a couple of years ago, but you probably missed it)–Love played Glastonbury six years ago, in 2003–Lee was out of prison and rebuilding the career/band etc, so they played Glastonbury. And it was shown on BBC. So there’s sixty-something Arthur Lee, belting away with a pretty good version of a seminal but still largely unkown forty year old band, and the audience is thousands of kids–really, it didn’t look as if there was anyone in the audience over 30. And they ALL knew ALL the words to ALL the songs. Astonishing.

  4. Damn, over 120 acts…. With that many, there’s going to be a LOT of upsets. Whether those upsets happen after the first few rounds of winnowing will be a very interesting thing to see.

  5. If U2 makes it to the Elite 8 or whatever it turns out to be, I’m yelling rat.

    • Tom: If U2 DOESN’T make the elite 8 it will just prove that… Well, I better not start dogging the voters just yet, I guess….

  6. As you may tell by my name, I’m a Beatles guy and will be voting for them through the end of this. But I’m curious as to how it plays out… To see how some of my other favorites do (such as Radiohead)