Music/Popular Culture

Tournament of Rock – Legends: The Police pod

The_PoliceResults: The past week provided ToR fans with about as much drama as the 4th quarter of the Patriots/Titans game, huh? In our most recent match the band currently famous for providing CSI theme music simply poleaxed some pretty good competition, making it four in a row for the favorites. The numbers: #3 The Who 82%; #9 AC/DC 16%; Queensryche 2%.

Maybe we can give voters something to think about this week. Let’s start in the Budokan region, where perhaps the greatest band of the New Wave hosts the Piano Man and arguably the most underappreciated artist in rock history.

Give ’em a listen, give ’em a vote, and remember, we’re asking you to think about the greatest bands in history. As we’ve suggested before, this means we’re working toward a critical standard that transcends mere taste. Polls close tomorrow morning.

<br /> <a href=”” mce_href=””>Which band/artist deserves to advance in the Tournament of Rock: Legends?</a><span style=”font-size:9px;” mce_style=”font-size:9px;”>(<a href=”” mce_href=””>opinion</a>)</span><br />

51 replies »

  1. This is a tough one for me. The Police have the influence, but Joel is a personal favorite. I’ll probably vote for Sting & Company, but I can’t bring myself to do it right now.

    Personally, Parker doesn’t even belong in the discussion. Best I can tell, none of his albums ever went gold and his singles rarely cracked the Top 100. I have no memory of hearing any of his songs. Hell, I have no memory of ever hearing of HIM before this tournament. While I’m no student of the music artists, I don’t think I’m so ignorant that I’d never hear of a guy you say is among the 20 greatest rock artists of the last 40 years. Even if I am, how can he be a legend if he’s so obscure?

    • Tom: You’re just killing me. And your doing yourself no favors, either. Your assumption: I never heard it, it can’t be great. Well, my boy, that’s an assumption that’s underpinned by another assumption, and it goes like this: the radio industry can be counted on to play what it is best and to elevate the meaningful over the trivial. Seriously, that’s what you have just announced that you believe. You’re basing your own critical rep on whether or not you heard it, completely ignoring that there are many factors which conspire to keep you from hearing that which is best.

      Because if radio didn’t suck so badly, you’d have heard LOTS of Parker. Also, had you lived a few years earlier and done so in the UK, you’d also know who Parker is.

      It’s not your fault that you don’t know GP, probably, but it IS your fault that you’re willing to stand up and take the blame for radio’s rampant whoremongering.

  2. Brian: You know you’re my boy. I love you like a brother. But this is not good. I can’t think of a single meaningful critical criterion (remember, we don’t care about “like” and “taste” here) on which Joel isn’t dead last. In most cases, by a mile. If I’m wrong, explain. But both The Police and Parker were/are insanely important artists, while Joel was a nice pop star.

    Then again, I was afraid going into this pod that this might happen.

  3. Slammy, if GP had come out in the last 10 years or so, I’d say you have an argument. But he’s been out for 30+ years. He came out a couple of years before the Police. I’m not saying he’s not great, but the “radio sucks” argument doesn’t seem to work with this one. Especially considering all the great bands on this list that have been around for far less time than GP. I went with the Police.

    • Uber: So you’re arguing what, then? That he’d have been played on the radio at SOME point? Got news for you – radio has sucked as long as I can recall, although it got a lot worse once Reagan’s boys decreed that the public interest was what the public was interested in.

      Again, you’re basing the argument on the assumption that greatness is a function of popular awareness. So Bad Company is greater than GP, I guess?

      I’m not saying that a certain measure of fame is meaningless. I AM saying that popular opinion, when the topic is greatness, is worth less than nothing. Also, a great many people HAVE heard of Graham Parker. He had five singles chart at 107 or higher in the US, four top 50 hits in the UK, and two top 30s on the American Modern Rock charts. Rolling Stone magazine ranked The Mona Lisa’s Sister at #97 on its list of The 100 Greatest Albums of the 80’s.

      Sometimes when we don’t know an artist we need to admit that maybe it’s not the artist’s fault. I say this as a guy who’s painfully aware that there are a LOT of great artists out there, past and present, that I don’t know. GP did plenty to merit his slot here. If you have an argument to make about awareness and the criteria and whatever, go ahead. But as long as you keep suggesting that if everybody doesn’t know about an artist that it HAS to mean that artist isn’t great, the beatings are going to continue. If popularity matters so much, you need to get familiar with Britney Spears, because I’m going to hang her around your neck like a rancid chicken.

      This is S&R, dammit. We’re about elevating people’s critical standards.

  4. Sam,
    I have to agree with everyone else that GP just doesn’t stack up and I was living in England during the Eighties. I believe th Police are the best in this pod and have voted accordingly but then again I am one of those uniformed readers you howl about who vote for Sanata twice.

    • So, Rho, if I dropped an impromptu GP quiz on you, how do you think you’d score? Because your comment here asks me to accept that you know his music well enough to offer an informed opinion.

      BTW, all, I’m not asking you to vote for GP. I’m not even telling you that I voted for him. There are three good artists here, two of them simply great. If you voted for The Police, congrats, you just voted for probably my second favorite band of all time (or maybe favorite – I go back and forth between them and U2, with Queen slotted securely in third). It’s just imperative that people stop damaging their own credibility by dismissing Parker’s importance.

      To use a sports analogy, it’s one thing to tell me that you think Joe Montana is the greatest QB ever. Damned good case to be made there. But as soon as you tell me that Johnny Unitas was overrated and doesn’t belong in the conversation, you have diminished the value of your opinions, including the one about Montana.

  5. Well. Here we have some competition based on what Jim privileges most.

    I, to borrow language from fikshun, am a fan of “focused, literate” songwriting. And all three of these artists offer that in abundance.

    While Billy has, it seems, chosen the good life (as anyone can tell who’s seen a recent pic of Mr. Joel), he has provided us with some exquisite “slice of life” vignettes over a 3.5 decade career. I was listening to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from “The Stranger” a week or so ago and was impressed both by Joel’s storytelling skills and his attention to dynamics and tempo. And that’s one of many such performances by The Piano Man….

    Sting, love him or hate him, writes thoughtfully and irresistibly (hard to do, folks) quite often. Songs like “Message in a Bottle” or “Synchronicity II” have provided templates for clever songwriting for the entire post punk generation. One can readily hear his influence in two of the most literate of those bands, Green Day and Fountains of Wayne. And The Police benefit mightily from the quality of musicianship provided by their drummer (an under appreciated wizard named Stewart Copeland) and guitarist (an even more under appreciated guitar god named Andy Summers – say “Thank you,” Edge, among others). Their recent “dash for cash” aside, The Police can say they were once “biggest band in the world.” That’s a pretty impressive claim to be able to toss on the table….

    Which brings us to Graham Parker. A songwriter with the depth of field of Billy Joel and the wit and irresistability of Sting, Parker’s work is infused with both the sensibility of one who knows he’s got more chops than either of the above songwriters and a desire to stretch himself that has pushed him to release album after album of superior material over the last 30 years.

    And so we get to the debate portion of the program…

    The problem with Parker is that while he is himself a great artist, his reach has been limited. That saws off one of the important legs of the three legged stool of critical importance – influence. (The other two, remember, are artistic achievement and success with the mass audience). While Parker is revered among musicians and the cognoscenti (think Velvet Underground), his mass success has been minimal.

    The problem with Joel is that while he’s had the mass success (though less than one would think) to have had great influence, one would be hard pressed to point at acts that have sought to follow his path….That certainly suggests a singular talent – perhaps inimitable in an unfortunate way?

    Only The Police seem to have all of those characteristics mentioned in my “three legged stool” analogy – mass success (“biggest band in the world” for a time), influence (see examples), and artistic achievement (see examples).

    So, reluctantly, since I personally like Parker better, I vote for The police. They have achieved the most over the broadest range of the measures of a rock artist’s importance in the field….

    • “Hard pressed to find acts that followed [Joel’s] path.” I spent a little time thinking about this earlier, and I realized that you have a point, but I think it applies more to male than to female acts. I can point to a decent number of women artists who have taken a similar path to Joel’s. Two that spring immediately to mind are Sarah McLaughlin and Tori Amos, both of whom are not only singer-songwriters, but are also piano players.

      Popularity matters at least some, Sam, and you’re admitting it by using popularity above in your defense of GP: “He had five singles chart at 107 or higher in the US, four top 50 hits in the UK, and two top 30s on the American Modern Rock charts.” And if you’re using Rolling Stone as a guideline for “critical success,” then Billy Joel’s got GP beat there too – two of the 500 greatest albums, The Stranger and 52nd Street, ranked 67 and 352 respectively, to GP’s one album at 335 (Squeezing Out Sparks). For that matter, The Police have Ghost in the Machine ranked 322 and Reggatta de Blanc at 369, Outlandos D’Amor at 434 and Synchronicity at 455.

      Now, I’m not an expert by any stretch, so I’m having to defer to others who supposedly are, but I’m thinking that, based on the Rolling Stone list, my vote for Joel is defensible on both critical grounds as well as on popular ones.

      Finally, I have to agree with Uber here, Sam. Popularity isn’t the end-all, be-all by any stretch, but if an artist can only attract a small, hard-core group of fans, that suggests that there’s an inherent limit to his or her music. Yes, radio sucks, and it may have sucked for a while now, but the fact that GP wasn’t even played on good stations (like KBCO, back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it introduced me to a host of music that I didn’t even know existed) suggests that his music has limited appeal for some reason. Influence and critical acclaim aren’t enough here, Sam. Popularity matters too.

      • Two that spring immediately to mind are Sarah McLaughlin and Tori Amos, both of whom are not only singer-songwriters, but are also piano players.

        Really? I’m pretty familiar with both Amos and McLachlan and it has never occurred to me that they owe anything to Joel. You’re obviously tweaking on something that I never heard. Joel’s working class storytelling reminds me a lot more of Springsteen than those two, who tend to be pretty dark psychically. So social vs psychic, I guess I’m saying. Or am I missing something?

        On popularity: I think I addressed popularity from the outset. Specifically, I said this:

        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.

        I have reiterated this as recently as a couple of comments ago. But we’re talking about awareness as a low-level baseline, a pre-requisite only. Not a measuring stick. Offering GP’s chart status was merely a way of demonstrating that people were telling us about themselves, not Parker.

        Rolling Stone was once a great source on these kinds of issues, and at that point they hadn’t gone around the bend quite yet. I don’t offer them as a definitive, merely as a data point.

        As for the Joel vote on critical grounds, I’m certain there are informed critics who’d agree with you. But I’d bet you any amount you want that they’re a minority. A critic who’d assert that BJ is greater than The Police is a rare one. Not to diss Joel – see Jim’s thoughtful remarks from earlier in the thread – but Joel didn’t change music in any meaningful way. He didn’t present us with a degree of technical skill that was in the same ballpark with at least two of The Police’s three members. To me, anyway, it seems that his music was more timebound. And so on. Again – let’s remember that I’m the guy who put Joel in this darned tournament, so I’m not about to sit here and take anything away from him. I just can’t find anyway of elevating him to the level of the other two choices here.

        Finally, the irony is killing me. Influence and critical acclaim aren’t enough here, Sam. Popularity matters too. Shall we track back through all the comments so far and delete your carping over the short shrift being given to unpopular goth bands, then? I’m all for a good debate, but it’s hardly fair of you to take both of the sides. You have to leave me SOMETHING to argue.

        • Actually, I think that most of the goth bands I was carping about have had greater popular success than GP has. The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy both did/do. And they both crashed and burned.

        • I don’t have comparative sales in front of me, but among goth bands probably only Bauhaus sold more than GP (and I’m not even sure of that). I seriously doubt the Sisters did (if nothing else, think about the longevity factor). I may be wrong – I’d like to see the numbers, if anybody knows where they’re hidden.

          I have a hard time calling The Cure a goth band, although I see your point. Most would slot them with the post-punks, but it ain’t like there are clean lines there. In any case, The Cure doesn’t get enough respect, and yeah, they sold a fuckload.

  6. Sam: Uber makes a good point, so I’ll piggy back onto that.

    I’ll just add that I am not questioning Parker’s alleged greatness, just his alleged legendary status. Even someone with less than average knowledge should be able to identify the artist, songs, album cover or name of a rock legend.

    • Tom: Let’s test that theory. How many Americans can identify a work by Mozart?

      If the answer turns out to be what we both know it will be, do I take it to mean that, by your standards, Mozart isn’t a legend?

      • Sam, you’re drawing a false equivalence with your Mozart thing. Nearly 100% of Americans know what rock & roll is – they’ve heard it since they were born. A much, much smaller faction of Americans listen to classical music on a regular basis.

        Doing the Mozart thing with just the classical listeners and you’d get near 100% identification. The same is probably true of throwing up the Beatles or the Stones with the majority of Americans.

        I can appreciate that you’re feeling like your guy is getting an unfair shake here, but defending him using bad logic doesn’t help your case.

        • Brian: Your argument remains dependent on awareness and taste. Like Tom, you’re asserting that these things are equivalent to, if not superior to, the deep, serious analysis by people who are dedicated experts.

          Or forget experts – you don’t have to be a professional critic to THINK about things, to force your way past TASTE and mere FASHION. (Hell, one critic or another is routinely pissing me off, so no, that doesn’t always make you right.)

          I am insisting that you cannot dismiss the greatness of a work or an artist based solely on your unfamiliarity (or that of the public) with said artist or work. It’s unfathomable that at S&R, of all places, I’m getting static on this point.

  7. I’m rather stunned by the lack of respect Graham Parker is getting here. But then, most of my favorite music artists (King’s X, Fates Warning, XTC, Cocteau Twins, Los Lobos, Bob Mould) languish in obscurity and get regularly belittled by folks who say “they suck” or “never heard of em” or other egregious displays of ignorance and chauvinism.

    That being said, and despite my affection for Billy Joel’s impressive catalog and GP’s artistic integrity, I cannot *not* vote for The Police. Five classic albums packed with some of the best rock of the late 70’s-early 80s, thanks to Andy Summers’ ringing guitar, Sting’s cosmopolitan tastes, and the stickwork of one of the greatest drummers alive, Stewart Copeland (even though he’s a fucking dick for slamming jazz). The Police had a innovative sound that started as a spirited amalgam of reggae and punk and evolved into ripping, intense rockers and walls of moody electronica, all of it tasty, none of it boring (well, except for “Wrapped Around My Finger,” lol). I love The Police and they get my vote.

    • Mike: Can’t argue with a word of that. Well, I’m not a jazz guy, so that part didn’t outrage me like I know it did some people. But yeah, the only thing wrong with The Police was that they broke up.

      And who knows – maybe if they’d stayed together they’d have tainted their legacy. Plenty of other bands have stayed at it too long (see Stones, Rolling). In any case, when you do five records and the worst of the lot is Regatta de Blanc, that’s pretty incredible. (AMG calls Regatta three stars, and they can blow me. It’s four, at least.)

  8. Sam,

    I would probably fail your quiz and that is part of my point. Even though I was in the UK when he was supposedly so great I just don’t see it, now or then.

  9. Sam: You’ll notice my careful wording. I used OR there. While many (…most… nearly all) can’t distinguish the work of Mozart or Bach or any of the classical composers from one another, I bet most will have heard of his name. If somebody knows your name 200 years after you croaked, you are a legend.

    But that’s just semantics. You’ll throw Haydn or some equally great artist back at me, someone who doesn’t have the name recognition of the populous. And I would tell you that he or she are among the greatest and most important artists of their era and perhaps the millennium. But that alone doesn’t make a legend in my book.

    • You’ll notice my careful wording. I used OR there.

      So let’s see., You’ve heard OF Parker and I bet I can play you a song you’ll recognize. If so, you’ll withdraw the complaint?

      While many (…most… nearly all) can’t distinguish the work of Mozart or Bach or any of the classical composers from one another, I bet most will have heard of his name. If somebody knows your name 200 years after you croaked, you are a legend.

      Tom, you’re getting caught in a back-forth here. I can show you artists from hundreds of years ago that are great that you haven’t heard of and ones you’ve heard of who aren’t so great, likely. Ultimately, though, you’re desperately banking your assessment on a standard that should embarrass you. To wit, whether or not the masses have heard of an artist – not know the work, not have thought about the work, not could pick the artist out of a lineup – that is more important to defining greatness than the informed opinions of those who make knowing such subjects intimately their life’s work.

      In America, circa 2009, I’m sure you could get a lot of people to vote your way in an online poll. But that’s the definition of pandering, isn’t it? You have a university degree – is this really the standard you want to live your life by, to be remembered by, to be judged on?

  10. Let me see if I can articulate the problem we’re having here using some elementary logic.

    Say I tell you that “X is great.” You reply that no, X isn’t great. If you do this, then the grounds for doing so are limited. Either:

    A: You are familiar with X and can explain to me why they are not great.
    B: You are unfamiliar with X.

    If B, then the only credible means you have for dismissing X is that your unfamiliarity alone is grounds to reject my claim. In other words, a requisite for greatness is that you’ve heard of X.

    Maybe you’re quite well informed and your argument is actually that greatness requires X to have earned a certain level of notoriety, and you are intimately familiar with all or most that have achieved that level. Or maybe your worldview is a little more, ummm, “me-centric,” and you just figure that if you don’t know it, it ain’t worth knowing.

    In any case, most arguments about greatness are ultimately arguments about criteria. So far, there have been zero cases of A in our discussion of Parker, and I don’t expect there will be. So those dismissing him need to think about which instance of B they really are.

    Finally, if my assertion isn’t that X is great, but that X is the greatest, then all you need to do is offer a comparative case of someone greater than X. That has happened in this thread, but it still requires people to address X and Y on some set of criteria. You still can’t argue that Y is greater than X because you never heard of X unless you want to wade back through B.

  11. I was thinking about the whole issue of arguing over music yesterday, after I was told in no uncertain terms that a song I care little for is actually great — without question. OK. It’s great to someone. To me, it’s not so great. But the thing is, though I’m a reasonably accomplished finger-picker who made most of his spending money in college as a solo bar act, I don’t really know much about music, and having been around my sister-in-law-who-won-the-Geneva-piano-competition and her family, I know just how very, very little I know.

    I suppose one could argue the worth of music based on its complexity, its musical theory genius, and the like, but in trying to come up with an analogy for the issue, I think I may have succeeded to a degree.

    I don’t know much about music, but I know a lot about Shakespeare. One of my least favorite plays is “The Winter’s Tale.” I hate that thing, and for some reason, I keep getting dragged to performances and offered roles in it. To me, it’s as if Shakespeare wrote an episode of “Three’s Company.” It would be the best “Three’s Company” ever written, doubtless, but even Will wouldn’t be able to overcome the stupid, underlying premise. The fact is, “The Winter’s Tale” is written to a formula popular at that time, and doubtless the other sharers in the King’s Men asked Will to write to that formula. There are some marvelous characters, some very nice scenes, and a wealth of two-dimensional characters and general vacuity. At least, to me.

    And here’s where we come to the parallel. I know people whose opinions I respect who also know a lot about Shakespeare, and they love “The Winter’s Tale.” I think they’re insane, but they probably think the same of me because I’m very fond of “Troilus and Cressida.” We have our reasons, and they really reflect a matter of personal taste. I love the characterizations in “Troilus and Cressida” and the anti-war, black cynicism of Shakespeare’s rewriting of Hector’s death. Others find it completely offputting.

    So, this long-winded thing I just wrote (sorry) is really about the fact that most argument over this stuff is of very little utility, isn’t it?

  12. Well, cancel that. I guess I would go with the Police if I were actually going to vote in this pod, which I’m not going to, since I don’t think any of these three are legends. Joel was a more interesting songwriter earlier in his career, but, let’s face it, he got lazy and comfortable living in the Hamptons. A Long Island boy at heart. The Police wrote a bunch of good three minute songs, and had a good idea with being a white Reggae band, but they had their run, and if they ever had to improvise anything at all they probably would have exploded. Interestingly, I think it’s been Andy Summers who has turned into the most interesting musician of the three. Parker is good at what he does, but I never thought it traveled well. Probably just me. I’m listening to some Richard Thompson as I write this.

  13. “but they had their run, and if they ever had to improvise anything at all they probably would have exploded.”

    Wrong. Each of the three Policemen have regularly improvised over course of their careers, individually and together, on record and during live shows. Hell, just carefully listen to the last minute or so of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” to appreciate what I mean… that ain’t fucking Foghat. Tinkering with their own music was one of The Police’s hallmarks. And Sting is a devotee of jazz (particularly Gil Evans), which is of course the art of improvisation, and its influence is ever-present in his solo catalog.

  14. Sam: 1) I would withdraw my complaint in its entirety if you were to play a song of Parker’s I recognized. It wouldn’t change my vote for The Police, but I would legitimize Parker to some extent.

    2) You and I are evidently voting on two different standards. You’re voting for the greatest, while I’m voting for the most legendary. I assume you’re reviewing things like technique, sound, influence and critical success. These things all factor into my votes, but name recognition is of vital importance as well. I’d say it’s right there after influence in terms of importance for me.

    That’s why I’m not going with Joel over The Police. Joel has achieved some greatness and arguably has a larger name than The Police (ARGUABLY) among the masses, but The Police ain’t exactly nobodies. The only possible influence I can immediately think of for Joel is Ben Folds, while The Police pretty much shaped Ska and rock in general for 10 years at least. It was an easy but painful decision for me since Joel’s music has a special place for me.

    Now let’s look at Parker. I can see signs of his greatness, though I’ve never experienced it. He’s reached the charts in the past, you’re foaming at the mouth (and maybe rightfully so) at the lack of respect he’s getting, and my research tells me he’s a poor man’s Elvis Costello. That’s pretty damn good. But again, I can’t recall once experiencing his name, song, likeness, or albums. My parents, my friends, my musical influences, the media, none of them have seen fit to inform me of the man’s existence. By my definition then, it is extremely unlikely he’s a musical legend, which is what I’m voting for.

    • …a poor man’s Elvis Costello.

      Dear lord. Well, that’s how some see him. I’d personally argue the other way. I admire the hell out of Costello’s insistence on experimenting and on being true to his own vision. He walked away from New Wave, which I still regard as his greatest period. But that’s what an artist does – he realizes the need to speak to an audience, but he doesn’t let the audience dictate what he will be. So many props.

      That said, I don’t think the actual work he’s DONE measures up to what Parker has done. GP is still recognizably the same artist as he was in 1978 – more mature, more thoughtful and reflective, but he’s still, at the core, a straight-on pub rocker. So he and EC are vastly different in that respect.

      As for what you’re voting for, well, there’s not much I can do about that. You can vote for the artist with the biggest hair and I can’t stop you. However, I can quote you the first line from the ToR- Legends page, and it sets the task forth in a way that has been repeated, I believe, in every single post in this tournament: In ToR II: The Legends, S&R poses a simple question: who is the greatest rock band or artist of all time?

      If you would, note the boldfaced text.

  15. Yes, all three have done lots of improvisation throughout their careers, Summers much more than Sting, I think, but I won’t push it. Any positive karma Sting might have from being a devotee of Gil Evans was more than offset by that ridiculous Lute album, but points for trying. I would disagree that what the Police did as a band involved any real improvisation whatsoever. Of course, in my book, if you can’t put together a good 45 minute jam, you have no business calling your self a band. I’m a bit of an outlier in this tourney on that point.

  16. Well, i voted for The Police a long time ago (i think i was the second voter). Joel’s early stuff is very good. I’ve liked it since i was a kid; it’s very tight song writing. I’ve heard of Parker, and probably heard him but can’t hum a tune or remember a lyric. That’s probably my loss, as i’m of the opinion that what’s shunned by popular culture is probably a lot better than what’s accepted by it.

    The Police are deserving of sitting at the table with any of the Boomer greats. As Duck Dunn might say, “A band that could turn goat piss into gasoline.” It’s like little else that came before or after. And in the event of a tie, the winner would go to the best drummer. Copeland is amazing, one of the all time best (i think better than Peart ’cause he’s got the technical and soul). I’ll cut him some slack on the jazz comment and assume he meant to say, “Jazz isn’t dead it just smells funny.”

    To the general gist of this conversation: It will be impossible to remove subjectivity from this process, and since the ToR has universal suffrage there’s going to be plenty of less-than-critical opinion. What this exercise may prove in the end…after everyone sighs deeply and decides that the Beatles were the greatest rock band ever because it’s always been that way…is that democracy sucks.

    • Wufnik obviously places huge emphasis on pure musicianship and far less on songwriting. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but the cultures surrounding music have tended to see them that way. As I said earlier, all these arguments are ultimately about criteria. If we could get Mike and Wuf to agree on those, we’d probably find them more or less in agreement about who the greatest bands are, as well.

  17. “I would disagree that what the Police did as a band involved any real improvisation whatsoever. Of course, in my book, if you can’t put together a good 45 minute jam, you have no business calling your self a band.”

    Lo siento, pero no entiendo. Oh well, moving on. 🙂

  18. I’d argue that Legends is in the title, but okay, point made. It seems silly to change my standards at this point, especially since most of the time this hairsplitting between greatness and legend doesn’t exist. Most greats are legends to some degree.

    And sorry, no, can’t say I know that song. It was good though. Don’t know if I’d call it great, though. 😉

  19. A few scattered thoughts on this lively discussion:

    1) Brian – Sam’s made excellent points refuting your link from Billy Joel to Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. Are you arguing that the two women are influenced by Joel because they play piano, too? You know that’s faulty logic…. But you got him on faulty logic, too, so we’re all full of it, evidently…. 🙂

    2) JS – Let the “Satisfaction” thing go. You hate it. I get it. It wasn’t being forced to hear it a zillion times during its popularity that made you hate it (as I thought) in my response. You just hate the song. Makes perfect sense. You privileged personal taste higher than other criteria regarding that song. Nothing wrong with that (despite Sam blowing his top about now).

    BTW, I’m one of those people who knows his Shakespeare real well, too (goes with my job as it does with yours). I like both T&C AND Winter’s Tale. I see WT as a triumph OVER formula, you don’t. Personal taste, I guess. Your description of T&C’s charms is spot on, btw….

    Tom: I thought of Ben Folds as I composed my earlier comment – and I think you may have a point. But he’s the only one I can think of. I can think of several others besides the examples I mentioned who are “sons of Sting,” so to speak….

    Mike: You defended musicianship in the Police far more vigorously than I would have – but you’re absolutely right. They are great improvisers as anyone who’s seen them live will attest….

    Sam: As I noted in my evaluation of the artists in this pod, GP, while we both love and revere him, and as I noted while we were creating the seedings, IS an artist who is (sadly, unfairly) much more obscure than Elvis Costello. But “a poor man’s EC” he is most definitely not. That’s ad hominem attack and, as we know, faulty logic and poor argument….However, not knowing an artist’s work is not an invalid criterion for downgrading his reputation. It is, instead, an unfair criterion. There’s a difference, as we both know….

    Lex: Beatles now and forever. Amen and Amen…. 🙂

    • I’ll dive back into this when I have a little more brainpower available – I’ve got to save what little I have right now for getting slides done for a customer presentation next Monday – the slides are due tomorrow and the flu is vacuuming the energy out of me right now.

      I will be back, though!

  20. No, wrong. I put just as much importance on songwriting as on musicianship. My songwriting standards just don’t seem to fit here–Gene Clark, Richard Thompson, Hunter/Garcia, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Sara Hickman, Chapman/ Whitney, John Prine, Elvis Costello, John Hyatt, Arthur Lee, Stan Rogers, Ricky Lee Jones, Jane Siberry. Pete Townshend, Abbey Lincoln… It goes off the reservation pretty quickly. And if there aren’t that many good rock and roll songwriters, well, that’s ok–there really aren’t that many good songwriters in any genre. It’s quality, not domain, that matters in songwriting. But if a rock and roll band can’t jam, for me, that’s just a limitation. Maybe not a fatal one, but still. You know who can’t do that? Lots of bands who make good music. Know who can? Lots of other bands. That’s what makes it all great. I’m not saying the Police aren’t a great band. They’re just not in my pantheon.

  21. And I happily admit that having not seen the Police live, I’m blissfully unaware of their improvisational legacy. So I stand corrected. The Byrds had the same problem. But the Byrds did eventually get around to putting it on record.

  22. “Gene Clark, Richard Thompson, Hunter/Garcia, Sandy Denny, Bert Jansch, Sara Hickman, Chapman/ Whitney, John Prine, Elvis Costello, John Hyatt, Arthur Lee, Stan Rogers, Ricky Lee Jones, Jane Siberry”

    What a list! I know some guys who will sing John Hiatt’s praises till the end of time (even Adam Carolla, who regularly blasts radio biz–which he was in for years–for same reasons Sam and others have already mentioned). Elvis Costello is a genius nonpareil. The greatest concert I ever saw was his 3-hour set with the reunited Attractions here in Denver some years ago at the Paramount. He was taking requests by the end and didn’t seem to want to stop and we didn’t want to let him go. One of the artists you list whose catalog I haven’t fully explored yet is, sadly, Richard Thompson. But I like that I haven’t heard it all yet. 🙂

    As for Sandy Denny, you might be interested in the comment I left at the end of the last ToR thread.

  23. wufnik: Bert Jansch! OMG! Have never mentioned him here cause I figured no one would know him. Speaking of which, I kinda sorta DO know him – I mean personally. Great, great musician and songwriter. And person. And Ricky Lee – love her, too….

    Mike: I saw EC with Steve Nieve and a symphony for my b-day a couple of years ago. Outdoor concert for thw wine and cheese crowd. And Elvis played to them even as he did what the hell he wanted to. Great, great show. And I grow fonder of Thompson all the time….

    Nobody has mentioned Nick Drake… to whom Tori Amos and Sarah MacLachlan DO owe a real debt….

  24. Nick Drake was brilliant. “River Man” has been interpreted wonderfully by the likes of Andy Bey and others but his original take is still haunting and beautiful. And now I’m reminded of Judee Sill…

  25. Jim:

    Glad you like WT. Like I said, I know many people whose opinions I respect who do, and probably more who don’t. But this is good, because it gives me an opportunity to ask a question: If I were in one of your classes and I said I don’t like WT, and I said I didn’t like it because the opening lines allow for no character development, examination of motive, development of relationship to set up the reunion so that the audience gives a damn, and the like, and if I went on to object to the structure, pointing out that the pastoral scenes sucked whatever small life and dramatic tension there was in the story to begin with, and if I went on to assert that WT is very uncharacteristic of Will’s late works, which show nearly constant improvement in melding the playwright’s craft with the actor’s needs, right down to the Menecrates/Enobarbus scene in Anthony and Cleopatra, and if I continued with a supposition that Will was phoning this one in — would you tell me that WT is a great play and grade me down?

    Just curious.

  26. Since I’m the only one here who’s actually BEEN one of Jim’s students, let me answer that for him. I routinely challenged his views, and did so with maybe 1% of the substance that you have in that question. I never got marked down for it. On the contrary – having a well-considered opinion was always a plus, regardless of whether it agreed with his or not.

    I always tried to be that kind of teacher myself. The problem is when students have the same expectation that you would, except they DON’T have a well-considered opinion. Kinda sucks the soul out of you, you know?

  27. gp is the Van gogh of our time. His influence is limited because it is today and not 10, 20 or 100 yearsfrom today. You have to unstick yourself from today and listen to Struck By Lightning to see that 99 percent of music is mediocre and GP is the real thing. His mere mention in this group, while baffling to some, is hope to me that he is more appreciated than it appears. I think Billy Joel is a competent pop star….Roxanne is the SECOND WORSE SONG EVER and by a mediocre unimportant band(I lived through Another Silly Love Song). But everyone herewill eventually throw out their nonsense CDs and then GP will be alone atop these lists.