Music/Popular Culture

Tournament of Rock – Legends: the U2 pod

Results: Well, the top seeds are on a roll now, and this time there wasn’t even a hint of drama to be had, as “Which one’s Pink?” Floyd administered the worst butt-kicking we’ve seen so far. The numbers: #2 Pink Floyd 88%; The Kinks 9%; Robert Palmer 2%. Floyd advances to the Sweet 16, where hopefully they can find a little competition.

Speaking of competition, we may encounter a little now as our search for the greatest band of all time heads out to the Red Rocks region. There, the band that defined Red Rocks in the minds of millions hosts a pod that’s packed with peril.

Poll closes tomorrow morning.

<br /> <a href=”http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/2170579/” mce_href=”http://answers.polldaddy.com/poll/2170579/”>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=”http://www.polldaddy.com” mce_href=”http://www.polldaddy.com”>survey software</a>)</span><br />

33 replies »

    • Let me begin by holding forth on the excellence of Queen. They are, without a doubt, one of the greatest bands in history, and for that matter are probably one of the most under-rated, as well. Their musicianship was superb, their wit and intellect were perhaps unsurpassed in rock history (some will argue for Zappa on this point, and all I’ll say is that it would be close), and their influence has not only endured with bands who fancy the glam, but also in places you’d never expect (I can fire up a worship-fest on my Power Pop list anytime I like just by mentioning them). They were especially important to me personally, as well. In short, Queen were my Beatles. I’d be beside myself for months just on the rumor that a new Queen disc was in the offing and I’d save what little money I could scrape together so I could go to the store and plop down the exorbitant price of $8 when it was finally available. Beyond that, I grew up, like everybody in my corner of the rural South, more than a little ignorant and homophobic, and it was the self-possessed grace of Freddie Mercury who helped me accept the fact that all I thought I knew on this subject was wrong. He made me a better person in ways that he probably couldn’t have imagined.

      And when he died, I finally think I understood how my older friends had felt when John Lennon was gunned down.

      With these things in mind, understand that I could not, even if you put a gun to my head and forced me, argue that Queen was a greater band than U2. Superior musicians technically, to be sure (especially Brian), but they were not better in the studio, they were not better live (I’ve seen both bands, and Queen was indeed magnificent), and they were not more important critically or culturally. It kinda hurts me to say all this, because I fear (since I’ve seen it so much lately) that someone will turn “U2 is greater” into “Queen sucks.”

      But here we are, early on in this pod, and Queen has a 2-1 lead over U2 – U2, one of no more than three or four artists in history that can be credibly compared to The Beatles.

      How is this possible? Well, it’s possible for the same reason I predicted it might happen: it’s awfully fashionable to hate U2 these days. It’s fashionable because “Bono is full of himself,” he somehow bought into his own mythology, and so on. All proven, uncontrovertible fact, except for one thing: it’s utter bullshit. Bono donned a persona to make a point about popular culture and way too many people didn’t get the joke. Didn’t get it despite him talking about it, despite it being almost painfully obvious. It’s as though the audience had seen Milton Berle in drag and concluded that “wow – he thinks he’s a woman.”

      Time and time again I feel like a high school English teacher having to explain that no, Swift wasn’t serious about eating Irish babies. But in an unusually anti-intellectual age in a remarkably anti-intellectual society, it’s embarrassing to suggest that maybe the reader needs to look at little deeper. It’s the fault of our artists for not being literal enough.

      I’ve written about this at length, and if you think Bono takes himself too seriously, please, have a read.

      If your vote for Queen is based on an informed sense that they are greater, I’d love to hear the argument. I really would.

  1. I actually fully intended on voting for U2, however they came across 2 other game changers here. On one end you have a band like Sabbath who is responsible for an entire genre. Then you have Queen who is universally admired inside the music community as well as by countless fans. I like U2 but I don’t hold them in such a high regard as others would. U2 is a different animal, they are hugely successful, and write good tunes, but they aren’t as ground breaking as you would think. I would put U2 in the same category as Tom Petty. Someone who has an extensive library of great tunes, is very popular, and is the envy of most musicians as far as longevity and career. I’m not sure how much of an influence they have had musically. Actually this really came down to Sabbath and Queen for me. Went with Queen.

  2. D: You failed to mention that Edge pretty defined the sound of a generation. I don’t see anybody else in the pod who did that. Hell, I don’t see more than a couple bands in the entire ToR who did it.

  3. Sam: I totally disagree that the Edge defined the sound of a generation. He does have his own “sound”, but I’m not sure his sound defined anything. Remember that same generation grew up with AC/DC and riff for riff they destroy U2. I dig what he does, and I would put someone like Tom Morello in this category as well. They both took chances, created some unique sounds, and basically eliminated anyone from copying them for the fear that someone would say it sounds too much like “The Edge” or “RATM”.

    “Well, it’s possible for the same reason I predicted it might happen: it’s awfully fashionable to hate U2 these days.”

    I remember in the Metallica pod a bunch of people saying something to the effect of “Hey their music is great, but I don’t like their stance on napster” so they didn’t vote for them. So if U2 doesn’t get votes because of Bono douche persona, then fair is fair.

  4. No, what I’m saying is that the majority of people who are voting here, are voting based on persona not music. I voted for a bunch of bands/musicians that I would never want to see live or meet in person because I objectively (to the best of my ability) put their music, influence, and importance on culture above any deep seated hatred I have for one of their members or their music in general. You can’t get mad because people hate Bono, or because of the inevitable Edge sucks comments that are sure to follow. I would put U2 above a lot of bands here, they just happened to come up against 2 great bands.

  5. And I think my argument is that there are such things as being uninformed. If you vote for or against someone based on bad info (when good info is available), that’s on YOU. Kinda like if I hate Obama because he was born on Mars.

    • my argument is that there are such things as being uninformed.

      Hey, if you only wanted informed people to vote, then you shouldn’t have made it a voting tournament in the first place. 😉

  6. All three are huge. I happen to personally dislike (a lot) two out of the three, but i can see the arguments for the two that i dislike.

    If this tournament is about legends, and hence influence, i don’t see how anyone can argue against Sabbath, who – it could be argued – established a whole genre.

  7. Lex, I agree. As far as I’m concerned, all three are legends. And I was hard pressed to vote for Queen over Sabbath. The way I see it, Sabbath was important musically. U2 was important popularly and, to some extent, politically. But Queen did it all. And as much as I like and listen to all three of these bands, I think I would have to put U2 at the bottom. As I said, this one hurts.

  8. Man, this one was tough. Though U2 is the most-imitated act on radio these days, and Sabbath laid the foundation for my beloved metal, Queen was… well, king. Though there may be lousy mimics galore of the U2 and Sabbath sound, there will never be another Freddie Mercury… that voice and spirit was singular. But I’ll be fine with whoever wins this round.

    • Man, I tell you, there are folks here who are pretending that history never happened. So, for those who think that Sabbath changed everything and U2 changed nothing, let me remind you of this little musical moment called “alternative.” You know, it was indie before indie was indie, and it was the dominant organizing principle for serious popular music for a couple of decades. It emerged from early ’80s college rock stations, and without U2 and REM (and to a slightly lesser extent INXS) there’s just no telling where we’d be today. We wouldn’t be here, though.

      So let’s PLEASE stop pretending that U2 wasn’t influential. Yeah, Sabbath had a major impact on metal and yeah, Queen had influence all over the damned place. But U2’s role in shaping what rock has been since the early ’80s was simply massive. Period.

  9. “It emerged from early ’80s college rock stations, and without U2 and REM (and to a slightly lesser extent INXS) there’s just no telling where we’d be today”

    Hm. I agree with you but if we’re gonna talk about “alternative” influencers that don’t get the respect they earned and deserve, I’d replace U2 with Bob Mould and REM with The Pixies. Or the Minutemen and the (heh) Replacements. Or the Beat Farmers and Throwing Muses. Or NRBQ and Big Star. Or countless other bands no one cares about today except other musicians and enlightened music lovers.

    • “…I’d replace U2 with”

      Why “replace”? This ain’t an either/or question.

      “Bob Mould…”

      Majorly important.

      “REM with The Pixies.”

      Again, why replace. Both were very important.

      “Or the Minutemen and the (heh) Replacements.”

      Mats yes, but while The Minutemen didn’t invent suck, they sure as hell perfected it.

      Still, the importance of these bands doesn’t diminish U2 and REM. In fact, U2 and REM came before them, by and large, so it was them that opened the door for that second wave.

  10. One of the questions here seems to be this: is U2’s influence of creating the genre of “alternative” greater or less than Black Sabbath’s influence on creating the genre of “heavy metal” or whatever Sabbath’s genre is officially called (I haven’t listed to much Sabbath, so I don’t know whether it belongs in “hard rock” or “heavy metal” or just “metal” or something else)?

    Frankly, I have no idea.

  11. Love these passionate discussions, folks. As the old codger in the crowd, let me take you for a walk through rock history, hipster style:

    We all know (at least in passing) the “Beethoven/Mozart” personality determiner – you were either a Mozart person or you were a Beethoven person. And people made assumptions about you based on that.

    Well, rock is full of these dichotomous determiners for me. Here they are by decade:

    60’s – Beatles or Stones?

    70’s – Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd?

    80’s – U2 or REM?

    90’s – Nirvana or Britney? (I kid because I love…but who would you put against Nirvana – Oasis?)

    2000’s – Radiohead or Coldplay?

    Interestingly, if one chose to look at genres, an important early dichotomy for what we now call “metal” (there you go, Brian) would be this one:

    Black Sabbath or Deep Purple?

    Notice I’ve covered two of the bands in this pod in this little exercise. But there’s another category:

    The bands that everyone agrees on.

    That brings us to the third band in this pod – Queen. A band that everyone – metal heads, alternatives, classic rockers, all of us – claim as an influence and an inspiration. A band that everyone respects and admires.

    That is powerful stuff.

    But there’s a higher level of importance than even having universal admiration and respect.

    It’s when you inspire people and make them want to pick up instruments and play and write songs just so they can do what you do. Because they know they can’t be what you are – THE ONES.

    For me there are only three bands in this tournament who have been THE ONES – The Beatles, U2, and Nirvana.

    Makes voting clear for me – I admire and respect and like Black Sabbath – and like everyone I love Queen. They are all time greats.

    But we’re trying to determine the greatest here – and for me that would have to be U2.

  12. For what it’s worth as someone who has played with, hung out with, recorded with, schmoozed with, and basically just talked shop with amateur and professional musicians, I cannot recall ever having a discussion about U2 that didn’t’ sound like this “yeah they’re a all right”. I can think of countless times where there was discussion about how important Sabbath and Queen was/is. In fact there generally seems to be a “meh” attitude about U2. I’m not saying that there isn’t a certain amount of envy, but I think U2 is more pop culture then inspiration. No one is picking up an instrument to be like U2, with Sabbath and Queen they are. The universal appeal of Queen inspires all genres.

  13. Brian: Trying to quantify those influences would drive you mad. But let’s just say that both had a major impact. Then let’s look at all the other criteria – and that’s when Sabbath’s claim begins to really get thin.

    • By the way, depending on how you count things, U2 had nearly as many four-star-plus albums as Sabbath had albums period (with Ozzy – we’re not really counting what happened after he left, I assume – unless you want to start marking them down for eroding their legacy, anyway)….

  14. This was a great round, and I’d like to commend the tourny’s founders on their foresight with this pod. Savor this moment, you’re actually being complimented. I had planned on giving Sam a hard time when U2 popped up (comparing them unfavorably to Coldplay, specifically), but this round is too good to derail.

    As great and influential as they were, I knocked out Black Sabbath rather quickly. While they largely defined heavy metal (though I’d quibble the Beatles introduced it with Helter Skelter), they end up being something of a one-trick pony when compared to Queen and U2 to a lesser extent.

    With it narrowed down to U2 and Queen, well, it was a tough one. I’ll admit here that I’m not a fan of U2, but they’ve contributed greatly to the culture of rock and roll. It pisses me off to the highest degree that world leaders take time to meet with fucking Bono, but he’s put himself in that echelon, for better or (much more likely) worse. And while I’ve never been, they’re concerts are supposed to be something else.

    Normally, I’d give U2 a ton of credit for having a lot of influence, but personally, I think their imitators by and large suck. I’m not detracting points here (it’s not they’re fault that they’re a tough act to follow), but they’re not getting as many points as others have.

    In the end, though, I went with Queen. While U2 puts together a better presentation, I think Queen are the superior musicians, which, at the end of the day is what really matters. Plain and simple, Freddy Mercury is a god of the musical pantheon.

    • And while I’ve never been, they’re concerts are supposed to be something else.

      They’re unbelievable. I’ve seen them three times, and the ZooTV show was the best concert I’ve ever attended.

      Normally, I’d give U2 a ton of credit for having a lot of influence, but personally, I think their imitators by and large suck.

      I’m guessing you don’t know VAST. Can’t judge them all by Coldplay, Tom.

      In the end, though, I went with Queen. While U2 puts together a better presentation, I think Queen are the superior musicians, which, at the end of the day is what really matters.

      Odd. I must have missed the part where you voted for Phish.

  15. “Hey, if you only wanted informed people to vote, then you shouldn’t have made it a voting tournament in the first place.”

    Zing!

    “No one is picking up an instrument to be like U2”

    I’ll have to disagree on that. U2 is one of the most-imitated bands I know of, I hear that Edge jangle and that Bono breathiness and wailing in everything from Top 40 slop to commercials to movie soundtracks. There was a band here in Denver a while ago (Mere) who made their way out to L.A. to seek their fortune that was basically a U2 tribute act. But few try to copy Queen since it’s just so damned difficult (only the criminally underappreciated Jellyfish really comes to mind). Best to just listen to the original stuff, be inspired, and rock on in your own way.

    “with Ozzy – we’re not really counting what happened after he left, I assume – unless you want to start marking them down for eroding their legacy, anyway)”

    You assume wrongly. There are probably as many Dio-era Sabbath fans as there are Ozzy-era fans, and most metalheads like them both anyway. While everyone digs Ozzy, most serious metal musicians/singers lean to Dio. And I’ve mentioned before that Dio-era Sabbath’s “The Mob Rules” is in my humble opinion the greatest metal track ever. (Fuck off, G’n’R.) Any serious rocker who plays that in their car and is not tempted to drive 180MPH and flatten everything in their path is probably dead, or dead boring. I will agree that post-*Dio* Sabbath languished artistically.

    “Why “replace”? This ain’t an either/or question.”

    Well, that’d be the only way most of those I listed would ever get into this damned tourney to begin with. 😉

  16. “I knocked out Black Sabbath rather quickly. While they largely defined heavy metal (though I’d quibble the Beatles introduced it with Helter Skelter”

    I heartily agree, the Beatles kicked it off with “HS” (and kicked it even further with that MONSTER riff in “I Want You”). But Sabbath made it their raison d’etre. Sigh, if only Lennon and Macca had gone metal instead of melancholy in the 70’s. 😉

  17. Ah, i didn’t realize that U2 was responsible for “alternative”. At least now i have a good reason to dislike them instead of just not liking their music: i can blame them for a bunch of other music i don’t like too. I was young in the 80’s, spending the early portion of it still under my parents’ boomer-rock influence, and then i chose metal. My geography meant that rap was more popular than U2 or REM. That probably shows in the fact that i still own some Too $hort and NWA, but no U2 or REM.

    I don’t pretend to be informed on this matter. I’m not a music critic, nor do i consult music critics before making musical choices. In short, i’m one of the reasons that democracy sucks.

    But i spent enough time riding around in primer-grey Camaro’s to know that the Sabbath/Ozzy tape case was where the pinners got stashed; there is no higher burnout honor than that.

  18. As a side note, doesn’t Queen basically own the claim to the most recognizable song in the world? Right now there’s a soccer or rugby match going on and they’re playing “We Will Rock You”. Last night there were at least 5 pro sporting events in the US (and I’m sure many amateur ones) going on, and I can guarantee all of them played that song.

    I also second Mike. I lived with musician who worshiped Dio and Dio era Sabbath.

    “U2 is one of the most-imitated bands I know of, I hear that Edge jangle and that Bono breathiness and wailing in everything from Top 40 slop to commercials to movie soundtracks.”

    If anyone’s voice is imitated to death it’s Eddie Veder’s. I’m not denying that there’s not an influence, I’m simply saying that more people aspire to be musicians like Queen, but would gratefully take the fame of U2.

  19. Why couldn’t you have put U2 against Robert Palmer and Graham whatshisname? Dang.

    I hated to vote against Queen, but I’ve known all along that U2 would be my vote when they came up.

    I can’t believe some of the conversation here. Some people are incredibly small-minded when it comes to what U2 has done. No one wants to sound like U2? What? Replace U2 and REM? What? Yes, alternative music owes debts to lots of musicians, but U2 and REM are who brought the sounds out of the small time.

    BTW, are the Pixies in the ToR? Did I miss them?

    Obama was born on Mars?

  20. I actually thought I had the Pixies in here. Originally the field was going to be smaller and there was a category of bands that weren’t in here that I was going to use for an Influencers ToR – VU, Sonic Youth, Big Star, Pixies, etc. As the movement to expand the field gained traction I added some of them in, but apparently forgot The Pixies. Sorry about that. If Sonic Youth and MBV belonged in, so did they.

  21. I gave a kneejerk vote to Queen but started to think that maybe i voted too quickly. Were it two years ago, I would have given the edge (no pun intended) to Queen based on the leg of influence. But lately, i’ve seen a lot of telecaster, 3 chords and the truth bands coming out of the woodwork.

    i agree that it’s hard to try to picture glam without Queen. it would still have existed, but what a different beast it would have been. likewise, U2 didn’t invent alternative — indeed, they quickly came to engender the mainstream from which Gen-X needed an alternative — but it would have been a different phenomenon without them.

    when i look at the sum of the parts, i have to give the edge to Queen. Freddie Mercury might have been one of the few frontmen more charismatic than Bono. He was a better musician, too. He was also more political just in his very existence, whether he flaunted his sexuality or not. i’ll take Brian May straight up against the Edge. I’d go with Deacon and Taylor over Clayton & Mullen Jr, too. Mullen is a solid drummer, but stalls once he’s forced out of his little drummer boy routine. as a bass player, Clayton makes Ringo Starr look like Neil Peart.

    Both had producers who played to their strengths. Roy Thomas Baker’s shtick was in layering vocals — perfect for a strong vocal band like Queen. Eno & Lanois’ ambient synth production played well with the lone wolf quality of the Edge’s guitar and Bono’s early vocal work.

    Both only had about 10 years of active work. Queen did their damage in the ’70s. U2 embarked on their Vegas years after completing Achtung Baby in ’91.

    If you acknowledge that both have spread their influence far and wide, i guess it really comes down to the meat of their tenure. Was Queen bigger in the ’70s than U2 was in the ’80s? I start to think not. Queen represented the androgyny and arena rock of their time. I don’t know that they made many statements in their time beyond that they would indeed rock you.

    In looking back on U2 in the ’80s, perhaps i give them too much credit, but i see them as one of the few political and social counterpoints to the Reagan/Thatcher greedhead movement of the time. It was not popular to stand against it, but U2 picked their battles well. The Unforgettable Fire was a compelling choice of subject matter in a time of cold war.

    I think my biggest complaint with them is how disposable they’ve become since the ’80s. From what I gather, Bono’s political moves caused strife in the band, causing him to turn it down. It’s a shame. Of course, being a political artist is something of a taboo, but it’s a taboo better broken. If the people lead, the leaders will follow. It’s a shame that Bono has broken from that and has instead spent recent years trying to broker deals that advance his politics behind the scenes. Oh well, it’s a tough nut to crack.

    Still, I think i have to give U2 the edge based on importance.

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