Music/Popular Culture

Tournament of Rock – Legends: The Clash vs Nirvana

Results: It was a see-saw battle where each artist surged dramatically, but Zep surged hardest and latest. The numbers: #1 Led Zeppelin 60%; #5 Jimi Hendrix 40%. Led Zeppelin is into the Great 8.

Up next – since our quest for the greatest band of all time tortured Boomers in the last pod, it seems only fair that we provide equal opportunity for Gen Xers to tear their hair out trying to decide between two of the bands that defined th-th-th-their generation. There aren’t any wrong answers here, although there are lots and lots of bad reasons. Let the anguish commence.

#2 The Clash: Listen #3 Nirvana: Listen

Which band/artist deserves to advance in the Tournament of Rock: Legends?(polls)

Polls close tomorrow morning.

The updated bracket looks like this:

Image credits: CRFranke and ScrapeTV.

36 replies »

  1. So we’ll be seeing the Beatles Vs Elvis Costello in the Hollywood Bowl region, Pink Floyd Vs. Santana in the Filmore region and U2 Vs. Neil Young in the second set of the red Rocks region. Now you can let us in on the Budoken region and we have the brackets filled.

  2. So, if I understand you correctly, Brian, all art inexorably spirals downward as time passes because nobody can ever exceed those who came before. This is an intriguing philosophy coming from a “stands on the shoulders of giants” science guy, and it would certain baffle Eliot, whose criticism insisted pretty much on the precise opposite.

    • Well, they play by different rules. If you take their list and sort out the earlier artists (pre-Beatles) and exclude R&B, you have 25 left – that’s the left column. Our top 25 are in the right column (we don’t have them numbered expressly – four #1s, 4 #2s, etc.) So that’s roughly the comparison.

      The Beatles
      Bob Dylan
      The Rolling Stones
      Jimi Hendrix

      Bob Marley
      The Beach Boys
      Led Zeppelin
      The Velvet Underground

      Bruce Springsteen
      The Ramones

      The Who
      The Clash
      Neil Young
      John Lennon

      David Bowie
      Simon and Garfunkel
      The Doors
      Van Morrison

      The Byrds
      Janis Joplin
      Patti Smith
      Elton John
      The BandThe Beatles
      Bob Dylan
      Led Zeppelin

      Bruce Spingsteen
      The Rolling Stones
      The Clash
      Pink Floyd

      The Who
      David Bowie
      Van Morrison

      Elvis Costello
      The Police

      The Ramones
      Graham Parker
      Neil Young
      Jimi Hendrix

      The Beach Boys/Brian Wilson
      Joni Mitchell
      Eric Clapton
      The Band

  3. While The Clash may have ruled the day in the 70s, Nirvana all but redefined music in the 90s. Went with Nirvana, and my head doesn’t even hurt. I don’t think it’s a question that Nirvana is the most dangerous band in their region.

  4. I like the Clash far more than Nirvana (a band that always annoyed me). BUT, I have to admit they were bigger game-changers than Strummer & Co–which is saying something.

  5. You can bite or not bite – your choice. But what you SAID is that a band cannot transcend a great influence. You may not LIKE that you said it, but there it is.

    • Sometimes a statement has no subtext, Sam. It’s not my fault that you chose to find meaning between the lines that wasn’t there.

      However, as someone who decries the post-structuralist habit of ignoring the author’s intent in favor of reinterpreting words to match the opinions of the reader, I’m rather surprised to find you doing the same here.

  6. The Rolling Stone list is even more Boomer-centric than ours. Can I say “ours?” But what do you expect from a Boomer stuck magazine?

    And looking at the oil production/RnR chart, it’s also very very very Boomer-centric, but it’s also Rolling Stone. Were 1981 and 1985 really that bad? Wasn’t 1985 the year of Born in the USA and REM’s Life’s Rich Pageant and U2’s Pride and Simple Minds’ Don’t You Forget About Me and John Cougar Mellencamp’s Scarecrow? And the Miami Vice theme song?

  7. It is true that sometimes statements have no subtext. And I’m MORE than happy to acknowledge that you didn’t mean what I’m accusing you of. You misread my analysis of post-structuralism. They would argue that have no ownership or intent – I’m insisting that you damned well DO.

    This case, though, doesn’t strike me as a no-subtext moment. On the contrary – we’re clearly engaged in an ongoing dialogue about issues like greatness and influence, so your remarks are made within a very well defined context, and that context, if not demands, certain desires consistency.

    Your statement implied rather forcefully that Nirvana can’t be greater than The Clash because they couldn’t have gotten where they did without The Clash’s influence. That last part I agree with wholeheartedly. But you clearly establish influence as a wall that Nirvana can’t climb over, and in the absence of a qualifier, it’s hard to read this case as an exception to a broader rule.

    There’s no sin in wrestling with the issue. For my part, I go back and forth. Take U2 and The Fabs. Some days I think that U2 transcended them, in large part due the energizing force of The Beatles’ influence. Other days I agree with Jim that the power of that influence makes it even harder to imagine that they have been surpassed. I don’t see this as am intellectual weakness – instead, I see it as an intellectually important dialogue with the art and with the critical concepts that allow us to ponder greatness in the first place.

    So I’m not busting you. I’m merely calling your attention to what strikes me as a proposition that you might want to tease out a little further.

  8. Brian, there’s an illicit contraposition going on here,if you want to get technical about it.

    Or not.

  9. Sam, in this case I’m merely saying that Nirvana didn’t exceed the influence of The Clash. I’m not making any big philosophical argument here, such as whether anyone could overcome the influence of The Beatles. It’s a statement that in this particular case, Nirvana, the band that came later didn’t overcome the influence of the influence, in this particular case The Clash.

    No more, no less.

  10. “Take U2 and The Fabs. Some days I think that U2 transcended them…”

    Okay, now my head hurts. I have not found the words to express how crazy I think this statement is, so I will instead just say that I disagree. Strongly.

  11. I was actually listening to the Beatles on my way to work, Sgt Peppers to be exact, and I asked myself ” Did people really know back then how awesome this album was?” I’m sure a good amount of people who were fans did, as well as some musicians, but did regular “folks” understand that that album was by most standards today the Beatles “Genius” moment?

    I was in highschool when Nevermind came out, and I remember my brother (who was into Crue) saying, “This is f’n cool!”. It seemed like over night that stations changed formats, I remember our rock station going from the “Fox” to the “Edge” All of a sudden they played no metal, or 80’s (With the exception of the Cult). GNR and Metallica were still huge, and they basically stopped playing their music completely. I actually asked one of the guys why that was and he said he played what he was told, so part of it was fans, and part of it was corporate radio jumping on a trend. Of course now that station plays just about everything, because it’s “retro” to like those bands. That’s what Nirvana did to radio, they changed everything in a few short years. I didn’t live through the Clash’s hey day, and although I enjoy their music I can’t say that they caused a seismic shift in music the way Nirvana did.

  12. D: I think the key difference there was that The Clash was happening in a broader context. They weren’t the only punk band, nor were they the first, and you also had New Wave int he UK and the Power Pop revolution here in the US. So there was a LOT of new, cool stuff happening. The Clash may have been the BEST of the punks, but the game had been changed before they arrived.

    Had they come along five years sooner they may well have been the game-changer, though.

  13. To say that Nirvana was a game changer because PDs and record execs were looking for the next big thing and jumped on them is akin to saying that “Survivor” is one of the greatest shows in history because it started the reality TV craze.

    I love Nirvana, but their popularity wound up giving us Creed and Puddle of Mudd – watered down imitators looking to cash in on the latest trend. Their contemporaries in the first wave of grunge were already doing their thing before Nirvana had a chance to influence them. The Clash have been cited by Billy Bragg, U2, Stiff Little Fingers, Rancid and Green Day as a major influence. And look no further than MIA’s “Paper Planes” to see that their work continues to influence artists today. For the Clash to come out of the crowded era that they did and have such a lasting impact going forward says it all I think.

    This is certainly all based on my opinion, but on my scoresheet The Clash’s output is superior, the work they influenced is better, and that influence has more longevity.

  14. But Seth, do we REALLY want to hold every half-assed punk band (and there are BILLIONS of them) against The Clash?

    Of course, I see Creed and PoM as having less to do with Nirvana than Pearl Jam. I’ve always thought that Nirvana was one part grunge to three parts punk, whereas the rest of the crowd (PJ, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, STP) were pure grunge.

    In any case, I had more trouble deciding to vote for here than I probably have any other pod….

  15. Sure, Nirvana was a better band, but The Clash taught us how to clean up our desktop:

    (I’m so sorry)

  16. I think it’s unfair to argue who influenced crappier bands, and I wouldn’t be so quick to throw Green Day’s name around. They are the very definition of watered down imitators by punk musicians.

    I’m not or never did say that the Clash wasn’t an influence, however they did not impact an entire industry the way Nirvana did.

  17. Sam: I love that album, but I wouldn’t classify that album as punk. And I believe most punk fans would have a hard time classifying most of their entire catalog as punk as well.

  18. Ah, there we go. Punk purity. An argument I usually here from people who missed the fact that from its outset punk was intended to be a pop movement. So let me respond by quoting Billie Joe from a Denver show back in the ’90s: “We’re not a punk band. We’re a melodic California pop band.”

  19. I guess my point was that the Nirvana influence didn’t go anywhere – it didn’t evolve like the Clash’s influence did. Sure the Clash influenced a bunch of lousy bands as well as the good ones, but really where did the Nirvana influence go? It led to the dumbing down of so-called “alternative music” in the pursuit of the next big thing. So if influencing the industry to hand out big contracts to every garage band through the mid to late 90s is your idea of revolutionizing the industry, then great, I guess.

    And yeah, watch yourself on Green Day, D. I can’t put American Idiot higher than London Calling, but it is certainly this generation’s LC. The Clash had the punk purists up in arms when they were one of 4 punk bands in the world too. Just because Green Day found a way to appeal to the masses that no other band did in no way diminishes their creative output. Again, it’s about evolution of the art… taking the punk ideals and making them accessible with pop hooks. The same way the Clash introduced elements of ska reggae and dub into punk.

  20. Seth: Where did the influence go? Are you kidding? The entire indie ethos today is heavily influenced by the low-fi revolution that started when Nirvana annihilated everything that was on the radio at that point in time. It’s nearly impossible NOT to hear their influence in just about every band alive.

    Unless you’re confusing influence with imitation….

  21. Not even a little bit…

    The lo-fi revolution was in the works long before nirvana – see REM, Pixies,other late 80s college radio bands. Things were already in the process of bubbling up, and “Nevermind” was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    I’m of the opinion that the indie ethos is alive and well in spite of Nirvana rather than because of it. After Nirvana, the majors ransacked the indie labels. Any “buzz band” they could get their hands on got a big contract, and I think a lot of the music from the mid and late 90s was influenced by that knowledge. Granted, Nirvana didn’t set out to become the international superstars they became, but many of their followers sure as hell did.

    I think the indie music scene rolls along just fine without Nirvana – sure there would have been a lot of undeserving bands who never got their payday had they not come along, but there are plenty of bands that were Nirvana contemporaries that have as much to do with today’s indie music scene as Nirvana did.

    And again – I am not questioning level of influence, because that is undoubtedly there – I’m questioning quality.

  22. C’mon Seth, because of Nirvana, hair metal died. Cinderella? Gone. Poison. Gone. After Nirvana, hard rock and metal had to get serious again. All great bands have their imitators. That’s no reason to hate them.

    As much as I love the Clash, I’d have to say their influence on the day was a bit minimal. Did their social conscience manage to unseat Reagan and Thatchers’ brave new greed? Nope. Far from it. It could even be said that, by 1986, the Pet Shop Boys’ anthem “Let’s Make Lots of Money” better captured the zeitgeist of the western world.

    None of that is the Clash’s fault, of course. My point is simply that they didn’t manage to turn the tide of the times the way Nirvana did. I still remember that Saturday in the fall of ’91 when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Right away, it felt like things had changed. At that moment, there was enough anger in the world to start making changes. It was the sort of day you could picture Lewis Black loosening his tie, picking up a ball bat, and getting to work.

  23. Sam: Maybe I shouldn’t have started the classification war here, I just don’t think that many punk fans would put Green Day in their top 10 list.

    Seth: You can argue that many popular and unpopular bands started trends, sounds, styles, etc, but very few bands can be attributed to the seismic shift of an industry, and Nirvana is one of them. Music may have started to trend the way of bands like Nirvana, but it’s rare to point to a time in popular music history and say that something started/stoped here.