Music/Popular Culture

Introducing Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!

Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!Yep – the Tournament of Rock is back. Our previous ToRs have proven to be big fan favorites (especially the controversial Legends competition), and we thought it might be fun to have another go at it to celebrate the relaunch of the site. So, get ready for ToR4: Monsters of Corporate Rock.

First off, what do I mean by “Corporate Rock”? We’re not going to  get too wound up in definitions on this one, but in general:

  • CorpRock is a breed of Rock & Roll/Rock that is more about product than art, commerce than concept. It’s true that music is a business and that even the hardest of the hardcore artistes in it would probably love to be able to pay the bills. But some bands start out as serious craftsmen and then sell out – there’s a term we’ll probably hear more of – and some bands just start sold out. They’re not in it to make a political or social statement, they’re in it to make hit records and as much cash as possible. In other words, bands who cared more about commercial validation than critical/artistic merit.
  • From an industry standpoint, CorpRock emerges from the Album-Oriented Rock and Arena Rock genres as well as the closely related Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Soft Rock and even Adult Contemporary formats.
  • “Oh, you’re talking about ButtRock,” said my buddy Mike Smith when I tried to explain it. Kinda, yeah. Although it’s broader than that.
  • I enlisted my fellow Scrogues in the task of elucidating the concept. Mike Sheehan volunteered this: “A willing and cynical overuse of a handful of chords in 4/4 time, with a bridge, insipid lyrics and within 4:00 clocktime?” Also, “whatever gives record execs like Dullard McLoafers, Esq. a chubby.”
  • Lisa Wright offers this angle: “Bands who jumped from smaller labels to larger ones that traded artistic control for promotion.” Good one.
  • Wufnik weighed in, intelligently as ever: “I hate to bring up the term, but authenticity comes into play here. The difference between the Beatles and the Monkees. So my read of this is that for one reason or another, these bands lost whatever claim to authenticity they may have once had, if they ever had it in the first place. It’s the difference between Fleetwood Mac when it was Peter Green’s band, and when it was taken over by Lindsay Buckingham. Not that there’s anything wrong in principle with inauthenticity–I enjoy Stevie Nick’s faerie act as much as the next person, although it’s not something I’m going to spend a whole lot of time listening to. I’m just not likely to confuse Stevie Nicks with, oh, Laura Nyro, or the Bay City Rollers with Big Star. But you can dance to all of it.”
  • Lex emphasizes the role of the label in constructing the Corporate band: “We also have to consider the record business. Good band gets popular doing what it does; signs to a major label; major label wants X number of records and expects Y amount of sales. Band is burned out, drugged up, whatever and turns out crap to meet contractual obligation. Record company promotes it, forces radio play, etc. and 20 years later some song that the band wasn’t even trying with is still in classic rock rotations.”
  • Jim Booth agrees on the whole label problem: “We like to say that it’s about the players, but it’s never ALL about the players. It’s as much about the assholes who run the players’ business for them – from Colonel Tom to Brian Epstein to Peter Grant to Malcolm McLaren to Suge Knight to Jimmy Ienner – the people who make rock corporate are the people who collect the checks. They have more influence on what artists do than we ever talk about. It’s the Problem of Rock. Its impulses are all anti-authoritarian and anarchic, but its power and appeal has made it the thing it finds anathemic to its soul – corporate.”

I don’t know if this adds up to a nice, tight, one-sentence definition, but by now hopefully we all know what neighborhood we’re in.

Another question that arises is whether this is all automatically bad. Well, not necessarily. I mean, the staff here hates a lot of the bands we’re going to be voting on, but we like some of the others. Heck, two or three of my all-time favorites are included. And guaranteed, there are artists on the list who are central to the soundtrack of significant parts of your life, bands who helped define your youth culture, perhaps. Bands that were playing at major events in your life. So we’re not telling you they all suck, although some surely do. We’re simply considering some of our society’s biggest and most popular bands.

The Rules

Rules? We’re talking about Corporate Rock. Ain’t no rules or standards or criteria – you vote for whoever your favorite is, and it doesn’t really matter why they’re you’re favorite.

Here’s how it will work. There are 80 bands and artists and we have dumped them into 16 pods of five. Each pod contains one band we have informally seeded (although we didn’t kill a lot of brain cells trying to sort that out scientifically, either) and four others from the pool, selected more or less randomly (we did try and avoid pairing similar bands, so you won’t see multiple ’80s hair bands in the same pod for the most part). We’ll introduce them and you’ll use the poll at the bottom to vote on whoever your favorite is. Winners advance to the Sweet 16.

One note. There are a number of bands who managed, in their careers, to be both worthy artists and shameless sell-outs. The trajectory is what Lex describes above – start off as somebody really good, and then get overrun by the desire for money and fame. When we introduce these bands, we will let you know that we’re talking about a particular period and we’ll indicate where we think they crossed over from art to product.

The game starts soon. We hope you have as much fun playing as we have putting it all together.

9 replies »

  1. Too cool! I assume you did corporate rock to avoid getting emotionally involved in who advances. I can’t wait to vote for Journey and Styx! I just hope those two don’t go head to head.

    • But Hound – why would you think a contest on Corporate Rock would include such pure artistes as Journey and Styx? Lord, next thing I know you’ll be telling me that Peter Cetera should be involved….

      • Hound: We had a lively discussion on that very subject. They were certainly a big label act that had big time commercial success, weren’t they? And they were clearly part of an effort by the labels to make some mainstream cash off of Yes-style prog.

        The argument against inclusion went to the actual music itself. Yes, they had hits, but they also did a lot of sprawling self-absorbed stuff like “Magnum Opus.” Best I can tell, they only ever wrote one song that seemed to have been built for radio – “Dust in the Wind.” Even “Carry On My Wayward Sun” was an improbable hit. When you listen to all their CDs, it’s very easy to conclude that if they were selling out, they didn’t really understand how it was done. It’s easier to conclude that they were trying to be a real, arty band, and they were just accessible enough to make a few bucks at it.

        So we did not include them, although we will certainly understand if there are those among our readers disagree with that decision.