Tournament of Rock IV: the Bon Jovi pod

Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!In pod #7 we have…no surprises whatsoever, as #4 seed REO took it on the run. As it were. We’ll see them in the round of 16, where they’ll undoubtedly be riding the storm out.

And now, let’s meet the contestants for pod #8, which features some archetypally American bands.

  • Seed #5: Bon Jovi
  • Billy Joel
  • Grand Funk Railroad
  • Linkin Park
  • Heart

Jon Bon Jovi models for Botticelli’s famous “Birth of Venus.”

Bon Jovi

After ushering in the era of pop-metal with their 1986 blockbuster Slippery When Wet and its hit singles “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “Living on a Prayer,” Bon Jovi wound up transcending the big-haired ‘80s, withstanding changes in style and sound to become one of the biggest American rock bands of their time, selling over 120 million albums worldwide, and sustaining their popularity well into the new millennium. As the times changed, so did the band’s sound. They slowly peeled away the arena rock guitars of the ‘80s, occasionally scoring on the adult contemporary charts and sometimes singing country music without ever rejecting hard rock, a move that illustrated how they never abandoned their roots and became second only to Bruce Springsteen in defining the sound and spirit of New Jersey rock & roll.

Jim Booth: The answer to the question “Should New Jersey have to pay for producing a genius like Bruce Springsteen?” Why yes, yes they should…Bon Jovi give pop metal – wait for it – a bad name….

fikshun: Some artists make comebacks by announcing tours. Some sell records by appearing on Sex in the City and Ally McBeal.  Sorry, bud. Your license to rock has been revoked.

Lex: Bon Jovi must have been successful at corp rock: I once rewrote “Wanted Dead or Alive” to be entirely about working a Christmas tree plantation. “I’m a Snowcowboy, on the tree trailer I ride. I’m wanted…at Christmas time.” (It didn’t get any better.) And they made some great high school dance ballads too, right?

Bonesparkle: What if Bruce Springsteen had been Bret Michaels?

Billy Joel

Although Billy Joel never was a critic’s favorite, the pianist emerged as one of the most popular singer/songwriters of the latter half of the ’70s. Joel’s music consistently demonstrates an affection for Beatlesque hooks and a flair for Tin Pan Alley and Broadway melodies. His fusion of two distinct eras made him a superstar in the late ’70s and ’80s, as he racked an impressive string of multi-platinum albums and hit singles.

fikshun: Hey, it’s not like when he couldn’t make it as a metalhead that he switched to housewife rock or anything. Sure, he slummed a bit, but not to the level of Hall & Oates or Michael Bolton.

Lex: Hey, I’m old enough to remember when Billy Joel was moderately cool, or at least he seemed that way when my mom, uncles, and aunts kinda dug him.

Jim: Long Island kid wants to be a rock star. Tries hard rock/metal. Fails miserably. Tries to be a lounge singer – is good at it but hates it. Finds himself constantly tortured by his desires to write intimate piano tunes, rock anthems, and Chapinesque story-songs, sometimes all at once. Does it brilliantly for a while – then like Rod Stewart, runs out of steam and ideas and becomes a sad caricature of himself….

Bonesparkle: Whatever you may think of the syrupy cat-wank that was Billy Joel’s music, we do have to give him props for dramatically increasing the nation’s interest in music education. All across America, 4-foot tall brillo-headed troll-boys suddenly realized that if they learned to play an instrument there was a chance that they, too, might get to bonk a supermodel. See also Ocasek, Rik.

Grand Funk Railroad

One of the 1970s’ most successful hard rock bands in spite of critical pans and somewhat reluctant radio airplay (at first), Grand Funk Railroad built a devoted fan base with constant touring, a loud, simple take on the blues-rock power trio sound, and strong working-class appeal. The band was formed by Flint, MI, guitarist/songwriter Mark Farner and drummer Don Brewer, both former members of a local band called Terry Knight & the Pack. They recruited former ? & the Mysterians bassist Mel Schacher in 1968, and Knight retired from performing to become their manager, naming the group after Michigan’s well-known Grand Trunk Railroad.

Jim: The greatest power trio is Cream (I know, but Jimi never allowed himself to be challenged by a great bassist). GFR, boys and girls, can make a legitimate claim to being the worst. Yes, I know – I’m a Mean Mistreater, because they’re an American band…but I’m getting closer to my home…somebody stop me, I must have picked a bad time….

Lex: All I’ve got for GFR is Homer’s quote where he gets the lineup wrong, but for me, “The bong rattling bass of Mark Farner,” is the only way to remember GFR.

Me: I’ll always fondly remember the time I made Jim Booth’s head a’splode by mentioning offhand that I thought Grand Funk was a fantastic band.

Linkin Park

Although rooted in alternative metal, Linkin Park became one of the most successful acts of the 2000s by welcoming elements of hip-hop, modern rock, and atmospheric electronica into their music. The band’s rise was indebted to the aggressive rap-rock movement made popular by the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit, a movement that paired grunge’s alienation with a bold, buzzing soundtrack. Linkin Park added a unique spin to that formula, however, focusing as much on the vocal interplay between singer Chester Bennington and rapper Mike Shinoda as the band’s muscled instrumentation, which layered DJ effects atop heavy, processed guitars. While the group’s sales never eclipsed those of its tremendously successful debut, Hybrid Theory, few alt-metal bands rivaled Linkin Park during the band’s heyday.

Bonesparkle: Their artistic merit is surpassed only by their spelling ability.

Lex: Linkin Park was biggest in my favorite era, being mostly abroad and tuned out of what was cool in America. I’m even ok with having heard “Mambo #5” 46.5 times/day instead of having suffered through that era of American popular culture.

Jim: The unlistenable played for the unspeakable, to paraphrase Wilde….


Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson are the creative spark behind Heart, a hard rock group who initially found success in the mid-’70s only to reach greater heights after engineering a major comeback a decade later. The daughters of a Marine Corps captain, Ann (born June 19, 1950) and Nancy (born March 16, 1954) grew up in both Southern California and Taiwan before the Wilson family settled in Seattle, Washington. Throughout their formative years, both were interested in folk and pop music; while Ann never took any formal music lessons as a child (she later learned to play several instruments), Nancy took up guitar and flute. After both sisters spent some time at college, they decided to try their hand as professional musicians, and while Nancy began performing as a folksinger, Ann joined the all-male vocal group Heart.

Jim: Eleventeen versions of the same song followed by the Boobfest of the MTV years….It has always, always, always been a mystery to me why classic rock radio chose Heart, Bob Seger, Foghat, and REO Speedwagon to enshrine as the acts who should get more airplay than any others – by, like, light years. I’d love to hear an explanation…no, wait, that means I’d have to talk to some reptile from Clear Channel….

Me: Jim can bitch all he likes, but stop for a moment and remember all the simpering MTV bands that didn’t have great boobs. Just sayin’.

fikshun: In late 1985, the Devil visited the Wilson sisters. He told them that if they dressed in lace and glitter, and sprayed two gallons of Aqua-Net on their hair every night, their careers would be reborn. And it was so … until the ozone hole made their overuse of chlorofluorocarbons illegal. Easy come, easy go.

Lex: Well, I’d still buy a Plymouth Barracuda just to do smokey burnouts while blasting Heart, and Nancy was a helluva guitarist. But in the end, they were probably always über commercial and fall into that category of a decent arena rock band of the 80’s completely gutted of anything approaching soul or self-esteem by the rise of MTV.

Wufnik: Since babe bands, as always, are under-represented in this ToR, I’m going with Heart. Just for balance.

And now, a brief digression.

Lex: MTV killed rock and roll, didn’t it? It gathered all the incipient evil of the commercial recording industry and concentrated it like a giant space laser, blasting away at anything approaching honesty. The great rock decades of the ’60s and ’70s were filled with ugly people who played great music. You couldn’t get away with that once MTV came along. And then it ended up saddling us with The Jersey Shore. Are we sure MTV wasn’t a Soviet plot?

Jim: I think Neil Postman explained MTV’s horrific effect on music (at least by analogy) in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

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The rules.

Image Credit: Videokeman

Who's gonna win? Let's ask the I Ching.

As is our custom in major elections, we decided to check up on Obama’s elections chances with the I Ching. We’ve done this before—in the UK elections in 2010, and the US presidential elections in 2008 (sorry, can’t find the link!) and 2004. The first two worked out pretty much as indicated by the I Ching—2004 didn’t, although I’ve always assumed that that was because the I Ching didn’t expect a stolen vote in Ohio. It’s hard to factor criminality into these things. That’s my rationalization, anyway.
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