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Vote for your winners, results posted tomorrow:
The Beatles vs. Radiohead
Bruce Springsteen vs. R.E.M.
First matchup has two of the most critically acclaimed bands ever matching up. Both The Fab 4 and Radiohead were the overall #1 seeds in their regions and made it through without an overly close scare.
Second matchup features The Boss who played the role of the underdog in the last 2 rounds knocking off The Clash and Prince. He is going against R.E.M. who had to fight off U2 in two straight matchups and just barely escaped last round with a 2-vote victory.
RADIOHEAD - For me it is a top 5 artist vs. a top 50. I love about half of The Beatles catalogue, but loathe most of the other half. I will say this, no other band brings out these strong of opinions. OK Computer, The Bends and In Rainbows are all better than either Revolver or Rubber Soul which are my two favorite Beatles albums.
SPRINGSTEEN - This is a tough decision... Both seem equals when listing albums and singles. Had to go with gut and my gut tells me to with The Boss...
The Beatles are my number 1 artist ever, Radiohead are my number 2 artist ever. So yeah, tough choice.
That last choice was tough... although Radiohead would have beat both of them.
Prince (REM or Springsteen in this place...hahaha)
Voting for Beatles feels a little boring and voting for Radiohead feels slightly wrong, so I'll pass on that one.
The Beatles have released about 210 songs, of which about 70 are excellent and about 170 of which are at least solid. Radiohead have released about 110 songs, of which about 30 are excellent and about 80 of which are at least solid.
I have to go with the Beatles.
#9 OK Computer
#22 The Bends
#29 The White Album
#38 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
#47 In Rainbows
#51 Abbey Road
#55 Hail to the Thief
#95 Kid A
#96 Magical Mystery Tour
#122 The King of Limbs
#140 Beatles for Sale
#156 Let It Be
#188 Please Please Me
#190 Rubber Soul
#8 Born to Run
#165 Live 1975-85
#195 Automatic for the People
RADIOHEAD. This is in no sense an anti-Beatles vote. The case that the Beatles really are the best band of all time is very, very solid. Radiohead is one of a tiny handful of bands who are even in the discussion with them.
So, what’s the case for Radiohead? Just going by quantity, their body of work is about half the size of the Beatles’. Including music that didn’t appear on albums, the Beatles (per the box set) have about 16 albums’ worth of material; Radiohead has about 8.
Of course, this is music, not real estate. What happens if you penalize the bands for all their songs that are misfires or otherwise just don’t work? I’m not talking about songs that are mediocre or merely acceptable: I’m talking about songs that are bad.
Just eyeballing their catalogs, about 80% of Beatles music is acceptable or better. For Radiohead, that number is more like 95%.
That’s an astonishing record of excellence for a band with a two-decade long career.
The counter-argument here is that Radiohead have the luxury of releasing an album every two to three years, rather than every six months, as the Beatles had to. I would turn that argument on its head, though.
Tinkering with a song for years, a la Radiohead, is as likely – maybe more likely – to turn it into mush rather than a polished gem. Radiohead, however, knows the craft of songwriting and recording in a much more honed and methodical way than, say, John Lennon’s more scattershot approach. Their work sometimes resembles classical composition, where it makes sense to work on a magnum opus for years, more than pop songwriting, which usually works best when it’s fast and instinctive.
On a related note, the Beatles have a not-totally-deserved reputation for incorporating avant-garde music into their work; they certainly didn’t deploy their avant-garde influences as skillfully as John Cale, David Bowie, or Brian Eno. Radiohead, especially since Kid A, has drawn very fruitfully on the twentieth century classical tradition (as well as a variety of many other influences, from jazz to electronica).
In any discussion of twentieth century pop music, the Beatles hold pride of place; within pop, there was almost nothing they couldn’t do. Radiohead, however, belongs in a wider discussion. Like Gershwin (or Bach), they draw on – and belong to – just about every musical tradition available to them, popular and otherwise. The Beatles, although they sometimes aspired to that breadth of accomplishment, never really achieved it.
So that’s my case. Honestly, this is one of those matchups where the answer I give you will depend on what day – maybe what minute – you ask me the question. Since both bands seem equally deserving to me, I’m voting against the band which everyone “knows” is the greatest ever, and for a band which NOT everyone understands MIGHT be the greatest ever.
R.E.M. I figure everybody has heard enough from me on the subject of R.E.M., and I really do need to address this Bruce thing.
I am flabbergasted that Springsteen’s gotten this far. I’m even more flabbergasted that he’s leading R.E.M. 10-1 on the Forum (10-2 now). Obviously, I have a dog in this fight, but that is a stunner. It’s also very disheartening.
I don’t dislike Bruce. I think The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle is very underrated (and my favorite Bruce album, a bit ahead of Nebraska and Tunnel of Love). And I’ve never heard an album by him that didn’t have a few good songs on it. He’s a highly skilled bandleader, and I have a lot of respect for his sense of obligation to his fans.
But, taken as a whole, Bruce does not belong in the same conversation with the other artists in the Final Four. Not even close. His music is middlebrow…this is, after all, the guy who famously appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek – America’s dedicated journals of middlebrow – in the same week.
He’s not bland, exactly, but he’s utterly unchallenging. He’s the most earnest and sincere major rock star you could name, Bono included, and that is not a compliment. My favorite Springsteen song is probably “Brilliant Disguise,” but that song reveals a real, profound discomfort with even the possibility of misdirection, of not being genuine.
If the Beatles, Radiohead and R.E.M. have anything in common, it’s the range of their musical accomplishments. Those bands, over the course of their careers, were/are always reinventing themselves, always trying something new, always surprising. That’s what makes them great.
Bruce NEVER surprises.
I'm quite happy, because if you don't count Brassens, Bruce and The Beatles are my favorite artists number 2 and 1
I'm comforted because I love Bruce for the exact reasons why schleuse hates him, but what I find really disheartening is just what he says about Bruce
But may I ask : what's wrong with being sincere ?
sorry for being sincere myself in asking and sorry for asking such a simple question. What is so cool about wearing a mask ? Unless that statement is a kind of pause/attitude in itself.
But I always like to read your prose, Dr House !!
Schleuse, your points are valid as always, but I don't agree with all of them.
This is why each tournament is always different. Last year Jimi made it to the final which was a bit of a surpprise, this year it looks like Bruce has a sizeable lead and could make it this year. Honestly, I never would have thought of Springsteen as a serious contender to make it to the final.
Prefer the Beatles, but I'm going to bold Radiohead.
1. Bruce Springsteen
3. The Beatles
Radiohead and REM
When did Springsteen get so popular on this board? It's not just the email voters voting for him. A year ago he could have never beat Prince here, and now he beats Prince twice in a week.
Hey, Henrik. I’ll take your points one at a time, and, nicolas, since your point was related to one of them, this’ll be my answer to you too. (I thank both of you, by the way, for reading my dense bricks of prose.)
“Challenging” is a tricky concept in pop music. Perhaps a better way to put it would be that I find little depth in Springsteen. For me, he’s not one of those artists whose albums I can listen to repeatedly and always find something new. What you see is, almost invariably, what you get. On the other hand, I’ve been listening to Murmur for thirty years, and I’m still unpacking it.
Earnestness and sincerity…well, there’s nothing wrong with them, obviously. Without them, real connection between people would be impossible, at work or at play. As Nick Lowe asked, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?
But art is about expanding our range. One of things art does is represent situations and behaviors which would be immoral or painful or even deadly in real life. It’s not OK to treat lovers like disposable objects. But it is OK to enjoy a song, like “The One I Love,” about treating lovers like disposable objects.
Is sincerity, like irony, just a mask or a pose? My answer – and I mean this sincerely! – is that in the performing arts, it’s impossible NOT to be putting on a mask. There’s a lot of theory behind this, but basically, an actor or dancer or musician can never just “be herself” onstage; she can only represent herself. Of course, she can represent herself as sincere, but it is just that – a representation. (I repeat that here I am talking about performing, NOT real life.)
Everyone not suffering from advanced hipsterdom can appreciate songs that are very straightforward; the first one that leaps to mind for me is Pulp’s “Common People.” But at the level of the UMT Final Four, we’re voting for the greatest artists ever, and the first thing I look for is range of achievement – or, if you like, a variety of masks. Stipe has sported a variety of masks. So did Lennon and so does Yorke, and so do Prince and Strummer and Albarn and Morrissey and Bowie and Gaye and Tweedy and so on. Bruce’s range is, comparatively, very narrow – he ONLY does sincerity.
Henrik, your last point is very valid – I have not listened to Springsteen nearly as much as R.E.M., so I’m sure there are reinventions I don’t notice that you do. Of course, there are reasons why I’ve chosen to spend so much time listening closely to R.E.M. or the Beatles or (after long resistance) Radiohead – I had some kind of affinity for those bands in the first place.
Part of the reason for that is that those three bands’ histories really seem to be musical evolutions. It’s impossible to imagine the Beatles creating Sgt. Pepper in 1963, or R.E.M. creating New Adventures in Hi-Fi in 1983, or Radiohead creating In Rainbows in 1993. I just feel like Bruce’s template has been the same since about 1978 (perhaps I’m being unfair).
Nothing wrong with that, of course – you could say something similar about Little Richard or the Ramones or Michael Jackson, all of whom I respect. But it is a limitation…for me, too much of a limitation for any of these artists, including Bruce, to be in consideration for the very top tier.
Springsteen's jump from "The River" to "Nebraska" has been compared to R.E.M.'s jump from "Out of Time" to "Automatic for the People".
Both featured bands at their peek, hot off hit songs, and then, they release "career suicide" albums, so far off their old course, and yet, both became monsters themselves.
Whether they are my favorite artist of all time or not, the Beatles are probably the greatest. Their achievements do not need to be repeated, they changed the face of popular music more than once.
The Beatles also grew considerably during their careers, where each album was noticeably different than the one before without surrendering any of the quality of their incredible pop craftsmanship. This is the true mark of genius; to grow, create and expand the form while still sounding great doing it.
While I do really like Radiohead (I've seen them live, OK Computer is one of my top 30 albums of all time and Kid A is nearly top 100), I'm a little baffled by their intense popularity on this forum, and despite being deserving of many kudos, I find them a little overrated.
All of their albums since Kid A (except the last one, which I'll get to in a moment) aren't really that different than what they've done before. Not that they haven't continued to make great music, but everything since is a hybrid of what they have already done and not true innovation.
Their last album is an attempt to come up with something new, but sounds like an experiment gone wrong and a band out of good ideas. If any other band had released it, it would have gone unnoticed.
Doing something different for the sake of it doesn't make an artist great. If the Beatles had released an album of them trying to make melodies by burping, it would have been different, and even experimental, doesn't mean it would have been good.
A very close matchup, and I'm really going with a personal choice here rather than an objective one because over long careers of achievement, they are extremely close.
Schleuse, I think we listen to music in different ways. Am I right that you were thought more about lyrics than music when you talked about different masks? I, on the other hand, tend to think almost single-handedly of the music when I discuss things like artists' reinventions.
For me the vocal is an instrument that can express feelings like no other, but only now and then I really pay attention to the lyrics. I don't know if this sounds stupid, but there's even a large portion of the songs I have included in my lists that I have never listened closely to the lyrics. However, I have recently realized that I much prefer artists that sing the lyrics clearly (this feels almost like a paradox but perhaps it isn't). I love Radiohead, but I would love them even more if I heard the lyrics better. Same with early R.E.M..
I have forgotten what I really wanted to say...I'm too tired and it's time to go to bed. I might continue tomorrow...
I've always seen Springsteen's approach as a demagogue. "Man of the people". I think other than Nebraska he doesn't have much variety to his catalog and mostly goes for a big 'Arena rock' sound.
Anyway, my dad likes to brag he saw Springsteen as an opening act. I guess that's the 1970's version of a hipster.
Very interesting discussion here! At is core, music must entertain - I believe that is its primary purpose. Enlightenment, empowerment, estrangement, growth, etc. are all things we can take from music (and I often do), but if it's not entertaining on some level, it won't find a lasting audience.
Which is why I'm sad to say that if I somehow stumbled upon our proverbial island here, I would not be a fan of music. The only act that here that has entertained me at all is Radiohead, and not to any level that merits consideration among my top 100 musical entertainers.
The ghost of Prince (it is his birthday here in Oz.)
Beatles (#1 vs. #5; #1 wins)
REM (in top 50, Bruce not top 100)
The Beatles 64.9% / Radiohead 35.1%
Bruce Springsteen 63.9% / R.E.M. 36.1%
We're just trying to pigeonhole something that is too big to be put into words : music.
Music starts when words fail.
Explaining music is OK, but the whole entreprise is frustrating because words, explanations, reasons, intellectual points will never totally succeed in the end.
That's the first thing a critic should learn.
That doesn't mean you can't try.
I've always been reluctant to explain WHY I love this or that artist, just because when it comes to music I'm much of a fan of identification (as opposed to detachment). Means that when I play a game such as this one, I'm gonna chose my personal favorites and won't take into account the artist's historical importance. If I vote according to historical importance, I vote according to other people's opinion, which means I care more for what people will think.
If Radiohead has changed the face of music in the 90's what do i care if I prefer Springsteen, who has never sought to do so ?
Springsteen's music influenced my life more than the music of Radiohead or REM. That's it.
Maybe because I'm a (somehow frustrated) musician and singer, I cannot but identify with the singers I'm hearing.
When I'm listening to a new record, I can find it "good" but if I don't feel "involved" in the listening it won't be a favorite. Of course that can happen later. For instance yesterday I heard "The College Dropout" and i found it good but didn't tuch me very deeply, except in the end (the song about school and most of all the final song in which he tells his story).
Other thing : I prefer narrative songs to abstract peotry (same in movies and litterature). That's why I prefer rap to indie. What I love in Springsteen is the way he pictures people's life, and the way our dreams crash with reality likes waves on rocky cliffs (that's also why I love writers like McCarthy or Ellroy or Hemingway). I don't think it is demagogy, not at all. bruce just didn't forget where he comes from that's all. It's easy to judge it as demagogy, as if when you get rich and famous you can't stay close to your roots.
I don't give a s.. if it's a pause, a marketing strategy or anything. As you said Schwah the guy is smart and knows about stereotypes, but doesn't care enough to change that. He's not as obsessed by public image as Bono or Bowie or Prince.
Sorry for this messy post, but it was sort of stream of consciousness, I don't have time to edit it.
Now, as to "separate entertainment from aesthetic pleasure" as you put it BillAdama, well, I'm growing more and more dubious of that sort of separation as years go by. This distinction between what's Art (with a capital A) and what's not is purely academic and can only lead to elitism. It's easy to tag classical as "aesthetic" because it's so old that everybody forgot about the social function that those musical works and genres had in the past.
But I see your point. Sometimes it's good when a movie, a book, a song does a little more than help you to digest your evening dinner. Let's never forget that in the beginning rock and roll was meant to shake the good taste, that it comes from the blues and country, genres that were despised by the musical elite (basically classical and some jazz musicians) for exactly the same reasons :not aesthetic enough, too commercial.
My dad, a fan of jazz and blues always refers to rock'n roll as "commercial".
Now there's a younger generation here. The guys whose fathers listened to rock records. The Fleet Foxes generation. That's why pre-1977 rock is now tagged as "classic rock". Funny to see that. When i first came to this site I didn't know such thing as "classic rock" ever existed.
I read a book by a French critic (Antoine de Caunes) and he tells a story of how he was sitting onr day in his living room listening to Nick Lowe's "What's so funny about..", and his teenage son was in the same room reading a teen magazine (probably about some video game in which you have to kill as many zombies as possible ). Then he saw the look on his son's face. The son just said "Trop pitié", which means (in French teen dialect) that he felt pity for what his dad was listening to. Then the daddy realized that he had lived the same story 20 years before, when his daddy was singing to a Mozart's aria.
"Classic Rock" is now pre-1991 and bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Motley Crue, The Black Crowes and others are now in the "Classic Rock" mix.
I didn't mean to sound like I think 'Aesthetic pleasure' is superior to entertainment, though I can see if that's what people heard.
Something with beautiful aesthetics that's intellectually interesting is something I want to hear or watch when I'm bored, something entertaining is something I want to watch when I'm tired. If I wake up on a day off from work and can't think of anything to do, I'll watch a movie like Satantango. If I get home after a long, exhausting day of work, I'll go to Netflix and watch a couple episodes of Babylon 5 (Or something).
I enjoy them both, but I enjoy them in very different ways in very different moods.
Also for me, I've heard so many narratives that it's rare that I see an actual original story. So I care less about the content of the story and more about the way it's expressed. I like stories that show me something from a different or interesting perspective, or at least get me emotionally invested in the characters. Springsteen appeals to me musically, but all I get from his narratives is "Woo-hoo champion of the working class".