Michael Jackson vs. Prince. Bruce
Springsteen vs. Bon Jovi. Nirvana vs. Metallica. These are just some of the
classic rivalries analyzed in the new book "Rock and Roll Cage Match."
Editor-author Sean Manning has assembled some of music's best
commentators to debate 30 of the "all-time juiciest 'Who's better?' musical
disputes." The book is not a tell-all on some of rock's legendary fights;
rather it's a hypothetical pairing of some the greatest artists as argued by
their fans on both sides.
Whitney Houston vs. Mariah Carey
According to writer-musician Whitney Pastorek, Whitney Houston and Mariah
Carey "are the most even matchup the music world has to offer." She writes,
"Look no further than 'American Idol,' within the context of which Houston
and Carey are the lone artists considered no-nos for all but the most
talented to tackle."
A brief comparison proves this out. Carey has 17 No. 1 singles to
Houston's 11 No. 1's. Houston starred in the critically acclaimed movie "The
Bodyguard," while Carey's movie "Glitter" was a commercial and critical
Houston arrived on the music scene in 1985 and was an immediate
sensation. Her first album demonstrated her ability to turn a song into "an
emotional journey … a precocious, earthy passion." According to Pastorek,
one might argue that Carey's 1990 success could be attributed to Houston's
It should also be mentioned that Carey's 1990 debut album "features a
vocal that's as strong and clear as her predecessors."
This brings us to the central point of Pastorek's comparison: the noise
vs. the catharsis. She describes the noise as the extraordinary high notes
Carey hits within her 74-note vocal range, which she calls, "a novelty, a
spectacularly lucrative party trick." On the other hand, the catharsis is
Houston's "glorious boom of a key change … the rush, the transcendent ping
that goes off in your brain and brings emotions you barely knew you had."
In the end, Pastorek concludes that Houston is the greatest diva of all
because she does it all better: singing, performing or messing up her life.
"She reigns supreme" on every level, "always has, always will."
R.E.M. vs. U2
According to Dan Kois, the founding editor of the blog Vulture, the bands
R.E.M. and U2 represent "the peak of intelligent rock music in the 1980s."
It is his contention that, despite U2's evolution into music's "spokesband
for human dignity," it is actually R.E.M. that made the best and most
important music of that decade.
When comparing them in the studio or in concert, it is obvious that the
two groups took markedly different approaches to their music. U2, the
over-the-top live show, the grand spectacle, dominated the charts with
spot-on political anthems and songs that combined a social commentary with
an uplifting message of hope and belief. R.E.M.'s music, specifically
through the lyrics of lead singer Michael Stipe, was more opaque and
distant; to the listener: "The lyrics could mean anything, and therefore
they meant everything, weighted as they were with mystery, romance and
[to top of second column]
As their careers have progressed into the present day, U2 has
regained supergroup status (they proclaimed in 2001 that they were
reapplying for the job of "the best band in the world"). As for
R.E.M., Kois admits that their last several albums have not been
among the band's best creative efforts.
He does stand by the contention in his critique that R.E.M. was
the band of the '80s: "The delicacy at the heart of R.E.M.'s 1980s
albums fostered introspection and brotherhood among those of us who
loved them in those years."
John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney
It is no small irony that the greatest rivalry in rock history is
not between two bands but between two members of the same band. L.A.
Weekly deputy editor Joe Donnelly tackles the debate of John vs.
Paul through the most obvious comparison -- their music.
In examining their musical styles, Donnelly writes that Lennon
"practiced the art of telling (a story) mostly in plain English,"
while McCartney, "a practitioner of the art of showing, spoke in
metaphors, imagery and parables."
To demonstrate this, Donnelly looks at two of the duo's most
famous songs -- McCartney's "Penny Lane" and Lennon's "Strawberry
Fields Forever." Released as a single, "Penny" was the A-side that
reached No. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K., while the B-side,
"Strawberry," reached No. 8 and No. 2, respectively.
Some critics argue that "Strawberry" is a futuristic, almost holy
work of art, while "Penny" is dismissed as a "sentimental ditty."
Donnelly disagrees: If you remove the radical studio engineering,
editing and overdubbing from "Strawberry" and concentrate on the
abstract nature of the lyrics, the "whole thing falls apart," he
says. Apply the same critique to "Penny" -- remove the seemingly
upbeat music -- and the effect of the words and the story they tell
Donnelly does concede that Lennon was probably the more important
cultural figure, but that is a different argument.
As for the most important Beatle, he concludes it is McCartney:
"I'm going to put on 'Abbey Road' and allow Paul to help me carry
"Rock and Roll Cage Match" is a very engaging and entertaining
collection of opinions on some of popular music's greatest "Who's
the best?" debates. This book is recommended for fans of music or
[Text from file received
from Richard Sumrall,
Lincoln Public Library District]