My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 6

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Our Top 10 Favorite Bands list has brought us to number 6.  If you missed any of the previous bands, be sure to check out the links to the rankings at the bottom of the page.  Today’s band didn’t invent the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but they damn sure perfected it…

 

6. Iron Maiden

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Here’s a fun exercise: close your eyes and think of the words “heavy metal.”  Now open them.  Chances are you thought of Metallica, maybe Priest or Sabbath, but certainly Iron Maiden.  There are a handful of bands that have now become synonymous with the term “heavy metal” and Maiden is definitely one of them.

When the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was being formed by young and hungry bands in England in the late 70’s, many of them fizzled out after the trend started to die down only a few short years later.  There were two key bands with markedly different sounds that would end up surviving the trend’s chopping block.  One of those was Def Leppard (more on them in a later entry) and the other was Maiden.

Maiden’s sound can best be summed up by Anthrax guitar player Scott Ian as “[Judas] Priest but eviler.”  Their first two albums with original singer Paul Di’anno are as sinister sounding as it gets with a touch of prog rock; it was as if Yes started wearing leather jackets and practicing Satanism.  After Di’anno was booted, the band went from evil prog rock outfit to arena ready giants with former Samson frontman Bruce Dickinson at the helm.  Maiden had a string of albums with Dickinson that rocketed the band to superstardom and are considered classics by any metal fan.

What separates Maiden from the rest of it’s metal brethren is their eagerness to be creative and different without alienating their core fanbase.  You never hear Maiden fans complaining about the group selling out like you do from, say, Metallica or Def Leppard fans.  Iron Maiden have been around for almost 40 years and their fans are still as loyal as ever, and part of that is owed to how genuine the band has remained.  You would be hard pressed to find a metal fan who isn’t a huge Maiden fan, and for how expansive the genre of Heavy Metal is, that says a lot about these 5 lads from London

Best Album – Powerslave (1984)

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In all honesty, this was a nearly three way tie between Maiden’s 1984 masterpiece, 1981’s Killers, and Number of the Beast.  It is Powerslave, however, that delivers on every single track from dropping the needle on “Aces High” to the record rut after “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”  There are very few albums that, in their entirety, capture a group at the height of their creative genius, but Powerslave gives listeners a chance to hear Iron Maiden firing on all cylinders.  Dickinson had already been with the quintet for two albums, and the band’s “classic” lineup was in place for years prior.  What you get as a finished product is, in my opinion , one of the greatest side-to-side metal albums in music history.  Every song has purpose and there is absolutely zero filler here.  If you consider yourself a fan of metal and haven’t checked this one out, do it!

Worst Album – The X Factor (1995)

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What happens when one of the most iconic singers in rock history leaves the band that made him famous?  Well you get this album, of course.  The songs on The X Factor aren’t particularly terrible, but they sound too much like someone trying to be Iron Maiden.  When comparing this one to the classics of the 80’s, it shrivels in their presence.  It seems like an unfair comparison, but someone had to occupy this spot and it goes to this 1995 disappointment.  Give it a listen if you feel I’m being unfair, but I’ll stand by this verdict until proven otherwise.

Strongest Member – Steve Harris (Bass/Vocals)

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The captain of the S.S. Maiden, Steve Harris is one of the most revered members of the heavy metal family.  You will routinely see him popping up on lists of best bass players of all time but what really distinguishes him from other purveyors of 4-stringed bad-assery is his deft songwriting ability.  A quick check of any Iron Maiden LP will net you plenty of S. Harris writing credits as well as some producing to boot.  Harris was also one of the founding members of Maiden and is the only member to appear on EVERY album (and boy have there been a lot)!  Through longevity alone, Stevie boy easily claims this spot as his own.

Weakest Member – Blaze Bayley (Vocals)

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I don’t really have too much to say about old Blaze here, other than that he was the weakest member on Maiden’s weakest album.  That alone lands him on this not-so-coveted platform and it wasn’t a particularly hard choice either.  Bayley is a fine vocalist but he’s to Maiden what Gary Cherone is to Van Halen: a talented singer who just wasn’t right for the job.

 

 

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My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 7

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Our Top 10 Favorite Bands countdown has brought us to Number 7.  If you’ve missed any of the previous bands on this list, be sure to check out those posts.  Today’s band took the first wave of British Punk and turned it completely on its head…

 

7. The Clash

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The year was 1976.  Political unrest in both England and The States was at an all time high, disco was king, and heavy metal godfathers like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss were selling out fewer and fewer arenas by the day.  Around the same time, an anti-movement was taking place in the U.K. and, to a lesser extent, New York City.  Punk was the result of a disenfranchised youth getting fed up with conservative politics and “dinosaur rock.”  Bands like The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Buzzcocks took pride in deconstructing rock and synthesizing it down to its basic form: three chords and indiscernible lyrics set to a hyper active beat.  It was completely different from anything being released at the time, and the young freaks with the bleached hair and clothes pins shoved through their orifices ate it up.

The Clash released their self titled debut album in 1977 and while it sounded very loud and abrasive like most punk records of the day, the musicianship and writing was in a completely different stratosphere than the other outfits around at the time.  Things only got more progressive after the next series of albums.  The Clash dabbled in almost every conceivable genre of music during the height of their popularity, so to pigeonhole them as a “punk rock” band was to do a great disservice to the English foursome.  They were basically punk’s answer to The Beatles.

That may be where my lone criticism with The Clash lies.  While their musical versatility really separated the band from their punk peers, it was what made large amounts of their albums skippable.  Between rockabilly, ska, ballroom, blues, and others, The Clash tried their hands in everything and it made for multiple disjointed records.  However, when The Clash were on, they really earned their moniker of “The Only Band That Matters.”

Best Album – London Calling (1979)

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In the time of vinyl, releasing a 19 song LP was unheard of, but that’s exactly what London Calling is.  From the iconic album art to the eclectic spectrum of tunes, London Calling felt like an instant classic pretty much from the needle drop.  The album had radio hits in “Train in Vain” and the title track, but the real gems from this record are the deep cuts.  Songs like “Death or Glory,” “Spanish Bombs,” “Guns of Brixton,” and “Revolution Rock” have all become staples in every Clash fan’s rotation and they all represent different sides of the band.  Above I mentioned how The Clash would often times mix too many genres into one overblown cocktail of music, and while that is sometimes the case on this album, it works way more often than it doesn’t.  London Calling has become a sort of punk rock Bible, which is a tad ironic seeing as how very few songs on the record could be classified as straight up punk.  This is the album that transformed The Clash from punks to true professionals.

Weakest Album – Cut The Crap (1985)

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By 1985, the wheels started to fall off the well oiled machine that was The Clash.  Guitarist, co-lead singer and principle songwriter Mick Jones was fired, and his shoes proved to be too large to fill.  Cut The Crap was a disjointed effort that saw The Clash slowly start to unravel before our very eyes.  What was once a cohesive unit of brothers was now a shell of its former self and the album sold accordingly, that is to say it didn’t sell much at all.  Cut The Crap was The Clash’s last album as a unit, marking an end to one of the most influential groups of the 20th century in popular music.

Strongest Member – Mick Jones (Guitar/Vocals)

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He sang, he played guitar, he wrote, and he even cofounded the band.  Mick Jones was inarguably the driving force behind many of The Clash’s best work.  Every band has a principle songwriter and Jones was just that.  Much like Cliff Burton of Metallica, it became quite apparent just how much Jones meant to The Clash after he was fired from the band (see Cut The Crap above).  Check the liner notes of any Clash album from 1977 to 1982 and you will see Mick Jones’ name present on almost every tune.  The man was a creative genius even after The Clash, touring with The Gorillaz and forming Big Audio Dynamite.  It takes a lot of talent to be the leader of a band routinely referred to as one of the most influential in rock history, and Jones is proof of that.

Weakest Member – Paul Simonon (Bass/Vocals)

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Saying someone is the weakest member of The Clash is a lot like saying they’re the ugliest  of all the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models, so bare with me.  Paul Simonon didn’t have the chops that drummer Topper Headon had, nor was he the creative tour de force like Jones or Joe Strummer, so he takes this spot only by virtue of being stuck with three insanely talented musical visionaries.  That’s not to say Simonon didn’t have his moments.  He wrote a couple of fan favorites, including “Guns of Brixton” which he also sang on, and he was the cover boy for the now iconic London Calling album art.  Paul Simonon may be the weakest member of “The Only Band That Matters,” but that in and of itself is still something to be immensely proud of.

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 8

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In the countdown of My Top 10 Favorite Bands (as ranked by me), we have made it to number 8.  If you have missed any of the last bands ranked, be sure to check out the previous posts.  Today’s band sees us make a return to the thrash genre, with a group whose DNA is forever shared with the number 9 band on this list…

 

8. Megadeth

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Megadeth lead singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine, whether he likes it or not, will always be linked to Metallica, so it’s only fitting that he and his crew come in one spot ahead of the thrash quartet Mustaine was once a part of.  Similarly to Metallica, however, my love for Megadeth comes from a very specific time slot of their existence, particularly from 1985 to 1992.

One of the biggest detriments against Megadeth comes in the form of the revolving door of musicians Mustaine chose to surround himself and bassist David Ellefson with.  It was kind of hard to get a handle on the persona of the band with so many lineup changes, and I always preferred the original lineup of Mustaine, Ellefson, Gar Samuelson on drums, and Chris Poland on the opposite lead guitar (pictured above).

While they lacked continuity in the lineup department, they had it in terms of song structure and composition, mostly because Ellefson and Mustaine were the principle writers.  The albums showed growth between releases but never strayed too far from the formula, something I really appreciated.

I hate to keep comparing Megadeth to Metallica, so allow me to once more compare Megadeth to Metallica.  What separates one from the other is how much more fun Megadeth is to listen to.  Much like when David Lee Roth formed a “spite band” after being ousted from Van Halen, Mustaine did the same.  That is to say both Roth and Mustaine surrounded themselves with infinitely better musicians than their previous outfits boasted (Eddie Van Halen and Cliff Burton notwithstanding).  The musicianship in Megadeth, even on the early albums, incorporated time signatures and modes far beyond the realm of Metallica’s limited spectrum, even in their prime.  These are the things that separate the number 9’s from the number 8’s.

Best Album – Rust in Peace (1990)

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It was a near dead heat between this and 1986’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying, as both albums offer the absolute finest Megadeth has to offer.  Every song on this album is perfectly crafted from start to finish, as Rust in Peace is a master class in thrash metal songwriting.  The changing modes and time signatures make sure that every listen to this record feels like the first time.  Hell, I still get excited every time I hear the opening riff to “Hangar 18.”  If Master of Puppets is the Old Testament of thrash, consider Rust in Peace its New Testament counterpart.

Worst Album – Risk (1999)

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Risk. As in “if they thought putting all of these songs on an album was a good idea, that certainly was a risk!” HEY-O!  I’ll be here all week.  But seriously, folks, the 90’s were a weird time for a lot of bands who saw their heyday in the previous decades.  Mustaine and Megadeth were actually one of the few outfits whose popularity not only stayed afloat in the 90’s, it thrived.  The end of the decade, however, gave us Risk, an album that was a bit errr progressive and different.  Fans and critics weren’t really in the mood for different though, as Mustaine’s choice of softer melodies didn’t mesh well with the public.  Looking back, Risk has aged slightly better than originally thought, but it still doesn’t hold a candle to classic Megadeth.

Strongest Member – Dave Mustaine (Lead Singer/Guitar)

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Was there ever any doubt?  The strawberry haired mad scientist known as Dave Mustaine was and is the driving force in one of the most popular thrash bands in the history of the genre.  You could talk about his keen ear for music or his wizardry on the frets of his guitar, but what puts Mustaine head and shoulders above his peers and bandmates is his aggressive, almost violent desire to be better than his former band, Metallica.  Even when Megadeth was at the height of popularity, Mustaine found himself depressed at the fact that he could never catch Metallica.  This militant need for perfection is what makes Mustaine one of the most underrated musicians of his era; a true genius at his craft.

Weakest Member – Dave Mustaine (Lead Singer/Guitar)

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Whoa, plot twist alert!  For everything amazing Mustaine did for Megadeth, it was his ego and paranoia (read: drug use) that at times almost caused the thrash outfit to unravel.  Whether it be his constant firing of members not named David or his creative choices after the early 90’s, Mustaine represented a sort of Hindu Shiva for the band: one hand creates while the other destroys.  Megadeth is clearly one of my favorite bands and Mustaine is a huge reason for this, but part of me feels that if he had just checked himself at times, Megadeth could have been even better than they already were.

 

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked by Me): Number 9

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Yesterday saw the introduction of the Top 10 Favorite Bands list and if you haven’t read that post yet, I won’t spoil who number 10 is (go check it out instead).  Today we unveil number 9, who comes in so high based on only its first trio of albums!  Shocked?  Read on to find out why number 9 should have hung it up after lucky number 3…

 

9. Metallica

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Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler (I swear to god, that’s his name) once said in an interview that Metallica “were the best thing to happen to the 80’s.”  While I don’t agree wholeheartedly with that statement, its hard to argue with his logic.  From his perspective, the 1980’s were filled with bands that made metal a glossy and accessible commodity to “posers.”  Men wore make up and liberally applied hairspray all while playing “softer” versions of the same hard rock once championed by guys like Geezer.  When Metallica came along, it became cool to be an outcast again.  It wasn’t about having a hot lead singer and writing songs girls could identify with.  Metal was violent and angsty once again, and Metallica were to blame.

Putting Metallica on this list puts me in a bit of an uncomfortable spot.  When it comes to their catalogue, they’re batting sub .300 in my book, as I find most of their material after 1986’s metal masterclass Master of Puppets to be contrived and hallow efforts when compared to their earlier works.  That is, however, as much an indictment on their later albums as it is a testament to just how freaking insane Metallica’s first 3 releases were.

The first two Metallica songs I heard were “Whiplash,” on a Tony Hawk video game’s soundtrack, and “Battery,” on a friend’s Walkman while riding down to The Keys.  I was floored by how heavy “Battery” was and how fast and furious “Whiplash” felt.  The next time I was in a Barnes and Noble, I picked up Master of Puppets on CD and instantly fell in love.  It was like nothing I had ever heard before and it really shaped my affections for metal as a genre (up until that point the heaviest album I owned was probably Back in Black by AC/DC).

Since then, I was extremely disappointed to learn that not everything Metallica released sounded like their first three albums, but I still hold that trifecta of Kill ’em All, Ride the Lightning, and Master of Puppets in extremely high regard and feel that few bands could touch what was original Metallica.  As a matter of fact, I’d wager that if Metallica had quit making music after bassist Cliff Burton’s death in ’86, they would be Top 5 on this list, an accomplishment I’m sure they are kicking themselves over not achieving.

Best Album – Ride the Lightning (1984)

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Not much separates this album from it’s direct predecessor, Master of Puppets.  Honestly, this record only sits in this spot by the narrowest of margins, as it ultimately came down to quality over quantity (Puppets has more songs I love, but Lightning has songs I love more).  The first 3 songs on this album are all-timers when it comes to Metallica tracks.  Sonically, the album is light years ahead of their debut in both production and musical prowess.  Not only is this my favorite Metallica album, it may be one of my favorite albums ever.  The whole 8 song record is on YouTube, so I would recommend anyone reading this take a quick break and give it a listen.

Worst Album – St. Anger (2003)

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I almost put The Black Album here just to be petty, but I have more self restraint than that.  Seriously though, I have friends who will vehemently defend their love for this album (sorry, Matt).  I have a few issues with this one, however.  The lack of guitar solos, while at the time a conscious choice made so as not to date the album, has ironically given the record a really time specific, early 2000’s feel to it.  There is also the infamous snare drum, which sounds like drummer Lars Ulrich is beating on a taut piece of printer paper.  I’ve pretty much hated every album Metallica has released after …And Justice For All, but this one really represents Metallica’s low water mark.

Strongest Member – Cliff Burton (Bass)

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I said in the introduction paragraph that Metallica would be a Top 5 outfit had they quit after the death of Cliff Burton, so I figured I needed to double down here.  In all seriousness, Cliff was the driving force on all of Metallica’s early work.  He was far and away the most musically gifted in the band, as he taught the other members about harmonies and melodies as well as introduced more advanced song structures after Kill ‘Em All.  Cliff winning this award is a lot like giving an injured player an MVP after the team loses without him, as the quality in songs went into a slow and steady decline after the bassist met his untimely demise.  As the key songwriting cog in Metallica, no one else could even come close to holding this spot.  Rest in peace, Mr. Burton.

Weakest Member – Kirk Hammett (Guitar)

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Okay, calm down.  It certainly wasn’t going to be Cliff in this spot, and the twin headed songwriting monster that is Lars and James wasn’t taking this one home either.  That leaves our boy Kirk here as the black sheep of the crew.  Hammett took over for Megadeth guitarist Dave Mustaine after he was booted from Metallica for alcohol issues.  The gap in talent was apparent from the jump, as Hammett reportedly struggled with some of the solos Mustaine had written for Kill ‘Em All.  Hammett doesn’t really have a huge hand in any of the songwriting processes either.  His lack of virtuoso talent and dubious creative credentials make Hammett an obvious, albeit controversial choice, for this spot.

My Top 10 Favorite Bands (Ranked By Me): Number 10

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If you’ve been following this blog at all, you probably could’ve guessed I am a pretty big fan of music.  Particularly, I’m a fan of rock music from the 70’s and 80’s.  You also probably guessed I love hearing myself talk.  But my love for music far outweighs my love for lengthy opening paragraphs, so I’ll keep it short.

Each day for the next 10 days I will be releasing a different band in a countdown of my favorite bands of all time.  Today will be number 10, tomorrow will be 9, etc.  Without any further delays, we start with a band that, by all accounts, flew through the 1980’s under the radar…

 

10.  Ratt

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In the annals of the hair metal genre, many bands ended up being copycats of each other.  One need only listen to Kix, Brittny Fox, and then anything off of Cinderella’s first album Night Songs in succession and they will see exactly what I mean.  The three are almost impossible to differentiate.  Ratt was a different animal altogether (no pun, I promise).

Mixing early 80’s L.A. sleaze with souped up blues riffs, Ratt created a formula few could recreate.  Sure, on the surface Ratt looked like just another Sunset Strip glam metal outfit, but their songs were sneakily crafty and their sound was unique.  In terms of longevity, only Motley Crue enjoyed a longer heyday in the 1980’s than Ratt did, as every single one of their records released that decade achieved at least platinum status.

I love Ratt because they fill a happy medium many bands of the Reagan era could not; they never took themselves too seriously (Whitesnake), nor were they ever too goofy (Poison).  This was a band that had swagger, but also knew how to have a little fun and for that, they crack the top 10 of this “prestigious” list.

Best Album – Invasion of Your Privacy (1985)

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Raise your hand if you had Ratt’s triple-platinum debut Out of the Cellar in this spot.  Congrats!  You’re wrong!  Anyone who can call themselves even a secondary fan of Ratt or hair metal in general would have to agree that it was Ratt’s sophomore effort that took everything Cellar did and amped it up 100 times.  Every song fits seamlessly together in an almost watered down rock opera sense, and the songs were as punchy and catchy as ever.  Guitarist Warren DeMartini’s “Joe Perry on steroids” riffing really comes alive on this record and I highly recommend it to anyone with a sweet tooth for 80’s pop-metal.

Worst Album – Detonator (1990)

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It’s no secret that from a hair band’s perspective, Ratt ruled the 1980’s.  By the end of the decade, however, the band started to show some chinks in the armor.  1988’s Reach for the Sky sold well and sounded Ratt-y enough, but trained ears could tell it was a slight departure from the signature sound the quintet had honed over their first three albums. By the time the 90’s rolled around, Ratt was a shell of its former self.  Guitarist Robbin Crosby was either strung out on heroin or dope-sick from withdrawals every night of their tours and his performances suffered accordingly.  The rest of the band found themselves drawing lines in the sand with lead singer Stephen Pearcy, whose ego had become so large he was bordering on Axl Rose levels of obsessive creative control (meaning he had all and his bandmates had none).  The result was Detonator, a bloated effort that quietly saw the demise of Ratt as a heavy hitter in the hard rock industry; a sad end to a wonderful rags-to-riches-to-excess story (somewhat of an 80’s motif).

Strongest Member – Warren DeMartini

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If you’re looking for slick hooks and catchy riffs, look no further than Ratt axe-man Warren DeMartini.  Hailed as the next decade’s answer to Joe Perry, DeMartini’s syncopated and groovy riffing melded perfectly with Pearcy’s gritty vocals and overtly sexualized lyrics.  Ratt’s lead guitarist embodied the cool confidence that the band carried with itself throughout the entirety of the 80’s.  Also, if we are splitting hairs here I probably could’ve put bassist Juan Croucier in this spot since he was the principle songwriter on almost all of the Ratt hits, but I’m a guitar player by trade so eat it, JC.

Weakest Member – Robin Crosby (Guitar)

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To every yin there must be a yang.  For every glorious DeMartini “quadratic, hitman precision-esque” solo there exists a Crosby “7th grader with an electric guitar that just discovered the pentatonic scale” lick.  Allow me to simplify things.  In the early days of Ratt (1986 and before), Crosby and DeMartini used to trade off on soloing duties song by song.  If you go back and listen to those early Ratt records, its rather easy to guess who’s who when it comes time for the ever anticipated guitar solo spot.  Technical abilities aside, this all came to a screeching halt on the later albums, where Crosby became so debilitated by drug use that his already limited skills were on a rapid decline and DeMartini took on a permanent lead role.  Crosby was booted from the band after 1990 and contracted AIDS from using a dirty heroin needle.  He died in 2002, marking a permanent end to the original lineup.  Although he wasn’t the most talented, Crosby was still an important cog in the Ratt machine and is missed dearly in the rock community.

 

 

 

Album of the Week: Don Henley’s “Building The Perfect Beast”

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Background:

In the aftermath of The Eagles’ break-up, each individual member was able to go their separate ways and try to cut it in the music industry as a solo act.  Joe Walsh was a seasoned vet, having albums with the James Gang and a solo career prior to joining the Eagles in 1976.  Glenn Frey and Don Felder were able to release singles such as “The Heat is On” and “Heavy Metal,” respectively.  None of the other Eagles, however, were able to hold a candle to their unofficial lead bird.

Don Henley was the unquestioned creative force behind a good chunk of the Eagles’ greatest hits.  A quick look at his post-Eagles career all but confirms this, as Henley was far and away the most successful out of all of his former bandmates.  Of all the songwriters to come out of the talent pool that was The Eagles, Henley was the hit-maker.

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Henley released his first solo effort in 1982 entitled I Can’t Stand Still.  The album was a success and went gold on the back of the top 5 hit single “Dirty Laundry,” which peaked at number 3 on the charts.  It was a great start to Henley’s second career, but had hints of his former band in the DNA of a lot of the tracks.  In the Fall of 1984, Don Henley released his follow up, Building The Perfect Beast.  This sophomore effort would be sure to lay any qualms about his creative prowess to rest.

 

Content:

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If I had to use one word to describe Beast, it would be “summer.”  The entire album is drenched in sunshine from top to bottom, and almost every track on here can transport you to different parts of summer.  A certain mix of melancholy and sweetness graces the album and brings you back to the long days and warm nights of youth.  It goes without saying, Building The Perfect Beast is summer incarnate.

A lot of this has to do with the way each song is structured.  The production quality has what I like to refer to as “80’s haze,” as songs such as “Sunset Grill” have very heavily layered synths, acting as kind of a rainforest canopy and trapping the sound.  It is hard to explain but listen to that song in particular and you will see what I mean.  It is a comparable phenomenon present in other 80’s songs like Berlin’s 1986 Top Gun soundtrack hit “Take My Breath Away.”  The hazy synths will almost make your speakers seem like they are dripping with dew.

With the humidity of 80’s haze present on some of the tracks, others take a more scaled down approach, production wise.  Some of the songs featured on Beast are very light and poppy boppers that feel like a day at the beach.  Others have very deep meanings and take a darker turn, while still keeping their sun-soaked vibe.  They still sound like summer, but perhaps in more of a “sunset drive down the beach, alone with your thoughts” type of feeling (what, don’t we all have those?).

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This dichotomy makes for a very engaging and dynamic album.  The jump in maturity, both in songwriting and production quality, gives Henley and Beast all they need to make the perfect summer driving album.  These songs have a nostalgic tinge to them, even if you’ve never heard them before.  Speaking of the songs, let’s get into the meat of the album, shall we?

 

Highlights:

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Of the 11 songs on Building The Perfect Beast, 7 are noteworthy (and we will discuss all 7 in detail).

The album kicks off with the classic “Boys of Summer.”  The vibe of the entire album is immediately cemented with this track: catchy hooks that hide meaningful lyrics.  The song feels hallow, in the best way possible.  Every time I listen to “Boys of Summer” I feel as though my summer is coming to a close and the pain of nostalgia slowly seeps in (I promise it’s a good feeling).  Anytime a song can evoke an emotion as deep as that, you have to give credit to its crafter.

Directly following “Boys of Summer” is the ode to the heartbroken, “You Can’t Make Love.”  Henley opines that you can create almost anything to give to the one you love, except love itself.  The song sounds as if Henley is retroactively warning himself against the sentiment, something anyone once in a relationship can attest to.  You often realize your mistakes after it is too late, and the song becomes relatable to anyone who has ever loved and lost.  As far as how the song is structured, a major key signature woven between desperate lyrics, makes this a textbook example of the album’s dichotomous relationship between words and music.

A few tracks down the dial is “Not Enough Love In The World.”  Very similar to “You Can’t Make Love,” “Not Enough Love In The World” is a bittersweet swan song to a now former lover, as Henley realizes he doesn’t have what it takes to keep his significant other happy and that they’ve drifted apart because of the throes of success and jealousy; he knows he still loves her but has to let her go.  Again, this entire message is layered over an almost cavity-inducing, bubblegum-pop composition and the juxtaposition of the two makes for a great midway point of the album.

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Side 2 of the vinyl is where the album goes from great to spectacular, and it all starts with “All She Wants To Do Is Dance.”  The song is a social commentary about America’s “reckless” foreign policy in the 70’s and 80’s, but you can hardly tell with the saccharine major key signature and aforementioned 80’s haze.  The track is a politically charged rant disguised as a dance tune, and brilliantly so.  I can’t help but bop along to “Dance” while simultaneously feeling the heat from Henley’s comments and while I don’t whole-heartedly agree with the message, I appreciate the process.

The single track on the album that exemplifies the vibe of “late summer days,” at least musically, is the grandiose “Sunset Grill.”  A six and a half minute epic, “Sunset Grill” has the haze in spades.  What separates this track from some of the others though, is that it may be the reverse of its other brothers found on the album.  “Sunset Grill” sounds like it is about something much more sinister, thanks to the brooding synthesizers, but really it is about exactly what you hear: a restaurant in Los Angeles where the owner knows everyone’s name.

Sandwiched in between what may be two of my favorite Don Henley songs is the almost entirely missable “Driving With Your Eyes Closed.”  I can’t make heads or tails of the message in this one, but it could possibly be about going through life purposefully ignorant of all the peril around you (something I can sheepishly relate to).  Regardless, the synths and crunching guitar in the background coupled with Henley’s near falsetto vocals makes this a fun break from the sun soaked vibes of the rest of the songs, if only for a brief, fleeting moment.

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Every song I have already mentioned holds a special meaning, but the song on here I absolutely adore the most is the final track on Building The Perfect Beast: “Land of the Living.”  If you can only listen to one song off of this album, make sure it is this one.  “Land of the Living” is beautifully bittersweet and evokes a cocktail of emotions in me every time I hear it.  Melancholy, nostalgia, longing, they’re all present in the 3 and a half minute run time.  The composition is a C major/A minor switch between chorus and verse, respectively, and it really meshes well with the lyrics: things happen in this world that we cannot control, but you keep me sane and I want to stay with you forever.  The feel of the song suggests he can’t, in fact, stay in the land of the living with her, and thus this song is his last coping mechanism before moving on.  The track fades out on the strength of its keyboard/bass riff and the album comes to a close; an almost too perfect to describe ending to a great album.

 

Low-Lights:

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As far as low-lights go, this album has a few; Beast is not a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination.  “Man With A Mission” is a jarring selection to be placed after the first two tracks of the album, and its follow-up “You’re Not Drinking Enough” isn’t enough to get the taste out of our mouths.  They aren’t terrible songs, they just don’t mesh with the overarching theme of the album.

“A Month of Sundays” acts as sort of a long intro that bleeds into “Sunset Grill” but I usually skip over it.  The song is a bit too slow for my tastes, as it is a piano interlude and never really gets off the ground.

These songs are interspersed enough throughout the album so as to make it hard to just drop the needle, but if necessary I can gut through these songs to get to the good stuff.  Some of these songs are THAT worth it.

 

Aftermath/Legacy:

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Building the Perfect Beast was a huge success in the mid-80’s, going triple platinum and reaching top 15 status on the Billboard Charts.  Critics and fans alike lauded the album for its composition and quality of songwriting, as Don Henley finally emerged from the shadows of his former band mates.

Henley waited almost five years to release his next studio effort.  The End of The Innocence was released in 1989 and although it was a critical and commercial success, it didn’t have the same impact Beast did, musically speaking.  Innocence may have the better sales numbers (6 million), but in my opinion, Beast was the better album.

Any opportunity I get to listen to Building The Perfect Beast, I relish it.  It is one of the few albums I don’t take for granted (partly because the CD of it I have in my car doesn’t play anymore).  The album transports me, mentally and emotionally, to a simultaneously happy and longing state.  Popping that CD into the slot takes me away, and I keep coming back for more.  If you have the means, pick this album up and give it a listen.  And if you ever feel the need to experience summer in 42 minutes, Don Henley has your back.

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Next Album: Dirt by Alice In Chains

Pickling The Beast: Sandlot Characters Ranked

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I have had several (few) people come up to me recently and say “hey, Rankster, you claim to love sports so much, but none of your posts have been about sports.” Well fear not, hypothetical critics, for this list is all about sports (well, kinda).

Everyone remembers where they were the first time they saw Sandlot. I was in 4th grade and every Friday we could trade in tickets we had earned over the week to go to different rooms with different activities set up. I chose movies every Friday for the first semester and the very first week the movie playing was none other than Sandlot. I was immediately invested from the jump. The characters were so relatable and engaging, the soundtrack was weirdly nostalgic for having a bunch of songs on it that came out 30 years before I was born, and it was about baseball (did I mention I love sports)! By the time the credits rolled, I had a new favorite sports movie.

Anytime Sandlot comes on TV, I have to cancel plans so I can catch it in its entirety (never mind the fact that I own it on DVD). Its a beautiful coming of age story that deals with campouts, crushes, and getting into trouble, stuff we all can relate to. The characters make the movie though, and after watching Sandlot for what seems like the 100th time I decided it was finally time to comb through the lineup and put numbers to faces.

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It’s been a while since we’ve done a ranker so in case you’re a little rusty, the rules are as follows: 5 criterion are assigned to the cast of the movie, each ranked 1-10 with a composite score given to each character. Below are the five categories:

Likability: How likable was this character? Would you have hung out with him when you were 12?

Plot-centric: How important is this character to the plot? If they disappeared would it affect the movie?

Humor: How funny was this character every time he appeared on screen? Any great one liners?

Memorability: Even years after seeing the movie, how well do you remember this character? This is sort of an amalgamation of the first three categories.

Baseball Skill: How good was this character at their position? Hitting? Fielding?

I’m as anxious as you are to get started so let’s not waste anymore time. We’ll offer up the opening pitch with an obvious one…

 

9. Tommy “Repeat” Timmons: 27/50 (54%)

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Likability – 5.5/10: We all had that one tagalong in our group growing up that was typically a lot younger and usually a sibling of one of our friends. That pest in the Sandlot clan just happened to be Timmy Timmons’ little brother, Tommy, better known as Repeat. Repeat earned his namesake for offering nothing original to the discourse. He would just echo whatever his older brother would say. It had its moments throughout the movie, but the gag just grew tiresome after a while. To say that Repeat was the least likable character in the movie would be arguable, as he doesn’t score the absolute lowest score in this category, beating out only one other teammate on the list. He is, however, quite insufferable throughout the run time of the movie, so you can only imagine what he would be like if you had to play with him everyday of the summer.

Plot – 5/10: Again, what exactly did Repeat contribute to this movie, plot-wise? He just stands around and plagiarizes everything his older, slightly cooler sibling says. He’s the worst baseball player of the bunch by virtue of being the youngest (more on that later), and he does nothing in the third act of the movie to help retrieve the Babe Ruth Ball. Yeah Yeah is the one on the pulley system and Smalls offers up his Erector Set prowess, but Repeat sits back and does jack in terms of getting back what may have been the most important piece of sports memorabilia of the mid-20th century.

Humor – 6/10: Similar to his brother, Repeat has his moments. Some of the things he repeats from Timmy and the subsequent reaction he gets from his piers offers some solid laughs, but as I mentioned, the humor starts to lose its punch in the second half of the movie. The shocked covering of the eyes during Squints’ bold move on Wendy Peffercorn adds a nice bit of visual humor, but its subtle at best.

Memorability – 5.5/10: If it seems like this ranker has turned into “Comedy Central’s Roast of Repeat,” its because Tommy Timmons has next to zero redeeming qualities to his name (harsh criticism for a fictional child, yes). He only outranks his brother in this category because he almost always gets the last word in, but he has very few memorable lines in the movie, with his exacerbated “The Colossus of Clout” easily being his best quote. Be honest, you didn’t leave the theater/living room/classroom with any overt fondness towards Repeat, right?

Baseball Skills – 5/10: Repeat was the youngest of the Sandlot crew, so naturally he was the weakest link on an otherwise unbeatable machine. A contact hitter who could use his speed to get down the line quickly, the smaller Timmons was a bit of a one trick pony at the plate and the fact that he was still several years from puberty meant he was a bit of a liability in the infield, both from an arm strength and range perspective. If I was managing that team, Repeat would be my 9 hitter eight days a week and twice on Sunday.

 

8. Bertram Grover Weeks: 29/50 (58%)

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Likability – 5/10: Was there anyone more insufferable in this movie than Bertram? The answer, of course, is no. Look, I know I just spent the last five paragraphs flaming Repeat, but Bertram didn’t have the excuse of being the “tagalong younger brother” at his disposal. On top of that, he had more lines than Repeat and all of them seemed to just grate at me the longer the movie went on. He wasn’t charming like Benny, nor was he funny like Ham or Squints. He was just Bertram, and that meant he was generally kind of a know-it-all and a bit of a jerk, all things considered.

Plot-centric – 6/10: Bertram benefits extremely from one scene in the entire movie: the infamous carnival scene. Other than offering chewing tobacco to the crew (and making them deathly ill in the process), Bertram does nothing to help advance the plot. He’s just an above average baseball player who offers nothing along the lines of furthering the film along. If Bertram were taken out of the movie and replaced with another lanky 2nd baseman, we would be deprived of one of the great 90’s gross out scenes in cinema history, but other than that he’s rather useless.

Humor – 5/10: Quick, name one line Bertram offered up that you legitimately laughed at! Thats what I thought. Bertram didn’t have a single funny line in this movie… Okay he had one: right after Squints pretends to drown but before he kisses Wendy, Bertram exclaims “he looks like shit!” Its deadpan and the timing is brilliant, but aside from that, Bertram lacks the funny bone so many others on that team possessed.

Memorability – 5/10: As I mentioned in the Plot category, Bertram is memorable if only for the Big Chief scene at the carnival. He doesn’t have any memorable scenes or quotable lines throughout the entire movie. I really don’t have much else to say about Bertram in this particular instance only that he seems to be one of the better players on the team, if only for his size. Speaking of which…

Baseball Skills – 8/10: What Bertram lacks in, well, everything, he makes up for in his skill on the diamond. A great defensive infielder, Bertram had length and a great arm at second base. He was able to get around with ease in the infield and his long legs gave him sneaky speed getting down the line, much like a Christian Yelich. At the plate, Bertram had a solid bat and could hit for average as well as power, and the aforementioned long legs made him a danger on the base paths.

 

7. Timmy Timmons: 29.5/50 (59%)

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Likability – 6/10: To be fair, there was nothing really unlikable about the elder Timmons, but he didn’t exactly give off the “need to have around” vibe either. Timmy was just your run of the mill friend who never said or did anything too out of the ordinary. He was a bit smarmy at times and him bringing his brother everywhere are both things that bring this score down, but he wasn’t an awful human being nor did he direct any personal ridicule at Smalls during the infancy of his baseball career.

Plot-Centric – 5/10: Much like his younger brother, Timmy doesn’t bring too much to the table here in terms of importance to the plot. Yes, he does come up with the pulley system to help retrieve the ball from Hercules, but that proves to be ultimately futile and a moot point at best. Timmy has been relegated to a secondary/borderline tertiary character in terms of prominence in the film. He should be happy he’s on the team, otherwise he’d be completely irrelevant to the movie.

Humor – 6/10: Timmy’s entire score in this category gets saved by one line. In the ever-popular drowning scene, right as Squints goes in for the kill on Wendy, Timmy utters the immortal words, “Oh man, he’s in deep shit!” Hearing that come out of a kid’s mouth as he watches his best bud try to stick his tongue down an older girl’s throat is just poetic, as we could easily hear ourselves saying the same thing. The timing is great and the delivery is timeless. Other than that, Timmy doesn’t exactly light the scoreboard up, in terms of humor.

Memorability – 5/10: To reiterate, other than the pool scene, Timmy lacks the memorability and big lines we’ve come to love from other characters in this film. Like most of the other players occupying the top half of this list, Timmy doesn’t have the sheer quantity of lines that we as viewers can pick from. This leaves him as one of the least memorable characters in this great movie (but he still doesn’t have the lowest score in this category).

Baseball Skill – 7.5/10: Everything Repeat does well, Timmy does better. Being the older brother, Timmy has speed like Repeat but possesses much more pop in his bat, as made evident by his AB against the snobby travel team. He’s also a much better infielder, making him one of the better players on the team; certainly above “league average.”

 

6. Kenny DeNunez: 30.5/50 (61%)

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Likability – 7/10:  Kenny DeNunez was one of the quieter Sandlot kids, which typically meant he wasn’t saying anything mean or nice.  In this instance, it makes him one of the more well liked members of the team.  There’s not a whole lot to say about Sandlot’s ace righty other than he kind of just follows the crowd.  This doesn’t do him any favors in some of the other categories, but I also can’t remember him being that much of a jackass either, so kudos, Kenny.

Plot – 5/10:  DeNunez’s claim to fame in the story comes at the very end, where we find out he went on to play Triple-A ball.  That’s great for him, but it does nothing to advance the plot.  KD is important to the success of the Sandlot team on the diamond but off it, he doesn’t contribute much, if anything.  Five is as high as I can go here, for obvious reasons.

Humor – 5/10:  Not a lot of speaking lines were granted to Kenny DeNunez, so his score is justly low.  An exchange with Ham right before he hits a homer is the only really memorably funny moment DeNunez has in this film.  His speaking lines are noticeably absent during some of the seminal scenes in the movie, namely the pool scene and any of the ball retrieval trials.

Memorability – 4.5/10:  Other than the back and forth with Ham at the plate, is there really anything DeNunez does in this movie that is memorable?  Sure, he completely shuts down the snotty travel team with his no-hit stuff on the mound, but everyone else contributed to the slaughter as well.  Sorry to say it, but “The Heater” might be the least memorable character of the bunch, and that’s saying a lot when you share a team with Tommy Timmons.

Baseball Skills – 9/10:  Ah, KD’s saving grace!  While DeNunez lacks any sort of charisma needed to be a memorable character, he is second only to “god-in-human-form” Benny in terms of baseball skill.  It was mentioned before that DeNunez goes on to play Triple-A ball, a feat not many kids playing backyard baseball will eventually claim.  His heater is legendary, and his bat is quite live.  Kenny DeNunez is the best player not named Benny, and that alone is rather impressive.

 

5.  Alan “Yeah Yeah” McClennan: 35.5/50 (71%)

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Likability – 6.5/10:  Yeah Yeah is a tad snarky and a bit of a scoffer, initially leading the train on making fun of Smalls in the beginning of the film, but towards the end he actually becomes one of the more likable members of the crew.  Consider this a tale of two halves for our hyper-active short stop; he really starts to grow on you by the end of the story.  His constant ribbing of his teammates, typically Squints and his affection for Wendy Peffercorn, may seem grating but its actually rather endearing.

Plot – 6/10:  Though not a complete throw away like the brothers Timmons or Bertram, Yeah Yeah doesn’t exactly bring it in this department either.  He is an integral piece to the retrieval plans of the Babe Ruth baseball but when those efforts prove to be less than fruitful, Yeah Yeah (and basically everyone else but Benny, by extension) becomes expendable.  This isn’t to say McClennan is a throw away, he just isn’t essential to the plot of the film.

Humor – 8.5/10:  Let’s face it: Yeah Yeah is hysterical.  He may seem like a bit of a one trick pony in the laughs department, but his schticks of being borderline ADHD and starting his sentences with “yeah, yeah” are actually quite humorous.  His best scene is a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” shot of him after confronting the Beast, where he is screaming and intermittently babbling his lips like an insane person. Ah, comedy gold!

Memorability – 7/10:  Because Yeah Yeah is so funny, he becomes one of the more memorable characters.  Sure, his contributions to the plot are dubious at best, but he endears himself to us as an audience enough that he emerges as one of the more recognizable faces on the team.  As far as secondary characters go, Yeah Yeah is one of the best and most memorable.

Baseball Skills – 7.5/10:  A versatile fielder at shortstop, McClennan is talented in the hole, with both range and arm strength in his favor.  He has quick foot speed which allows him to get to balls easily and I’d imagine he’s pretty good at getting those 6-4-3 double plays going.  At the dish, Yeah Yeah doesn’t have plus power, but he is good at hitting for contact and his aforementioned foot speed makes him a danger to get on base as well as steal.  All told, Yeah Yeah ranks in the upper half of players on an already stacked team.

 

4.  Scott “Scotty” Smalls: 39.5/50 (79%)

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Likability – 7/10:  NERD!  Just kidding (mostly).  Smalls can come off as kind of whiny from time to time and he’s a bit of a geek, but come on he’s the main character!  We HAVE to like him.  The movie does a good job of using Smalls’ faults as ways to make him a more endearing character.  He sucks at baseball early on because his dad died and his step-dad is too busy for him and he’s shy and doesn’t have a lot of friends as a result of this.  It makes him a very sympathetic character, so we just can’t help but like him… For the most part.

Plot – 10/10:  I’ll keep this short and sweet: without Scotty Smalls, there is no narrator.  Without a narrator, there is no Sandlot.  Yes, the Sandlot kids still play ball with each other every summer (albeit down a man), but we as an audience never get to hear the tales of that summer.  We never hear the legend of the Beast, or of Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez.  Anything less than a 10 in this category would be highway robbery.

Humor – 7.5/10:  In every great comedy since man discovered fire and invented the wheel, there must be a straight man; a character who is the set up man and sometimes even the butt of the jokes.  Smalls does this with masterful aplomb (whether he likes to or not remains to be seen).  The Babe Ruth ball, The Great Bambino gaff, hell, even the most quoted line in the movie (“you’re killing me, Smalls”) all come at the expense of poor Scotty.  I’ve never been very appreciative towards the comedic straight man, but in this instance I’ll make an exception.

Memorability – 8/10:  Again, with this being an amalgamation of the first three scores, Smalls ranks relatively high in this category as well.  He has many memorable lines and contributes to the plot immensely.  He is also humorous in a straight man sort of way, as well as being rather likable in the lovable loser sense.  His character arc is also super underrated, as he goes from shy introvert who is awful at baseball to adept outfielder with tons of new friends, all within a single summer.

Baseball Skills – 7/10:  Speaking of which, if we ranked Smalls at the start of Sandlot, this score would undoubtedly be a fat 0.  Thanks to a little practice and some coaching from Benny, however, Smalls turns into a rather capable baseball player on both sides of the ball.  Defensively, he is an adequate outfielder with loads of upside, particularly in the arm strength department as made evident by his game of catch with Dennis Leary.  At the plate, Smalls not only hits for contact but has hidden power, crushing the Babe Ruth ball to dead center, typically the deepest part of the field.

 

3.  Michael “Squints” Palledorous: 41.5/50 (83%)

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Likability – 7.5/10:  For all the retorts and quips he hurls at his teammates, Squints is a really likable character.  You can tell behind the pseudo-napoleon complex that he genuinely cares for the well-being of his friends.  Squints may come off as kind of arrogant, but gosh darn it we just can’t help but like him!

Plot – 8/10:  Squints is one of the most important characters in the film.  Look at it this way, without Squints we would have no Wendy Peffercorn subplot, no Beast stories at the treehouse.  Basically, a movie about baseball and nothing more.  Remember, Squints is the one who dissuaded Smalls from just walking over to Mr. Mertle’s door and asking for the ball back.  Without that seed of doubt being planted, the entire third act of the movie and the legend of Benny pickling the Beast both cease to exist.  Squints is almost essential to Sandlot being the movie that it is, and we thank him.

Humor – 10/10:  It can be argued that Squints is the single funniest character in the movie.  He is tied with someone else on this list, but suffice to say, Squints has us laughing from beginning to end.  There are so many quotes to choose from: “L7 weenie,” “For-ever,” “Been plannin’ it for years,” the list goes on and on.  The crowning achievement and proverbial feather in the funny cap of Squints has to be his putting the moves on the lifeguard routine.  It was surprising the first time we saw it and hasn’t stopped being funny for almost 25 years (feel old yet?).

Memorability – 9/10:  Who could forget a character like Squints?  With those Coke bottle glasses and that toothy grin, he’s physically memorable.  However, he may be even more memorable for his back and forth with teenage fantasy Wendy Peffercorn, culminating in him tricking her into giving him mouth to mouth.  Judging by her appearance alone, Peffercorn was easily 5 years older than our favorite bespectacled baseball player.  The fact that he was not only able to kiss her but win her affection makes him easily the bravest character as well.  Jumping a fence to win a ball back from a man eating beast? Please!  Try even TALKING to an older woman.  Way to go, Squints!  You’re my hero.

Baseball Skills – 7/10:  Squints is the steady Eddie of the Sandlot crew.  He doesn’t have the power of Ham or Benny, nor does he have the speed or fielding acumen of Yeah Yeah, but Squints can more than hold his own on both sides.  Offensively, he’s a contact hitter with adequate speed and in the field he can track down most balls with said horsepower.  He’s a better player off the field, but he’s no slouch on it either.

 

2.  Hamilton “Ham” “The Great Hambino” Porter: 43.5/50 (87%)

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Likability – 8/10:  It could be the pudgy build.  It could be the freckles.  It could be the fact that he’s a walking comedian.  Whatever it is, Ham is an extremely likable guy.  He has the same thing going for him as Squints: kind of a condescending a-hole at times, but still lovable.  He might be even more likable than Squints, however, because of his “friendly” disposition behind the plate at catcher.  Regardless of what makes Ham such a fun guy, there is almost no one we would rather spend our summers with as a kid.

Plot – 7.5/10:  Ham isn’t quite as important as a Smalls or a Squints, but he has his moments.  He’s mostly here for comedic relief but he does help in getting back the ball and he’s really key in some expositional moments.  For example, his home run introduces Scotty Smalls to the Beast that lives on the other side of the fence.  He even tangentially introduces Smalls to the legend of Babe Ruth, aka the Great Bambino.  The movie could march on without him, but much like the hypothetical absence of Squints, we would be worse off without him.

Humor – 10/10:  Take. Your. Pick.  Ham is a comedy gold mine from start to finish.  Who could forget the pool scene, where he introduces himself to a bunch of the “ladies” right before cannonballing and ruining their tanning spot?  Or the scene where he goes toe to toe with the captain of the snobby travel team, culminating in the classic put-down of “you play ball like a girl” (a scene that would likely trigger even the average liberal arts student nowadays, which makes it even funnier).  Ham even gives us one of the funniest and most quoted lines of the 90’s not from an episode of Seinfeld, “you’re killing me, Smalls.”  Those four words have been such a part of the American vernacular that even people who haven’t seen the movie say them.

Memorability – 9.5/10:  Ham has it all: the distinct look, the perfectly timed one-liners, and the quotes that entire generations have been regurgitating since ’93.  He is easily the most memorable part of Sandlot, even more so than Benny.  If you think that’s hyperbole, I’ll prove it.  Think back to the last time you heard someone say that famous line of Ham’s.  Great!  Now try to remember anything Benny said.  I rest my case.

Baseball Skills – 8.5/10:  With Benny going on to play for the L.A. Dodgers and DeNunez making it as far as Triple-A, the metaphorical doorstep of the Major’s, it stands to reason that Ham is the third best baseball player on the team.  His power, aside from Benny, knows no equal and he even homered off of the aforementioned DeNunez, meaning he got one over on someone who almost made it to the big leagues (quick side note: my cousin Jay once struck out Prince Fielder in a high school game.  Pretty sweet, right?!  Anyway, I digress).  What may go under appreciated about Ham, however, is his defense at the catcher position.  He was a force behind the plate on offense, but on defense, his constant chatter and perfect framing made it impossible for opposing hitters to get anything going.

 

1.  Benjamin Franklin “The Jet” Rodriguez: 44.5/50 (89%)

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Likability – 9/10:  Was there ever any doubt?  Of course not!  Benny is not only by far the most likable guy because of how freaking cool he was, he was also insanely humble too.  He was better than everyone he played against, and he knew it, but he was a team guy and a supportive friend.  When Smalls showed up and had no idea what the hell he was doing, Benny didn’t give up on him.  He took him under his wing and saw to it that Smalls would become the baseball player he knew he could be.  There is something to be said for a grown man who puts others before himself, and it’s even more impressive that Benny had barely hit puberty.  Wise beyond his years, they say.

Plot – 10/10:  Again, much like Smalls, without Benny there is no Sandlot.  Benny put the team together and was the last one to move away.  He built the Sandlot team from nothing.  Without The Jet, there is no story to tell.  Smalls never has the courage to talk to the Sandlot kids, and the legend of pickling the Beast never happens.  So many key events take place because of Benny; no Benny, no Sandlot.  No heroes getting remembered, and no legends never dying.

Humor – 6/10:  Every man has a weakness.  This is a theory I have postulated many times when jealousy rears its ugly head over a potential competitor for the affections of a woman I fancy.  Benny is no exception (not that we ever competed over the same woman, but the rules still apply).  Sure he’s good looking and an exceptional athlete, but he doesn’t have the funny bones guys like Squints and Ham have.  That must be why Wendy chose the former over the future MLB’er.  Yeah, sure, that’s it…

Memorability – 9.5/10:  Benny lacks the funny lines and physical comedy of Hamilton Porter, but he has the charm and charisma as well as the accolades to more than make up for this.  Who could forget Benny pickling the Beast, showing no fear as he jumped that fence in his fresh pair of P.F. Flyers?  Or how about when he knocked the stuffing out of that baseball, something “like only two or three guys in history” had done since?  I still argue that Ham was the more memorable character, but as an ideology of bravery and courage, no one was better than Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez.

Baseball Skills – 10/10:  The dude played for the Dodgers.  What more of an explanation do you want?  Benny could play every position on the field as good or better than the people who actually held those positions on a daily basis.  He was such a good hitter he could literally pick his spot to within inches, as he showed when he hit a popup right to the outstretched glove of Smalls in center field.  He was even faster than a full grown dog.  For crying out loud, Benny outran a dog!  He may be the greatest fictional baseball player of all time, and if you disagree, be sure to let me know so I can ignore your terrible opinion (kidding).

 

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