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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Album of the Week: Def Leppard’s Hysteria

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Here at Original Rankster, we try to provide you with the quality rankings you seek as often as possible (as a full time college student [at the time of writing] searching for employment, patience is appreciated).  However, all numbers and no fun makes Rankster a dull boy, so to change it up I give you: Album of the Week

Each week, I’ll provide you wonderful readers with an album I’m particularly fond of and delve into what I believe made this record so good.  This week on the dissecting tray is Def Leppard’s 1987 mega-hit, Hysteria.

 

Background:

In the years preceding Hysteria’s release, Def Leppard were already a huge commercial draw.  They had three albums under their belt, with their 1983 release, Pyromania, going platinum several times over.  With producer Robert “Mutt” Lange at the helm (responsible for AC/DC’s Back in Black), Def Leppard set out to destroy the boundaries previously broken by Pyromania.  This would prove to be a more daunting task than originally anticipated by both the band and Mutt.

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Initial recording sessions for Animal Instinct (Hysteria’s original title) were slow and plagued with multiple delays including singer Joe Elliot getting the mumps and producer Mutt Lange being involved in a minor car accident.  Nothing, however, could prepare the band for what was about to happen

On December 31, 1984, drummer Rick Allen went for a joyride in his Corvette convertible on a country rode in Sheffield, England when he swerved to avoid an oncoming motorist.  Allen lost control of his vehicle and flipped several times into a nearby field.  The car rolled on top of the young rocker, severing his left arm and leaving him for dead.  Allen survived, but his limb was not able to be reattached.

The other members of Def Leppard were left with a choice: carry on without their brother Rick Allen, or call it quits right at the apex of their career trajectory.  Allen picked option C, and decided he was going to be a member of Def Leppard, no matter how many arms he had.  He reconstructed his electronic drum kit, using foot pedals as a substitute for what he would’ve used his second arm for and completely re-taught himself the drums.

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This would prove to invigorate and inspire the band, as Def Leppard roared back into the studio with a vengeance.  The album now known as Hysteria took nearly four years total to complete, but when it was finished the band knew they had created magic.

Hype for Hysteria was, ironically enough, slow initially.  Part of this had to do with the band deciding to release two separate lead singles for the album in America and their native U.K.  The first single released in the U.S. was “Women,” a relatively straightforward rocker that didn’t exactly show any growth from the band in the last four years; American buyers were skeptical.  That is, until Def Leppard released their second single, a little number by the name of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  At the risk of sounding like a cliche douche, the rest is history.

Hysteria went on to be Def Leppard’s magnum opus, selling a staggering 25 million units worldwide (12 million in the States, alone).  The record produced 7 singles, 6 of which found their way into the Billboard Hot 100 and the album went number 1 in three different countries.  1987 saw a bevy of big sellers in the rock industry, but Hysteria remains the heavyweight champion of them all, and in the next several paragraphs you’ll find out why everyone and their dog owned a copy of this bad boy by the end of the 80’s.

 

Content:

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Def Leppard was known throughout the 80’s and early 90’s as the band chicks and dudes could both like and not be ostracized by members of their respective communities.  Nothing perpetuates this theory more than Hysteria.  The entire album is smattered with songs ranging from over-the-top ballads (“Hysteria,” “Love Bites”), to upbeat hard rockers (“Run Riot,” “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”).  What really sets this album apart from its predecessors, though, is the production quality.  Mutt Lange was with Def Leppard since their 1981 sophomore effort High ‘n Dry, which if listened to with a blindfold on sounds like a slightly more melodic AC/DC record.  The leaps in production quality from High ‘n Dry to Pyromania and then to Hysteria were nothing short of stunning; each record sounded miles ahead of the previous one.

The use of guitar as the primary instrument takes a back seat on this album, and upon initial inspection it can turn a lot of “metal heads” off to this record.  I routinely hear people say that everything Def Leppard released after Pyromania was “soft, cookie cutter crap,” but all that hostility can really be equated to fans feeling alienated towards a glossier approach to producing songs.  Each song on Hysteria is painstakingly crafted from the bottom up.  The attention to detail and layering seen on the album can be credited partially to Mutt’s near obsessiveness in the recording booth and also to the band’s principal songwriters maturing at just the right time.  Every single note pops right out of your speaker and feels purposeful.

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The advent of synths and dubbing instruments multiple times over were principle reasons why this album took so long to produce, but boy was it well worth the wait!  This is Def Leppard’s “hookiest” record on call, as the whole album has more hooks than a commercial fishing boat.  Each song catches you almost instantaneously and never lets go, and the tracks get stuck in your head for days.  Speaking of catchy tunes…

 

Highlights:

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Hysteria plays like a kind of “Greatest Hits Compilation,” as the whole album is stacked with Top 10 chart toppers and beloved deep cuts alike.  Take even the first four tracks off the record and they represent somewhat of a microcosm of the musical spectrum presented by Hysteria.  “Women” took the classic hard rock approach Def Leppard had been known for at the time and “studiofied” it.  “Rocket” is the over the top, glossy, production laden track with all sorts of recording booth tricks that were state of the art at the time.  “Animal” is the slowed down, sultry slow rocker with a soft touch.  Finally, “Love Bites” is the seminal ballad of the album, showing Def Leppard could transition into the era of the “power ballad” better than any band out there.

While the entire album is awesome from top to bottom, and the first four tracks sum up the feel of the record as a whole, it is the middle four tracks of Hysteria that are worth the sticker price alone.  “Armageddon It,” “Gods of War,” “Don’t Shoot Shotgun,” and “Run Riot” are four of my favorite Def Leppard songs ever released, and they all come in a neat little back to back package in the middle of their most grandiose album.  “Gods of War,” in particular is a nearly 7 minute hard rock composition that has nifty hooks and harmonies galore and could quite possibly be the entire group at their collective height, musically and creatively.

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A super deep cut that often gets overlooked in the shadows of its more popular brethren is the oh-so-groovy “Excitable.”  Located at the tail end of Hysteria, this track has both danceability and a hard rock edge that makes it a perfect fit for the late part of the album; a pick me up, if you will, sandwiched between two of the softer, slower songs on Hysteria.

Lowlights:

Speaking of softer, slower songs, Hysteria is a nearly perfect record on almost every account.  It does, however, falter a bit towards the end of the second side (relatively speaking, anyway).  The title track is a ballad that by all accounts gets overshadowed by the earlier “Love Bites,” both in production quality and feel.  It just doesn’t have the same gut punch that “Love Bites” has the first time you hear it.  “Love Bites” makes you feel emotionally drained after hearing it, “Hysteria” just sounds soft.

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While on the subject of inferior clones, “Love and Affection” is nearly identical to “Animal,” but much like “Hysteria” is the lesser version of “Love Bites,” “Love and Affection” is the lesser version “Animal.”  Don’t skip it, because its still a fine song in its own right, just kind of a wimpy way to close out this masterpiece.

Legacy/Aftermath:

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After Hysteria dropped, Def Leppard went from a mere rock band to a group of musical Demi-gods.  Hysteria was the culmination of the band enduring many hardships and working them to their advantage.  The members of Def Leppard became full on rock stars after 1987, in every sense of the word.  Particularly, guitarist “Steamin'” Steve Clark and his alcoholism took on an entirely new dynamic.  While the rest of the band was starting to settle down, Clark went completely berserk, sometimes downing an entire bottle of Jack Daniels just to maintain stasis.

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The band had visions of grandeur for their next album, Adrenalize, and were famously quoted as saying “the next one won’t take us four years.”  Unfortunately, Clark being a part of the band’s future wasn’t in the cards.  On January 8, 1991, Clark succumbed to alcohol poisoning.  The bright yet tormented guitarist who was just entering his prime was dead at the age of 30.

The band soldiered on and released Adrenalize in March of 1992 (ironically, five years after Hysteria).  The album was a smash hit and spawned a few top 40 bangers, but Def Leppard could never live up to the hype they created with Hysteria and subsequent albums all sold progressively less and less units.

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Hysteria marked a band reaching its artistic peak right as the music industry was in the mood for gloss and polish.  The album represented an already great pairing of band and producer catching lightning in a bottle and releasing one of the greatest efforts of the 1980’s.

Def Leppard still tours today, with Whitesnake/Dio guitarist Vivian Campbell taking the place of Steve Clark as the band’s second guitarist opposite Phil Collen and although they have released new material, their set lists are still littered with cuts off of Hysteria.  Turn on the radio today anywhere from adult contemporary to classic rock stations and you can still hear “Love Bites” or “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  The impact this record made on rock in the 80’s is still being felt today.  Def Leppard will always say they are just a band from Sheffield, but after Hysteria, they couldn’t escape the fame any longer.  And we should all be thankful for that…

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Hopefully you enjoyed Album of the Week! Next week on the docket: Building the Perfect Beast by Don Henley.

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Dancin’ With Mr. Rankster: Appetite For Destruction Songs Ranked

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In the pantheon of debut albums in rock history, there are a select few that stand out above the rest.  These albums feature bands just starting out in the world of recorded music already at their creative and artistic peaks.  Are You Experienced, Led Zeppelin I, and Van Halen I are all perfect examples of this, but one record rises to the top of the list.

First, some backstory.  The year is 1987 and the rock scene is almost entirely dominated by the now cookie cutter mentality of “let’s dress a bunch of dudes up in spandex and makeup and tailor their music to radio audiences.”  Not that a lot of people had a problem with this.  Hell, some of my favorite bands and guitar players saw their heyday in the mid to late 1980’s, but by the tail end of the second Reagan term, the trend had become bloated and stale.

In struts Guns N’ Roses: five street-wise tough guys from the L.A. club scene that had spawned so many of the hair metal acts audiences had grown accustomed to seeing over the years.  Make no mistake, though, GNR was not a hair band.  Everything about the quintet oozed danger, something most of the pop-metal acts of the day seemed to lack.  Sure, bands like Ratt and Motley Crue had their customary drug problems, but Guns N’ Roses were the real deal.

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When Axl and the boys released Appetite for Destruction in the summer of 1987, it completely changed the landscape of what a rock band looked and sounded like.  To give some context, within the same three month radius of Appetite’s debut, Whitesnake and Def Leppard had launched their albums Whitesnake and Hysteria, respectively.  Both records had a glossy production sheen to them, and each song had been painstakingly crafted from the bottom up in pure “studio magic” fashion.  Listen to just the first three songs on Appetite and you will find this is the complete opposite in the case of Guns N’ Roses.  It sounds like the band got all strung out on their drug of choice, grabbed their instruments, and the producer hit play.  And you know what, IT WORKED!

Not only is this album one of my favorite debuts in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, it is one of my favorite records to grace the presence of humankind.  Granted, it was a hard fall from grace for Guns after this album, at least in my eyes.  Some fans champion the band’s next full studio effort, the double album Use Your Illusion’s I and II, as the high water mark of the band.  I, however, see this as the band cannibalizing itself and giving into the same overly glossy studio tricks the bands they railed against used just a few short years prior.  For my money, Guns N’ Roses produced one nearly flawless album before slowly burning out and ultimately collapsing upon themselves in true super nova fashion.

But I’m no astro-physicist and you didn’t come here to listen to me rant about red giants and the lot so lets get to the nitty gritty.  This is a personal ranker, meaning no criteria goes into these rankings.  They are purely subjective and I’ll give a reason why each song is ranked where they’re ranked; there are no scores to add up.  Without any further adieu, I give you Appetite for Destruction songs ranked worst to first, starting with this pile of dog feces on an otherwise musical masterpiece…

12. Sweet Child O’ Mine

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Jesus Christ on a cracker! If I hear this song one more time, I may go full Michael Douglas in Falling Down (look it up)!  The main riff is insufferable, the lyrics are lame, and the whole theme and feel of the song is so out of place on an album where nearly every other track is a fighter jet ride through Hedonism-ville.  I get that this song is one of the main reasons this album sold so many copies in the late 80’s, but when I hear people singing along to this and then saying they heard it on Glee, I get a little turned off.

Sweet Child may also be the biggest criminal in what my friend and I like to call the “Urban Outfitters Band” phenomenon.  Girls with next to no knowledge of a band other than their most popular single (Sweet Child, Stairway to Heaven, Back in Black, etc.) buy a $30 T-shirt from Urban Outfitters of said band and wear it to Starbucks or wherever the kids hang out now-a-days.  Guns N’ Roses t-shirts are worn by thousands of people who only know of them because of Sweet Child and if they had actually listened to Appetite for Destruction in it’s entirety they would be shocked at some of the content.  I know this seems like a shallow reason to hate a song, but if we get down to brass tacks, Sweet Child just isn’t that great of a cut.  It has become a cliche and has been played ad nauseam but unlike other songs on this album that receive radio play, Sweet Child lacks a much needed punch.  Also, screw Glee.

 

11.  My Michelle

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If it weren’t for Sweet Child, My Michelle would be the low point of this entire album (but you can count, so I’ll go a bit more into detail).  The song is a fine hard rock tune but it doesn’t do anything special.  The lyrics are sinister and the guitar riff is heavy, but in terms of being dynamic, musically speaking, this track doesn’t deviate far from the norm.

My Michelle’s solo is probably the best part of the song.  Slash delivers on the growls and double-stops we’ve become so accustomed to by track 7 of this album, but this part of the record hits a bit of a rut, tempo wise.  My Michelle is a decent GNR song, however, in the context of the album, it remains one of the more forgettable tracks on an otherwise dynamite debut.

 

10. Anything Goes

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A song about sex, and blatantly so, Anything Goes is a groovy riffer that you can really shake your hips and headbang to, which is a theme on most of these tracks.  The chorus is a bit bland but is made up for by the main verse and solo, which sees Slash bust out the Vox-Box and do his best “Peter Frampton on heroin” impression.

The groove of this tune, as mentioned above, is infectious and really gets the job done in terms of bringing the sleaze Appetite for Destruction is notorious for.  It may not be a particularly memorable track and is a short one, especially considering it shows up on the back side of the album, where songs routinely clock in at 4 and a half to 5 plus minutes, but Anything Goes is a fun song that encapsulates what GNR was all about in their prime.

 

9. Think About You

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Guns N’ Roses could have left Sweet Child completely off this record, because this track is as close as Appetite for Destruction should have come to ever containing a “ballad.”  Think About You is an upbeat song with a major-minor switch in the verse-chorus and quite heartfelt lyrics but they are masked by a fun riff and a break neck tempo.

What sets this song apart from the others is the soft layering of acoustic arpeggiated chords throughout the chorus.  If you haven’t heard Think About You, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen.  It is a departure from the hedonistic, testosterone pumping anthems found elsewhere in the grooves of this disc, but in a way that still maintains the overall tone of the album.  A ballad done the right way, if you will.

 

8. Welcome To The Jungle

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Sure, you hear this tune each time your favorite football team is warming up on the sideline… And it still gets you pumped every time!  Welcome to the Jungle is a perfect opening number to Appetite because it introduces the listener to everything they will experience on the next 11 tracks: gritty guitars, screeching vocals, and groovy rhythms.

Jungle is a bit overplayed, so it falls to the middle of the pack in terms of rankings, but it differs from Sweet Child in that is still has the grime and sleaze to make you want to come back for more.  Both solos in the song are fun and musically engaging, and Axl is at his snarling best to open this rollercoaster ride.  “You know where you are?” Yes, Axl.  Right where I want to be.

 

7. It’s So Easy

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We’re nearing the top half of this list, so every song from here on out is a personal favorite of mine.  It will be harder to differentiate between certain songs in terms of their rankings but I’ll do my best.  As soon as the bass line hits in the opening of this song, you know you’re in for a wild ride.  It’s So Easy is a classic Guns song and was the opening number on many of their set lists back in their heyday.

The lyrics are especially dark when sung in Axl’s low registry but what really boosts this song is the bridge (repeated again before the outro) where things slow down.  Axl and bassist Duff McKeagan harmonize their vocals and the guitars play some clean, arpeggiated chords.  This is all a wonderful set up, juxtaposing the hardcore breakdown just before the solo.  This track is a fast one and does a great job of linking the commercial banger of Welcome to the Jungle to the grittier tracks of the (in my opinion, superior) front side of the album.  It’s So Easy is vintage Guns N’ Roses from start to finish, so be sure to give it a listen.

 

6. Paradise City

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I’m sure a lot of you thought this song would be number one.  Well, surprise!  Paradise City is a phenomenal song that ticks a lot of boxes in my musical eye: vocal harmonies, key changes, fast solos, layered synths, and a perfect blend of pop and sleaze.  Clocking in at just under 7 minutes, this is Guns N’ Roses’ magnum opus (at least for this album… *cough* November Rain).

Paradise City falters a bit and finds itself towards the middle of these rankings partially because of how often it receives air play.  The song also drags a bit before the first solo and is a bit repetitive for how long it is, but it picks back up after the bridge and delivers the climax everyone is looking for.  This track delivers on multiple accounts and does a fine job of closing out the A side of Appetite for Destruction.

 

5. You’re Crazy

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If you ever needed a a shot of testosterone directly after listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine, is this the song for you!  As the track that immediately follows Sweet Child on Appetite for Destruction, You’re Crazy is saddled with the daunting task of reintroducing the listener to the frenetic pace and bad boy culture of the album.  And does it ever!

This particular cut is one of the fastest songs on Appetite.  The riff is infectious and Steven Addler is drumming his absolute heart out on this one as we can still feel the impact from his snare to this day.  Axl screams and seethes his way through You’re Crazy as he turns in one of his best vocal performances on the record.  A hidden gem on an album chalk full of them, this song is guaranteed to get the blood flowing again as you near the end of the road on the vinyl.

 

4. Rocket Queen

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Appetite for Destruction is one of the few albums I know of that finish with as much of a bang as it started with.  Rocket Queen is a two-parter, with the first half of the song being a raunchy romp through groves of groovy guitars, and the second half being a heartfelt wrap up to a nearly perfect record.  This is one of my favorite GNR songs and it does a great job of presenting the band’s creative ebbs and flows; it shows they can flip the switch from being rock n’ roll badasses to savvy songwriters and back again all within 6 minutes.

Where this song dips a bit is the breakdown in the middle.  Slash does a fine job on slide guitars but Axl decided to sneak in audio of himself in, ahem, mid-coitus to lay over the top of the music.  Legend has it that the woman in question is none other than Steven Adler’s girlfriend at the time, Adriana Smith.  It’s an unnecessary addition to an otherwise perfect Guns song, and every time I hear it I can’t help but feel sorry for Adler. Poor, cuckolded bastard.

 

3. Mr. Brownstone

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I had a particularly brutal time deciding whether to place this song at the number 2 spot or the song I actually placed there, which goes to show how little separation there is to me between the top 3.  Make no mistake about it, Mr. Brownstone is the Real McCoy; this is the song that inspired Axl’s signature snake dance.  And with a riff as groovy as the opening bars to this little ditty, who could blame him.

The guitars in this song are as dance worthy as ever while still maintaining their crunch and requisite “heaviness,” as the lyrics discuss the band’s battle with their drug of choice, heroin.  The blues rock overtones of this track are a perfect fit on Appetite, and Axl’s dirty delivery of the words accentuate the feel of the overarching theme of the song.  Mr. Brownstone keeps knocking and he won’t leave you alone.  And you know what, I’m okay with that.

 

2. Out Ta Get Me

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The band really shines as a whole on this one.  Slash and Izzy take turns really digging their fingers into the fret boards on their guitars, Duff and Adler provide one of the better rhythm tracks on the album, but the one who really makes this song pop throughout is Axl freaking Rose.  His lyrics are defiant and his vocals are wicked as he takes us through a short journey of “hiding out and laying low” from the law.

The overall feel of Out Ta Get Me is fantastic.  You can sense the band really getting into it on this one.  Axl drips with swagger and the boys backing him up do a fantastic service of being the vessel upon which Mr. Rose delivers his sermon.  Out Ta Get Me finds itself as the Oreo cream filling in what is possibly the greatest three track cookie sandwich in hard rock album history.  Mr. Brownstone is one of the sides to this menage a trois, meaning number 1 can only be…

 

1. Nightrain 

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If an alien were to touch down on Earth and only had time to hear one Guns N’ Roses song before he left, I’d sit him down and throw on Nightrain.  It doesn’t get much more quintessential GNR than this song right here.  Nightrain has everything you could ask for as a fan of hard rock:  dueling guitars, mean and nasty lyrics, sweet accentuating bass riffs, and even a damn cowbell intro!

Nightrain swaggers about for over 4 minutes and we wish it would go on twice as long.  The outro solo on this track is worth the price of admission alone and it is even radio friendly, being played on a lot of classic rock stations to this day, in no small part due to the fact that it is one of the few Appetite tracks that doesn’t contain an F-bomb.  This is Guns N Roses at their musical peak and, in my humble opinion, they never recreated the magic quite like they did in 1987.

 

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