4 Sides of the Same Coin: KISS Solo Albums Ranked

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KISS.  Four letters, one kickass band.  If you were alive (no pun intended) in the mid to late 70’s, you know exactly who these 4 gentlemen are.  KISS were a cultural phenomenon back in the 1970’s and for a few brief years it seemed as if they were destined to ride the fame coaster for as long as the theme park was open.  A series of ill-fated career moves, however, derailed the thrill ride for the New York quartet and eventually sent 2 of the key members packing their bags by the turn of the decade.  Chief among those now head-scratching decisions were the TV movie “KISS Meets The Phantom of The Park,” the disco romp “I Was Made For Loving You,” and the toothless Peter Criss penned ballad “Beth.”

It is often argued, though, that the beginning of the end for our favorite men-in-makeup was a decision that seemed almost laughably foolproof at the time.  Let’s set the stage.  The year is 1978 and KISS is soaring to heights even bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who hadn’t achieved.  A 1977 Gallup Poll ranked KISS the number 1 band in America and few could argue.  The boys had just come off selling 4 consecutive platinum records and had just released Alive II, the live album follow-up to Alive, which started the platinum streak only a few years earlier.  Things couldn’t have been going any better, or at least that’s how it seemed to the millions of adoring fans on the outside looking in.  Unbeknownst to almost everyone removed from the inner circle of the band, cracks were starting to form both creatively and personally.

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What is common knowledge today was once a closely guarded secret in 1978: KISS was imploding from the inside thanks in large part to the factions forming within.  On one side, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, two cold blooded and calculated hit makers worried about fame, fortune, and females.  Their allegiances were only to making popular songs and bedding as many women as they could get their leather clad hands on.  On the other side, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, a duo with the propensity to dabble in alcohol and cocaine, respectively, but whose creative chops were often stifled by Lords Stanley and Simmons.  And thus, the die had been cast; Criss and Frehley felt they were being tied down, musically speaking, while Simmons and Stanley believed as if they themselves were the creative forces behind the magic of KISS.

Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons were nothing if not shrewd and intelligent businessmen and they knew if they let Ace and Peter walk at the height of KISS’ popularity, their pocketbooks would take the brunt of the blow.  So, what’s the first thing anyone thinks to do in a failing relationship?  Hire an escort, erm, I mean compromise!

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By the beginning of ’78, the 4 members of KISS each entered the studio separately to record their own “KISS” album.  The 4 records were all uniquely individual and contained (for the most part) a few hidden classics that hardcore KISS fans hold near and dear to their hearts.  Each album represented the 4 musicians’ idea of what a KISS album should sound like.  The records are certainly not created equal and today I’ll be diving into the meat of these LP’s to deliver my rankings from worst to first.  These are rather subjective rankings but I have listened to all four albums end to end and from most of the articles I’ve come across in preparation for writing this ranker, my opinions seem to be pretty congruent to theirs give or take a few observations.  So without any more exposition…

 

4. Peter Criss (The “Weak” One)

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Remember when Rod Stewart went through that cheesy 70’s, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” phase?  Congratulations, that’s Peter Criss almost entirely.  Seriously, the album reeks of equal parts 70’s schlock and old-time rock n roll tunes that sound like Bob Seger cast-offs.  I guess there really isn’t anything wrong with that but still, this is the drummer for KISS we are talking about here, not some second rate lounge singer/disco chump.  I read the reviews for this one before listening to it and I was still shocked at how wimpy it sounded.  Just imagine the ire of a denim-clad high school stoner when he opens the shrink wrap on Christmas morning expecting a kickass American hard rock staple only to find this.

Highlights:

Not many, if we are being frank.  “That’s The Kind of Sugar Papa Likes,” moronic title notwithstanding, is a passable rockabilly tune but beyond that there isn’t much to get excited about.  I turned the album off about 3 tracks in and just looked up which songs got the most praise.  I know, not exactly journalistic integrity but I’m writing this on a WordPress blog, so I wasn’t about to sit through Peter Criss for free.

Lowlights: 

The entire album, as noted in the above paragraphs, has this whole “70’s R&B/Rod Stewart moonlighting as a lounge singer” feel to it.  I read somewhere that Criss was a few years older than the rest of his KISS brethren and his tastes were more 50’s doo-wop than hard rock.  If that is indeed the case, this album shows it from start to finish.  If you’re into that sort of thing, then this record isn’t necessarily bad, but from a KISS fan’s perspective it certainly doesn’t live up to the lofty expectations set by the previous albums the band released.  Whether that is a fair or unfair remains to be seen, but going into listening to this album with expectations set to “hard rock banger,” I was greatly disappointed.

 

3. Gene Simmons (The “Meh” One)

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I listened to this album in its entirety on the ride home from work the other day and initially I was pleasantly surprised.  A good portion of the time I found myself bopping along to the tunes on Gene Simmons, which consisted of what sounded like Simmons fronting an ELO cover-band and Beatles B-team love child.  But then as soon as I exited the car, I had forgotten pretty much every song I had heard.  This is one of the most mediocre albums I’ve ever listened to.  The entire record is filled with overdone pop-rock jaunts with way too many cooks in the kitchen.  On any song you can find strings, a piano, and perhaps even a B-list Hollywood celebrity (seriously, Katie Sagal from Married With Children does backing vocals for a track on this LP).  It’s a passable album and I made it all the way through without having to shut it off (a feat I can’t claim with the lowest album on this list) but it isn’t what I was expecting from The God of Thunder himself.

Highlights:

The album, as a whole, is a very average 70’s rock affair, and that isn’t a bad thing, per say.  “Radioactive” is a great opening track, copycat chorus aside (no kidding, this song sounds a near lawsuit level of similar to “Plaster Caster” from KISS’ Love Gun and if it wasn’t for the fact that Gene was one of the writers on that song, I think a court case could be made).  “Tunnel of Love” and “See You In Your Dreams” are both deliciously 70’s rock in all the right ways as well.  There may not be any super memorable tracks off this LP but it gets the job done as a “listenable” effort from Mr. Simmons.

Lowlights:

And therein lies the problem: the album is “listenable” but not very memorable.  I honestly had to revisit the record while writing just to pick out my highlights and lowlights, and I had just recently heard the album a short time before.  “Living in Sin” has about as laughable an intro as you can imagine, with Simmons giving a breathy soliloquy containing gems like “I know you write my sexy letters” in a low growl.  The song isn’t great enough to make up for such a transgression.  And I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room… “When You Wish Upon A Star” appears on this thing.  Yeah, the Disney song!  It sounds just as awkward coming from Mr. Conquerer of 1,000 Women as you’d imagine and the album ends with that dud resonating throughout your eardrums.  All in all, Gene Simmons is a messy effort that holds up decently but don’t go diving through bargain bins expecting a gem.

 

2. Paul Stanley (The “Safe” One)

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Let me just start off by saying this is a really good album.  I’ll stop just short of great, but Paul Stanley is a fun power-pop effort that Stanley swaggers about on from track to track.  You can tell he really had fun being the man in charge as every song is about no-strings-attached sex and cheap thrills, exactly what you’d expect from the androgynous ladies man.  The Star Child explores his writing prowess and although there are no standouts save for “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me” and “Tonight You Belong To Me,” the album is fun and engaging.  The only reason I refer to it as “safe” is that it sounds almost too much like a KISS album, both to its benefit and detriment.

Highlights:

Stanley’s love for power-pop and hooky songwriting takes center stage on quite a number of tracks on this LP, but specifically “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me.”  This song is energetic and anthemic from start to finish and it just sounds like it was a blast to write and record.  “Tonight You Belong To Me” is another wonderful frolic through power-pop town, complete with acoustic guitars gracing the intro before blasting into a full blown rocker, a la “Black Diamond.”  Fun is a word that gets thrown around often when describing Paul Stanley and it is justified, as this record offers plenty of entertaining moments throughout.

Lowlights:

The album has an almost “routine” feel to it in certain parts, thanks to the preceding KISS records Stanley was a huge part of making.  Paul Stanley’s solo effort has KISS elements to it, which isn’t always a bad thing, but more often than not the album feels like it’s been done before.  I love KISS and I love Paul Stanley, but his solo album drags in certain parts and sometimes feels too “KISS-y” for its own good.  Don’t let that discourage you from giving this record a listen, but don’t expect to be floored from the needle drop all the way to the grooves on the B-side.

 

 

1. Ace Frehley (The “Holy *%@#” One)

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Thank GOD for the Space Ace!  Where the other 3 albums felt too much or too little like KISS, this mad scientist of a songwriter found the happy valley between the two extremes.  Almost every track on this record is unique and entertaining without straying too far from the KISS secret formula: loud, ballsy guitar riffs? Check!  Entertaining albeit nonsensical lyrics? Check plus!  Detached yet endearing delivery from a coked up, surprisingly swaggering front man?  Big check there!  Ace Frehley brings the heat on his solo album and it was here that he solidified himself as my favorite (and many other’s favorite) member of KISS.

Highlights:

Ace starts things off with a bang, as “Rip It Out” is both sneakily heavy and surprisingly anthemic.  Other stalwarts like “Speeding Back To My Baby” and “Snowblind” have us questioning why Ace wasn’t given more creative control in the early days of KISS.  One of the true beauties of this effort is also one of the most simple tracks on the LP, Frehley’s romping rendition of “New York Groove,” a cover tune originally written by glam outfit Hello.  It captures Ace at his finest, an aloof yet dangerously potent rocker, and actually almost makes me want to visit a city I despise.  Frehley rips through each of these tracks like a man with something to prove, and we the listeners are all the beneficiaries.  Listen to this album however you can, because it can easily be considered one of the greatest KISS records ever produced, regardless of whether the rest of the band was behind Space Ace or not.

Lowlights:

One word: “Ozone.”  It just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the tracks on the album and is missing the requisite energy and hunger of songs like “Rip It Out,” where you can feel Ace oozing confidence and unbridled stamina (possibly with cocaine involved too).  This really is the lone black mark on an otherwise magnificent hard rock banger from Ace Frehley.  This is without a doubt the clear winner of the 4 solo albums and as I stated in the previous paragraph, is my favorite KISS record along with Love Gun.  

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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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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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Dragon Blog Z: Ranking The Sagas

Your inner nerd is showing, Rankster…

Dragon Ball Z.  To a kid who came of age in the 90’s and early 2000’s, this show might as well have been a surrogate parent.  Had a bad day at school?  DBZ was all ears.  Miss that game winning shot in recess basketball?  Goku was there to let you know its okay to fail, as long as you picked yourself back up and tried even harder the next time.

Disclaimer: I’m far from an anime geek.  Dragon Ball Z, however, offered the widest possible net to boys growing up in the decade of Bill Clinton and The Spice Girls.  You didn’t have to be a nerd to like the show.  Hell, I know juiced up frat guys who will unabashedly exclaim DBZ is still, to this day their favorite TV show.  Dragon Ball Z was for EVERYONE.

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It almost seems like sacrilege trying to rank the 4 major sagas from the original show, but I’m gonna give it the old college try (and after the Star Wars ranker, this one feels like a cake walk).

You’re used to the scoring system by now: 5 categories ranked 1 to 10 with an aggregate score added up at the end.  Those categories are as follows:

Plot: Is the plot unique and engaging?  Does it introduce us to new and exciting twists?

Fight Scenes:  How fun are the fight scenes?  Do they overstay their welcome or does each fight feel fresh and innovative?

Entertainment:  Is the saga as a whole entertaining?  Not just the fight scenes, but all scenes?

Characters:  Are there any new characters introduced and if so, are they interesting (both heroes and villains)?  Are the established characters expanded upon at all?

Miscellaneous:  This refers heavily to the soundtrack but also other details like art style and atmosphere of the saga (for the purposes of this list we will be using the Funimation Dub and the Bruce Faulconer scored soundtrack).

Take it from me, this wasn’t easy.  And just because I ranked a saga at the bottom doesn’t mean I don’t like it.  I am a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, and there can only be one “best saga.”  With that in mind, take off your weighted training gear, power up your scouters, and power up as we pick apart an all time classic.  Starting with…

 

4. The Saiyan Saga: 37/50 (74%)

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Plot: 8/10 – As with most TV shows, the plot to the first season is relatively the worst.  Dragon Ball Z is no exception.  The Saiyan saga does well in that it introduces the (then) bombshell of Goku belonging to an outer space warrior race called the Saiyans.  The subsequent invasion of Earth by Saiyans Radditz (Goku’s evil brother), Nappa, and Vegeta for the Dragon Balls is played nicely, with suspense and intrigue building as each episode passes before the latter two land on Earth.  Back story is given to most of the major characters (chiefly Goku and son Gohan) and we are even given glimpses into how much of a tyrant Vegeta can be.  It is a fun intro to the series, but the plots get better as the show goes on.

Fight Scenes: 8/10 – The Saiyan Saga is the weak link when it comes to fight sequences in the series but there are a few high points.  Goku and ex-rival Piccolo teaming up against Radditz is an excellent battle that sets the tone for the entire series within the first few episodes and the entire Z-squad sans Goku trying to take on Vegeta’s lackey Nappa creates a sense of bewilderment at just how much stronger these aliens are than our heroes at the time.  But the battle that really boosts this section’s score is Goku vs Vegeta, and specifically their beam struggle early in the fight.  The Saiyan Saga was the prototype to just how wild these fight scenes could get and does a good job of getting us hooked early in the show.

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Entertainment: 7.5/10 – “Filler” is a word you will often find attached to Dragon Ball Z, much like an unwanted parasite.  While the quantity of filler may not match, say, the Cell Saga, it feels much more unnecessary here than it does there.  There is an entire episode devoted to Gohan getting lost in the woods during his training with Piccolo and the infamous Snake Way sees Goku literally running to his training destination in the after life for what seems like an eternity.  The Z-fighters getting trained by Kami (Earth’s guardian) added some depth to the saga, but this season seems to falter a ever so slightly in this category.  All that said, this is still a fun saga on the whole.

Characters: 7/10 – The characters in this saga (unless you watched Dragon Ball) are brand new.  The show does a good job of fleshing them out for the most part but unless read or saw Dragon Ball prior to Dragon Ball Z, you were left with some questions about these characters.  Piccolo is often referred to as Goku’s rival, but here he is training Goku’s son, Gohan, after he dies.  Aside from slight confusion at times, these characters are fun and each has their own personalities we learn to love as the show progresses: Goku is protective and kind, Piccolo is cunning and hard nosed but has a kind soul deep down, Krillin is loyal and brave, and Gohan is young but ultimately houses a hidden power that is yet untapped.

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Misc: 6.5/10 – This category falls a bit flat for a number of reasons.  For starters and perhaps most superficially on my part, composer Bruce Faulconer had not been introduced to the series yet so the songs take a significant hit.  The atmosphere of this saga tries to project doom and gloom mixed with suspense but when stacked up against those that follow, the Saiyan Saga doesn’t have as much bite to it.  The art style is adequate but not quite as rich as the following sagas, which can be attributed to how early in the show this saga appears.

 

3. Buu Saga: 41/50 (82%)

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Plot: 7.5/10 – While the Saiyan saga was the first saga in the series and took a minimalist approach to plot points, the Buu Saga (the final chapter in Dragon Ball Z) is often cited as a slight jumping of the shark.  There are many twists, turns, and sub-plots to follow throughout, including a grown up Gohan attending high school and fighting crime as the Great Saiyaman (groan).  The plot is centered around a dead Goku (yes, again) getting to come back to Earth for 24 hours to fight in the World’s Martial Arts Tournament.  This piques an evil wizard named Babidi’s interest as he is trying to resurrect an ancient beast named Majin Buu.  This score gets a slight boost thanks to the sub-plot of Goku and Vegeta rekindling their rivalry and ultimately becoming friends as the series comes to a close.

Fight Scenes: 9.5/10 – Oh boy! The Buu Saga’s plot may have been a bit loose, but the fight sequences in this story arc are some of the best the series has to offer.  A personal favorite of mine goes to Vegeta and Goku’s grudge match, as both warriors are evenly matched and going blow for blow, all to settle an age old score while the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.  Goku and Vegeta teaming up and fusing into Vegito to take on Buu offers another great fight scene as well.  Overall, the Buu Saga delivers on all accounts action.

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Entertainment: 8.5/10 – This particular arc gives us a lot of fun scenes leading up to the day of the World’s Martial Arts Tournament (and subsequent fight with Majin Buu).  We get to see Gohan training for the tournament with rival-turned-love-interest, Videl, as well as with his younger brother, Goten, whom Goku’s wife ChiChi gave birth to shortly after our heroes death in the Cell saga.  The setup to the main villain reveal is quite entertaining and there’s a certain level of suspense added throughout the second half of the saga.  The interactions between characters are fun, albeit a bit shallow.  They are mainly there to remind us these guys are all good friends as they wax nostalgically about past adventures.  It hits home and does a good job of keeping us into it while there is no fighting happening.

Characters: 8/10 – The Buu saga does a really good job of not only introducing new characters but also making us care about them.  Goku’s kid Goten is fun and lighthearted, reminding us of his father when he was a youngster in Dragon Ball.  We also get introduced to this timeline’s Trunks (more on that in the Cell Saga), who is Vegeta’s son.  Both of these two make for interesting characters and have major roles in the plot.  Even Videl is important and multi-dimensional, as she goes from Gohan’s rival to love interest.  Where the character section takes a hit is in the villain category.  Majin Buu is nothing more than a beast without a conscious; he destroys for the sake of destruction.  Unlike the other villains in the series who posses their own motives and characteristics, Buu is essentially a child who views destroying the universe as a big game.

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Misc: 7.5/10 – One thing no one will ever accuse the Buu saga of is a bad art style.  The colors in this saga are as rich as ever and everything pops visually.  While Bruce Faulconer’s music is good here (and even great in some parts) it fails to capture the magic of the two sagas preceding it.  As far as atmosphere is concerned, the stakes are so high that we as viewers feel like we should be more concerned but we aren’t.  It goes back to the whole jumping the shark thing the saga has going for it.  By the end of the saga, Buu can destroy entire solar systems by raising a finger.  This removes that personal feeling and ruins the atmosphere as the saga comes to a close.

 

2. Frieza Saga: 45/50 (90%)

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Plot: 9/10 – Anyone who’s a fan of DBZ knows the series started when Radditz landed on Earth in episode 1.  But we all know the series really hit its stride when Krillin and Gohan boarded a spaceship bound for Namek in search of new Dragon Balls at the start of the Frieza saga.  As far as I’m concerned, the plot to the Frieza saga is nearly perfect.  The Z warriors (at least the ones who survived the battle with Nappa and Vegeta) travel to Namek (Piccolo’s home planet) in search of Dragon Balls to replace Earth’s after Kami died, rendering the balls inert.  Vegeta and Frieza follow them to Namek separately and a three way hunt for the balls commences.  The Frieza saga does a great job of pacing here and the way everyone’s story starts to become intertwined is brilliant.  The teasing of the legendary Super Saiyan kept our intrigue as youngsters and when Goku is finally the one to achieve it, we all felt like we were right there with him.  Bringing space travel into the fray seemed to be the next logical step, so the writers took it.  And we thank them for it.

Fight Scenes: 8.5/10 – Some of the best fight sequences take place smack dab in the middle of the saga when Frieza calls in his special forces, The Ginyu Squad, to take care of Gohan, Krillin, and a newly (and begrudgingly) added Vegeta.  Once Goku arrives to help, we see him easily and entertainingly dispatch of the Ginyus in some of the most unique and fun fight scenes in the saga.  The battle between Frieza and Goku is insanely long and holds the distinction of being the longest battle in the series, taking a staggering 18 episodes in total to complete.  It starts to drag before Goku turns Super Saiyan, so that knocks the score down slightly here.

Entertainment: 9/10 – The entire Frieza saga offers genuine intrigue and is engaging throughout its entirety.  The best part about this particular arc is how the stakes progressively raise as the saga inches forward: our heroes start out trying to outfox Vegeta, then team up with him after Frieza and the Ginyu Force emerges until finally Goku is the only one left to try and stop the tyrant from ruling the galaxy.  The fun rarely stops in this saga and its just as suspenseful the 10th time watching as it was the 1st.

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Characters: 9/10 – Two characters absolutely make this saga what it is: Frieza and Vegeta. Frieza is by far the best villain the series has to offer (tied with a certain lab experiment we will get to shortly) and has all the depth and character to play a tyrannical galactic overlord you could want.  We hate Frieza from the minute he steals his first dragon ball to his last dying breath on Namek.  Vegeta’s character takes a different approach.  After the Saiyan saga, Vegeta has been defeated by Goku and seeks revenge.  But as the Frieza saga continues on, we see Vegeta forced to put his differences with the Z fighters aside, first out of necessity and then out of sheer ambivalence.  Vegeta slowly goes from antagonist to anti-hero and a favorite anti-hero at that.  These two alone absolutely carry the saga.

Misc: 9.5/10 – Because of contract disputes and such with Ocean, Funimation took over the dubbing of Dragon Ball Z halfway through this saga.  And thank GOD they did because it meant two things: Sean Schemmel voiced Goku and inadvertently became the voice of an entire generation’s childhood and perhaps even more importantly, Bruce Faulconer started doing the scores for the soundtrack.  Faulconer’s tracks add such a layer to the atmosphere of the saga that I couldn’t imagine this arc with any other music. Seriously, stop reading this right now, go to YouTube and type in “Bruce Faulconer Ginyu Force Theme.”  Even if you’ve never seen the show before, does that track not make you feel like you could run through a brick wall?  That’s the first song we ever hear of Faulconer’s in this saga, and he tops it repeatedly throughout the series.  Hats off to you, Bruce.  My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without you.

 

1. Cell Saga: 47/50 (94%)

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Plot: 10/10 – Bait and switch where we think Frieza is the main villain of this saga only to be destroyed within the first 4 episodes? Check.  Mysterious warrior from the future aiding the Z warriors and warning of larger threats looming? Check.  Villain arriving in a stolen time machine created for revenge on Goku? Big check.  Yep, the Cell saga has it all. This story arc introduced time travel and the split timeline principle almost seamlessly, even to me as a nine year old at the time.  Having Trunks (Vegeta’s son yet to be born) come from the future where all hope is lost and warn the current timeline’s fighters about their fate was a wonderful plot twist and introducing us to the androids as the big bad of the saga only to have Cell come seemingly out of nowhere made for a perfect maze of plots that got complex but never too bloated.

Fight Scenes: 9/10 – Piccolo’s initial fight with Imperfect Cell is an entertaining one, but his subsequent fight with Android 17 as Cell closes in on them is perfection in terms of action.  Goku’s fight with Perfect Cell during the Cell Games to decide the fate of the world is one of the best fights the series has to offer and Gohan’s final beam struggle with Cell after Goku fails is as tense as it gets.  The series peaked during the Cell saga in multiple ways, and fighting was certainly one of them.

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Entertainment: 9/10 – Because of all the plot twists happening (Trunks being from the future, Cell being the real villain, Vegeta allowing Cell to absorb the androids to become complete) the Cell saga is entertaining in that it keeps us constantly guessing.  Even when there isn’t a battle happening, the story is engaging enough that we don’t need the constant visual stimulation of well animated fight scenes.  Goku and Gohan bond while training, we discover more about Vegeta and why he doesn’t accept Future Trunks as his son, and we even see Cell evolve from a power hungry villain in pursuit of perfection to the cold and calculating yet arrogant final form we see in the above picture (far right).  The writers hit all the spots and keep us wanting more after every episode.

Characters: 9/10 – The villains in this saga are brilliant.  Dr. Gero is the creator of the androids and Cell, and he only does so because he holds a grudge against Goku from way back in the original Dragon Ball.  The Androids only destroy because they are bored, and Cell only absorbs them because he is programmed to do so in order to achieve his final form.  But beyond that, Cell’s motives are that of a Saiyan in that he starts the Cell games not only to destroy but to test his might against worthy opponents.  Its a nice twist to the “villain motive motif.”  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Future Trunks here, who adds a nice element of hubris to contrast his father Vegeta’s cocky disposition.  They compliment each other nicely and really add to the character development in this saga.

Misc: 10/10 – The art style is fantastic in the Cell saga but what makes this score a 10 is Faulconer.  He is at his absolute best in this story arc.  Every song he composes guides our feelings accordingly: Cell’s theme is slow and brooding, the training theme used in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber is pensive and thought provoking, and the song that plays as each Z fighter remembers their favorite thing about Goku after he sacrifices himself to save the Earth is moving but not in a somber way.  All of Faulconer’s tracks give a huge boost to the atmosphere of the saga and every time I watch this particular arc, I’m moved in all sorts of ways, from nostalgia to excitement.  A perfect arc for a “perfect” villain.

 

My Rankings:

Sagas –

4. Buu

3. Saiyan

2. Frieza

1. Cell

 

Characters –

5. Gohan

4. Piccolo

3. Cell

2. Vegeta

1. Goku

 

 

 

 

 

Every Star Wars Film Ranked

Trigger Warning: I’m ranking Star Wars films.

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When I started this blog not too long ago, I never thought of myself as a sucker for pain.  After this undertaking, I’m sure I suffer from some sort of sadomasochism.  What other explanation is there for actually WANTING to rank every film in a series that owns some of the most obnoxiously opinionated fans in the business?  But I digress…

When ranking Star Wars movies, it’s important to remember there is no consensus.  Not everyone will agree The Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series, nor will it be universally agreed upon that Attack of the Clones is the worst.  I’m fully prepared for everything you guys have to offer me.  After James Bond and Van Halen, the discussions have been tame.  I’m looking forward to this one getting a bit testy.

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As with the other blog posts, the same rules apply: 5 categories for each film ranked from 1 to 10.  An aggregate score will be tallied up at the end and each film will be ranked accordingly.  The categories are as follows:

Plot: How engaging is the plot of the film? Is it easy to follow?

Characters: Are the characters interesting? Does the film develop them well? Are you attached to them by the end of the film?

Action: How satisfying are the action scenes? This accounts for both lightsaber battles and battles taking place in the air/in space.

Legacy: Is the film well received? Do both fans and critics enjoy this film?

Entertainment: Does the film entertain? Does it dip at all in certain points?

I can’t stress this enough, I’m trying to be as unbiased as possible, so don’t shoot the messenger.  With that being said let’s jump right into it, with a film in dead last most of you should have seen coming…

 

8. Attack of the Clones (2002): 25.5/50 (51%)

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Plot: 5/10 – This movie is generally regarded as the low water mark of the series, and one of the reasons for this is the lackluster plot (among other things).  The political overtones of the series continue to be found here (something the prequels routinely get pounded for) and do a poor job in terms of pacing the movie along.  There are some generic twists thrown in involving Count Dooku and Jengo Fett that anyone could have seen coming.  But the elephant in the room we have yet to address is the love story developing between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amedala.  The romance is forced and the dialogue is groan-worthy, leaving many feeling like they paid good money for a ticket to The Notebook In Space.

Characters: 5/10 – Attack of the Clones’ character development piggybacks off of its predecessor, The Phantom Menace, in that most of its characters are returning from the first movie.  Most of the characters in AOTC , however, seem to have regressed from Phantom Menace to now.  Anakin goes from an annoying kid to a whiny teenager, and Padme goes from a strong woman in a position of power to playing hard to get with the aforementioned Skywalker.  Obi Wan Kenobi is one of the only characters who really has any depth in this movie and even then his character isn’t developed upon while he’s being sent on a wild goose chase halfway through the episode.  Oh and Jar Jar Binks returns, which can only drag this score down even more.

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Action: 7/10 – What AOTC lacks in plot and character development, it seems to make up for in action.  Don’t get me wrong, this is run of the mill Star Wars fare, but in this movie it is a welcome change from Obi Wan’s espionage and the not-so-edge-of-your-seat “will they, won’t they” subplot of Padme and Anakin.  The lightsaber fights are fun, albeit a bit over-choreographed, and the battle of the clone soldiers against the droids is a highlight of an otherwise dull film.

Legacy: 4/10 – There’s no getting around this one.  Even at the time of its release, AOTC was universally panned and time has done this movie no favors.  The film finds itself smack dab in the middle of an “un-rennaisance” of Star Wars films, where the prequels squashed most fans’ excitement about the direction of the series.  The movie feels bloated and silly and even if you remove the now infamous 2nd act of Anakin trying desperately to lose his Jedi virginity, the movie is just a bland space adventure with decent action and bad writing.

Entertainment: 4.5/10 – Aside from the action sequences mentioned above, AOTC doesn’t exactly get the blood flowing when it comes to the entertainment factor.  I saw this movie in theaters when I was 9 years old and the memory is still as fresh in my mind as it ever was.  The line Anakin delivers with tears in his eyes, “are you suffering as much as I am,” actually drew laughter from a few in my theater.  Skip this movie unless you are a diehard Star Wars fan looking to make a run through the series.

 

7.  Revenge of the Sith (2005): 29.5/50 (59%)

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Plot: 6/10 – A plot that only ever so slightly improves upon Episode II, Revenge of the Sith shows us Anakin Skywalker’s final heel turn to the Dark Side of the Force.  It is interesting, in theory, but Episode III’s story fumbles about quite a bit throughout the movie’s run time.  Anakin’s shift in allegiance is supposed to feel like a slow set up but in less than 10 minutes he goes from questioning whether he should turn in Emperor Palpetine (the bad guy) and mowing down a school of Jedi children.  It would be jarring if it weren’t so laughably inconsistent.  The other plots involving the Jedi council and Anakin are mildly interesting and engaging, but once again we are presented with a twist that most viewers should have seen coming.

Characters: 5/10 – Again, ROTS takes characters from a previous film and messes around with them for 2 hours.  Anakin’s walk toward the Dark Side doesn’t make him a tragic character that we feel sympathy towards, he just comes off as kind of a douche.  Padme furthers her change from a woman in power to an ultimately forgettable character only good for birthing the main protagonists of the next three films.  The characters in this film don’t have any stand out moments and if this wasn’t a Star Wars movie they’d be forgotten by most.

Action: 7/10 – Much like AOTC, Episode III’s bread and butter is action.  The plot is hard to follow at times and the characters are mostly average, but the action is fun and holds up nicely, with particular praise going out to the final battle between Obi Wan and Anakin.  There are space battles involved that give this section a little color and some needed boost, but its mostly run of the mill dogfighting.  Aside from that, this is your typical, generic sci-fi/action movie.

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Legacy: 6/10 – So it doesn’t hold the dubious distinction of being the series’ worst like AOTC, but its no Citizen Kane either.  Most fans will generally agree this is their favorite Star Wars prequel, but that’s a lot like saying ROTS is the skinniest kid at fat camp (do they still do fat camp?).  While the movie was generally well received upon its release, time has done the film few favors, as fans have found more and more holes in the plot and dialogue.  Ultimately, not the most memorable of Star Wars adventures

Entertainment: 5.5/10 – ROTS has some entertaining moments about it and is a bit of a step in the right direction from AOTC, with the lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi Wan (see above) being the pinnacle of excitement in the film.  Other than that and a few space dogfight scenes, Episode III delivers minimally in terms of entertainment.  If you’re looking to pop in a movie and be taken for an exciting ride, find another installment in the series.

 

6. The Phantom Menace (1999): 30.5/50 (61%)

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Plot: 5/10 – Perhaps it is the fact that this is the first of the prequels, but a lot of what Star Wars did in this film still felt fresh at the time of its release.  That being said, this movie’s plot is confusing and ultimately hard to sit through.  The politics we see being thrown at us throughout the movie are tropes seen throughout the prequels and really bog the movie down.  There is just too much being stuffed in this movie to make the plot accessible to the viewers.  Between midochlorians, Sith Lords, and political jargon our heads are all spinning within the first hour of this movie.

Characters: 6/10 – Of all the prequels to try their hands at character development, this one came the closest to getting it right.  The Phantom Menace still falls well short in this category when being compared to the franchise as a whole, though.  The main villain in the movie has next to no speaking lines and not much backstory is given on him (I’m assuming to add to his mystique, but it just doesn’t work here).  The one character given the most developmental effort is young Anakin and by the end of the movie we can’t stand him.  Qui Gon and Obi Wan are interesting characters that give this section a much needed boost, but this is also the movie guilty of introducing Jar Jar Binks to the unsuspecting public. Thanks!

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Action: 7.5/10 – An otherwise boring film gets a massive boost from a single scene: the climactic lightsaber duel between the Jedi and Darth Maul.  Seriously, I saw this movie when I was 7 years old and immediately HAD to have a lightsaber.  I nearly crapped my pants watching the choreography set to John Williams’ “Duel of Fates.”  Other than that, don’t expect much else.  Even the space battles seem to drag a bit in this film.  Save your enthusiasm for the last 20 minutes of this movie, you’ll need it.

Legacy: 6/10 – This movie benefits quite a bit from being the first Star Wars film of the prequels in that people were still doe-eyed and ready for anything.  So after the film was less than stellar, the public was less than pleased.  After the next installment came out, however, I think fans started to embrace this film as the anti-Episode II.  Time has done this movie a bit of good, so Phantom Menace gets a mercifully favorable score in this section.

Entertainment: 6/10 – The Podracing scenes are fun, and the “Duel of Fates” lightsaber battle will keep you enthralled, but aside from a few instances, this is one of the more snooze worthy Star Wars adventures.  Politics aside, you’ll find yourself being engaged from time to time, however the film is more hit than miss.  The score gets only a slight boost thanks to the action scenes.

 

5. Rogue One (2016): 35/50 (70%)

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Plot: 8/10 – Brownie points for an original plot, as Rogue One trots out a story few outside of the fanbase of the extended universe were truly aware of.  The tale of how the Death Star plans were stolen was a talking point for many years before this movie came out (and was a talking point after the fact, as many EU fans complained about the authenticity of the story).  It was quite refreshing to see a plot that wasn’t the typical Star Wars story, as Rogue One focused on the doomed squadron that stole the Death Star plans from the Empire.

Characters: 6/10 – Rogue One had the potential to make their mark in this category, but ultimately the characters feel a bit flat, and one dimensional.  The characters are engaging but don’t get very much development.  It doesn’t help its cause in the fact that (spoiler alert) all the characters we become attached to die in the end.  The one shining beacon in this section goes to K2-SO, the mouthy droid that stole our hearts… and then died at the end.

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Action: 9/10 – This film nails the action aspect.  There is espionage if you’re into that, blaster battles if you’re into that, and even dog-fighting.  For everything this movie lacks in getting you to fall in love with the characters, it more than makes up for in the non-stop action.  Rogue One is a thrill ride that rarely stops, so action is something this installment has in spades.

Legacy: 5/10 – I said in my James Bond ranker that Daniel Craig scores poorly in the legacy category mainly because of how wet behind the ears he is in playing the part.  The same principle applies here, as Rogue One has been around for the better part of four months as of this ranker being written.  This film has legions of fans (and detractors) that it has accumulated in its short shelf life and has a positive score amongst critics, but being around for less time than an average Hollywood marriage lasts bumps the legacy score down a bit for “A Star Wars Story.”

Entertainment: 7/10 – Rogue is entertaining in the sense that the story is unique and engaging and the action is “popcorn flick” worthy.  Theres nothing outlandish that makes this score any higher or lower; ultimately this movie was more forgettable than its 2010’s counterpart, The Force Awakens.  Don’t clear your schedule for Rogue One, but if its on TV, give it a hard look.

 

4. The Force Awakens (2015): 39/50 (78%)

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Plot: 7.5/10 – Ah, The Force Awakens:  an exciting tale about a vagabond from a desert planet with strange connections to the Force tasked by destiny to stop the forces of evil while being aided by a cute, miniature droid.  It was an engaging plot and a fun story, but stop me if you’ve heard that before.  Yes, TFA is an excellent movie and a return to form for the franchise.  But perhaps it was a bit too much of a return.  I hear a lot of people complain about TFA ripping its plot completely from A New Hope.  I have no qualms with this because the movie was great, but for the purposes of scoring, “plagiarism” is going to knock this one down from the “great” to “very good” category.

Characters: 7.5/10 – See above… Kidding of course, but a similar ruling may apply here.  TFA borrows heavily from the New Hope formula, but the main characters are different enough that it doesn’t feel disingenuous.  Rey is different from Luke in that she’s a lot less whiny than our original hero was in Episode IV, and having Finn be a defector from the First Order was a nice and different touch.  However, the other characters are a bit too “New Hope” for this score to be any higher than it is.

Action: 9/10 – The lightsaber fights are crisp without the burden of being over choreographed like the prequels and the space battles really take advantage of having the CGI technology to finally make them believable enough.  But honestly, the gravy of this movie and what jumps this score way up is one scene: Rey stalling the Millennium Falcon so Finn can shoot the Tie Fighter!  Seriously, who didn’t get white knuckles watching that scene?  I’m getting goosebumps just typing about it.

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Legacy: 6/10 – Much like Rogue One, TFA gets the short end of the stick for being the new kid on the block.  It is slightly more well received than Rogue One, if only for being an above average film in the series after the mess that was the prequels, so it gets a bit higher of a score in the legacy department.  Not much else to say here other than this number would probably be astronomical if I was writing this 15 years from now.

Entertainment: 9/10 – TFA was a supremely entertaining movie that had everything going for it: exciting action, a fun plot, and solid characters that we as an audience can get behind from the get-go.  I saw this movie twice in theaters and loved it even better the second time.  It’s worth the price of admission and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it (it’s so choice).

 

3. A New Hope (1977): 40.5/50 (81%)

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Plot: 8/10 – The movie that started a cultural phenomenon, A New Hope is where all of this hysteria can be traced back to.  The plot at the time was unique, and the only reason this score isn’t a 10 is because (be it fair or not) the story template has been recreated many times over the years.  When compared to its followers in the series, it is a bit bland, but pop A New Hope in and it will be like you’re watching it for the first time.  It never gets old.

Characters: 7.5/10 – The ensemble in A New Hope is the original Star Wars group; this is who we all think of when someone utters those two words.  It seems a bit harsh to give this section a 7.5 seeing as how this film is essentially the guinea pig, but look closely:  Luke is a complete brat, whiny and impulsive, throughout the entire movie, Leia is similarly annoying in her constant backseat driving throughout the entirety of the film, and even Darth Vader is given minimal screen time, albeit to establish himself more for the later installments.  The characters are good, but they get better in the years to follow, so I feel 7.5 is an adequate score.

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Action: 7/10 – I often criticize this film for having a single bland lightsaber fight and very “samey” space battle scenes, but it was 1977 after all.  That being said, the action sequences feel like a vehicle to further the plot, and they aren’t particularly memorable save for the final Death Star explosion scene.  Long story short, watch this one for the entertaining plot and story, not the sexy lightsaber duels.

Legacy: 9.5/10 – Like I said above, this is the one that got this crazy train rolling.  Everything about this film has been copied and even spoofed in successful sci-fi films (Spaceballs, anyone?).  Words can’t do this film justice when it comes to the footprint it has left in the film industry, but it definitely isn’t the most mythical of the Star Wars films (that comes later).

Entertainment: 8.5/10 – A classic popcorn flick, A New Hope delivers solidly in the entertainment factor.  It loses some points for the relative lack of action, but when you watch A New Hope, you are still engaged pretty much across the board.  There are more entertaining Star Wars installments, but don’t skip this one.  Episode IV has enough thrills to keep you coming back again and again.

 

2. The Empire Strikes Back (1980): 43/50 (86%)

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Plot: 9/10 – Ooh, triggered yet? All jokes aside, The Empire Strikes Back takes the classic plot from Episode IV and expands upon it.  New worlds are visited and story lines go deeper.  The twist of Darth Vader being Luke’s father is one of the seminal moments in cinema history, and Lando turning Han Solo in makes for an interesting sub plot of betrayal.  Luke being trained in the arts of the Force by Yoda adds to the story’s depth, and the cliffhangers presented at the end of the film are well done and make us want to come back for more.

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Characters: 8/10 – Again, this movie takes Episode IV’s characters and adds some serious depth to all of them.  Luke becomes more of a man and learns there are consequences for his actions, even though he is still flawed in this film.  At the same time, Han shows us he is a cocky pilot but cares deeply for his friends, and even Leia becomes more sympathetic and a bit more of the bad ass we all eventually know her as.  Its A New Hope character development on steroids and its why this is one of the best films in the series.

Action: 7.5/10 – With an increased budget and a few years advancements in technology came a slightly more exciting film than A New Hope.  The battle on planet Hoth is a high point in the film and the lightsaber battle between Luke and Daddy Darth is roughly 6,000 times more exciting than the limp noodle, viagra allegory that was Obi Wan’s fate sealing stand off with Vader. TESB still shows its age a bit in parts, but the action holds up better than its predecessor.

Legacy: 10/10 – This is considered by (almost) everyone to be the best film in series history and one of the greatest films of all time.  Most fans will defend this film to their last breath, and for good reason… Its phenomenal.  Not my personal favorite due to how bleak it is for the second half and the cliff hangers (I like my endings spoon fed to me, thank you very much), but even I can’t argue the impact this film has made on the genre.

Entertainment: 8.5/10 – The fight scenes are passable and the plot is expansive, as TESB takes you through the highs and lows of the fight against the Empire.  Action is plentiful and the story takes Episode IV and amps it up to eleven.  If you are looking to be entertained by a sci-fi flick, look no further than Episode V.  You will have a good time with this one.

 

1. Return of the Jedi (1983): 44/50 (88%)

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Plot: 9.5/10 – The plot in Return of the Jedi is as close as it gets to perfection.  The Rebel Alliance takes revenge on the Empire and all loose ends are tied up by the close of the film.  There are solid twists in here, like Luke finding out Leia is his sister (gross), and Darth Vader even comes to the good side in his final act of heroism, saving his son before dying.  Episode VI has it all and is a nearly perfect wrap up to a nearly perfect series (could’ve done without the Ewoks, but hey, to each his own).

Characters: 9/10 – We had been waiting two whole movies for this: Luke finally becomes a Jedi Master!  Who would’ve thought that whiny nerd from Tattoine would’ve grown up to be such a great hero?  And kudos to Leia, who makes the switch to total badass and eve spearheads a rescue mission to save Han from Jaba The Hut.  The characters are the most developed in this film, but this section just misses on a perfect score for the sole reason that it feels like the leg work of getting these characters to where we like them to be was done by the previous two installments.  Big bonus points awarded here for being the film to give us Admiral Ackbar (“Its a trap!”).

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Action: 8/10 – By far the best action sequences exist in this film, as Episode VI has the most exciting lightsaber duel in the original trilogy and the space battle and subsequent demise of the reconstructed Death Star give this section a sweet little boost.  Again, the film is limited by its age, but even if taken at face value, Return of the Jedi delivers on solid, sci-fi action sequences guaranteed to keep you enthralled even years down the line.

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Legacy: 9/10 – This is my personal favorite Star Wars film, but I can’t rank this movie higher than TESB.  It is often remembered as the worst of the original three installments, but that is still like being the ugliest Sports Illustrated swimsuit model.  It is a fondly remembered Star Wars adventure and is still one of the better sci-fi films to ever be gifted to humankind.

Entertainment: 8.5/10 – One of the most entertaining Star Wars films in the franchise, ROTJ has a wide variety of locations and action sequences, as well as well fleshed out and three dimensional characters.  The film lags a bit in the middle, particularly on the forest moon of Endor, where the subplot of C-3PO being mistaken for a God is all but lost on me.  Ewok blunder aside, this film keeps you on the edge of your seat and is my personal favorite when it comes to stand alone Star Wars films to watch.

 

My Personal Rankings:

8. Episode II

7. Episode I

6. Episode III

5. Rogue One

4. Episode IV

3. Episode V

2. The Force Awakens

1. Episode VI