by Dan Bolles
The union of music and sports is often imperfect. And in some cases, it is downright ugly. (See: Every Super Bowl halftime show ever, any NBA player turned rapper, and every time I've so much as whispered "Red Sox" on this very blog.)
Part of the issue is that the fundamental cores of each pursuit are diametrically opposed. On a large scale, yes, they are both essentially forms of entertainment. But music is — ideally, at least — rooted in some degree of artistic expression, of intellectual or emotional creation. Conversely, sports are designed around competition, proving physical superiority at the expense of an opponent.
Combined with a host of other social and cultural roadblocks, meshing sports and music presents a unique, and often insurmountable challenge. Aside from montages in sports movies and the occasional battle of the bands, they just don't fit. But that doesn't mean it's not fun to try.
With March Madness soon to get under way, ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd has applied the college basketball tourney's bracket system to rock and roll, in an attempt to decide just who is the greatest rock band of all time. It's totally silly. However, while not without flaws, it's actually pretty entertaining.
For the non-sports inclined, here's the gist. 64 prominent bands, roughly spanning the history of rock, are separated into four groups — or, in NCAA tourney lingo, "regions." The bands in each grouping are ranked, 1-16, and then pitted against one another, highest seeds vs. lowest seeds. Winners are determined by fan voting, with the victorious groups moving on to the second round, then a "Sweet 16," "Elite 8," "Final 4" (consisting of the overall winners from each region) and eventually, a championship match.
The highest seeds are rock icons — think the Beatles, the Stones, etc. The mid-to-lower seeds are well known, commerically successful bands that, while perhaps not legendary, have (mostly) left some kind of significant imprint on popular music over the last 50 years. Particularly given the target audience — sports fans first, rock fans second — ESPN did a decent job of selecting and ranking bands. I would have likely come up with a slightly different group. (311 and Nickelback made the tourney and the Beach Boys didn't? U2 as a 1-seed? Seriously?) But whatever. Its close enough for jazz. Or for rock on a sports site.
The matchups between top seeds and bottom seeds are pretty much obvious blowouts — the Stones vs. Blink 182, Zep vs. Creed, etc. Where things get interesting are the middle brackets. Just like in the real tournament, the best chances for upsets are found in the 5-12, 6-11, 7-10 range, where the gap in talent, or at least rock iconography is narrower. Here we find some interesting hypothetical debates. For instance:
Seattle regional: 8-seed Motley Crue vs. 9-seed Weezer.
Based solely on personal taste, I'd vote Weezer 99 out of 100 times — the one exception being if I'm drunk at a bowling alley. But taking their careers as a whole into account, the Crue might actually have an edge. Weezer made two-and-half great albums, and a slew of dreck since. But do two transcendant records (The Blue Album, Pinkerton) beat the Crue's more consistent, but never particularly "great" output? Hard to say. Ultimately, it comes down to which is less wussy: Buddy Holly glasses and cardigans vs. feathered hair and tights.
London regional: 6-seed Red Hot Chili Peppers vs. 11-seed Black Sabbath
On the surface, it looks like someone should be shot, or at least fired for this seeding. Boil it down, and we're essentially talking Ozzy (OK, and Ronnie James Dio) vs. Anthony Kiedis. It's Ozzy and Dio, and it's not close. But again, taking the scope of each band's career into account, the Chili Peppers are still relevant — at least where modern commerical rock is concerned — and have been through three decades. And it would be a mistake to overlook the contributions of Flea here. Meanwhile, Ozzy is making 4G commericals with Justin Bieber. Still, we're talking about Sabbath, one of the most important metal bands in history. This game is reasonably close in the first half. Then Sabbath pulls away in the second when Ozzy alley-oops Kiedis' severed head on a nice feed from Geezer Butler.
Cleveland regional: 6-seed Bob Marley & the Wailers vs. 11-seed the Beastie Boys
Probably my favorite matchup, and one I really struggled with. But it calls into question how we define greatness. Marley is an icon, arguably more synonymous with his genre than any other artist, in any genre in history. On the other hand, I personally just prefer listening to the Beastie Boys. It may sound like blasphemy, but you can make a case that the quality and, perhaps more importantly, the sheer volume of the Beasties' contributions to pop music cumulatively approach those of Marley. At the very least, it isn't as lopsided a match as it might initially seem. Still, much like you wouldn't bet against Jordan or Bird in a big game, you gotta go with the legend. That's Marley.
Cleveland regional: 5-seed Phish vs. 10-seed the Ramones
Another interesting debate, especially 'round here. I voted for the Ramones, but it wasn't as easy a decision as regular readers probably assume. Phish, no question, are a historically great band. But then, so are the Ramones. The tie-breaker for me wasn't personal preference, but whose historical significance was greater. Phish elevated the game, but will always be viewed as Clyde Drexler to the Dead's Jordan. The Ramones changed the game forever, altering the landscape of rock in way Phish, wile probably more "successful," never did. To hack the basketball metaphor even further, the Ramones would be like Dr. J, a revolutionary player who changed people's perceptions of how basketball could be played. Plus, in a sporting situation, I'll take aggressive vices like booze, coke and cigarettes over weed and hallucinogens any day.
I could go on with stuff for hours. But maybe I should cut to the chase and let y'all decide for yourselves. Here's the link. Feel free to debate in the comments. And go Def Leppard!