Musicians are athletes. They have talents that can’t be coached but must be practiced to reach their potential. They are expected to perform at the highest level both in practice (in the studio) and in games (on stage in front of thousands of paying customers) despite grueling travel and publicity schedules. And they both exert energy performing with no guarantee of success.
Musicians’ success ultimately depends on their ability to play, which, like athletes, is dependent upon their health. And while musicians’ careers might not be as short as athletes’ careers on average, they’re equally dependent upon talents that inevitably diminish with age. But what are the sports musicians play on stage when it comes to comparable caloric exertion? That all depends on the genre of music they're playing and how they're playing it.
My research started with 28 musical performances in 27 days, beginning with Earth, Wind & Fire at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 26. From there I flew to Las Vegas for Mariah Carey at Caesars Palace on Sept. 5. A week after returning to Minnesota, I was headed to Chicago for Riot Fest, featuring a three-day lineup spanning almost every musical genre over the last 70 years.
The late 1950s rockabilly and ’60s rock & roll of pianist Jerry Lee Lewis gave way to metal/punk pianist and professional partier Andrew W.K. Fittingly, Elvis Costello and the Imposters played songs from the new wave he helped build and Blondie brought ashore to the states throughout the 1970s, riding the wave to the top of the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. in 1980 with a cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide is High.”
Blondie also served as a reminder that the political, electronic punk group Pussy Riot has Debbie Harry to thank for not only popularizing female punk voices but feminism as a whole. And while Bad Religion wasn’t the first band to get political with their lyrics in the 1980s, their popularity certainly made it a staple of the punk genre, paving the way for acts like Pussy Riot to draw attention to political corruption with their music. Pussy Riot did just that at Riot Fest, calling for justice after a longtime member and activist with the group was poisoned, perhaps for uncovering information regarding the deaths of three Russian journalists with whom he’d been working.
The ’90s were well represented by Lagwagon and Face to Face, and although Blink-182 had to cancel for health reasons, the lineup somehow got better with the additions of Weezer, Run the Jewels, and Taking Back Sunday. Blink’s absence didn’t mean pop punk of the ’90s would go unheard at Riot Fest Chicago 2018. Alkaline Trio announced their presence with a fantastic set just before Incubus reenacted the heydays of alternative rock that started in the late ’90s and continued into the new millennium.
If you thought Riot Fest was a punk rock festival, you’d be surprised to know that hip-hop acts have played the festival in consecutive years. The best performance of 2017 was provided by Prophets of Rage, a rap rock supergroup consisting of members from Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. The performance unified very different genres and, as a result, very different people, but was especially emotional coming just months after Audioslave’s lead singer, Chris Cornell, committed suicide. Cypress Hill’s B-Real must have enjoyed the emotional and genre-defying performance he gave with Prophets in 2017, because he was back playing “Hits from the Bong” with Cypress Hill in 2018. Run the Jewels concluded the festival’s final day just as Prophets of Rage did the year before.
Cypress Hill might be playing the only sport for which cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug, but that doesn’t mean what they’re doing on stage (and off) isn’t athletic. Exactly how athletic is difficult to determine without primary research. Ideally, I would have slapped a Fitbit on the wrist of each musician before going on stage. Instead, we’ll have to rely on estimates of caloric exertion provided by sources I felt to be most reputable and accurate based on my own calorie counting. So what sports are some of music’s best athletes playing on stage?
Mariah Carey’s body might be enhanced in a Bondsian fashion, but her voice is Ruthian; it might be replaced with a recording on occasion, but never enhanced, only amplified. Mariah is the Babe Ruth of popular music for a lot of reasons, but mostly because she has done and continues to do something no one else in her sport has.
The greatest athletes of all time separate themselves from their peers by being the only athlete in their sport to do something. Mariah has sung a G7 (a G-note in the seventh octave), which no other singer of popular music has done. She regularly reaches F#7 in concert (F-sharp, seventh octave), lifting people to their feet and putting smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. I can personally attest to this, but I can only imagine men cried when Ruth allegedly pointed to the center field bleachers and then hit a homer there in what was a tied Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.
Barry Bonds hitting more home runs than Ruth, regardless of cleanliness, is as irrelevant to the greatest-baseball-player-of-all-time argument as Ruth’s all-time best 182.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his career because only Ruth has been both the best hitter and pitcher in his league over the course of a single season (so far).
Had there been an American League Cy Young Award in 1916, Ruth would have won it, but not by the margin he would have won the Most Valuable Player Award had there been one in 1920 (he hit 35 more home runs than runner-up George Sisler) and eventually did win in 1923 despite sharing the home run crown with Cy Williams (he reached base in more than half of his plate appearances and got all eight first-place votes).
While a 28-year-old Walter Johnson led the AL in wins (25), complete games (36) and innings pitched (369.2) in 1916, Ruth was the league’s best pitcher by any measure—new (Ruth had a league-best ERA+ of 158) or old (Ruth led the league with nine shutouts to Johnson’s three and allowed the fewest hits per nine innings pitched in the AL). And while Johnson's Senators finished last, Ruth led Boston to the American League Pennant (and, eventually, a World Series Championship) with 23 wins in a league-leading 40 starts and four other appearances accounting for more than 23 percent of his team’s innings pitched during the regular season (323.2, third-most in the AL). Two years later Ruth led Major League Baseball with 11 home runs along with Tillie Walker, but did so with almost 100 fewer at-bats. It was the last time Ruth would have more wins (13) than homers in a single season.
Using strictly vocal range as a means to determine popular music’s best singer would be like using batting average to determine baseball’s best hitter—it doesn’t tell the whole story. Ruth only led the league in batting average once, and his .342 career average is just tenth-best all time. Axl Rose might have the largest vocal range in the sport of popular singing, but the lowest note he sang (F1) is just one note lower than Barry White's lowest (F#1, or F-sharp, first octave). Mariah’s highest note is seven notes higher than that of her closest competitor.
Longevity matters in GOAT debates too, and Rose didn’t retain his vocal range for nearly as long as Mariah has. The one thing only Rose has done in the sport is so closely contested its baseball equivalent would be Roger Maris breaking Ruth’s single-season, home run record in the last game of the 1961 season, which was 10 games longer than Ruth’s in 1927, but resulted in Maris getting just seven more plate appearances than Ruth had to hit 60. Mariah is the GOAT because, at some point in her long career (like right now), she’s been both the sport’s best hitter of notes (vocal range) and best “pitcher” (highest or lowest pitch sung), and has done so convincingly and simultaneously.
Mariah’s relative dominance of her sport isn’t the only similarity she shares with Ruth. While Mariah isn’t “The Mariah” like Ruth was “The Babe,” her fans refer to her using only her first name with the assumption that absolutely everyone knows which Mariah is the Mariah. And like the Sultan of Swat, who went by his “stage” name of Babe over his given name, George, Mariah has earned a lot of nicknames, including “The Voice” and “Songbird.” So the relative fandom of musicians is also comparable to that of athletes.
Mariah is beloved by her fans like The Babe was by kids. They defend her unconditionally because she is other-worldly in their eyes and ears. Any comparison to Whitney Houston is met with ruthless rebuffing comparable only to that of Michael Jordan fans fending off LeBron James comparisons as if they’re attacks on their religion or right to free speech. Ruth’s dominance of his sport allowed him to enjoy a long leash when it came to his off-field behavior, and the same goes for divas. There won’t be another Mariah, and there won’t be another Ruth—only imitators and imposters.
But Mariah isn’t popular enough to be the Michael Jordan of popular music, and she’s not burning comparable calories on stage as a basketball player does on the court. Few musicians are. Mariah Carey is playing baseball on stage, and she’s probably working harder than Ruth did playing the outfield, but not as hard as he did as a pitcher and hitter early in his career. Early in her career, though, her on-stage caloric exertion might have been closer to the caloric exertion of Ruth the pitcher/hitter.
If Livestrong’s estimates are accurate, Mariah singing while standing for an hour burns around 140 calories assuming a weight of 150 pounds. Healthy Celeb has her at around 148, which is reasonable given her five-foot, eight-inch height. Since she’s walking around the stage and doing so in heels, she’s probably burning another 200 calories per hour even if she’s lip-syncing. So that’s 340 calories burned per hour singing and moving around the stage (and crowd, which she did in Vegas), but we’re not considering her four plate appearances per game.
Mariah’s plate appearances are her wardrobe changes, each of which she knocked out of the park simply by being a knockout (thank you, gastric sleeve surgery). Mariah had four wardrobe changes during her Las Vegas show, all completed in three minutes or so, and while I’m sure she has plenty of help backstage, she’s still burning calories just as Ruth would even without swinging the bat. She might not burn a home-run-trot’s worth of calories changing clothes, but even The Great Bambino had a “courtesy runner” round the bases for him on home runs late in his career.
If we use an average of 3.5 minutes per wardrobe change given Mariah’s height, weight, and age, she likely burned another 20 calories or more changing clothes. And I think that’s a low estimate given her elevated heart rate going into the wardrobe change and the pressure of quickly completing the change. Keep in mind this estimate represents the caloric exertion associated with dressing and undressing with no stakes or complicated outfits. Still, that’s a total of 360 calories burned per hour on stage.
A non-pitching, non-catching fielder burns roughly 1,000 calories during a nine-inning baseball game. Another source estimates caloric exertion of non-pitchers and non-catchers at 305 calories per hour. An average game is over three hours long, so Mariah’s caloric exertion per hour on stage is comparable to that of a baseball player who isn’t pitching or catching. And her talent, longevity, and dominance of her sport is comparable to that of baseball’s best player.
Sinbad said prior to the Earth, Wind & Fire concert that I was in for a religious experience. He was absolutely right, but I didn’t think there would be so much movement on stage given the average age of the band members. I figured Philip Bailey’s voice would have regressed at the age of 67; I was wrong. I couldn’t imagine bassist Verdine White moving as much as he did at 67, and longtime percussionist/vocalist Ralph Johnson, also 67, didn’t miss a beat or note. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and I can only imagine had I ever seen the Bulls of the ’90s, I would have cried tears of joy at United Center just like I did at the Minnesota State Fair.
Earth, Wind & Fire has as many Grammys as the 1990s Bulls have championship rings (6), and like the greatest NBA dynasties, still has a big three in Bailey, White, and Johnson. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman/Horace Grant. Earth, Wind & Fire not only has a big three, but nearly as many touring members as an NBA team (9). And they likely burned comparable calories as the Bulls roster on any given night.
Johnson alone likely burned more than 300 calories in an hour of drumming. White’s bass playing and dancing given his slenderness likely resulted in excess of 250 calories burned per hour, and we know singers around Bailey’s size burn around 180 calories per hour if their standing while singing. So the three remaining original members of Earth, Wind & Fire likely burned 730 calories in an hour.
Add the horn section with saxophonist, Gary Bias (217 calories per hour), trumpet player, Bobby Burns Jr. (273), and trombone player, Reggie Young (180), and total caloric exertion comes to 1,400. Two guitarists (217 calories burned per hour each) brings the total to 1,834 calories burned per hour, and background vocalists Philip Bailey Jr. and B. David Whitworth push the caloric exertion total to 2,134. Myron McKinley on keyboards (181) pushes Earth, Wind & Fire’s collective caloric exertion to 2,315 calories per hour. In the hour-and-a-half-long set at the Minnesota State Fair, the band probably burned close to 3,500 calories.
In comparison, if Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman played 40 minutes at their listed weights on Basketball Reference (1,523 calories burned), Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and Ron Harper played 30 minutes at their listed weights (1,200 calories burned), that would leave Steve Kerr 20 minutes (220) and Randy Brown 10 minutes of playing time (118). The 1997-98 Chicago Bulls would collectively burn around 3,061 calories per 48 minutes on the floor, or a bit more than 3,800 calories per hour. The vast difference in mass between members of Earth, Wind & Fire and the Chicago Bulls (Longley was listed at 265 pounds) could account for much of the difference in calories burned per hour.
No one enjoyed sharing the puck more than The Great One, and no one enjoys sharing a party more than Andrew W.K. Party music is a broad genre and pretty much includes anything played with pace. And while Andrew W.K.’s success in his sport isn’t comparable to that of The Great One in his, there isn’t a single act out there that screams hockey like Andrew’s. Andrew W.K. shows are both pace-full and probably painful for Andrew, but he leaves it all on the stage (even blood sometimes) every night.
The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W.K. when you see him live for the first time is his teeth. He has the biggest smile of anyone I’ve ever seen play music—so big, in fact, I thought he was high on cocaine. Now I know it’s the crowd that’s his addiction. I’ve never seen anyone happier doing their job than Andrew W.K., except maybe Wayne Gretzky after assisting a teammate on a goal. Gretzky loved assisting his teammates so much he has more assists than anyone else has points scored, and Andrew W.K. looks to simply assist the party-starting despite his early passion being fashion.
We know playing piano burns around 181 calories per hour depending on size, but no one plays piano like Andrew W.K. The only person who did hasn’t kicked the bench out from under himself for quite some time. In fact, it took Jerry Lee Lewis almost five minutes to change jackets onstage after his band played for 15 minutes awaiting his arrival, but he’s 82 years old!
Assuming Andrew burns just 200 calories an hour playing piano and another 180 calories singing given his size (he’s a big man and wrote about working out for Vice amongst other things), that’s 380 calories per hour burned on stage. But Andrew W.K. moves about the stage more and more violently than Mariah Carey or Philip Bailey, so this estimate is more than safe given his hour-long, Riot Fest set.
Time on ice statistics are only available going back to the 1998-99 season, during which Gretzky averaged about 21 minutes per game. But that was his final season, so using playoff numbers might be a better representation of actual calories burned per game in his prime. In the 1993 Conference Finals Game 7 he played close to 24 minutes, and in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final Game 5 he played 23. Livestrong estimates caloric exertion for a 190-pound hockey player to be 700 calories per hour.
So in 22 minutes, Gretzky would burn a little more than 250 calories, but Livestrong notes that the intensity of hockey as an activity allows for calories to be burned well after coming off the ice. Kind of like Mariah Carey’s stressful, high-heart-rate costume changes, hockey’s shift changes results in hockey players continuing to burn calories even while resting. One study found that 10 men who completed an intense, 45-minute workout on a stationary bike burned an additional 190 calories in the 14 hours following the workout. So Gretzky and his linemates burning an additional 80 calories between shifts is reasonable, making The Great One’s total exertion 330 calories per game.
So I think I’ve at least proven that musicians (and singers are musicians because our voices are instruments) burn comparable calories performing on stage as athletes do playing sports, fulfilling the energy exertion requirement of athletes. Whether a musician’s talent and amount of practice required to perfect and preserve that talent is on the same level as professional athletes require more in-depth, accurate research. But if you aren’t considering the performance of your favorite band as an athletic endeavor, you might consider considering it.
The greatest rock band of all time last toured in 1994 with three original members and eight supporting members. That's enough people to match the caloric exertion of the best Boston Celtics teams. Although Pink Floyd was without their Bill Russell (Roger Waters), they still had a Bob Cousy (David Gilmour), a Tom Heinsohn (Nick Mason), and a Bill Sharman (Richard Wright). Waters returned for a reunion performance in 2005.
Regardless of the lack of competition Pussy Riot has in its genre, they've dominated that genre for about as long as the Canadiens did the National Hockey League from 1952 to 1960, winning the Stanley Cup six times and finishing runners-up twice more. Pussy Riot's 11 members probably do enough dancing on stage to match the caloric exertion of the Canadiens of the '50s, too.
I know Run the Jewels consists of two people—El P and Killer Mike—but it takes at least two people to match what LeBron does on and off the court. Run the Jewels is not only as successful at selling records as LeBron is tickets, but all three of the group's records are critically acclaimed, like LeBron's off-court efforts.
According to a recently updated information from the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) Thriller has been surpassed as the number one selling album of all time. Which, as an 80’s kid, makes me a little sad. =(
The last time the RIAA compiled data on this subject was way back in the ancient time of 2006, when digital sales were hardly a thing. Well, now the RIAA has caught up with the rest of modern society, added in digital sales, and updated the Best Selling Albums of All Time List for the first time in twelve years! And, to be honest, most of the results are not surprising, except, of course - for the ones that are totally surprising! I’m looking right at you #9!
Before I reveal this list, allow me a moment to reminisce. I was in grade school when Thriller was released. We, and I mean every last kid, teacher, mother and grandfather was madly in love with Billie Jean and Beat It and Wanna Be Startin Somethin and The Girl is Mine and, of course, Thriller (The Lady in My Life - meh, not so much). But, mainly Billie Jean, Beat It and Thriller. Ahhhh - nostalgia. And youth and dancing in front of the mirror.
Oh, that’s right. I danced in front of the mirror to Billie Jean. For, like - years. #comeatmebro!
I guess new generations can express their childhood love for modern day pop tarts and boy bands - but their love is misplaced because Thriller is still the big boy on the block!
Only, not any longer.
But actually, it still kind of is because the new list CHEATS!!!!
You see, the new #1 selling “album” of all time is … a compilation of greatest hits. So, even though this compilation of greatest hits has now outsold Thriller by 5 million albums - Thriller is still the top selling, non compilation record of all time.
Anyway … here are the top 20 best selling albums of all time:
Long before talkies, music was making movies better. It still is. What would Charlie Chaplin’s “Oceana Roll Dance” in The Gold Rush be without music, or Johnny Depp’s depiction in Benny and Joon for that matter? A more contemporary example would be how Daft Punk’s soundtrack for Tron: Legacy helped make “The Grid” a very real place for moviegoers. That said, here are the 10 best uses of music in movies, based on the lasting effect the music had in the movie and beyond the movie, the popular and critical success of the music and the legacy left.
This one might not be on a lot of people’s lists, but the first time I saw Mark Wahlberg, Tom Jane and John C. Reilly attempt to steal from a coked out Alfred Molina to the sound of Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian” while a silent, house boy tossed exploding firecrackers around the room, I was mesmerized. It’s one of the most uncomfortable situations ever recorded, and the song makes the scene’s mise-en-scène a must-see.
I used to think Rudy’s struggle to realize his dream made me cry every time I watched him succeed, but I’ve discovered the crescendo of the music when Rudy sacks the Georgia Tech quarterback has more of an effect than the images. I get emotional just listening to the score for Angelo Pizzo’s football masterpiece, and I’m not the only one. The music is now blasted at the stadium in South Bend during Fighting Irish football games. That adoption of the Rudy score from fiction and application in reality makes it one of the best uses of music in movies.
Like the theme from Rudy, the theme from Rocky is blasted at Philadelphia Eagles games (and practiced by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra). It is immediately recognizable by almost anyone. The song features both uplifting highs and terrifying lows -- mirroring the conflict of Rocky’s life -- in and out of the ring. “Gonna Fly Now” was nominated for the 1977 Oscar for Best Original Song, but fell to Barbra Streisand’s “A Star is Born” from the movie of the same name. It hasn’t come close to becoming the pop culture icon that “Gonna Fly Now” has. The Rocky franchise is responsible for creating two iconic songs, and ranking which is more recognizable is problematic. People probably associate the music of both songs with the Rocky movies equally, but some couldn’t give you the title of “Gonna Fly Now.” Everyone knows “Eye of the Tiger.” Most of Rocky III was about Apollo helping Rocky get his eye of the tiger back after Mick dies. Sylvester Stallone should be glad Queen denied his request to use their song “Another One Bites the Dust” for Rocky III. While the song would have been fitting given the beating Rocky takes and then gives Clubber Lang, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” somehow cut through the cheese to become a movie classic. It even spent six weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and was the second-best single of 1982 behind Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” winning Survivor its only Grammy Award. The song was also nominated for the 1983 Academy Award for Best Original Song and has become the anthem of workout movie montages. You can’t even make a workout movie montage using another song without it being parodied with “Eye of the Tiger” laid over the top anymore. South Park went with Joe Esposito’s “You’re the Best,” but even that was originally written by Allee Willis and Rocky’s Bill Conti for Rocky III, only to be replaced by “Eye of the Tiger.” “You’re the Best” got its chance to make movie history when Rocky director John Avildsen decided to use it in Karate Kid. It didn’t make this list, however.
The best synchronized dance scene ever shot had more than the music to thank, but the music choice was so good that it actually influenced the shooting of the scene. The scene was shot during the Von Steuben Day Parade and on another Saturday in Chicago that saw more than 10,000 people attend thanks to radio stations inviting people to take part in the John Hughes film. Several of the people seen dancing in the scene, including the construction worker and the window washer, originally had nothing to do with the film. They were simply dancing to the music being played, and John Hughes found it so funny that he told the camera operators to record it. Those natural actions helped make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off the highest grossing film Hughes directed, with an adjusted gross of nearly $170 million.
Written by Hal Davis and Burt Bacharach, the song won the 1970 Academy Award for Best Song, as did the original score. It makes for one of the most iconic movie montages ever in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song is so great, it was one of the few redeeming moments of the Spider-man 2 movie. When a song can make a bad movie better, the song is objectively great.
No song is likely more often associated with a movie than Hamlisch’s version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.” Like a younger generation associates “Gonna Fly Now” with Rocky, and an even younger generation “Eye of the Tiger” with Rocky III, most people aware of The Sting can’t hear “The Entertainer” without thinking The Sting is on television somewhere. But unlike “Gonna Fly Now” and “Eye of the Tiger,” which were written specifically for movies and released as the movie did, Joplin’s “The Entertainer” debuted 71 years before The Sting was released. Hamlisch had a good year in 1974. He won the Academy Award for Original Song Score or Adaptation for The Sting as well as the Oscars for Original Dramatic Score and Original Song for The Way We Were -- another Robert Redford movie.
This gem written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington for Disney’s Pinocchio in 1940 was so popular it became the official song of The Walt Disney Company and accompanies the Disney logo prior to any Disney movie. My favorite rendition is performed by actor/comedian Harland Williams in RocketMan, who does a spot-on impersonation of Jiminy Cricket.
The best opening credits ever recorded have The Bee Gees and John Travolta to thank. Saturday Night Fever producer Robert Stigwood even asked The Bee Gees to change the name of the song to match the movie. The Bee Gees declined because there were already too many songs with “Saturday” in the title -- including Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright” (For Fighting), the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” and Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.” Saturday Night Fever didn’t need the name of the song changed to reach a massive audience, grossing over $237 million worldwide on a $3 million budget. It made back its budget and then some in its opening weekend.
The scenes of Beetlejuice featuring Belafonte’s music are the two best scenes in the movie. The “Day-O” scene couldn’t have been done better using any other song. The lip syncing to “Day-O” in Beetlejuice is the reason why it’s such a popular chant at baseball and basketball games. I’m certain that wasn’t the case prior to the movie’s popularity. I specifically watch the closing credits to Beetlejuice for the dance scene with Winona Ryder suspended in mid-air while dead characters dance to “Jump in the Line.” I’m a fan of Harry Belafonte, whose album “Calypso” became the first LP by a single artist ever to sell a million copies 30 years before I was born. I now own that LP because of Beetlejuice and chant “Day-O” at Minnesota Twins games because of Beetlejuice.
Quite possibly responsible for both the creepiest and funniest moments in movie history, Q Lazzarus’s “Goodbye Horses” is the best use of music in movies in two very different instances. The song was also used in Married to the Mob and the Maniac remake as further evidence of its number one status on this list. Firstly, I’ll forward this by saying I find the song to be objectively great, both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are wonderfully vague and require explanation. (The song’s about transcendence over those who see the world as only earthly and finite,” according to its writer, William Garvey. “The horses represent the five senses from Hindu philosophy, The Bhagavad Gita, and the ability to lift one’s perception above these physical limitations and to see beyond this limited Earthly perspective.") All things most certainly do not “pass into the night.” Secondly, besides maybe “The Entertainer,” there isn’t a song more associated with a movie than this one -- and this one’s associated with two magical movie moments. Most people are aware of the first. The latest use of “Goodbye Horses” in Clerks II helps a newly sober Jay overcome his urges. The brilliant choice by Kevin Smith to use it allowed the song to reach an entirely new generation, leaving a lasting legacy in pop culture.
Ask any punk rock record store clerk to tell you what album they believe to be the most underappreciated in punk, and none will give you a straight answer. “All of them,” someone said in the back of Extreme Noise in Minneapolis, getting laughs from his fellow clerks.
True, the genre probably gets as little attention as any from radio stations. Since most punk bands are trying desperately to be anything but pop (even country, rockabilly, stoner rock, funk, metal and, sometimes, ska), punk’s relative unpopularity makes some sense. Try as bands might, certain punk can become popular, and it’s a wonder why more hasn’t.
Some will misconstrue this as a list of pop punk albums that weren’t quite pop enough to be popular, but that’s not its intent. The bands on this list were never pop enough to be the next Green Day or Blink-182 or they would have been the next Green Day or Blink-182. Blink-182’s most popular albums are decidedly pop punk. Both Enema of the State and Take Off Your Pants and Jacket sound like what anyone would imagine pop punk would sound like. Both sold more than 14 million copies, but Dude Ranch, a decidedly un-pop album, sold just a million.
So staying punk and going platinum is a goal to which punk bands can aspire, and how the following records missed hitting big, we can only speculate. So here are some of the most underappreciated albums from the most underappreciated genre.
Big Boys’ Lullabies Help the Brain Grow was recommended by Extreme Noise clerk Abraham in Minneapolis, who is incredibly helpful and knowledgable. But it was the second album of the double-disc set that best fits the underappreciated album moniker because of how radio-friendly it is. There isn’t any language unfriendly to radio and two songs on each side of the record had the legs to be hits had they gotten any radio play whatsoever.
For some reason, Red Hot Chili Peppers got the radio play their biggest influence didn’t. RHCP used to open for Big Boys and were known to some as the Little Big Boys due to their similar sound. They released their debut in 1984 and sold about 300,000 records while the Big Boys were riding off into the sunset as a pioneer in hardcore punk rock. RHCP just missed the Billboard Top 200 that year, while Big Boys never came close. But Big Boys’ No Matter How Long the Line… was better than RHCP’s debut then and now.
After opening the record with perfect representations of their hardcore punk sound in “No” and “Narrow View,” Big Boys’ start experimenting, blending genres.
“I Do Care” is more funk than punk, featuring a bass line that’ll make you move and think RHCP’s Flea wasn’t all that innovative. Big Boys come back with a classic punk track with “Listen” before getting funky again with “What’s the Word,” which should have been all over the radio in 1984. It’s the perfect summer party song that put Randy “Biscuit” Turner’s vocals on display, which are Steven Tyler-like in their sexy raspiness.
On Side B, Big Boys provide a hip-hop interlude with “Common Beat” before returning to the hardcore punk for which they’re known with “No Love.” They follow it with what should have been a third hit on the record -- “Which Way To Go” -- and provide another funky, punk interlude called “Killing Time” before closing with a fourth radio-ready hit with which everyone can relate.
“Work” is the perfect workers’ rebellion song about workers who can’t afford to rebel after recovering from the Reagan Recession. “I work and slave for my pay / Do things I hate for a living / I want my freedom before it’s too late / Economic circumstances cause misgivings.”
The economic circumstances of the music business in 1984 certainly contributed to Big Boys’ misgivings. It turned out 1984 was a really tough year to be anyone but Michael Jackson or Prince, who owned the top album spot for a combined 37 weeks. The other 30 percent of the year was divided amongst just three other albums, one of which was Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports, which was number one for a week. Most everyone was listening to the same stuff in 1984, and it wasn’t punk.
This is an easy one. The departure of Descendents lead singer Milo Auckerman to pursue a graduate degree in biochemistry put All behind the eight ball from the start. And despite a fantastic replacement in the form of Dag Nasty’s Dave Smalley, Allroy Sez, nor any All record, could overcome the absence of Auckerman when it came to record sales and popularity. His return to the band in 1996 lifted the Descendents into the Billboard Top 200 -- and as high as twentieth with their latest record, Hypercaffium Spazzinate (2016).
Allroy Sez might not be a Descendents’ record, but it deserves more listens and buys than it gets. Three of the 12 tracks appear on All’s greatest hits compilation. The opener, “Pretty Little Girl” is like a 1950s pop, love song played on fast forward, and the fantastically funky baseline of “Hooidge” follows.
“Sex in the Way” has a chorus that should have been blasted from radio stations and bellowed by teens everywhere in 1988. “With sex in the way, I can’t see a thing” speaks to anyone who’s not a virgin, but reserved radio DJs of 1988 must have had a problem with the word “sex” or something.
The fun “Alfredo’s” contains some explicit language, so while it might not be radio-friendly, any All fan would likely tell you it’s one of their favorites. “Just Perfect” is just that -- another 1950s pop, love song played a bit faster and harder than The Monkees were willing to play. The same goes for the impressively fast bass line of “Paper Tiger.”
“#10 (Wet)” is another radio-ready song that got no love from radio, and after the metal-like “A Muse,” All closes the record with yet another hit that never was with “Don Quixote.” All in all, All’s debut is a solid album, beginning to end, that was never fully appreciated. Worse yet, it wasn’t appreciated at a time when Bon Jovi, U2 and Def Leppard albums (not even their best albums) were topping the charts. Guns ’n Roses’ Appetite for Destruction was the top album of 1988 for four weeks, and George Michael’s Faith was the top overall seller for 12 weeks.
The Suicide Machines obviously didn’t care if they ever heard themselves on the radio, or they might have reconsidered their name. But the band is responsible for some of the best “skacore” albums of the late ’90s. Because The Suicide Machines’ debut, Destruction by Definition, is more ska-infused than their more hardcore followup album, Battle Hymns, it makes this list because it might have fared better on the radio, despite the lyrics being a bit more explicit.
The first three songs of Destruction by Definition all had the legs to be radio hits. “New Girl,” “S.O.S.” and “Break the Glass” are all fantastic party songs with pace and radio-friendly lyrics. “S.O.S.” says a lot about humanity people might not like to hear, but paired with the reggae-like rhythm, it delivers the band’s somber message in a most effective manner. That message is more true today. “Man's inhumanity towards another man / It's man's insanity and ignorance again / And now the time had come to stop what's going on / The hatred's building up, exploding like a bomb / It's a bomb with a short fuse / And I know it seems like no use / The tension's building a reaction / This is a call to action / S.O.S. we need help.”
“No Face” continues the fun with a fantastic keyboard riff that you’ll find yourself whistling for days. The Suicide Machines go a bit more hardcore with the intro to “Hey,” but the menacing horns quickly go ska, making for another song perfect for parties but with one f-word that would keep it off the radio.
The pace picks up immensely with “Our Time,” “Too Much” and “Islands,” tracks that display the hardcore punk sound more utilized on Battle Hymns. “Real You” might have been a hit had it not been for the final verse before the chorus, which is basically just screamed obscenities. The same could be said for “Face Values” had the song been longer than 1:22. Besides one f-word, “Punk Out” doesn’t have either of those issues, and an edited version of the song probably should have gotten more radio play than it did. “And God only knows what'll keep us from dying / Because every time I look around I see life as a big lie / Yeah, everybody's saying ‘Yeah, I'm the one,’ yeah / ‘Everybody come running to me’ / But that's not how it works and it never did.”
The Suicide Machines follow “Punk Out” with a hardcore song about shoes, “Vans Song,” but with “fag” being the seventh word of the song, it’s understandable why it wasn’t all over the radio. “Who the hell would write a song about shoes?” lead singer Jason Navarro asks at the end of the track. Answer: only a punk band. Hell, The Dickies wrote a song about Pep Boys, so what’s wrong with writing about shoes?
“Insecurities” keeps the pace coming, and despite the song’s lack of lyrics, it sounds like a hit. Nothing holds back “Inside/Outside,” though. It’s one of the best songs on the record, and too good for one s-word to keep it off the radio. “If you wanna know the answers, then you've gotta ask the questions / ‘Who am I?’ and ‘who is she?’ / And ‘does it matter anyway?’ / You've got to look for love on the inside man / Don't look for love on the outside / Doesn't matter what the others say, 'cause all that shit gets in the way.”
The record closes with pace. “Zero” and, eventually, “So Long” get the toes tapping. “So Long” has all the elements that make a hit, with relatable lyrics and a catchy hook: “You know you make me want to say so long / You know you make me wanna say goodbye....(goodbye).” A hidden cover of Minor Threat’s “I Don’t Want to Hear It” closes the album just perfectly.
All but one song on Keep Your Heart received five stars on iTunes from my 22-year-old self. After seeing Dave Hause as part of the Revival Tour, I became addicted to the record for a little over a month.
The record opens with “Suture Self,” a pure punk track fueled by pace, thick electric guitar riffs and the lovely voice of Hause. Following that might be The Loved Ones’ most recognizable guitar riff from, “Breathe In,” and then quite possibly the band’s best song, “Jane.” “Jane” has the anthem-like chorus and pace fit for a hit, making for a great song to see live in concert -- whether it’s played acoustically or electrically. It gets the crowd hopping.
“Over 50 Club” was the only song that didn’t receive five stars on iTunes from my 22-year-old self, but “Please Be Here” continues the near-perfect production of Keep Your Heart. “Hurry Up and Wait” should appeal to just about anyone: “Hurry up, get in here now, oh no, you'll have to wait / Did you sanitize your hands? Oh that's the part I hate / To be told it's so helpless / If we get out of here in time / Maybe we'll pinch ourselves / And this nightmare could just work out fine.”
The Loved Ones prove you don’t need pace to make great punk songs with “Sickening,” another one that’s great live and acoustic. I would consider “Living Will Get You Dead” the fourth hit on the record along with the first three tracks. The chorus is hard to forget: “If that's how it's gonna be / Wake me up wake me up / Pump me full of meds / Don't let me drink from that cup / Slide a little pill down my throat / I'll try to keep it down / Or pull my plug and don't be frightened by the sound.”
Hause’s songwriting ability shines through again on “The Odds,” and the pace of “Benson and Hedges” gets the toes tapping and head banging -- a song Hause did with his previous band, The Curse. “Arsenic” continues to deliver pace and the auditory pleasantries of deep riffs and Hause’s voice. “100K” is another hit that wasn’t for whatever reason, despite it being released on an EP prior to being included on the album. “Player Hater Anthem” aptly closes out the record, another hit in my opinion, which brings the total to six or seven. I’ve lost count.
The Loved Ones released just one more record in 2008, produced by members of The Bouncing Souls. They never officially disbanded, but didn’t get the recognition they deserved then or now. Why? Well, RHCP finally had an album reach number one in 2006 with Stadium Arcadium, but rap ruled the charts just over a decade ago, with T.I., Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, The Game and Young Jeezy all reaching number one on the Billboard album chart.
The Flatliners’ third album was the Toronto band’s second attempt at a more intense punk rock sound as opposed to the ska sound that frequented the songs of the band’s youth. It was mostly well-received and ranked as the fourth-best punk album of 2010 by Exclaim! and considered another step in the right direction for the band.
The PunkNews.org staff review says the second half the of the record “drops off,” but I disagree vehemently. Maybe because I like a little pop punk mixed in with my punk rock, but regardless of my biases, nothing about the pace and intensity drops off. “Monumental” monumentally kicks off side B, which just continues with pure hardness all the way through, peaking with “Sleep Your Life Away” and providing a pop interlude with “Count Your Bruises,” a song appropriately used to close shows, before taking a turn back to speed and anger with “New Years Resolutions,” which has it’s own pleasant interlude and crescendo to end the record.
Why Chris Cresswell’s voice isn’t all over the radio should be a surprise to anyone who’s heard him -- especially with the even more radio-ready Inviting Light now out. On the bright side, it’s why I got to see him and The Flatliners at The Triple Rock in Minneapolis instead of at a bigger venue for three times as much.
But why didn’t Cavalcade provide The Flatliners a path to superstardom? Well it was 2010, which meant it was 2008 on rock radio. Shinedown’s The Sound of Madness, released June 2008, had two songs in the Billboard top fifteen in 2010, and 2010’s top song was also from 2008. Rise Against’s “Savior” was still ruling the radio, and people were just getting to know London’s Mumford & Sons -- a British invasion of sorts.
Sandwiched between all of that and a Foo Fighters record responsible for two of the top three songs of 2011 made for a short shelf-life for Cavalcade.
So given my research and the assistance of Extreme Noise Records, those are the five most underappreciated albums in punk rock. Your list is probably different than mine, but I’d venture to bet at least one or two of mine are also on yours.
Traditionalists had The Beatles. Baby Boomers got the best of Pink Floyd. Generation X was all about Michael Jackson. And with the recent release of Villains, rockers Queens of the Stone Age have become the best band of the Millennial generation.
I remember where I was when I first heard Songs for the Deaf, and that sort of Proustian precision is usually reserved for traumatic events like 9/11 or the Oklahoma City Bombing, or major achievements in sports, like the Minnesota Twins winning the 1991 World Series.
The deep red color and clever design of the CD caught my eye while flipping through a friend’s CD case during a high school tennis meet. I thought the sperm entering the egg forming a “Q” was a pretty cool logo and asked my friend and occasional doubles partner what kind of music it was. “You should just listen to it,” he said. So I did, over and over again, all the way home, until my friend had to remind me to give him the disc back when our bus pulled up to the high school.
I remember thinking after a second time through Songs for the Deaf that it was the best and most complete rock album I had heard since Van Halen’s 1984, and the first good concept album since Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I bought a copy for myself that very day and listened to it almost exclusively throughout the summer of 2003.
I might have been late to the party since Songs for the Deaf was released in August of 2002, but better late than never. Since then, QOTSA has helped me through my parents’ divorce (Songs for the Deaf), homesickness and the general depression that results from a school year in Seattle (Lullabies to Paralyze), a serious motorcycle accident that nearly took my leg (Era Vulgaris), losing the love of my life (...Like Clockwork), and now, entering the twilight of my youth. Villains makes me feel young again, and might feature two of QOTSA’s best ever songs.
The record opens with the catchy single “Feet Don’t Fail Me,” and the sound shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s ever heard QOTSA before. It’s reminiscent of the stoner rock sound that propelled QOTSA’s popularity through the number-one, U.S. modern rock track “No One Knows.” With the exception of an 1980s, synth-sounding keyboard, “Feet Don’t Fail Me” sounds like a song from Songs for the Deaf, but that doesn’t mean QOTSA didn’t attempt to progress rock ‘n roll by blending genres.
“The Way You Used To Do” is the crowning achievement of Villains and, perhaps, Joshua Homme’s career as a musician. From Desert Sessions to Kyuss to QOTSA to Eagles of Death Metal to Them Crooked Vultures, you’d struggle to find a song comparable to “The Way You Used To Do.”
Who knew blending swing and rock would work so well? Only Homme. The big band, swing song wrapped in rock ’n roll is one of the best songs QOTSA has ever cut and one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. My best friend from high school said it “feels like somebody strapped a rocket to my ass.” I saw my first QOTSA show with him, so every time they release a new record, we invariably rave about it for a month through text messages.
Side A of Villains concludes with another solid, trademark QOTSA song with a fat bass line. “Domesticated Animals” features the eerie guitar and vocals reminiscent of Era Vulgaris’s “I’m Designer,” but the funky guitar fills and synth keyboard adds an element that contributes to the song’s overall danceability -- which was something for which Homme and the band was striving with Villains, and achieved more often than not. Side A of Villains was the only thing that spun on my turntable over a 24-hour period. It might be one of the best A-sides ever.
“Fortress” kicks off Side B and is the only Villians song I could do without. “Head Like a Haunted House” picks up right where “Domesticated Animals” left off, though, providing another dance track thanks to some synth keyboard fills and old-fashioned, rock ‘n roll tempo.
QOTSA lets the new synth sound take center stage with “Un-Reborn Again” while preserving the traditional, bluesy sound of QOTSA’s past. Even some violins make their way onto the track. “Hideaway” continues the throwback, ’80s sound that’s so popular right now, and is the Villains song that best utilizes Homme’s voice.
Side C of Villains features “The Evil Has Landed,” where you won’t find any synth keyboard. It’s just old-fashioned QOTSA -- deep, fast bass and perfectly eerie electric guitar carrying the song to a crescendo to which you can’t help but dance. “The Evil Has Landed” is rock ‘n roll deep down to its core and does much to remind people that rock ‘n roll is a dance party genre -- impending death be damned. The music sounds like what the lyrics say: “Going on a living spree / Plenty wanna come with me / You don't wanna miss your chance / Near-life experience / Faces making noise / Say, be good girls and boys / It ain't half empty or full / You can break the glass, or drink it all / Dig it.”
Finally, “Villains Of Circumstance” brings Villains to a close in epic fashion. The lovely, six-minute love song is a fitting, semi-slow-dance ending to an album built on high-tempo, dance tracks with clap lines. It’s no “Another Love Song,” but that’s because QOTSA has evolved since 2002.
As far as ranking Villains amongst QOTSA’s prior releases, I’d say it’s no Songs for the Deaf or Era Vulgaris when it comes to completeness, but probably better than ...Like Clockwork and Lullabies to Paralyze. When it comes to the hits, though, only Songs for the Deaf compares.
Here are my personal top 10 favorite QOTSA songs to provide further explanation as to why they are the best band of my generation, and why Villains is an indication that QOTSA is only getting better with age.
It’s hard to take a day off when your job consists of writing about exactly what you want to write about whenever that inspiration strikes. I’m usually inspired to write something daily, but sometimes a vacation can go a long way in refreshing your thoughts and disconnecting your brain from all things work. That’s why I went vinyl record shopping on Sunday.
Vinyl’s comeback is no secret. I’m 31, and while my parents had a record player and used it often when I was a kid, I didn’t get into records until more recently when I started listening to them with friends. It became a kind of ritual. After our days listening to radio at work, whether traditional or online, and mp3s from our phones during our commute, we needed some art we could touch -- something tangible.
The quality of a vinyl recording is far superior to that of an mp3 or CD, too. I don’t care what anyone says. You can’t have better quality if you don’t capture everything in the first place. A digital recording does not capture the complete sound wave, while an analog recording does. That’s why Robert Plant’s voice sounds so much better on vinyl, because nothing is lost.
What I love most about the vinyl comeback, though, is the act of purchasing music. I went out looking for a few specific things on Sunday. After hearing The Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues,” I wanted to focus on buying records that featured horns, so basically anything by Chicago or my favorite band in middle school, Huey Lewis and the News. I know, I’m a throwback, but Back to the Future was one of my favorite movies as a kid, and I’ve always been a sucker for horns.
Did I find what I sought? Not really. Did I care? No. And I still ended up buying four records on Sunday.
Starting at Know Name Records in Bloomington, I discovered a bunch of records I’ll eventually buy, but the one I decided I had to have that very moment was Buddy Holly’s “Gold.” The sleeve was in terrible shape, but the vinyl looked great, so for $8 I took it home. I figured it would be one I’d never sell anyways, so what do I care what the sleeve looks like. If it plays it’s worth eight bucks. What motivated the purchase? I had just seen a Buddy Holly impersonator in Las Vegas with my dad and realized how great that man was despite not giving him a lot of play throughout my life. Now I can replay that show in my living room whenever I want.
Since I didn’t find what I sought, I went to Roadrunner Records in Minneapolis, where I immediately found the soundtrack to The Blues Brothers movie for another $8. No Huey Lewis and the News in the building, but at least I found some horns.
I walked into Extreme Noise in Minneapolis without knowing what to expect. The staff was incredibly helpful right from the start, so instead of walking in and looking around, I was immediately asked if there was something specific I was seeking.
“Yeah. Huey Lewis and the News’s ‘Sports,’” I said. The staff member smiled.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’ll have that one. Maybe Roadrunner Records would. You should probably be able to find it for two bucks anywhere.”
“I just came from there. What do you guys specialize in?”
“We have punk and metal mostly. We probably have who you’ve got on your shirt.” I was wearing The Menzingers’ concert t-shirt I bought when I saw them in Seattle. More importantly, though, I had stumbled upon music-buying bliss. I could spend an entire day in this store and not find everything I want to buy. In fact, everyone in the store, even shoppers, helped search for the sleeve for The Screeching Weasel’s new album “How to Make Enemies and Irritate People.” It was a fantastic shopping experience.
I also took home the album that probably made me a punk the moment I heard it -- Dead Boys’ “Young Loud and Snotty.” I might never listen to it in any other format again because the record sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s as close to seeing a Dead Boys’ show as I’ll ever get. Upon hearing the first side of the record, I posted this on Facebook with a picture of the record: "Strangely, the best I've felt listening to music."
It was one of the most pleasurable Sundays I’ve had in some time, and the Minnesota Twins lost that day. It will probably become a bi-weekly adventure. I’ll get my paycheck and head down to the record stores, grabbing long lost classics and new punk records that will gain value over time. Because what’s the point in buying art if it’s not worth anything more than a listen once in awhile?
Editor’s Note: I will publish a review of some of the most underappreciated records of all time as a follow-up to this piece.