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Arguing About Music Is Better Than You Thought

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots. Remember them? Tons of fun but, let's be honest, super-frustrating, too, as every match, at least at my house, always degenerated into one combatant holding down both buttons and forcing his robot to push out both arms and move forward until one or both little robot fists would connect with the sensitive robot jaw of the other. 

It reminds me of arguing about music or, more precisely, engaging in the argument in which we may heatedly discuss why one of our favorite bands is better than one (or all) of your favorite bands or, even more fun, which musical genre has more artistic merit.

Wouldn't it be nice if the folks in your life would give you a simple warning when they are about to drop a truth (or bullshit) bomb on your head? Often they don't, and it is a simple fact, proven by Mick Jagger's third law of arrogant poseurs (yes, I made that up), there are people out there who just love to make other people mad regardless of the merit of their argument. Spend five minutes on Facebook and you'll see a truly frightening example of this type of ridiculousness, I guarantee it.

Challenging someone's position on something completely subjective is like battling with toy robots because the only thing that might get hurt is your pride, but it can definitely piss you off.

So prepare to be upset, not because the bands I like are better than the bands you like, but because I will undoubtedly touch a nerve as we examine this pastime together. I'll go one step further, as well. I propose it is a good thing to argue about music, healthy, even.

You've heard this one, right? You're rocking out to your favorite record and some smart-ass comes along and says, "What the hell is that? That's not music."

Of course, when confronted about anything, you have two choices, fight or flight. The teenage me, who was highly likely to instigate this type of attack, loved nothing more than an easy target, so in the early ’80s, I would often pick on a band like Duran Duran.

Some of you will need to look them up, as while they have yet to become one of those lame '80s acts working the casino circuit (and not the good casinos, mind you) they probably aren't far off. It's also possible you're simply not old enough to remember their heyday, but for a very long time, they were huge. The gals loved them, which was a huge drag for all teenage guys in the '80s because how could you compete with the dreamy Simon Le Bon and Nick Rhodes? They had the hair, makeup, clothes, and a ton of hit songs, especially the weepy ones.

Typically, since I had zero game and liked bands who arguably were just as lame, it would come down to playing the "underground" or "punk is the real music" card, and I'd like to think I opened a few eyes to things a little more out there, but I also learned to appreciate and understand why my friends or classmates liked a band like Duran Duran. Lord knows I spent enough time listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Fixx, and Icicle Works (all of whom were 10 times better than Duran Duran) in 1984, but I also got to learn about bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, who I hated at first, and the Cure by arguing with people about which band is better, weepiness aside.

As I drifted more into the punk rock world, the arguments only continued. It's always been interesting to me how many folks out there get super-pissed when you say, for example, a band like the Misfits sucks. I never liked them (going back way before the Danzig incident) and have always felt they were overrated and largely untalented. This is blasphemy to people I love dearly, though, and I've gotten in heated discussions over the years about their considerable lack of skill.

On the other hand, I love the Dead Kennedys. and it has always seemed they were just as polarizing. You either love them or hate them, and those who hate them sure like to bag on poor Jello Biafra. Whether you dig his politics or not, Jello Biafra is a great punk rock frontman, and the angular and socially conscious punk they created in the early '80s is as iconic as anything the Misfits ever did, yet just as polarizing. Though I'm not one of the folks who have learned to love the Misfits music over the years, I'm sure there are folks similar to me in musical taste who have learned to accept them.

For the record, though, the Dead Kennedys are way better than the Misfits, who are way better than Guns N' Roses. I'm crossing genres now, but bear with me. Since I first heard Guns N' Roses, who are a walking musical argument by themselves, they have been my barometer band, which means this: If the music is better than Guns N' Roses, I don't change the radio dial. If it is not, I'm going to keep searching for something to listen to while I'm in my car. I really don't care for Guns N' Roses, and their particular brand of druggy, boozy rock 'n' roll has never been my cup of tea, but there is also no denying they wrote some catchy songs. I wonder what they would have been like, for example, if they had the same ethics and business plan of a band like Fugazi? Appetite for Instruction? Hmm.

In fact, much like the Duranies I used to torment, and be tormented by, in the early '80s, it was equally easy to bait Gn'R fans into a good argument from about 1988 until people stopped caring about a decade ago. Some of it probably stemmed from the whole punk-versus-metal argument, which is super-fun, for sure, but Axl, Slash, Duff, and the rest of them were never really metal.

If anything, Gn'R was metal in the way Van Halen is metal, which is pretty much on the safest side of hair metal/rock 'n' roll you can get, talented or otherwise. I like my metal to be much more in the thrash vein or, better yet, I like my metal like I like my coffee, as black as it gets. But in reality, there are so many other genres of metal I like (and like to argue about).

In fact, there is a plethora of good metal-related arguments to choose from. Which sub-genre of metal is the best? (Thrash.) Which era of metal is the best? (Early '80s.) Which version/decade/bass player of Metallica is the best? (Cliff Burton, even though the Garage Days Re-Revisited album with Jason Newsted is pretty badass.)

You could argue about metal for literally days and still not have an answer for why the headbanger crossed the road. Probably not to get a haircut or a shower, but I digress. The fact is, I've learned about a ton of metal bands from arguing with people about these very questions.

It took the sage wisdom of Valley drummer extraordinaire Mike "Bam Bam" Sversvold to open my own eyes a bit in the mid-'80s when he talked about how punk and metal are not that much different from each other, it's just that — and I paraphrase here — the metals singers can sing better. (Check out the Flipside Fanzine Compilation Volume 2 from 1984 for his full quote before the JFA track, a nice live version of "Out of School.")

Metal versus punk, punk versus ska, reggae versus Nancy Reagan — you name it, you can argue it. I haven't even mentioned country music, which is awesome if it was recorded prior to 1965, which can be translated as: Fuck that Garth Brooks shit. If you're not named Willy, Waylon, Johnny, George, or Loretta, the vast majority of the post-1965 country (and western) music is basically disco for Stetson lovers.

Ah, disco, how many arguments did you spawn?

Let's face it. We love to argue about completely subjective things. Paintings, movies, games, music, whatever you want to argue about is fair game and when you put a little thought into it, you can actually teach someone something if they are willing to listen. Entire TV shows are devoted to this practice, so we even like watching it, too.

No matter what you like, you can defend it with a statement as simple as, "I like it." Of course, that's not going to win you many arguments, but it's certainly not wrong, either.

So let's begin: Supertramp is way more entertaining than almost any other band of its era/genre.

Beatles or Stones? The Who and the Kinks are both better, with the Who being the best.

The best live music footage ever is The Cramps at the Napa State Hospital.

Pop punk is neither pop nor punk, and most of it sucks.

There is no band worth paying more than what you make in two hours of work to see in concert.

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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon