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Steve: Simon and I don't always agree on everything, but usually we can accept each other's opinion even if we don't necessarily agree with them. This time, however, we are out to prove each other wrong. In the status of great bands, Simon believes that Pearl Jam is a better band than Guns N' Roses, while I wholeheartedly disagree. We intend to throw our best arguments out there in an attempt to prove the other wrong, and come to an agreement for once and for all on which band is greater.
I'll start this argument off, and I'll leave sales statistics and chart positions out of the equation; since those don't necessarily distinguish a great band (especially when it comes to pop, hip hop acts, etc.). Instead, my first argument in favor of Guns N' Roses is that they are and have always been a captivating rock band in a time when great rock bands have gone missing. Watch any live performance of Guns N' Roses (whether old lineup or new) and you'll see a show that is unrivaled by any other. Whfether it's Axl running across the stage, or Robin Finck jumping into the crowd at the end of a concert, they put on a show that is worth remembering. And when you add the mystique of Guns N' Roses, with their controversial concerts (cancelled shows and or late starts), it's evident that this may be the last true rock band (for rock was meant to be rebellious in nature). There are few greater feelings than waiting two hours after the opening band has completed their set, when the thoughts of a cancellation are looming in the mind, and then all hell breaks loose when the first few chords of "Welcome To The Jungle" pummel through the night like an unstoppable train.
Simon: Well Steve, so far we can agree so far on one thing, this article has been brewing for a long time. You know very well that the Wicked Info office has had more than one blow up over it and sadly, sometimes innocents get hurt in the fracas (I don't think that intern will ever be able to have kids now). So let's settle this one now and forever. I take great solace in knowing (as always) that I'm 100% right.
First, you're absolutely correct on the fact that you cannot determine a winner based on total album sales (GN'R dominates in this category). If that was the defining criteria for supremacy, Kenny G would be champion over Jay Z, Britney Spears would trump Bob Dylan, The Village People would eviscerate Eminem, The Backstreet Boys would demolish The Police, and KC and the Sunshine Band would be superior to Johnny Cash. Do you see the inherent error with that sort of logic? If not, you must reeeeeeally like "(Shake, Shake, Shake) Shake Your Booty," and you have my most heartfelt sympathy.
Secondly, I will also concede that if you were to ask 100 people on the street which band they liked better, the great majority would say Guns N' Roses. But, and this is a huge but (insert sophomoric pun here) if you were to follow up with the salient question of "Why do you like them better" I'm sure you'd get a huge sample of "I don't know, I just do." You would find that people are basing their vote on the band's notoriety and not their body of work. Go ahead and dare them to name more than two GN'R songs and you'll discover that they can't.
Here's my first ballast: Eddie has a superior voice.
Eddie Vedder has a once in a generation voice. Described as a "golden baritone," he is 100% unmistakable. So unambiguous is Vedder that you know instantly you're listening to Pearl Jam and no one else. Whether softly flowing on tracks like "Betterman," or tearing it up on "Even Flow," Eddie simply has no peer.
Rose of the other hand, has amazing range, but it's nothing we haven't heard before. In fact, I bet it you took a sample group and had them listen to song snippets by The Scorpions, Def Leopard, Motley Crew, Poison, etc., they couldn't make out Axl from the rest of that crap metal. While talented, Rose does not possess a voice which stands out amongst his fellow spandex wearing brethren.
Steve: Wow Simon, of all the arguments you could make I never in the world thought you'd argue that Axl has a "common" sound. Axl, in fact, has a very unmistakable sound and, as you said, a lot of range. As far as the public not being able to name more than two Guns N' Roses songs? You've got to be kidding me on that one. The public can name more than two songs on GN'R's debut album Appetite For Destruction alone. You have at least "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Welcome To The Jungle," and "Paradise City." I'd venture that a large number of people would also be familiar with "Mr. Brownstone," "It's So Easy," "Nightrain," and "Rocket Queen."
That leads me to my next point, while Eddie Vedder does have a great voice, it doesn't break any barriers. On the other hand, compare Axl on "It's So Easy," "Welcome To The Jungle," and "November Rain," and you'll see a small portion of the vocal ability that Axl has. The first few times I listed to "It's So Easy" I thought there were two or three singers performing on that song. Nope, all Axl (again, showing his range).
And let me make another point before passing the burden back to you, Guns N' Roses make great songs. And no, I'm not just talking about the songs that people hear on the radio. One of the greatest detractors in the Guns N' Roses argument over the years is that they only had three and a half albums of original material (Appetite For Destruction, Lies EP, and Use Your Illusion I & II), but now with their upcoming album, Chinese Democracy, on its way that argument won't be able to be used anymore. At the same time, how relevant of an argument was it? Not only did you get the well-known hit songs by GN'R including the aforementioned hits ‘Welcome To The Jungle," "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Paradise City," "Mr. Brownstone," and "November Rain," but you also got such great songs as:
Don't Cry (both versions)
Don't Damn Me
You Could Be Mine
Many fans would also make an argument for "Breakdown," "14 Years," "Yesterdays," and the phenomenal remake of Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door.' There's just no comparison when you rate the quality of those songs to Pearl Jam, and the diverse nature of them (from ballad to hard rocker, and at times politically poignant as with "Civil War").
Simon: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'd like to present to you one of the most blatant pieces of GN'R propaganda I've ever heard: "I'd venture that a large number of people would also be familiar with ‘Mr. Brownstone,' ‘It's So Easy,' ‘Nightrain,' and ‘Rocket Queen.'"
If I didn't know that was coming from you Steve, I'd swear it would have been Mr. Rose's publicist. You're not just sippin' the Kool-Aid, you should be busting through a brick wall screaming "Oh, yeah!" Your statement falls apart in every section of society (except for GN'R fanboy sites).
To your other point, why is it necessary for Vedder's voice to "break any barriers"? Did Sinatra? Nope, Ol' blue eyes just sounded above and beyond his modern craftsmen, but no one claimed "Holy damn! That Frank kid is re-defining what I thought my auditory experience could ever be!" Rose may have more chameleon-like vocals, but he can also be painfully shrill (some of his songs sound like someone is grinding his nuts in a blender). I'm also not a fan of that feminine sound he affects so often. If I wanted to hear a grown man sing like a lady, I could spin some of my Bee Gees discs. Vedder's sound is smooth, controlled, and powerful (it's akin to wrapping your ears up in a warm acoustic blanket).
Rating the quality of songs? That's a tough and subjective minefield. Here's a quick two song sample.
"Jeremy" vs. "Welcome to the Jungle" (a.k.a The definitive Pearl Jam and Guns N' Roses songs)
"Jeremy" spoke poignantly about the angst felt by the youth of our nation. Based on two true stories, it spun a tale of behavior which was chillingly played out in locations such as Columbine, CO. The song is plaintive, powerful, and unlike GN'R's tunes, doesn't sound the least bit dated.
"Welcome to the Jungle," is a not so touching song about...wait for it... Los Angeles. It admits nothing, stands for nothing, oh and it's also played at every major sporting event over and over again. Admittedly, it's much easier to listen to the GN'R ditty in mass rotation, but there's a key reason behind that: it has no substance (not that's there's anything wrong with that. Sometimes all you wanna' do is raaawk out).
"Daughter" vs. "One in a Million" (a.k.a The songs with ugly protagonists)
"Daughter," Vedder's song features a protagonist who is abusive to his daughter with learning disabilities. This is one of those songs that you absolutely love... until you hear the artist's revelation about its meaning. It's still an amazing listen and far superior to...
"One in a Million," Rose's song about getting hustled in the Greyhound Bus station in the city of (you guessed it) Los Angeles, features homophobic and racist slang that would make any KKK member squeal with glee. Axl actually defended his use of the "N Bomb," stating he used the word to symbolize "somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem... the word n*gger doesn't necessarily mean black." Rose didn't have such a "non-threatening" spin for his protagonists attack on homosexuals whom he called "faggots," who were "spread[ing] some f*ckin' disease." Ouch! Enough said.
Okay, let's flip this bad boy back to you. While you answer, I'm going to do my impression of Axl and smack around Stephanie Seymour. (Just kidding.)