Sep 012011

I believe yesterday was some slightly hyped release date of the Blu-Ray edition of the Brian De Palma-directed, Oliver Stone-written, Al Pacino-starring 1983 movie Scarface. What do you think of that flick? I couldn’t stand it when it came out. I walked out of the theater two thirds of the way through. I can’t stand it any time I’ve tried to watch it since. For me it marked the point of no return for Pacino, when he amped up his performance to cartoonish levels and never came back to the remotely human, slow-burning level that he showed he was capable of nailing in the first two Godfather films.

Scarface confirmed my belief that De Palma was, for the most part, a hack. I don’t think I knew who Stone was at the time, but years later it was clear where he was headed in his cry-for-help of a Hollywood career. I also remember, while fidgeting through the movie in the theater, being disappointed that De Palma couldn’t at least have gotten the young actress who played Pacino’s girlfriend, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, to succumb to one of his patented exploitive, kinky voyeuristic scenes. Jeez!

Years later I so dislike Scarface that I honestly prefer De Palma’s piss-poor flipside of his own film, Carlito’s Way. At least that movie tells its overblown morality tale from the point of view of a character as nerdy and pathetic in their latent quests for danger as I imagine De Palma and Stone to be. There’s a sense of atonement, too, in Pacino’s willingness to play the relatively straight man to Sean Penn‘s suddenly unbridled, geeky Jewish lawyer. I bet Pacino took some secret joy in watching the proud Penn stoop to the director’s heartfelt fantasies. I bet the director took some secret joy in knowing that he could get his new, unknown actress to take her top off for his edification. I know I took great joy in seeing this crew stew in the slop De Palma and Pacino created 10 years earlier.

Today, critics are willing to make “50,000 Elvis fans can’t be wrong” excuses for the brilliance of Scarface. Yeah, yeah, like so many other ’80s pop-trash vehicles that require critics to earn their pay by reviewing their shiny, new Blu-Ray releases, the movie anticipates the fall of a cinematic era and the rise of popular expressions of grand notions of the American spirit as framed by the Reagan Era. Zzzzzzzzzzzz..

So all this got me thinking: What is the Scarface of rock ‘n roll, that is, the populist trash album that music lovers are strongly divided over that marked the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age and that served as a vehicle for extreme fantasies of powerless, ordinary folk?

One album that immediately came to mind, even though I actually like it, is Bruce Springsteen‘s Born in the USA. Some old-time Boss fans may rally around that suggestion, but I don’t think that’s a work of a hack or an album that served as a vehicle for extreme fantasies of powerless, ordinary folk, no matter how many politicians who’ve used the title track to introduce themselves at public appearances wishes it were the case.

Another album that came to mind, that I also like a bit (being the longtime non-fan and only mildest appreciator of) is Pink Floyd‘s The Wall. Because I don’t feel anywhere near as strongly about that album, pro or con, as some might, I have trouble fully backing that suggestion. This is why I need your help, your input in seeing if there’s any merit to my thoughts on Scarface and the possibility that such a work exists in the music world. The album you suggest need not be from the period of Scarface, it can mark the beginning of the end of its own creative era.

I acknowledge that some of you may love Scarface and can cite an album that is the Scarface of Rock for positive reasons. That’s cool too.


  119 Responses to “What’s the Scarface of Rock?”

  1. saturnismine

    It could be argued that there are few bands lucky enough to have a Scarface album (if I’m reading your definition correctly).

    Maybe the Scarface test is whether or not posters for that album wind up on sale in the Student Activity Center of most colleges during the early weeks of September.

    I think “Pleased to Meet Me” is the Replacement’s Scarface album. If not, then the one after that is.

  2. I don’t think DePalma’s a hack. He’s made some movies I absolutely love (Carrie, Blow-Out) but Scarface is admittedly awful.

    Possible Scarface album: Let’s Dance

  3. mockcarr

    Does the album have to have a catch phrase too?

  4. saturnismine

    I thought Blow Out was okay, too.

    Yeah…Tattoo You would be the Stones’ Scarface album; ubiquitous and not as great as the hoi poloi’s high esteem of it would make you think.

    Is Abbey Road the Beatles Scarface album?

  5. alexmagic

    I think De Palma has become a hack, but once was an interesting filmmaker with some very particular issues. Scarface stinks, its only worthwhile legacy being the way its soundtrack ended up being the rock radio station for Grand Theft Auto 3.

    The Wall was the first thing to come to mind. I don’t think it’s garbage, but I don’t care for it (and considered bringing it up in the ’70s critical downgrade thread, but didn’t feel like listening to it again, which wouldn’t have been fair). I thought of it, though, because it’s popular and well known but not Dark Side huge, but does fit that “must be in every college dorm” thing that sat brings up which was my first instinct for a Rock Scarface.

    Some other alternatives that came to mind right away: Bat Out Of Hell. Hard to articulate why this came to mind right after The Wall as a potential Rock Scarface, but it just feels like it should be the answer to me. I’d say it lies somewhere in a mix of being very popular, not particularly well-respected critically, mostly enjoyable for camp value and makes me question the taste or morals of anyone who genuinely likes it or involved in making it.

    Another one: Aerosmith’s Get A Grip. Aerosmith’s Pacino-like point of no return (you could argue an earlier album and I probably wouldn’t challenge it), tremendously popular in spite of the material, something I would never own and “Livin’ On The Edge” would maybe be it’s Young Michelle Pfieffer as the least awful thing about it.

    If, however, one were to get very particular and define the Scarface Of Rock to be the (awful) piece of media most likely beloved by both dudes in college and platinum-selling hip hop artists, I think Coldplay’s A Rush Of Blood To The Head would be a darkhorse contender.

  6. shawnkilroy


  7. saturnismine

    this ^^^

  8. Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle. Miller started out as an interesting and quirky artist and his early albums, while highly variable, were always worth a listen. 1973’s The Joker began a big upturn in sales at the cost of being too slight and cute. However, it was Eagle that was the monster hit with songs that were good radio fodder but not much more. No more real experimentation or taking chances – just well-played good-timey adult rock for those who shrank away from disco or punk/new-wave. “Let’s throw in some synthy stuff in to make the yahoos think we’re modern, OK?” Book of Dreams was more of the same that only solidified Miller’s new arena-friendly image. Those two 1976-1977 Miller albums are pleasant, but Sailor or Brave New World they ain’t. By the way, they could also qualify as “chick” albums.

  9. Alexmagic’s argument for Bat Out of Hell is perfect.

  10. Let’s Dance is an EXCELLENT Scarface suggestion!

  11. Except for one thing – it didn’t mark ” the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age”. After all, most people had never even heard of Meat Loaf prior to the Bat album except for those few who saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show in its pre-cult years.

  12. Blow Out is a nice knock-off of The Conversation. Carrie is solid. The Untouchables was solid. The old tv show, done with Harrison Ford as the doctor on the run from a crime he didn’t commit, is solid. He directed a Mission Impossible movie, maybe one of the better ones? Sure, De Palma’s done a few decent things, but I think his approach is generally “hackish,” and a lot of the resulting films suffer from his slavish devotion to ripping off earlier movies tied in with his repressed “bad boy” fantasies.

  13. EXCELLENT Scarface of Rock suggestions!

  14. Probably. This is another one of those albums that tells me how much I mustn’t really like a band: for me it was their first enjoyable album!

  15. Another tremendous example!

  16. Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home

  17. Interesting choice, but did it really end Dylan’s golden era, or did it usher in a new one?

    I’d say that Nashville Skyline is a better fit for the criteria. Maybe Blood on the Tracks?

  18. How can an album that was followed by Highway 61 Revisited and then by Blonde On Blonde be seen as marking “the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age “? Might as well say anyone’s first album qualifies.

  19. mockcarr

    When Meatloaf’s introduced, it’ll be “Say hello to my big friend!”

  20. Huh?!?! Or are you saying you’re a big fan of Scarface? That’s one of my favorite Dylan albums.

  21. As an aside, please note that a Scarface of Rock album should be more than a “jumping the shark” point. It should signify some great, irrevocable cultural divide as well as changing the course of the artists involved.

  22. Mr. Mod, two points about your intro:

    (1) I know what you mean about Pacino (“amped up his performance to cartoonish levels and never came back to the remotely human”). I was fortunate, though, to see him about 15 years ago in a play in a small theater in New Haven. Somehow, someone scored a coup by having him appear in this two person play in New Haven prior to Broadway. And then an AIDS nursing home I’m involved with scored a second coup by being able to have one of the limited performances be a benefit for us. And then I was able to get front row seats which put me about 10 feet from Pacino for the entire play. None of the cartoon, none of the caricature just as powerful an acting performance as I’ve ever witnessed.

    (2) I’d put Springsteen as an example here but I’d choose Born To Run not Born In The USA. BTR is a great album but it was the end of the freewheeling Bruce of the first two albums and was surely the beginning of the “fantasies of powerless, ordinary folk”.

  23. Then Nashville Skyline definitely fits the bill. It ended Dylan’s “classic” era and pointed the way to the far-more-problematic 1970s Bob.

  24. I never saw “Scarface” but I think I get the drift. Sting’s “Soul Cages” is where I jumped ship. I thought the first post Police solo album was great and the second one fine if for nothing else than the “Little Wing” cover. By “Soul Cages” he was taking himself far too seriously and arrogant enough to think people cared.

  25. I’m not the biggest Dylan fan but I think the Big Three (BIABH, Blonde on Blonde, and Highway 61) are indisputably his best work, and I think that is probably a majority view. I was just sort of kidding (sort of) because at the time, it was a controversial move and I think the folk purists who made up a significant part of his fan base considered rock and roll to be kids music.

  26. saturnismine

    R.E.M’s “Out of Time”.

  27. I saw him in Richard the 3rd when I was in high school and he was mesmerizing on stage (although I think he had started to yell a little bit even back then).

  28. misterioso

    I swear I have read Mod’s posting several times and I am still not sure what is being sought here, but I agree with the general sentiment that DePalma’s output is mostly lame and Scarface inexplicably highly regarded in some circles.

    So, to the limited extent that I am getting this, I’ll go with Born in the USA, if only because De Palma directed the Dancing in the Dark video.

  29. pudman13

    Absolutely! Oats nailed it. That album is the exact dividing point between people who can and can not abide 80s production. I’ve been saying for years that it was the most negatively influential album of its era (except for maybe the first Van Halen album) because it changed the way everything sounded afterwards, and for the worse. But other people still love it and have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.

  30. BigSteve

    I’m thinking about Green Day’s Dookie or the Foo Fighters The Color and the Shape — 90s albums that showed how to take guitar rock, amp it up with punk rock signifiers, but keep enough melodic content that it could be marketed across multiple demographics. The Blink 182’s and Nickelbacks of the 00s would follow.

  31. al, funny you should mention the still-considerable abilities of Live Pacino. I too saw him in a small play about 10 years ago, and he was really good and played his part within the context of the other actors. Maybe he’s crossed into Grateful Dead territory: “You have to see him live, man.”

  32. THAT is a good one! If you didn’t like Soul Cages continue to stay away from Scarface.

  33. I thought he was really good in The Insider, for what it’s worth.

    And don’t forget, Glengarry Glen Ross was a good 10 years after Scarface. I think you just have to be very careful with his latter-day filmography. Whereas you could easily ignore the last 15 years of DeNiro’s career, right?

  34. Well, everybody got to yell and posture in Glengarry Glen Ross, so he blended in just fine. I have yet to see The Insider. What you say is true about De Niro – in fact, has he done anything worthwhile beside Meet the Parents since his last Scorcese movie or the movie he did with Charles Grodin, whichever came last? That said, I don’t think Pacino at his brief peak ever held a candle to De Niro, who in his prime could play anything but a lover of all things. Has anyone seen that love movie he did with Meryl Streep? He was as miscast as David Hyde Pierce would be starring in a boxing film.

  35. misterioso

    Y’know, I was about to mention Glengarry Glen Ross. That is the last time I remember enjoying Pacino. He is relatively restrained in that movie.

  36. misterioso

    gregg, you are a kind and generous soul to regard the pretentious pile of well-polished crap that is the first Sting records as great or fine. I’d rather be tied to a chair and forced to have a conversation with Stewart Copeland before I’d listen to that stuff again. The mere memory of that “Russians” video makes my stomach churn. I gotta say, if you don’t think he was taking himself far too seriously from the outset then we’re talking about two different Stings.

  37. alexmagic

    Yeah, Pacino was great in Glengarry and The Insider, two very bright spots in a long, long run of crud like Scent of a Woman, S1m0ne, The Devil’s Advocate and so on.

    De Niro’s been on an almost complete losing streak that starts after Ronin in 1998. I feel like that’s the bigger loss.

    Which of them would qualify as the Rolling Stones of Film, I’m not sure.

  38. BigSteve

    Dream of the Blue Turtles was the first CD I ever bought. I still think If You Love Somebody Set Them Free is a fine piece of radio pop.

  39. I thought Blow Out was a knock off of Blow Up. I thought they were both lame for different reasons although Blow Up did have the Yardbirds playing “Stroll On” in it.

  40. I think a lot of the enjoyment I get out of Scarface is the campiness of it all. I think some of the camp is intentional and some isn’t. I mean director and cas must have been aware that people would laugh at a lot of it (Say hello to my little friend . . . ). Michelle Pfeiffer’s character (Elvira Hancock!) is funny when she says “I wish everyone would stop saying [bleep] all the time!” — or something like that. As far as Pacino goes, I remember one reviewer at the time citing his “Oscar-stalking performance” which I though was right-on.

    I don’t know if the Hall has previously hashed out Steve Winwood solo stuff, but I would nominate Roll With It for this category.

  41. “the most negatively influential album…”

    That’s a great concept.

    I can’t stand Eddie Van Halen’s playing (or tone, or song writing or fashion sense, etc), but at least he seemed original when he first appeared and he is technically a very good player. Unfortunately, he launched countless horrible imitators (not unlike Kurt Cobain, by the way).

  42. I have a soft spot for the Devil’s Advocate because it seems like that was a movie where the scenery needed to be chewed as opposed to Al reading a script and thinking “I could totally nail this part. All I have to do is RATCHET UP THE DIALOG every now and then.”

  43. tonyola

    Actually, Soul Cages does rank as a point where a big change for Sting occurred. It was followed by Ten Summoner’s Tales, which to me is Sting’s best solo effort because for once he seems relaxed, loose, and not so concerned about his I’m-so-jazzy-cool image. The result is a pretty decent album.

  44. saturnismine

    there was a good little blurb in one of the recent GQ’s about DeNiro’s fall from the heights, which also pointed out that his characters are consistently not too good with the ladies.

    And they’re right.

    Even his Deer Hunter character can’t quite get it right with Streep, who craves him.

  45. misterioso

    So Ronin is, what, DeNiro’s Tattoo You?

  46. saturnismine

    I think Peter Gabriel’s “So” fits into this category, too.

  47. tonyola

    Yes with 90125. No more real prog for these guys, though they still snuck a few prog touches into their newly-minted pop image. It was time to wipe away the tears, embrace the ’80s, and cash in big time. Duke by Genesis had the same purpose and achieved the same goal – mega-success instead of cult status.

  48. misterioso

    I will go so far as to concede the basic non-loathsomeness of If You Love Somebody and even Fortress Around Your Heart, if that is the right title. Children’s Crusade? Russians? All that faux jazz? Ugh.

  49. saturnismine

    Isn’t it strange to think that 90125 was released only three years after “Drama?” During the interim, it seemed like Yes would *never* put out another album. But in reality it was probably only a short break and then back into the studio with the old singer and the new guitarist (and the old old OLD keyboardist).

    What you say of Duke is true, but I think that in this category, something a little after that, maybe Abacab, or the one simply called “Genesis” might be more apt.

  50. tonyola

    Drama got slammed really hard when it was first released. Not only was prog completely out of fashion in 1980, everyone said that it wasn’t really Yes anymore. How could it be with the Buggles guys instead of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman? Personally, I think Drama is pretty great – possibly their best album since Close To the Edge. That’s because Howe and Squire had a bigger say in the music, and they didn’t have Anderson’s mystico blather or Wakeman’s neo-classicism to deal with. That meant some uncharacteristically muscular playing, and Horn and Downes complemented them nicely.

  51. Blink-182 owes it’s name (or number) to Scarface

  52. saturnismine

    We agree on Drama.

    It’s as if they couldn’t win.

    Some said that since prog was out of fashion, it wasn’t worth the listen, but many Yes fans felt it was a betrayal because they thought it was yes trying to go “new wave” with their new personnel and their new look, which was futuristic instead of about being in nature.

    But I thought, at the time, that it was kind of amazing that with all those changes, they still managed to make an album that very much FEELS like a Yes album.

    It was as if even though only Howe and Squire holding down the fort from the old days (I always thought that compared to Bruford, White was a caretaker drummer in that band, even though he hasn’t really vacated the spot since he took over), the idea of Yes could accommodate much more than what the post-Relayer version was giving it.

    90125, on the other hand, was just a bit much; taking on a guitarist who was well-practiced in the Eddie VH / Neil Schon school of guitar was a bad idea.

  53. machinery

    Punch the Clock.

    Great gnashing of teeth among the faithful. All downhill after that.

  54. cliff sovinsanity

    Carrie is an art-house horror masterpiece. The cinematography is brilliant.

  55. cliff sovinsanity

    I don’t think it’s Scarface material considering how the follow up Automatic For The People was so much better.
    I can never understand why so many people have a problem with Out of Time. Take out 3 songs (Low, Endgame and Belong) and I think the album stands up amongst Green and Automatic For The People.
    Come on…

  56. cliff sovinsanity

    How about Surf’s Up ?? I think it’s the best of the Beach Boys late 60’s albums. They never made another album that approached the same depth of songwriting. Also, it’s an album that divides plenty of people. I know plenty that don’t see it’s appeal, but it’s my fave Beach Boys album. Don’t Go Near The Water, ’til I Die, Surfs Up, Feel Flows etc.
    Don’t get me started on Student Demonstration Time

    Also, I don’t know anyone who thinks Scarface is brilliant. But, it’s a whole lot of fun.

  57. ladymisskirroyale

    Right on! The beginning of the end.

  58. ladymisskirroyale

    I liked that 2nd Sting album quite a bit. Nice variety of songs, some jazz-inspired stuff.

  59. misterioso

    I agree entirely! It does indeed stand up among Green and Automatic for the People. They’re all shitty.

  60. misterioso

    I am going to refrain from sarcasm here regarding these records, just ’cause it’s so nice to see you two getting all pally-wally! It warms the cockles of my heart, it does.

  61. cliff sovinsanity

    You can swing all you want. I’m sticking my neck out far when it comes to this period of REM. It’s hard to believe those nerds got so big without compromise.

  62. Fair enough but I liked it and the risk involved to do it. Loved the band and there was a documentary (I know) entitled “Bring on the Night” that was awesome. The thing is, it worked …for a while.

  63. BigSteve

    I just listened to Blue Turtles for the 1st time in ages and ages. I thought it sounded good. Great band.

  64. Elton John and Too Low for Zero. This was Elton’s humongo 1983 comeback after several years in both the artistic and commercial doldrums. It spawned a couple of huge hits and “I’m Still Standing” was a pretty fine upbeat tune. It held out hope that Elton would remember what made him so good in his heyday and start rocking again. However, it actually signalled the end of Elton as a real rocker. He was now more interested in becoming a slick and polished popster heavy on the ballads but light on real drive and energy. We know where that led to – the bathetic Lion King song and the drippingly mawkish Diana tribute of his “Candle in the Wind” rewrite.

  65. tonyola, with all due respect…NO! And this is not a jump the shark thing. Beside the fact that Elton John was already pretty much irrelevant as a musician after “Island Girl,” any one of his bad-to-mediocre albums did not signal a greater cultural shift or encourage people to hollowly hang their fantasies on his music, did they? Well, “I’m Still Standing” did cast Elton into the role of SURVIVOR, raising his talk-show/empathetic appeal, but I don’t think even hardcore Elton John fans ever debated what it all meant, man, the way Pacino fans debated his historic turn in Scarface.

  66. True, but it did not hold a broad cultural impact or get displayed on the walls of college dorm rooms, or however someone characterized The Wall.

  67. saturnismine

    hey, man…Drama is SO GOOD that it brought me and sir Ola together.

    Be respectful, please. We’re having a moment.

  68. FREAKY! When’s the last time 2 Main Stage posts have had Blink 182 mentions on the same day?

  69. saturnismine

    ahhh…that’s the stuff.

    I’ll admit that Out of Time may not qualify, but that’s because it was critically acclaimed as well as loved by the masses, not because Automatic for the People is better.

  70. I don’t know what circles you travelled in, but among the people I knew, Too Low for Zero seemed for a while like the real thing – the first genuinely enjoyable Elton album since Rock of the Westies. It wasn’t just Elton being a survivor – hell, David Crosby could claim that. The real issue was that Elton appeared to have some fire within him again after all the disco, mood pieces, and artistic sidetracks of the previous eight years. Of course, we all soon realized we were wrong.

  71. misterioso

    I don’t say the compromised; just that they went from making great records to decent records to lousy records to shitty records. That this resulted in, or coincided with, an increase in their popularity is interesting yet not exactly unprecedented.

  72. shawnkilroy

    i loved the Bring On The Night documentary/concert movie.

  73. misterioso

    I only wish there were an extra long version with a commentary track by Sting.

  74. misterioso

    Circles in which Elton had long since ceased to be of any interest whatsoever?

  75. I knew quite a few people who had basically given up on new music in the 1980s – they had no love for all the synth-flavored and new wave stuff out there. There wasn’t a whole lot of comfort from the ’70s artists that were still making music, either. For them, the possibility that one of the long-lost icons of the 1970s was back and in good form was cause for celebration. The giddiness didn’t last, of course.

  76. Interesting, tonyola. I did not know that. I still remember the sinking feeling I had as I milked every last drop of Elton John Goodness out of “Island Girl,” knowing all the while that Rock of the Westies spelled the end of an early adolescent thrill ride.

  77. REM, Green. Document made me start to think that they might be running out of ideas; Green proved it.

  78. underthefloat

    I’ll chime in that LET’S DANCE is the perfect choice. Having been a Bowie fan at the time…I shudder at the memory of that turkey being unleased on the masses.

  79. saturnismine

    Dr. John, how ya been?

    I want the mod to weigh in on this R.E.M. question. Do they have a scarface album? if so, is it Green, Out of Time, or something else?

    Maybe it’s Fables?

    Also, I’ll ask again: is Abbey Road the Beatles Scarface Album? I think it might be.

  80. saturnismine

    I can’t imagine putting this much analytical thought into Steve Miller’s oeuvre. I’m in awe.

  81. Abbey Road came at the end of the Beatles’ career, so I don’t think it really counts. An important album, but it wasn’t the shark-jumper that Let It Be was and it didn’t really change how the group was perceived.

    If there is a Scarface Beatles album, it’s Sgt. Pepper’s. Not only did it change people’s perception of the Beatles, it also had a incredibly huge cultural impact. It also was the last time that the Beatles really worked together as a group. Afterwards, each of the four might as well have been solo artists working with some assistance from the others. There is also the argument that the Beatles simply weren’t as overwhelmingly good after Pepper.

  82. saturnismine

    duh….you’re absolutely right about pepper.

    i’ve been keying on this notion, in the Scarface example, that the albums should be adored by casual fans, but not really all that great (the “cultural divide” the mod speaks of).

    Abbey Road seems to fit that description.

    But, as you point out, it doesn’t qualify in the “irrevocable change” department.

    Pepper surely fits the bill on both fronts.

  83. That’s a REALLY good one, tonyola!

  84. BigSteve


  85. saturnismine

    Is Sound Affects the Jam’s Scarface album?

    What bands were smart enough to quit after making what could have become their Scarface album? The Police and Syncronicity might fall into this category.

    Is Tommy the Who’s Scarface album? They don’t seem to have ever recovered from its reach for grand gesture; even the tired sounding “By Numbers” and “…are You?” have mostly *big* songs on them.

  86. Broooce: Born in The USA

  87. I’ve never really understood the lack of love for Let It Be, although I like the Naked version better. It has some pretty tremendous highs. I’m not that crazy about the title track and I don’t much like For You Blue but I think the rest of it is pretty great.

  88. misterioso

    No offense to anyone, especially since I am not coming up with good ideas on this one either, but if we return to the Mod’s definition we see the words: “the populist trash album that music lovers are strongly divided over that marked the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age.”

    So, c’mon: we may not all agree on the merits of Sgt. Pepper, Sound Affects, Tommy, Born to Run and a couple others I cannot remember now, but I cannot see how they fit that description. Eh?

  89. Nice police work, misterioso! I too forgot about the “populist trash” part. I think that is important to the Scarface angle. Bowie’s Let’s Dance, on the other hand, is still up for consideration. Born in the USA, too – and I kind of like that album.

  90. misterioso

    cdm, haven’t you been following recent discussions? Don’t you know that it has been scientifically shown that the Beatles basically suck? Or so one might infer.

  91. misterioso

    Dude, their next record was Who’s Next! They weren’t exactly out of gas with Tommy.

  92. misterioso

    I think those are two solid choices. Other than “I’m Going Down,” “Cover Me,” and maybe “I’m on Fire,” I can’t much bear the record, partly, I am sure, because of the general unbearable overexposure of it at the time but also because of the miserable production (see also, Let’s Dance), and because most of the songs don’t move me.

  93. Yeah, Who’s Next is a pretty FANTASTIC album in the Winner Rock genre, if you ask me. I once went through a period when I felt like I had to downgrade that album, but I’m way past that. Maybe it was the ’60 fanboy in me, but I actually have trouble remembering why I took points off for that album at some time in my late-20s.

  94. BigSteve

    How about ZZ Top’s Eliminator?

  95. misterioso

    It’s understandable. Overexposure. Let’s face it, if you grew up in the 70s listening to aor then you got Who’s Next for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

  96. saturnismine

    hmmm…my understanding of the scarface thing is not that it’s the place where they reach their peak, but the album a band makes that a., puts them over the top commercially, but b., isn’t as strong as their best efforts, and c., causes divided opinions as a result, and also stamps a band’s identity so thoroughly that there is no turning back.

    Even the snarkiest Who purest usually reserves respect for Who’s Next. There’s no “cultural divide” regarding its merits.

    Tommy, on the other hand is respected by the casual listener, but universally derided in more analytical circles (see TownHall comma Rock).

    Plus, Who’s Next is the detritus of a failed Rock Opera, one of a few albums Townshend attempted after Tommy that live in the shadow of the Rock Opera.

    Mod…am I getting this wrong?

  97. saturnismine

    Thus my choice of Tommy, which in a populist opinion poll would probably qualify as “genius,” while inquiring minds look askance at it.

  98. machinery

    Ok, Mr. Mod. If we’re going for dorm-room poster level: how about Combat Rock?

  99. Your take on things – and clear reasoning/showing of work (always appreciated here, beyond the opinions themselves) – is within the bounds of the query. I do, however, feel the cultural divide represented by Who’s Next is that divide between the both “fun” and “introspective” (and idealistic) ’60s Who and the totally macho, kick-ass, hard-bitten beast they would become in the Big Bad ’70s. This is why I turned on that album for a while. It’s really coming back to me now. I wasn’t MAN enough, in a sense, for it during a particularly sensitive stretch in my life. These days, slathering Mandom over my body each morning to ward off the stench of everyday death, I am as into Who’s Next as I was when I was a teenager, just waiting to become all the MAN that I could be.

    I’m 3/4 serious about all this.

  100. misterioso

    I guess it is the “that marked the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age” part that I think is not applicable here. I would only view Who’s Next as “the detritus of a failed Rock Opera” if you assume that a Rock Opera is more significant than a great album. Which I do not.

  101. saturnismine

    I mean, really…did the Who ever make a full length feature film filled with cheesy celebrities out of Who’s Next? Did they tour the 20th anniversary of Who’s Next, or make a broadway production out of it?


  102. misterioso

    This inquiring mind thinks Tommy is pretty tremendous, having only in relatively recent years freed itself from the baggage of the piece of crap movie and other lamentable by-products of the thing itself. I still prefer the live versions on Leeds (deluxe) or Isle of Wight to the record. The last thing I had to come to terms with is that Tommy does not have to make a whole lot of sense (and I don’t think it does) in order to still be powerful and actually quite moving, which I think it is.

  103. saturnismine

    The way you’re arguing its merits makes it sound even more like a Scarface album.

    Look…I “get off” on I’m Free, too. In fact, I’m less cynical about Tommy than lots of people here on RTH.

    But none of this has anything to do with the Mod’s Scarface requirements.

    I think that like Scarface for DePalma and its players (esp. Pacino), Tommy is the moment that the Who chased, and that defined them, for better and worse over the remainder of their careers. Who’s Next is nothing if not an example of Townshend crumbling (brilliantly, we would both agree) under the weight of Tommy’s success, while trying to top it, admitting that the Lifehouse tracks would never form a narrative, that they were best compiled as something less: a plain old Rock album.

    And what an amazing piece of detritus it was, but it caused no cultural divide the way Tommy did, while at the same time, being the irrevocable turning point of their careers.

  104. saturnismine

    I don’t either, but at the time, Townshend did.

    The point, however, is not whether one is more important than the other.

    the point is that if you acknowledge its status as a failed attempt to make another rock opera, then you are saying that Tommy was, at that point, the standard by which they were operating, and couldn’t meet it.

  105. misterioso

    We may be splitting hairs, but, again, I can’t see that Tommy “marked the beginning of the end of an artist’s golden age,” if the artist’s best work (arguably) immediately followed it. I take your point about Tommy becoming “he standard by which they were operating,” but I guess I reject that idea, prevalent as it may have been.

  106. saturnismine

    this is hilarious and brilliant.

  107. saturnismine

    I like the Combat Rock suggestion. But it’s just a lousy album. Nobody disputes that, not even them.

    I mean, there is a level at which we’re talking about the artist’s own delusion’s too, right?

    The Scarface album has to be the one that they think was the best they ever made, while also being received in the ways we’ve been discussing, yeah?

    I dunno….

    But maybe London Calling?

  108. Really??? I think I’d dropped out of college by the time of that release. Those hit songs were big, though, and they did rattle our generation. No one in that band ever recovered from the experience. Not a bad suggestion!

  109. cliff sovinsanity

    Misterioso, did you expect them to keep on rehashing Murmur and Reckoning. Hmm, perhaps that wouldn’t have been so bad would it?

  110. saturnismine


    but i had to read it twice to figure out which album you were talking about.

    you mean Combat Rock, right?

  111. saturnismine

    I’m *maybe* 5/6 serious (and knowing that the tunes in question are pretty damned good, 1/6 facetious) when i ask this question:

    Since when are trite (‘meet the new boss…’ ‘noone knows what it’s like…[to be me, sob sob],’ ‘we’re all wasted!!!’) FM radio anthems any band’s “best work?”

    Lifehouse / Who’s next isn’t Townshend’s only post-Tommy attempt to write another successful rock opera. Townshend later admitted that the songs on Who Are You are renewed attempts at the same. And of course, there are the solo albums based on narratives that don’t hang together.

    If those aren’t the results of Tommy’s irrevocable effects on the Who, I don’t know what is.

    I’ll grant that the How did Lifehouse / Who’s Next material became mainstays of their live act, but one could easily argue (and be right) that the Live at Leeds era we both love so much, which resulted from having to play Tommy over and over again, is the period when the heavy, bombastic approach on Who’s next was born.

    So there again, a most important aspect of the band’s life can be traced back to Tommy, not Who’s Next.

    I’ve got at least a zillion more arguments in favor of Tommy as the Who’s Scarface album, as per the mod’s definition. Keep it comin’….

  112. jeangray

    The Yardbirds are shit-hot in that film!

  113. jeangray

    Yes! R.E.M. should have called it quits in ’88.

  114. machinery

    I dunno. I bet they went into the studio thinking this was going to be THE ONE to make them famous in the US. And they were right. 90% of America knows them for those two songs, which were huge and still are the go-to Clash songs on Rock stations.

  115. bostonhistorian

    Lines from a Too Much Joy’s “Hugo”:

    Now don’t believe it when you’re told
    “I hope I die before I get sold”
    Every great band should be shot
    Before they make their Combat Rock

  116. jeangray

    I have to go on record disputing “Combat Rock” as a lousy album. Dispute! Dispute!

  117. cactustree69

    I agree. This is the big one that comes to my mind. And I was in high school in New Jersey when this came out

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