Battle of the Song Titles - Round 1
by Scott Bass
Sometime in the early '80's, I heard a DJ announce the results of a recent poll: "Stairway to Heaven" was the best Rock 'n' Roll song ever. As laughable as that concept may be to me now, at the time, I took it quite seriously and it really captivated my interest. Having then recently discovered Heavy Metal, the answer seemed plausible to my prepubescent and increasingly musically-wired brain. So I shared this newfound information with my father. "Ah, yes, that is a good song" he confirmed. And then he began to sing: "I'm gonna build me a stairway to heaven, 'cuz heaven is where you are!" I was aghast. No, dad. They weren't talking about Neil Sedaka.
Surely determining the "best" song of any musical genre is an impossible task. But perhaps we can at least come to some consensus over which band should be most remembered for a particular song title... should be easy, right? Let the battle begin.
TITLE: "Hot for Teacher"
CONTENDERS: Thundertrain vs. Van Halen
It's hard to make a case against Van Halen on this one; their single is a bona fide Guitar Rock classic. Released at their height of their commercial success, it just oozed their trademark high-energy-slash-having-fun vibe; and was dropped with a corresponding killer video to boot. The shit totally smokes.
And really, let's be honest here; who's heard of Thundertrain? Pretty much just critics, collectors, and old rockers from Boston. However, for the record: Thundertrain's 1977 debut Teenage Suicide may not have sold a ton of copies, but their Glam Rock-meets-Stones-styled-dirty-Rock sound was more influential than their record sales indicated. Based in NY, just a hop, skip, and a jump from the also-vibrant Boston music scene, the guys in VH surely knew of the Thundertrain single--and totally nicked the song title.
WINNER: Thundertrain, on principle
CONTENDERS: Led Zeppelin vs. Pat Benetar
How dare Pat Benetar come out in 1979 with "Heartbreaker" on her debut album when just a few years earlier Led Zeppelin had clearly won bragging rights for best track with that title. While Benetar's song totally rocks and is an FM radio classic, it's also not an original having been released the year before by obscure UK singer Jenny Darren.
Despite ripping off scads of material from an array of uncredited blues artists, Led Zep seem to have actually written this song and so they get the win, albeit begrudgingly.
WINNER: Led Zeppelin
Jenny Darren: The original heartbreaker
CONTENDERS: Siouxie & and the Banshees vs. Devo
These were both singles put out by "New Wave" artists in the '80's, both of whom were a bit past their prime by the time they were released. When Devo released "Peek-A-Boo" as a single off their fifth album in 1982, they were losing steam; Oh No, It's Devo was widely panned not because it didn't have any good songs, but because it wasn't as consistently great as some of their past work. Despite the lackluster reviews, the album had a few songs that would later be remembered as catalog classics and this is one of them.
Although Siouxie's "Peek-A-Boo" 7" from 1988 is one of their more listenable A-sides, it's still pretty far from a genre classic. Siouxie on her best day still isn't as memorable as Devo at their worst.
CONTENDERS: Del Shannon vs. Bon Jovi
Del Shannon definitely gets credit for claiming this one early; the 1961 record proved to be his one-and-only single to go to #1 on the Billboard charts (in the U.S., Canada, and Australia) and it's a real doozy of a pop gem. Del's voice is so pained as he sings his catchy refrains, and he's able to somehow able to come off as a real badass despite occasional fits of falsetto. For decades there could be little debate about the best rock song with this particular title... Until 1983 when a scrappy young group of well-styled upstarts from NJ released their first single. Bon Jovi's "Runaway" is an instantly-likeable slice of metal-tinged pop featuring a strong keyboard hook and a totally-marketable and handsome singer with great hair. Compared to their later superstar-status singles, this track is more rockin', rawer, rougher, catchier, and just downright better. This one is too close to call.
CONTENDERS: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown vs. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
At first glance "Fire" seems an easy one: Hendrix's 1969 single (originally heard on his 1967 debut album) is combustion on wax and showcased a trio that was, musically and stylistically, miles ahead of their peers. But it should be noted that the title is a bit unoriginal considering the previous year The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had a #1 single in both Canada and the UK with a song of their own called "Fire." While Hendrix was laying down blueprints for future electric guitar-oriented rock bands on this planet; Arthur Brown was channeling a vibe from a different universe. His "Fire" is equal parts catchy and creepy, featuring a looming organ riff and serious theatrics. "Let me stand next to your fire" was electrifying; but "Fire! You're gonna burn!" was downright evil.
WINNER: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown: He'll see you burn
ED NOTE: Can Brown face off against Ohio Players for "Fire"?
CONTENDERS: Madonna vs. MC5
Sure, Madonna's "Borderline" is a near-perfect pop jam. It's arguably one of her better singles, produced before her superstar status, pretentiousness, and general media-whoring. Even though it's not a "rock" song, it's still the song most people will associate with this particular title. However, the battle for the best song called "Borderline" was pretty much over by 1968 when Detroit's Motor City Five released their second single; far rawer than their debut, this was the first real evidence that the MC5 were something special. The amount of energy, urgency, and originality displayed on this single were unprecedented at a time when independently-released singles were a rarity. Within a year, the band was signed to Elektra, and the rest is history.
Sure the MC5 were never as big as Madonna (and note they're both from Michigan) but their influence has been equally as large. Madonna's "Borderline" is a catchy pop number, but MC5's "Borderline" is the beginning of a revolution.
WINNER: The MC5
Oh, and it turns out Dad was right after all. The DJ's both should have known that Led Zep's song is terrible. It's way too long, the beginning was ripped off (from Spirit), the lyrics are idiotic, and for half of the track the drummer isn't even playing. To call it the best Rock 'n' Roll song of all time is ludicrous. It's not even the best song with that title.
WINNER: Neil Sedaka
Neil Sedaka: a living legend
Also see our second round of Same Titled Songs and Round 3 too.
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