Starting Nine is the method a lineup nerd uses to rank his personal favorites. These are not necessarily the nine all-time best entries of the subject being covered. It’s an exercise in finding the entries that best fit the profile for each spot in the batting order.
I’m a lineup traditionalist: I like dependable table-setters in the 1 and 2 spots, world-beating franchise powerhouses 3rd and 4th, potent sluggers 5th and 6th, hard-nosed role players 7th and 8th, and an underrated, dirt-dog workhorse in the 9-hole.
You’ll probably be able to guess my age within a couple years by viewing my rock band Starting Nine. We all find our musical tastes in our early-to-mid teens, and most of us hold onto those preferences for the rest of our lives. These are all very popular bands, so don’t expect any obscure, windbaggy selections of some no-name indie band I saw steal the show when they opened for Candlebox at the Orpheum in 1994.
“Dude, they’re the best I’ve ever seen. You just gotta see ’em live. They don’t do the corporate thing.”
You’ve heard of all the bands in this lineup. You probably like most of them. I’m not a music snob, and I don’t know any more about music than you do. All I know is what I like. In fact, that’s all anybody knows. So, the next time someone rolls their eyes at you when you tell them you like a really popular band, kindly inform them that The Ramones suck.
This may feel kind of like putting Aaron Judge in the leadoff spot, but the first word that comes to my mind when I think of Soundgarden is consistency. While I like virtually every song that they ever recorded, none stand out to me as a personal favorite the way Audioslave’s “Cochise” and “Like a Stone” do. Chris Cornell may be the greatest voice and songwriter of the grunge era, and Badmotorfinger has an argument for being the best grunge album.
2. Smashing Pumpkins
Everyone likes Smashing Pumpkins. But in order to really appreciate them, I think you have to consider the absurdity of the fact that Simaese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were released within three years of each other. There are 41 (!!!) songs between those two albums, no less than ten of them are incredible, and they also cranked out Pisces Iscariot in-between just for grins. They had a prime like Sammy Sosa’s, but I highly doubt that any supplements they were taking enhanced their performance nearly as much.
I’m not really much of a metal guy, but I might throw hands with anybody who tries to argue that Metallica is not the greatest rock band of the 80s and 90s. They were the first metal band I ever gave a second thought to, and no band of any genre has come close to them in my eyes ever since. 1983’s Kill ‘Em All ushered in the next stage in the evolution of music, and everything from Ride the Lightning through Reload (yes, I even like that one) is basically the standard by which I judge all other music. James Hetfield is the best hard rock vocalist of all time. Kirk Hammett’s guitar chops are on par with Jimi Hendrix. “Master of Puppets” exemplifies the plague of the 80s rock scene. “Fade to Black” is what Jesus would play after 10 years of relentless musical study. And the Beatles’ White album fantasizes about being half as epic as Metallica’s Black album. If you disagree, I’ll see you in the parking lot.
4. Guns N’ Roses
They could have been the Hank Aaron of their time, if not for the endless dysfunction and personal issues that instead turned them into the Darryl Strawberry. Still, you can’t argue that Guns N’ Roses didn’t rule rock and roll from the moment that Appetite for Destruction was released until Use Your Illusion 2 hit shelves. The compound of an unpredictable lunatic frontman, an iconic Mt. Rushmore guitarist, and an incalculable volume of booze, pills, and powders was just too combustible to last for long. In retrospect, we’re probably lucky we even got four years of prime GNR before it went nuclear. Hell, we’re lucky we weren’t all killed from the fallout.
5. Alice in Chains
Much like the Green Monster, rock and roll giveth and rock and roll taketh away. Between 1990 and 1995, the best grunge act of all time gave us three albums as dense in quality as anything I’ve ever heard with Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), and Alice in Chains (1995). The grit and grime of Jerry Cantrell’s guitar licks harmonized with Layne Staley’s haunted, brooding lyrics to create a sound that rose far beyond the more basic composition skills of the rest of the grunge movement, with Soundgarden the only other band to approach them technically. Unfortunately, Staley’s once blistering voice could only hold out for so long after years of continuous drug use. Cantrell’s revamped lineup keeps the band’s name alive today, but the peak years are as distant a memory as my formative years.
I know my number six hitter veers way off the path I’ve established with the first five, but this was my very first favorite band. “Rag Doll,” “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” and “Love in an Elevator” were often blasting in the background as I watched Roger Clemens mow down American League hitters and Mike Greenwell lace game-winning singles (he did lead the league in game-winning RBI in 1988). And let’s not forget all the times I pictured myself slow dancing with Kelly Kapowski as I closed my eyes listening to “Angel” and “What it Takes.”
7. Led Zeppelin
If I had what music buffs would call a “more sophisticated” taste in music, I’m sure I’d have these guys in the heart of the order. “When the Levee Breaks,” “D’yer Mak’er,” “The Immigrant Song,” “Black Dog,” “Stairway to Heaven,” … I celebrate their whole catalogue (almost as much as Michael Bolton’s). But in all honesty, they dipped in my rankings once I grew up and realized that Robert Plant was actually singing about elves and fairies and other magical creatures that Peter Jackson makes movies about. Once that bullet left the barrel, Zeppelin suddenly felt way less cool. Sue me.
8. Stone Temple Pilots
I have zero clue WTF Scott Weiland is talking about in any of STP’s songs, but most of them still sound awesome. If I were an MLB player, my walk-up music would be either “Silvergun Superman” or AIC’s “Would?” Weiland was a master craftsman, and the DeLeo brothers are a couple of the biggest unsung heroes of the time. You won’t find a kid who was a teenager in the 90s who didn’t like STP. My only knock on them, and the reason they are relegated to the 8-hole, is that I think of them in the same vein as Tom Petty. Everybody likes Tom Petty, but there’s not a person on the planet who thinks of Tom Petty as their favorite musical act. That’s where I rank STP. Universally liked, not all that loved.
9. Green Day
I like under-the-radar workhorses at the bottom of my lineup. Did anybody back in 1994 think that this upstart punk/alternative hybrid band would be one of the last remaining vestiges of rock and roll thirty years later? “Basket Case,” “She,” and “When I Come Around” were fun songs to jam to while playing video games when I was a kid, but ten years later that same goofy band released a freaking rock opera satirizing the government, the media, and mainstream thinking in America. Those punk hooligans somehow grew up to be incredible musicians with something to say. Green Day was formed the same year that Appetite for Destruction was released, yet they are still headlining stadiums today.