‘The Black Crowes’ and R.E.M. were both 1990’s super bands that influenced as many artists and musicians, as they have provided untold levels of enjoyment to the general audiences they entertained. To be certain, each band can claim numerous songs that rise to the rarefied air of all-time rock and roll classics. The unique sound of their respective musical contributions exist as unmistakable to critical observers, as well as the layman and/or casual fan. The question that this Battle of the Bands intends to investigate and then answer, is simple … Which band’s legacy is considered superior? AmericanPop33.com ventures to consider this question and bring critical analysis to understanding the eventual answer. Please Enjoy.
MAKING THE CASE: BLACK CROWES
The Black Crowes were the mid-1980’s (1984) brainchild band formation of talented musician brothers Chris and Rich Robinson. The band’s initial name was ‘Mr. Crowe’s Garden’, however, that name failed to stick, and with hindsight behaving in reliably 20/20 fashion, perhaps abandoning the original name was an unsung prudent choice. Then again, this band possessed extraordinary talent from top to bottom, so who can tell? That said, unlike many transcendent rock and roll bands, ‘The Black Crowes’ hit the American music scene with a virtual two by four while running at full speed. From the outset, their 1990 freshman album release, ‘Shake Your Money Maker’, was a commercial sensation. There is no denying the freshness of this album’s sound, as it is imbued with catchy refrains, crisp melodies. as well as a genre hybrid quality reminiscent of country rock, blues, and electrified acapella. In 1990, Rolling Stone Magazine voted them ‘Best New American Band’. The album title ‘Shake Your Money Maker’, was inspired by the classic blues song by Elmore James. This album produced two #1 Billboard Singles, ‘She Talks to Angels’, and ‘Hard to Handle’, and four Billboard Top 40 singles in total. ‘Money Maker’ hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums, and went on to earn 5X RIAA Certified Platinum status by selling in excess of 5 million copies in the United States alone.
The remarkable commercial success of this Def Jam America band hadn’t quite faded from rock music charts, nor had the shine of pop culture relevance sufficiently dulled, when in 1992 ‘The Black Crowes’ released their sophomore album effort, ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’. This album stands today widely considered as the group’s greatest overall album. In terms of musicianship, technical proficiency, harmony, and deft track transitions. This would be just as true if none of the songs on the album became charted hits. However, the fact that ‘Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’ featured not one but four Billboard #1 singles, renders that notion moot. ‘Remedy’, held the #1 spot on Billboard’s Album Rock Chart, for 11 weeks. ‘Thorn in My Pride’ held the #1 spot for 4 weeks. ‘Hotel Illness’ held the #1 spot for 6 weeks, and ‘Sting Me’ held the #1 spot for 2 weeks. This level of chart success, four #1 singles from one album, remains a record in rock and roll, having eclipsed the great Tom Petty’s 1989 record of three #1 singles. ‘Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’ hit the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 200 Album Chart. Not bad for an album recorded largely in one continuous session, which mimicked a concert. ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’ earned 2X RIAA Certified Platinum status, and is currently ranked #477 on Rock Hard Magazine’s ‘500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time‘, and is ranked #100 on Guitar World Magazine’s ‘Greatest 100 Guitar Albums of All Time’
Although ‘The Black Crowes’ toured between 2002 and 2005, they weren’t making any new music and were essentially on hiatus in that regard. In fact, they wouldn’t release another studio album until 2008, with ‘Warpaint’. This album raced up the chart settling at #5 on Billboard Hot 200 Album Chart. This was followed by a greatest hits album release in 2010, ‘Croweology’. Following a 20th Anniversary World Tour, in 2013 ‘The Black Crowes’ officially announced their disbandment.
The Black Crowes enter this Battle of Bands contest armed with a legacy that can boast of commercial success indicative of six #1 hit singles, two RIAA Multi-Platinum Albums. As well as combined album sales that exceed 30 million, and an All-Time Ranking of #92 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Will these accolades be enough to defeat Michael Stipe and R.E.M. in this battle? The answer remains to be seen, however, there is no denying the tremendous cultural impact and virtuoso musicianship that ‘The Black Crowes’ demonstrated during their prime recording and performing years.
TALE OF THE TAPE
MAKING THE CASE: R.E.M.
In many music circles, R.E.M. is widely considered to be among the select group of influential bands responsible for the advent of the ‘Alternative Rock’ genre. What is not a matter for critical debate is the fact that R.E.M. was an influential supergroup by any reasonable definition. Indeed, between their active years of 1983 and 2011, R.E.M. was consistently critically acclaimed, and culturally relevant. This Athens, Georgia band was formed in 1980 and consisted of members Michael Stipe, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills. They released 15 studio albums over the course of their nearly 30-year musical journey. The R.E.M. sound was unique, immediately identifiable by lead vocalist Michael Stipe’s distinctive vocal stylings and often disjointed, albeit compelling lyrics. In combination with the superb guitar work of Mike Mills, and Bill Berry’s deft percussion drum work. Indeed, the R.E.M. musical style typified alternative rock considerations that it came to represent.
‘Document’ was the 5th studio album release from R.E.M. under their label I.R.S. Records. Although their previous four studio albums enjoyed decent to moderate success, R.E.M. was still largely a fringe band with a notable grassroots cult following. The group’s pop culture status experienced remarkable improvements in terms of notoriety and visibility virtually immediately upon the September 1st, 1987 release of ‘Document’. This album became the first in what would be a dozen produced by the magic man, producer Scott Litt. ‘Document’ produced R.E.M.’s first Top 10 hit single, ‘The One I Love’ which hit #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, and perhaps more consequentially, ‘Document’ became the 1st of an eventual 9 RIAA Certified Platinum albums that this group would turn in. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked ‘Document’ #41 on their ‘100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s’
R.E.M. immediately followed up their ‘Document’ success with the November 1988 release of their 6th studio album, ‘Green’, released by Warner Bros. Records. This album eradicated any remaining notions which asserted that R.E.M. as a glorified garage band. After ‘Green’, they were destined to occupy future notions which spoke primarily of the exceptional. Indeed, ‘Green’ produced #1 hit singles ‘Orange Crush’ and ‘Stand’, with a total of 5 singles that registered on Billboard Top 40 Charts, including ‘Get Up’ and the ironically titled, ‘Pop Song 89’. At the time of their 1991 release, ‘Out of Time’, R.E.M. was already on a serious roll, and then that roll got even faster and more frenetic. ‘Out of Time’ catapulted R.E.M. into the stratosphere of international fame. To wit, this album held the top spots in album sales both here at home in the United States, as well as the United Kingdom. In the U.S. ‘Out of Time’ held the top album position for an eye-watering 109 weeks. ‘Out of Time’ went on to earn 17X RIAA Platinum Certification with nearly 18 million in worldwide sales. In 1992, the signature hit from ‘Out of Time’, the hauntingly introspective single, ‘Losing My Religion’ earned 2 Grammy Awards with the album earning 3 Grammys on its own, making ‘Out of Time’ a winner of 5 Grammys in total.
R.E.M. would go on to release a half-dozen additional albums which were both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. These included the 1992 release of the 4X RIAA Platinum Certified album ‘Automatic for the People’, the 4X Platinum 1994 release, ‘Monster’, as well as the Platinum 1996 release, ‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’, in addition to the 1998 RIAA Gold release, ‘Up’.
There is no reasonable argument to be made that would contradict the sheer artistic, commercial, and musical cultural impact of the Michael Stipe led, Scott Litt produced R.E.M legacy.
There’s was a run that not only blazed trails but influenced generations. Sales of over 85 million albums sold worldwide, make R.E.M. one of the best-selling rock and roll bands of all-time. This in addition to their 30 plus years of activity, also concedes that there is no denying R.E.M.’s cultural gravity, longevity and commercial viability.
In truth, ‘R.E.M.’ was the heavy odds-on favorite going into this battle of the bands with ‘The Black Crowes’. Their longevity, influence, and cutting-edge musical excellence is titanic in its largess. So too is the record-setting commercial success that R.E.M. can easily boast. As for ‘The Black Crowes’, musically they were better than fantastic, with no discernible holes in their sound and no doubt as to their bona fides as champions of the rock and roll sound, attitude and style. The ‘Crowes’ did have 2 albums that went RIAA Platinum multiple times. They also had a half-dozen #1 singles to their credit, and own a distinct, certainly notable hybrid sound. In short, ‘The Black Crowes’ were an exceptional rock band with an impressive music library for both current and future generations to explore and enjoy. R.E.M. however, can claim all of the aforementioned, plus much more.
R.E.M. wins this battle with a split decision (2 to 1) however, this competition was never really that close. As good as R.E.M. was in terms of pure technical proficiency, there is a cogent argument to be made that ‘The Black Crowes’ exceeded them in this area. As it turns out, this is the only area in which the ‘Crowes’ can claim superiority over R.E.M. The good news is that there really is no loser in these battles as inclusion in the competition means transcendent quality musical contributions for all participants. AmericanPop33.com hopes that you’ve enjoyed this edition of ‘Battle of the Bands’. Be sure to check out our next battle coming sooner than you think, but definitely later than right now.