Jacket Copy

Books, authors and all things bookish

« Previous | Jacket Copy Home | Next»

Who's better: Springsteen or Bon Jovi?


Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi? Nas or Jay-Z? The Smiths or The Cure? Paul or John? Comparing musicians is sophomoric, sure, but it's also irresistible. These contests generate the kind of end-of-the-night, drunkish throwdowns (in my circles, at least) that send people home muttering to their significant others, "Can you believe that guy? U2 is not better than R.E.M."

To guide us through these treacherous waters -- or to stoke our fires -- there is now the book "Rock and Roll Cage Match: Music's Greatest Rivalries Decided." Editor Sean Manning has tapped major music critics to set major musicians against one another -- and determine who rules.

In some of the best pieces, the writers argue with the hyperbole and freedom of someone trying to whip up a pro-wrestling audience. "There are two kinds of people in this world: those who want to have children and those who'd rather eat them," Melissa Maerz writes in "Trent Reznor vs. Marilyn Manson." Comparing NWA and the Wu-Tang Clan, Jonah Weiner writes of NWA: "They'll push a button, and then keep jamming on it until their thumbs bleed." Tom Reynolds begins by showing the commonalities between Kraftwerk and Devo: "Besides their pioneering work with electronic gizmos,they both explore societal disconnection while creating music that's intentionally soulless. They also like robots and are out of their minds." Russ Meneve calls "Born in the U.S.A." "Bruce Springsteen's most commercially sucksessful album -- an album in which Bruce's horrific screams could make Ghandi skeet-shoot babies in little pink hats..."

That's not to say that there isn't some seriousness here, in the music criticism and, in a few brilliant flashes, in why music gets so deeply under our skin. That, and the verdict in Mariah Carey vs. Whitney Houston, after the jump.

As if there was any question: Whitney Houston.

Mariah Carey and others, Whitney Pastorek writes, "can never match the carnage of her train wreck, and they certainly cannot hold a candle to Houston as an artist." This sense of life-as-performance also puts Marilyn Manson over Trent Reznor, Britney Spears over Christina Aguilera and Black Sabbath over Led Zeppelin, although the victors are admittedly weaker musicians.

There are a few duds in the collection -- for your sanity, avoid the match of Bob Dylan versus Bob Marley, which includes atrocious freeform poetry. It also omits Dylan's born-again Christian period while focusing on his Judaism, and skips his move from folk to electric entirely. And Richard Hell's matchup of the Rolling Stones versus the Velvet Underground, which has so much potential, reads like a night-before first draft.

On the upside, Tom Breihan, writing on Nas and Jay-Z, both explicates their rivalry and gives a visceral sense of the rappers' styles. Writing about the Four Tops and the Temptations, Sean Howe adds a sweet element of -- fiction? storytelling? -- in which the bands' songs are an essential element of a relationship that blossoms and dies. And Gideon Yado captures a kind of breakthrough that I think most devoted music fans have felt. For him, it was when he, as an adolescent, went from Metallica devotee to discovering Nirvana:

Metallica was one thing. Nirvana was many things. Metallica was craft. Nirvana was art. ...

When I heard that first howl, that first ... howl, it told me that everything I had been doing for the last three years was all wrong. Real pain wasn't spooky, scary lyrics about apocalyptic destruction. It came from deep within; it was your own and you had to exorcise it. That's what I heard in Nirvana. ...

... I started a zine at Kinko's. I took the subway into the city late at night to catch live bands in empty rooms. I swore to be an artist. And I did it all alone.

By the time Kurt put his toe on the trigger, I was a bona fide alien in my town, slaking a hunger for weird, ... weird sounds, outsiders. There were no girls, few friends, and absolutely zero fellow travelers in the fringe Nirvana taught me to seek. But it was real. It was true. I felt exhilarated and alive because of those things I could call my own, each its own buzzing promise of truth never exceeded by that first spin of "Nevermind."

The bands in these contests tend to appeal to people in their 30s, mostly -- people old enough to have formed prejudices and young enough to still argue about them as if they matter. Which they do.

And P.S. -- U2 is better than R.E.M.

--Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credits: Bruce Springsteen - Bill Kostroun / Associated Press; Jon Bon Jovi - Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (27)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sounds like a pointless pile of dung. Music isn't a game or a competition. It's an art form. At least, for the non-rappers anyway.

Springsteen is the best, no doubt about it!!!!!!!!!!

Awesome! I am obsessed with Nirvana. I understand exactly what you are writing about. After that tragic ending, no other band will be like them. What they contributed was unreal. It was so great, and now it's gone. But we still have their unbelievable music. Nirvana forever! Rock on!! I sort of disagree with your U2 comment. Haha hard rock forever.

Um, Springsteen! Without a doubt. Springsteen inspired Bon Jovi and there are 101 examples of why his songwriting, authenticity (yes, i know its constructed but so well!), showmanship and music far outshine those of the spandex wearing mullet merchants, Bon Jovi (to use their embarrassing 1980s style as an image).

John Mellencamp

U2 is most definitely NOT better than REM, and I dont even really like REM that much....

u2 is the best of all

Are you kidding? Springsteen hands down is the real thing.

Jon Bon Jovi sings circles around Springsteen. Bruce can't sing anymore, and really never could. Good songwriter , showman , bad singer.. JBJ is more relevent than Bruce right now in the music industry. Bon Jovi is the biggest touring band in the world right now.
They are both Rock n Roll LEGENDS.


why anyone has to be beter, or be a competition between them, if they are very good friends.... always the media trying to make "news" or problems where there are none...
they both rock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

I think that every singers give the best in theirs style Bruce Springsteen his career it's only his style & also Bon Jovi

Springsteen without a dout like JbJ but he's a Springsteen wanna be like a few others also do

Nirvana for all the pub they get i believe r under appreciated . Cobain was a genius who lived his art, which made it real. we have some great bands around now but Nirvana created music on the highest artistic level of my lifetime.

Personal preference is what music and art in general is all about. However, to even mention Bon Jovi in the same sentence as THE BOSS is a travesty and does a tremendous disservice to arguably the greatest rock and roller of his generation.


he touches our souls in a way only he can, he writes fabulous stories were WE ALL can see out selves.

Thanks Bruce, amazing shows, Love it.



I only say this. Bruce is recognized only in the US. Bon Jovi is know all over the world and sells out tickets all over the world

Bruce is not only recognised in the U.S. He has a massive, intense following in Europe too...in fact people in the Bruce camp have said he sometimes prefers the attention that Europeans give to his music - they are arguably more thoughtful...

Bon Jovi rules. Springsteen doesn't even compare. There is no argument.

I don't like discussing musical tastes, each to their own etc...

However to say Bon Jovi is more relavent in today's music than Bruce is rubbish...Springsteen continuously throws out albums which destroy Bon Jovi's best!

Im Irish and his following here and across countries like Spain and Italy make Bon Jovi a poor man's Boss!!

The Boss over Bon Phoni any day

Bruce is a thouand times better than Bon Jovi on every single possible level!

Who's Bruce Springsteen?


Jovi > Him

I hope all these people buy the book. Especially that first guy.

Bruce or Bon? Bruce. Nas or Jay Z? Nas. The Smiths or The Cure? The Smiths. Mariah or Whitney? Mariah (she's hot as and I don't like either so I'm going on that). U2 or R.E.M? I don't give a @&*#(*&.

Ok to begin with i have been a Jovi fan for 24 years and adore them so for me there is no comparisson even though the Boss came from Jersey first they are different types of artists and both deserve recognition for the work they do but for me no one makes me shed a tear like Bon Jovi do


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Explore Bestsellers Lists





Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.