Mick vs. Keith – a Rock VORP showdown
Chuck Klosterman recently wrote a great essay On Rock VORP for his new web project Grantland. You either know what VORP is or you don’t so explaining it in depth isn’t worthwhile. In short, VORP is a baseball statistic invented fairly recently in the scheme of things that crunches a whole bunch of offensive statistics (or pitching statistics) and compares a particular player to the guy you could pick up for league minimum off of the waiver wire at the same position. So I suppose the Rock VORM is a measure of how much more valuable a particular bassist is than a guy who you could find off of CraigsList.
In the last 15 or so years the process of player evaluation in major league baseball has taken a quantum leap forward. Simply put, some of the guys who we used to think were really good at baseball when measured by traditional statistics like batting average and RBI it turns out arent really that helpful at helping your team win, whereas some other guys whose traditional statistics were more mundane are really valuable. As KenTremendous put it, the most important thing about a hitter is his ability to not make an out.
I just finished the surprisingly insightful Keith Richards autobiography Life, and it got me thinking. Could it be that Keith Richards is actually the VORM leader of the Rolling Stones? Traditional popular opinion would grant that honor to Mick Jagger (he’s the one who got knighted after all), but maybe he is the Juan Pierre of VORM, the player who puts up solid traditional stats, but doesn’t look so good under the glaring light of modern statistical analysis.
NOTE: I am not a Stonesologist (although I love them), so this farce of an analysis has a wide margin of error.
Read the original article for the methodology
Songwriting (40 points)
Since Mick and Keith wrote all the music, they split all the points. In fairness you would need a whiteboard and a calculator to really do this category justice for one of the greatest songwriting teams of all time. Based on Keith’s autobiography, the writing methodology went like this: Keith would come up with the basic idea for the song, the main riff, the titles, and Mick would fill in the lyrics. (Although it flipped sometimes and some of the songs are all Mick or all Keith). You could I suppose just give them 20 points each. But if you dig a little deeper, Stones songs arent really great because of their lyrics, they are great because of their riffs and chord structures. Satisfaction, Jumpin Jack Flash, Start Me Up, Tumbling Dice…. Bonus points to Keith because for Exile on Main Street (their greatest album) nothing could really start until Keith was in the building.
Sonic Contribution (20 points)
Here Keith and Mick don’t get all of the points because of Charlie Watts and the excellent 2nd guitarists that have been in the band. But they get most of the them. I never knew this but Keith Richards basically invented a methodology of playing the guitar where he took a string off and tuned it to an open major scale. He provides a lot of detail in this book. Its the reason why cover bands can never really get the Stones sound right. Hard to take anything away from maybe the greatest lead vocalist of all time, but again the Stones don’t sound like anyone else, and its because of the guitars.
Charlie Watts: 3
Brian/Mick/Ronnie/Ian et al: 2
(For a really cool breakdown of the tracks in Gimmee Shelter, check this out.)
Visual Impact (10)
A strong category for Mick, the quintessential front man, and the guy with the lips.
everyone else: 1
Live Performance (10 points)
A 2 part category per the methodology. Really this category should go higher in the case of this band, but I’m no methodology revisionist. For the sake of this argument Keith and MickJ split all the points (even though Mick Taylor is one of my favorite live guitarists ever). Mick is a legendary performer, bedder of iconic supermodels, beknighted one. Keith is a tremendous live performer, bedder of supermodels himself, and spent an unprecedented 10 straight years at the top of the “most likely to OD or die in a car wreck” list. Either one of these guys would get 9+ points in almost any other band.
Attitude (5 points)
Similar to the last category, they both have it in spades. These guys were the driving force behind the 2nd best band of all time. Its a tie.
Intangibles (15 points)
Wow, the toughest category. To be fair I should read Mick’s autobiography because I just read a few hundred pages written by Keith where he rips Mick quite a bit. I have to dock Mick a few points because he piggybacked a solo record deal on the Stones and then released a series of turds, whereas Keith has had some decent side projects (although not big commercially). Mick was a global icon for a few decades. Keith crashed Bentleys, was criminally charged multiple times in multiple countries, and wrote a great autobiography. Mick is probably the swaggeriest live performer of all time.
So there you have it Keith Richards had the highest (Gross) VORM in the Rolling Stones by the slimmest margin. And since the Stones had the 2nd highest “accepted value” of all time, he’s definitely in the all-time pantheon.