As the July 4th weekend fast approaches, there will no doubt be plenty of backyard parties with copious amounts of burgers, booze, and classic rock. Just as every country or Christian station feels the need to bust out Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA", rock stations will focus on those artists that best represent what it means to be an average American Everyman and many a backyard conversation may ensue about which of the Big Three - Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Tom Petty - reigns supreme.
While the general consensus may shift wildly depending on your geographic location (New Jersey, for example, will obviously skew heavily in the Boss's favor), we are here to help provide further fodder for bolstering your arguments.
By doing so, we will ask ourselves several key questions, from which we will tabulate and zzzz....yeah, yeah, enough with the intro, on with the heartland showdown!
Who puts on the best live show?
Springsteen & the E Street Band, hands down. No if's and's or but's about it.
Who made the best album?
In order to determine this, we'll first determine the best three albums from each artist:
Springsteen: Born To Run, Darkness On The Edge of Town, Born In The U.S.A.
Mellencamp: American Fool, Scarecrow, Lonesome Jubilee
Petty: Damn The Torpedoes, Hard Promises, Full Moon Fever
Now, from each artist, take their best album: By our count, it is impossible to argue that Springsteen's best was Born In The USA, Mellencamp's was American Fool, and Petty's was Damn The Torpedoes
Of those three records, Born In The USA reigns supreme. Why? Because not only are the songs such a large part of American culture today, they also work incredibly well together as a sort of loosely conceptual album. Plus, when has an album that patriotic been that listenable?
Who had the biggest-selling single?
While Bruce had seven, yes seven, Top 10 singles from Born In The USA, the highest charting hit was "Dancing In The Dark" (#2). Tom Petty, meanwhile, has but two Top 10 hits to his credit, the highest charting of the two being "Free Fallin'", which peaked at #7.
Winner: John Mellencamp, whose "Jack & Diane" spent four weeks at #1 in 1982.
Whose band is better?
The E Street Band are widely revered, and for good reason, but Petty's Heartbreakers are hard to top when you consider just how much of a joy it is to listen to Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Stan Lynch do what they do. Each brings such a unique character to their craft that seems multiplied when you get the three playing together. The obvious benefactor of this is Tom Petty's material, which is elevated considerably once those three are able to work their magic.
Additionally, Mellencamp's band is criminally underrated despite the fact that drummer Kenny Aronoff, guitarists Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic, bassist Toby Myers on keyboardist John Cascella are every bit the band as the Heartbreakers or the E Street Band.
Even so, in a concert setting, nobody can top Bruce's boys.
Winner: Jeff Tweedy.
Winner: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
I could go on and, admittedly, I began this article in hopes of making a case that perhaps Mellencamp or Petty deserved some consideration, but when it comes to holding an audience in the palm of their hand for three hours plus a night, it is absolutely impossible to make a case for anyone other than Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.