The Commish Online                                                                                
A Lineup for the (Y)ears
May 20, 2002

Last week's edition of Foul Territory looked at some of the best starting lineups in the past 10 years.  Because this column is the place to discuss any matters inside or outside of the baseball world, let's look at the similarities of a great album's lineup and a prototypical starting lineup in baseball.  There are more similarities than you might imagine.

Just like baseball, the lineup in an album can make or break the record.  Songs of all kinds are needed to complete a good album, not just 10 memorable hits.  This is why the original albums are always better than the "greatest hits" put out by bands and solo artists.  The "greatest hits" collections have no feel, no sense of wholeness.  It's like an All-Star lineup with Barry Bonds batting leadoff:  sure, you'd like to watch and sure, there's more talent in a lineup like that, but for true baseball, you want a speedy guy leading off and a monster cleaning up in the fourth spot.  The same goes for albums.  Let's take a closer look.
Anyone under the age of 40 who lives in the Midwest should own a copy of John (Cougar) Mellencamp's Scarecrow from 1985.  If you don't own a copy, apologize to your neighbors and go buy one now.  Scarecrow does not possess the 12 greatest songs of all time, but when played together in the album's order, it doesn't get much better than this hour of Midwestern roots music.  Naturally, there are not always exactly 9 songs on an album, so some songs are grouped together when compared to a baseball lineup.  Let's see how Scarecrow fares:
#1 Hitter (leadoff) 
Sets the tempo, establishes the team's personality, tries to ignite the offense early.

1. Rain on the Scarecrow
Sets the mood for the album, telling the difficulties of farmers in a corporate world.

#2 Hitter
Does the little things, hits for a high average, talented enough to be a leadoff hitter but usually too quirky, streaky, or lacking in something required by a leadoff hitter.

2. Grandma's Theme
A quirky little tune, necessary for the album and out of place if left until the end.  Too weak for a middle of the order spot and definitely not a leadoff song.  A perfect number 2.

# 3 Hitter
Lately, the best hitter on the team, offering power, a high average, and sometimes even some speed.  Very few weaknesses.

3. Small Town
Arguably the best song on the album.  This tune packs a wallop but tells its story in simple verse.  Needs to be heard early on to establish its greatness.

#4 Hitter (cleanup)
The best power hitter in the lineup.  Often provides some memorable moments with his raw talent but generally lacks speed and sometimes suffers a lower average than the #3 hitter.

4. Minutes to Memories
Not nearly as popular as Small Town, but its story is deeper and more heartfelt, leaving everything on the table.  Years from now, this is the song that will not seem dated.

#5 Hitter
Quite simply, a cleanup hitter with less talent, power, etc.  Still worthy of the middle of the lineup, but usually on the upside or downside of his prime.

5. Lonely Ol' Night and The Face of the Nation
One of my least favorite songs here ("Lonely").  A song with a "hook" that serves as a bridge between the potent top half and the rockin' bottom half of the album.  "Face" shows more guts and is a nice complement to "Minutes" but still lacks something to make it worthy of a higher spot.  I would flip-flop these 2 songs.

#6 Hitter
Usually does one thing really well, keeping him out of the bottom of the order.  He might be a great contact hitter, good power hitter, or the perfect "clutch" hitter, but never all three.

6. Justice and Independence '85 and Between a Laugh and a Tear
These 2 songs are what make the album great.  Low in the order, "Justice" is energy with a message.  Unbalanced, but still a great boost for the lower half.  "Between" is less memorable but more subtle and simple in its message.  Both songs play to their strengths well.

#7 Hitter
The nondescript hitter.  Worthy of starting lineup status, but lacking any distinguishable quality necessary for a higher spot in the order.

7. Rumbleseat
Simply a good song.  Not great, not bad, just good and deservedly in the lower third.

#8 Hitter
Not a solid hitter. Often a weak hitting catcher.  Usually slow with little to offer.  Sometimes a small quick hitter who is slumping and can't keep the #2 spot.

8. You've Got to Stand for Somethin'
A marginal song at best.  Too preachy, too simple, too everything.  Filler at the end of the line.

#9 Hitter
A low average hitter whose job is to provide a spark at the end of the lineup.  Tries to get on base any way possible to get to the top of the lineup.  Rarely a slow player.  The effort usually exceeds the talent.

9. R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. and The Kind of Fella I Am
Both songs provide much needed spirit at the end of this album so those with the "repeat disc" button pushed are ready for Rain on the Scarecrow again.  They need to be at the end because they are more pop-like in sound and won't stand the test of time as well as the early part of the album.  I would also flip-flop these songs and finish the album with "R.O.C.K."

As you can see, an album's song order is important to its greatness.  You don't bat Rickey Henderson fifth just because he can hit for power and you don't lead off with Small Town just because it's the best song on the album.  Got any other suggestions for albums with great lineups?  How about albums that should be good but miss the boat on song order?  Send your ideas to The Commish and happy listening!