Skip to content

“Time will vindicate me” – a review of Rock, Rot and Rule: The Ultimate Argument Settler

July 29, 2011

Rock, Rot & Rule: The Ultimate Argument Settler

Ronald Thomas Clontle

Penguin Publishing, 1997

98 pages

Hardcover, $25 (not available in paperback)

Unlike an encyclopedia, which seeks to provide the definitive answers to our most relevant queries, a literary examination of music should force us to revisit what we consider the “truth”. When evaluating a book about music, I look for a tome’s ability to inspire conversation, specifically argument(s) with other aficionados. While there is little consensus within the works, few writers would disagree that a spirited debate arising from their work is a positive thing. In 1997, a 33-year old former movie-extra (he’s prominently featured behind home plate in the Alan Alda/Brendan Fraser flop President Baseball) from the college town of Lawrence decided to challenge this consensus, seeking to create “the ultimate argument settler”. Ronald Thomas Clontle was confused at how his closest friends could all disagree about the quality of the music that MTV piped into their communal flat. “Some of us thought, for example, Nirvana, rocked; others would say they sucked; and there were some who thought they ruled”, he says. Set to finally resolve this conundrum, Clontle spend several hours compiling the thoughts of his friends, in addition to the customers and fellow employees at that famous Kansas post-hangover fail-safe, Java the Hutt Coffee Lounge. For basically every band that ever fell within the universe of MTV, 1980s AOR radio, RollingStone, and automated Clear Channel oldies stations, Clontle has compiled the views of his immediate surroundings on whether they believe the artist rocks, sucks or rules. Hence, Rock, Rot and Rule. Understanding that his book is already going to be the target of a “firestorm”, he decided to change “sucks” to “rots” to maintain the focus on the content rather than the perceived name-calling. While this was released over a decade ago, last week I was fortunate enough to find a copy at an abandoned B. Dalton. To give you a brief taste of what basically serves as a sub-100 page list (with an index!) of bands, with either of the three titular terms after their name, here’s a sampling of whom his buddies (or Clontle himself) would say, Rock:

Triumph, Offspring, the Beatles, “Punkadelic”, April Wine


KISS, Led Zeppelin, Who, Aerosmith, Madness, Everclear, King Missile, Madonna, Yes


311, Hanson, Frank Zappa, Supertramp, No Doubt, Neil Young, Jewel, Leann Rimes


Magazine, Television, Superchunk (and Jon Wurster’s Philly Boy Roy side project), The New Pornographers, most punk bands that aren’t found on Urban Outfitters t-shirts (specifically the Newbridge, NJ scene like Mother 13, who deserves credit for attempting to rock on Mt. Everest)

As Michelangelo Matos referenced in his review for CityPages in 1999, “Ronald Thomas Clontle doesn’t bother trying to persuade you that his opinions aren’t wrong–he doesn’t even try to convince you he knows what he’s talking about.” Clontle describes himself not as a critic, but “a compiler of opinions”, although at a slim 98 pages, this $25 (!) glorified pamphlet seems to reflect as much of his own views as the public at large. Due to my wife’s past residence in the land of Rock Chalk Jayhawk, we’ve made a few trips to the Hutt, and I’ll admit that said milieu is fairly knowledgeable about music, although their recent addition of a refill charge makes me question the “bottomless” part of the Bottomless Wookiee (props to the Hutt for carrying most of the Hippy Johnny line of organic cauldron scrubbers, though).

Prior to the book’s release, the author attempted to defend the rock, rot and rule categorization to a largely-unsympathetic collective of public via a radio interview. When challenged on some of his more sacrilegious findings, such as why Neil Young rots, but Madonna rules, he replied:

“According to the people, Madonna had more overall quality in her body of work than Neil Young. Old Ways? Trans? Landing on Water? The one he did with Crosby, Stills and Nash – American Dream? I hated that record!”

Host Tom Scharpling implores how he could base his assessment on Young without hearing his entire catalogue. This becomes a theme amongst what caused a Spike in the number of quality callers, specifically those that take issue with Clontle’s assertion that Madness rules because “they started ska”. Scharpling, known for directing videos and keeping the flame of rock n’ roll burning through the late hours on WFMU’s The Best Show, honorably allows Clontle ample space to answer his critics. When called on the questionable judgment to title such a work of controversy “the Ultimate Argument Settler”, the following exchange occurs:

Caller: You call this ‘The Ultimate Argument Settler’, well I think it causes arguments.

Clontle: (Emphatically) Well I disagree…100%!

Rock, Rot and Rule’s significance will grow, due to its status as one of the final “from on high” publications before the internet allowed listeners to find and assess virtually any song ever written. This snapshot of a pre-Napster, pre-WinMX era served as a buying guide for parents seeking a CD for their emotionally-distant child (although Clontle was more of a cassette guy). While there is little in the way of written narrative, Rock, Rot & Rule includes at least eight photos, a brief introduction, and an acknowledgement of the forgotten-but-awesome movie Roadie, featuring Meat Loaf, Blondie, Roy Orbison and Alice Cooper (serving to reinforce my theory that any film from the late 1970’s-early 1980s featuring a hand-drawn caricature on the poster will never disappoint). I’d say that this book rules.

  1. Paul the Geek permalink
    July 29, 2011 4:49 pm

    Any list that places Everclear under the “Rule” column has zero credibility. They are hands down the worst band I’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing live. And Supertramp under “Rot”? Btch plz…

  2. T. Stump permalink
    July 29, 2011 5:15 pm

    I love that he’s rated both Zeppelins.

  3. C.M. Tomlin permalink*
    July 29, 2011 7:07 pm

    I adore Madness…but “they started ska?” Seriously? That sound was around a good twenty five years before Madness so fantastically resurrected it. Sounds a bit like this guy relegated his list to only things which existed in his own musical universe.

  4. Lloyd permalink
    July 29, 2011 8:11 pm

    Saying stuff Rocks, when other people think it Rots, totally Rules. Boring music criticism is the worst, but this stuff is the Wurster.

  5. July 30, 2011 4:23 pm

    Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of compiling a list of what your friends think about music if your friends don’t know any more about what they’re talking about than you do?

    • T. Stump permalink
      July 31, 2011 5:18 pm

      Your comment reminded me of something my 8th Grade Social Studies teacher once said. When asked about the rampant copying that occurred during tests, she replied, “I’m not going to discipline them, because it’s only the dumb kids that are looking off of each other’s papers. If you have to look at Barry’s (a lower-achieving student) exam for an answer, then the big red F should be punishment enough!”

  6. January 1, 2014 3:26 am

    This costume is sure to make your dog the cutest thing of the night.
    The costumes that are flying off the shelves include the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and,
    of course, Alice herself. Nowadays there are temporary hair color sticks that come in
    oil or water based sticks, similar to a lipstick.

  7. January 29, 2014 6:07 am

    CHRISANNE’s reputation precedes itself having created iconic and mesmerising dresses, and costumes that have
    been seen on shows such as “Strictly Come Dancing”, “Dancing on Ice”, “The Royal Variety Performance”, “So you think you can Dance”, and “Britain. Two similar wolf track shapes with pointed toes have to be cut. Adults are as looking forward to their attire as their minor counterparts.

  8. February 8, 2014 3:30 am

    He is much better worthy the Halloween, fat this is your personal
    choice to produce. For these customers, buying a CHRISANNE dress was not
    simply purchasing a throw away outfit that went out of style within
    a season. One of the most striking features of the event is ‘ guests are
    allowed to visit in their favorite Halloween costumes.

  9. February 9, 2014 3:12 am

    Don’t forget sci-fi heroes who have a little saber in one hand and a Halloween bucket in the other, just make him wear a star wars outfit.

    You don’t need to spend money on cheaply made costumes
    that will be worn only a handful of hours. This costume is suitable for
    conservative partygoer as it is available in different
    lengths and cuts.

  10. February 11, 2014 3:41 am

    However, this fun task can be overwhelming with options
    to choose from, here are the main elements you ought to consider when decorating
    young kids rooms. It is ideal if you look for larger wallpaper sheets instead of smaller strips that put substantial focus on borders.

    Distressed woods, rich colors, and leather detailing can create a rustic look.

  11. February 14, 2014 5:41 am

    Perhaps saving all your money for the things you need and spending the money you might have left over for the things you want.
    On additional hand, if they are not sold nor offered,
    it is possible to perhaps borrow the items you need that won’t last longer.
    This kind of one simple change in your in house adornment will merely improve
    the whole look of your residence.

  12. August 7, 2014 6:43 am

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog
    and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts.
    After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I’m hoping you write once more very soon!

  13. August 19, 2014 5:42 am

    When someone writes an article he/she retains the thought of a user in his/her mind
    that how a user can understand it. Thus that’s why
    this piece of writing is outstdanding. Thanks!

  14. August 21, 2014 9:57 am

    Very rapidly this web site will be famous among all blog visitors, due to it’s good articles or reviews

  15. September 1, 2014 4:05 pm

    Hello There. I found your blog using msn. This is a really well written article.
    I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks
    for the post. I will definitely return.


  1. “So even though I’ll lose you, you’ll be better off by far”. Beatles or Stones – How About The Hollies? « The Brown Tweed Society
  2. Like, Omigod! Digging Through the ’80s Pop Culture Box, Part 13 | Popdose

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: