If you’re a regular reader of MOJO (or this very blog for that matter) or if you are a former/current record store employee, then you will laugh your ass off at Rock, Rot & Rule, Scharpling & Wurster‘s infamous and hilarious reverse-engineered prank call cum classic comedic roasting of rock snobs. It’s heavy meta fun and has probably been played literally millions of times in vans stinking of skunky weed (and feet) by touring rock groups.
Tom Scharpling is the longtime host of “The Best Show” on WFMU. Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster—the two met at a My Bloody Valentine show—would call in to Scharpling’s show and pretend to be an annoying asshole, impervious to how oblivious he’s being long enough for the audience to become enraged and start calling in to debate him.
These two can hit it out of the ballpark. Their most famous creation is Rock, Rot & Rule where Wurster’s character, an infuriatingly dense, musically ignorant moron named “Ronald Thomas Clontle” promotes his upcoming book “Rock, Rot & Rule: The Ultimate Argument Settler” on Scharpling’s show.
“Clontle” feigns being distracted by TV basketball when the call comes from Scharpling, who is live on WFMU (“Orlando and Cleveland and I’ve got a lot of money riding on it and it’s not going my way. Wilkins just got hurt…”).
As Clontle reveals, the “scientific method” used to compile his 98 page “ultimate argument settler”—basically a list dividing all of popular music history into three categories: “rock,” “rot,” and “rule”—was simply to ask approximately 100 patrons of “Java The Hut,” the Lawrence, KS coffee shop (“Home of the bottomless Wookie”) he worked at to rank musical acts according to the preposterous criteria he devised. People were also canvassed at a record store near his grandmother’s home in Florida. He tells Scharpling, “I’m not a critic, I’m more a compiler of opinions.”
The Beatles merely “rock” but do not “rule” because, as Clontle says matter of factly, “they wrote a lot of bad songs.” Stereolab rots (sucks) “because they don’t use guitars.” (It’s not possible to “rock” unless you do. “Bruce Hornsby rules, but he doesn’t rock because he doesn’t play guitar.”)
Aerosmith, The Who and The Rolling Stones all “rule.” Dread Zeppeln rocks, Led Zeppelin rules. P. Diddy—then still known as “Puff Daddy”—“rules” and therefore rates more highly than David Bowie (who rots due to “too many changes”) or Neil Young who gets dinged for Trans and Landing on Water simply because Clontle has never heard any of his other albums..
Madonna rules. Supertramp rock. Kiss rule. Madness rule “because they started ska.” XTC rot. Yes rule, but not they do not rock. Emerson Lake and Palmer—as well as most, but not all, bands with prominent keyboards—definitely rot. Ween rule. Chilliwack gets weighted into “rulership” due to being Canadian (had they been America, they would merely rock, but it’s harder for Canadian groups to break out).
Frank Zappa rots because “humor has no place in music.” Kraftwerk rots. “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow rules, but the band itself, well they rot. The Beach Boys (who had “some stinkers”) fall into the rarer “none of the above” category along with The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Queen rules the most, AC/DC rocks the most and Billy Joel is the most rotten of them all.
You get the picture. After fifteen or so minutes of this torture, Scharpling starts taking some calls from enraged (or merely perplexed) listeners. One guy gets so angry and worked up that he never picks up on the joke and calls in to the switchboard THREE TIMES.
Jon Wurster is unflappable, a genius at playing clueless idiots right up there with Fred Willard. Presented with all manner of input from the callers, he merely “reports” what his surveys have found, no matter how inconsistent or completely idiotic what he is saying is.
It’s one of the all time classic radio pranks and right where you are sitting now, you can click here to listen on Spotify or listen on Grooveshark below: