Applying NBA metrics to music: Imperfect joy

In 2005, the NBA incorporated an algorithm in conjunction with Lenovo to calculate the effectiveness of teamwork.

Essentially, it measured player combinations in a plus/minus scoring ratio from an individual player up to a five-man rotation. For example, the best five-man team in 2007-08  was Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, outscoring opponents by +396.

Not surprisingly, that team won the NBA championship.

It’s an effective and sort of fun way to measure performances of interchangeable pieces, especially when you get into the four-, three- and two-man combos (Hello, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook).

The Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combo is sitting at a +343 so far this season. No one is close.
The Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combo is sitting at a +343 point differential so far this season. No one else comes close.

I started (loosely) applying this metric to music, studying how certain albums could string together more consecutive solid tracks than others. It’s all subjective, of course, but a compelling source of debate.

I can’t say with confidence what is the BEST combinations of all time, so let’s leave this as more of a discussion. I had a doozy of a time figuring out my own list, but note that any one could easily be substituted. So much good music in existence.


Take any studio album – this excludes live albums, greatest hits or compilation albums – and find the best consecutive combination of tracks (anything from one to 10+, if you feel ambitious).

An example of my faves, which, in all likelihood, will not be yours:

6-Track Combo
30 Seconds to Mars –
This is War
“Escape,” “Night of the Hunter,” “Kings and Queens,” “This is War,” “100 Suns,” “Hurricane.”

Tribal drums, holistic themes, electric synth, acoustic guitar and hard rock. Whether it’s a ballad or a sonic thrashing, the first six songs of the album are the most gripping I have ever experienced.

Audioslave – Audioslave
“Cochise,” “Show Me How to Live,” “Gasoline,” “What You Are,” “Like a Stone”

Pure, unadulterated rock. Chris Cornell and Tom Morello, the rocker’s amalgam of dreams, joined in perfect unison to make this masterpiece. The first five songs are explosive and genuine, finishing with the masterpiece that is “Like a Stone.” It’s a shame they had to disband after only three albums.

John Mayer – Continuum
“The Heart of Life,” “Vultures,” “Stop this Train,” “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”

This list took a lot of research, if only through my own library, but I was in awe seeing these four songs stuck together. Individually, they are stunning: The overall subject matter pertaining to coming of age and coping with loss. The fourth song in particular, man. One of the most powerful songs about a dying relationship you will ever hear.

Linkin Park – A Thousand Suns
“Waiting for the End,” “Blackout,” “Wretches and Kings”

The musicianship displayed in these three tracks is just filthy. Vocal grenades, tender melodies, gangster rapping and everything in between all compiled in the middle of one album. If we could see the audio layers it took to produce these tracks, I would bet it be close to 300.

Michael Jackson – Thriller
“Beat It,” “Billie Jean”

Back-to-back masterpieces. We’re talking timeless legends. That’s insanity. “Thriller” comes right before them on the album, making this a formidable 3-Track combo. But I don’t think that song holds up as well as these two, considering MJ’s entire catalog. Consider the generation spawned from ever-lasting pop and the sheer brilliance of it all.

Queen – Night at the Opera
“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Bohemian Rhapsody - If not the best song ever, it's in the discussion.
Bohemian Rhapsody – If not the best song ever, it’s in the discussion.

The toil it took to come to this decision was torturous. I’m assuming that choosing “The Best” song of all time is one of the most broad and compelling questions there is (among them: “Greatest Athlete,” “Most Useful Invention” and “If You Had One Wish But Couldn’t Have Multiple Wishes…”).

This song has numerous masterpieces cohesively rolled into one, making this song a sort of loophole. The magnificence of this song is that, all at once, it sort of of cheats the rule of this list while exemplifying it.

If you have a weekend to burn, I implore all of you to do this.

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