19. The Rainmakers, The Good News and the Bad News
It may seem odd to see the Rainmakers placing so high on this countdown, especially while seminal albums by the likes of the Pixies and the Cure are relegated to the lower reaches of the chart. Frankly, I was surprised myself when I unearthed the old dot-matrix printer sheets that held the secrets of the 1989 tally of the biggest albums of the year on my old college radio station. I liked the Rainmakers and certainly slipped The Good News and the Bad News over the turntable spindle a lot myself, but, all these years later, I couldn’t have named a single song off this album with certainty.
The Rainmakers hailed from Kansas City, Missouri and they had, what I feel, was a distinctly Midwestern sound. It was simple, straightforward, imbued with a homespun earnestness. This was before every minor variation in music had its own strained moniker bestowed upon it (Sadcore? Really?), but the sound of these sorts of bands was a little like garage rock delivered by guys who were polite, upstanding and humble. They turned the amps down a bit, as if in consideration of the neighbors. If the history of pop music is filled with bands that started because guys wanted to get girls who found them sexy, these were the bands that started because guys wanted to get wives who found them interesting. The Rainmakers and their brethren were the canned beer and riding lawnmowers of rock’n’roll.
And, to be honest, 90FM was the canned beer and riding lawnmowers of college radio, especially as the tide was rushing out on the nineteen-eighties. We were always keenly aware that we were broadcasting to a community and we had a certain obligation to consider the likely sensibilities of our listeners. We played “Stigmata” by Ministry but we usually warned the listener first, like it was a tetanus shot with a needle of daunting circumference. We were starting to embrace our modern rock mandate a little more forcefully at this time, but we were still affording airtime to performers with plenty of miles beneath their steel wheels. Bands that meshed well into our somewhat safer approach to left of dial radio did well at the station. They felt right, they sounded right. They could have played The Cabin on a Saturday night without causing too much distress to a local who wandered into the bar by mistake.
In that respect, the Rainmakers fit in nicely. The Good News and the Bad News was the band’s third album, and, as I recall, it endeavored towards greater social relevance than their previous outings, which defaulted towards fairly jokey larks and clever story songs. The lead single, “Spend It on Love,” was a sort of juke joint revival call for redirecting money and energy to building a society based on emotional generosity. “Horn of Plenty” has a chorus that makes it seem like little more than a robust party song, but most of the lyrics deal with the widening gap between the rich and the poor (“Now if I become a rich man, how much will I give/ How much will I keep, be like the other half lives/ We could fill the Grand Canyon with good intentions we got/ But the gap’s that wide between the haves and have-nots”).
A decent amount of the album now seems dispensible, and maybe it even did then. While it clearly got played a lot while it was in rotation, I’m not sure how often anyone sought this record out once it moved into the stacks. Anyone itching for the Rainmakers probably grabbed one of their earlier albums. I know I did. That was probably the case elsewhere too. The Rainmakers were recording to diminishing returns. Their debut album reached as high as #85 on the Billboard charts and their sophomore effort peaked at #116. The Good News and the Bad News never made that chart at all. In 1990, the band called it quits, although they were quickly lured back into studio due to huge demand for new material from, of all places, Norway. “Big in Scandinavia” isn’t a phrase that’s used very often, but it apparently had some relevance in this instance. The mini-revival lasted a couple of years and yielded some new product, but that petered out as well. They are currently taking a stab at the bizarrely lucrative nineties revival circuit, perhaps emboldened by their recent induction to the Kansas Music Hall of Fame.
I have another theory as to why this album finished as high as it did on our year-end chart. We had one DJ at the station who loved the Rainmakers and considered this album a masterpiece. While he was only on the air once a week, he was also a regular listener to the station and would call the request line to get it played on other shows. This isn’t a complaint or an excuse. It’s simply an acknowledgment of the nature of our station and the way it was programmed. A single dedicated DJ could dramatically impact the success of certain albums. I’m probably personally culpable for the placement of a few records on this list, including one or two that are yet to come. Especially #16. I take a lot of credit for the album at #16.