9. The Weeds, Windchill
I think it’s safe to say that, of all the bands on this countdown, the Weeds are the only ones who spent one night in 1989 playing a live show at The Encore in the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point’s University Center. I really think if the Pixies or Love and Rockets had played there I would have remembered it. The show was sponsored by 90FM and mounted the weekend before the annual staging of the station’s major fundraiser, a little something we liked to refer to as The World’s Largest Trivia ContentTM. It became a de facto kickoff event, although it was more of an opportunity for the staff members to happily blow off some steam banging into each on the dance floor before a week of very hard work than it was a concerted promotional effort for the pending event. Mounting concerts was a real rarity for the radio station–keeping the broadcast outlet running semi-smoothly was work enough–and, as a result, most of the live music that played in our dinky college town wasn’t typically to the general taste of our staff, meaning the presence of a band that had an honored spot in our music library was a cause for pronounced celebration. The Weeds played that night with two other bands–Muscle Car and Rebel Waltz–and it was one of the true highlights of the year, at least for a loopy contingent of college radio kids.
I mean no slight to the band nor disparagement of the album in noting that Windchill surely owes its high placement on this chart to that concert. The album was actually released the preceding year, sometime in the fall, I believe. Once the show was booked and confirmed, the album immediately moved out of the music library and back into rotation, even spending the last couple of weeks before the concert propped up like a family photo with the urgent message demanding airplay to help aid the publicity effort. Though the album was arguably outside of the window in which it was reasonably to dutifully add it to our charts, we went ahead and included it, figuring that the handful of extra notices in the fine print of CMJ couldn’t hurt the stature of the fairly humble band from our home state.
The Weeds hailed from Madison, Wisconsin, one of a handful of fine bands from that vicinity that couldn’t get much radio attention in their hometown given the general disinterest for celebrating local heroes that was a sad marker of the fealty to national charts over all other considerations that was increasingly a marker of commercial broadcasting. I listened with rigid attentiveness to a lot of Madison radio at around that time and I don’t believe I ever heard the band so much as mentioned. A hundred or so miles to the north, we were happy to play the band’s music at 90FM, taking a special pride in celebrating performers with their roots deeply embedded in the same frozen soil that we called home. I’m not kidding about frozen soil, either: that cover above is as evocative of the overwhelming chill of Wisconsin winter as anything I’ve ever seen. (The artwork is credited to Bill Feeny, who I assume is the Reptile Palace Orchestra guitarist who has an associate degree in commercial art and a longtime gig with the University of Wisconsin zoology department.)
I believe Windchill was the band’s first full-length album. Produced by the Weeds along with Steve Marker, co-founder of Madison’s Smart Studios and future guitarist for Garbage, the album is relentlessly tough and sharp. Songs like “Cold Blooded Snake,” “Under the Bed” and “Hush Hush” got plenty of airplay at the radio station, provided a heart punch up to any music set that were dropped into. It was the sort of music that often caused to studio monitors to get turned up a little louder, maybe even a little too loud for our robust but hardly state-of-the-art speakers. There was a very Midwestern directness to many of the songs, in terms of both the music and the lyrics. The song “Dicked” included the admittedly uncouth but highly relatable phrase “We got dicked!” barked out repeatedly, the words tried out with different intonations like an actor trying to find exactly the right line reading. Songs that sounded like they’d benefit from sympathetic pumping of fists in the air as they blazed along usually did quite well at the station. That was the sound of Windchill.
The Weeds continued to have a special place in the collective heart of a certain subset of station personnel. A couple years later, when a concert held the weekend before Trivia was a brief but robust tradition, the Weeds were again booked. They’re follow-up album, King Crow, had done quite well at the station with one song in particular turning into a bit of a in-house hit. I was under the impression that they weren’t playing many shows by the time they were contacted about playing one more Stevens Point gig, but they worked it out to come up and perform anyway, even getting into the spirit by asking their own trivia questions from the stage and patiently putting up with our frantic requests for cover songs recalled from the earlier performance. If you haven’t heard the band play a live mash up of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Skyway”, well then you haven’t ever had genuine cause to hold a blazing lighter in the air. The Weeds are long gone, but a couple members play in the current Madison band We Are Beatrice.
I must admit to being especially please with the high placement of this album on the chart. To me, it represents both iconoclastic nature of college radio, where a local favorite could (and still can) trump the both the format legends and the incessantly hyped breakthrough artists. Even the way the concert boosted the numbers is a welcome side effect of a station that pays more attention to its own backyard than the pressing needs of national record reps. And I have some nostalgic, homesick pride over how decidedly this record still feels like an ideal product of the state of my birth. How could I not with this poem gracing the back cover:
Black ice, black ice
I say go
Fish sleeping sixteen feet below
Visions of minnows dance in their heads
John Deere treads shaking up their beds…
I can practically feel the icy air reddening my cheeks. It’s the sort of chill that only a blast of blistering guitars can properly warm.
20. Bob Mould, Workbook
19. The Rainmakers, The Good News and the Bad News
18. The Mighty Lemon Drops, Laughter
17. Couch Flambeau, Ghostride
16. Robyn Hitchcock ‘n’ the Egyptians, Queen Elvis
15. The B-52’s, Cosmic Thing
14. Camper Van Beethoven, Key Lime Pie
13. The Sugarcubes, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week!
12. The Godfathers, More Songs About Love & Hate
11. Guadalcanal Diary, Flip Flop
10. The Pogues, Peace and Love