College Countdown: The Trouser Press Top 10 Albums of 1981, An Introduction

When I was a student treating the college radio station as a second home, one of the music magazines that loomed the largest for me was Trouser Press. And yet, to the best of my recollection, I’d never seen an issue of the publication. After all, it had ceded publication five years before I ever crossed the threshold of the station. Trouser Press co-founder and co-editor Ira Robbins presided over a fat paperback slab of incredibly thorough artist biographies and album-by-album reviews of their respective discographies (it’s the fourth edition of the book that sits proudly on the bookshelf in my memory). Unlike other record guides, it didn’t dwell of the over-analyzed titans of classic rock, opting to treat the stalwarts of punk, new wave and beyond with a similar reverence. This was a book devoted to the bands we loved, those that served as the foundational canon of college rock.

Across all the years since, I still don’t think I’d ever seen an actual issue of Trouser Press. That finally changed on a trip to Memphis one fine spring. In a pile of used comics at a very cool record store, I found this:

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Sadly, the flexi-disc was long gone, denying me the privilege of owning my very own copy of a fine Holly & the Italians song backed by a medley culled from from their debut album, The Right to Be Italian. That was the only disappointment connected to parting with the three bucks needed to make the magazine mine. I eagerly dug into the issue with a special interest in the smart, flinty record reviews. But naturally, there was another part of the magazine, touted on the cover, that tickled my helpless predilection for lists. In addition to a couple of other year-end wrap-up features (including the 1981 Tacky Trouser Awards which bestowed, for instance, The Bob Denver Cosmic Buffoon Special Prize to Frank Zappa for warning music critics against quoting his lyrics in music reviews under threat of prosecution for copyright infringement), there sat a page headed “1981: THE 10 BEST.”

So that’s what’s up next on the College Countdown. Starting next Sunday, the Top 10 Albums of 1981, according to the periodical that basically wrote the bible for college radio.