College Countdown: KROQ-FM’s Top 40 Songs of 1987, 40 and 39

40. “4th of July” by X
Releases in 1987, See How We Are was the sixth album by the Los Angeles band X. Notably, it was also their first without founding guitarist Billy Zoom, who reportedly left because he was frustrated by the band’s lack of commercial success (he had delivered an ultimatum regarding the need for a hit ahead of the band’s prior album, Ain’t Love Grand!, in 1985). To replace Zoom, X recruited Dave Alvin shortly after he left the Blasters. “4th of July” was the only song on the album not written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka, emanating instead from the pen of Alvin, who also included it on his solo debut that same year (the album was titled Romeo’s Escape in the U.S. and Every Night About This Time just about everywhere else). Given that it almost belongs to X purely by brief association (Alvin left the band after the sole album, not even appearing on the following year’s live effort), it seems odd to call it the best song X ever recorded, but I can’t help it. The song is direct and wisely emotional, incredibly evocative in the depiction of a heartrending relationship involving people that “gave up trying so long ago.” It’s a song that merits a place in steady rotation far more than one day per year.

39. “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order
As arguably New Order’s most recognized song, its hard to think of “Bizarre Love Triangle” as kind of a bust, but that was largely the case when it was originally released in the fall of 1986. Though it made some headway on the dance charts, it failed to even crack the Billboard Hot 100 (at least until it was re-released in 1995 and rocketed all the way up to a peak of #98 on the charts) and didn’t even fare all that well in their U.K. home, where eight of their first twelve singles had made the Top 40. In fact, its lack of commercial success seemed to halt efforts to cull hits from Brotherhood, the 1986 album from which it sprung. Instead, the band and the label presumably concentrated on their next project, the following year’s compilation Substance 1987. That release pulled together the 12-inch versions of many of the band’s singles, including “Bizarre Love Triangle,” showing up is a crisper version that was about two minutes longer. Though the KROQ chart officially lists Brotherhood as the album associated with “Bizarre Love Triangle,” I’m assuming that the Substance version has something to do with the song’s success on ’87 playlists, so that’s the version I include below. This is the first of two New Order songs on the chart.

An Introduction

Spectrum Check

So I had a busy week at Spectrum Culture. Almost too busy. I’m not sure anyone needs that many of my words.

It started with my latest contribution to the Revisit series over on the film side, a consideration of Wayne Wang’s Smoke. I recently confessed to the site’s editor-in-chief that this is the toughest feature for me to crack, trying to find something freshly pertinent to write about films that I know well. And I want to write about something that’s a somewhat unique selection, not simply celebrate films that have no shortage of advocates. I think I did all right with Smoke, but I worry every time my turn in the rotation comes up.

As for new movies, I wrote about the profound and often powerful new documentary How to Survive a Plague. It’s odd that eras of American life that I well remember can now be viewed as history, forgotten just enough that filling in the details is a vital step. Part of what’s most revelatory about the film is the contrast of the firm but thoughtful fight that was engaged by AIDS activists beginning the nineteen-eighties and the somewhat maudlin recoloring present in much art about the time. Sadly, there are also reminders, such as in the scene in which a man talks about having no recourse within the system when his longtime partner dies, that the same damn battles still being fought decades later.

On the music side, I wrote about the new album from Bob Mould, a daunting task given my long history as a fan. Luckily, the album is terrific, so drawing on that history to inform my discussion of the current work was a true pleasure. And, yes, the album really does remind me of Sugar’s Copper Blue, and does so more strongly the more I listen to it.

I also delivered a review of the sophomore release from the Seattle band Seapony. With this album, I had fewer kind things to say. On first listen, I thought it was fine, but as I dug deeper–a necessity for writing the review, after all–it turned out there simply wasn’t that much of interest there.

Finally, I kicked in a few thoughts on a new song for our regular Montly Mixtape. I wrote about a track from an album that I suspect will factor in the “best of the year” pondering that I’ll need to start soon.

One for Friday: Ten Speed Summer, “Pantera Fans in Love”

What follows is the information I’ve been able to glean about the band Ten Speed Summer. It may be flagrantly incorrect.

By some accounts, Ten Speed Summer was a pop-punk band based in Santa Barbara and led by bassist Dave Ehrlich. When he recorded the song “Pantera Fans in Love” for the second volume of the Happy Meals compilation series put out by indie label My Records, he recruited several members of the band Nerf Herder to help him out. According to comments by Nerf Herder band leader Parry Gripp at the time, they liked both Ehrlich and his song so much that they recruited him to join the roster in time for the group’s sophomore release, How to Meet Girls. A version of “Pantera Fans in Love” appears on that album, presumably, given the story shared at the time, a cover version of the Ten Speed Summer song.

However, all the online sources like the writing credit for “Pantera Fans in Love” as solely going to Gripp, which is the case with most Nerf Herder songs. Similarly, there are a few sources that refer to Ten Speed Summer not as a band that Gripp poached from to enhance the membership of his own outfit, but instead a “supergroup” brought together as a lark, featuring members of both Nerf Herder and Sugarcult. In that scenario, “Pantera Fans in Love” is presumably a song Gripp was tinkering around with for his main concern and brought it into the sessions meant for goofing around.

Here’s what I know for sure (or at least as sure as my faulty memory allows): the first time I heard “Pantera Fans in Love,” it was the version credited to Ten Speed Summer. It was played on Madison, Wisconsin’s community radio station, WORT-FM. While I often have an aversion to songs that I dismissively refer to as comedy rock (such as practically everything I’ve heard from Nerf Herder), this song was crazily catchy and had a sense of humor that was both cheeky and sneakily smart, building in the details of the heavy metal fans awash in romance with wickedly observant charm. I found the song irresistible, a sensation that was only compounded when I discovered that I couldn’t find the CD that contained it anywhere. I looked through the bins at various local record stores and even asked a couple clerks about it, receiving nothing but perplexed looks in response.

So Happy Meals, Vol. 2 became the first music I ever ordered through the swelling wonders of the interweb. About the only mention of the album I could find online at the time was at the label’s highly rudimentary website (to be fair, they were all fairly rudimentary around that point in time). Without an especially significant amount of faith in a positive outcome in which I actually received what I tried to purchase, I went ahead and ordered the CD. It arrived a few weeks later in, as I remember, notably unadorned packaging. I didn’t exactly wear out that CD, but I enjoyed it a great deal (another highlight is a typically great Me First and the Gimme Gimmes cover. And that song landed on quite a few mix tapes at the time, one of the most dependable measures of my affection for a song.

If I can’t quite sort out the song’s genealogy, it doesn’t matter all that much. It still sounds good whenever I play it.

Ten Speed Summer, “Pantera Fans in Love”

(Disclaimer: The Happy Meals compilations seem to be well out of print, and I’m suspicious about whether or not My Records is even still a going concern. Actually, it even looks like the Nerf Herder album that is home to the different version of this song is also unavailable for new purchase as a physical item. It can be acquired digitally, but it’s sort of hard to put money in the register of your favorite local, independently-owned records store using that method. Regardless, I don’t believe the Ten Speed Summer version is available at all, so the track is posted here with that understanding. In other words, diverting viable funds from the artist is not the intent of sharing this song. Even so, if I’m contacted by someone with an honest claim on the song who demands or requests its removal from the interweb, I will gladly and promptly comply.)

Beers I Have Known: Point Special

This series of posts is dedicated to the many, many six packs, pony kegs and pints that have sauntered into my life at one point or another.

(image source)

Everyone should have the blessing of a local brewery in the town where they attend college. I don’t mean one of the fancy brewers that dominate my current city of residence. Instead, I mean the kind of place that’s been around decades, serving its hometown with sudsy dedication. Being a devoted good kid throughout high school, I’m proud to say that a Point Special in the can (known affectionately as a “Blue Bullet”) was the first beer I ever drank. It’s just a plain old lager, clearly brewed the same way it’s been for years, with a just hint of sharp, delectable tinniness to it. It tastes like a pure American beer, not all that different, really, from the lower end stuff that floods and dominates the national market (and Superbowl ad buys), except for a little more heft, ultimately less reliance on the watery composition that other brewers rely on to make their product go down too easily. For most of the beer’s existence, the folks producing Point Special knew that their primary consumer was within walking distance and could march right through the brewery’s door with a complaint if they didn’t like what they were drinking. That seems to have informed a devotion to getting it right. Or maybe I just think that because it remains, even with decidedly more complex and admittedly better competitors, my favorite beer. To me, Point Special tastes like home.

Top Fifty Films of the 70s — Number Fourteen


#14 — Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
I have a strong awareness that retroactively visiting certain films creates an entirely different impact than, say, connecting with them chronologically, especially as they’re released. For example, I’d seen a lot of films directed by Martin Scorsese before I ever got around to his true breakthrough, Mean Streets. For those that encountered it for the first time back in the fall of 1973, perhaps when it famously became a sensation at the New York and Chicago Film Festivals, the shift had to be astonishing, not just from other films at the time, but also from the earlier entries in the filmography of this runty Italian kid from Manhattan. Through the lens of all the masterworks that followed, what’s most amazing about Mean Streets is the way the distinctive Scorsese style emerged fully formed in this film, as if hatched after a period of robustly transformational stasis. His film is brutal, real and thunderously alive in a way that few others ever achieve.

Written with Mardik Martin (who would also sign his name to Scorsese’s monumental Raging Bull a few years later), Scorsese’s Mean Streets patches together the dangers, passions, excitement and enticement of the New York City where the director grew up. No scrubbed-clean tourist mecca, it was a city dominated by those who were prepared to struggle instead of strive. These are thugs with only the foggiest of inclinations to reach beyond their assigned stations in life, and a fumbling inability to avoid sabotaging their own success any time a sliver of ambition did infiltrate their souls. Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, whose modest underworld aspirations are continually delivered setbacks by the company he keeps, most notably a boisterous live wire called Johnny Boy. He’s played by Robert De Niro with a sinewy, raw ingenuity. He has such an tenacious unpredictability and fulsome charisma that its easy to understand the lingering goodwill that still allows him to be accorded due reverence as one of the true greats despite a current complacency that threatens to be best measured in decades.

Great as De Niro is, it’s truly Keitel’s film, his story. He speaks with a rapid, articulate, measured patter that, we now well know, owes a debt to his director. He has the carriage of a thug, a necessary survival tactic in his asphalt ecosystem, but the obvious whirring intelligence of a man who’s turned reacting into a intricate scheme. One of the most fascinating aspects is how he’s constantly sizing things up, weighing his conflicts against one another and trying to figure out how his own different sides–most notably the malfeasance of his profession and the pull of his Catholic faith–cohere to each other, or if that’s even possible.

Scorsese puts the film together with ripe dynamic that’s now become his trademark, right down to the redefinition of safe, familiar pop songs through shockingly new bruised knuckle context. The cinematography and editing are relentlessly vibrant and Scorsese’s camera moves like the toughest, sliest person in the barroom, always positioning himself for the possibility that some serious shit is about to go down. Scorsese was a young man at this point–still only thirty-years-old when the film was released–but he’d already been looking to cinema as his personal sanctuary and redemption. With Mean Streets, he first unlocked the door to that promise of freedom through creativity he’d made to himself long before.

I want your picture but not your words, you know they want it, but there’s no verse


Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master has the look, feel and tone of a masterpiece. It has a distinct anti-narrative structure that allows even the moments that falter to feel organically right, refutations of the supposed need for everything in a film to hang together, to cohere, to lock into the other parts of the story like a well-rendered jigsaw piece. What’s more, they reflect the spiritual confusion at the heart of Anderson’s story, which superficially mirrors the early days of L. Ron Hubbard’s slow, steady spreading of Scientology. In actuality, it’s more like a broad extension of the themes Anderson explored in his prior film, There Will Be Blood, at least on the side of it that was more concerned with Paul Dano’s opportunistic religious leader than Daniel Day-Lewis’s oilman. The Master is about the distance between faith and reality, stability and spirit, empiricism and instinct. It is so wildly ambitious and heavy with thoughtfulness that it comes with a mighty temptation to view its most unwieldy abstractions as the highest of cinematic art.

Despite the intellectual heft and the amazing visual aplomb (Anderson’s creative capability for composing frames and sequences in fully in evidence, and the cinematography of Mihai Malaimare Jr. is stunning), there’s a nagging rattle a the core of The Master, a sense that Anderson’s deliberate wooliness has produced a film which gets lost in its own elliptical fiction. Joaquin Phoenix plays a World War II veteran named Freddie Quell, whose readjustment to civilian life is troubled, to say the least. There’s a fairly strong sense that this is less due to mental scars inflicted by warfare and is instead a deeply embedded inevitably of his soul. Quell’s bank shots from one stab at mundane existence to another come to an end when he sidles into the circle of author Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Initially, the appeal of Dodd seems to lie mostly in his evident affluence matched with a aggressively effusiveness. It becomes clear in fairly short order that the hearty band of individuals around Dodd aren’t just sycophants but are in fact followers, maybe even zealots. Though many of the details are left fairly cryptic, it’s clear that Dodd professes a belief system that involves past lives, emotional time travel and a containment or suppression (or outright denial) of the impulsive passions that mark humans as a particularly self-involved and impressionable part of the Animal Kingdom. Anderson is not especially interested in the particulars of this burgeoning religion, preferring to use it as a vehicle to explore the conflicts that arise when authority and orchestrated fealty eventually push up against the inevitable doubt. The director has used every tool at his disposal to make an epic about the unique brand of hucksterism that must invariably lead to spiritual rot.

The problem with his controlled chilliness, however, is that the film lacks the precise passion that its title character is devoted to eradicating. This absence could very well be Anderson’s point, an attempt to mirror his creation’s bereft nature, a bravura merging of technique and thematic intent. Regardless, the choice winds up hollowing out the film instead of transforming it. In the simplest terms, I never believed in the relationship between Hoffman’s leader and Phoenix’s faulty new adherent. The drama relies upon them being bound in a highly fraught, codependent relationship, not unlike that at the heart of There Will Be Blood. But while Day-Lewis managed to make that connection between two destructively ambitious individuals seem as tight as a crippling handshake (and Dano, let’s face it, just adequately held his own, which was luckily all that was required given the gravitational pull of his costar’s performance), Hoffman and Phoenix can’t find the right notes of needy desperation required to bound their characters to one another. They operate at too great a distance.

There’s so much weight and reward built into The Master that it can sometimes seem that the shortcomings don’t matter. Even as I fidgeted through portions of it, I couldn’t help but feel it was me who wasn’t meeting the film where I needed to, in much that same way that some old, revered cinematic deconstruction by Michelangelo Antonioni or Jean-Luc Godard can come across as lovely and cold as freckled marble, fascinating precisely because of the way it refuses to part with its secrets. At their best, though, those films beckon the viewer, practicing the art of enticement by giving up just enough juicy, meaty morsels of melodrama to suggest a beating heart beneath the muscle mass of post-modernistic engineering. Anderson doesn’t find his way to a similar emotional vividness, seemingly preferring to keep his film locked into its intellectual experimentalism. I concede that I may eventually warm to The Master, finding its visual sharpness and restless mental energy enough to overcome the dramatic shortcomings that weigh on me now. At this moment, I don’t see a likely pathway to that outcome. I’m sorry to say it, but when it comes to The Master, I’m just not a believer.

Top 40 Smash Taps: “You Thrill Me”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

Exile was a band that formed in Kentucky in the nineteen-sixties. They were a group of high schoolers that got together to play and, in true Wonders style, were picked up by the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tour to barnstorm around their home state and then nationwide. Success didn’t immediately follow, however, and it was the endurance of the band, as much as anything, that impressed. While they released some music under their original, slightly different name of the Exiles, the proper debut didn’t arrive until 1973. It was another five years before their follow-up album. That release, Mixed Emotions, yielded the single “Kiss You All Over,” which spent about a month at #1 in 1978. The track is one of those quintessential seventies songs: slick but earthy, a touch dirty, irresistibly cheesy, built around a sly hook, and it goes down smooth as lemonade on a summer day.

The follow-up single, “You Thrill Me,” is really more of the same. So much so that it’s a little perplexing that it wasn’t anywhere near as successful, peaking at the complete opposite end of the Top 40 as its predecessor. It was also the last time Exile made an appearance in the Billboard Top 40. Their next disco-infused single, “How Could This Go Wrong?” topped out at a feeble #88, and that was the last time they’d enjoy time in the double-digits. They did have significant chart success in the eighties, though, once they fully reinvented themselves as a country band, at one point nabbing four straight #1 songs on the country charts. And nearly fifty years after they first picked up their instruments, the band (or some derivation of it) is apparently still kicking.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay
“Freight Train” by the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group
“Sweet William” by Little Millie Small
“Live My Life” by Boy George
“Lessons Learned” by Tracy Lawrence
“So Close” by Diana Ross
“Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys