With the caveat that every college radio kid probably overinflates the greatness of the music released in their first year behind the board, I’ve long championed the spring of 1989 as a pinnacle mini-era of college rock. I’m quick to list the strong releases from left of the dial luminaries like Lou Reed, Violent Femmes, the Replacements, Elvis Costello, the Cure, the Pixies, and on and on. Yet, I commonly forget one of the albums that generated the most excitement at our little broadcast outpost in the heart of America’s Dairyland, an album that indeed outpaced those of many of the more revered artists when it came time to tally up our year-end chart. There were far better and more important albums released that spring, especially with the benefit of retrospective evaluation, but that didn’t temper our excitement for Root Hog or Die by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.
Nixon was riding the tallest wave of his career at the time, achieving added levels of fame thanks to goofball bumpers on MTV, some effusive championing in the pages of Rolling Stone (judging by the bylines, it seemed Kurt Loder was a major fan), and even a memorable namecheck in a cultish hit from the previous fall. When it came time to make a music video for the first single from the album, Nixon was able to secure the acting services of Winona Ryder, who wasn’t herself peaking yet but was ascendent enough that her participation could be categorized as a good get. There was no real chance his music was going to fully cross over into the pop consciousness (his brand of comedic rock was too aggressively confrontational for that), but he was becoming just notable enough to crop up in the the unlikeliest of places. Whatever ceiling he had didn’t matter to us, though. We played his records like he was Elvis.
If I’m being completely honest, I probably played the jokey song about Debbie Gibson that served as that lead single more than anything else (because deep down inside, I really wanted to play “Only in My Dreams” on the radio), but I now prefer to dig deeper into Nixon’s albums. For one thing, the pop culture trash-talking that earned him the most attention hasn’t exactly aged gracefully, what with references to the likes of Spuds McKenzie. On the other hand, tuneful complaints about the ugly hypocrisy of the FCC never go out of style.
Listen or download –> Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper, “Pirate Radio”
(Disclaimer: It appears to me that the Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper album Root Hog or Die is out of print, at least as a physical object that can be acquired from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that duly compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the artist. I mean no fiscal harm to anyone in the posting and sharing of this song. Still, I know how the rules work. I will gladly remove it if asked to do so by any individual or entity, at least as long as that individual or entity has due authority to make such a request.)