I have no recollection of the Rugburns. While there are plenty of acts on this list that barely registered for me because I was insulated from some of the more adventurous picks by working for a commercial “new rock alternative” station at the time, I think there may have been other things dissuading me from looking into this band’s musical oeuvre. Like their name, and the name of their album. And the name of their preceding full-length, which was called Morning Wood. It seems their records were dominated by acoustic-guitar based, mildly smart alecky songs, the sort for which the student programmers at my alma mater station long had a particular weakness (ahem, myself included). This was the final album for the Rugburns. The band went through a small batch of lineup changes after the release of this record, which probably helped things crumble. Chief songwriter Steve Plotz went on to a fairly prolific solo career, but his biggest royalty checks likely come from his official status as cowriter of the Jewel hit “You Were Meant For Me.”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were in a near-impossible position with their album One Hot Minute. They’d quite unexpectedly gone from a raucous, funk-inflected group of rowdy hooligans, probably best known for playing live sets while wearing nothing but strategically placed tube socks, to a band with a massive hit to their credit. The band’s 1991 album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, was already a reasonable success when they released the second single, the atypical ballad “Under the Bridge.” That single outpaced any expectations, getting all the way to the runner-up position on the Billboard Hot 100, blocked from the pinnacle by a couple kids with some weird ideas about how to wear their pants. Other singles from the album failed to register, but the album became a multi-platinum sensation. That’s what they were following up with One Hot Minute. The album couldn’t help but seem like it was underperforming compared to its predecessor, by by most measures, it did pretty well. The first three singles charted, led in success by “My Friends,” which became their third Top 40 hit and their first to top both the Alternative and Mainstream Rock charts. I tend to think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a band that has been in a long, slow descent ever since, which just goes to prove that I haven’t been paying attention. While slow is a reasonable descriptor given the length between certain albums, their next three albums also went multi-platinum. In fact, Californication, released in 1999, comes surprisingly close to the mighty sales totals of Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
33. Willy Porter, Dog Eared Dream
I think Willy Porter was basically required listening for Wisconsites of a certain musical bent during the mid-nineties. Hailing from Mequon, Porter graduated from UW – Eau Claire, giving him all sorts of small town Dairy State credentials. He was one of those troubadours with an acoustic guitar slung across his chest who got plenty of traction on certain stations around that time, those that were targeting the people who’d like college rock about ten years earlier but found the buzzing guitar rage of grunge to be a little too off-putting. If there was going to be airplay put towards hearty, heartfelt singer-songwriters, why not concentrate the bulk of the attention on a fella from Wisconsin. Dog Eared Dream was Porter’s third album overall (his debut release was cassette-only, to reinforce the time period we’re discussing here), but I remember it as the one, widely considered a breakthrough and probably in a sizable percentage of CD collections at the time, especially in Madison, where Porter was a diligent live presence.
Porter was someone who clearly inspired championing, with all sorts of people who had access to public airwaves using that privilege to tout him as the great Wisconsin songwriter, someone who favorably compared to anyone else out there plying a similar trade. If Starbucks sold CDs back then, Porter is exactly the sort of performer they would have embraced. That might sound dismissive, but there’s a real talent to crafting songs that are kind, earnest, and have an embedded potential for mass appeal. Porter is still at it, with a slew of albums since and, as I write this, a pending date at Summerfest, because he’s a Wisconsin artist and they all have to play Summerfest. It’s the law (I assume).
— An Introduction
— 90-88: The Falling Wallendas, Parasite, and A.M.
— 87-85: North Avenue Wake Up Call, Live!, and Life Begins at 40 Million
— 84 and 83: Wholesale Meats and Fishes and Orange
— 82-80: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, Fossil, and Electric Rock Music
— 79-77: Coast to Coast Motel, My Wild Life, and Life Model
— 76-74: Gag Me with a Spoon, Where I Wanna Be, and Ruby Vroom
— 73 and 72: Horsebreaker Star and Wild-Eyed and Ignorant
— 71 and 70: 500 Pounds and Jagged Little Pill
— 69-67: Whirligig, The Basketball Diaries, and On
— 66 and 65: Alice in Chains and Frogstomp
— 64 and 63: Happy Days and Exit the Dragon
— 62-60: Lucky Dumpling, Fight for Your Mind, and Short Bus
— 59-57: Good News from the Next World, Joe Dirt Car, and Tomorrow the Green Grass
— 56 and 55: …And Out Come the Wolves and Clueless
— 54-52: We Get There When We Do, Trace, and Twisted
— 51-49: Thrak, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), and You Will Be You
— 48 and 47: Shamefaced and Here’s Where the Strings Come In
— 46 and 45: 13 Unlucky Numbers and Resident Alien
— 44-42: Elastica, Private Stock, and Death to Traitors
— 41-39: Optimistic Fool, Ben Folds Five, and Above
— 38-36: Collide, Cowboys and Aliens, and Batman Forever