I’m going to concede up front that this chart is presented as something as a place-holder. I have a much more significant countdown all cued up on one of the theoretical turntables, but I need a touch more time to get ready for it. Looking for something to carry this feature through to roughly the end of the calendar year, I landed on a chart from the fall of 1992. This isn’t purely random. For reasons not entirely unrelated to the next chart we’ll use, I was thinking a lot about my last year as a student in college radio. I purposefully extended my time as a undergraduate, picking up a second major in part to delay the dreaded launch from the comfort of academia into the so-called real world. Any time I took to the air chair during my last year, I knew I was the beneficiary of an unlikely gift, albeit one I had given myself with the assistance of some student loans. I got to stay a little longer in the place I loved so much, the place that had given me an identity that brought me pleasure and pride.
The fall of 1992 was also an especially interesting time in college radio. Some would argue this timeframe brought the last gasp of “college rock,” as the shocking success of Nirvana’s Nevermind the previous year had upended all expectations about the possibilities of fully commodifying the music that kids like me played while filling airtime on the left end of the radio dial. Any doubts about the what the future — albeit only the immediate future, as the likelihood of a massive skip forward to the runout groove was reasonably easy to forecast — were wiped away by the slow-build success of Pearl Jam’s Ten. Released about a month before Nirvana’s blockbuster, these fellow Seattleites saw their album explode in the spring of 1992. “Jeremy” was released as a single in September, and the commercial insurrection was cemented. The fall of 1992 does reasonably look like the turning point that would make college radio sound and feel completely different than the magical land I first alighted into a few years earlier.
Even though I believe that conclusion is fairly sound, I also recognize a certain churlishness to my perception, the normal nostalgia-tinged over-valuation of personal history that afflicts the deeply passionate. I like and appreciate the music of my era more than any other specifically because it is mine, material that shaped me and provided a reinforcing brace to my psyche at just the time when I needed it most. In that respect, this music represents the last of the college radio sounds that inspire a sense of joyous possessiveness in me, all imbued with a little wistfulness because even then I knew that closure was necessarily in the atmosphere. I perused a bunch of different charts from that last full academic year, and (of those to which I had access) this is the one that speaks most directly to me, stirring up the remaining vestiges of who I was at that point in time.
The countdown begins next week with a couple of albums that were incredibly important to me, including, at #20, the act that was practically the official band of my college radio station.