College Countdown: CMJ Top 250 Songs, 1979 – 1989, 241 – 239

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241. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “April Skies”

“April Skies” stands as a little surprise within the Jesus and Mary Chain discography. This is not because of its sound, which is right in line with the chiming pop coated in light gothy, industrial buzz that the band had established on their debut album, Psychocandy. Instead, the unexpected element was the swell of chart success that greeted it, at least in the U.K. In the broader homeland of the Scottish group, “April Skies” was their first Top 10 song, indeed one of only two singles in the band’s career (to date, anyway) to cross that threshold. (In the United States, the Jesus and Mary Chain make a solitary appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, when the highly atypical single “Sometimes Always,” featuring Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, peaked at #96.) Officially the lead single from the band’s sophomore album, Darklands, the track represented the hard-fought efforts to develop a creative environment that the band could accept. Warner Bros., the Jesus and Mary Chain’s parent label, had gone through a batch of producers before finally earning the acquiescence of the infamously irritable Reid brothers, the dual and dueling leaders of the band. The studio skipper who quelled their combative rebellion against the label-assigned collaborators was Bill Price, who largely got past their defenses because of his connection to the famed cornerstone of punk rock Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, on which he was credited as engineer and co-producer. “April Skies” was so successful that it helped the band achieve on of their longterm goals: appearing on the BBC television show Top of the Pops. In a spectacular act of career self-destruction that honored their punk rock forbearers, the band was so drunk during the taping that they completely flummoxed the production team with improvised movements and terrible lip-synching during the performance, leading to them being effectively banned from any future guest spots on the show. Lest it seem like the group wasn’t taking thing seriously at the time, Jim Reid’s commitment to all aspects of the band’s image reportedly led to him spending hours riding the pause button with a videotape of the of the 1971 cult film The Jesus Trip in order to capture exactly the right image for the cover art of the single.

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240. Fabulous Poodles, “Mirror Star”

As far as United States audiences knew, “Mirror Star” represented the very first music released by the Fabulous Poodles. Formally formed in 1975, with their debut full-length album released in 1977, the Fabulous Poodles had a decent amount of success in the U.K.. Surely this was in part because the band’s skill at joining the well-established and, by then, duly revered solid rock ‘n’ stylings of bands such as the Kinks with a cheeky, comedic irreverence that recalled British misfits the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Given some of distinct pop music traditions in the U.K., there was a place for a band like the Fabulous Poodles on that dwindling kingdom’s charts, in a way that was unlikely to be fully replicated across that pond. That didn’t stop the U.S. label Epic Records from trying their damnedest. They released In 1978, they released Mirror Stars, an LP collecting music from the band’s first two U.K. recordings, and gave lead single, the title-ish cut “Mirror Stars” heavy promotion. Described in ads as “a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy of a boy and his looking glass,” the song (and the band that performed it, for that matter) was probably too weird to ever truly capture the attention and affection of U.S. audiences, regardless of  how many genial, canine-friendly promotions the label cooked up. The Fabulous Poodles released one more album, 1979’s Think Pink, before calling it quits.

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239. Echo & the Bunnymen, “Never Stop”

After the 1983 single “The Cutter” brought Echo & the Bunnymen their greatest chart success up to that point, their label, Warner Bros., came to the band with plans to quickly capitalize with a follow-up release, preferably another track from the same album which yielded the hit. The label picked “Heads Will Roll” as the preferred next single. The band disagreed, not because they didn’t care for the song, but due to a conviction that they had already mined enough material from the album in question, Porcupine. A compromise was forged. The band agreed to record a fresh take of “Heads Will Roll,” reasoning they’d be giving the fans something that was at least slightly new. Inclined to take full advantage of pricey studio time funded by the label, Echo & the Bunnymen also brought a new song along. If nothing else, they’d need a B-side. When they walked through the doors, the song was called “Do You Love Him?” By the time Ian McCulloch was done reworking the lyrics it had been rechristened “Never Stop,” and the subsequent recording was considered strong enough by all involved that it scuttled any previous plans. “Never Stop” became the next single and another respectable hit, reaching #15 on the U.K. chart. The track also significantly impacted the group’s sound moving forward, as the larger, lusher feel of the song inspired them to pull together a larger ensemble of backing musicians for their next tour. Including former Psychedelic Furs guitarist Mike Mooney among their number, that crew was informally dubbed “the Bunnymen ensemble.”

As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist. All images nicked from Discogs.

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