An old friend of mine has recently been moving heaven, earth, and government agencies to get his hands on as much material from the early years of the college radio trade journal CMJ as he can. Among his bounty is a batch of photocopies of a issue from September of 1989, collecting some of the first reports of stations after the start of the school year. The main album chart has Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Mother’s Milk at the top and includes such left of the dial luminaries as the Sugarcubes, the Cure, and the Pixies. Of greater immediate interest to me is the chart he shared from the individual station listings in the back pages. Specifically, it was a chart from WWSP-FM, at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, submitted by yours truly during my first year as Program Director.
So for today’s “From the Archives,” here’s a something of a “College Countdown” bonus. Many of these were covered when I tracked through the radio stations Top 90 albums of 1989, so I’ll link to those pieces when available. (It’s worth noting that the bulk of those particular “Countdown” were written with the conceit of trying to create something completely in line with the radio scripts used for the original “90FM’s Top 90” broadcast.) For everything else, I’ll do my best to spare a couple words.
1. Mental as Anything, Cyclone Raymonde
2. Bodeans, Home
3. Squeeze, Frank
Frank was the follow-up to Squeeze’s 1987 album, Babylon and On, which represented their commercial breakthrough in the United States. Strange as it may seem now that “Tempted” is one of those universal beloved standards of the nineteen-eighties, Squeeze didn’t make it into the Billboard Top 40 until “Hourglass,” the lead single from Babylon and On. They even managed to eke out one more Top 40 hit from the same record, so expectations were high that the crossover into commercial success might be permanent. Instead, Frank was tepidly received critically and commercially, sinking quickly enough that Squeeze was even dropped by their longtime label, A&M Records. As I recall, the records wasn’t all that bad, but it also sounded like the generic version of Squeeze.
4. Eurythmics, We Too Are One
5. The Tragically Hip, Up To Here
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mother’s Milk
7. Timbuk 3, Edge of Allegiance
This duo, hailing from Madison (which naturally conferred a little Dairyland pride to any deejay who played them on the 90FM airwaves), had a surprise hit with the 1985 single “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” They were never able to fully escape the long shadow of that song’s whiff of novelty, even though they crafted some good, pointed songs. They released two more full-lengths after this, before breaking up for good in 1995.
8. Rolling Stones, Steel Wheels
It was a big deal when this album was released, because all indications the prior couple of years were that Mick and Keef had suffered an irreparable rift. But, you know, money talks. Ever the brilliant showmen with a particular cunning for exploiting the rough contours of their shared reputation, the Stones address the precarious situation directly on the album’s first single, “Mixed Emotions,” which went to #5 on the Billboard charts, making it their last major hit. Listen to it again. It’s a pretty damn great song.
9. Webb Wilder, Hybrid Vigor
10. Big Audio Dynamite, Megatop Phoenix
11. Hoodoo Gurus, Magnum Cum Louder
12. Flies On Fire, Flies on Fire
I don’t remember this one bit, though I surely played “Baptize Me Over Elvis Presley’s Grave” at some point. There’s no way I resisted a song with that title. On the basis of that track, they sound a little like John Mellencamp stripped down a bit for college radio. Given that, it’s only surprising they didn’t make even more significant inroads on the 90FM charts.
13. Texas, Southside
14. Russ Tolman, Down In Earthquake Town
This is the second solo album from Tolman, who came to minor college radio prominence with the Paisley Underground band True West. Keeping matters in his extended musical family, the album was released on Skyclad Records, the label headed by Steve Wynn, of the Dream Syndicate. It certainly sounds in line with that musical mini-movement.
15. Asexuals, Dish
Canadian punk! By all accounts, this was the Montreal band’s overt stab at the college radio market, characterized by a noticeably less intense sound than on prior records. The band broke up in 1997, then reunited in 2010.
16. Pajama Slave Dancers, Heavy Pettin’ Zoo
Here’s more punk rock, though in a far more jokey vein. Song titles on Heavy Pettin’ Zoo include “My Baby’s Way Rad,” “Dinosaur Historian Love Chant,” and “Burnin’ Rubber (Ode to Safe Sex).” I have a feeling this is the record that got played by those who were disappointed that Couch Flambeau wasn’t in rotation anymore.
17. B-52s, Cosmic Thing
18. 10,000 Maniacs, Blind Man’s Zoo
19. Toad The Wet Sprocket, Bread And Circus
20. The Call, Let The Day Begin
21. The Voices, The Voices
The sticker on the front cover read, “Of the zillion bands looking for a record deal, the Voices created a signing war. The dust has settled but not the excitement.” The excitement settled fairly quickly after that, it seems. MCA Records clearly won the signing war, but the resulting album didn’t do much. As far as I can tell, it’s the only release from the Voices. One song is available on YouTube, posted by an account with a user name that implied it’s directly related to the band, but all the other videos by the same user are homemade hip hop and grainy shots of sub-Jackass stunts.
22. Wendy Wall, Wendy Wall
This self-titled debut was on SBK Records, a label my station held a special fondness for, largely because they were the home of Will & the Bushmen. That group became such an immediate staple for us that nearly all of their labelmates got a surge of attention when a new record arrived, which led to the embarrassment of the self-titled debut from Wilson Phillips briefly taking up shelf space. (Luckily, our discerning skepticism was fully engaged before the SBK Records release To the Extreme arrived in the mail.) The Wendy Wall release was a-okay, and it sported a nifty single.
23. Herbert Grönemeyer, ? What’s All This
Grönemeyer was a cast member of the film Das Boot, but he also put out a big passel of records over the course of his career. When my friend did the detective work to determine which actual albums were on the list (the list in the back of CMJ would have only included the name of the artists), he surmised this was Ö, but I don’t seen any indication that got a U.S. release. Instead, I’m going to speculate the album we charted was ? What’s All This, in part because it was on, say it with me, SBK Records. Fantastically, the music video that corresponds to that album looks and sounds exactly like anyone might expect from a German pop singer in 1989.
24. Michael Penn, March
This is Penn’s debut album, when the artist was blessed and cursed with the notoriety of having a movie star brother, especially one who’d claimed plenty of column inches in the tabloid press around that time. Eventually, the single “No Myth” became a healthy hit, meaning “Sean Penn’s brother” became a less common introduction when playing his music.
25. Pogues, Peace and Love
26. The Godfathers, Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Godfathers’ 1989 studio album, More Songs About Love and Hate, was a big record for us in the spring and summer, so surely we would have given healthy airplay to the promo-only live album Epic Records put out the keep fueling the eagerness of college programmers. Given the timing, I think it’s possible this actually is the studio album instead, but I want to link to the band’s cover of “Blitzkrieg Bop,” so I’ll defer to the list transcriber’s determination.
27. Stone Roses, Stone Roses
This was a huge hit on college radio, mirroring the band’s dominance back home in the U.K. For us, though, it merely did okay. For whatever reason, I think we generally responded with less fervor than other college radio stations to whatever sensation was crossing the Atlantic, sometimes to our detriment. Everything from that first Stones Roses album sure sounds great to me now.
28. Mary’s Danish, There Goes the Wondertruck…
29. Close Lobsters, Headache Rhetoric
30. Adrian Belew, Mr. Music Head
31. Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Airplane
I’d like to think we were just rewarding them for not being Starship, because it’s not like this stuff was worth playing on its own merits.
32. The Questionnaires, Window To The World
33. Underworld, Change The Weather
There was a guy at the station who went by the unfortunate on air moniker “The Muzz.” He was convinced Underworld was the future of music. We mocked him for it, but he was more right than wrong. The group has had remarkable staying power and wholly respectable influence. Nice work, Muzz.
34. Marshall Crenshaw, Good Evening
35. Jonathan Richman, Jonathan Richman
This is technically the first solo album from Richman, with no Lovers, Modern or otherwise, in tow. It deserve unquestioning adoration for the track “I Eat with Gusto, Damn! You Bet” alone.