College Countdown: CMJ Top 40 Cuts, March 16, 1990 — 28 – 25

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28. Nine Inch Nails, “Head Like a Hole”

Last week, I noted that “Down in It” was the first song Trent Reznor wrote for the album Pretty Hate Machine, the debut release from his band Nine Inch Nails. “Head Like a Hole” was reportedly one of the last songs he finished, in part because he wanted input from from producer Flood, whose time in the studio with Reznor was delayed as he put the finishing touches on Depeche Mode’s Violator. It was also a comparatively easy songwriting process, according to Reznor. “I don’t remember what i was thinking about at the time, but it was pretty much about yelling at a beast without putting a face to it,” he said. “I wrote it at the last minute as a throwaway.” “Head Like a Hole” served as the second single from Pretty Hate Machine, and is generally considered the band’s first significant commercial success, just missing the Billboard Hot 100 and making a healthy appearance on the publication’s alternative singles tally.

This cut was down from 23 on the previous chart.

 

 

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27. Psychedelic Furs, “House”

Some of the most devoted, longterm fans of the Psychedelic Furs were quick and firm in their dismissal of the band’s 1987 album, Midnight to Midnight and its hit single “Heartbreak Beat.” Bands often take offense at cries of “Sell out!” from the fan base, but the Psychedelic Furs basically agreed with the dismal assessment. “The last album shouldn’t even have been made,” lead singer Richard Butler said when the studio follow-up, Book of Days, was released, in 1989. “We were confused and a bit directionless, so for this album we decided the best thing would be that we just went in and played and didn’t worry about if it had a single on it — which I don’t think it does — or whatever.” Maybe Butler didn’t think there was a single, but of course the label was going to push some tracks regardless. “House” became the second single and the band’s second song to top the still fairly new Billboard Modern Rock chart.

This cut was down from 26 on the previous chart.

 

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26. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”

Oliver Stone has won the Academy Award for Best Directing twice. That’s one more than Martin Scorsese has and the same number as Steven Spielberg. The second trophy was for Born on the Fourth of July, his harrowing and powerful adaptation of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic’s memoir of the same name. That Stone was still viewed as an important director — rather than a perpetually agitated crackpot — in one aspect of the the film that solidly dates as a 1989 release. Another clear signal is the presence of Edie Brickell, portraying a folk singer plunking out Bob Dylan cover songs in a scene in the movie. Nabbing Brickell was a coup, since she and her band New Bohemians were still basking in the afterglow a major hit with their debut single, “What I Am.” The Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack was half comprised of a score by John Williams and half dreadfully predictable oldies. The Dylan cover from Edie Brickell and New Bohemians was front and center, serving as a single to get the film some of that precious ancillary radio and MTV promotion from programmers eager to have a new song from the earthy-crunchy up-and-coming hitmakers.

This cut was up from 30 on the previous chart.

 

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25. They Might Be Giants, “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”

When Flood, the third album from They Might Be Giants, arrived at my college radio station, it didn’t even occur to me that the song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was a cover. I wasn’t familiar with the Four Lads version that was a Top 10 hit in 1953, nor any of the odd little ways it dribbled into other corners of pop culture over the years. More than that, the ticklish wordplay and bounding music of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” sounded so much like it came straight out of the TMBG songbook. Instead, it was a song guitarist John Flansburgh recalled from his childhood years, and he and John Linnell learned to play it in order to help fill out their set lists back before they had dozens of their own originals. “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was released as the third single from Flood.

This cut was making its debut on the chart.

 

I wrote about the chart we’re tracking through at the beginning of this particular Countdown. Previous entries can be found at the relevant tag.

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.