824. Minutemen, Ballot Result (1987)
In December 1985, D. Boon, guitarist and vocalist with the punk band Minutemen, was feeling feverish while riding in the back of a van traveling down the Arizona highway. He was lying down, seatbelt off, when the rear axle of the vehicle gave way. The van careened off the road, and Boon was thrown from the rear of vehicle. His neck was broken, killing him instantly. Boon was twenty-seven years old.
Boon’s Minutemen bandmates, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley, went on to form Firehose. But they also worked to bring to fruition the project in process at the time of Boon’s death. Partially in response to a bootleg releases out in the marketplace, Minutemen decided to create an official live album, employing the gimmick of letting fans vote on which songs would be included. At shows through the summer and fall of 1985, the band passed out ballots to attendees. Boon’s untimely passing scuttled plans to mount shows that would allow for recordings of new live versions, but Watt and Hurley pulled together a double album based on material they already possessed. The chosen title remained in place: Ballot Result.
The album opens with the brilliantly headlong “Little Man with a Gun in His Hand,” caught on tape — as were all the cuts on the first side — at a live performance at Atlanta radio station WREK. The band’s power and authority are immediately evident, jolting the valedictory. The album is not there to bury Minutemen, nor particularly to praise them. It’s there to simply, plainly, convincingly be an enthralling record — in both main senses of the word.
In collecting live versions of the finest songs of Minutemen, the album is unerring. The hard punches of “This Ain’t No Picnic” and an absolutely ferocious version of “Bob Dylan Wrote Protest Songs” show how much of a magnificent ruckus the band could raise as a lean three-piece. On “History Lesson Part II,” perhaps their finest song and undoubtedly the one that retrospectively serves as their most emblematic musical statement, Boon’s vocals sound victorious and defiant, a beautiful combination. The oddities also charm, including a dandy cover of Roky Erickson’s “Bermuda” and a dizzying remix of “No One,” which approaches Red Hot Chili Peppers levels of funked-up hard rock excess.
Other compilations followed, but they all seem superfluous when held up against Ballot Result. Few bands are blessed with such a perfect closing statement on album.
823. Rain Parade, Crashing Dream (1985)
Crashing Dream, the sophomore effort from Los Angeles band Rain Parade, arrived a mere two years after their debut, but in that relatively brief amount of time, a lot had changed. David Roback, guitarist, vocalist, and one of the main songwriters for the band, had left to form the group Opal, and drummer Eddie Kalwa was out the door not too long afterward. With the reconfigured lineup, the band signed on to a new label, Island Records. The time for reintroduction was at hand.
Whether because of Roback’s absence or a concerted effort to shift their sound, Rain Parade often comes across as a very different band on Crashing Dream. The previously deployed dollops of psychedelia are largely relegated to the fringes, like the guitar histrionics at the end of “Gone West.” Instead, Rain Parade settles into a mid-tempo college rock groove, making them almost indistinguishable from any number of bands storming the left end of the dial. “Depending on You” is standard issue scruffy yearning, and “Don’t Feel Bad” has the airy lilt of Echo and the Bunnymen and their ilk, but without the playful ingenuity. The songwriting simply isn’t that strong. “Fertile Crescent” is a telling example: a ballad stuck between gears that is saddled with drippy lyrics (“I still got the memory/ And the stars to wait for me/ I hold them close in the evening/ Cuz I know just where they’ll be”).
It could be that the remaining and freshly enlisted members of Rain Parade weren’t feeling any real drive when they made the record. The collaboration was fading fast. The following year, the band broke up, with only the rare reunion gig in the distant future to bring them together again.
822. Lene Lovich, New Toy (1981)
Following a pair of full-length albums and a significant amount of touring, Lene Lovich was in need of a new release to keep the wheels of her burgeoning career turning. Taking a pass at a song Thomas Dolby wrote specifically for her, after taking in one of her shows. (Dolby was also employed as a keyboardist in Lovich’s touring band.) Further inspired by a snazzy synthesizer he’d just acquired, Dolby called the song “New Toy.” Released as a single, the bundle of tightened new wave intensity also served as the title cut to an EP
Like most stopgap, truncated releases, New Toy is a little ramshackle, feeling a bit like its track listing was assembled by shuffling stacks of tapes in a darkened studio. For Lovich, that fits her aesthetic perfectly. The EP bursts and bubbles with energy, Lovich’s creative personality swelling to fill in all the crevices. The piercing howls and pinging rhythm on “Savages” gives the cut a sharp, delightful unpredictability, and the wonderfully expansive “Details” could slot in comfortably with the best of Siouxsie and the Banshees. And Lovich shows some range with the gentle, alluring drama “Never Never Land.”
In the trajectory of Lovich’s career, New Toy is a minor entry, a little memory jogger for music fans as she worked on other larger endeavors. That reality doesn’t prevent it from also being very, very good.
821. Del-Lords, Frontier Days (1984)
Del-Lords were started as a side project for Scott Kempner, guitarist for punk rock pioneers the Dictators. On the evidence of the music on Frontier Days, the band’s debut, Kempner was seeking an outlet for a less raw and rabid take on classic rock ‘n’ roll, earnestly embracing the spirit and soul of old rockabilly and other foundational sub-genres, but giving it a fine new sheen. “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” the opening track on Frontier Days, sets the standard; sharply played, tinged with nostalgia, and almost entirely free of cheap retro goofing. Named after the director of many of the classic short comedies the Three Stooges, the band’s moniker is a good joke, but the japery stops there.
As if proving the genuineness of their stance as apostles of finely formed rock ‘n’ roll, “Livin’ on Love” has a distinct Springsteen vibe (“Once upon a time/ I had a girl/ And we swore we’d walk together/ Through this whole world”). It’s joined in honesty testimony by the jabbing “Shame on You” and the finely wrought ballad “Feel Like Going Home.” Even when a song comes at the lyrics from a more unique angle than love and loneliness, it feels like pure devotion. The spiffy “I Play the Drums” celebrates the exorcism of aggression that can only be achieved behind a well-curated kit.
To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs.