Thirty years ago this week, I know what was being played at my college radio station. Or at least I know the ten albums that were being played more than any others. I’ve been sitting on this particular list for a while, and, as luck would have it, I hit this notable anniversary of the tally in question as I’m about take a welcome turn as a substitute DJ at the radio station in question, so the music I’ve been honored to pump out onto the airwaves is definitely on my mind. With a few annotations, here’s the list.
1. Violent Femmes, 3
There’s no doubt in my mind why this record sat at the top of our chart. In a very unexpected turn for a university programming board that previously brought the likes of Quiet Riot and the Outfield to campus for their big shows, Violent Femmes were booked to play the opening gig of a tour to support their fourth album. It was the Femmes’ first live performance in two and a half years, and we were overjoyed that one of our bands was coming to our little college town. The day of the show, a blizzard struck Central Wisconsin, and we spent most of the day worried about a cancellation. We should have known better. These were fellow residents of America’s Dairyland. A little snow wasn’t going to stop them.
2. The Replacements, Don’t Tell a Soul
Perpetual underdogs with an uncommon mastery of self-sabotage, the Mats came as close as they ever would to crossover success with this album’s lead single, “I’ll Be You.” It was their only song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 and it topped the trade publication’s mainstream rock list for three weeks (in between Chris Rea and Julian Lennon).
3. Elvis Costello, Spike
And this album includes “Veronica,” the song that became only the second (and last) U.S. Top 40 hit for Elvis Costello. As I informed Central Wisconsin radio listeners with tedious regularity, the full title of the album is Spike the Beloved Entertainer, which Costello intended as an instruction rather than a description.
4. Rain People, Rain People
Hailing from Atlanta and presumably named after the 1969 Francis Ford Coppola movie, Rain People played a brand of mid-tempo, fiercely earnest rock-pop that was somehow irresistible to on-air staff at our station, myself included.
5. Brian Ritchie, Sonic Temple & Court of Babylon
The second solo outing from Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie also got a boost from the band’s local stop. The material on the record was wonderfully weird and deliberately caustic.
6. The Radiators, Zig-Zaggin’ Through Ghostland
The second major label album from a New Orleans band that successfully plied a slightly jammy, slightly bluesy, blast-the-paint-off-the-barroom-walls sound that was experiencing a brief commercial resurgence at the time. It wasn’t revolutionary, but it was good stuff.
7. Graham Parker, Human Soul
Perpetual cult hero Graham Parker enjoyed a brief rekindling of broader interest upon the release of his 1988 album, The Mona Lisa’s Sister. He worked fast in an attempt to capitalize of it, releasing a live solo set and a proper studio follow-up the following year. The new material wasn’t that strong, though, and the backsliding began. It continued all the way to becoming the embodiment of undervalued artistic antiquity in Judd Apatow’s This is 40.
8. Slammin’ Watusis, Kings of Noise
I remember Slammin’ Watusis as a pretty good band, but I think a lot of their success at the station was attributable to on-air finding it enjoyable to speak their name into the microphone. Make no mistake: that helped a few bands out.
9. XTC, Oranges and Lemons
It’s very possible this album could have stuck in the upper reaches of our chart for weeks entirely on the basis of spins for lead single “Mayor of Simpleton,” and that’s despite the station’s policy of no repeated songs during the day. That track dominated, but the whole record is dandy.
10. Bruce Cockburn, Big Circumstance
Every Bruce Cockburn album at the radio station required a unmissable pronunciation guide affixed to the front, to prevent the most phonetically straightforward reading of that last name. He got played plenty, if only because his completely unveiled political views were basically in alignment with the station staff consensus.