College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #760 to #757

george

760. George Harrison, George Harrison (1979)

By the end of the nineteen-seventies, George Harrison didn’t seem all that interested in making new records. Certainly, anyone who was one-quarter of the most important combo in pop music history earned the right to downshift their musical creativity to a low gear, and Harrison arguably satisfied any reasonable demand for new output more quickly than his former bandmates. Often boxed out of contributing more than a couple token songs to Beatles albums, he was the first of the fabs to release a solo outing and came out charging with a triple album around six months after the announcement dissolution of the band. He could hardly be slagged for a lack of ambition.

To a degree, the impetus for his pace slowing was his concerted liberation from the dictates of the music industry. He formed his own label, Dark Horse Records, in the middle of the nineteen-seventies, first to distribute his favored music (Ravi Shankar was one of the first acts Harrison signed), but soon as a platform for his own outings. After Harrison’s Dark Horse debut, Thirty Three & ​13, he sidetracked his energies to simply enjoying life: getting married, fathering a son, traveling, relaxing in becalmed pleasure. When he finally got around to recording his next album, a number of the new songs he brought with him had been written in the paradisaical surroundings of Hawaii.

Maybe because of the leisurely existence Harrison was enjoying, much of the material on George Harrison has a lazy river drift to it. That suited Harrison’s established persona, and some tracks — such as the gentle and sweet “Blow Away” a top 20 single in the U.S. — add to his songbook in winning ways. Often, though, the songs are surprisingly drab as recorded. “Not Guilty,” which Harrison had held onto since it was rejected for The Beatles, is a shuffle relaxed to the point of almost fading to nonexistence. “Here Comes the Moon” is cloying soft rock, and “Soft Touch” is a trinket buried in fussy adornments. It’s maybe telling that one of the songs with the strongest feel of classic Harrison, “If You Believe,” is a songwriting collaboration with Gary Wright. As was further proven when Harrison turned himself over to Beatles superfan Jeff Lynne for Cloud 9 a few years later, latter career Harrison was often at his best when he let starstruck collaborators lend a hand.

 

nails dreams

759. The Nails, Dangerous Dreams (1986)

Dangerous Dreams, the second full-length release from the Nails, was a major test. The band formed in Denver before honing their chops in New York City, where they’d recorded “88 Lines About 44 Women,” a quickie song that made deadpan comic poetry into arch pop. An oddball cult hit, it spurred RCA Records to sign the band. Their 1984 debut, Mood Swing, made some rumbles on the Billboard chart, but the band also showed no sign of developing being one quasi-hit wonder status. Dangerous Dreams was the answer to the question of whether or not the Nails had more in them.

Releasing “Things You Left Behind” as the first single forestalled that answer a bit. In style, it’s a blatant sequel to “88 Lines About 44 Women,” with the list this time devoted to items a departed lover didn’t bother to take along with her (“Paintings painted by a man you knew/ Someone you dated in ’82/ An autographed picture of Junior Wells/ I didn’t even know you likes soul that well”). The tracks certainly had its fans among college radio programmers, but it hardly offered assurances that Dangerous Dreams had enough variety to justify digging deeper.

Produced by Pete Solley, best known for his similar duties on the first two albums by the Romantics, Dangerous Dreams is slick and buffed up. It’s also not especially distinctive. The strangely elegant “Hello Janine” and the slow drag title cut are reasonably representative, offering stately chamber rock that is agreeable and unmemorable. “Dig Myself a Hole” lands in the misty netherworld between high drama Iggy Pop and normal mode Nick Cave, suggesting the Nails needed a studio collaborator who could push them into the realm of the grandiose. Instead, Dangerous Dreams feels oddly locked in place, yearning for exploration yet entirely uncertain about how to proceed. RCA Records didn’t know what to do, either. Following this album, the label dropped the Nails, leaving them to drift into obscurity, occasionally collecting cultural interest from the cut that made their name.

 

church remote

758. The Church, Remote Luxury (1984)

After Warner Bros. signed the Church, the label wanted to provide a proper introduction to U.S. audience. Although already three studio albums deep into their recording career, the Australian band had only the barest exposure in the North American market. The Church had released two EPs, Remote Luxury and Persia, in their homeland in 1984, so Warner Bros. execs took those discs, shuffled the songs, and carried over one of the overall titles. The full-length Remote Luxury was issued in 1984, and one of the signature college radio bands of the second half of the nineteen-eighties was formally on their way.

Opening with the the curving slope of “Constant in Opal,” Remote Luxury offers a proper primer on the Church’s music, lush and moony and crystalline in its clarity. Within their established realm, the Church explore quite a bit, whether with the tender guitar pop of “Into My Hands,” the trilling electronic beat on  “Maybe These Boys…” or the instrumental title cut calls to mind David Bowie in his more stripped down, somber moments. The band’s propensity for modernized psychedelia is the thread that runs through it all. “Violet Town” is like the Go-Betweens brought back as the paisley undead, and “Volumes” twists the musical kaleidoscope in a way that’s somehow both racing and soothing.

The Church also consistently build stealthy contradictions into their songs. “No Explanation” sounds cheery. It’s not (“I’ve got this heartache in my coat/ Since I don’t remember when/ It’s guaranteed to live and to bleed/ And you feed it with your bitterest lies”). There’s an implicit and irresistible encouragement to go deeper, listen harder, learn more. Given that, Remote Luxury achieves its goal of making this emerging band comes across as a vital addition to the stateside record racks.

 

specimen

757. Specimen, Batastrophe (1983)

U.K. band Specimen formed in Bristol, in the early nineteen-eighties. Legend has it that the group’s first live gig was at a street party mounted in celebration of the Royal Wedding between Charles and Diana. It’s not entirely clear to me how the crowd received songs like the glammed up goth romp “The Beauty of Poison.” Ian Astbury, lead singer of the the Cult, described Specimen as “Death Bowie,” and that strikes me as about right.

In the dirty neon afterglow of the U.K. punk movement, Specimen operated with a suitable sloppy recklessness and favoring of image above all, typified by the recruitment of a performer named Johnny Slut to play keyboards despite the fact that he had no familiarity with the instrument. Then again, maybe he was recruited because of the fact. In alignment with all that, Specimen never put out a proper album during their original iteration, settling for a couple singles and the EP Batastrophe. Sweeping “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and the equally dramatic “Returning from a Journey,” which alternates between spindly acoustic guitar and candy apple thunder, are solid blasters for the middle of a college radio playlist, but it’s hard to imagine too many student programmers were fretting about missed opportunities when no more music was forthcoming. As with many bands fo the era, reunions happened.

 

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