College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #688 to #685

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688. The Clash, Black Market Clash (1980)

For U.S. audiences, new material from the Clash arrived at a dizzying rate across the final months of 1979 and through 1980. The band’s 1977 self-titled debut, originally deemed too rough for the U.S, market by the executives at CBS Records, finally hit stores in the summer of 1979, its track listing scrambled with different material added. Then the double album masterpiece London Calling arrived in the final weeks of that year. Before 1980 was up, the Clash issued a yet more ambitious effort: the triple album Sandinista! In between those two studio albums, the band’s label kept the engine stoked in the U.S. by stitching together a collection largely comprised on tracks that had been excised in transport as the earlier albums journeyed across the Atlantic. Issued as a 10-inch record, Black Market Clash was best described as a mini-album.

Black Market Clash leads with the ragged fist fight of “Capital Radio One,” a track that was one of the band’s most coveted rarities at the time, otherwise only available on Capital Radio EP that was offered, in 1977, as a premium giveaway to NME readers. “Pressure Drop” first appeared as a U.K. B-side, but the sweetly ambling version included here is a slightly different take, and the melded “Bankrobber/Robber Dub,” which is the clearest example of the band’s reggae influence, includes material that hadn’t seen previous release.

Cataloging the more unique offerings on Black Market Clash is fine, but the mini-album isn’t special because of the way it might have appealed to collectors at the time. Instead, it’s a valuable popping flashbulb illuminating some of the work of one of the best bands of all time when they were in their undefeated prime. The blistering “Cheat” and the snaky, irresistible “Armagideon Time” are astonishments, then and now, no matter what record holds them. Like practically everything bearing the band’s name at the time, Black Market Clash is a gift.

 

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687. Various Artists, Concerts for the People of Kampuchea (1981)

The live event billed as Concerts for the People of Kampuchea began as an attempt to orchestrate that impossible dream of the nineteen-seventies: a reunion of the Beatles. Seeking a splashy way to raise money to help starving refugees fleeing the brutal state formed when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, Kurt Waldheim, then the secretary-general of the United Nations, approached Paul McCartney and pitched a benefit concert putting him onstage again with George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr. Three-quarters of the band expressed willingness to participate, but Lennon balked. A clear all-or-nothing proposition, Harrison and Starr followed Lennon’s lead and dropped out. McCartney still wanted to help, so he offered Wings and, as a more commensurate compensation, a lineup of the Rockestra collaborators of British rock icons he’d assembled in 1978.

Staged at London’s Hammersmith Odeon over four nights in December 1979, the concerts featured different band lineups for each show, encompassing both well-established rock headliners and new wave upstarts. The veterans are given the most real estate on the accompanying double album, released around two years later. The Who take up the whole first side, and McCartney and his various collaborators cover the entire of side four. The choice is wholly understandable, but it makes for a fairly lopsided listening experience. The Who, performing just over three weeks after eleven concertgoers died in the crush of people rushing the stage at their show in Cincinnati, sound detached as they run through their most familiar hits. Only the more novel selection “Sister Disco,” taken from the more recent album Who Are You, is consistently engaging, its peppering of keyboard freak-outs providing jolts of energy. McCartney, carrying no burden of recent concert tragedy, sounds similarly sedate.

The only other act given more than than a single track (not counting the two afforded to Rockpile, since one, “Little Sister,” is more of a showcase for Robert Plant with the band receding to studio player anonymity) is the Pretenders, on stage one day after the U.K. release of their debut LP. Their trio of songs — “The Wait,” “Precious,” and “Tattooed Love Boys” — demonstrate exactly how much Chrissie Hynde could accomplish with pure, unadulterated attitude, especially when backed by the exceptional musicianship of the original roster. The tracks also make the implicit argument that the album would have benefited from a more robust showing by the other artists still in the early and eager part of their respective careers. The Clash, Elvis Costello, and the Specials represented by one track apiece is a heartbreaking missed opportunity.

Oddly, the existence of the album took at least one performer by surprise. McCartney reportedly heard a track from it from it on the radio and promptly called the station to chastise them for playing a Wings bootleg. It was only then that he discovered his earlier charitable act had extended to permanent preservation on record.

 

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686. The Call, Modern Romans (1983)

Formed in Santa Cruz, California, the Call were first signed to Mercury Records, which felt they had secured a major act destined to immediately hit it big. The label insisted the group work with a name producer on their debut album, which led to the hiring of Hugh Padgham, coming off of Phil Collins’s Face Value, Genesis’s Abacab, and the Police’s Ghost in the Machine. The Call’s self-titled debut was released in 1982 and barely registered.

“They spent a fortune on the first one and got almost no sales,” Scott Musick, drummer for the Call, told Musician.

When it came time for the follow-up, the Call were basically on their own, which was probably their preference anyway. The resulting album, Modern Romans, is booming, earnest, politicized rock music. “Back from the Front,” all booming melody and simplistic activist sentiment (“Now the truth about war/ It’s a total waste/ It’s the ultimate drug/ It’s the ultimate taste”) demonstrates how close the band could get to the anthemic sanctimony U2 was just starting to perfect. The overly ponderous “Violent Times” provides reinforcing evidence.

The Call could also be commanding and sharply inventive. Those qualities are found across Modern Romans. Single “The Walls Came Down” is splendid, methodical and genuinely soaring in its rock fervor. “Turn a Blind Eye” sounds like New Model Army with an overt Joy Division influence, and the pogo stride of the title cut is difficult to resist. Modern Romans is a mixed bag, imperfect in a way that seems utterly fair for a band still finding its way. They weren’t copying U2 — who were only on their third album at the time Modern Romans was released — they were developing a similar sound concurrently. Looking back, it’s hard not to wonder what might have happened if the Call had another fortunate turn or two.

 

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685. Pat Benatar, Get Nervous (1982)

Pat Benatar approached the recording of her fourth album, Get Nervous, from a place of contentment and success. The rare — at the time — revered rock performer without a Y chromosome, Benatar was coming off a pair of multiplatinum albums, including the more recent Precious Time, her first to top the Billboard chart. During the layoff from recording and touring the hit album had earned her, Benatar got married to Neil Giraldo, her longtime love, guitarist, and creative collaborator. According to Benatar, she and her cohorts had the luxury of going back to the studio when they were ready to instead of when the label was pressing for more product.

“We wanted to be together, to work together again,” said Benatar. “We had new ideas, a new player, and, with Neil and I married, the atmosphere during recording was a joy. Everyone was relaxed and happy to be with each other.”

The new player was keyboardist Charlie Giordano, and, with his help, the album bears some of the new wave influence that was a regular feature on rock albums of the day. “Anxiety (Get Nervous)” has a sprightly agitation reflective of the musical trend and also nicely in line with the title, and hit single “Shadows of the Night” traverses the narrow border between nineteen-seventies rock and nineteen-eighties glossy pop with aplomb. The by-the-numbers rock of “Little Too Late” and power ballad “Fight It Out” are suitable examples of their respective styles, neither inspired nor trite. Album closer “Silent Partner” sounds like the opening salvo to a grand rock saga that Benatar would never get around to — or maybe be pretentious enough to stoop to — recording.

Get Nervous was another success for Benatar. It was her third straight to make the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart and yielded three Top 40 singles. Her popularity started to soften shortly after this, every subsequent album hitting its chart peak a little lower. Get Nervous wasn’t Benatar’s last success, but it arguably closed out her time as one of the dominant figures in rock music.

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