College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #540 to #537

reflex politics

540. Re-Flex, The Politics of Dancing (1983)

Formed in Birmingham, England in the early nineteen-eighties, Re-Flex was a band that wanted to have its chart success and simultaneously scoff as pop ate itself. With regular Roxy Music studio collaborator John Hunter behind the boards for their debut studio album, The Politics of Dancing, the group spat out robotic, danceable tracks that had the feel of ready made hits, or at least hit-adjacent, too-cool-for-the-masses cult favorites. The jabbing “Hitline” is emblematic of their art, sarcastically assessing the state of the pop music industry while cozying up to its conventions. Those are wildly difficult acrobatics to pull off.

Proving that they were properly paying attention to other practitioners of stealth pop deconstruction, “Praying to the Beat” seems directly inspired by Devo, but lacking in the fearless weirdness that set those esteemed predecessors apart. Across most of the album, Re-Flex tends to lock into a distinctive element or two, building a fairly rote dance track around it. “Jungle” buries a lilting reggae beat inside disco fervency, and “Keep in Touch” makes it mark by defaulting to a shouty approach, like a bully attempting to win the argument by loudly outlasting everyone else who wants to interject. In truth, the latter approach is a solid strategy for a slice of music hoping to become a persistent dance floor soundtrack.

It’s the title cut, though, that’s clearly the most enduring nugget of The Politics of Dancing. Since the album is realistically the only proper full-length release from the band (revival records happened, as they now do, around thirty years later), that means “The Politics of Dancing” is their real legacy. There are certainly worse one-hits associated with fleeting wonders. Ostensibly a pointed piece of commentary, the track instead combines an inspired hook with gleefully dopey lyrics (“The politics of dancing/ The politics of — ooooh! — feelin’ good”) to become a proper plug of juicy, double-grape bubble gum, irresistible even as it inspires a bit of sickened dizziness. That makes it a quintessential piece of early-eighties pop music.



539. Rickie Lee Jones, Rickie Lee Jones (1979)

Everyone who circled around the L.A. music scene was talking about Rickie Lee Jones’s demo tape. A singer-songwriter who started performing in area clubs around the middle of the nineteen-seventies and was known as a pal (and sometimes paramour) of both Chuck E. Weiss and Tom Waits, Jones recorded a batch of songs and spurred a bidding war among the labels. She signed to Warner Bros., in part because she thought the way they’d nurtured and honored the iconoclastic Randy Newman boded well for her. In an era of disco grooves and booming prog rock, Jones was set to offer up a notably different sound.

Jones’s self-titled debut is smooth and sleek, jazz-inflected without being particularly jazzy. In her erudition, ingenuity, and clarity of purpose, she was indeed akin to Waits at that point in his career, but entirely lacking in the dank-saloon destitution that could turn a song into a sullen slog. Jones was instead the refined soul at the end of the bar, never quite losing her poise no matter how many scotches were downed, always fully in command and capable of rallying others to the cause of her choosing with little more than a smirk and a gentle upward jut of an eyebrow. Listening to Rickie Lee Jones is to become convinced that only she could perform a song such as “Coolsville” and make it come across as an expression of truth rather than a needy transposing of self into a lithe, danger-stricken milieu.

“Chuck E’s in Love,” inspired by her time with Weiss, was the album’s hit, making its way into the Billboard Top 5. It’s flinty and smart, with a hook that sneaks up before mercilessly taking hold. “Night Train” is like less glossy, more resigned version of the ballads that sold millions of Linda Ronstadt records, and both “Easy Money” and “Danny’s All-Star Joint” employ vocal riffs that suggest Ella Fitzgerald as a nineteen-seventies Laurel Canyon troubadour, making it seem like Jones is committed to reinventing modern pop on the sly. Reflecting the country rock and singer-songwriter tracks that ran through the decade, “The Last Chance Texaco” sets the template for some of Maria McKee’s balladeer moments to come.

Following her debut, Jones kept putting out albums, but she never quite duplicated the success — artistic or commercial — of that first outing. Fresh air is never quite as pleasing as the first time its drawn in.


zevon stand

538. Warren Zevon, Stand in the Fire (1980)

Look, live albums happen. It’s an unfortunate fact of rock ‘n’ roll life, and the truism especially held in the bygone days when putting out new records was a primary component of the business model rather than a grudgingly accepted nuisance. Warren Zevon was three studio albums deep into his career (four, if the ancient history 1969 release of his album simply under the name Zevon was counted, but nobody counted that one at the time), so it was obviously time for a live release. That his most recent studio effort, Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, was widely considered a bomb surely helped bolster the notion that it would be good to have some new product in the record shops that reminded music fans why they’d liked him so much just a couple years earlier.

Stand in the Fire was patched together from recordings taken during a five-night stand at The Roxy Theatre, in Los Angeles. He was backed by Boulder, a Colorado band that, like Zevon, was signed to Elektra Records. With the bar band veterans behind him, Zevon gets a little rougher than he does on album, but that rarely strengthens the songs. “Mohammed’s Radio” gets brasher without necessarily getting better, and “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” just sounds sloppy. Zevon also covers Bo Diddley, which only demonstrates what happens to the rock pioneer’s songs when the have all the liveliness knocked out of them. And Zevon already sounds a little irritated about the obligation to run through “Werewolves of London,” though I guess it’s nice that posterity has an official recording of Zevon’s alteration to name “Brian De Palma again” as the culprit behind the little old lady’s late-night mutilation. Two new Zevon compositions make their debut on Stand in the Fire, including the thudding song that gives the live album its title. “The Sin,” the other new song, is better due to its dose of punk energy, as if Zevon had just discovered the Buzzcocks.

Stand in the Fire didn’t have the desired effect of returning Zevon to the forefront. Released right after Christmas, the album spent only ten weeks on the Billboard chart, climbing no higher than #80. The nineteen-eighties, it was becoming clear, we’re going to be tough on the excitable boy.


bananarama deep

537. Bananarama, Deep Sea Skiving (1983)

Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward grew up together in Bristol before moving to London. There, they met Siobhan Fahey, and the trio started performing together, largely picking up fairly impromptu gigs backing other acts on stage. Shortly after they moved into recording their own songs under the name Bananarama, a kinship with Fun Boy Three raised their profile, especially when the the two acts were co-billed on the single “‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It).” A cover of an old jazz number, the single made it into the Top 5 on the U.K. charts, and Banarama were on their way.

Deep Sea Skiving, officially the debut album from Banarama, is a like a lot of similar records of the era from U.K. acts. It’s less a cohesive album than an assemblage of singles that clicked off the assembly line in the prior year or so, and the whole thing got jumbled like the pieces in a well-shook jigsaw puzzle box before it was issued in the U.S. It also evinces a charming, carefree approach to making pop music, with absolutely any notion worth exploring, putting down on tapes, and dancing joyous away from, on the way to a new adventure. “Shy Boy (Don’t It Make You Feel Good)”  takes nineteen-sixties girl group sweetness and updates it into a gleaming new model, and a cover of the Velvelettes’ song “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’,” retitled to “Really Saying Something” and with Fun Boy Three pitching in, makes the refurbishing approach that much more overt.

Reflecting the sounds of the scene around them, “Hey Young London” has the propulsive, chant-inspired singing and wild rhythms used to great effect by Bow Wow Wow. But there are also indications that Bananarama are pushing to the limits of their creativity across the album. Their cover of “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” is surprisingly lifeless, and “Wish You Were Here” is so repetitive that it becomes a sort of endurance test, even at only a shade over three and a half minutes. These are less dire shortcomings than hints that there is room to grow. Even the least generous assessment would have to conclude that these women had some more major hits in them, waiting for the confluence of inspirations required to allow them to emerge.


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

This Week’s Model — Billy Bragg, “Can’t Be There Today”

billy bragg

I think this bloke says it best:

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Stephen William Bragg has spent the last forty years, give or take, surveying a tumultuous world and making sense of what he sees through the grounded poetry of his lyrics, often accompanied by a trusty acoustic guitar. Politically astute, socially empathetic, and a whip-smart thinker, Bragg has a way of getting straight to the core of a problem and finding the emotional poignancy that resides there. As we all keep our distance for the greater good, Bragg expresses the melancholy that arises from all the missed events and commemorations.

Like the bulk of his catalog, “Can’t Be There Today” is in dialogue with the moment in which it’s written. Thankfully, the technology exists to share the song now, when it’s needed the most.

The New Releases Shelf — Miss Anthropocene


Although it’s hardly a new debate, recent years have seen an uptick in snappish back and forth about the wisdom of separating artists from the art they create. Primarily driven, of course, by the near-constant lifting of heavy rocks to reveal the wormlike behavior of entitled men underneath, the current discourse feels like a morass of unsettling uncertainty when it comes to the question of whether, say, Annie Hall can still be comfortably viewed without thinking about the insidious accusations hurled at its prominent creator. But there’s another version of the modern dilemma, driven by the open-book qualities of artists’ lives, the phone in their back pocket a conduit to impulsive sharing of thoughts that suggest a different version of the idealized soul listeners, viewers, and readers create in meeting the creations. Do the artists’ assortments of perceived transgressions against our faith in them then turn into a projection onto their art?

All of the above is the longer method of conceding that I’m not sure I can trust my impression that Miss Anthropocene, the new album from Grimes, is accomplished but hampered by insularity. The ethereal melodies bucked up with barbed electropop struts are unmistakably her handiwork, the line firmly drawn from vibrant predecessors Visions and Art Angels. The layers of sound turn into interweaving bands and then back into thick slabs, seemingly in the time it takes for a meditation-suited deep breath in and out. And her capacity for lush, head-spinning invention emerges throughout the album. As an example, “4ÆM” is propulsive and rhythmic, like the soundtrack to a Bollywood dance number in a Philip K. Dick fever dream. No one but Grimes can pull off that sort of blistering creativity presented with tight control.

But Grimes’s meticulous nature shows its first signs of going adrift on Miss Anthropocene, with genuine threats of stultifying mechanics. “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is like a fully digitized Kate Bush disappearing drowsily into herself, and “My Name is Dark” sounds like “Kill V. Maim,” the powerhouse track from Art Angels, taken through the Garbage filter, though I concede that comparison comes to mind in part because of the recurring line “You stupid girl.” There’s even a clunkiness to her sideways tributes to comic book creator Jack Kirby, with tracks “Darkseid” and “New Gods” taking their titles after elements of his career-pinnacle Fourth World saga. If Grimes drew inspiration for the songs in any deeper way than borrowing the cool names, it’s basically indiscernible.

Arguably, Grimes is best on this album when she’s keeping the songs a little leaner, built on distinctive pieces, like the almost Petty-ish acoustic guitar riff of “Delete Forever.” The other end of the continuum is “Before the fever,” which is a bunch of sonic ideas smeared together into a globby mess, like Zola Jesus without a capacity for shrewd editing. And I have difficulty listening to that misfiring track without thinking of the distance Grimes has traveled from the scrappy original of just a few years back, posting rough videos shot in cramped rooms as part of impromptu music releases. I have my doubts — and personal prejudices that drive those doubts, it should be noted — as to whether curling up with a knucklehead billionaire and tweeting anti-union vitriol fosters an environment similarly fruitful for creativity.

At her previous peaks, I was convinced Grimes was laying the paving stones that led to the future of pop music. Miss Anthropocene might still be crafted with obvious skill, but the trailblazing quality of her art is dissipating. Any hint of expansive outreach is a whispery ghost, and its starting to feel like Grimes is making music behind too many heavily secured, foot-thick doors.

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #544 to #541

lords new church

544. The Lords of the New Church, The Lords of the New Church (1982)

“I think that first record was really built on pure adrenaline,” drummer Nick Turner said of The Lords of the New Church several years after its release. “Maybe some chemical help as well, but it was pure adrenaline.”

The Lords of the New Church formed out of the remnants of major punk acts that flared and burned out in recent years. Turner was in the Barracudas, vocalist Stiv Bators was in the Dead Boys, guitarist Brian James was in the Damned, and bassist Dave Tregunna was in Sham 69. In coming together to form their new outfit, the pummeling fervor of their previous acts was generous applied, melded with an almost operatic goth rock. The big rock churn found on their cover of the great garage psychedelic song “Question of Temperature” essentially sets the template. They were going to remain true to what came before, but they were going to go bigger and bolder, taking their sound right up to edge of the vividly ludicrous.

The Lords of the New Church also know where to look to get some borrowed bombast. “Russian Roulette” is largely inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now with a title-generating dab of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (which feel like it might be an instance of drug-spun memories conflating the two movies), and “Apocalypso” does the New York Dolls and other similar predecessors proud. The band also has sound instincts about driving full-on when needed, as on the hypercafeeinated “Portobello.” I’m less convinced that the tingly synths on “Open Your Eyes” are the right choices, but sometimes nineteen-eighties music is just going to be nineteen-eighties music and that’s that.

The Lords of the New Church was a solid start for the band, a proper reintroduction for its members and an evolution to a refined musical sensibility. They convincingly mapped out a new route and revved their engine to go roaring along it.


motels careful

543. Motels, Careful (1980)

Before the recording of their sophomore album, Careful, the Motels made a relatively significant lineup change. Guitarist Jeff Jourard left the band and Tim McGovern took his place, his job interview undoubtedly boosted by his status as the boyfriend to lead singer Martha Davis. Other than that, the strategy for the California band centered on repeating what they’d done before, including once giving the producer job to John Carter, the Capitol Records exec who signed them to the label in the first place. Motels, the band’s debut, was only a modest success, but everyone was convinced they had the sound and the style to make waves commercially. Consistent effort was all that was needed.

Tracks such as the escalating pop mayhem of “Envy” and the bouncy “Cry Baby” certainly make the argument that the Motels had the stuff of greatness in them, just waiting for the tumbler to properly align, while the lolling ballad “Slow Town” probably best signals the approach that eventually would start generating major hits for them. Elsewhere on Careful, the Motels are clearly trying on different guises, presumably in the hopes that one of them might give them a way to sneak their way onto the charts. There a touch of Joe Jackson’s retro cool to “Bonjour Baby” and some leftover disco posturing on “Party Professionals.” Even when they’re not wholly convincing, the Motels remain solid performers.

Like its predecessor, Careful didn’t manage to break through and all of its singles remained outside the Billboard Hot 100. The situation didn’t necessarily call for wholesale reinvention just yet, but there was clearly a welling uncertainty in how to proceed. Better days were ahead, but the process of recorded their next album proved to be exceedingly difficult.


get close

542. The Pretenders, Get Close (1986)

It’s probably best to start with the understanding that the Pretenders are whatever Chrissie Hynde goddamn well wants it to be at the moment she wants it to be that way. Officially, the band was only on their fourth full-length studio effort with Get Close, but they’d already gone through more lineup changes than a professional sports franchise with unlimited funds and a fickle lunatic presiding over the roster. Hynde was the only mainstay from the beginnings of the band. Guitarist Robbie McIntosh, who had joined the band on 1983’s Learning to Crawl, was the only player to appears on every track of the album. Beyond those two, it was a rotating crowd in the studio, including seasoned session bassist T.M. Stevens, former Haircut One Hundred drummer Blair Cunningham (both of whom are credited as official band members), the great keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and who slew of musicians who’d been part of the Talking Heads’ sprawling endeavors. Get Close, by counting stats, was a big record.

Logistics management may have been a challenge, but Hynde remained as firm of an anchor as any act could hope for. The inspired, flirty “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and chugging, confident “My Baby” are worthy additions to the list of truly great singles generated by the band over the years. As if proving her lyrical range, the surprisingly sweet “I Remember You” immediately countered by the Eurythmics-like put-down “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?” Even when the songs aren’t really all that strong, they blaze with attitude and assurance, a clear conviction that there’s a value to banging out some plainspoken rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s those moments when Get Close tries to push into some era-specific innovation that the album is at its weakest. Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine are the credited producers on the album, and both leave fingerprints of fuss. “Dance!,” running nearly seven minutes long, seems as if it’s trying to update an old nineteen-sixties dance craze number with a dash of prog rock excess and punk attitude. And the ballad “Hymn to Her” given the fully nineteen-eighties syrup treatment, putting it uncomfortably in line with Clearmountain’s money-minting collaborations with Bryan Adams.

Compared to its predecessors, Get Close was only a middling performer. While it yielded one respectable hit on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Don’t Get Me Wrong” — it was the first Pretenders album that didn’t crack the album chart’s Top 10. When The Singles arrived the following year, it felt like a valedictory gesture. There would be plenty more albums from the Pretenders (and even another top 40 single), but Get Close can be reasonably viewed as the last blazing sparkler of a great act’s


well well well

541. The Woodentops, Well Well Well… (1986)

As was often the case with U.K. bands, the Woodentops reached a point where they needed to find a way to draw together their various singles into a format that better suited the U.S. market. After a string of well-regarded single and EP releases on Rough Trade Records, it was time to compile a long-playing companion to their debut full-length, Giant, for North American record shops. One of the band’s singles, Well Well Well, was taken and essentially expanded, providing a sprightly, if somewhat clunky, survey of what the Woodentops had hashed out to that point.

The energetic, infectious “Move Me” suggests the Woodentops as a sort of British answer to the Feelies, taking the glum deadpan moodiness of the Velvet Underground and added a snappier version of postpunk fervor. The juming hootenanny “Do It Anyway” and the firm “It Will Come” demonstrate the band’s considerable chops and even more impressive focus. There’s a sense that they could bang out this buzzsaw fierce numbers with the blinding efficiency of an assembly line stamping machine. Since the compilation also traffics in the sort of loose experiments usually (and properly) relegated to B-sides, there’s some weirdness to wander through, too. “Steady Steady” suggests Bauhaus as a band with heavy Americana influences and a little too much appreciation for the scalding excesses of Jim Morrison at the height of his acid burnout self-aggrandizement. It’s probably incorrect to call that particular creative turn good, but, to be fair, it’s also not dull.


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

This Week’s Model — Margaret Glaspy, “Devotion”


I became a devotee of singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy shortly after the release of her debut album, Emotions and Math. As often as I returned to the studio recorded etched into that record’s grooves, my regular urge to once again hear her meticulously crafted songs was just as commonly sated by interwebbing up one of the handful on live, pared-down performances she gave while making the promotional rounds. These weren’t grand reinventions, nor did they have an added purity that can emerge when an overproduced artist delivers an “unplugged” version of their songs. But there was an added charm that I found irresistible maybe because it was easier in those instances to see Glaspy racing up to the on-ramp to the highway populated by great singer-songwriter of pop music.

So as much as I’ve admired the procession songs Glaspy has shared in advance of her sophomore full-length, Devotion, I fully caved when the title cut arrived this week with the customary studio version, but also with a gleaming live session. It is sweet and lovely, infused with feeling. It is wonderful.


Radio Days — Then and Now: March 15, 2020

This series of posts covers my long, beloved history interacting with the medium of radio, including the music that flowed through the airwaves.

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By happenstance, I was already scheduled to sit in the air chair at my college radio alma mater on a week when I was especially impressed with the student leadership currently there. Like a lot of institutions, the college that’s home to the station announced a brief shutdown in an attempt to help flatten the curve in the current public health crisis. The closure went right up to the edge of the staging of the the radio station’s biggest fundraiser, an on-air trivia contest that can reasonably claim to be the world’s largest. Though the contest is staged over the air, it requires the presence of a large number of volunteers, rotating through the station’s office across the course of a weekend. For the first time in the fifty year history of the the event, Trivia Weekend is being rescheduled, pushed to the autumn.

The contest’s main organizer and the student leadership handled the tough decision and its announcement with admirable clarity and directness. Additionally, the student programmers have clearly taken their role as stewards of the airwaves seriously. When I was on the air Sunday night, there were regularly scheduled bumpers providing plainspoken, no-nonsense facts about good preventative measures in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. And the university closing up shop for an extended period clearly hasn’t spurred the students to view the situation as an extended vacation. They remain committed to keeping the station running, even if — maybe especially when — they’re some of the only people on campus.

I didn’t really talk about any of this on the air last night. I figured I could make my contribution by simply doing the best radio show I could muster. The show wasn’t recorded, because I have a strong preference for radio remaining ephemeral. But I’ve clicked together a version of the playlist on YouTube. For anyone just interested in what I played, here’s a rundown:

Luka Bloom, “An Irishman in Chinatown”
James, “Sit Down”
Blur, “There’s No Other Way”
Hothouse Flowers, “Giving It All Away”
Peter Murphy, “Indigo Eyes”
Too Much Joy, “Stay at Home”
The Pogues, “Tuesday Morning”
Camper Van Beethoven, “Good Guys and Bad Guys”
The Creatures, “Fury Eyes”
Boom Crash Opera, “Onion Skin”
Redd Kross, “Bubblegum Factory”
Adrian Belew (with David Bowie), “Pretty Pink Rose”
Material Issue, “What Girls Want”
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “One Long Pair of Eyes”
Shriekback, “Nemesis”

Hoodoo Gurus, “Miss Freelove ’69”
Black 47, “Rockin’ the Bronx”
Plan B, “Run for Cover”
U2, “A Sort of Homecoming (live)”
The Apples (In Stereo), “Signal in the Sky”
The Charlatans UK, “The Only One I Know”
Teenage Fanclub, “The Concept”
Blake Babies, “Grateful”
King Missile, “Sex with You”
Meat Puppets, “Backwater”
The Wonder Stuff, “Let’s Be Other People”
That Petrol Emotion, “Sooner or Later”
Ladytron, “International Dateline”
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, “Bag of Hammers”

The Beloved, “Hello”
Daniel Ash, “This Love”
The Mighty Lemon Drops, “Inside Out”
The National, “Mistaken for Strangers”
Blitzen Trapper, “My Home Town”
Kurt Vile, “Peeping Tomboy”
They Might Be Giants, “Man, It’s So Loud in Here”
Waxahatchee, “Never Been Wrong”
The Hold Steady, “Stay Positive”
Sleater-Kinney, “Was It a Lie?”
The Kills, “Sour Cherry”
The Cults, “I Can Hardly Make You Mine”
Bloc Party, “Price of Gas”
Hinds, “Garden”


College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #548 to #545

hunters fate

548. Hunters & Collectors, Fate (1988)

I.R.S. Records had the Australian band Hunters & Collectors under contract for U.S., but the label executives didn’t particularly like how, well, Australian the band sounded. The band released their fifth studio album, What’s a Few Men?, in their homeland, naturally expecting it would carry over to the other territories where they had distribution agreements. In short order, though, I.R.S. expressed reservations, beginning with the album’s title, which was drawn from a memoir by Australian writer Albert Facey. A set of instructions were given to Hunters & Collectors: a new album title, a new track listing, and even some new songs. The common instinct is to take the side of the artist over the label, but the fact that the edict prompted the inclusion of the practically perfect “Back on the Breadline” on the revamped album, the folks at I.R.S. are deserving of a medal.

The rest of the album, retitled Fate for U.S. release, is filled with the slick, swelling, earthy, earnest rock music that record labels were starting to bank on as U2’s booster engines kicked in. The lean, seething “You Can Have It All” and the thumping rock song “Do You See What I See?” could have been fine additions to any album rock radio station’s playlist. And the grand, anthemic “Something to Believe In” echoes the precise potency of material on U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. Similarly, “Faraway Man” has a slicked up eighties rock sound, in line with the Alarm. Comparisons to some of the countrymen of Hunters & Collectors can be made, too. “Under the Sun (Where I Come From)” is similar to the handiwork of Midnight Oil, albeit more what they crafted a few years later, blessed with ample money and studio time when they recorded Blue Sky Mining.

It’s open to debate whether the reworking of What’s a Few Men? into Fate made it a stronger album, or even an album better suited to the U.S. market. What’s certain is it still didn’t live up to the hopes of I.R.S. Records. The band and label parted ways. By the time of their next album, Ghost Nation, Hunters & Collectors had a new U.S. home with Atlantic Records.


human 14

547. Human Sexual Response, Fig. 14 (1980)

The wiseacre attitude that infuses Fig. 14, the debut full-length from Boston-based Human Sexual Response, was forecast by earlier musical ventures mounted by the various band members, including an a cappella county outfit and a group entirely reliant on kazoos for instrumentation. They’d gotten a touch more serious by the time their goofball streams converges in the burbling brook of Human Sexual Reponse, but really only so far as polishing up their playing. In demeanor, the group is like a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for a new generation.

Since the emerged as the nineteen-seventies were tumbling gracelessly into the nineteen-eighties, Human Sexual Response’s music naturally bears the scruff of the era. The warped guitars and robotic weirdness of “Dick and Jane” position the group as a wild-eyed hybrid of Devo and Gang of Four, and the dramatic sweep found in dramatic “Marone Moan,” and “Anne Frank Museum” make them sound like leftovers from a wisely abandoned rock opera. The band can push hard, as the fevered “Guardian Angel” demonstrates, but they’re more likely to be signaling they believe this new wave music they’re playing is kind of a dippy lark. A surprisingly faithful and adept cover of “Cool Jerk” reveals the group to be a skilled bar band that happens to have a fleeting ambition for crackpot invention and just enough ability to shuffle together the two stacked decks of their musical personalities. Only the weirdly unsettling “Dolls” (“Bloody footprints in the bathtub/ Who’s sleeping here?”) gives much of an indication of possible growth beyond the agreeable but fairly basic trappings of their art.

Human Sexual Response mustered only one more full-length release before breaking up and scattering apart to a startling wide range of careers. Many of them still dabbled in music, with drummer Malcolm Travis arguably landing the most impressive gig by taking the same role in Bob Mould’s band Sugar.


mighty out

546. The Mighty Lemon Drops, Out of Hand (1987)

Following Happy Head, the Mighty Lemon Drops’ modestly successful debut album, the pop-rock master craftsmen from Wolverhampton were prodded to get some new music out pronto. In the go-go independent music and college radio scenes of the nineteen-eighties, there was no time for dawdling. Every semester a band was absent was a change to fade fully from the mind of fickle young student programmers. And just one song and a B-side wasn’t quite good enough in the U.S., so the lolling single “Out of Hand” was teamed with a bunch of live tracks and few bit of recorded flotsam. Out of Hand isn’t really a primer, nor is it much of a memento. It’s a placeholder, but a reasonably diverting one.

If the new material on Out of Hand seems largely inessential, it’s also all pleasing enough. On “Count Me Out,” the band comes across as a sort of update of the Easybeats, and “Rollercoaster” has some nice jittery guitar work and a headlong forcefulness that predicts that evolutions the band would go through on their next couple albums. The Mighty Lemon Drops were just getting starting, but their process of finding their collective way resulted in some songs that could put other band’s entire catalogs to shame.  Out of Hand provides at least an inking of that rocket-charged talent.


hunters living

545. Hunters & Collectors, Living Daylight (1987)

Dashed off quickly after Hunters & Collectors lengthy tour in support of their album Human Frailty, the EP Living Daylight was meant to buy the Australian collective a chance a little buffer before they could get down to the work of creating another full-length studio. Only three songs long in their native country, Living Daylight was fleshed out with a couple more stray tracks when I.R.S. Records issued it in the U.S. Either way, the EP is a quick, joyous jolt of basic, polished rock goodness.

The title cut is perhaps the most telling evidence of the EP’s fairly quick turnaround time from conception to release. “Living Daylight” is filled with lyrics that are somehow both rock-generic and bafflingly nonsensical (“Here comes the living daylight/ Here comes the great outside/ Like a morning bird on a barbed wire fence/ It will not be denied”). It also compellingly argues that any stitched together scraps of song can still work if the resulting crazy quilt is played and sung with unembarrassed conviction. On other parts of the EP, Hunters & Collectors seemingly take the more modest expectations associated with such a project to get loopier and looser. “Inside a Fireball” has a raw-throated abandon that reminds me of the Felice Brothers and other fellow descendants who are  practitioners of especially slapdash indie rock, and “The Slab” is like Nick Cave trying his hand at psychobilly, which is exactly as amazing as that description makes it seem.

Living Daylight was a successful stall, and Hunters & Collectors were soon back in the studio, and their next full-length studio album arrived in Australian Record shops before the end of the year. Titled What’s a Few Men?, the album earned the customary plaudits and associated handsome sales at home. Across the ocean, some reworking was required, But then, we covered all that already (see #548).

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