College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 2 and 1

2. “Just Play Music” by Big Audio Dynamite
I’m sure the expectation was that Big Audio Dynamite would have a significant breakthrough with their 1988 album, Tighten Up, Vol. ’88. The main preoccupation for Mick Jones after departing the Clash has enjoyed some amount of success with their first two outings, especially garnering some attention when Jones reunited with his former bandmate Joe Strummer on B.A.D.’s sophomore release, No. 10, Upping Street, with Clash co-producing the record and co-writing several songs. They’d spent a chunk of 1987 opening for U2 on a world tour that just so happened to be in support of a fairly major album. The band, it seemed, were poised to explode. I’m not sure how accurate that term actually is, but the record certainly continued Big Audio Dynamite’s success on the college charts and the newly conceived modern rock chart. Lead single “Just Play Music” wound up becoming the second song to top the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. In the inaugural week, though, it had to settle for runner-up. Success dwindled somewhat after this, at least until Jones reconfigured the band and dubbed it B.A.D. II, eventually releasing a couple of singles that endured better than the earlier, perhaps superior material.

1. “Peek-A-Boo” by The Siouxsie and the Banshees
I’ve expended a lot of words throughout the Billboard countdown grousing about how this tally of the biggest modern rock songs of the fall of 1988 didn’t match my recollections as a novice DJ with sudden access to a great array of amazing music and two turntables and a microphone hooked up to a transmitter that allowed me the privilege of sharing it all with the listeners of central Wisconsin. Here at #1, it’s a different matter. This song was all over college radio, and, if I recall correctly, topped the equivalent CMJ chart for weeks and weeks. The lead single from Peepshow, the band’s ninth studio album, was apparently intended to be a b-side, but everyone agreed it was too good to be lost like that. Built on backwards sample from an aborted cover of “Gun” by John Cale, the song is a feverish, deliciously dark dance track with evocative, enticing lead vocals by Siouxsie Sioux. By any measure, it was the band’s biggest U.S. hit to date, only topped by a surprisingly foray into the Billboard Top 40 a couple years later. There are some really terrible songs that can boast taking the #1 position on this particular chart in the ensuing years, but at least the first track to claim that honor is as worthy as can be.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”
12 and 11: “Up There and Down There” and “Christine”
10 and 9: “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and “What’s the Matter Here”
8 and 7: “Wild Wild West” and “All That Money Wants”
6 and 5: “Intoxication” and “Tumblin’ Down”
4 and 3: “Breakfast in Bed” and “Crash”

College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 4 and 3

4. “Breakfast in Bed” by UB40
I’m going to try and untangle just what was going on with UB40 on the Billboard charts in the fall of 1988. On the Hot 100 chart, the band was rapidly climbing with a new version of Neil Diamond’s “Red, Red Wine,” which would eventually reach #1 (preceded and followed at the top of the chart by absolute junk). It’s probably more accurate to describe the gently loping, Brit boy reggae of the UB40 take as a cover of Tony Tribe’s 1969 go-round with the song. Diamond reportedly didn’t especially care for the good time vibe of the reggae versions, but, being an entertainer astutely aware of the financial benefits of keeping his audience happy, the solitary man eventually gave in to the Jamaican groove. Though “Red, Red Wine” was a massive, unavoidable hit in the U.S. in 1988, the track was five years old at that point, having originally appeared on the band’s 1983 covers album Labour of Love. And while this was happening on the pop charts, the newly created Modern Rock chart was ignoring “Red, Red Wine” altogether in favor of a cover of “Breakfast in Bed,” which was originally performed by Dusty Springfield on her landmark Dusty in Memphis album but had been transformed into reggae versions many times before, as early as a year or two after the first version. It’s probably also worth noting that the UB40 version of “Breakfast in Bed” featured Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders duetting with regular lead singer Ali Campell, a pairing that had also occurred on a cover of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” that had been the band’s first U.S. Top 40 hit three years earlier. Just writing all that up was exhausting.

3. “Crash” by The Primitives
Now we’re getting somewhere. Much as I acknowledge the distance between this commercial chart and the tracks favored by noncommercial, largely student-run radio stations that were largely inclined towards the same artists, I still find it remarkable how many of the songs on this Top 20 don’t register much at all in my memories of the music that roared across our airwaves that fall. This perfect pop gem, on the other hand, was one of the signature songs of my opening weeks in college radio. “Crash” was the lead single from Lovely, the debut album from The Primitives. Hailing from Coventy, England, the band’s spectacularly catchy songs were largely the handiwork of handiwork of guitarist Paul Court, although it was lead singer Tracy Cattell (known alternately as Tracy Tracy or Tracey Tracey, depending on where you were looking at any given time) who commanded most of the attention. The diminutive bottle-blonde was an obvious asset in an era when bands were still reliant of generous music video airplay in order to succeed. She delivered the songs with a alluring distance and a coy sexuality, playing up a sweet indifference to her own considerable attractiveness. There were some superficial comparisons to Debbie Harry and Blondie at the time of the album’s release, but Harry stalked the stage as someone in total, unquestioned command while Tracey Tracey implied that the pining boys were going to need to come to her. Vital as the lead singer’s presence was, it wouldn’t have mattered if the songwriting wasn’t there. And “Crash” (credited to Court, along with Tracey and bassist Steve Dullaghan) is about as good as any song released that whole fall–hell, that whole year.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”
12 and 11: “Up There and Down There” and “Christine”
10 and 9: “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and “What’s the Matter Here”
8 and 7: “Wild Wild West” and “All That Money Wants”
6 and 5: “Intoxication” and “Tumblin’ Down”

College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 6 and 5

6. “Intoxication” by Shriekback
Dave Allen was the bassist for Gang of Four, a band that fully understood the value of a killer rhythm section. He left the band after the release of their sophomore effort, Solid Gold, and formed Shriekback with Barry Andrews, who was previously the fourth member of XTC. By the time 1988 rolled around, Allen had given up on the group and departed. In the absence of his former compatriot’s fierce, propulsive basslines, Andrews apparently decided to accelerate the band’s gradual evolution to a commercially polished, club-friendly outfit. Nothing like KC and the Sunshine Band cover, seemingly devoid of irony, to establish intent of unabashed revelry to the assembled listenership. The album was produced by Richard James Burgess, another sign that the group was hungry for a hit, given that he had a reputation for presiding over British chart smashes that were as hard and slick as a Jolly Rancher. “Intoxication” was the first single from the resulting album, Go Bang! We may very well have played the track at the radio station that fall (calling a song “Intoxication” is a good way to get college kids to play it), but I’ll admit that I barely remember this song.

5. “Tumblin’ Down” by Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers
I’m sure that many people thought that Conscious Party. was the debut release from Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers. The hype machine was in overdrive that summer for the eldest son of deceased reggae legend Bob Marley, even helping lead single “Tomorrow People” cross over (if only just barely) into the Billboard Top 40. Some of the novelty had already worn off by the fall, but modern rock radio was clearly still buying into the notion that this was a second-generation titan in the making. The second single, “Tumblin’ Down,” is the one the really bears the marks of the album’s producers, Christ Frantz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, a band then in its death throes. It’s the other band that occupied the time of Frantz and Weymouth that can be heard echoing on “Tumblin’ Down,” though. The song has some of the same light, lithe electronic rhythmic embellishments that characterized Tom Tom Club’s biggest hit, “Genius of Love.” Ziggy Marley never achieved the same level of success that he had ever so briefly in 1988, but he persisted in music and entertainment, sometimes turning up in the strangest of places.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”
12 and 11: “Up There and Down There” and “Christine”
10 and 9: “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and “What’s the Matter Here”
8 and 7: “Wild Wild West” and “All That Money Wants”

College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 8 and 7

8. “Wild Wild West” by The Escape Club
Well, yuck. The divide between the Billboard chart and my memories of the fall of 1988 is no vaster than it is right here. Maybe it’s some sort of protective blackout in my brain, but I don’t remember the title cut from the goony British quartet’s sophomore release crossing our airwaves at all. It was surely everywhere else, though, going to very top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts, a pretty damning indictment of the state of Top 40 radio that fall, especially when the chart-toppers from before and after its one week run are entered into evidence. (Warning: clicking on the hyperlink connected to the word “before” in the prior sentence will mercilessly trap a truly horrible song in your head for the remainder of the day, and there won’t be a damn thing you can do to alleviate the pain.) According to Wikipedia, this is also the only song by a U.K. band took #1 in America without even showing up anywhere on the equivalent British charts, so bully for them (although their top song from the equivalent time period isn’t exactly “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” either). At least one of the approved artists on the Dr. Demento show eventually got some mileage out of it.

7. “All That Money Wants” by Psychedelic Furs
Greatest hits collections need to have a new song. That was a given by the late eighties, even for those bands (maybe especially for those bands) who were stretching the definition of the term “hit” for their compilations. Though a staple of college radio, the band was probably best known for providing the title to one of many cinematic tales of comic teen angst released under the John Hughes brand during the eighties. They were also the band that college rock fans loved to yell “Sell out!” at, first receiving the particular ire when they rerecorded the single “Pretty in Pink” for the previously mentioned movie, and then again for the 1987 album Midnight to Midnight, which may very well be a blatant stab at commercial success, but god, I love it so. Even the All of This and Nothing collection was criticized for omitting earlier work in favor of later, slicked-up efforts. “All That Money Wants” was the new song recorded especially for the release, which of course forced completists to buy a record filled with songs that they otherwise had. Just another log on the “sell out” pyre. To hear the track in question, I need to send you elsewhere.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”
12 and 11: “Up There and Down There” and “Christine”
10 and 9: “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” and “What’s the Matter Here”

College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 10 and 9

10. “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” by Information Society
I’ll admit to having my own preferences that decisively inform my perspectives on different music eras in different regions. For example, Minneapolis in the nineteen-eighties is strictly the punk-influenced rock ‘n’ roll of Hüsker Dü and The Replacements for me. This is despite the fact that the biggest-selling artist to hail from the city during that decade had a very different sound indeed. So maybe it shouldn’t be that hard for me to wrap my head around the notion that Information Society and their dippy, skippy pop music started in the land of flannel and skyways. “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy)” was a single from the band’s self-titled album which managed to make into all the way to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Dance chart. Like other tracks on the album, it includes sample from the original Star Trek television series, notably Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock saying the two words that provide the song the parenthetical part of its title.

9. “What’s the Matter Here” by 10,000 Maniacs
There are all sorts of specific aspects of the commercial modern rock chart that made it clearly different from the college radio equivalent. For one thing, there was often a much longer lead time between the release of new music and its success on commercial radio, and then that success could be drawn out over a much longer time. In My Tribe, the breakthrough release from 10,000 Maniacs, originally came out in the summer of 1987. I think it’s fair to say that the album was generally old news to college radio programmers by the fall of 1988 (except, of course, for those certain college boys for whom Natalie Merchant never went out of style). Sticking strictly to singles meant that those broadcasters that resided away from the left side of the dial found “What’s the Matter Here” as fresh as can be when Elektra Records gave it a hearty push over a year after it was first heard by attentive fans. Since DJs are always looking for something to talk about, it probably helped that the very direct lyrics gave them a chance to seem smart behind the microphone as they thoughtfully unpacked the song’s somber commentary on the ills of child abuse.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”
12 and 11: “Up There and Down There” and “Christine”

College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 12 and 11

12. “Up There Down There” by Patti Smith
It was a big deal when Patti Smith released the album Dream of Life in 1988. It had been almost ten years since the last album that bore her name and Smith had spent the interim living a life of domestic serenity in the suburbs of Michigan with her husband, Fred “Sonic” Smith, and their two children together. She had gone from a seismic force practically reinventing rock ‘n’ roll with the sheer passion of her vocals and the jagged anger of her songwriting to a brilliant phantom who largely sat out the decade when New Wave and then Hair Metal supplanted the fiery punk scene that she helped define. Even in the flush of excitement over her return, I don’t think anyone considered the new Smith music truly on par with her classic albums from the nineteen-seventies, but it was still exciting to have her back. It was the album’s lead single, “People Have the Power” that made the greatest impact (and it’s endured as a pretty handy anthem.) “Up There Down There” was the third and final single from the album, bearing Smith’s trademark force. Dream of Life wound up as a fairly brief return as it would be another eight years before Smith’s next release, the spectacular, elegiacal Gone Again, which was arguably her true return to form.

11. “Christine” by The House of Love
The U.K. band The House of Love released their self-titled debut album in 1988 after having some modest success in their homeland with a couple of singles the prior year. “Christine,” a chiming, soaring, plaintively yearning song was both the lead track and lead single from the album. While it seemed like the very sort of thing that careened wildly up the British charts, the band was denied their first charting single there, settling for the attention they got from college radio and other modern rock stations statewide. At the time, it seemed there was always a need for British pop of crystalline perfection and the track filled the niche nicely. In direct opposition to the glistening clarity of their sound, the band was enduring an especially tumultuous time in their attempts to record music and keep the record labels happy, going through a dizzying number of changes, including significant line-up shifts, as they released songs at a fairly prolific clip the next few years. That didn’t mean, however, that they couldn’t still kick out the occasional amazing single during that span. Like a lot of bands from the era, they went through full-scale dissolution only to indulge in a practically inevitable reunion years and years later.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”
14 and 13: “Liar Liar” and “High Time”

College Countdown: First Billboard Top 20 Modern Rock Tracks, Fall 1988, 14 and 13

14. “Liar, Liar” by Debbie Harry
As the blonde in Blondie, few performers seemed more perfectly positioned for solo career success than Debbie Harry. She was no empty frontwoman, claiming a respectable number of songwriting credits on every one of the band’s albums, including contributions to every original track but one on the band’s 1982 swan song (at least for their original run), The Hunter. She was the face, voice and, for many, the total persona of the band. Striking out on her own didn’t exactly work out, though, and by the time the fall of 1988 rolled around, her first two solo outings had met with only mediocre sales and even more meager interest from radio. Still there was an automatic cachet to her name, which probably helped determine which song from the eclectic soundtrack to Jonathan Demme’s Married to the Mob would get pushed as a single. A cover of a song by the Castaways that hit the Top 20 in 1965, “Liar Liar” was sharp, brisk, wonderfully sung by Harry and entirely irresistible. As I recall, it did pretty well on the college charts over at CMJ as well, although those radio programmers also dug a little deeper into the album to give loving attention to another song that also turned up on a truly masterful album that was still a year-and-a-half away.

15. “High Time” by The Icicle Works
Given Billboard‘s relatively late entry into tracking modern rock singles, understandable as it may be given the radio landscape they were surveying through much of the eighties, citing career success on this chart makes from a shaky measure of the peaks of a band’s career. For example, look through the voluminous list of singles on the Wikipedia page for the Icicle Works and it appears that “High Time” is their only track to garner airplay among modern rock programmers, which a sad, unexplained dash resides in the corresponding column next to far bigger songs such as Evangeline, “Understanding Jane” and “Whisper to a Scream (Birds Fly).” “High Time” appeared on the band’s fourth studio album, Blind, which probably should have been their last one (there was one more widely ignored album released under the Icicle Works name in 1990, though most of the original members had departed by then). The song is so comparatively obscure that it doesn’t even ring a bell for me, and I really like Icicle Works. I can’t even find a good embeddable YouTube video for the song. Instead, I need to send you elsewhere.



Previously…
An Introduction
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”
18 and 17: “Back on the Breadline” and “Motorcrash”
16 and 15: “Dumb Things” and “Don’t Go”