College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #928 to #925

cale honi

928. John Cale, Honi Soit (1981)

“Among the True Perverts of Rock, John Cale has always been the most persistently wanton,” Boo Browing wrote in The Washington Post around the time Cale released the album Honi Soit. I believe it was meant as a compliment.

Honi Soit was Cale’s first studio album in six years and his debut on A&M Records. Although Cale’s laudable efforts as a producer and crafter of esoteric rock throughout the nineteen-seventies lent him an aura of éminence grise, he lagged well behind Lou Reed, his old Velvet Underground bandmate, in popular stature. In some ways, Honi Soit seems an overt attempt at bridging that distance or at least reclaiming his piece of the building legacy of Andy Warhol’s famed and influential house band. (Warhol provided the cover art for Honi Soit, but was reportedly irritated that Cale added color to a design intended to be black-and-white.) On the track “Russian Roulette,” Cale even appropriates some of the punk-adjacent brashness that was Reed’s stock-in-trade.

In general, Cale is in fine form on Honi Soit, his songwriting sharp and his musicianship assured. Album opener “Dead or Alive” is delightfully robust, as is “Fighter Pilot,” which sounds like classic rock turned inside out. The latter benefits enormously from the fierce, prominent backing vocals by post-punk upstarts Mo-dettes (renamed the Bomberettes to align with the aviation branding in the liner notes, which also finds Cale credited as the “flight surgeon”). “Strange Times in Casablanca” sounds like the kind of song that would have resulted had  Ernest Hemingway arrived a couple generations later and disregarded fiction writing in favor of a rock music career (“And doors have doors have doors have doors have doors/ Like companions have pets they sleep in each other’s mattresses”).

Commercial aspirations or not, Cale remains an experimentalist at heart, which doesn’t always sit well amidst the more straightforward material. His cover version of the traditional song “Streets of Laredo” eventually starts to sound to me like so much sonic clutter, but I’ve no doubt there are plenty who’d find it to be the most satisfying track on the album. And realistically, any thoughts of crossover were probably fanciful. Honi Soit was the first — and, to date, only — Cale album to register on the Billboard album chart (peaking at #154), but it wasn’t enough for the record executives at A&M. The partnership was dissolved, and Cale moved on to record for labels more amenable to the modest sales possibilities that came with his challenging approach.



dead fruit

927. Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables (1980)

Dead Kennedys came into being because Raymond Pepperell (better known as East Bay Ray) saw a ska-punk band playing in San Francisco and figured he could do just as well as they did. He put up flyers and placed ads in local newspapers, declaring, “guitarist wants to start punk or new wave band.” The first person to respond was a Colorado native and recent transplant to California named Eric Boucher, who took the stage name Jello Biafra. Before long, the rest of the band gelled, and they opted for punk instead of new wave. In summer 1979, close to the year anniversary of the band forming, Dead Kennedys released their first single, “California Über Alles.”

The following year, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, the band’s debut album arrived. The assemblage of politically-minded punk rock scaled by acidic humor included “California Über Alles,” as well as another preceding single, the discomfiting romp “Holiday in Cambodia.” Those two tracks are rightly iconic, and they are reasonably representative of the quality across the album. There are hint of the posturing to come, but most of the album trembles with the vicious of angry citizens who’ve used scrap metal and baling wire to build a platform for preaching to those on the precipice of conversion. They’ll be joined by no unexpected allies, but the kindred souls will feel real good about thrusting their tightly clenched fists in the air.

Because of their propensity for humor — sophomoric and otherwise — Dead Kennedys avoid skewing towards the didactic, even as they deliver treatises of the dismals state of society. “Chemical Warfare” is characteristic, employing a fuming playfulness, complete with a punked-up circus music interlude and a screaming bee swarm of noise near the end. Lead singer Biafra regularly shows he learned all the right lessons for Johnny Rotten, stretching the first word in the “neutron bomb” to about four syllables on “Kill the Poor,” for example. And the band is appropriately ferocious throughout, arguably best heard in the sandpaper guitars of “Ill in the Head” or the zippy rat-a-tat of “When Ya Get Drafted.”

Even with an obvious built-in limit to have successful the band could be, Dead Kennedys got plenty of attention due to Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, including overtures from major label Polydor. Supposedly, the possibility of signing on with corporate overlords spurred some vehement disagreements between Biafra and Ray, but they never needed to reach a final decision. The label lost interest when they heard the title of the single Dead Kennedys recorded as their follow-up to the album: “Too Drunk to Fuck.”



gordon rock

926. Robert Gordon, Rock Billy Boogie (1979)

Robert Gordon was a performer out of time, but he was determined to make his favored music anyway. As a boy, he loved the rockabilly performers of the nineteen-fifties, doggedly insisting the supremacy of the earlier music when British invasion and psychedelic acts took over in during his teenaged years. He formed a band called the Continentals and stuck with the sound he loved. Then he landed in New York in 1970, and before long it was clear that the best way to keep working as a musician was to embrace the ascendant punk sound. Gordon became lead singer of a band called the Tuff Darts, which spent time on the stage of CBGB as the club started its trek into rock legend.

Gordon’s chance to live his real dream came when Richard Gottehrer, a record executive who started in music biz as a Brill Building songwriter, attended a show and heard the performer croon his way through an Elvis Presley cover. Though Gottehrer was hardly stuck in the past (he produced the debut albums by Blondie and Richard Hell and the Voidoids), he recognized the possibility of a lucrative revival of bygone rock styles. He paired Gordon with guitarist Link Wray, and whole new career was underway.

Rock Billy Boogie was Gordon’s first record without Wray at his side, but there was ample compensation in the arrival of ace guitarist Chris Spedding. Comprised almost entirely of covers, the album is little more than a spirited careen through a well-curated record collection. Even so, the commitment of all involved in clear from the album-opening title cut. Gordon and his cohorts deploy every nifty gimmick they can think of — a boisterous call and response on “All By Myself,” clicking noises sound effects on “Wheel of Fortune,” an explicit call-out to Gene Vincent on “The Catman” —  and it always comes across as lovingly sincere. Adding to the authenticity, when Gordon tries his hand at an original, such as the lovelorn ballad “I Just Met a Memory,” he proves himself as capable a creator as he is a caretaker.



swans children

925. Swans, Children of God (1987)

When devout experimentalists released Children of God, their fifth album, fans couldn’t quite make sense of how conventional it sounded. Full of drama, menace, and confrontational choices, the reaction says more about the previous output of the band than the material spread across the album’s four sides. It was seen as enough of a departure that individual band members found themselves explaining the evolution.

“I’d say it’s all been evolving over the last two years or so,” band leader Michael Gira said at the time. “I just think we’re developing into a much more musical enterprise as opposed to a much more concretist enterprise. I wouldn’t say a-musical or anti-musical, because I think that was a misnomer with regard to what we used to be. There’s certainly a lot more room for subtlety and sensitivity now.”

As the title implies, Children of God offers commentary on the influence of religion, particularly the Catholic Church. The band’s propensity for harsh poetry in the lyrics is especially well suited to spooked and spooky imagery connected to religious ritual, and when Gira brings the grind of his heavy bass voice to evocations of godly love, it sounds precisely as unsettling as he hopes (“I will always remember/ Your hand on my shoulder/ Pulling me down/ Pulling me down/ Into the cold dead earth,” on “Real Love,” is chill-inducing). Add in the occasional zombie choir or orchestral layering, and it’s as though Swans were trying to make all the goth bands of the day look like sunny amateurs.

Children of God opens with the slow march disturbance of “New Mind.” That sets the sonic thesis of the album, and Swans keep circling back to sly variants, such as the thunderclouds leaking sludge of “Sex, God, Sex” or angsty grind “Trust Me.” It’s arguably yet more unnerving when the band opts for comparative quiet, as with the ethereal twang on “Our Love Lies” or “Blackmail,” which plays like Kate Bush’s spare elegance stripped to the raw studs. And sometimes Swans simply puts everything they’ve got on the table. “Like a Drug (Sha La La La)” is so packed with odd elements — Gira’s yawning vocals, zinging electronic insertions, a eerily off-tune chorus of voices — that it seems an attempt to induce madness.

The changes on Children of God were only the beginning for Swans. Gira complained about audience expectations and resolutely pushed away from them, including a diversion into a side project known as either Skin or World of Skin, depending on which side of the Atlantic one was on when purchasing the resulting records. As the the double album already demonstrated, Gira and his cohorts were going to do whatever they wanted, fan preferences be damned.



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

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #932 to #929

rush signals

932. Rush, Signals (1982)

I think the prevailing opinion is that the nineteen-eighties demolished the prospects for classic rock bands, especially as MTV took almost complete control over determining which songs were worthy of upward chart movement. There’s some truth to that, but there was also some clear accommodation for those artists who know how to adapt to the times through honest exploration that didn’t pander. It usually involved nicking some of the stylistic tics of new wave music while still maintaining some sense of persisting identity.

Eight studio albums and ten years into their recording career, Rush delivered Signals. The proper follow-up to Moving Pictures, the band’s 1981 breakthrough, the album luxuriates in their usual prog rock swirls, but it’s also notably tighter than might be expected, clicking with synthesized syncopations and generally applying an intriguingly tense songcraft. U.S. audiences rewarded the pinging revolution by making single “New World Man” the one U.S. Top 40 hit of the band’s career. Sounding more like the Police or Peter Gabriel than a rehash of “Tom Sawyer,” the track demonstrates the trio’s willingness to expand their process.

The album is also novel for the inclusion of the tidal wave gurgle of “Chemistry,” which is a rare instance of singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee and guitarist Eric Lifeson pitching in on lyrics and perhaps an implicit argument against their participation in the wordsmith portion of the process (“Elemental empathy/ A change of synergy/ Music making contact/ Naturally”). Mostly, though, the album makes its impression with its morass of sonics. “The Weapon” has a juicy, jammy midsection with zinging synths and storm cloud guitars, and “Losing It” is soft as swamp muck, at least until the appearance of studio effects piercing enough to prompt the agitated removal of bulked up headphones to spare the nerves.

Even with its batch of nifty tricks, Signals — like much of the rest of the Rush discography — is undoubtedly an acquired taste. It exhibits the band’s trademark ponderousness, which means its likely to wear on all but the most devoted. In this instance, that endurance test quality is the band keeping their stamp clear even as they try out the unfamiliar.


reivers saturday

931. The Reivers, Saturday (1987)

Hailing from Austin, the Reivers deal with a lot of headaches around names. They recorded their first two albums under the moniker Zeitgeist, only to wind up in a scrap with another group that claimed rights to the name. Like good Southerners, the Texans looked to the William Faulkner section of the library and settled on the Reivers. In the ceaseless insistence on categorizing every new act that comes along, the music press pronounced the Reivers to be members of a movement called “New Sincerity,” a pallid descriptor no rock band should ever be called upon to transcend.

Saturday was the first album released under the name the Reivers, and it was also the band’s first for major label Capitol Records. Adding to the sense of a grand new arrival, the album was produced by Don Dixon, still basking in the reverberating admiration that came from overseeing the early R.E.M. records. The album meets the enhanced expectations in winning form.

“What Am I Doing” opens the album with the big, echoing drum sound of Big Country before settling into a charming bar band groove with intermingling vocals on John Croslin and Kim Longacre. The album has a headlong authority as it melds sharp songwriting with earthy truthfulness. What could be basic instead becomes charming and sweet, as on the gentle pop gem “In Your Eyes” (“I see myself in your eyes/ And it looks so nice”). The production is mid-eighties pristine, but there’s also allowances for the spirited slop of “Karate Party” and Meat Puppets echoes on “Wait for Time.” And the title cuts sounds like the blessed result of 10,000 Maniacs and the Lemonheads merging.

The constant swings between good and bad fortune continued for the band. Saturday was greeted with warm reviews and college radio support, but it barely registered with commercial radio and the general record-buying public. The band remained heroes in their hometown.

“When the album came out and America didn’t embrace it like we did, that was fine. That was America’s problem” Longacre wrote in the liner notes to a reissue many years later. “The Reivers were still playing Liberty Lunch on Saturday night, and that was good enough for us.”


jethro beast

930. Jethro Tull, The Broadsword & the Beast (1982)

I’m not sure how anyone was able to ever take it seriously when the whole band repeatedly shouts out “Beastie!” on the album opener of the same name, but this Jethro Tull concept album is probably the epitome of rock ‘n’ roll as literary majesty to someone out there, even if its only Ian Anderson. To me, it sounds bloated, inane, and spackled with a posturing pompousness that somehow almost lurid. It’s the epitome of something, all right.

In his original review of the album, Rolling Stone writer Parke Puterbaugh explained The Broadsword & the Beast is “about the erosion of old values in today’s rapidly devolving world.” Sure. You bet. Refraining from the repeated immersive listening experience required to test that hypothesis, I can recognize the Ren-faire-in-the-discotheque noodling, but the overarching plot is so inscrutable it might as well be written in Chapstick on a foggy window pane.

“Clasp” has a skittering rhythm that makes it sound as though it’s intended to accompany a chase scene in a fantasy musical acted out by puppets, “Flying Colours” is peak prog rock gooeyness, and “Pussy Willow” is precisely as embarrassing as the song title implies. I guess some whacked out pleasure can be taken in the loopy merry-go-round of electrified musical affectations on “Watching Me Watching You,” if only because the unashamed excess of it can induce giggles. The agonizing ballad “Slow Marching Band” is more characteristic, presenting purple prose as some elegant prize (“Dream of me as the nights draw cold/ Still marking time through Winter/ You paid the piper and called the tune/ And you marched the band away”).

Inevitably, the theatricality of the album spilled over to the resulting tour. The stage was designed to resemble a Viking ship, and the band performed in costumes that made them look like Medieval pirate admirals. Because making an album like The Broadsword & the Beast mandates taking the conceit absolutely all of the way.


no wave

929. Various Artists, No Wave (1978)

As this week’s chunk of Countdown makes very clear, classic rock acts did very on the college charts for a good long time. To the degree that student-run radio had an overarching identity before the nineteen-eighties, it was as a commercial-free clone of the freewheeling album rock stations that helped FM overtake AM in the era of Led Zeppelin and their thunderous brethren. CMJ was a major player in transforming the sound of college radio, but the emergence of a different kind of music artist was an obvious factor, too. It’s tempting to look at the lineup of tracks and the copyright date on the compilation No Wave and declare it Patient Zero of the college rock pandemic.

More of a haphazardly assembled label sampler than an artfully assembled mix, No Wave likely provided many college radio programmers’ introduction to eventual playlist mainstays Squeeze, the Police, and Joe Jackson. Opening an album with “Take Me I’m Yours,” “Roxanne,” and “Got the Time” in succession — when all the tracks were shiny and new — had to provide a roller coaster thrill for kids who previously thought playing a deep cut from Hotel California was primo broadcasting rebellion. And that’s before the needle found the Dickies’ beautiful bratty blasts on side two.



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

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #936 to #933

skinny cleanse

936. Skinny Puppy, Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate (1987)

It bizarre for me to think of industrial titans Skinny Puppy as edging towards cuddly mainstream acceptance, but that’s arguably what was happening around 1987, the year the Canadian released their third album, Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate. Their original label, Nettwerk, had signed a distribution deal with Capitol Records, a major player in the music business that specifically saw Skinny Puppy as a perfect entryway into the growing college radio market. Capitol employed every trick they could think of in promoting the record, such as distributing a paperweight resembling an eyeball and inexplicably landing a review in People magazine, which explained listening to Skinny Puppy’s music was like “stepping into a nightmare being experienced by the Phantom of the Opera.”

Spare a moment’s sympathy for the unwitting People subscribers who procured a copy of Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate believing it was a spookier version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical so new on the scene it was a highly topic reference to deploy. The fare on the album may be a little more approachable than Skinny Puppy at their aggressive pinnacle, but it ain’t “All I Ask of You.” The angry, snaking menace of “Addiction” is as cuddly as the album gets.

Skinny Puppy helped map the terrain of industrial music, and their defining expertise is apparent on Cleanse, Fold & Manipulate. The lock into a style that can be fairly rigid, and find odd, flinty angles within it. “Draining Faces” stays in a seething idle for most of its five minutes before expanding into a vicious, viscous swirl of sound. And “Deep Down Trauma Hounds” is fantastically propulsive, as if it could issue commands to the pogo-ing version of The Red Shoes.

As is often the case with industrial, there’s far less appeal to the lyrics, which are burdened with portentous nihilism. It’s a particularly painful proposition when the tracks tick into political commentary, as with the post-Vietnam ponderings of “Second Tooth” (“It’s useless killing children/ To satisfy the arms budgets/ Who walks right or left/ A child won’t give a damn”). It’s best to simply concentrate on the razor wire music. Skinny Puppy deployed it better than most.



soup this

935. The Soup Dragons, This is Our Art (1988)

I tend to think of the Soup Dragons as careening between markedly different styles from album to album. That’s because the touchstones from my personal college radio days — Lovegod (1990), Hotwired (1992), and Hydrophonic (1994) — really do operate with distinctly different flavors. However, a fresh listen to This is Our Art reminded me the Scottish band’s sonic contradictions were intermingling from the jump.

The proper full-length debut of the Soup Dragons (following the 1986 album Hang Ten!, which was a collection of previously released material from singles and EPs), This is Our Art is vividly rambunctious, zipping from one musical notion to the next. The hooks are infectious and the band operates with an enviable swagger, putting the songs across with unstoppable charisma and assurance. That’s true whether it’s the sugar blast glam rock of “Kingdom Chairs,” the mild psychedelia of “The Majestic Head?,” or the smart, skittering “King of the Castle.” They even adopt a convincing Morrissey swoon for the track “On Overhead Walkways.”

Although This is Our Art strikes me as the product of a band with an abundance of musical and stylistic ideas, the second side presents a counterargument. As if playing in real time, the album lags as it spins to the end. “Family Ways” is dully redundant, as is “Another Dreamticket.” They play like padding, little musical notions expanded to reach a contractually mandated running time. New to major label Sire Records, the band might very well have been facing down stern instructions. The best of the album, though, indicates the Soup Dragons were best when allowed to bend any and all rules put before them.


eddie keeps

934. Eddie Money, Playing for Keeps (1980)

A trade journal print ad promoting the 1980 album Playing for Keeps posed a question: “How come Eddie Money’s always givin’ you the business?” The New York performer had enjoyed a few unlikely hits in the late nineteen-seventies, perhaps because his mangy hound authenticity provided an endearing contrast to the studio-buffed disco dominating the charts at the time. But it didn’t exactly seem as if Money had the complexity or room for growth needed to build a long, consistent career. By the release of Playing for Keeps, his third album, he was finding it difficult to duplicate his earlier success.

Produced by Ron Nevison — who also has to answer for a multitude of AOR sins, such as the sum output of Damn YankeesPlaying for Keeps is a procession of mediocre ideas implemented poorly. Album opener “Trinidad” somehow combines the worst characteristics of Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffet into a single track. Proving things can always get worse, it’s followed by “Running Back,” which commits so fully to some weird white soul version of reggae that wispy blond dreads are likely to form in the psyche of any being unfortunate enough to hear it.

Money is a passable rock singer, and when he sticks to earnest updates of typical sixties fare, the result is uninspiring but forgivable. He falters most painfully on the ballads, such as the drippy “When You Took My Heart,” in which he sings, “It was yours to have/ Cuz you touched my soul/ She came along, took this boy’s hand/ And the child became a man.” No human performer can overcome lyrics like that. And then there’s the dreadful duet “Let’s Be Lovers Again,” which ropes Valerie Carter into the misery.

The same ad cited above promised that Money would be on tour through the entirety of 1980, jokingly quoting the performer. “The boss says I cant come home till the album’s platinum,” he supposedly said. It was a cute way to depict Money’s servitude the music business machine, but the grueling schedule took a toll on the singer. Self-medicating with barbiturates, Money collapsed when overdosing, injuring himself severely enough to require extensive rehab efforts, further derailing his career.


rubber scenic

933. Rubber Rodeo, Scenic Views (1984)

Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, Rubber Rodeo honed their craft on the Boston music scene of the early-nineteen-eighties, one of the hallowed eras and locals in the grand college rock story. Brash and bodacious, the band knew how to set themselves apart, once playing a New York City label showcase on a stage adorned with cardboard renderings of cheesy Western cliches, like a cactus and a rattlesnake. The head of Eat Records, the independent label that helped the band record their debut release, termed the band “an exercise in commercial art.” Like Talking Heads, the members of Rubber Rodeo met at the Rhode Island School of Design.

If Rubber Rodeo’s sense of showmanship was exceedingly well-developed, their music wasn’t far behind. The material on Scenic Views — the band’s proper debut album, which was picked up and released by Mercury Records — is sterling college rock fare with an overlay of mildly ironic cowpoke charm.  The leisurely twang of “Walking After Midnight” is representative, as is “The Hardest Thing,” a breakup song that sounds like X after the last layer of punk has been scraped away.

Befitting their saloon hall cleverness, Rubber Rodeo has a sleeve-hidden ace. Vocalist Trish Milliken’s sings like a splendid amalgamation of Kate Pierson and Siouxsie Sioux, bring equal parts bounce and slink to every song. As much as any other element, it’s her singing that makes “Need You, Need Me” (on which guitarist Bob Holmes also features prominently on vocals) sound as if it was commissioned for the David Lynch action film that will sadly never happen. She similarly contributes to the sense that “Mess O’ Me,” with its swirl of tingly pop sounds, is a couple downers away from turning into a lush Cocteau Twins hit.

There are bum tracks on Scenic Views, as well. “City of God” sounds like an incredibly tepid version of the Alarm, and “House of Pain” has deeply dreadful lyrics (“I’m bring home the bacon/ For my little house of pain/ I’m bringing home the bacon/ So she’ll fry it in a pan”). It seems less like the missteps of a band that still needs a little time to grow and more like the half-hearted effort of creators who think they can make up for their shortcomings with other elements, like stage magicians disguised the mechanics of trick with stage banter. I’d argue Rubber Rodeo wasn’t correct in that theory, but they did manage to snare a Grammy nomination for the long-form video they created in conjunction with Scenic Views. So maybe there was something to the expansive commercial art theory.



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

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #940 to #937

dead franken

940. Dead Kennedys, Frankenchrist (1985)

Frankenchrist, the third album from Dead Kennedys, should have been a celebratory return to recording for a band that helped define hardcore punk. The group had withdrawn from active engagement with making their own music, largely to nurture along their record label, Alternative Tentacles, which began as a shingle for their own releases, but was quickly growing to accommodate other acts. After a couple years as music biz honchos, Jello Biafra and his crew were bashing on their instruments again.

The album was received with mixed emotions by the band’s most devoted fans, some taking umbrage at the development of sonic textures more complex than the jet engine blast that typified punk rock of the day. The real complications, though, arose from an element of the album’s packaging. Within the benign condescension of the album sleeve depicting Shriners puttering along a parade route in undersized automobiles, a poster print by H.R. Giger awaited like a poisonous prize. A rendering of Giger’s 1973 piece Work 219: Landscape XX — or, more descriptively, Penis Landscape — was presented with the following warning:

The inside fold out to this record cover is a work of art by H.R. Giger that some people may find shocking, repulsive, or offensive. 

Life can sometimes be that way.

Reportedly, the relentless provocateur Biafra originally wanted the Giger work to serve as the album cover, but saner souls prevailed, relegating Penis Landscape to a more hidden locale. That was problematic enough. The trouble started when a fourteen-year-old girl purchased the album from a California record store, intending is as a gift for her brother, who was three years younger. That didn’t sit well with mom. She contacted the authorities, and eventually the vice squad paid a visit to Alternative Tentacles. Biafra and his cohorts were charged with distributing harmful material to minors. Though the charges were beat in court, the legal bills almost bankrupted the label.

The Shriners sued, too. Evidently, Dead Kennedys failed to secure the proper rights to that image.

As for the music on the album, it’s unmistakably the Dead Kennedys, all right, for good and for not-so-good. Their place as seminal practitioners of nineteen-eighties punk — when the tuneful craft of the nineteen-seventies version of the music largely gave way to an angry, adrenalized, headlong variant — is wholly deserved, and there are compelling arguments in their favor on Frankenchrist. The neck jerking momentum of “Helination” and the machine gun drum blasts on “This Could Be Anywhere (This Could Be Everywhere)” demonstrate a fevered command of the form. And “Chicken Farm,” a condemnation of the U.S. attitude toward Vietnamese refugees, holds some of the Dead Kennedys’ experimentation, sounding agreeably like A Flock of Seagulls yanked through a hardcore filter.

But the band could also be blundering in their political and social commentary, especially when it was framed in smug comedy. The gruesome comic mockery of “Jock-O-Rama (Invasion of the Beef Patrol)” is repellently sour, and  “MTV — Get Off the Air” is simply dumb and didactic, and that’s after the embarrassing sketch at the opening. The album closes with the epic “Stars and Stripes of Corruption,” in which Biafra sings about paying a visit to the nation’s capital in order to urinate on federal buildings and generally survey the landscape with disdain (“The Washington monument pricks the sky/ With flags like pubic hair ringed ’round the bottom”). Sometimes it’s tempting to credit older music with a daring for its time, but even in the nineteen-eighties this was insipid.

The ordeal of Frankenchrist clearly took a toll on the band. After only one more studio album, the band broke up and embarked on a decade-plus of acrimonious lawsuits over credits and royalties.


numan telekon

939. Gary Numan, Telekon (1980)

Gary Numan was working hard at the dawn of the nineteen-eighties. Including Replicas, released with the band Tubeway Army, Numan cranked out three full-length studio albums in less than two years. Later, he’d group these records together, referring to them as his “machine” trilogy. Each one of them topped the U.K. album charts. Telekon was the third and final installment.

In the U.S., Numan had a tougher time garnering commercial attention after his first solo single, “Cars,” made it into the Billboard Top 10. Listening to Telekon, it’s fairly clear why audiences reared on disco and similarly eager pop nuggets would struggle to connect with Numan’s efforts. The album is awash in intensely sleepy dance music. It’s complex and intriguing, but also icy and distant. Album opener “This Wreckage” is elegant and elusive, edging up to a recognizable pop song structure only to veer away into jagged synthesizer cadences. It’s wholly typical of the material on Telekon.

The album is strong and prickly, like a glimmering light that beckons an unsuspecting wanderer into a briar patch. “I’m an Agent” has a Bowie-esque shimmy that evolves into high drama, and “Remember I Was Vapour” has a touch of Lou Reed’s plainspoken poetry to it. Arguably the most intriguing track is “I Dream of Wires,” which plays out as a prized artifact from a fantasyland where Giorgio Moroder produced Laurie Anderson and it hit like the Beatles.

Numan might have confused most U.S. listener with Telekon, but some important figures connected with it immediately. Telekon was one of the albums Prince studied like a religious text, and ghostly Numan fingerprints can be detected on some of the purple genius’s most ambitious works in the era. “There are still people trying to work out what a genius Gary Numan is,” Prince once said, a utterance Numan’s advocates never tired of cited.


squeeze cool

938. Squeeze, Cool for Cats (1979)

Cool for Cats was Squeeze’s second album, but it felt like their proper debut for many of the band members. Their self-titled album, released in 1978, was only a moderate commercial success at home in the U.K. More problematically, the recording of it was largely a miserable experience, largely due to producer John Cale’s insistence on reworking material in ways that edged it away from the band’s sound. When it came time for the sophomore release, Squeeze found a studio collaborator who was more amenable to their predilections, which amounted to conjuring up practically perfect pop songs.

From the lyrics, Squeeze were also a bunch of randy fellas. Lead track “Slap and Tickle” is a spirited romp through the messiness of modern courtship, complete with the please “Never chew a pickle,” and “It’s Not Cricket” recounts barroom tales of debauchery with relaxed glee. And “Touching Me Touching You” is possibly the most buoyant paean to masturbation ever recorded. Squeeze presents all this with such good cheer, it’s easy to overlook the bawdy bits. At least radio programmers did enough to make many of the tracks hits. Three different singles made it into the U.K. Top 40, two of them just missing the top of the chart.

It likely also helped that Squeeze were rock ‘n’ roll classicists at heart. One of the bigger hits was “Up the Junction,” which is smartly observant and built on a lovely pop melody, like a “Penny Lane” grappling with modern problems without the relief of nostalgia. “Goodbye Girl” takes a timeless pop hook and applies new wave polish, and the band romps with pure Jerry Lee Lewis honky-tonk on “Hop, Skip & Jump.” Nearly every track on Cool for Cats feels like it could have been lifted from a previous era, yet simultaneously springs with the vividness of pure invention.


devo duty

937. Devo, Duty Now for the Future (1979)

Devo famously received help from art rock titans Brian Eno and David Bowie in recording their attention-getting debut, Q: Are We Not Me? A: We Are Devo! For the tricky act of following that up, they stayed without the same collaborative sphere, enlisted as producer Ken Scott, who had previously served the same role for Bowie on the amazing stretch of records that ran from Hunky Dory to Pin Ups. He helped the band craft Duty Now for the Future.

The resulting album stretched out Devo’s arch, confrontationally deconstructionist pop music without compromising its eccentricities. Any band fishing for mass approval isn’t going to record a track like “S.I.B. (Swelling Itching Brain),” which uses a pinging beat to ruthlessly escalate anxious body horrors (“Cold sweat on my collar/ Dripping to my boots/ The waves of nauseous pain/ Sets off the pressure pad alarms”). It might not be the Platonic ideal of Devo songs, but it’s close.

On Duty Now for the Future, Devo consistently exploring synthesized soundscapes without ever getting overly precious. Employing bleeps with greater prominence than crunching guitars doesn’t diminish the punk energy. The delightfully intense “Wiggly World” and the thrusting, fervid “Strange Pursuit” are straight out of a sweat-smeared club, albeit one with irritable robots as proprietors. The band also demonstrates an uncommon skill for controlled yet loopy explorations, as on the playful modernized surf rock of “Pink Pussycat” and the electronic percolator “Timing X.”

As usual, the album was merely part of the story, serving as a launching pad for all sorts of postmodern tomfoolery. On the subsequent tour, Devo became advocates for the spoof religion the Church of the SubGenius, going so far as to serve as their own opening act under the guise of Dove (The Band of Love). The plan stood as a sort of wicked opposition to any strategies that would develop popular appeal. But one album later, they stumbled on a huge hit anyway.


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

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #944 to #941

johansen night

944. David Johansen, Here Comes the Night (1981)

Being a legend is nice, but alone it doesn’t keep the debt collector satisfied. As the frontman of the New York Dolls, David Johansen could lay a claim to being among the many inventors of punk rock music. Five years after the band played its last gig (reunions would come, but such thoughts were folly in rock culture of the early-nineteen-eighties), Johansen had a reasonably prolific solo career. What he didn’t have was record sales.

Ahead of his third solo album, Here Comes the Night, Johansen axed the backing band he’d worked with since the dissolution of the New York Dolls. The attempt at creative reinvention included stepping away from collaborations with his old bandmate Sylvain Sylvain, who’d been at his side on practically every music endeavor since the first New York Dolls record. (Sylvain does receive a co-writing credit on one track, but is otherwise nowhere to be heard.) And Johansen enlisted Blondie Chaplin, most famous as a replacement member of the Beach Boys, to product the album.

As should probably be expected, the resulting album is a bundle of oddities, a stab at making commercially appealing music from a performer who has no earthly idea what that might sound like. On the record jacker, Johansen looks like the troublemaking cousin who shows up on an episode of The Monkees, and he leans into that vibe, churning out bopping pop-rock that’s been scored with rust-tinged razor blades. And the prevailing sentiment is of devilish nightlife jaunts free of care, though Johansen’s mild detachment from the lyrics he yelps suggests — perhaps inadvertently — that the beautifully battered New York City party scene is coming to an end. On the title cut, when Johansen sings, “If what we did last night was a sin/ I’m going out tonight to do it again,” it sound dutiful rather than rebellious, as if the hangover begins preemptively.

The album dumps a messy piñataful of tainted treats with every swing. “She Loves Strangers” finds some appeal with an airy chorus and Johansen’s vintage glam rock preening on the vocals. And the boisterous fun of “Bohemian Love Pad” is enhanced by the loopy lyrics (“We had a voodoo party last night/ And all the neighbors got so uptight”). The words lyrics similarly elevate the bland chug of “My Obsession,” especially when Johansen draws on geopolitical metaphors to express his romantic travails, singing, “Berlin Wall wrapped around my heart/ United Nations couldn’t tear it apart”). There are even little hints of the Buster lurking within, found in the mild calypso currents of “Marquesa de Sade” and “Rollin’ Job.”

Despite Johansen’s best efforts — which included a stint as the support act for Pen Benatar on tour — the album failed to chart. It was going to take yet more drastic reinventions to deliver Johansen a hit.


cat submarine

943. The Cat Heads, Submarine (1988)

The Cat Heads was a San Francisco band made with a roster cobbled together from other groups that made their living gigging around the bay. Members were drawn from Love Circus, Ophelia, X-Tal, and Donner Party, some of which had their own nibbles of success on college radio. Signed to Restless Records (which also put them in the Enigma Records galaxy of stars for their first album), the Cat Heads released music that was pitched perfectly at the tastes of student programmers at the time: tuneful, a little earthy, and rough around the edges.

Submarine, the band’s sophomore album, was co-produced by David Lowery, whose band Camper Van Beethoven was just experiencing its first significant crossover success (apart from the Dr. Demento crowd, that is), with the album Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart. The resulting music doesn’t sound much like anything Lowery was doing with his day job, but there’s a certain polish that’s shared by the material. It’s the assured tone of sharp musical craftspersons figuring out how to stay true to themselves while also fitting in with the emerging college radio scene.

In general, the Cat Heads — and Submarine, in particular — probably deserved to be bigger. The punchy, keening “Alice on the Radio” sure sounds like a college radio hit to me. And the soulful female vocals on “Apologize” suggest the result if Maria McKee fronted a more spirited, jittery version of Lone Justice. The band only made limited headway, though. After Submarine, half the roster quit, leading to one more release under the dispiriting, modified name the (ex) Cat Heads before the band called it quits for good.



942. Fuzzbox, We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It (1986)

Not every band name is cryptic. By all accounts, the quartet of women from Birmingham named their band when they acquired a distortion pedal and simply, understandably announced, “We’ve got a fuzzbox, and we’re gonna use it.” That name’s as good as any, right?

The declarative sentence stuck as the group’s name in their U.K. homeland, but it was shortened to simply Fuzzbox for the States. Attention spans may vary. For the U.S. release of the band’s debut album, Bostin’ Steve Austin, the band name became the album title, and a couple tracks from their earlier EP were tacked on. All this shifting around doesn’t impact the fundamentals of the music, which is brash, loud, playful, and, yes, fuzzy.

The lack of Y chromosomes among the band members inevitably invited comparisons to other all-female groups with chart success at about the same time, and there are indeed times when the audible illustration is too perfect. Due to its harmonies and lilting melody, “Jackie” sounds like Go-Go’s with smeared mascara and ripped tights (albeit with some horns imported over from Madness). Elsewhere, though, Fuzzbox is making their own liquored-up frosting. “Love is the Slug” is catchy and enticing, and “What’s the Point” has the discombobulating tingle of a novice ska band trying to survive a night in which they were mis-booked into the gnarliest punk club in town. I’m also partial to the rumbling semi of “You Got Me,” the furious guitar that opens “Alive,” and the cover of “Spirit in the Sky” so dismissive of any respectful fidelity to the original hit that is renders it nearly unrecognizable.


cure bed

941. The Cure, Let’s Go to Bed (EP) (1982)

For the past week, I’ve been trying to figure out what the CMJ chart compilers are referring to when they slot in Let’s Go to Bed (EP) sixty places into the chart. There’s really no such thing in the Cure’s discography, and this is not exactly a band that has avoided obsessive cataloging in their long, influential career. Best I can figure, this refers to the 12-inch vinyl release, which included a version of “Let’s Go to Bed” that stretched to nearly eight minutes on one side, and a shorter version of the song along with a sprawling mix of “Just One Kiss” on the other. Since this is really about the one song — albeit it a notably significant one in the pantheon of the band — let’s revive the style of summary we used when clicking through the CMJ top 250 tracks from the same era.

“Let’s Go to Bed” first stirred to life as a demo recorded for the Cure album Pornography. Entitled “Temptation,” it remained an instrumental until front man Robert Smith took another pass at it. “Temptation Two” is a grand, gloomy swirl, but the key to the song it would eventually become lay in the final moments, in which Smith sings a few nonsense syllables. Smith reworked the material one more time, crafting “Let’s Go to Bed” a spoofing provocation, mocking the empty pop songs that he disdained even as they climbed the charts. He was also taking a hard swing the band’s dreary image.

“My reaction to all those people who thought that the Cure could only be pessimistic and negative and predictable was to make a demented and calculated song like ‘Let’s Go to Bed,'” Smith later explained. “The purpose was to specifically destroy our image and then somehow start it all over again.”


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

College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #952 to #949

mccartney tug

952. Paul McCartney, Tug of War (1982)

Although it obviously caused far less fan trauma than the band dissolution that took place roughly a decade earlier, the breakup of Wings should probably be seen as one of the pivotal career developments for Paul McCartney. The band could reasonably be viewed as a little more than a guide for the former Beatle to advance a solo career, especially once the billing was modified to put his name first, but bringing an end to the musical collective was still a statement. Tug of War was therefore the opening salvo to the third phase of McCartney’s storied career.

In looking forward, McCartney also drew on his legendary past, recruiting famed Beatles producer George Martin to preside over the album. Beginning with the layers upon layers of orchestral sounds and studio polish on the album’s opening and title cut, McCartney reclaims the sweeping pop exaltation he co-created in the late nineteen-sixties. And the horns in “Wanderlust” are so luxuriously nostalgic that it’s as if Sgt. Pepper got the band back together.

Appropriately, though, it’s not a purely retrospective exercise. McCartney strives to remain current. Those results are more mixed. It’s entertaining — if not particularly enlightening — to hear McCartney try out futuristic funk on “What’s That You’re Doing?,” the less famous of the album’s two collaborations with Stevie Wonder. The other, the painfully sincere racial harmony ballad “Ebony and Ivory,” topped the Billboard chart for seven weeks. The limp disco of “Dress Me Up as a Robber” argues against McCartney’s desire to stretch himself.

Admirable as the ambition might be, McCartney is at his best when he just leans into his incomparable skill for crafting a great, straightforward pop single, as on “Take It Away.” In many respects, the song isn’t all that special or inventive, but it is melodic, catchy, and endearing in its lyrical depiction of the plain pleasure of playing music all night long. It’s just McCartney doing what he does best, and his best is well beyond most.





951. Squirrel Bait, Skag Heaven (1987)

There are many ways to develop the sort of tension that can spur great music. The members of Squirrel Bait evidently found themselves scrapping over a divide between jocks and nerds among their ranks. It’s a matter of opinion as to how explicitly the scrap is evident in their music, though they certainly display a Hüsker Dü-style mix of punk messiness and pop tunefulness on their second and final album, Skag Heaven.

The album is immediately great, kicking off with “Kid Dynamite,” using impressive volume and sterling songcraft to relay a tale of a rough evening marked by a knife fight. In general, that approach is present on track after track, with equally fine results. “Too Close to the Fire” is galloping hard rock, “Virgil’s Return” is crunchy like a gravel road, and “Slake Train Coming” has a jacked intensity. The whole band is strong, but Skag Heaven features impressive rock drumming by Ben Daughtrey, especially on “Choose Yr Poison” and the album closing cover of Phil Ochs’s “Tape from California.”

The schisms in the group may have elevated the quality of the songs, but they caused other problems. The divide identified by the band members continued to cause issues, especially as the rest of life beckoned. And when a couple members wanted to head off the college, the band was done.



steve howe album

950. Steve Howe, The Steve Howe Album (1979)

At a time when prog rock still reigned, albeit with a little less assurance than it had a few years later, certain fans couldn’t get enough. That may be contributed to the mid-nineteen-seventies decision to put the band Yes on hold in order to let individual members pursue solo projects. The more of the band’s jazzy, fulsome rock available, the better. Or so it likely seemed.

Some of the member were more prolific than others. Guitarist Steve Howe released his first solo album, Beginnings, in 1975. It took four years before the follow-up would hit stores. Given the plainspoken title The Steve Howe Album, the release is an odd mash-up of the prog rock for which he was famed and other genres of music that were percolating to prominence at the time. For example, the album includes the the bubbly pop-country goofing of “Cactus Boogie.” And then there’s “All’s a Chord,” an airier version of the decade’s typical big FM sound dramatics, as if Howe is auditioning for the prog rock version of Xanadu.

On the second half of the album, Howe really stretches out and seems to be more explicitly and genuinely demonstrating his capability to handle full on orchestral music, notably on the epic “Double Rondo,” which is orchestrated by Andrew Jackman, and then on the album closing take on Vivaldi’s “Concerto in D (Second Movement).” At the time, rock musician wasn’t viewed as a viable longterm career. Convincingly or not, Howe seems to be trying out a different avenue.

The album did well enough, but Howe definitely seemed more at ease as a member of a band. Yes would go through a little bit of confusion in the following few years. When they broke up and quickly reunited, Howe didn’t join them, opting instead to form a couple of supergroups who would romp across the eighties to solid commercial success and mounting critical derision.


neil hawks

949. Neil Young, Hawks & Doves (1980)

There’s a reason Neil Young has released so many albums across his career. He has a lot of material, including loads of it just waiting for a home. For Young’s 1980 release, Hawks & Doves, around half the album was comprised of tracks he’d first develop across the second half of the seventies, at least a couple intended for the 1975 album Homegrown. The rest were pulled together specifically for the new record, though the level of focus was likely impacted by family medical concerns around his newly born son, Ben, who like his older brother was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

The older songs are, perhaps understandable, like almost anything from the quiet, folk-tinged pages of his Young’s repertoire, like the low strum of “Little Wing” and the clomping rambler “The Old Homestead.”  The newer material, spread across the second side, skewed more to straight country, one of many instances of restlessly coopting music genres Young would engage in across the nineteen eighties. As with many of those later albums, Hawks & Doves had limited appeal. Unlike Young’s prior two albums, Hawks & Doves failed to chart in the Top 10.



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


College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #948 to #945

fishbone ep

948. Fishbone, Fishbone (1985)

“Party at Ground Zero” stands as one of the greatest opening declarations of artistic identity in all of college rock. It’s probably not wholly correct to assert that no one sounded like Fishbone before the Los Angeles band blasted onto the scene, but I truly can’t think of an ancestor who shares the particular twirl of ska, funk, hard rock, and punk in their DNA. George Clinton is a spiritual godfather, to be sure. Even his vintage cluster bombs of soulful melody and bombastic beats didn’t exactly forecast the spirited crew in Fishbone created.

As the centerpiece of Fishbone’s self-titled debut EP, “Party at Ground Zero” can’t be improved upon as a masterpiece of dazzling ferocity. Audaciously making apocalyptic imagery (“And the world will turn to flowing/ Pink vapor stew”) into fodder for headlong celebration, the band rifles through a treasure box of sounds until the track’s six-and-a-half minutes have expired, and all stops have clearly been pulled out.

In general, Fishbone is a smacking good opening salvo. Time and again, the band delivers songs as if the walls will collapse at any moment, and they might as well be blazing away with guitars and drums and horns when it happens. “V.T.T.L.O.T.F.D.G.F.,” an acronym for “Voyage to the Land of the Freeze-Dried Godzilla Farts,” is apparently about a government disinformation campaign that Hiroshima’s devastation wasn’t the result of atomic warfare, but instead the flatulence of a giant lizard monster. One YouTube comment insists the track “is perfect when you are playing a fighting game or Battletech or anything with mass destruction!,” and that sums it up better than any high-falutin’ attempt at serious rock critic analysis.

The more easygoing vocals in the middle of the bursting “Another Generation” might be a buzzkill in the midst of digital mayhem, but the touch does agreeably add another sonic texture to the proceedings. And it’s fun to hear Fishbone empty the junk drawer of broadcasting call letters in “? (Modern Industry).”  Forward-thinking as most of the material is on the record, the harshness of “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” today sounds more ugly than forthright, despite the presence of guest vocalist and co-writer Lisa Grant to counter the immediate impression of misogyny. That’s an aberration, though. Most of Fishbone is joyously reckless in its inspired invention.

Play it, Boy Wonder.



thompson across

947. Richard Thompson, Across a Crowded Room (1985)

For Richard Thompson, the nineteen-eighties was all about splits, both professional and personal. And, of course, in one significant instance, both.

Although never someone who exactly sold records by the truckload, Thompson delivered a critically revered run of album with his wife Linda from 1974 to 1982, the last of which, the brilliant and devastating Shoot Out the Lights, was essentially a raw-nerved excavation of their deteriorating marriage. The couple officially parted after a painful concert tour together, but it took some time before the divorce was finalized (both of them remarrying shortly after). Across a Crowded Room was Richard Thompson’s first album after the ink dried on the legal papers.

It was also Thompson’s first solo album in many years off of the small Hannibal Records label, headed by his longtime producer, Joe Boyd. Although Thompson had hopped to PolyGram, Boyd came along to turn knobs for Thompson, providing a certain continuity of sounds and sensibility. There may have been tumult in the vaunted guitarists and songwriter’s life, but the album smoothly provides some very expected music. With little deviation, Across a Crowded Room is what Thompson has always sounded like.

That sound is smart, warm, rich, and peppered with casually astonishing instrumentation. Very little on the album jumps forward and emphatically demands attention, but most of it is agreeable. The enjoyably frenetic “Fire in the Engine Room” and the bounding “Little Blue Number” are quintessential Thompson tracks. Without being a country song in the slightest, “I Ain’t Going to Drag My Feet No More” sounds like it should be delivered from the backseat of a jalopy winding its way though farmland.  In this instance, Thompson doesn’t fare as well when he slows down, as on the ballad “Love in a Faithless Country,” which aims for restrained intensity, but comes across as borderline inert, despite otherworldly guitar flourishes by Thompson.

Thompson kept shifting after this record, seeking collaborators other than Boyd and trying to gain a foothold in a music scene that was more respectful than overjoyed when he plugged in his amp. The music stayed rock solid and recognizably his. For a man who sometimes seemed to invite trouble, he was a remarkably dependable performer.


vaughan weather

946. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Couldn’t Stand the Weather (1984)

I’ve tried and tried to come up with a different opening for this mini-review, to no avail. So, I’ll stick with the approach I can’t shake: As an appropriation and updating of classic American blues, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather is miles beyond the lousy Eric Clapton album that appeared on our countdown two weeks ago.

Drawing the comparison might seem unfair. Although the albums have copyright dates only one year apart, Clapton was the worn-out veteran and Vaughan was the upstart in the mid-eighties, and the former was presumably hungrier and blessed with a younger performer’s added energy and invention. In truth, the two men were fairly close contemporaries — Clapton was less than ten years older than Vaughan — and the disparate outcomes were clearly less about experience than approach.

Vaughan’s second full-length with backing band Double Trouble, Couldn’t Stand the Weather is the work of a disciple who gives in to the music he adores rather than a skilled practitioner who feels he’s already mastered it. A cover of the Guitar Slim song “The Things (That) I Used to Do” is a prime example. Vaughan plays it expertly, but also with a evident gracious passion. He lets the song take him over, swarming him with its deep bends and undulating melody. As a guitarist, singer, and all-around performer, Vaughan was uncommonly skilled. However, the disciplined humility he brings to his work is the defining quality. He respectfully made himself secondary to the music.

Vaughan looked to predecessors to inform his work, which also builds some limitations into the album. A take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” is undoubtedly impressive, but it comes across as little more than an aspiring guitar hero’s rite of passage, a checked box instead of a compelling stand-alone track. Stretching over nine minutes, “Tin Pan Alley is a more impressive workout because of its restraint and intense instrumental details. And the Vaughan-penned instrumentals that open and close the album — “Scuttle Buttin,” with its impossibly fast and intricate guitar work, and the sweet, jazzy vamping of “Stang’s Swang” — are arguably the finest showcases for his generous affection for the music that moves him. He is true to the genres while also expressing his own fine voice.



salem frquency

945. Salem 66, Frequency and Urgency (1987)

Salem 66 formed in the Boston area in the early nineteen-eighties, earning attention on the basis of their songs, which mixed a garage rock roughness with the tuneful jangle that was basically the official sound of college rock in the decade. The band arguably got a little boost from the fact that — initially, anyway — the lineup was originally all women, which was still considered a rarity.

By the time of Frequency and Urgency, Salem 66’s second full-length release the band had endured a few lineup change, including the departure of two-third of the founding drummer Susan Merriam. The chief songwriters and alternating vocalists Judy Grunwald and Beth Kaplan were still around, and they were clearly studying the music that surrounded them on the left end of the dial. They weren’t creating material that was derivative, but it does seem specifically designed to nestle in amongst the growing titans of the scene. The chugging “Postcard” and the stately, contained “Blue”  are made for the middle of a sterling mid-afternoon set of indie label hits.


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