College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #824 to #821

minute ballot

824. Minutemen, Ballot Result (1987)

In December 1985, D. Boon, guitarist and vocalist with the punk band Minutemen, was feeling feverish while riding in the back of a van traveling down the Arizona highway. He was lying down, seatbelt off, when the rear axle of the vehicle gave way. The van careened off the road, and Boon was thrown from the rear of vehicle. His neck was broken, killing him instantly. Boon was twenty-seven years old.

Boon’s Minutemen bandmates, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley, went on to form Firehose. But they also worked to bring to fruition the project in process at the time of Boon’s death. Partially in response to a bootleg releases out in the marketplace, Minutemen decided to create an official live album, employing the gimmick of letting fans vote on which songs would be included. At shows through the summer and fall of 1985, the band passed out ballots to attendees. Boon’s untimely passing scuttled plans to mount shows that would allow for recordings of new live versions, but Watt and Hurley pulled together a double album based on material they already possessed. The chosen title remained in place: Ballot Result.

The album opens with the brilliantly headlong “Little Man with a Gun in His Hand,” caught on tape — as were all the cuts on the first side — at a live performance at Atlanta radio station WREK. The band’s power and authority are immediately evident, jolting the valedictory. The album is not there to bury Minutemen, nor particularly to praise them. It’s there to simply, plainly, convincingly be an enthralling record — in both main senses of the word.

In collecting live versions of the finest songs of Minutemen, the album is unerring. The hard punches of “This Ain’t No Picnic” and an absolutely ferocious version of “Bob Dylan Wrote Protest Songs” show how much of a magnificent ruckus the band could raise as a lean three-piece. On “History Lesson Part II,” perhaps their finest song and undoubtedly the one that retrospectively serves as their most emblematic musical statement, Boon’s vocals sound victorious and defiant, a beautiful combination. The oddities also charm, including a dandy cover of Roky Erickson’s “Bermuda” and a dizzying remix of “No One,” which approaches Red Hot Chili Peppers levels of funked-up hard rock excess.

Other compilations followed, but they all seem superfluous when held up against Ballot Result. Few bands are blessed with such a perfect closing statement on album.



rain dream

823. Rain Parade, Crashing Dream (1985)

Crashing Dream, the sophomore effort from Los Angeles band Rain Parade, arrived a mere two years after their debut, but in that relatively brief amount of time, a lot had changed. David Roback, guitarist, vocalist, and one of the main songwriters for the band, had left to form the group Opal, and drummer Eddie Kalwa was out the door not too long afterward. With the reconfigured lineup, the band signed on to a new label, Island Records. The time for reintroduction was at hand.

Whether because of Roback’s absence or a concerted effort to shift their sound, Rain Parade often comes across as a very different band on Crashing Dream. The previously deployed dollops of psychedelia are largely relegated to the fringes, like the guitar histrionics at the end of “Gone West.” Instead, Rain Parade settles into a mid-tempo college rock groove, making them almost indistinguishable from any number of bands storming the left end of the dial. “Depending on You” is standard issue scruffy yearning, and “Don’t Feel Bad” has the airy lilt of Echo and the Bunnymen and their ilk, but without the playful ingenuity.  The songwriting simply isn’t that strong. “Fertile Crescent” is a telling example: a ballad stuck between gears that is saddled with drippy lyrics (“I still got the memory/ And the stars to wait for me/ I hold them close in the evening/ Cuz I know just where they’ll be”).

It could be that the remaining and freshly enlisted members of Rain Parade weren’t feeling any real drive when they made the record. The collaboration was fading fast. The following year, the band broke up, with only the rare reunion gig in the distant future to bring them together again.



lene toy

822. Lene Lovich, New Toy (1981)

Following a pair of full-length albums and a significant amount of touring, Lene Lovich was in need of a new release to keep the wheels of her burgeoning career turning. Taking a pass at a song Thomas Dolby wrote specifically for her, after taking in one of her shows. (Dolby was also employed as a keyboardist in Lovich’s touring band.) Further inspired by a snazzy synthesizer he’d just acquired, Dolby called the song “New Toy.” Released as a single, the bundle of tightened new wave intensity also served as the title cut to an EP

Like most stopgap, truncated releases, New Toy is a little ramshackle, feeling a bit like its track listing was assembled by shuffling stacks of tapes in a darkened studio. For Lovich, that fits her aesthetic perfectly. The EP bursts and bubbles with energy, Lovich’s creative personality swelling to fill in all the crevices. The piercing howls and pinging rhythm on “Savages” gives the cut a sharp, delightful unpredictability, and the wonderfully expansive “Details” could slot in comfortably with the best of Siouxsie and the Banshees. And Lovich shows some range with the gentle, alluring drama “Never Never Land.”

In the trajectory of Lovich’s career, New Toy is a minor entry, a little memory jogger for music fans as she worked on other larger endeavors. That reality doesn’t prevent it from also being very, very good.



del days

821. Del-Lords, Frontier Days (1984)

Del-Lords were started as a side project for Scott Kempner, guitarist for punk rock pioneers the Dictators. On the evidence of the music on Frontier Days, the band’s debut, Kempner was seeking an outlet for a less raw and rabid take on classic rock ‘n’ roll, earnestly embracing the spirit and soul of old rockabilly and other foundational sub-genres, but giving it a fine new sheen. “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live,” the opening track on Frontier Days, sets the standard; sharply played, tinged with nostalgia, and almost entirely free of cheap retro goofing. Named after the director of many of the classic short comedies the Three Stooges, the band’s moniker is a good joke, but the japery stops there.

As if proving the genuineness of their stance as apostles of finely formed rock ‘n’ roll, “Livin’ on Love” has a distinct Springsteen vibe (“Once upon a time/ I had a girl/ And we swore we’d walk together/ Through this whole world”). It’s joined in honesty testimony by the jabbing “Shame on You” and the finely wrought ballad “Feel Like Going Home.” Even when a song comes at the lyrics from a more unique angle than love and loneliness, it feels like pure devotion. The spiffy “I Play the Drums” celebrates the exorcism of aggression that can only be achieved behind a well-curated kit.


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 — #828 to #825

gang entertainment

828. Gang of Four, Entertainment! (1979)

“We were trying to invent a new kind of music, a new kind of language,” Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill once told Rolling Stone. “We were using the building blocks of ‘rock music,’ ‘funk music,’ and ‘pop music,’ dismantling them to see what was there and using what we felt like using.”

Gill was referencing Entertainment!, the scintillating debut album from the English post-punk powerhouses. Recorded among contentious battles within the band, the album is friction made musical, passion with a ferocious beat. Cranking to life with “Ether,” the sound is set: burbling bass, slicing guitar lines, Jon King’s vocals pitched to a probing tension, and a production as clean and unadorned as fresh barbed wire. “Natural’s Not in It” stalks like a predator, and “Not Great Men” pulses with seething energy. And all that’s before “Damaged Goods,” a track of sonic invention and brazen lyrical candor (“Your kiss so sweet/ Your sweat so sour/ Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you/ But I know it’s only lust”) that draws the blueprint for much of the punk-influenced rock that would follow in the next decade.

The album includes the political agitation of “Guns Before Butter” and the mighty swipes at atrophying citizenry on “At Home He’s a Tourist” and “5:45.” There’s a blazing sense of purpose to the whole endeavor, like Gang of Four is bashing out an entire musical future across two sides of vinyl, perhaps skeptical that they’ll have another chance to make such a statement.



debbie koo

827. Debbie Harry, KooKoo (1981)

I have a vague recollection of a weekly television program that was attempted in the early nineteen-eighties, serving as a sort of Rolling Stone or Creem for broadcast syndication. It included a panel of rock critics weighing in on major new releases, and my one semi-sharp memory of watching was the forlorn reactions the assembled music scribes had when offering their respective reactions to KooKoo, the debut solo album from Debbie Harry. There was nothing gleeful about their ire for the record. To a person, they felt regretful that their honest reaction to the album was dislike.

When KooKoo was released, Harry’s band Blondie was taking a break, and the woman who commanded the spotlight as lead singer of the group was fervently committed to establishing her own persona. She didn’t completely shun her more high profile gig (her bandmate Chris Stein figures prominently in the songwriting credits and plays guitar on KooKoo), but there’s a clear, concerted effort to forge a different sound, most evident in the hiring of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, of Chic, to produce the album. Harry may have hoped for a more grinding sort of funk — and portions of the album suggest that very goal — but the actual result is dreadfully drab pop, illuminating some of the shortcomings in the creative approach of Harry and her collaborators that was usually obscured by the new wave verve of Blondie.

Lead track “Jump Jump” opens with the sort of very high-tech syntho-sequencey type thing that mike make someone exclaim, “That’s the news!” and proceeds to the greater misfortune of sounding like it was designed strictly for use in aerobics classes. The chintzy keyboard sounds resurface on “The Jam Was Moving” and “Oasis,” which sounds like it’s meant to be the soundtrack for a disco harem. “Surrender” at least showcases the snapping personality often found in Harry’s vocals. Otherwise, the cuts are more likely to rely on lyrical oddities, such as the weirdo pop crime story “Under Story.” And much as Harry wanted to break free off expectations, comparisons are inevitable. “Backfired” uses some similar structural tricks as “Rapture,” though with far less compelling lyrics (“You were polished slick, really thick/ Wasting time dropping lines like ‘I could get you into movies’/ But we would up at HoJo’s for hamburgers to go!”).

Those rock critics weren’t the only ones unimpressed with KooKoo. The album was a middling success, at best, more notable for the unsettling H.R. Giger cover art than any of the music behind the sleeve. Harry was back with Blondie before too long, but the magic was draining away there, too. The band’s album The Hunter, released the following year, was widely considered a bomb. It would be the band’s final album until reunion dollars beckoned many years in the future.



tull storm

826. Jethro Tull, Stormwatch (1979)

The story begins on the front cover, delivered in small print beneath the image of a bearded fellow staring through binoculars, lightning reflected in the lens. It reads: “Lines join in faint discord and the Stormwatch brews a concert of kings as the white sea snaps at the heels of a soft prayer whispered.” I haven’t the foggiest clue what that means, nor the inclination to seek out clarifying commentary from band members. Stormwatch falls right in line with other Jethro Tull records of the era, lacing together prog rock expansiveness with folky preciousness. The song “Orion” is typical, lead singer Ian Anderson intoning, “Orion, won’t you give me your star sign/ Orion, get up on the sky-line.” It is a chore.

“Dark Ages” is fussy and antic, like a number in a Rocky Horror Picture Show knockoff set in the next kingdom over from Hobbiton. “Flying Dutchman” sounds like an Elton John song tricked out with prog rock trappings, including, of course, some heavy duty flute playing, and the instrumental “Warm Sporran” is the band’s pass at disco-tinged fusion jazz. It’s not all bad. Even I need to admit there’s a fine fettle to Ian Anderson’s vocals on the cavorting “Old Ghosts.” Mostly, though, its another example of that long, lingering hangover of nineteen-seventies FM longueur that college radio experienced before they found their own set of artists to seek speakers rattling.



sonic nation

825. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation (1988)

Daydream Nation showed up at my college radio station in the autumn of 1988, during my very first semester, and no one knew what to do with it. Our broadcast outpost was more conservative than many of our national peers, reflecting the fact that we served a portion of Central Wisconsin that wasn’t really looking for music of anxious disruption. The Sonic Youth album proved highly contentious, with various members of the station’s leadership team taking adamant stances in direct opposition when weighing the question of whether we should be playing it at all. In the end, Daydream Nation stayed locked in the cabinet, deemed too abrasive for the tender ears of our listeners.

I offer the above story to provide some insight as to how challenging Daydream Nation, a major artistic and commercial breakthrough for Sonic Youth, sounded at the time of its release, at least to some. Listening to it now, it of course seems safe as can be. “Teen Age Riot,” the album’s lead single, has punching drums and buzzy guitar lines, but it’s also tuneful and eager to engage. It’s not just the way grunge bands freely appropriated from Sonic Youth to craft major hits just a few years later that gives the track a retroactive coziness. It’s craft is impeccable, strong as steel and yet smoothed of splintering edges. How could we ever have been scared?

“The Sprawl” is like a tour through the Sonic Youth showroom, with sounds both bombastic and ethereal, Kim Gordon’s vocals offering warm disaffection. “Hey Joni” is like Minutemen on pep pills, and the album-closing trilogy suite bends the band’s music into a especially gnarled pretzel. Every cut is a proper statement on its own, a contribution to a strong whole, and an announcement of the relentless invention to come.

As for my station, we were fully onboard by the time of Sonic Youth’s proper follow-up, Goo, released in 1990. We were rattled, but clearly intrigued. We just needed a little time to acclimate, it seems.


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 — #832 to #829

cooder borderline

832. Ry Cooder, Borderline (1980)

As the nineteen-seventies were giving way to the eighties, Ry Cooder was the musician’s musician. His solidly prolific solo career was bolstered by appearances on other performer’s records, many of which were likely far more widely heard than anything on which he put his own name. Cooder was called in by the likes of Van Morrison and Randy Newman, giving him that much more cachet in the industry. For his 1980 album, Borderline, used his solid place in the industry to help his friend John Hiatt find some stability as he struggled with a drinking problem. Cooder gave Hiatt a place in his backing band and recorded two of his songs, including a pleasant instrumental amble that became the title cut.

Cooder was a frequent collaborator with Hiatt over the year (notably anchoring the band on Hiatt’s 1987 gem, Bring the Family) and there’s a clear affinity in place that lends to the relaxed, affable feel of Borderline. In the best possible way, the album sounds like the product of a bunch of pals playing together in the studio until they land on something that feels and sounds just right. The breeziness even manifests in an occasional hint of reggae stylings — as on the intro to the otherwise classic R&B styled number “Speedo” — as if the cool, psychoactive vibes can’t help but waft in.

As respected as Cooder’s musicianship was, he was arguably yet more well-regarded for his deep knowledge of pop and rock history. Borderline sometimes has the feel of a sponge squeezing out some of what it’s retained. “Why Don’t You Try Me” has the steady ease of vintage offerings from the Band, and “The Way We Make a Broken Heart,” penned by Hiatt, finds Cooder borrowing the ingratiating sway of the Drifters. The easygoing approach occasionally grows too slack — “Crazy ‘Bout an Automobile” is the clearest example — but Borderline is mostly a procession of tuneful charmers.



bruce world

831. Bruce Cockburn, World of Wonders (1986)

Bruce Cockburn went out into the world and reported back on what he saw. The Canadian singer-songwriter released his self-titled debut album in 1970, and many of the records that followed adhered to the earnest folkie model of the day. By the following decade, Cockburn expanded his horizons, quite literally. At a time of incredible strife in Central and South America, Cockburn took regular visits to refugee camps and other locales that were bringing desperately needed humanitarian relief to the people who were suffering. In particular, he got a firsthand look at evidence of the U.S. intervention in the region making matters worse. His lyrics began to be reshaped accordingly.

World of Wonders opens with the angry protest rock song “Call It Democracy,” on which Cockburn spells out the moral corruption at the core of governments supposedly by and for the people: “See the paid off local bottom feeders/ Passing themselves off as leaders/ Kiss the ladies, shake hands with the fellows/ And it’s open for business like a cheap bordello.” It’s the poetry of discontentment, delivered with appropriate vitriol. it’s part rallying cry, part citizen journalism, and part seismic manifesto, placed against lean music to better accentuate the fierce words.

Cockburn sticks to roughly the same model across the album, occasionally sprinkling in some different studio effects that help carbon date the album to the mid-eighties. There are tinkling pop sounds on the title cut and sonic baubles on the bleating “People See Through You.”  Mostly, these are ornaments on Cockburn’s plainspoken political treatises. It can sometimes be a little flat, too much dispatch and not quite enough songwriting polish. More often, though, World of Wonders is marked by earnestness and urgency.



pink cut

830. Pink Floyd, The Final Cut (1983)

Officially, Pink Floyd released three studio albums after The Final Cut, but I suspect many consider this the proper ending for the influential band. It was the last outing with lead singer and chief songwriter Roger Waters, before growing disputes with guitarist David Gilmour led to his permanent departure. There are also some who consider this the first solo album by Waters, simply in disguise as a Pink Floyd record. Unlike other prior releases, Waters was the sole credited songwriter on every track, and keyboardist Richard Wright doesn’t participate at all. One final interpretation of The Final Cut posits it as not a proper new studio release, but instead as a collection of stray leftovers from the epic The Wall, released in 1979. The genesis of The Final Cut was as a soundtrack album for the film version of The Wall, directed by Alan Parker.

Several of the songs were first drafted for The Wall, but ultimately not used for that double album.  (“If these songs weren’t good enough for The Wall, why are they good enough now?” Gilmour recounted asking of Waters, which surely didn’t go over all that well.) And when Waters began tinkering with them again, they were further informed by his agitation at the geopolitical marauding of Western governments and corresponding erosion of support for homeland citizenry with the greatest need. The Final Cut became a broadside concept album against war, weighing both the boondoggles of the moment and the lingering effects of midcentury skirmishes. For a band that specialized in whirligig sonic explorations that were lyrically somewhat timeless, it’s a little strange to hear repeated lyrical references to the dominant political figures at the time. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Reagan and Haig/ Mr. Begin and friend, Mrs. Thatcher, and Paisley,” Waters jarringly sings on “The Fletcher Memorial Home.”

It’s not simply the topical details that bring disconcerting clumsiness to The Final Cut . In general, the album is leaden and surprisingly drab. Signature Gilmour guitar solos are sprinkled in here and there, but otherwise the album doesn’t particularly come across as the product of Pink Floyd, with dense layers cascading out to overwhelm the senses. It’s shockingly plain, more resembling the weirder turns of Billy Joel or the less adventurous moments of Peter Gabriel. Waters delivers the lyrics with a keening directness that fully exposes the shortcomings of his language. “The Hero’s Return” is ponderous and almost didactic in its surface-level details of post-war homecomings (“When we came back from the war the banners and/ Flags hung on everyone’s door”), and the title track is similarly hackneyed about more down to earth concerns (“And if I show you my dark side/ Will you still hold me tonight?”).

Pink Floyd splintered after The Final Cut. Individual members cut solo albums and Waters publicly asserted the band was over. Legal battles ensued, and Gilmour carried on the band in the face of his former cohort’s protests, releasing A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987.



rain rail

829. The Rain Parade, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (1983)

“We’re psychedelic in a sort of psychoanalytic sense,” the Rain Parade guitarist and vocalist Matt Piucci explained around the time his band’s debut album was released. “I think what psychedelic drugs did to people is that it made them reflect on some very internalized parts of their lives.”

One of central groups in the streaking comet of the Paisley Underground music scene in early-eighties Los Angeles, the Rain Parade’s full-length, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, is a quintessential piece of retro psychedelic pop, steeped in affection and softly glimmering with approachable musical candor. Accomplished and lovely, there’s little reinvention to the material. Instead, the Rain Parade takes the position of respecting bygone pop traditions, figuring there was a reason they all liked this kind of music in the first place.

And the album is littered with tones and takes that evoke their most vaunted forebears. “I Look Around” has the brusque, bendy guitars and lolling melodies of Revolver-era Beatles, and “What She’s Done to Your Mind” calls to mind the Kinks when Ray Davies decided to dial down the intensity in favor of more wistful melodies. The band regularly transcends pastiche, though, mostly through the moments that suggest they’d picked up the best elements of other styles through osmosis. “1 Hour 1/2 Ago” nestles into its kaleidoscopic intricacies, fortified with a little power pop meatiness, and the band must have been at least a little attuned to the college radio favorites of the day, since “Talking in My Sleep” sounds like early R.E.M. with more of a flower power swirl and discernible singing.

The Rain Parade’s sound is so distinctive that the album sometimes threatens to turn in one long love-in blur, but then an odd little bit will break through the haze, like the haunted music box opening on “Look at Merri” or the moments of romping energy on “Saturday’s Asylum.” They never lose track of their own aesthetic, but the band proves they can occasionally supplement it with some crisp new idea.

Given its somewhat niche appeal, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip did fairly well, but the band stood on shaky ground. Not long after the album’s release, David Roback, guitarist and vocalist, left the band, moving on to other L.A. outfits. Eventually, he teamed with a singer named Hope Sandoval, and they did all right together. The Rain Parade released one more studio album, in 1985, before breaking up.


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 — #836 to #833

john fool

836. John Cougar, American Fool (1982)

John Cougar was frustrated with the music business grind when he toiled over his fifth album, American Fool. In truth, the singer-songwriter who was born with — and would soon readopt — the last name Mellencamp spent almost his whole career feeling cantankerous about his interactions with the business people who ran his corner of the entertainment industry, but the dissatisfaction was especially profound in the early nineteen-eighties. Mellencamp’s label, Riva Records, was giving him plenty of money and ample studio time to make his albums, but they were expecting back a very different sound than what the heartland troubadour was interested in providing. According to both Mellencamp and producer Don Gehman (a regular collaborator of Mellencamp’s who worked with his for the first time on American Fool), the label was actively hoping that the finished product would sound something like the earthy soft rock of Neil Diamond.

It’s almost inconceivable that Mellencamp might pop out songs similar to Diamond’s material of the same era. But the two artists do have some characteristics in common: directness, clarity, and a knack for devilishly insinuating hooks. Those descriptors get at the heart of the appeal of “Jack & Diane,” the single from American Fool that changed the trajectory of Mellencamp’s career. Just a little ditty about “two American kids/ Doing the best they can,” the single topped the Billboard chart for four weeks, easily the biggest hit of Mellencamp’s career, and quickly established itself as the sort of rock ‘n’ roll standard that was going to live forever on radio and in the public consciousness. It defined Mellencamp as an earnest chronicler of lowkey Midwestern lives, right down the most minute details.

Mellencamp would eventually push further into that sort of territory (most notably on the terrific 1985 album Scarecrow), but much of the rest of American Fool is surprisingly generic, just modest little rock songs expressing familiar rock song sentiments. “Hurts So Good” and “Hand to Hold on To,” the album’s two other Top 40 singles, are right out of Bob Seger’s well-worn playbook of nondescript rousers. Even the scruffy ne’er-do-well’s defense delivered in “Close Enough” ultimately concludes that all his accumulated failings are acceptable because he’s “Close enough for rock and roll.” Mellencamp evolved into someone uncommonly open and clear-eyed about the needs and pains of the world around him (and then admirably outspoken in conveying what he saw), but he was still creatively locked into fairly basic platitudes on American Fool.

There are indications of the poor outcomes that might have resulted if Mellencamp’s success didn’t allow his to embrace authenticity (his real last name was affixed behind Cougar on the front of his next studio album). “Can You Take It” takes the ill-advised approach of pushing Mellencamp’s vocals well beyond his comfortale range to some sort of Joe Cocker rasp, which only renders the words nearly indecipherable. And “China Girl,” a rare instance of Mellencamp performing someone else’s song on one of his records, illustrates the value of his personal touch. American Fool isn’t a great record, but it’s invaluable in one way: It gave Mellencamp the confidence and authority to start shoving Johnny Cougar to the side.



poodles pink

835. Fabulous Poodles, Think Pink (1979)

Think Pink is technically the second album for the U.K. group Fabulous Poodles, but it was their sophomore effort in the perception of U.S. audiences. Perhaps more impressively, it was their second album in the span of roughly a single calendar year. Thegroup’s first two releases, a self-titled effort and Unsuitable, were combined to form Mirror Stars, releases at the tail end of 1978. Around a year later, Think Pink hit with another batch of sardonic, willfully subversive power pop. It was bratty and assertive. It was also confused and, ultimately, not very good.

The wavering tone is set by the album opener, a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Man with Money” pumped up with Costello-style brash dramatics. The band is rambunctious in taking a swing at a nineteen-sixties drab of squeaky clean pop, layering on punk attitude without finding a way to be truly cutting. “Any Port in a Storm” also evokes bygone styles, albeit more through an appropriation of the adoring homages of Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds. Without finding a distinct, memorable personality, the band engages in jokiness that only seems a fearful rejection of ambition, like the Replacements without the hangdog poetry. It’s admittedly kinda fun when “Pink City Twist” segues into “Vampire Rock”, but the unpleasant comedy of “Anna Rexia” is more characteristic.

Think Pink proved to be the band’s last album. Unlike many of their brethren, there are no records of any reunions, fleeting or otherwise.




834. Feargal Sharkey, Feargal Sharkey (1985)

Although he was the voice of the band and the individual who had the best chance to quickly capitalize on launching a solo career, it took Feargal Sharkey a while to get his own material rolling after the dissolution of the Undertones. The band formally broke up in 1983, and Sharkey’s self-titled solo debut arrived two years later. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but in the quick-hit eighties, when bands catering to more esoteric tastes routinely put out at least one full-length per year, it seemed like a lifetime.

Appropriately, then, Feargal Sharkey was a reinvention. Whether it was for the better is a matter of taste. The Undertones trafficked in a punk-infused power pop, but Sharkey’s solo bow cleaves hard to the completely generic pop that blanketed the charts — especially the U.K. charts — at the time it was released. Homeland hit “A Good Heart” is lacquered to an indistinct smear, and the dopey “Ghost Train” is a mere whimper. Maybe the unkindest observation I can make is that “It’s All Over Now” takes the Bobby Womack penned classic and renders it with a heavily produced gentleness, like a post-modern Rod Stewart.

At least the album is kind of all over the place in its musical affronts. “Love and Hate” carries some of the jazz-inflected noodling of Sting’s early solo career, and “Someone to Somebody” is a ballad that practically defines the word treacly (“I wanna be someone to somebody/ And that someone is you”). There’s at least some heft to it when Sharkey leans into the excess, as on “You Little Thief,” which gets bigger and bigger and then bigger yet.

Sharkey didn’t last long as a solo performer. He releases three albums under his own name, then moved over to the business side of the music industry.



motors steps

833. Motors, Tenement Steps (1980)

It was already looking bleak for the Motors when Tenement Steps was released. The band’s lineup had been cut in half with the departures of drummer Ricky Slaughter and, more notably, vocalist and guitarist Bram Tchaikovsky. Remaining members Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster held out hope they could keep the group going, building on the little bit of notoriety they enjoyed from their 1978 album, Approved by the Motors, including the Top 5 U.K. single “Airport.”

The Motors were taking a strange creative pathway for the time, crafting mildly orchestral pop songs that aspired to a level of polish the band wasn’t likely to achieve. That led to unsettled hybrids, such as “That’s What John Said,” which sounded like Queen filtered through the Grease soundtrack, or the marauding calliope music of “Metropolis.” Given the era, they almost couldn’t help but pick up a little bit of punk posturing. On “Nightmare Zero,” the refrain “We’re laughing the face of love” is delivered with just enough verve that it could come from Public Image Limited. More often, though, the tracks have that withered quality of Broadway rock operas. The title cut particularly sounds like an outcast from a some properly forgotten Andrew Lloyd Webber frippery.

Predictably, Tenement Steps wasn’t a commercial or critical success. The Motors didn’t make another album, and the band was officially ended in 1982.

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 — #840 to #837

fixx walkabout

840. The Fixx, Walkabout (1986)

Formed in London in 1979, the Fixx were a regular presence on album rock radio throughout the decade that followed. Despite indications that they might be able to cross over to the Top 40 charts — the single “One Thing Leads to Another” made it all the way up to #4 — by the the Fixx’s fourth album, Walkabout, label heads and the band’s management were openly fretting about a growing indifference among key programmers. The prior release, Phantoms, was considered a disappointment, so there was a hearty push to get the brand greater exposure, including a gig as opening act for the Moody Blues, then touring on the strength of a surprise late-career hit.

As had been the case on their prior three albums, the Fixx worked with producer Rupert Hine. There is a continuity of sound and style, but also a clear sense that everything was caressed into a more agreeable shape, all the better to connect with a broader audience. Although the Fixx were never exactly hard rockers, lead single “Secret Separation” is noticeably gentler than their earlier hits, any and all abrasion dutifully sanded away. The tactic didn’t exactly work. The song made it into the Billboard Top 40 (and became their second song to top the album rock chart), but peaked at a lower point that the first single from Phantoms.

The rest of the album is right in line with that uninspiring single. “Treasure It” is a piece of wimpy pop with inane lyrics (“We’ll have our turn to use what we’ve learnt/ And stand into the light of our lives/ So please yourself, feed yourself/ Take a seat for this coming attraction”), and “Read Between the lines” clumsily goes for quiet drama, winding up sounding like a watered down Marillion song. The welcome sonic weirdness injected into “Sense the Adventure” is the closest the Fixx comes to an adventurous creative spirit. Everything else is sadly rote.



vamp pop

839. Transvision Vamp, Pop Art (1988)

With their brash, melting-candy guitar pop and image-first aesthetic, Transvision Vamp struck more than a few observers as a band almost genetically engineered to prosper when MTV was arguably still at the long plateau height of its powers. The deep history of the group back that assumption up, at least somewhat. Lead singer Wendy James and guitarist and chief songwriter Nick Sayer first collaborated on a film treatment inspired by the weird Canadian rock fantasy animated film Rock & Rule. When they shopped it to movie studios, they were redirected to record labels. Not long afterward, the band was in place, and their debut album, Pop Art, was released.

On the off chance that the tight dresses James was wriggled into didn’t provide enough of a signal as to how much Transvision Vamp was willing to use sex to sell records, the track “I Want You Love” really drives it home before the end of the first stanza as the singer essentially rhymes “love” with an orgasmic groan. Subtlety clearly wasn’t an attribute that much interested the band.

Then again, subtlety wasn’t really a prized quality for most of rock ‘n’ roll, and Transvision Vamp impressively romped through the glittery muck built into to form. Single “Tell That Girl to Shut Up” is the album’s truest winner, charging forward with braggadocio, chunky instrumentation, and a vocal performance by James that convincingly combined come-hither sweetness and fierce attitude. Originally recorded by Holly and the Italians, the standout was also borrowed from someone else, which hints at some broader trouble. On Pop Art, anyway, Sayer isn’t much of a songwriter.

Some of the tracks rely on needy references to creations and people with cool kid credibility (“Andy Warhol’s Dead,” and “Hanging Out with Halo Jones,” about the 2000 AD comic book character). The rummage pile of pop culture detritus is arguably at its nadir on album opener “Trash City,” which includes lyrics such as “From LSD to MTV/ From backpack to Pac-Man.” More problematically, the song includes stabs at futuristic effects that make it sound like the specific song Flight of the Conchords were mocking on “Robots.” The lyrics keep tripping up the band, no matter how much vivid glam rock oomph they put into the music. “Revolution Baby” impressively evokes T. Rex, but there’s no disguising the problems with “Your mama’s rich and your daddy’s good looking/ I got the hunger so tell me what’s cooking.”

As if sensing the short window they had, Transvision Vamp released their sophomore album, Velveteen, less than a year after their debut. There was one more album (Little Magnets Versus the Bubble of Babble, in 1991) before the group called it quits.



ac rock

838. AC/DC, For Those About to Rock We Salute You (1981)

There were plenty of bands across the nineteen-seventies and nineteen-eighties that delivered defining hard rock epics, but Australian powerhouses AC/DC were arguably unique in their ability to craft tracks that played like anthems for budding metalheads everywhere. “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)” is such a perfect blast of fist-pumping, cymbal-crashing, soaring guitar solidarity, it’s as if it was handed down from the power chord gods. In a way, I guess it was.

There’s no overstates the popularity of AC/DC at the time the album For Those About to Rock We Salute You was released. The group’s prior effort, Back in Black, was absolutely enormous. (By now, it has sold more than fifty million copies worldwide.) in fact, Back in Black was such a hit that their U.S. label, Atlantic Records, capitalized by releasing the 1977 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap after previously rejecting it as too poorly produced for the stateside market. It, too, was a big seller, so AC/DC suddenly had the highest of expectations weighing on their next studio effort.

For Those About to Rock We Salute You kept the band’s streak of mighty achievements alive, becoming their first to top the Billboard album chart, a feat it would take them over twenty-five years to repeat.



talk colour

837. Talk Talk, The Colour of Spring (1986)

Talk Talk sounded like a completely different band on The Colour of Spring, their third album. The English group enjoyed effusive critical praise for their austere synth pop of crystalline perfection, but that hadn’t quite translated to significant commercial success. Whether through natural evolution or an attempt to reach a wider audience, Talk Talk pushed to a more robust sound on The Colour of Spring, filling in the margins with bright, bristling musical adornments.

Despite the changes, the material remains fairly light and pretty. Album opener “Happiness is Easy” is decidedly precious, even before the children’s choir joins in. But the The Colour of Spring is delivered with a such a vibrant abundance that, positioned properly, it could dominate and then redefine pop radio. There’s a funky churn to “Life’s What You Make It,” and “Living in Another World” is sharp and lively. On “April 5th,” lead singer Mark Hollis Hollis finishes the song with quiet yelps and murmurs, like a version of the Waterboys succumbing to heavy sedation. Then the album-closing mini-epic “Time It’s Time” spreads a fleet of ideas across its running time, giving an assured sense that Talk Talk possessed the capability to master just about any pop music technique.

The Colour of Spring gave Talk Talk the success that was previously elusive. It charted in the Top 10 in the U.K. This wasn’t smash territory, but it gave the band the clout — as well as the added time and budget — to do whatever they wanted with their next outing, leading to nearly a yearlong process in the recording studio on the way to Spirit of Eden, which retreated almost entirely from the commercial accessibility they’d finally achieved.


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 — #844 to #841

belew rhino

844. Adrian Belew, Lone Rhino (1982)

When Adrian Belew released his solo debut, Lone Rhino, he already had a resume heavy with time served alongside iconoclastic geniuses. In the prior decade, he’d been a showcase guitarist alongside Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and Talking Heads. One year earlier, he joined the lineup of a revived King Crimson. It was his work with Talking Heads offshoot Tom Tom Club that brought Belew into the orbit of Island Records head Chris Blackwell. A record contract was offered, and Lone Rhino followed in short order.

In accordance with his famed collaborators, Belew delivered music that was deliriously odd. With his guitar, Belew was like a magician on acid, wringing out sounds that made it seem as if the neck and strings of the instrument became molten at his touch. His kinship with other musicians was clear, and he often seemed close to alignment with the prevalent experimentation of the era. And yet there was a unique discomfort to Belew’s soundscapes.

“Big Electric Cat” is vividly off-kilter, stapling together an electrified beat and probing instrumentation, recalling Peter Gabriel’s pushes into the sonically surreal, but with a much weirder vibe. “Hot Sun” is a mere nibble, but so infused with electronic simmering that it fascinates. With music pitched somewhere between Rockpile retro pop and loopy white funk, “Swingline” recounts peeping on the backyard existences of Midwesterners during a long train ride (“Look at that kid over there with no underwear/ And a silly dog who doesn’t care”). Belew’s probing sometimes threatens to devolve into drab electronic noodling, as on “The Man in the Moon,” but he’s more often truly compelling as he cracks open his songs and cavorts in the resulting shower of shiny notes. It’s almost more of a surprise when a comparatively straightforward song — such as “Animal Grace” — pops up on the playlist.

Following Lone Rhino, Belew continued to be ridiculously productive, releasing a new solo album every year or two which serving as a highly skilled hired hand. Before the nineteen-eighties were over, he founded and fronted the Bears, appeared on two more King Crimson efforts, and played on albums by Laurie Anderson, Joe Cocker, Jean Michel Jarre, Cyndi Lauper, and Paul Simon.



crenshaw mary

843. Marshall Crenshaw, Mary Jean & 9 Others (1987)

Mary Jean & 9 Others was the fourth full-length album from Marshall Crenshaw, and it provided some evidence that the crisp style of his songwriting was increasingly out of step with the studio polish so prominent in nineteen-eighties music. The same year, Crenshaw played Buddy Holly in La Bamba (in what knowledgable music fans widely considered inspired casting), which only accentuated the idea that he was best suited to another time, when easy tunefulness was more valuable than an expansive pliability that allowed for the adding stuffing of all manner of synthesized elements.

Sometimes, the melding of styles works fairly well. “This is Easy” has one of Crnenshaw’s terrific hooks grounded in vintage rock stylings, and the pristine studio work helps it shine like cherry candy. And “Wild Abandon” is straightforward but engaging, an example of a song’s charms being accentuated by the fulsome attention of producer Don Dixon. On other tracks — “Mary Jean” is a prime example — the same thick strokes approach obscures Crenshaw’s creative personality almost entirely. The slower songs arguably fare worst. The ripe yearning of “Calling Out for Love (at Crying Time)” nearly redeems it, but “They Never Will Know” is drippier than a cake left out in the rain. Then there’s the Peter Case composition “Steel Strings,” which peppers in some many sonic notions — a Bo Diddley hear, some Caribbean tones there — that it turns into a exhausting muddle.

It’s possible Crenshaw was starting to get a little bored with the grind of delivering a new set of songs every couple years. His next album (Good Evening, released in 1989) was largely comprised of songs written by or cowritten with others, and he started to tackle projects that allowed him to rummage through the archives of vintage music. Within a few years, Crenshaw assembled the honky tonk compilation Hillbilly Music…Thank God! and penned the book Hollywood Rock,a survey of pop stars in the movies.



pet please

842. Pet Shop Boys, Please (1986)

According to legend, the title of the debut album from Pet Shop Boys was chosen in a deliberately effort to inject a bit more politeness in the world. The theory was that interested music buyers would head to their local shop and say to the proprietor some variant on “I’d like the new Pet Shop Boys album, Please.” It’s unlikely that the gambit affected a major shift in cultural mores, but the album itself can make a fair claim at revolution.

Now that “West End Girls,” the album’s lead single, has entered the canon of era-defining hits, it’s more difficult to convey exactly how different the song sounded at the time. That its place atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart was bracketed by Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” provides some idea. Pop hits at the time (as is the case now) were often pushy and obvious, putting any nuance in music and lyrics aside to better capture the fleeting attention of listeners who were expertly conditioned to gleefully embrace material that was superficially new but safely familiar. “West End Girls” was almost painfully restrained, couching its lyrical observations about the constant pressures endured by the lower class in arch synth-pop seemingly indifferent to whether or not it lured anyone to the dance floor.

The smash hit single was properly representative of the whole album. Please is consistently distant and alluring, wise and impulsive, insistent and relaxed. “Love Comes Quickly” is as seductively icy as some sly come on from Sade, and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” surges, churns, sparks and practically glistens. The latter track pushes back against the duo’s reputation for chilliness. There is an abundance of feeling animating the cut, expressed through the richness of its construction. That’s also found in “I Want a Lover,” a synth epic of grand drama and billowing layers, like Pet Shop Boys are claiming the Scott Walker legacy as their own. The complexities crafted with evident ease by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe (abetted mightily, no doubt, by producer Stephen Hague) are also well expressed by “Why Don’t We Live Together,” which is sweet (“We’ll find a home together/ And sleep there every night”) and tangy (“I may not always love you/ You may not care”) at the same time.

Impressive as it is, there are minor flaws to be found on Please. Musically, “Suburbia” sounds a little too much like it was built around a salvaged theme for a nighttime soap. And “Violence” is arguably the gentlest sounding song that could conceivably be given that title, which could have created an intriguing contrast, but instead comes across as a drab mismatch. These are the least offensive of exceptions, though. Mostly, Please has the sharp ring of a band redefining their chosen genre with unabashed confidence.



pete xl

841. Pete Shelley, XL1 (1983)

In 1983, Pete Shelley was already a legend in certain circles. He had devotees from his time as frontman of the Buzzcocks, of course, and he also picked up a cadre of supporters from his more synth-oriented proper solo bow “Homosapien” (which preceded the album of the same name), in no small part because an oblique lyrical reference to gay sex combined with Shelley’s uncommon openness about his bisexuality to cause the BBC to band the song. Nothing creates the cachet of important rebelliousness like an official rejection by the cultural powers that be.

And yet, Shelley’s second solo album, XL1, was probably less notable for any of the music in its grooves than an extra item packaged within the shrink wrap. The album was bundled with a computer program, compatible with the home computer ZX Spectrum, that provided visual accompaniments to all of the songs. The computer animation was rudimentary, but simply thinking to include such a component was strikingly forward-thinking.

Removed from its gimmick, XL1 isn’t particularly successful. Moving away from the brash punk authority of his previous band, Shelley favors a style of synth pop that is painfully dated, overly enamored of studio craft over sturdy song stylings. To note that “If You Ask Me (I Won’t Say No)” hews perilously close to the Wet Wet Wet model or that “I Just Wanna Touch” sounds like a slightly edgier Howard Jones is as cruel as it is accurate. There are signs of where Shelley could have taken the material in more satisfying directions. “You Know Better Than I Know” is sprightly enough to intrigue, and “Millions of People (No One Like You)” is one or two good choices away from turning into a brilliantly trashy glam rock song.

Unsurprisingly, XL1 was met with indifference. Shelley’s label, Arista Records, dropped him, and there would be only one more solo album before he reassembled the Buzzcocks, which has remained his primary artistic avenue ever since.


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 — #848 to #845

fall saving

848. The Fall, This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)

Although the classic college rock era covered by this particular Countdown partially tracks the journey from outsider obscurity to a wary mainstream for several artists — and, to a degree, the whole creative ethos that reigned on the left end of the dial — it’s probably worth remembering that accessibility is highly relative term, wholly dependent on the established grammar of the personnel involved. By most assessments, This Nation’s Saving Grace was the most listener-friendly album the Fall had produced to that point. It’s supposed approachability was even lamented by established fans of the band, who quickly grew accustomed to snarling — with no small hint of misogyny — about the influence of band leader Mark E. Smith’s wife, Brix Smith, who’d joined the lineup as a guitarist, singer, and co-songwriter two years earlier. She didn’t necessarily disagree that she’d shifted the sound.

“Even with the old songs, I think I added some shadow and light to them all,” she said around that time. “I give it a lot of drive, as well as adding some ‘glamor’ to it all.”

None of this means the Fall were coming anywhere near “Walking on Sunshine.” The band’s eighth studio album overall, This Nation’s Saving Grace is characteristically raw and caustic, alchemizing the confrontation of punk into pop music so deconstructionist that it’s the equivalent of bare steel beams, slender shards shedding off as some unseen external pressure rises. Mark E. Smith’s instincts call to mind comparisons to structures and other entities under assault. “Bombast” has a spoken word opening that sounds as if it’s emanating from a broken speaker (“All those whose mind entitles themselves, and whose main entitle is themselves, shall feel the wrath of my bombast!”) before going into a stark, lean rattle reminiscent of prime Iggy Pop. It’s matched in brashness by the likes of “Spoilt Victorian Child” and the intoxicating eddy of sonic elements in “Gut of the Quantifier.”

It’s recession as much as aggression that defines the Fall. Sketching the blueprint for future practitioners of too-cool-for-school artists purposefully indifferent songcraft — such as Pavement — the Fall deliver multiple tracks that feel as if they were wrapped up two or three passes early. Unlike most of the acts that echoed their approach, the Fall often made their choice at truncation with a sense of pointed purpose. The approach tends to add a air of bracing uncertainty. The sinister amble “What You Need” and the controlled casual “Paint Work” (which includes audio from a BBC documentary, reported inserted inadvertently and then retained) fit this part of the model.

This Nation’s Saving Grace didn’t provide some massive commercial breakthrough, but its arguably the band’s release that had the most lasting power. It was even the subject of a lavish rerelease several years ago, weighty with alternative edits and other supplementary material.




847. The Records, The Records (1979)

There might not be a finer example of the pure joy to be found in power pop than the“Starry Eyes,” the debut single from the Records. Inspired by the Eddie and the Hot Rods track “Do Anything You Wanna Do,” the Records song is shiny as polished chrome and zingily propulsive with its kiss-off lyrics (“I don’t want to argue/ There’s nothing to say/ Get me out of your starry eyes and be on your way”). It is simultaneously timeless and sharply of its era, sounding like its doing its level best to preserve the slightly retro cheeriness of nineteen-seventies AM radio pop stations. The song wasn’t exactly a hit, peaking at #56 in the U.S. and doing no better in the band’s U.K. homeland, but it gave them a template as they worked on their debut album, first with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (still early in his career, well before his time overseeing notable abominations against taste perpetrated by Def Leppard) and then Tim Friese-Greene. Entitled Shades in Bed in the U.K., the album was released as a self-titled effort in the U.S.

In addition to “Starry Eyes,” the album is packed with dandy songs in a similar vein. “Teenarama” is perfect bubble gum pop, though full enjoyment of it requires willful ignorance of some of the skeevy lyrics (“I wanted a change of style/ To be with a juvenile”) and “Girls That’s Don’t Exist” opens with a quickened pulse riff akin to “I Got You” before the sound fills in, completely with keening guitar lines. “Affection Rejected” has the breeziness that would someday be the defining quality of power pop legacy adopters Fountains of Wayne.

As much as there’s real strength to the material, there are also signs of a fairly limited range to the Records. “Another Star” wobbles in large part because of the prog rock indulgence layered into it, and the decent hook in “Insomnia”  can’t make up for inane lyrics (“I’ve tried all kinds of pills/ And also counted sheep/ Read another magazine/ Still I can not sleep”). The Records tinkered with their lineup and sound for two more albums before folding as a going concern.




846. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, Fegmania! (1985)

The music career of Robyn Hitchcock was always likely to strange and circuitous, but for a time in the early nineteen-eighties, any attentive observers might reasonably predict it was going to terminate well before the peculiar poet from Paddington had run out of words. Following the dissolution of his band the Soft Boys, Hitchcock delivered a series of solo albums which maintained the mode of tunefully offbeat he’d previously established as a thoroughly unique voice. Their penetration in the cultural consciousness was impeded by music business confusion, leading Hitchcock to at least make overtures of walking away from the upside down circus altogether, releasing the single “Eaten by Her Own Dinner” as a parting shot.

Following a return with the spare I Often Dream of Trains —an album undertaken as a cathartic exercise ahead of beginning again — Hitchcock reached out to his former bandmates Morris Windsor and Andy Metcalfe. They became a backing band dubbed the Egyptians. Fegmania! was the album that followed.

To the degree that Hitchcock is known to a broader audience, it’s likely as a lyricist whose propensity for the absurd puts him just outside the realm of novelty. There’s no denying that quality to his material, especially with titles such as “The Man with the Lightbulb Head.”  But it’s that track’s incorporation of enticing psychedelia that provides a fuller picture of Hitchcock’s artistry. The music is as vivid and unorthodox as the lyrics, whether skewing to lush (“Egyptian Cream”) or driving (“Heaven”). On Fegmania!, it truly seems as if Hitchcock can go spiriting through any secret door spied through a kaleidoscope. “Strawberry Mind” sounds like demented zydeco, and the mightily agitated rhythm of “The Fly”  suggests the title insect while somehow making the gimmick immaterial, as if all music of the era sounded like that. Why wouldn’t it?

Although Hitchcock is often pigeonholed — somewhat understandably, if I’m being honest — for the wild imaginings he shares, there’s an inherent understanding of the emotions that drive human interaction. No matter the strangeness slaloming through the tracks, the words are grounded in something truthful, as with the tender “Another Bubble” (“She’s just another human/ And when you get up close you’ll see/ Now, what you gonna do, man?/ Don’t make her what you’ll never be”). Hitchcock’s endless inventiveness is always in the service of exploring the deeper self. With Fegmania!, people were starting to properly listen.

I also like the song “My Wife and My Dead Wife.”



x-teens love

845. X-Teens, Love and Politics (1985)

The X-Teens plied their craft in Durham, North Carolina, in the first half of the nineteen-eighties. Almost inevitably, that means they were tangled up with the crew of music practitioners led by Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Both of those alumni of R.E.M.’s early records pitched in for the X-Teens self-titled debut, released in 1984, and their influence persists on the sophomore release Love and Politics“Don’t Listen to Him” even sounds a little like the sideways funk Dixon indulged in around that time on his solo efforts around that time.

Cranking out clever, jumpy guitar pop, X-Teens court all sorts of comparisons on the album. Change Gotta Come” is like a weirder XTC, there’s an echo of Elvis Costello’s contained bellow on “Say It Isn’t So”, and “It Was Something” is similar to the adding-the-kitchen-sink-means-we’re-just-getting-started approach of Oingo Boingo. I don’t mean to imply that the material on Love and Politics is derivative. Instead, it’s bright and exploratory, bending a fine sense of songcraft in many different directions, always acquitting themselves nicely. The jazzy island-hopping vibe of “Hostage of My Heart” isn’t usually my thing, but bound up with the band’s sincerity, it is warm and winning.

Love and Politics is a fine album. It was also the last from the X-Teens. The band broke up before the end of the year.

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