One for Friday — Scruffy the Cat, “Moons of Jupiter”

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Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988. Scruffy the Cat released their second and final full-length album, Moons of Jupiter. Raucous rockers with a touch of roots styling to their music, the band had a prime place in a Boston scene that accommodated a thrilling range of off-kilter practitioners. They churned out new studio and live releases at a breakneck pace through the mid-eighties. In a manner entirely consistent with times for living on the left end of the radio dial, Scruffy the Cat aggressively fed the new content into the machine, presumably in an effort to keep student programmers from drifting off to some new favorite. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but in college radio it instead makes the ever-shifting on-air staff oblivious to the great music in the stacks.

Moons of Jupiter connected Scruffy the Cat with producer Jim Dickinson, a fine musician in his own right who inspired a reverence in certain quarters for his place behind the boards on Big Star’s Third. The previous year, he’d overseen the Replacements’ great Pleased to Meet Me, which some brave, foolhardy souls consider their very best record. (The brave, foolhardy soul I have in mind is me.) Without sacrificing agreeable roughness, Dickinson brought a useful discipline to the Minneapolis hooligans. Scruffy the Cat didn’t require the same wrangling, but there’s an unmistakably similarity between the two records in smeary polish.

As I was assimilating to the strange, intoxicating atmosphere of college radio during my first semester at my humble, Midwestern station, Moons of Jupiter was precisely the sort of gateway I needed. It was a clear relative to the album rock that dominated my high school indoctrination into music fandom, but there was clearly a looser vibe, built on freedom and ingenuity, that differentiated the material.  There was a secret language to this new realm I was in, and Moons of Jupiter was one of my most valuable decoder rings.

Listen or download —> Scruffy the Cat, “Moons of Jupiter”

(Disclaimer: I believe much of the Scruffy the Cat catalog is out of print, at least as physical objects that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensate both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist. The official Scruffy the Cat website does tout the availability of a hefty compilation in digital form, so presumably the band gets a reasonable chunk of any money changing accounts for purchase of those files. So the sharing of the cut above should be seen as encouragement to go and get more of their music. Or maybe buy a t-shirt. I believe I am operating under the legal principle of fair use here, but I will still gladly and promptly remove this song from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so be any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — They Might Be Giants, “The World’s Address”

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Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, They Might Be Giants released their second full-length album, Lincoln. Promoted in a print advertisement as an extension of a storied naming history that included the car, the tunnel, the man, and the log, Lincoln was an ideal college radio album. It was funny, smart, loopy, decidedly offbeat, and its eighteen tracks roamed freely across musical genres. No matter what was needed in a set, They Might Be Giants had a song that fit the bill. As an added bonus, the songs were short, with several clocking in at under two minutes. The longest couldn’t quite make it to three-and-a-half minutes. This might not seem like a big deal, but only to individuals who never endured the stress of back-timing to hit AP network news cleanly at the top of the hour.

Like everyone else at my college radio station, I adored “Ana Ng,” the album’s lead single (and, as it happens, longest cut). Unlike some of the other records in rotation that fall with specific college radio hits, Lincoln rewarded extra digging. I swear I played every last song off the album multiple times, switching my choice of favorite with regularity. That seemed to be a common approach among my cohorts. It was difficult to prove personal coolness with the obscurity of a deep cut because everyone knew the entire album so well. Even in trying to settle on a choice for today, I equivocated and dithered.

I wound up on “The World’s Address,” mostly out of an abiding affection for both the lunatic samba groove and the lyrics “Call the men of science and let them hear this song/ Tell them Albert Einstein and Copernicus were wrong.” Tomorrow, I might very well pick a different song. The beauty of Lincoln, especially as an eager, learning college radio DJ, was that every one of those choices was a winner.

Listen or download > They Might Be Giants, “The World’s Address”

(Disclaimer: It’s not entirely clear to me if Lincoln is available as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store. It looks like it might be offered on vinyl, but not CD. The first two They Might Be Giants albums were smashed together — along with various extra bits — on a compilation called Then, but I’m not sure that’s available, either. If these releases can be purchased in a way that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said shop, I urge you to do so, and this selection should be viewed as a sample encouraged that commerce rather than a replacement for it. Or go see the band play live. They’re great in that setting. All that justification for sharing typed, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — The Replacements, “Cruella De Ville”

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(source)

Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, A&M Records released the compilation Stay Awake. Adorned with the description “Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films,” the album was perfectly calibrated to endear to the brash sentimentalists around the age of twenty that drove the cultural choices at college radio stations. Much as left-of-the-dial DJs embraced the daring and offbeat (and blithely discarded acts at the first sign of softening), there was also a keen, irresistible desire for the familiar. Limited time on air and a wall of mysterious new releases accentuating the appeal of dropping the needle on a song that was, to at least some degree, a known quantity.

Entering into college as a traditionally aged student in the late nineteen-eighties meant youthful years in the last extended era of Disney animated classics in a perpetual cycle of rerelease. Now that the studio continues to draw entertainment industry chips into their personal pile like a Texas hold’em player two or three hands away from taking the whole tournament, it seems peculiar to think of the precarious state it was in three decades ago. The business model almost wholly reliant on family entertainment was hurt by a series of lackluster animated features (most notably The Black Cauldron, which almost killed off Disney animation endeavors for good), and the attempt to diversify into more adult entertainment with offshoot shingles Touchstone Picture and Hollywood Pictures was viewed as more of a cute curiosity than a shrewd move. Although home entertainment was booming, Disney was reluctant to empty their vaults, preferring to bring the famed features of the past into theaters for revival runs, counting on parents to share the beloved childhood favorites with their offspring. The old Disney movies were events, and the songs strung through them were practically American standards.

A key reason Stay Awake hit the nostalgia button so cleanly is because it was, to use a more modern term for the assemblage of a compilation album, expertly curated. It featured an admirably wide-ranging batch of performers (I’m not sure there was any other record in the station at the time that could boast new recordings by both Sinéad O’Connor and Yma Sumac) and arranged the songs thoughtfully, mostly placing them within thematic medleys. For the staffers at my Midwestern station, I think it’s fair to say no portion of the record held more appeal than the end of the medley titled “All Innocent Children Had Better Beware.” That was where the Replacements, our scruffy neighbors to the west, belted out a characteristically ramshackle version of the bounding paean to the villain of 101 Dalmatians,  Cruella De Vil. The spelling was off, but that was small matter. It’s charms were otherwise unerring.

If Stay Awake seemed an elegy for an era of Disney animated classics, it proved premature. One year later, The Little Mermaid arrived, almost immediately improving the studio’s outlook. If they hurry up and make Stay Awake 2, maybe they can get Kate Bush to cover “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”

Listen or download —> The Replacements, “Cruella De Ville”

(Disclaimer: I haven’t dug around too much to check the availability of this track on a physical format that can be purchased at your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist and associated copyright holders. According to my previous detective efforts, much of the A&M Records catalog is adrift. but I know the Mats have dropped this track onto other comps. And Disney holds their properties with a g-force grip, so this could be anywhere. Do buy it if you see it. I don’t mean to supplant commerce with this post, but indeed to encourage it. If nothing else, go buy some other Replacements records these weekend. Every last one has at least some magical properties. Although I’m convinced I’m operating under the legal principle of fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — That Petrol Emotion, “Groove Check”

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Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, That Petrol Emotion released their third album, End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues. The band John O’Neill developed after the breakup of his the Undertones, That Petrol Emotional had some of the spunk of their immediate ancestors with a deliberate attempt to convey something distinct about the Northern Irish lineage of O’Neill and some of his cohorts in the group. That Petrol Emotion’s lead singer was Steve Mack, an American who was discovered by the band in London. The varied perspectives of the members drove a sprightly eclecticism in the band’s music. Any given album by That Petrol Emotion could feel like it was trying to capture the totality of what was happening in college radio, track by divergent track.

On End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues, the stylistic wanderings of the band are even more pronounced, perhaps because O’Neill announced his intention to leave the group just as they were getting the recording process underway. Songwriting was a shared endeavor with the group — of the twelve tracks on the preceding album, Babble, O’Neill took a full or partial credit on four, and the other band members had similar spreads — but O’Neill’s foundational participation and personal prominence made it feel as if something was splintering. Creatively, that proved to be a wonderful thing. The album is wide-ranging and adventurous, infused with a spirit of taking one last taking one last big swing while toppling to the canvas.

End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues wasn’t an album that loomed particularly large for me among the many life-changers I discovered during my first year at the campus radio station. Still, it stuck with me enough that it was very present in my mind when I’d moved up enough in the ranks of our humble broadcast outlet a year later to help set the programming schedule. We decided Saturday night was perfect for a dance music show. In flailing around for a title, I suggested “Groove Check,” naming the program after a song right in the middle of the End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues track list. In truth, the song wasn’t all that well-suited to a showcase of cutting edge electronica, which only illustrates how unlearned I was about the types of music that would usually drive such a radio show. Still, it’s not a bad title for a radio show. And, these many years later, it’s still a dang good song.

Listen or download —> That Petrol Emotion, “Groove Check”

(Disclaimer: I believe End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues is currently out of print as a physical object that can be procured from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said shop. There are streaming and digital download means to acquire it, but I have little faith any commerce generated by that approach goes to worthy recipients. Although I believe the legal principle of fair use applies here, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — Keith Richards, “Take It So Hard”

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Thirty years ago, in the fall of 1988, Keith Richards released his debut solo album, Talk is Cheap. Under any circumstances, the first out-on-his-own record released by the lead guitarist in one of the biggest and most important rock ‘n’ roll bands in the history of the of the form was likely to draw enthusiastic attention, but Richards got even more press — perhaps not through calculation, admittedly — by leaning into the very public melodrama then defining his relationship with Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Jagger. The pair were feuding, largely due to Jagger prioritizing his own fledgling solo career over the group that made him famous and was still fully capable of raking in millions at the drop of a tour schedule.

“You Don’t Move Me” is the track commonly cited as direct put-down of Jagger, but the whole album comes across as a surly rebuke. By his own account, when Richards finally relented to working on a solo album, he opted against raiding unused material he’d developed for the Stones and instead started from scratch, co-writing new songs with drummer Steve Jordan, who also served as producer. The track listing has ample evidence of the preoccupation Richards surely had with the fractured professional relationship: “Struggle,” “I Could Have Stood You Up,” “Make No Mistake,” “How I Wish.” Calling the album Talk is Cheap even feels like a snarl directed at Jagger.

The album’s lead single, “Take It So Hard,” is an extension of that heart-hardened sentiment. Built on a classic Richards guitar riff, it has a quick familiarity, but felt just tough enough, raw enough, new enough to make it feel like a suitable addition to a college radio playlist. As someone who was new to the left of the dial at the time of the album’s release, I appreciated having something right there in the new music rotation that spoke to my rock ‘n’ roll radio upbringing, providing me a sort of air lock as I transitioned to the wilder — and better — stuff on the shelf. That’s not to imply the track was merely compromise. Back then, it sounded damn good. It still does.

Talk is Cheap was far more well-regarded than Jagger’s solo albums, which may have reminded the famed singer of the value delivered by his longtime collaborator. Lessons learned, the Rolling Stones were recording together again by the spring, and the resulting album, Steel Wheels, arrived in the summer of 1989, less than one year after Talk is Cheap.

Listen or download —> Keith Richards, “Take It So Hard”

(Disclaimer: I believe Talk is Cheap is unavailable as a physical object that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said business. I’m sharing this under the legal principle of fair use. I don’t intend to impede commerce. In fact, I mean to encourage it. Go buy some music from that record store. Richards gets plenty of money from old Stones records if you’d like to help him shore up his recent financial losses in the New York real estate market. Or buy something else, but get new music. It’s good for your soul. Also, I must note that I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — Fairground Attraction, “Perfect”

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Thirty years ago, in 1988. Fairground Attraction released their debut album, The First of a Million Kisses. The band hailed from the U.K., where they managed to top the charts with the very first single they released, the aptly titled “Perfect.” That occurred in the spring of the year, and the album’s release followed shortly thereafter. The song didn’t really take hold in the U.S. until the fall, when it managed to make appearances on three different Billboard charts: the Hot 100, the newly established Modern Rock Tracks tally, and, somewhat perplexingly, the Hot Country Singles roundup.

As referenced above, there has rarely been another instance in which a song had a more appropriate title. “Perfect” is perfect, or at least as close to perfect as a pop song can get. The hook is cheery and elegant, and the whole song is built on instrumentation and production as light as well-spun sugar. It swoons, it swings, it snakes along with snappy purpose, and it’s all wrapped up in three-and-a-half minutes. This is the sort of song that demands to be described as a gem.

Listen or download —> Fairground Attraction, “Perfect”

(Disclaimer: I honestly haven’t checked to see if this Fairground Attraction song is currently available on a physical format that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the original artist. Even if The First of a Million Kisses is officially out of print, I believe this cut has been scattered across countless compilations, as if Johnny Appleseed applied his orchard distribution strategy to wonderful pop creations. I am not sharing this song in this space at this time to impede commerce that supports record stores and musicians, but instead as an encouragement to go out and put your money where your taste is. Go buy some records, people. Although I believe I am operating under the legal concept of fair use, I know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

One for Friday — Huxton Creepers,”This Day is Mine”

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Thirty years ago, in the autumn of 1988, Huxton Creepers released the album Keep to the Beat. It was the second full-length release for the Australian band, and the alternate title used in their homeland developed a running joke. The band’s debut, issued in 1986, was called 12 Days to Paris. For their sophomore effort, Huxton Creepers declared the evident completion of that journey, using the title So This is Paris. For U.S. fans — a small population almost entirely contained within college radio stations — such long-range gentle comedy exceeded the capacities of our shortened attention spans, so the band’s label, Polydor Records, renamed the album, borrowing one of their more generic titles from the assembled tracks.

Huxton Creepers hit a certain sweet spot in college rock, combining a skill at crafting hooks with earnest guitar-driven rock and a production that was polished without pushing over into the overly glossy. They played like an arresting bar band with above average songwriting skills. It was something of an Australian specialty at the time, especially with bands that would be slotted in the H section of the music library (Hoodoo Gurus, Hunters and Collectors). There’s hit potential here. A song like “This Day is Mine” sounds like the sort of thing Hootie & the Blowfish would make a jillion dollars peddling a few years later, albeit after adding the key ingredients of cloying sentiment and oversinging, neither of which was likely to come from the perpetually jaded and casual nation from whence Huxton Creepers hailed.

Huxton Creepers didn’t have hits, though, at least not in the U.S. One year after So This is Paris, a.k.a. Keep to the Beat, the band broke up, scattering to different endeavors. Naturally, the new century brought the opportunity for reunion gigs, because any band that once mastered the sprightly jangle of the nineteen-eighties college rock sound can endure indefinitely if they like. And the collective mastery of Huxton Creepers’ in banging out catchy winners was impressive indeed.

Listen or download —> Huxton Creepers, “This Day is Mine”

(Disclaimer: I believe the limited discography of Huxton Creepers to be out of print in the U.S., though I’ll admit I didn’t put much effort into confirming or refuting that assumption. The song is presented here along with urging to go out this weekend and spend money on music at your favorite local, independently owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said shop and the artist. I believe sharing this song in this way falls under the legal principle of fair use, but I will still gladly and promptly remove the file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)