My musical tastes were trending toward “modern rock” by the end of the 80s, more and more so as its name changed to alternative. Let’s take a look at what’s going on in Billboard vis-à-vis Modern Rock (MR) thirty years ago (two thoughts are occurring to me—first, maybe I should have been doing this all year as part of Destination 89; second, I suspect I’ll now come back to this every couple of months for a while).
Thirty tracks were listed each week, many of which never became familiar. I’ll hit on several I knew then or know more about now.
#28: Tanita Tikaram, “Twist in My Sobriety.” I discussed Tikaram’s debut album, including this fab song, two months ago. It’s at the beginning of a three week run on this chart.
#21: Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” I heard this only a few times back in the late 80s. We couldn’t escape the Reid twins four years later, though, when this song‘s inclusion on the soundtrack for Benny and Joon helped launch it to #3 on the Hot 100.
#15: Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane.” I’d given in to the buzz and purchased The Trinity Session soon after it came out (it’s got a solid take on “Walkin’ After Midnight” as the closing track). It’s on its way down the MR chart now. Pandora’s algorithm has served this up to me just a little too often over the years.
#7: Morrissey, “The Last of the Famous International Playboys.” There are many, many Morrissey songs with titles that only he would dare attempt to use. This is one of them.
#5: Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “Madonna of the Wasps.” I’d guess I was introduced to this by 120 Minutes. Very fine jangly tune—could listen to it several times in a row these days.
#3: Replacements, “I’ll Be You.” Shame on me, I guess—I never got that much into Paul Westerberg and crew. Heard this as much as any of their songs, and it just didn’t grab me. What should I go back and hear of theirs now?
#2: Elvis Costello, “Veronica.” Did not appreciate this one nearly enough at the time. An utter charmer, it’s Costello’s biggest hit in the U.S. (made #19 on the pop charts a couple months after this). Dementia has been mercifully rare in my family (only my father’s mother suffered it), but I am seeing it take hold of a few people I hold dear as I grow older.
#1: XTC, “Mayor of Simpleton.” Well, it’s one of those times where the best song on the chart sits at the top. I wouldn’t get Oranges and Lemons until a couple of years later, but I was a ginormous fan of this update of Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World” in real time. It’d spend five weeks in this spot and deserved every single one of them.
I’ve skipped over a couple of songs of interest to me. One in the top 10 will get featured in a Forgotten Albums post next week; the other I want to spotlight a bit more now.
A couple years prior, a band from Madison got a record deal based on their performance in MTV’s Basement Tapes competition. I heard “Carry the Torch” from Fire Town a few times on WPGU in 87, but didn’t consider it anything special. The title single from their second (and final) disk The Good Life was much more interesting. It’s sitting at #20 on the MR chart this week, and would get a couple spots higher before falling off before the end of the month. I like it a whole bunch, but even so, I’ve long had the feeling that Fire Town was trying to make some Grand Statement on the American Condition with this song and wound up missing the target a little. I tracked the CD down fairly early on; eventually “The Good Life” would lead off side two on my one of my favorite mix tapes, made in the spring of 93.
If I’d seen this nifty video back in 89 (I’m positive I didn’t), it sure wouldn’t have occurred to me that the drummer might someday (co-)produce albums of the magnitude of Gish, Siamese Dream, and Nevermind. Or that he and the guy in the beard singing the second verse of “The Good Life” would later have a huge smash of their own after recruiting a female vocalist from Scotland who’d come to break your soul apart and wanted your misery poured down on her.