I’d spent much of the 1989-90 academic year reading papers co-authored by my advisor Bruce Reznick. It wasn’t until the summer of 1990 that I began work on what would become my dissertation. I’ve seemingly kept a copy of every draft I passed onto Bruce for review–they’re stored in the bottom drawer of a file cabinet in my office. The earliest one I can find is dated July 3; the next seems to be from the 27th (written up after I’d returned from my mini-vacation/bridge trip to Boston, but right before my roommate’s wedding). Here’s where I was in the first week of August (it’s four pages long):
Those are Bruce’s comments in red. I know that it’s not remotely meaningful to virtually everyone reading this, but there’s already a germ or two of some results that made it into the final product.
By the end of August, I had worked up eleven pages’ worth. Come October, I’d be learning in earnest about the mathematical typesetting program LaTeX; the handwritten drafts would quickly disappear.
But there was music playing all around me then, too. The Modern Rock Tracks chart dated 8/4/90 includes several songs I was digging on heavily at the time, though a number of those listed below weren’t known to me then.
28. Michael Penn, “Brave New World”
This was a big favorite from March, and my choice for a third single, too. Didn’t make any chart noise, but that can’t stop me from giving it a spin and cranking it today.
26. The Candy Flip, “Strawberry Fields Forever”
When you’re from the UK and your band’s name is a reference to a drug cocktail, your next move might well be to make a dreamy cover of one of the Fab Four’s psychedelic classics.
25. John Hiatt, “Child of the Wild Blue Yonder”
Hiatt was coming off two critically-acclaimed (and completely excellent) albums, so it’s not terribly surprising that Stolen Moments isn’t quite as good. Still, JH performing at 80% peak capacity outdistances many others.
19. Something Happens, “Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello (Petrol)”
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like there was a big spike in music coming over from Ireland following the mega-success of The Joshua Tree. Can’t say this band out of Dublin has a great name, but “Hello…” is a pretty sweet track. Caught the tail end of it a couple of weeks ago on U2’s SiriusXM channel.
17. The Katydids, “Heavy Weather Traffic”
Back at the beginning of the year another song from this British band’s debut album was featured in one of my mixtape posts. Part folky/jangly, part tasteful pop–they’re one of many bands out of the UK that just didn’t get their due. If you’re still into buying CDs, it appears you can get a used copy of this disk for a very reasonable price.
15. Happy Mondays, “Step On”
Madchester’s surge in the U.S. started several months earlier with the Stone Roses. At this point it was beginning to pick up steam; just wait until we get to October. Pills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches was the Mondays’ chance to shine, and they didn’t miss, particularly with “Step On.”
14. World Party, “Put the Message in the Box“
My favorite this go-round (in spite of it utilizing the trite arms/charms rhyme), a simply brilliant synthesis of all things late 60s. Play it until you get heard.
12. Hothouse Flowers, “Give It Up”
One of 1988’s “It” bands (legitimately so) came out with their second album Home earlier in the summer. This is a good, energetic piece, though it bears at least a passing resemblance to their earlier hit “Don’t Go.”
10. Boom Crash Opera, “Onion Skin”
So much good stuff at this time was coming from across various ponds, mostly UK/Ireland, but you can’t ignore Australia. Midnight Oil is up at #4 with “King of the Mountain,” and here’s a band with perhaps more of an INXS big sound. If I heard this much, I don’t remember it, but I’m listening to it now.
7. Sonic Youth, “Kool Thing”
Goo was the first of their albums to chart. The Youth aren’t exactly my style, but I can see how they would appeal.
6. The Railway Children, “Every Beat of the Heart”
I really liked this song from the first time I heard it, even eventually snagged the CD Native Place from a cutout bin. Not quite sure why that feeling faded so quickly; maybe I should dig it back out.
5. Aztec Camera, “The Crying Scene“
One of the big downsides about not having a full-blown college/alternative radio station in Champaign-Urbana was that, as my tastes kept turning in that direction, I wound up missing out on some very interesting tunes. 120 Minutes could only go so far, and I wasn’t quite yet at the point of regular listening to WOXY out of Oxford, OH, on my trips back home. So, I’ve been using these posts as one means of learning about what I missed.
This is the best song to date I’ve found from those explorations. Strong melody, worthwhile lyrics (“We were two in a million,” “Life’s a one-take movie”), catchy chorus, sweet guitar solo. Video’s got a number of images that stick, too, including a battle of sorts between protesters and police in the rain, complete with reporter on the sideline. I discovered this clip a couple of months ago, just as the protests following the killing of George Floyd began; I haven’t stopped watching it, or thinking about it, yet. I knew “Oblivious” from watching MTV in college, but Scotsman Roddy Frame has something entirely else going on here. It’s time for a deeper dive into his music.
3. David J, “I’ll Be Your Chauffeur”
Another one that slipped by me at the time. I was aware of fellow Love and Rockets member Daniel Ash’s solo work from seeing it at Record Service, but I guess this one was less obviously placed? Nice tune, even it’s no “No New Tale To Tell.”
1. Concrete Blonde, “Joey”
Not my favorite song of theirs, but I’m glad Johnette and company got to enjoy some commercial success. I’ve found that, once I stopped looking at the Hot 100 religiously in the late 80s, I regularly overestimate how well any number of songs I really like did in terms of peak position. Stuff I figured should easily have gone Top 5, or even #1, fall fairly short. “Joey” is a case in point: later in the fall, it would peak at #19. Not bad, but as much as I heard it, as good as it sounds, that seems…a little disappointing. But we can celebrate it topping MRT thirty years ago today.