Modern Rock Tracks, 8/3/91

Greg and Katie arrived in Champaign-Urbana in the fall of 1987 from Atlanta (he’d gone to Georgia Tech, she Emory). They’d been high school sweethearts in North Carolina. Greg was a year ahead of Katie in school, so he’d gotten a Masters from Tech while waiting for her to graduate. He came to Illinois for electrical engineering, while she was there for physics. Somewhere along the way, though, Katie realized she wasn’t on the right path. Not long after I met them in late 1989, she started taking math classes. When that turned out not to be wholly satisfactory either, she began looking for another school, and wound up deciding on the applied math program at the University of Maryland, beginning fall 1991. Greg still had a couple of years left on his Ph.D., and they made the very hard decision to live apart while he finished up. He and I had bonded over both the bridge table and shared musical interests, I’d been living by myself for the past year…it made decent sense to become roommates.

And so not long after my return from the bridge excursion to Las Vegas, we each moved about a quarter-mile (to the east for Greg, to the west for me) to my fifth and final home in IL. After a couple of weeks, Katie took off for College Park, and there he and I were, playing (and buying) lots and lots of music; I learned a lot that year. My old roomie John continued to drive down from Chicago to fulfill the duties of his teaching assistantship, crashing on the couch on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, just as he had in my apartment the previous year.

Rooming with a good friend has potential to ruin said friendship, but Greg and I got along just fine. I’m sure the situation was much tougher on him than I realized, but I had a great time over those last twelve months of being a grad student.

Some of the songs on this week’s Modern Rock Tracks chart were quite familiar at the time, others not at all. It can’t hurt to take a look, though…

27. O.M.D., “Pandora’s Box (It’s a Long, Long Way)”
Sugar Tax was the first O.M.D release without Paul Humphreys; Greg spun it a few times in the apartment that fall (Katie was a huge fan of theirs). This song was inspired by American actress Louise Brooks, who starred in the late 20s German silent film Pandora’s Box.

26. Ric Ocasek, “Rockaway”
Fun lead track from Ric’s third solo disk, Fireball Zone, co-produced by Nile Rodgers.

23. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, “Sex on Wheelz”
Cannot say I was much into the industrial scene, and this one’s not encouraging me to give it a longer look. From the LP Sexplosion! (Only partially-related aside: does anyone else think Errol Brown is really singing “It’s sextasy” toward the end of “You Sexy Thing”?)

22. Milltown Brothers, “Which Way Should I Jump?”
Lots and lots of British acts here–it’s where so much of the interesting stuff was happening at the time. Probably have noted this before, but maybe the best part of this series for me is uncovering great songs that eluded my attention thirty years ago. Love the snarl in the vocals and the exuberance of the guitar and drumming on this one; I’ll have to seek out more of Slinky.

20. James, “Sit Down”
The original version of this very catchy thing, released two years earlier, ran for over seven-and-a-half minutes. The lads re-recorded it after experiencing some success with their 1990 album Mother Gold (and included the new take on a re-issue of MG).

19. Richard Thompson, “I Feel So Good”
It felt like Record Service was playing Rumour and Sigh every time I was in the store during the summer of ’91. I didn’t know (but am hardly surprised) that “I Feel So Good” was a promoted cut. It’s a standout.

18. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, “Happy”
Greg and I jokingly called this British bunch Ned’s Atomic Bedpan, really much more playing with language than commenting on the music. I heard (and likely enjoyed) “Grey Cell Green” more back in the day, but “Happy” isn’t bad.

13. R.E.M., “Shiny Happy People”
Athens folks meeting in the crowd and taking it into town here, with Kate Pierson joining in on one of her two contributions to Out of Time. R.E.M.’s fourth and final Top 10 pop hit.

11. The Candyskins, “Submarine Song”
This driving number is solid enough, yet somehow it doesn’t leave all that much of an impression afterward.

10. Seal, “Crazy”
The relatively rare song to be high on the Modern Rock and Hot 100 charts simultaneously. “Crazy” had already topped out here, but was #18 pop and aiming toward a #7 peak. I’ll take this over “Kiss from a Rose” 10 times out of 10.

8. Erasure, “Chorus”
Andy Bell and Vince Clarke were having trouble duplicating the commercial success they’d enjoyed with The Innocents; this perfectly serviceable dance track, the title song of their new album, stalled out at #83 on the Hot 100.

7. Chapterhouse, “Pearl”
I’ve got to go online and add to my shoegaze collection. I don’t recall hearing “Pearl” thirty years ago–I have to think I would have been all over it if I had. While about half-way through it sounds as though that Chapterhouse is ripping off the song at #1 below, this blog post from four years ago claims that the riff was a standard offering on Roland synthesizers (the bands were working with the same producer, too).

5. Crowded House, “Chocolate Cake”
Neil Finn’s brother (and former Split Enz mate) Tim joined the band for Woodface, their third album. The boys from New Zealand were definitely not suffering fools (or at least Tammy Faye Bakker Messner–of course, they should have taken aim at her former husband instead) here.

4. Kirsty MacColl, “Walking Down Madison”
Probably not what I expected to hear from Kirsty after digging Kite so much for the previous year, but it’s utterly brilliant. Certainly the closest she came to having a hit stateside.

2. Big Audio Dynamite II, “Rush”
“The only important thing these days is rhythm…and melody.” Right?

1. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Kiss Them for Me”
They’d been making noise on the UK charts since 1978 and had enjoyed a little success on the Dance chart over here, but like many folks in the U.S., I didn’t give Siouxsie and company much mind until “Peek-a-Boo” (which, I’ve mentioned before, was #1 on the inaugural MRT chart in September 1988). This one actually cracked the Top 40, peaking at #23 in October. I’m a big fan, having included it on a mix tape almost three years after this.

A sea change begins with our next installment, in October.

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