Modern Rock Tracks, 2/1/92

At the beginning of February 1992 I was well into my search for a tenure-track job at a college or university. I’d blanketed the country with packets containing a cover letter, my CV, and statements summarizing my dissertation research and teaching philosophy. I was not discriminating in where applications were sent–part of that was naivete, though it was true that the market was probably a little tight, with a number of mathematicians from the former Soviet Union looking to migrate to the U.S. Three weeks earlier, we’d all descended on Baltimore for the Joint Mathematics Meetings to give talks and attempt to impress institutions that were hiring with our potential. I participated in the Employment Register, which was run in a manner comparable to a speed-dating event. Both applicants and employers submitted lists of desirable targets, and a computer did its best to make matches. Applicants spent the better part of a couple of mornings visiting tables for 15-minute stretches. (I have no idea how many success stories arose from this practice, but it was still going on twenty years later–I got to participate on the employer side three times over the years.)

While I also had a few more extended interviews outside of the Register, I returned to Illinois without the sense I’d made a favorable impression anywhere. Truth be told, I really hadn’t given enough thought over the past couple of years about how I might contribute to the profession, and I imagine that showed when I talked with prospective future colleagues. The one thing I did come to realize as the process unwound was that I felt better suited for a smaller liberal arts place (much like my undergraduate institution) than a regional state school or (heaven forbid) a research university.

Three nice things from that conference external to any of the goings-on: 1) I had my first experience with Indian cuisine one evening–I’ve been a huge fan ever since; 2) I was able to hang some with Katie, who was in the middle of her first year at the University of Maryland; 3) I got a chance to listen WHFS, D.C.’s alternative rock station. It was a welcome change of pace from the options in Champaign-Urbana. That said, I was already aware (through 120 Minutes, mostly) of a number of the songs on this Modern Rock Tracks chart. It’s one I’ve been anxious to tuck into for some time, so without further ado…

#28. Lush, “Nothing Natural”
I’ve written about my affinity for “Nothing Natural” before, on a mixtape write-up–it’s the song that really turned me on to Lush.

#27. My Bloody Valentine, “Only Shallow”
Under all the noise–and despite the vocals being buried in the mix–there’s a conventional song structure here (although with an instrumental interlude instead of a chorus). Loveless is regarded as a masterpiece, but it also proved to be a dead-end for MBV–how do you follow up something like it?

I am a big fan of this song.

#25. Pearl Jam, “Alive”
Something tells me we’ll be hearing more from these guys.

#23. The Real People, “Window Pane”
I noted last go-round how some album covers (for records I never bought) from this period plant me right back in the Campustown Record Service. Here’s another one, seen below. Not sure I heard “Window Pane” back then. It’s a nice piece, but I think it would have gotten more notice had it been recorded about a year earlier.

#21. The Lightning Seeds, “The Life of Riley”
The title of the U.S. 1940s-50s radio and TV series The Life of Riley came from an already well-known expression. After reading through the Wikipedia page for that show, I now understand where a phrase my mother and grandmother frequently used–“What a revolting development this is” –originated.

I realize this really doesn’t have anything to do with Ian Broudie’s latest single, but that’s part of the price you pay for coming here.

#19. Lloyd Cole, “Tell Your Sister”
Cole borrows ‘Rue Morgue Avenue’ from “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” but this solid rocker about an other-side-of-the-tracks relationship bears no other resemblance to Dylan.

#14. Live, “Operation Spirit (The Tradition of Tyranny)”
The pride of York, PA, made a little noise with debut album Mental Jewelry. This Jerry Harrison-produced tune is just a little too earnest; I’m more of a fan of songs on their 1994 breakthrough Throwing Copper.

#13. Social Distortion, “Bad Luck”
Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell helped Mike Ness and band maintain the momentum their previous, self-titled release had established. “Bad Luck” wound up as their greatest success on the MRT chart.

#12. Midge Ure, “Cold, Cold Heart”
The former singer for Ultravox strikes with a single from his third solo album, Pure. No relation to the Hank Williams classic (or the recent Dua Lipa/Elton John hit, for that matter)–instead it’s a uplifting tune with a delightful African feel. Somehow I overlooked this one back in the day; it was the discovery of the weekend.

#11. Saint Etienne, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”
There’s a strong chance this will be the best Neil Young cover you hear today. Even if I think it goes on a little too long, these Brits came up with an irresistibly trippy groove. This gets two big thumbs up as well.

#4. Matthew Sweet, “Girlfriend”
Another excellent song featured on an earlier mixtape post. Twelve days after this chart date I’d hear Sweet play this in concert, opening for Robyn Hitchcock.

#7. U2, “Until the End of the World”
#2. Lou Reed, “What’s Good”
#1. The Talking Heads, “Sax and Violins”

The top ten is chock-full of tunes off the soundtrack of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World. U2 still has “Mysterious Ways” on the chart at #15, as well as yet another song from Achtung Baby that we’ll address come April. “What’s Good” also appeared on Reed’s Magic and Loss, while “Sax and Violins” showed up on the Heads’ compilation Sand in the Vaseline. Somehow this last song escaped my notice then; I’m making up for lost time now.

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