May and June were busy months thirty years ago. I covered part of what happened then in early 2020, but to recap briefly: after going 0-for-March-and-April on getting job interviews, I scored opportunities at a couple of small schools, one in northern Indiana in mid-May that didn’t pan out, and one in north-central Kentucky during the first week of June that did. Once I had an offer from my soon-to-be (and still current) employer in hand, I scheduled my dissertation defense; it wound up happening on my father’s 61st birthday, toward the end of June.
I spent a lot of time on the road during this period: if I’m reconstructing correctly, it was home to Kentucky after classes ended to see family and college friends, up to Indiana for the first interview, over to Urbana again for a few days, including an appearance at a bridge tournament, then back to Kentucky for the second interview. During that second trip to the Bluegrass, my 81-year-old grandmother underwent heart surgery, so lots of relatives were around to visit. (She came out of it just fine, living almost nine more years.) Gran was the first to learn of my job offer; I leaned over and whispered the news to her in her hospital bed.
I was mostly flipping between stations while in the car throughout the period, sometimes Top 40 (big fan of what Tom Cochrane and En Vogue had on offer that spring), occasionally country (Mary Chapin Carpenter was the main attraction–more on her in the August installment of this series, believe it or not), and college/alternative when I could find it. As usual when traveling between Florence and Indianapolis, I’d tune in to WOXY in Oxford, OH. That’s how I was introduced to several of the songs discussed below–#24, #16, and #14, in particular.
25. Tom Tom Club, “Sunshine and Ecstasy”
Dark Sneak Love Action, the Club’s fourth album, had just been released. “Sunshine and Ecstasy” is trippy and groovy, but there is no mystery as to why Tina or Chris were featured as vocalist on any Talking Heads tune.
24. Meryn Cadell, “The Sweater”
Boy, do I love this piece. It’s so eminently quotable, and you can be sure many of its lines run through my head plenty–“different is NOT what you’re looking for,” “Monday…wear the sweater…to school,” “definitely wear lip gloss,” “you realize that love made you temporarily blind.” The favorite, though, gets wheeled out anytime a certain synthetic substance arises in conversation, in almost any context: “100% acrylic.”
23. Curve, “Horror Head”
Hearing “Horror Head” in Record Service prompted me to buy Doppelgänger and led to a minor obsession with Curve. Maybe a tossup whether this or “Coast Is Clear” is my fave of theirs.
Greg was already familiar with Toni Halliday’s 1988 solo work Hearts and Handshakes–you can definitely hear in “Time Turns Around” where her future was headed.
21. Pearl Jam, “Even Flow”
This was a much bigger hit on the Album Rock Tracks chart. Gotta say I’d much rather hear it now than “Jeremy.”
18. L7, “Pretend We’re Dead”
The first compact disk I purchased in 1990 (don’t ask me why or how I remember) was an obscure compilation called The Radio Tokyo Tapes, Volume 4: Women. Radio Tokyo was a studio in Los Angeles operated by Ethan James, who served as the disk’s producer and also played on several of the tracks. The overall conceit of the (wildly eclectic) compilation was to try to break some new female voices/bands. A few of the acts appearing on Women did wind up with record deals, but the only one to have any sort of chart success was the rock quartet L7. (For the really curious, here’s a link to “Sweet Sex,” their contribution to Women.)
Now I need to pull that CD out and listen to its highlights (there are a few) again.
17. Ride, “Twisterella”
Time for this post’s lost gem–I’m aghast at having missed it in real time. Amazingly close to perfect: fabulous bass line, snazzy drum fills, chiming guitars, charmingly cryptic lyrics, and everybody’s showing their best moves in the video, to boot. Put this one on replay.
16. Indigo Girls, “Galileo”
Rites of Passage is my favorite album from Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, and this meditation on reincarnation (which includes what I’ve always taken as a playful jab at Shirley MacLaine) is one of its best songs.
14. Annie Lennox, “Why”
Diva was the first we’d heard from Lennox post-Eurythmics. She gives a great performance on “Why,” though I happen to like “Walking on Broken Glass” and “Little Bird” better.
12. Material Issue, “What Girls Want”
Maybe Destination Universe was a case of sophomore slump, a bit rushed to capitalize on the momentum of International Pop Overthrow? I’ll admit I wasn’t as taken by “What Girls Want” as I had been with their earlier singles.
11. The Beautiful South, “We Are Each Other”
We last visited the Beautiful South a little over two years ago, when “You Keep It All In” paid a trip to the MRT charts. This one turned out to be their most popular song on this side of the pond.
7. Cracker, “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)”
Things former Camper Van Beethoven leader David Lowery and his new band think are needed: a new kind of tension, true words of wisdom, and a new Frank Sinatra. Another folk singer, on the other hand…
5. The Charlatans, “Weirdo”
This one sure had gone down the memory hole, not that it’s especially regrettable to be the case. Two weeks earlier it had been #1 on this chart. The Charlatans had only a little more success on the U.S. alternative scene but kept generating hits in Britain for another decade.
3. The Soup Dragons, “Divine Thing”
In contrast, this Scottish band was almost to the end of their line; Hotwired would be their final album to generate any traction anywhere. “Divine Thing” would make the U.S. Top 40 in September, eventually peaking at #35. I’ll grant it’s got a memorable riff.
2. The Cure, “Friday I’m in Love”
The days-of-the-week litany in the verses is cute enough, but it’s the bridge that pulls everything together and convinces me that our protagonist really is in love, dammit.
1. XTC, “The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead”
Is Peter a stand-in for JFK? Jesus? Some random populist dude? All or none of the above? Got me; what I do know is I was disappointed that Nonsuch became the last new music from XTC until almost the end of the decade.