Modern Rock Tracks, 10/5/91

My fall of 1991 was a mix of work and play. By October, my advisor had assured me the results I had in hand were sufficiently novel and substantial to comprise a dissertation; still, I was investigating additional cases and beginning to accumulate other bits of new knowledge. Academic job postings for the 1992-93 year had begun showing up in the Director of Graduate Studies’ office, so efforts at constructing teaching and research statements for applications were underway, too. I was also playing a ton of bridge, having made trips to tournaments in St. Louis and Ft. Wayne since the school year had started.

And there was music to listen to at Greg’s and my apartment. Much of it was hitting the Modern Rock Tracks chart of the day, so it’s natural to take our usual gander at bits and pieces of that. (About a third of the songs written up below didn’t register with me at the time.)

30. Gary Clail On-U Sound System, “Human Nature”
Starting off this month with a sermon, almost literally: this club hit is channeling parts of a Billy Graham speech (according to Wikipedia, anyway). Current mood: Clail’s thesis isn’t incorrect, at least across too-wide swaths of the population.

26. The Blue Aeroplanes, “Yr Own World”
I don’t recall having seen a group list a dancer as one of its official members before, but thirty years on, Vojtek Dmochowski is still with the band. Vocalist Gerard Langley’s sing-speak is a cross between the Godfathers’ “Birth, School, Work, Death” and the Nails’ “88 Lines about 44 Women.”

24. Mary’s Danish, “Julie’s Blanket”
Circa came out a couple of years after MD’s debut There Goes the Wondertruck… and produced this gem, undoubtedly the only song in recorded history with the parenthetic subtitle pigsheadsnakeface. After one more album in 1992, the band chose to pack it in.

It’s the month for interesting (?) covers. Circa includes a take on “Foxey Lady.”

22. The Golden Palominos, “Alive and Living Now”
Drunk with Passion mostly features collaborations between head Palomino Anton Fier and ex-Information Society member Amanda Kramer. It also includes songs co-written with Bob Mould and Michael Stipe; “Alive and Living Now” is sung by the latter.

19. Big Audio Dynamite II, “The Globe”
Mick decides to sample a song from his old band, and makes it work. Sure seems like I heard this a lot more than “Rush” back in the day.

15. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Shadowtime”
If there’s fault to find with “Peek-a-Boo” and “Kiss Them for Me,” it’s that each has a whiff of novelty to them. Maybe that’s enough to push the utterly delightful, elliptic “Shadowtime” into the conversation about Siouxsie’s best song?

13. Voice of the Beehive, “Monsters and Angels”
Honey Lingers, the Beehive’s second album, produced their first song to make the pop charts here in the U.S.; “Monsters and Angels” would reach #74 in November. (The album also contains an overhaul of “I Think I Love You,” with melody and chorus you expect, but musical backing that could have only been created in 1991 Britain.)

Edward Hopper fans may or may not enjoy this video.

12. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Give It Away”
RHCP’s ascension had begun with Mother’s Milk and their cover of “Higher Ground,” but Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the album put them on almost everyone’s radar. Wouldn’t object if “Give It Away” were about a minute shorter, though.

11. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Welcome to the grunge era. I’ll admit that I found “SLTS” revolutionary; to me, it’s the closest thing I’d know to hearing “Satisfaction” in the mid-60s.

8. Lloyd Cole, “She’s a Girl and I’m a Man”
One of two songs in this Top 10 on a mix tape I made in early 1992 (#5 is the other). I’ve not liked its title for some time, but a fair reading of the lyrics leads one to conclude Cole isn’t necessarily on the side of the “man.”

7. Squeeze, “Satisfied”
Play was the fourth post-reunion album from Difford, Tilbrook et. al., the first after Jools Holland’s second departure, and the final with Gilson Lavis on drums. “Satisfied” would be their last song to garner chart action of any sort outside of the UK.

5. Northside, “Take Five”
One huge advantage Katie had over Greg after she moved to Maryland was access to mighty fine alternative radio. WHFS, 99.1, was the absolute bomb compared to anything we had in the hinterlands of Urbana-Champaign. “Take Five” is one of the songs she passed on to Greg (and hence me) that fall/winter. Yes, it’s goofy, but I way dig it.

4. Billy Bragg, “Sexuality”
Can’t say much for Bragg’s voice, but he does have a way with a tune. Kirsty MacColl does her usual bang-up job on backup vocals, as well as hamming it up behind Billy’s back.

2. The Smithereens, “Top of the Pops”
Greg brought Blow Up back to the apartment pretty much immediately after its release. Overall I wasn’t as impressed as with previous efforts, particularly “Too Much Passion.” I worry they were a wee bit too passionate about reaching the top of the pops.

1. Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “So You Think You’re in Love”
Cult favorite enjoying his last relatively decent commercial success, Perspex Island. These days he’s hanging out in Nashville with Australia native Emma Swift, who released an album of Dylan covers last year.

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.

Modern Rock Tracks, 6/1/91

It was around this time that I started a subscription to Hoot, a bi-weekly comics newspaper out of Columbus, OH. I’d learned about it on a May visit to a college friend who was doing the med school thing at the Ohio State University. Not all of it was to my taste, but it did serve as an introduction to Zippy the Pinhead and Bizarro. Not sure now whether I kept getting it after I moved back to KY; I do wish I’d held on to at least one copy. It’s long been defunct, but I’ll bet I could find issues in the archives at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at tOSU.

Anyway. Moving on to our next survey of the alternative scene of 30 years ago…

30. Jesus Jones, “International Bright Young Thing”
JJ is tied for having the oldest song on the countdown, as Casey liked to say: 11 weeks, same as “See the Lights” from Simple Minds, to which we tipped our cap back in April.

28. Peter Himmelman, “Woman with the Strength of 10,000 Men”
This one is new to me. It’s based on an encounter the artist had with Susan, who was dying of ALS yet persevered in communicating with others after she lost use of everything except her left eyebrow. Himmelman, originally from the Twin Cities, wrote at length about the experience three years ago here. It’s an affecting, earnest song about an important lesson learned.

26. The Popinjays, “Vote Elvis”
This Brit-pop group had one album that went nowhere under their belt by this point. “Vote Elvis” (I’m unsure which one they’re lobbying for) was a subsequent single that ultimately appeared on 1992’s Flying Down to Mono Valley. Fun track, but “Monster Mouth,” which I’ll play here someday, is that album’s best song.

24. Dream Warriors, “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style”
I wasn’t much of one to seek out rap/hip hop back in the day, though there were acts (De La Soul, Beastie Boys, Arrested Development, Us3) that held appeal. Dream Warriors would have been another had I ever encountered them.

The cute thing here (which I confess I wouldn’t have known without consulting Wikipedia) is that the song being sampled–Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova”–was the theme for the long-running, 70s and 80s Canadian game show Definition.

20. Too Much Joy, “Crush Story”
Is “Crush Story” my favorite song on this chart? It sure is in the running.

The guys from Scarsdale got back together recently and just released Mistakes Were Made, on Bandcamp, in March.

17. Hoodoo Gurus, “Miss Freelove ’69”
A little less Australian music this time than we sometimes get in these MRT forays. This psychedelic track, from the perhaps appropriately named Kinky, commemorated a real-life bacchanalia involving head Guru Dave Faulkner.

15. Material Issue, “Diane”
Somewhere around the spring of 1992, I created a mix tape consisting of songs with women’s names in their titles. I had my choice from among the first three tracks on International Pop Overthrow–“Diane” won the day. What an intro this song has.

14. Fishbone, “Sunless Saturday”
These fellows from SoCal have been a thing of sorts for over forty years, first getting together while in junior high (a couple of them, vocalist Angelo Moore and bassist John Fisher, have been there the whole time–three other original members are back with the band after taking leave at various times). I don’t think I’ve heard much of their music, but man, “Sunless Saturday” sure is a ferocious, unrelenting piece.

13. Dave Wakeling, “I Want More”
From No Warning, his one solo album. Wakeling and Ranking Roger fronted competing 21st century re-formations of the (English) Beat on the two sides of the Atlantic.

7. The Farm, “All Together Now”
The things one didn’t catch in real time, part 28,517: a song about a soccer match on Christmas Day, 1914 between the warring sides on the Western Front of WWI. And yes, there’s good reason for you to think about Pachelbel’s Canon during the chorus.

6. Electronic, “Get the Message”
A year after “Getting Away with It” had charted on this side of the pond, Sumner/Marr/Tennant finally released their debut self-titled disk. “Get the Message” would hit #1 on this chart in three weeks; it’s long been a fave.

5. Violent Femmes, “American Music”
Why Do Birds Sing? was the Femmes’ fifth album. I didn’t think much of “American Music” when I first heard it that spring–too repetitive, too far removed from their epic debut. I’m hearing some of its joy now.

3. The La’s, “There She Goes”
Amazing to me that the La’s just seemed to vanish after this big breakthrough. The Sixpence None the Richer cover is fine, but I’ll take the original every time.

Am I alone in thinking that vocalist Lee Mavers was kinda doing a Frankie Valli thing when he sings, “And I just can’t contain…”?

1. Elvis Costello, “The Other Side of Summer”
Lead track from Mighty Like a Rose. In many ways this sounds like vintage EC, but the string is just about played out: he’d chart with only one more single in the U.S. after this (1994’s “13 Steps Lead Down”).

Not what Costello was on about, but: here we are, on one side of summer 2021; what will we learn by the time we reach the other?

Modern Rock Tracks, 4/6/91

This marks the second anniversary of my dives into the increasingly influential world of alternative music as it unfolded thirty years ago. Grunge is creeping closer to the horizon, but there are still a few more episodes of MRT to go before that tsunami hits.

As for my April 1991: I was in my last semester of grad school teaching (had the good fortune that my advisor could support me via a grant for the final year). Otherwise I was making strides on my dissertation and playing too much bridge; at the end of the month, Mark L, Milind, Chris, and I spent a weekend in Peoria qualifying for a July trip to the summer nationals in Vegas.

29. Eleventh Dream Day, “Rose of Jericho”
Chicago bands often garnered attention in the record stores of Champaign-Urbana, so I was a little familiar with this band. They’d gotten a major-label deal following their epicly-titled, breakout indie 1988 release Prairie School Freakout, but were unable to parlay that into significant sales in three tries on Atlantic. “Rose of Jericho” was their second and last time on the Modern Rock Chart; it had already topped out at #27.

28. The Feelies, “Sooner or Later”
This sounds like it comes from a completely different era, maybe late 70s? I’m definitely digging on it now, though–could be time for a trip through their catalog.

27. Dinosaur Jr., “The Wagon”
J Mascis has one of the more distinctive voices of the alternative scene; wasn’t hard to pick it out when he helped out Band of Horses on “In a Drawer” five years ago.

23. Lenny Kravitz, “Always on the Run”
Kravitz channels Sly Stone on this first featured track from Mama Said. Slash is also in the house, wielding his axe. (I prefer Kravitz’s remake of “That’s the Way of the World,” er, I mean “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over.”)

Light Skin Girl from London,” one of the B-sides of the CD single for “Always on the Run,” came up more than once while listening to WOXY on travels back and forth to KY during this period.

19. Enigma, “Sadeness (Pt. 1)”
Gregorian chant meets up with the master of pleasureful pain and hits the dance floor. The result is a #1 hit all over the world, but only #5 here in the States.

18. Lush, “De-Luxe”
I guess this is in straight 3/4 time, but I’m sorely tempted to say it’s alternating between 3/4 and 6/4 in spots. Whatever it is, this is squarely in my wheelhouse.

17. Throwing Muses, “Counting Backwards”
Lead single from The Real Ramona. I was only 27 at the time, but that made me a little long in the tooth compared to some of the folks on this chart. The Muses’ Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly weren’t even 25 yet; Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush had just turned or were about to turn (respectively) 24. Makes me feel like a wastrel, only thinking about polynomials in three or four variables…

14. John Wesley Harding, “The Person You Are”
Last April we spun “The Devil in Me” from Harding’s previous release; this one comes from The Name Above the Title. Haven’t steeped myself in his work, but I’ve found both of these songs thought-provoking, appealing pieces.

10. The Judybats, “Native Son”
Quite a few acts on this list were signed to Sire Records, including this sextet out of Knoxville (others are Dinosaur Jr., Muses, and Harding). This summer we’ll be checking out a 1991 Sire sampler on which all of them–and more!–appear.

This quirky, fun track is the title song from the Judybats’ debut LP–it’s also the tune currently lodged firmly in my head. I think what vocalist Jeff Heiskell is wearing in the clip is more cow than horse, but what do I know?

8. Havana 3AM, “Reach the Rock”
Short-lived band featuring Clash bassist Paul Simonon. This was their one stab at glory.

6. EMF, “Unbelievable”
Signs of the alternative scene’s increasing impact on the pop charts abound. Back in February, the top three of that MRT review went Top 10 on the Hot 100. This time, there are four songs out of these 30 that accomplished that: in addition to Enigma, the Divinyls and R.E.M. made it to #4, and EMF shot all the way to the top. I’m still a fan of “Unbelievable.”

5. Simple Minds, “See the Lights”
How did I miss this at the time? Gorgeous piece; even spent a week at #40 on the Hot 100 at the end of June. They still had it, five-plus years after Once Upon a Time.

4. Divinyls, “I Touch Myself”
Co-written by two members of the band and the powerhouse team of Steinberg/Kelly. This wasn’t the first time the band had leveraged the talents of outside writers: Mike Chapman and Holly Knight composed 1985’s “Pleasure and Pain,” a song I know I heard my senior year in college.

True story: the first time I heard “Birthday” from the Sugarcubes, I wondered if Christine Amphlett was singing (yes, I should have known better).

3. Material Issue, “Valerie Loves Me”
Our second Chicago band, though with a completely different approach: the classic power-pop trio. What a complete delight this is; we’ll feature another stellar cut from International Pop Overthrow in June.

2. Morrisey, “Our Frank”
Morrisey’s been a regular on the Modern Rock Track chart over these last two years, though I’ve frequently skipped over his contributions in these write-ups. We’ll throw him a bone this time; he’s pretty much still the same lyrically as he was with the Smiths.

1. R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”
The guys from Athens were coming off their first extended hiatus from recording; 1989 and 1990 were the first years without a new R.E.M. album since they’d started. Even if I don’t listen to Out of Time as much as some of their other albums, I can’t gripe that this wound up being their best-known song.

Modern Rock Tracks, 2/2/91

When I think of this point in time thirty years ago, just about the first thing that comes to mind is Operation Desert Storm, which officially began in mid-January and came to a close right as February did. The ground phase that ended it all was surprisingly short, just five days. On the last weekend of the month, I was in downtown Chicago, at a bridge tournament with Mark L when the announcement came over the PA that tanks were on the move. There was a lot of applause throughout the ballroom in response, though not at our table.

As for our first check-in with the nascent alternative scene for the year…while a number of these songs are awesome, I’m not feeling quite as much cumulative love this go-round as I have other times. We’ll look for things to get better later in the year, but we might as well take a peek.

28. Cocteau Twins, “Heaven or Las Vegas”
Songs are beginning to stay on the MRT chart longer on average–more and more frequently going forward, I’m getting to choose between two opportunities to write ’em up. This one was #21 back at the beginning of December and is now on the way down after a peak of #9.

27. The Pogues, “The Sunny Side of the Street”
Next time I’m in need of a pick-me-up, I may turn to this jaunty thing.

24. Inspiral Carpets, “This Is How It Feels”
I noted the silliness of the lyrics of “Commercial Rain” last time out, but the Carpets bounce back here with a thoughtful piece.

23. Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, “Fly Me Courageous”
I’d heard “Honeysuckle Blue” quite a bit on WPGU a couple of years earlier; they latched on to this one, too. Last March I’d made plans for a quick trip to the DC area to see 10K Maniacs with Greg and Katie, which obviously got postponed–these guys were scheduled to do a show in the area that weekend as well, though I doubt we would have gone.

18. The Charlatans UK, “White Shirt”
“Then” is sitting at #11 in its 15th week on, while this third single from Some Friendly is debuting.

14. Danielle Dax, “Tomorrow Never Knows”
What happens if you cover the Beatles using a Madchester backing track and female vocals? I believe it’s this.

13. The Darling Buds, “It Makes No Difference”
Two songs in a row produced by Stephen Street. A strong contender for my very favorite Buds tune. It’s close between this and #5 for best song on the chart.

12. Jellyfish, “That Is Why”
Saw Bellybutton featured at Record Service in Campustown for months on end, but never came close to pulling the trigger on a purchase. Please tell me how misguided I was. This is much better than “The King Is Half-Undressed,” which I passed over back in October.

10. They Eat Their Own, “Like a Drug”
Obscure band from LA that came and went very quickly. This is their one notable song, but it’s quite the song. I think I’ve got this CD somewhere still, no doubt courtesy of Greg.

9. The Mission UK, “Hands Across the Ocean”
These guys got their start after two of them left The Sisters of Mercy. Based on this song, I’d take them over SoM any day.

5. Lush, “Sweetness and Light”
This one slipped by me in real time–it’d take the release of “Nothing Natural” a year later for Lush to catch my attention. Started off as sort-of protegees of the Cocteau Twins but evolved a more rockin’ sound by the mid-90s, led by twin guitar attack of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson. Their ascent was derailed by the suicide of drummer Chris Aclund in 1996; they broke up not long after. A Top 5 90s band in my head.

4. Happy Mondays, “Kinky Afro”
They get to the chorus and I’m suddenly having flashbacks to “Lady Marmalade.” Dig it, but it’s not quite at the level of “Step On.”

3. Jesus Jones, “Right Here, Right Now”
Sounds entirely of its time–about events of its time–yet somehow I don’t consider this a dated piece. Maybe it’s the infectious, unwarranted optimism…

2. Chris Isaak, “Wicked Game”
I think Isaak’s pretty good, and I’m definitely glad he made some coin off of this song, but there are plenty others of his I like better.

1. Sting, “All This Time”
Am I the only one who didn’t consider Sting an alternative/college rock artist by this point? I hear “We’ll Be Together” on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave, and it just sounds out of place. Ditto for this perfectly fine pop song.

Modern Rock Tracks, 12/1/90

Whenever December 1 is a Saturday, that means Thanksgiving is as early as it can be, on November 22. On the morning of the 23rd, 1990, I hit the road, heading west. This was the second consecutive year I attended a wedding the Saturday after Turkey Day, both times for college friends. The festivities thirty years ago were in suburban St. Louis: my dear friends Mark H and Lana were tying the knot, more than eight years after they’d met. I served as best man; my toast centered on a plausible-yet-fictitious rendering of their first encounter, on the day Mark (and I) moved in at Transy–it is true that Lana, a returning student, was helping coordinate traffic in the back circle by the dorms that day…

Anyway, it’s time for the final Modern Rock Tracks installment of the year, from the weekend following those nuptials. What delights await?

#30. Concrete Blonde, “Caroline”
I keep getting reeled in by Johnette Napolitano’s earthy vocals. The band’s outfits in the clip are pretty all-world.

#27. Inspiral Carpets, “Commercial Rain”
More goodies from the UK in the Manchester mold. Catchy as all get out but the lyrics are, well, not that deep (“Mary’s crying for her baby, for her baby doll–ahhhhhhhhhh, commercial rain”). It would wind up on a mix tape I made in the summer of 1992, so I’m saving the vid for whenever I write that up.

#24. The Posies, “Golden Blunders”
Another mix tape treat–this time from 1994–but it’s so good, I won’t mind repeating myself should I wind up featuring it again. I’m willing to call this the best song on the chart. The Posies were a Seattle-area band, strictly power pop and not grungy in the least. The title feels like an obvious Beatles reference; Ringo covered it a couple of years later.

#23. Hindu Love Gods, “Raspberry Beret”
Warren Zevon + non-Stipe members of REM + late night recording session after much drinking = respectable Prince cover.

#19. Redd Kross, “Annie’s Gone”
The next three embedded videos today are from quality songs that somehow slipped under my radar in real time. First up, a California band led by a pair of brothers unafraid to make a fashion statement or three.

#17. Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, “Mama Help Me”
I get how folks can be turned off by Brickell’s overly precious writing. I do. This lead track from Ghost of a Dog had no chance of changing anyone’s mind about it, either. Like that album plenty, but “Mama Help Me” is among its lower tier of tracks.

#14. The Trash Can Sinatras, “Only Tongue Can Tell”
These guys from Scotland are still together thirty years on. I’m definitely picking up a Smiths vibe.

#12. INXS, “Disappear”
Much better than “Suicide Blonde.” This would be their seventh and last Top 10 hit on the U.S. pop charts; each peaked at a different position (they didn’t have a #4, #6, or #10 hit).

#10. The Connells, “Stone Cold Yesterday”
Greg had tipped me off earlier in the year to “Something to Say” from 1989’s Fun and Games. I don’t know how this gem got past me; give it a crank.

#7. Iggy Pop, “Candy”
For your consideration: Kate Pierson’s uncredited accompanying vocals, while not as pervasive, are the early 90s analogue of Stevie Nicks’ work in the late 70s.

#5. U2, “Night and Day”
In retrospect, this track can be seen as a second inflection point in the direction of their music. It’s definitely one of the highlights on Red Hot + Blue, the collection of Cole Porter covers that raised money for the fight against AIDS. (I’ll confess I’m also a big sucker for Iggy and Debbie Harry stumbling through “Well, Did You Evah!”)

#4. An Emotional Fish, “Celebrate”
Another Irish band that got some traction trying to sound a little like the boys at #5. What are the odds that Bono could have come up with a line like, “Well, I guess beauty does what beauty does best–it’s beautiful”? I’d lay 3-2 on it. This also was on one of my mix tapes and will likely receive mention in this space again someday.

#3. Sisters of Mercy, “More”
British Goth doesn’t do all that much for me, but I had to toss this one in when I learned that Jim Steinman co-wrote and co-produced it. I’m trying to imagine the conversation between Mr. Over-the-Top and lead Sister Andrew Eldritch that resulted in the collaboration. Eldritch: “Jim, I just loved what you did for Bonnie Tyler on ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart,’ especially the line about the powder keg. Listen–can you help me? I’ve got this lyric stuck in my head: ‘You keep me comin’ back for more.’ Any ideas on how to flesh it out?” Steinman: “Hmmm. We should be able to fit ‘like a kid in a candy store’ in somehow. That’s much more pedestrian that my ‘mountain of rocks/Crackerjack Box’ rhyme for Meat Loaf, but I bet we can make it work. My fee, you ask? All I request is to have a go at the control board.”

(You now know why I flamed out as a fiction writer.)

#1. Jane’s Addiction, “Been Caught Stealing”
Can’t say I’m much of a Perry Ferrell fan, yet here we are, with the big hit from Ritual de lo habitual at the top. On the other hand, when I was watching videos from this chart via YouTube a couple of nights ago, this was the song that brought my son over from his computer to listen more closely. Maybe it was the dog barking at the intro…

Modern Rock Tracks, 10/6/90

It took a few months of duking it out at the bridge club in Champaign before I became good friends with Greg, Katie, Toby, and Karl. They’d started going in the last half of 1989, around the same time I had gotten back into it. Toby had played quite a bit growing up in the super-competitive DC bridge scene and was a natural at the game; the other three (two fellow physics grad students and a spouse in EE) had learned of his mad skills and pestered him to teach them.

The summer after I fell in with them, Toby and I got around to playing a couple of games at the club. Initial results were pretty promising, so we started looking at the tournament calendar to see where could take on a larger field. We settled on a regional in Cincinnati, to be held the first weekend of October, mostly because we could get free housing by staying with my parents.

We drove down on Thursday and played in two-session pairs events on Friday and Saturday–I must have gotten someone to cover my classes. Friday turned out only so-so; the high point of the day was walking down to Riverfront Stadium between sessions. This was the year the Reds came out of nowhere to win the World Series, and they’d just snagged Game 2 of the NLCS (a day game) against the Pirates. In the parking lot beneath that uninspiring concrete bowl, we got to see greats such as Jose Rijo emerge and walk to their waiting vehicles (no autographs, alas).

Saturday, though, was mighty sweet. Despite my inexperience, we charged out to a big lead in the afternoon session of our event and held on to first place in the nightcap. It would be a few years before I’d earn that many masterpoints in a single event again.

That win was thirty years ago today, the same day that Billboard listed the songs below in their Modern Rock Tracks chart. May be time to spin a few tunes…

#28. Ultra Vivid Scene, “Special One”
UVS was ostensibly a band, but it was mostly just Kurt Ralske doing his thing. This song is a VU-meets-“September Gurls” affair, with a big assist from Kim Deal of…

#23. The Pixies, “Velouria”
I imagine I tuned the radio to WOXY 97X on our way in and out of Cincy. This is one of the first songs I recall hearing on 97X in this period, maybe from Labor Day weekend? Not as melodic as “Here Comes Your Man,” but I guess it’s fine enough.

#22. Mojo Nixon, “Don Henley Must Die”
My officemates and I had several good laughs three years earlier when Nixon and Skid Roper released “Elvis Is Everywhere,” though we never found a way to incorporate it into our shrine to the King. Much as I liked some of the songs on End of the Innocence, this send-up was reasonably well-deserved.

#21. Los Lobos, “Down on the Riverbed”
I absolutely love The Neighborhood and Kiko from these guys. Neither one sold remotely near as much as “La Bamba,” but I suppose I’m grateful at least one song from them charted somewhere here in the U. S.

#19. The Darling Buds, “Crystal Clear”
Speaking of albums I adore… Crawdaddy has got to be in my Top 10 for 1990. The Buds are veering away to a degree from what made Pop Said… so charming, echoing more of what some of the other UK bands on this chart are doing. But Andrea Farr still makes it all her own.

#14. Aztec Camera, “Good Morning Britain”
Roddy Frame said he tried to write this song to sound like something Mick Jones (non-Foreigner edition) would do. He did so well that he managed to get Mick to play and sing on it.

#13. Soho, “Hippychick”
Greg was pretty unhappy any time “Hippychick” came on, tricked into thinking he was about to hear “How Soon Is Now?” instead.

#10. The Heart Throbs, “Dreamtime”
My big find from this set. It sounds exactly like something that WOXY would have played, though I don’t have any recollection of hearing it. Definitely feels like a precursor to Lush and other shoegazer bands. Their lineup included two sisters of Pete DeFreitas, the drummer for Echo and the Bunnymen who’d died the year before in a motorcycle accident.

#9. The Cocteau Twins, “Iceblink Luck”
Stan Freberg parodies usually focused on one aspect of their target and just drove it into the ground (the snare drum on “Yellow Rose of Texas,” the piano on “The Great Pretender”). For “Sh-Boom,” Freberg took aim at the supposed difficulty in understanding its lyrics (come to think of it, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic took the same tack on “Smells Like Nirvana”).

I felt like Freberg’s character in “Sh-Boom” when I heard Elizabeth Fraser sing quite clearly “That will burn this whole madhouse down” on “Iceblink Luck.” I’m not supposed to be able to understand you, Elizabeth!

Despite that, Heaven or Las Vegas may well be the Twins’ most solid album overall–certainly their most accessible.

#8. The Charlatans UK, “The Only One I Know”
Greg and I invented our own term for the music coming out of the UK in the very early 90s–we called it wakka-wakka, I guess because of some combination of its rhythms and guitar sounds (it’s all wrapped up in the Madchester movement, I know–maybe it’s what other folks called baggy?). It’s a tossup as to whether “The Only One I Know” or the Stone Roses’ “Fool’s Gold” is my quintessential wakka song.
(I Stand Corrected: Greg reminded me in a recent conversation that it was actually Katie, his wife, who came up with wakka-wakka. He and I just ran with it, apparently.)

#7. DNA featuring Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner”
I won’t repeat the story of how this hit came about–I’m just glad Vega didn’t try to put the kibosh on it. But now I’m wondering if the sound of 99.9°F was influenced by the success of this?

#4. INXS, “Suicide Blonde”
You’re just not very likely to follow up a huge smash like Kick with anything nearly as successful. X was a game effort, I guess, but this first release tried too hard to sound like some of their earlier–and better–songs.

#3. Living Colour, “Type”
Vernon Reid, Corey Glover, Muzz Skillings, and Will Calhoun followed up Vivid with Time’s Up. I remember hearing this lead single from their sophomore effort a few times.

#2. The Soup Dragons, “I’m Free”
Scottish band hops on the wakka-wakka bandwagon with this cover of an old Stones song.

#1. The Cure, “Never Enough”
I’d forgotten about Mixed Up, the Cure’s album of remixes. Smith and company did include this rockin’ new tune. In spite of the later success of Wish and “Friday I’m In Love,” I’ll go on record as saying that we’d already seen the best this band had to offer by this point.

And with that…we’ll dip back into the MRT charts in early December.

Modern Rock Tracks, 8/4/90

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.

Modern Rock Tracks, 6/2/90

It’s time once more to take a look at some of what appeared on the right side of page 18 in the Billboard magazine dated thirty years ago today.

28. The Cure, “Pictures of You”
The fourth and final single from Disintegration.

26. Julee Cruise, “Falling”
Don’t know if it’s really the case or not, but it feels like every one of these MRT posts has a dear favorite sung by a woman sitting somewhere in the 20s. Yes, it’s now been thirty years since Twin Peaks was all the rage and we got to know the music of Julee Cruise. I picked up Floating Into the Night back then; might just have to give it a spin now, especially for “Rockin’ Back Inside My Heart.”

24. The Sidewinders, “We Don’t Do That Anymore”
These guys from Tucson eventually had to change their name to the Sand Rubies. Here’s their second and last time on this chart. Nice song that I seem to be discovering just now.

19. Big Dipper, “Love Barge”
Seems like a barge is not really the metaphor you want to invoke when talking about love. I get that “Love Boat” was already taken, but still… Beantown rockers on their major label debut; they soon split up.

18. Jerry Harrison, “Flying Under Radar”
Harrison’s first solo album, The Red and the Black, spawned very little interest when it came out in 1981 (though my college roommate and I both dug “Slink“). His next effort, 1988’s Casual Gods, was much better received. Walk on Water didn’t do as well two years later, but “Flying Under Radar” is a perfectly serviceable rocker.

15. Social Distortion, “Ball and Chain”
Mike Ness and band had their greatest commercial success with their 1992 album Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell, but things had started rolling with their eponymous third LP. This was its first single.

12. Suzanne Vega, “Book of Dreams”
Days of Open Hand never grooved me the way Suzy V’s first two albums had, or 99.9° F would. That doesn’t mean I would have minded if she’d gotten a hit single or two from it.

10. The Pretenders, “Never Do That”
Packed! is sort of overlooked in Chrissie’s oeuvre–it certainly didn’t make much of a commercial dent. It still had a couple of notable tracks; we’ll get another one in the fall (no, not “Hold a Candle to This”).

8. Adrian Belew and David Bowie, “Pretty Pink Rose”
What happens when the Twang Bar King meets up with the Thin White Duke? A pretty rockin’ cut, that’s what. Wish there were a higher quality clip hanging out on YouTube.

7. Lloyd Cole, “Downtown”
After watching the accompanying video for this track, I can safely say I have no desire to see the Rob Lowe/James Spader flick Bad Influence, on whose soundtrack this song appears. It’s also on Cole’s first solo album after breaking up with the Commotions.

5. Sinéad O’Connor, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”
I dig it a bunch; it’s an honest, though sniping, take on where she found herself after the whirlwind success of The Lion and the Cobra.

3. The Sundays, “Here’s Where the Story Ends”
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic is a fantastic record, one of my fave albums from 1990. Plenty of Smiths vibe to both music and lyrics, and Harriet Wheeler’s voice is a charmer. Brilliant song, certainly my favorite on this list.

I associate this song with a trip to Atlanta I took with my parents over Memorial Day weekend. Dad had a side business as a numismatic coin dealer for several years in the 80s and 90s, and for a while he made an annual pilgrimage to a show there.

2. World Party, “Way Down Now”
Excellent stuff near the top this time; “Way Down Now” isn’t far behind the Sundays’ effort above at all.

1. Depeche Mode, “Policy of Truth”
Talked a little about this one a couple of months ago; it’s fine enough, but I don’t need to play it again today.

Modern Rock Tracks, 4/7/90

Time once again to check in on the nascent alternative scene from thirty years ago–there’s a decidedly international flavor to my selections this go-round. I might be a little shorter and sweeter with accompanying text, but will try to make up for it by including a couple more videos than usual for your listening pleasure.

#28. Everything But The Girl, “Driving”
A big one on VH-1. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt already had hits in their native UK, but this was their first taste of success on these shores. Four years later, they’d have a huge hit with “Missing.” Nice smooth one here.

#22. John Wesley Harding, “The Devil in Me”
Brit Wesley Stace took on the name of Robert Zimmerman’s eighth album for performance purposes and enjoyed a modicum of chart action in the very early 90s. A couple of former Attractions are backing up here. Strong voice, strong melody, strong words. He still records today.

#19. The Beautiful South, “You Keep It All In”
Our second entry from Hull (EBTG was, also). Born out of the Housemartins, a band with some mid-80s hits in England. Briana Corrigan wasn’t technically a member of the group at this point, but her vocals really help make this soar.

I had my Illinois officemate Paul rip their debut album Welcome to the Beautiful South from CD to cassette for me after I’d checked it out from the library; listened to it some but somehow this song failed to make an impression then. I regret that.

#18. Adam Ant, “Room at the Top”
Manners & Physique was the only album Ant released between 1985’s Vive Le Rock and 1995’s Wonderful. This was its big hit, such as it was.

#13. Del Amitri, “Kiss This Thing Goodbye”
I definitely enjoyed the singles from this Scottish band as they trickled out over the first half of the decade. This song was the first of theirs to catch my attention; I was reminded just days ago it actually made #35 on the Hot 100 in July.

#11. Michael Penn, “This & That”
Penn is the first American we’ve got going today. Utterly brilliant, and the obvious choice on March for a follow-up single to the epic “No Myth;” I was sorely disappointed it only reached #53.

#10. The Cramps, “Bikini Girls with Machine Guns”
And here ends our U.S. portion of the program. Stay Sick! was just the fourth studio release for punksters Lux Interior, Poison Ivy, and company, and it produced the only song of theirs ever to chart in any form in America.

#9. The Stone Roses, “Fools Gold”
Love that Madchester sound from my latter days in grad school. I think we all need the ten-minute version of this classic today.

#7. The House of Love, “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”
Definitely the shoulda-been-a-big-hit-but-wasn’t on this chart; super-catchy and worth cranking a time or two as you go about your work today. These guys had four songs make the Top 10 on this chart between 1988 and 1992. Not to be confused in the slightest with the contemporaneous U.S. band Book of Love, which was female-led and much more synth-oriented.

#5. Depeche Mode, “Enjoy the Silence”
In which our monarch seeks a bit of communing with nature while toting around a lawn chair. This was DM’s only U.S. Top 10 hit; it was mighty hard to escape that spring and summer.

#3. The Church, “Metropolis”
My friend Katie is a huge fan of the Church. Gold Afternoon Fix came out not long after I met her and Greg. “Metropolis” is no “Under the Milky Way” or even “Reptile,” but it’s plenty serviceable; I presume Katie enjoyed it a bunch.

#2. Sinéad O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U”
The Lion and the Cobra was one of my very favorite albums in 1987-88 (I wrote a decent amount about it a couple of years ago), but I was unable to really dig into I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Sure, “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” are sufficiently wicked, and this mega-Prince-penned hit deserved to make #1. There’s just nothing here that compares to “Mandinka.”

#1. Midnight Oil, “Blue Sky Mine”
Two Aussie bands in the Top 3. Like the Church, Midnight Oil couldn’t quite capitalize commercially on their hit album from two years earlier. Peter Garrett and his mates are still bringing the moral heat, though.