Modern Rock Tracks, 12/2/89

Last month I indicated that quarterly reviews of Hot 100s from thirty years ago were unlikely to continue. There’s just not enough familiarity with the hits of that time to warrant my efforts, especially since I’d too often want to take potshots at the stuff I do recognize. The bimonthly forays into the Modern Rock Tracks charts I started back in April, though–that’s been fun. There’s plenty I don’t know on them as well, for sure, but the fruits of my research are much more in line with my tastes of the day. It’s a feature I hope to keep going for a good while.

Let’s take a look at a dozen of the songs on the 12/2/89 chart.

30. The Del Fuegos, “Move With Me Sister”
Band out of Boston with what turned out to be their final modicum of success prior to breaking apart. Warren Zanes, brother of leader/vocalist Dan, had already bailed on the band by this point; he’s now a VP at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

While I was dimly aware the Del Fuegos back in the day, I must confess that for more than a quarter of a century, hearing their name has immediately brought to mind a different song with the word “sister” in its title. The link takes you to an affecting oral history of the Juliana Hatfield Three hit published in Spin five years ago–you won’t regret clicking through to it.

28. The Primitives, “Secrets”
Another pop charmer from the Coventry quartet. In a more just world, folks would have been listening to this instead of NKOTB.

22. David Byrne, “Make Believe Mambo”
Byrne released his first post-Heads solo work, Rei Momo, a little over eighteen months after Naked. It’s chock-full of Latin rhythms and dance styles, and perhaps pointed him in the direction of the amazing Brazil Classics series he began curating shortly thereafter.

I was today years old when I learned that personal fave Kirsty MacColl is singing backup on this song (then-hubby Steve Lillywhite helped Byrne with the production of Rei Momo).

17. Deborah Harry, “I Want That Man”
Toward the end of 88, The Escape Club had a #1 hit with the odious “Wild Wild West,” a song that featured the forward-looking phrase, “Heading for the 90s…” One year later and a decade ahead of its time, Harry is warning us, “Here comes the twenty-first century…” Granted, King Crimson beat her to this punch by two decades, but I do wonder: how many other songs were out there around this time, or earlier, referencing the upcoming century?

“I Want That Man,” written by Thompson Twins Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie, was a big hit in Australia but hardly made an impression here in the States. I think Harry under-sings it a bit, but it’s a darn catchy tune.

16. Dramarama, “Last Cigarette”
Band from Jersey. Had a few songs get some Modern Rock chart action, but this ode to the day’s final nicotine fix is the one I know best.

11. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground”
RHCP’s campaign to conquer the music world entered its next stage with the release of Mother’s Milk late in the summer. Impossible to better the original version of this song, but they gave it a more than credible effort.

9. Lenny Kravitz, “Let Love Rule”
I’m not a big Kravitz fan but do appreciate his approach to the craft. This was our first peek at his retro stylings.

7. The Mighty Lemon Drops, “Into the Heart of Love”
This band from the UK had made some noise a year earlier with the very good “Inside Out.” While this tune isn’t quite as memorable, it is reminding me I should dig a little into their catalog.

Back in 91, I ran across their epic cover of “Another Girl, Another Planet,” on the Just Say Anything sampler from Sire Records. Truth be told, I’m pretty sure I like it better than the original.

4. The Smithereens, “A Girl Like You”
A bit of a breakthrough, as this lead single from 11 became the Smithereens’ first Top 40 hit (one of two). Really solid band that never received their due measure of success.

3. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Blues from a Gun”
Another band that featured a pair of brothers, this time from Scotland. I knew them by name back then but hadn’t bothered to check ’em out. Big mistake–I would have been all over this blistering track if I’d been paying attention.

2. Kate Bush, “Love and Anger”
Between hearing “Running Up That Hill” at the end of 85 and getting the compilation LP The Whole Story a little over a year later, I felt like I’d become a big Kate Bush fan. A little dabbling into her back catalog hadn’t impressed as much, however, though I took the plunge and bought The Sensual World soon after it was released anyway. It did not go into heavy rotation, and I think I eventually sold it. Listening to “Love and Anger” again these last few days is giving me stirrings of regret over that decision; I didn’t fully appreciate the greatness of this song back then.

Yes, we have a David Gilmour sighting about two-thirds of the way through the vid.

1. Ian McCulloch, “Proud To Fall”
First solo hit from the (former) lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen, in what turned out to be a non-permanent parting of the ways. Not a bad tune, but I can’t say it leaves a strong impression, either. They didn’t play it when I saw E&tB in concert in the summer of 18. In its fourth and final week at the top; “Love and Anger” would replace it.

Modern Rock Tracks, 10/7/89

Time for our next visit to the nascent alternative scene of thirty years ago. I knew, and generally enjoyed, most of these twelve tracks in real time, but a few came my way over the next year or two via future roommate Greg.

#29. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, “Look Who’s Dancing”
The Marley progeny released One Bright Day one year after their breakthrough Conscious Party. It included this track, which got play on the video channels and was coming off a Top 10 peak here.

#28. The Rolling Stones, “Mixed Emotions”
Yes, this was their best lead single since “Start Me Up,” but it sure feels out of place.

#17. Depeche Mode, “Personal Jesus”
Debuting–the year of DM domination begins…now…

#13. The Stone Roses, “She Bangs the Drums”
…while the Madchester movement was also gaining a purchase on these shores. Greg wheeled out The Stone Roses a few times when we began hanging out in 90; somewhat bizarrely, the almost ten-minute “Fool’s Gold” is the track that made the deepest impression then, but “She Bangs the Drums” is an absolute pop delight.

#12. The Primitives, “Sick of It”
Lovely, the 88 debut disk from Britain’s Primitives, is a drop-dead gorgeous album, well worth a write-up someday (and well worth you seeking it out). The following year, Tracy Tracy, Paul Court and company released Pure–while it has some good tunes, including “Sick of It,” it doesn’t hit Lovely‘s heights with anywhere near the same frequency. The Primitives sold more product than Welsh counterparts The Darling Buds, but I’ve generally favored the Buds over the years.

#10. The Sugarcubes, “Regina”
Another lead single from a second LP. I’d bought Life’s Too Good, the Icelanders’ debut, and rather liked it at the time–I’m not sure it’s aged especially well. (Björk showed she was a force of nature right off the bat, of course.) “Regina,” from Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! was okay, but not enough to get me to listen to the new album much.

#9. Squeeze, “If It’s Love”
Having achieved some US chart success with two singles from their 87 album Babylon and On, Squeeze might have thought they finally had some commercial momentum. Frank proved otherwise. “If It’s Love” is a pretty nice track, but it would only make noise in Modern Rock-land.

#7. Camper Van Beethoven, “Pictures of Matchstick Men”
My first music-themed Facebook post was on May 28, 2011, and featured this song (I’d heard the Status Quo original at Walgreens earlier in the day). Morgan Fichter’s violin sucks me in and doesn’t let go. There’s a lot of great stuff in the top half of today’s list–this is in the running for best of the bunch.

#5. The Ocean Blue, “Between Something and Nothing”
And so is this propulsive, energetic piece. It wound up leading off a mix tape I made in the spring of 92. The quartet, originally from Pennsylvania, still features two of its original members; they released an album earlier this year.

#4. The Alarm, “Sold Me Down the River”
It was somewhat surprising these guys never truly cashed in. “Sixty Eight Guns” makes me think of my early MTV-watching days, and “Rain in the Summertime” is a pretty nice tune. “Sold Me Down the River” would reach #50 on the Hot 100, their best US showing.

#3. Tears for Fears, “Sowing the Seeds of Love”
In which Orzabal/Smith channel their inner Lennon/McCartney. It generally works; I still dig it.

#1. The B-52’s, “Love Shack”
Greg and Katie saw Berlin/OMD/B-52’s in DC last month; I was pleased to learn that Cindy is back with the band. Greg saw fit to record the “Tin roof/Rusted!” moment and send it my way–the crowd was more than ready for it.

I’ll listen to this song anytime.

Modern Rock Tracks, 8/5/89

What was happening in the world of music that might get played on Postmodern MTV/120 Minutes at the beginning of August 89? A bunch of kick-ass songs, that’s what.

#30. Darling Buds, “Let’s Go Round There”
Pop Said… came out in the States in early 89, but the Darling Buds had been releasing singles in the UK for a while before that. They experienced middling success there, and none here, until a slightly remixed version of “Let’s Go Round There” clawed its way onto the lower strata of this chart. They’d have more success the following year on the MRT chart with a couple of tracks from the followup album Crawdaddy. I’ll glom onto just about any excuse to play some Buds.

 

#26. Texas, “I Don’t Need a Lover”
Odd name for a band from Scotland. Their debut album Southside got a lot of play in my car for a good while–it’ll crop up as a Forgotten Album in the coming weeks. They got big in Europe and other parts of the world, particularly in the late 90s, but never caught on in the U.S. Always liked this song quite a bit.

#19. Chris Isaak, “Don’t Make Me Dream About You”
Isaak’s third album, Heart Shaped World, had come out in June, and this was its first featured track.  The album tanked at the time, but became a smash eighteen months later after “Wicked Game” was featured in the David Lynch flick Wild at Heart.

#15. Mary’s Danish, “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight”
This isn’t the Mainstream Rock chart, so one doesn’t necessarily expect too many of the entries to rock out. Mary’s Danish, who were based in L.A., is bringing the heat on this track, though. The voices of co-leads Gretchen Seager and Julie Ritter play off each other nicely.

 

#11. “Radio Silence,” Boris Grebenshikov
Grebenshikov is one of the figures present at the birth of rock music in Russia in the 70s and 80s. This is the title track of the one album he released in the West, produced by Dave Stewart.

 

#10. Adrian Belew, “Oh Daddy”
Belew was born in the same city I was (think there’s a fifty-fifty chance it was the same hospital, too), and grew up not too far from my hometown–Warren tells me some of his HS teachers reported having Adrian (who was known as Steve then) as a student. He’s played guitar for a loooong list of bands, but is best known for his work with King Crimson. There are also a few solo albums to his credit; the fourth of those, Mr. Music Head, came out spring 89. It included his best shot at a real hit single, though Belew had to go meta to do it. “Oh Daddy” features questions from then 11-year-old daughter Audie (which now makes her…oh, I don’t want to think about it) about his lack of chart action.

 

#6. The Call, “Let the Day Begin”
Warren has introduced a lot of good music to me over the years, but his greatest gift in that regard is likely the Bay Area band The Call. They had three complete, absolute classics in”The Walls Came Down,” “I Still Believe,” and “Let the Day Begin,” plus a slew of songs almost as good (I’m especially fond of their 86 release Reconciled). True commercial success eluded them, however unfair that may be. In two weeks it’ll have been nine years since leader Michael Been passed away at age 60. This is probably my favorite song on this list.

 

#5. Hoodoo Gurus, “Come Anytime”
Fun, fabulous Aussie rocker. Always a treat to crank; shoulda been a hit single.

 

#3. Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”
You couldn’t stop Doolittle in the summer of 89, you could only hope to contain it. For some reason I heard “Here Comes Your Man” much more frequently back then than “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” which could explain why I like it more even today.

#2. Public Image Ltd, “Disappointed”
I didn’t pay any attention to this one thirty years ago, but it’s got plenty of appeal now. Lydon is as shrill as ever, and that’s okay. We get a new way to interpret the phrase, “That’s what friends are for.”

#1. B-52s, “Channel Z”
Cosmic Thing was the first album from the B-52s following the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson almost four years earlier. The sorta-title song “Shake That Cosmic Thing” had been on the MRT chart for a few weeks before this, but the ascension of “Channel Z” gave the first indication that they were soon to graduate from cult favorite status.

 

Come back next week for the quarterly visit to the Hot 100 of thirty years ago.

Modern Rock Tracks, 6/3/89

When the first week of June 89 rolled around, the Modern Rock Tracks chart in Billboard was less than a year old. The first MRT was published in the 9/10/88 issue; sitting atop was the mighty fine “Peek-A-Boo,” from Siouxsie and the Banshees. The chart is given a home on page 16, along with the Album Rock Tracks chart, and that’s where it seemed to stay–I’ve found it there in all the subsequent issues I’ve examined so far. There’s a note under the banner each week: “Compiled from Commercial and College Radio Airplay Reports.” Might be interesting to dig around for more detail on the methodology…

But let’s look now at some of what was rocking college towns across the US thirty years ago today:

#25. Concrete Blonde, “God Is a Bullet.”
I think I first encountered this L.A. band my first year in grad school, seeing their video for “Still in Hollywood” in the evenings on MTV a few times. While “Joey,” their pretty big hit from the second half of 90, is by far the song of theirs you’re most likely to know now, this scorcher is better. It rocks heavier than my usual fare, but some combination of Johnette Napolitano’s vocals and the subject matter (still oh-so-germane today) completely sucked me in; it wound up on a favorite mix tape I recorded in 91. Turn. It. Up.

 

#21. Depeche Mode, “Everything Counts.”
A live version of their single from six years earlier. We were just months away from seeing “Personal Jesus” and the rest of Violator dominate the modern rock scene for the better part of a year.


#14. XTC, “King for a Day.”

“Mayor of Simpleton” had topped this chart for five weeks back in April; this time it’s Colin Moulding’s turn with the pen and at the mic as the follow-up from Oranges and Lemons takes its shot (it reached only #11). It’s another one whose lyrics still seem applicable now. Excellent song.


#10. Bob Mould, “See a Little Light.”

Hüsker Dü had broken up a couple of years before, and the first solo efforts from two of its members had surfaced. Grant Hart went first, releasing his 2541 EP in late 88 (that title cut is mighty awesome). Bob Mould then came out with Workbook; this first featured cut was quite the departure from the days of Dü.

 

#7. 10000 Maniacs, “Trouble Me.”
In My Tribe was totally my scene for most of the latter half of 87, so there’s little doubt I bought Blind Man’s Zoo as soon as it came out. Zoo turned out to be my least favorite Maniacs major-label album (Natalie Merchant era), though, and I wasn’t an especially big fan of this single (which reached #44 on the Hot 100 in August).


#5. Pixies, “Monkey Gone to Heaven.”

My first exposure to this Beantown band, soon to be followed by “Here Comes Your Man.”  I get why a lot of folks dug them.

 

#4. Joe Jackson, “Nineteen Forever.”
Jackson was coming close to the end of his first pop/rock phase by this point. He ended the 80s with Blaze of Glory; this track was the only one from it to receive much attention.


#3. Cult, “Fire Woman.”

These guys from the UK really aren’t my thing, though I’ll cop to thinking “She Sells Sanctuary” is a pretty good song. “Fire Woman” wound up being their most successful track stateside, hitting #46 on the Hot 100 and #2 on this chart.


#2. Love and Rockets, “So Alive.”

Three-fourths of Bauhaus hung together after the split in 83 to form Love and Rockets. I liked “No New Tale to Tell,” sung by David J, a fair amount when it came out in 87. Since Daniel Ash is the vocalist on “So Alive,” it didn’t click with me at first that this could be from the same band. Very solid track, and soon to be a chart-topper here for five weeks.

 

#1. Cure, “Fascination Street.”
My only Cure purchases were a cassette copy of the singles compilation Standing on a Beach and a 45 of “Why Can’t I Be You?” There’s absolutely a lot of good stuff among their earlier work. It was fasc…, er, interesting to watch them explode in popularity as the 80s wound down. This spent seven weeks at the top of the Modern Rock Tracks chart, but their biggest splash was yet to come.

 

Modern Rock Tracks, 4/1/89

My musical tastes were trending toward “modern rock” by the end of the 80s, more and more so as its name changed to alternative. Let’s take a look at what’s going on in Billboard vis-à-vis Modern Rock (MR) thirty years ago (two thoughts are occurring to me—first, maybe I should have been doing this all year as part of Destination 89; second, I suspect I’ll now come back to this every couple of months for a while).

Thirty tracks were listed each week, many of which never became familiar. I’ll hit on several I knew then or know more about now.

#28: Tanita Tikaram, “Twist in My Sobriety.” I discussed Tikaram’s debut album, including this fab song, two months ago. It’s at the beginning of a three week run on this chart.

#21: Proclaimers, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” I heard this only a few times back in the late 80s. We couldn’t escape the Reid twins four years later, though, when this song‘s inclusion on the soundtrack for Benny and Joon helped launch it to #3 on the Hot 100.

#15: Cowboy Junkies, “Sweet Jane.” I’d given in to the buzz and purchased The Trinity Session soon after it came out (it’s got a solid take on “Walkin’ After Midnight” as the closing track). It’s on its way down the MR chart now. Pandora’s algorithm has served this up to me just a little too often over the years.

#7: Morrissey, “The Last of the Famous International Playboys.” There are many, many Morrissey songs with titles that only he would dare attempt to use.  This is one of them.

#5: Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, “Madonna of the Wasps.” I’d guess I was introduced to this by 120 Minutes. Very fine jangly tune—could listen to it several times in a row these days.

#3: Replacements, “I’ll Be You.” Shame on me, I guess—I never got that much into Paul Westerberg and crew. Heard this as much as any of their songs, and it just didn’t grab me. What should I go back and hear of theirs now?

#2: Elvis Costello, “Veronica.” Did not appreciate this one nearly enough at the time. An utter charmer, it’s Costello’s biggest hit in the U.S. (made #19 on the pop charts a couple months after this). Dementia has been mercifully rare in my family (only my father’s mother suffered it), but I am seeing it take hold of a few people I hold dear as I grow older.

#1: XTC, “Mayor of Simpleton.” Well, it’s one of those times where the best song on the chart sits at the top. I wouldn’t get Oranges and Lemons until a couple of years later, but I was a ginormous fan of this update of Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World” in real time. It’d spend five weeks in this spot and deserved every single one of them.

I’ve skipped over a couple of songs of interest to me. One in the top 10 will get featured in a Forgotten Albums post next week; the other I want to spotlight a bit more now.

A couple years prior, a band from Madison got a record deal based on their performance in MTV’s Basement Tapes competition. I heard “Carry the Torch” from Fire Town a few times on WPGU in 87, but didn’t consider it anything special. The title single from their second (and final) disk The Good Life was much more interesting. It’s sitting at #20 on the MR chart this week, and would get a couple spots higher before falling off before the end of the month. I like it a whole bunch, but even so, I’ve long had the feeling that Fire Town was trying to make some Grand Statement on the American Condition with this song and wound up missing the target a little. I tracked the CD down fairly early on; eventually “The Good Life” would lead off side two on my one of my favorite mix tapes, made in the spring of 93.

If I’d seen this nifty video back in 89 (I’m positive I didn’t), it sure wouldn’t have occurred to me that the drummer might someday (co-)produce albums of the magnitude of Gish, Siamese Dream, and Nevermind. Or that he and the guy in the beard singing the second verse of “The Good Life” would later have a huge smash of their own after recruiting a female vocalist from Scotland who’d come to break your soul apart and wanted your misery poured down on her.