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.