Ranking Billboard top tens, 1990

More black voices: say hello to En Vogue, Tony Toni Tone, and the emboldened former members of New Edition (“Poison” gross — the characters dismiss as “Poison” the girl they all took turns fucking). The year when freestyle went soft: The Cover Girls, Sweet Sensation, and Stevie B. Oddities too: Sinead O’Connor topped the singles and album chart in a chart fluke; I often wonder how she would’ve fared in the Soundscan era. Think too of Bette Midler’s “From a Distance,” which, as Bob Christgau pointed out at the time, sneaked deism into the top ten (note the chorus).1990 also boasted material lost in the dustbin of history: Tyler Collins’ “Girls Nite Out,” Exposé’s “Tell Me Why,” and Glenn Medeiros featuring Bobby Brown’s #1 “She Ain’t Worth It.” Perfect Gentlemen’s “Ooh La La (I Can’t Get Over You)” I hadn’t heard at all. Continue reading

Ranking top ten singles, 1989

Year One of the Poppy Bush Interzone saw the wave of teen stars peak and crest: Debbie Gibson’s followup to #1 “Lost in Your Eyes” failed to go top ten, Tiffany squeaked one top ten, the Wham!-indebted Boys Club the same. Two exceptions: Martika and the anti-drug and rather good “Toy Soldiers” and New Kids on the Block, who dominated pop for sixteen months, starting with the #3 success of “You Got It (The Right Stuff”) in February 1989 until “Tonight” in September 1990. Continue reading

Ranking Mainstream Rock Tracks, 1989 edition

Boomer rock triumphed in 1988: the year began with #1s from the barely functional CSNY and in the last quarter saw two singles from the Rolling Stones’ Steel Wheels top the chart for a collective ten weeks. Not one single from Dirty Work or Undercover did that. Aerosmith consolidated their comeback with the loudest, busiest of their singles. Eve the Doobies scored a pop top ten with a Tom Johnstone vocal and guitar work that made Eric Clapton’s “Pretending” sound like “Sister Ray.” Amid this tastefulness, Don Henley released “The End of the Innocence,” Bruce Hornsby-composed rat-tat-tat “The Way It Is, Part II” that’s meaner to the reluctant virgin he threatens to deflower than to tired old elected king Ronnie Reagan.

At last a woman elbows into this men’s club, a former lover of Don Henley’s, here to rebuke him with her own crystal visions. Fresh off a successful world tour in Fleetwood Mac without their second most crucial member, Stevie Nicks got off coke and, thanks to what she says was an unscrupulous psychiatrist, started on Klonopin. Before she receded into the fog of lethargy, she recorded The Other Side of the Mirror, her first sober album since 1975. Rupert Hine confuses Nicks for Rush, so many songs have billowing synth parts that fans of “Show Don’t Tell” will recognize, but those synth parts suit the dreamy material, her strongest batch of songs in a decade. Blessed with crisp drumming, unrhymed lyrics, and a daffy chorus that only one person could have written (“Well, there is magic all around you/If I do say so myself”), “Rooms on Fire” joins “Stand Back” on the short list of Stevie solo tunes I’ld play to a skeptic.

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Ranking favorite Pixies albums

As I explain below, I came to Amer-indie’s Great White Hope too late but fortunately what I listened to was their best album. Then Black Francis/Frank Black’s solo debut, for which the dear leader recruited guitarist Joey Santiago and former Beefheart keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, dominated the spring of my freshman year in college enough that I almost included it below. By the time I heard the rest of the catalog in my mid-twenties the Pixies’ yawps — the confessions of white dudes playing video games in their garages even when they were lucky enough to date girls — were like reading cuneiform; the Breeders and kindred spirit Tanya Donelly made more out of the feral.

But, as their two gold albums testify, the Pixies weren’t at a loss for earning new fans (Modest Mouse are unthinkable without them). The enthusiasm for their 2004 reunion tour, which I saw with an impressively sized posse that September, exceeded my expectations. Many spectators looked like sexually frustrated dudes who (still) played video games; the others, like me, paid their respects, wishing that Deal would hurry with a followup to Title TK already.

1. Trompe Le Monde (1991)

From eyeball illustrations on the sleeve to songs about UFOs, Roswell, the Navajo, and sad punks, the band’s last album has an almost incantatory unity of purpose. The well-chosen Jesus & Mary Chain cover nods toward a contemporary classic and isn’t even the best song. I don’t get complaints that it plays like a Black Francis solo album other than the key presence of Eric Drew Feldman’s keyboard arsenal. No Kim Deal songs, though, but she’d fix that too.

2. Doolittle (1989)

For many fans the breakthrough, despite the choppy sequencing. And it deserves it: Doolittle‘s influence stretched into the next decade and beyond, turning the Pixies into a performance art project on erotic mania in search of referents for use as a chastity belt — a a Boston Wire, if you think about it, and I hope you don’t. “Tame,” my favorite song, no doubt scared Polly Jean Harvey into a recording career. I prefer the UK Surf version of “Wave of Mutilation” first heard on Pump Up the Volume, the 1990 movie variant in which Christian Slater has to unbutton his shirt to share hard truths about being a California teen.

3. Surfer Rosa (1988)

There wasn’t anything this garish and tuneful on the college charts in 1988—maybe if Big Black had had a surf guitar expert and a harmonist and second songwriter as equally singular as Kim Deal. “Bone Machine” and “Where is My Mind?” still startle. Speaking of Big Black, Steve Albini’s production has the feel of a cinder block landing on a sofa—an affect less attractive thirty years later—but this too adds to the sense of air-clearing. Not enough clearing, though. “If anybody touches my stuff, I’ll kill ya,” Kim Deal warned the band, reportedly before a cig break in a conversation added as a preface to “Oh My Golly!” On the evidence of “Gigantic” she wouldn’t have much longer to worry.

4. Bossanova (1990)

The least celebrated of Pixies albums during their first run struggled to peep out of the shadow of “Dig For Fire,” whose jittery rhythm guitar and dull talk-singing is how an Ameri-indie band in the Poppy Bush Interzone would have nodded to Talking Heads. “Is She Weird” might’ve worked if Kim Deal had sung the chorus; otherwise, it plays like an unintended joke on Black Francis himself. Filler like “All Over the World” and “Down to the Well” drags. But I include Bossanova anyway because Joey Santiago’s riffs hung ten throughout. I have a college buddy to thank for loving “Velouria,” an obsessive Jan & Dean-influenced howl that this morning evoked Brett Kavanaugh yelling in a Senate committee room.

Worst Songs Ever: Daryl Hall and John Oates’ ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Daryl Hall and John Oates – “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #12 in December 1980

When in doubt, record a vestigial cover. Continue reading

Reflections of a Political Man, Part II

He had worse hair than any president since Nixon. “Worse” as in natural – a man with other things on his mind (John Updike, in his classist way, would go further: “closely modeled on the opossum fur of his beloved Arkansas”). He had a low rumbling laugh that suggested an acquaintance with mirth. Most impressively, he stank of sex; it was obvious to anyone with a cerebellum. Continue reading

Reflections of a Political Man

Besides chastisement in front of the class, Alex wasn’t allowed to Go Out and Play, my fourth grade class’ term for recess. Drawing a mustache on the vice president was an act of disrespect; that the Groucho face drag appeared on a Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign poster turned the defilement into an act of treason as perfidious as Alger Hiss’. Continue reading