College Countdown: Winter 1991, 40-36

I had a Sunday night ritual my first semester of college. I gather with several neighbors in my residence hall, and we’d listen to the student run radio station, WWSP-90FM beginning at 6:00 p.m. The program at that time was The College Count-Up. The esteemed host (and future horror blogging titan) took the weekly “Top Cuts” chart published by CMJ, the trade publication targeted at college radio, and tracked through the songs receiving the most airplay nationwide on the left side of the dial.


At that time, he cheekily turned the Casey Kasem/Rick Dees practice of counting backwards around, beginning the program with the top song and moving along to number 40 some three hours later. After that, we’d retreat to the basement, toting homework and junk food, to watch MTV’s Sunday night line-up that culminated with 120 Minutes.

I had just started at the radio station myself, and Sunday nights stood as a fantastic primer as I was thankfully transitioning my music taste from the bland commercial radio nonsense of my high school years to bands, performers and songs that lingered proudly outside of the mainstream. It was especially interesting to hear that CMJ chart unfold since college radio programmers had a shared tendency to dig a little deeper onto new releases to celebrate certain songs regardless of the declared emphasis of the labels. That chart, and the show on our station provided the raw material for, was like a treasure map for me.

Within a few years CMJ discontinued the “Top Cuts” chart, and old ones seem to have no online presence, exist only in whatever ancient back issues may float around (and there aren’t many as far as I can tell, understandable since CMJ in that era was designed for timeliness rather than durability). Not so long ago, I found an old “Top Cuts” chart, dating from the fall of 1991. By that time, The College Count-Up had transformed to The College Countdown, preserving suspense by progressing from forty to one in the traditional fashion.

In tribute to those bygone Sunday night, I’m going to track through this chart, considering the songs that kept college kids like me enthralled nearly twenty years ago. In a nod to 120 Minutes, there’ll be a few music videos along the way.

40. Siouxsie & the Banshees, “Fear of the Unknown”
Siouxsie Sioux and her cohorts were responsible for the dominant song on the CMJ “Top Cuts” chart during the fall of 1988. Three years later, they reached new levels of success on this side of the pond with “Kiss Them For Me,” the first single from their penultimate album, Superstition. That song, somewhat improbably, became their first Top 40 hit in the United States, perhaps in part due to the band’s prominent position in the first Lollapalooza line-up when the tour was a sensation. “Fear of the Unknown” is listed by Wikipedia as the third single off of the album, but its the only other song I remember really making an impact.

This was on its way off the charts, slipping from 26 to just clinging to the bottom of the page. Unfortunately, this was about it for Siouxsie & the Banshees on the college charts. They had a fine song on the Batman Returns soundtrack the following summer, and one more album released to sad indifference in 1995. Shortly after that Siouxsie announced the band was over. If I recall correctly, she noted the cheap nostalgia of the then recent Sex Pistols reunion tour as part of the motivation for calling it quits. I loved her for that.

39. Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”
This is the first of five (!) Nirvana songs on the chart. Nevermind hit college radio like a cyclone. CMJ used to include the album covers of the releases that topped their various charts throughout the magazine, including things like “Top Adds” (albums Music Directors identified as their weekly favorites) and “Top Requests.” In the weeks after Nevermind that naked, swimming, dollar-lovin’ baby was all over the magazine.

This song was making its debut on the chart, the first of six new entries in a row.

38. Matthew Sweet, “Divine Intervention”
This is the first of two Matthew Sweet songs on the chart, and if you can figure out which album the song comes from, you can probably figure out the other song on the chart. Sweet had been kicking around for a bit by this time, with a couple previous solo albums on major labels. No one had paid attention to those. Then he pumped up the guitars and embraced power pop like never before. The resulting album was perfect for college radio, filled with big, punchy, attention-getting songs. It probably didn’t hurt that he included a song called “Winona.” That was a good way to get the attention of male Music Directors in 1991.

This song was making its debut on the chart.

37. Cliffs of Dooneen, “Through an Open Window”
I remember nothing about this band, nothing about this song. The the album cover sets a bell ringing faintly in the back of my memory, but it’s so nondescript that I could be remember any number of releases from bands with no money to generate something fancy in the art direction department. There’s also little information about them on the Interweb, save for an old Boston Phoenix article about their farewell show in 1995. There’s also a MySpace page for the band. They have 165 friends. One of them is Guinness, so that’s something.

This song was making its debut on the chart.

36. Pegboy, “Strong Reaction”
Pegboy was a punk band from just down the road in Chicago. After a couple of EPs, they’d released their first full-length album in late 1991. I think we had this album at the station, but I’m not sure how much airplay it got. Our general music sensibility on air, reflecting that of the smallish central Wisconsin community we broadcast to and from, usually leaned away from the harder stuff. That was often confined to the Sunday night shows that were the weekly rituals of many, many listeners, Metal Thunder and Skank Pit.

This song was making its debut on the chart.

We’ll continue on with the countdown later. I think, to properly honor the history of this conceit, this may need to be a feature that recurs on Sundays.

10 thoughts on “College Countdown: Winter 1991, 40-36

  1. Dan, I was looking around for old CMJ stuff a few months ago and turned up almost nothing….except from time to time on ebay you can find the CD’s that were released with CMJ.

    Pegboy was in rotation in the Sknak Pit. Not only did we have that album, but I also bought some of their stuff (a couple of 45’s) at B-side in Madison for the show.

    1. I’m so glad you weighed in on this. I was hoping one of the Skank Pit experts out there would confirm the presence of Pegboy on the 90FM airwaves.

      I’ve looked for back issues of CMJ too, with equally poor luck. I’d love to have a few issues from my first year or two at the station. As for the CDs, I still have a couple copies of Certain Damage packed away in storage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s