And now…on with the countdown…
20. Erasure, “Love to Hate You”
Erasure was one of those acts that I had an instinctual aversion to, beginning from a place that favored grinding guitars over drum machine beats. It was so pronounced that when a DJ at 90FM used a snippet of one of the band’s Top 40 hits in a promo to make the case that listening to the station provided access to great music before it crossed over to the pop charts, I didn’t recognize the song at all. I was stubborn enough that I was very reluctant to ever slip one of their releases onto the turntable or into the CD player, even though I completely subscribed to the notion that one of the vital responsibilities of a on-air DJ is to play music that doesn’t necessarily match personal taste because someone out there wants to hear it. Every song is someone’s favorite song. All that noted, I absolutely love this song.
This song was moving down the chart, dropping nine places from number 11 the previous week.
19. Levitation, “Firefly”
Another song I have no recollection of whatsoever. The album cover doesn’t even look familiar. It was on Capitol, so we probably got it at the station, and the song has a sweet, psychedelic drone that should have gone over fairly well at our station. Still, I got nothing. A cursory perusal of the Web tells me that it was a band formed by guitarist Terry Bickers after an unpleasant split from House of Love. This song comes from their first album, Coterie, which was essentially a compilation of music from singles and EPs that had been released already in the U.K. Levitation didn’t last long. Less than two year after the date of this chart, Bickers announced he was leaving the band. They hobbled along with a replacement for a short while before calling it quits in 1994. This is the highest charting song on the list that stirs no memories for me.
This song moved up two spots from 21 the previous week.
18. Nirvana, “Breed”
The second of five tracks from Nevermind on the chart. As I noted before, this album was huge on the college charts and dominant from the moment of its release. This happened occasionally with other bands around this time–both R.E.M. and Sonic Youth were guaranteed immediate, uniformly strong airplay with each new release–but usually artists with a more established track record. Nirvana’s prior release, 1989’s Bleach, had done decently on the college charts, but nothing that would indicate a blockbuster was coming next. The crossover, highly influential success of Nevermind amusingly represented one of those points when rock’n’roll’s twice monthly bible Rolling Stone was out-of-step. They buried their three-star assessment deep in the reviews section, indicative of an album that the editors clearly figured wouldn’t garner much attention or affection from the mass record-buying public.
This song was moving up the chart. It was at number 20 on the previous chart.
17. Blur, “There’s No Other Way”
Only the second single from the band Blur. At the time, it seemed like just another British pop song of crystalline perfection. Granted, that’s an accomplishment that shouldn’t be easily dismissed, but this was in an era–and at the tail end of an era, in fact–when bands from Manchester, England were producing genius singles as prolifically as Oliver Stone cranking out conspiracy theories. It’s a great song, but also somewhat interchangeable with those released by any number of bands at the time. Little did we know of the feuds and ever-morphing brilliance to come.
This song was moving up fast. It was at number 39 on the previous chart.
16. R.E.M., “First We Take Manhattan”
The little ol’ bands from Athens, Georgia has squandered away much of its stature in recent years. By the time I made my return to college radio in a professional capacity in 2001, the students viewed the prospect of putting a new R.E.M. record into rotation about as favorably as they would a Debbie Gibson comeback effort. And that was before the band touched bottom artistically. Back in 1991, though, R.E.M. still resided comfortably atop the college radio mountain. Absolutely anything they released given ample airtime by college programmers. So if you were pulling together a tribute album designed to snag the attention of those who picked the songs and albums for college stations, getting R.E.M. to contribute a track was a very wise move. This was also during a span in which tribute albums were starting to come out with almost reckless frequency. It seemed everyone was getting their turn to have a motley assemblage of artists perform hastily considered covers of their work.
Despite being all the way up at number 16, this song wasn’t on the chart the previous week. Nor was it a huge debut. This song was a reentry. College radio could be crazily fickle like that.