And now…on with the countdown…
15. They Might Be Giants, “Hey Mr. DJ, I Thought We Had a Deal”
This is the band that we would sometimes refer to as “the Two Johns,” since it was entirely populated by John Flansburgh and John Linnell. They were perhaps the oddest band that I had a working knowledge of before arriving at the radio station, built largely because MTV couldn’t resist the intoxicatingly goofy video for their first single. They were then a major part of my college radio experience. Their second album, the outstanding Lincoln, was plopped into Heavy Rotation at around the time I started there, and their third effort, Flood, was an enormous hit on our airwaves around a year-and-a-half later. They were a perfect band for radio, employing an abundance of music styles across dozens of quick, punchy songs. At our station, their records were often grabbed when someone needed something short because they hadn’t timed up to the AP Network News feed at the top of the hour as artfully as they may have liked. This song originally appeared as a B-Side on the band’s single for “Purple Toupee,” a song from Lincoln. It appears here in conjunction with its revival for the odds and ends collection Miscellaneous T.
This song was up one spot from 16 on the previous chart.
14. Nirvana, “On a Plain”
Another Nirvana song, the third thus far, and there’s still two more nestled higher up the chart. All this immediate success for the band was a little weird for me at the time. I was so used to the music receiving saturation play on our airwaves being generally ignored by my fellow college students, at least those who hadn’t similarly taken up residence at the station. Even the stuff that crossed over usually took a long time, or was the product of artists like U2, The Cure or R.E.M., who already had many years and lots of albums under their belts. Nirvana was something else. We were still in the midst of trying to figure them out ourselves before their album started to get appropriated by the frat house up the street.
This song was racing up the chart. It was at 36 the previous week.
13. My Bloody Valentine, “Only Shallow”
This is the point at which I need to sheepishly acknowledge that, much as I bought into that unique college programmer pride about being ahead of the musical curve, I didn’t really get My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless when it first came out. We had it at the station, and I know I played it plenty, fully realizing that it already had ardent disciples. I think the superficial resemblance between their fuzzed out guitars and the burgeoning Seattle sound’s grunged out guitars caused them to blend in with this sonic trend I was far less enthusiastic about. Years later, I figured out how wrong I was, and had the pleasure of discovering the stirring greatness of the album.
This song was on a slow, upward journey. It was at 17 on the previous chart.
12. Pixies, “Letter to Memphis”
As opposed to the experience noted above in relation to Nirvana’s success, the Pixies were one of those bands that never seemed to catch on much apart from the rarefied airwaves on the left end of the dial. At least not at the time. My jarring moments centered on the band’s unexpected success came years and years later when they embarked on a reunion tour, and the breadth of their popularity stunned me. They were playing sizable venues that I couldn’t really imagine when they were active during the early nineties. Similarly, the people who were actively excited about the shows didn’t seem to match at all the sort of fans who would have lined up to see them a decade earlier. It’s like they slipped into a magician’s cabinet as a cult success and somehow emerged as some sort of wide appeal classic rock band. This is the first of two songs from their album Trompe Le Monde. I don’t recall if they announced at the time that it was going to be their last album, but it seems like we all knew it somehow.
This song was moving down the chart from 9 the previous week.
11. Shamen, “Move Any Mountain (Progen 91)”
Anytime I try to track down information on a song that has multiple remixes, I start to get a little dizzy. There are so many parentheses on the Wikipedia page about the song that it’s like someone’s campaign to get that particular piece of punctuation redesignated as a vowel. But I also understand that if you manage to come up with a hook as impossibly infectious as the one in this song, you need to squeeze out every last bit of its juice and then scrape the zest off its hide.
This song was slipping downwards. It was at 7 on the previous chart.