18. “Back on the Breadline” by Hunters & Collectors
Hunters & Collectors formed in the early nineteen-eighties in Australia, quickly building a strong reputation as a propulsive live act. Except for those with an instinctive skill for combing the imports section of their local record store, the band didn’t really register in the U.S. until I.R.S. Records signed them up, probably inspired by the surprise success of Midgnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust briefly created a intense record company craving for all things that could be accurately described as both Aussie and epic. I.R.S. took the band’s 1987 album What’s a Few Men? and rejiggered it a bit, releasing it stateside as Fate, which found a way to evoke the band’s muscular sound right on the cover photo. All of the music from Hunters & Collectors is good, but I especially love “Back on the Breadline,” which has a great, chiming opening guitar line that slopes into powerfully yearning lyrics. The song was also central to one of my sharpest memories related to listening to the radio, but I’ve detailed that before.
17. “Motorcrash” by The Sugarcubes
Well before Björk reached the level of the most offbeat indie icon this side of Kate Bush, she was leaving college radio programmers joyfully rattled through the sheer seismic power of her voice with the Sugarcubes. A lot of the music categorized as Modern Rock in 1988 had clear antecedents, even if the predecessors were only familiar within certain circles, but the Sugarcubes sounded like nothing else that had come before. Maybe some dashed lines could be drawn to slingers of abstract pop like The Fall, but the band’s music felt like it was cruising in a different lane, largely due to the not-so-secret weapon of that singer with the seismic voice. The band’s debut album, Life’s Too Good, was released in the spring of 1988, but it had a long shelf life. The final single from the album was released in the fall and the band had been so consistently successful up to that point that, as I recall, it already felt like it was coming from one of the stalwarts of left of the dial music libraries instead of an artist that no one had heard of just one year earlier.
20 and 19: “All I Wanted” and “Don’t Walk Away”