28. U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind
There were other artists from my day still lingering around the college charts ten years later–both R.E.M. and Nick Cave have already had their places in this countdown and I remember full well when the first PJ Harvey album arrived in the station’s rotation–but among those acts that still had one stylish boot planted on the left end of the dial, there was no one bigger than U2. When I arrived at 90FM in the fall of 1988, we were revving up to give away tickets to the local premiere of the concert film Rattle and Hum and the accompanying double album had been in our Heavy Rotation for no more than a few days before its lead single, “Desire,” claimed its expected place in the Billboard Top 40, making it off limits for airplay under station policy at the time. They were already deep into their crossover to consistent commercial success, so it was odd for me to see them still getting ample love from college programmers, who were usually notorious for abandoning artists one they got too big. (The station I started working with in 2001, for example, had no interest whatsoever in having any U2 available for the DJs.) And, like PJ Harvey’s release, the U2 album in question, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, had actually been released relatively early in the prior fall, so it needed to have some staying power to make a respectable showing on 2001’s year-end chart. Depending on one’s perspective, All That You Can’t Leave Behind was either a return to form for the band or a somewhat cowardly retreat to the sound that made them famous in the first place after a multi-album excursion into electro pop was met with precipitously declining affection. While I can’t deny the soaring effectiveness of “Beautiful Day,” the album’s lead single, my opinion lies more with those who found it dull and disappointing that U2 decided to settle for a sound that came as easy to them as blinking. In other words, I wouldn’t have really blamed the college kids for ignoring this one.
27. Cake, Comfort Eagle
On the other hand, Cake was a band I was surprised to see comfortably placed on the college charts simply because, well, I thought they were kinda bad. During my time in commercial radio, their song “The Distance” had been crammed down my tender ears by our computer-generated, consultant-dictated playlists. Nothing about their music seemed especially interesting, and John McCrea’s distinctive, half-spoken lead vocals smacked of novelty to me (which is why their deadpan cover of “I Will Survive” remains their finest moment). My assessment didn’t exactly hold up, though, as the band had impressive staying power. Their 2001 album, Comfort Eagle, was their fourth overall and their first for Columbia Records, which is about as major of a label as a band can land on. The music is pretty much right in line with prior efforts, which was clearly good enough to generate plenty of college airplay and happy record buyers. And that’s evidently still the case as their 2011 release, Showroom of Compassion, debuted at #1 on the Billboard album charts, ending Taylor Swift’s four week reign at the top to do so.
50 and 49: Creeper Lagoon and Ryan Adams
48 and 47: The (International) Noise Conspiracy and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
46 and 45: Spoon and Black Box Recorder
44 and 43: Rival Schools and Aphex Twin
42 and 41: Ben Folds and Superchunk
40 and 39: The Faint and Modest Mouse
38 and 37: The Shins and R.E.M.
36 and 35: Old 97’s and Red House Painters
34 and 33: Mogwai and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
32 and 31: Death by Chocolate and PJ Harvey
30 and 29: Rocket From the Crypt and The Donnas