College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1996, 82 and 81

82. Phish, Billy Breathes

Honestly, I’m surprised this one isn’t higher. It’s not that I remember 90FM as having a particularly strong jam band bent back in the day (although, there was a fairly unfortunate early championing of the Spin Doctors to which I’m afraid I contributed), but Phish and other bands of their ilk had a certain exalted place in the Wisconsin concert scene. One of the bigger concert venues in the state, Alpine Valley, was increasingly turning over a large part of their summer concert slate to acts that were known to stretch out their songs to the point that they’d try the patience of anyone not bobbing in a psychotropic haze. I would have assumed that enough of the fans providing support to that business plan would have made their way to the station’s air chair (or at least the request line) to make a sizable hit out of Phish’s first new studio album since the death of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, in 1995, made the Vermont band the unofficial guardians of burned-out hippies from coast to coast. Hell, the album’s ever radio-friendly, with most of the tracks checking in comfortably under the five-minute mark. Maybe that big, goony picture of bassist Mike Gordon on the cover dissuaded DJs from pulling the CD loose from the new release shelf. It might’ve had the effect on me. Hopefully, there was more attractive packaging for the single single “Free,” because that’s actually a nice song that deserved a few spins.

81. Love and Rockets, Sweet F.A.

Though I doubt they particularly feel like it was a failure, Love and Rockets did about as poor of a job of following up a breakthrough hit as can be imagined. “So Alive,” the second single from their self-titled 1989 album, was an unlikely smash, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Though they did the label’s bidding and toured extensively, they also took their time getting back together to create new music. And when they did, the result was distant enough from the gothy, buzzy sound that sold a truckload of records that their label, RCA Records, unceremoniously dropped them. They wound up on Rick Rubin’s American Records for the release, Hot Trip to Heaven. It predictably garnered very little attention. They were still with American for their next studio effort, Sweet F.A., which reportedly stood for “Sweet Fuck-All.” It did a little better, yielding a modest alternative hit in the single “Sweet Lover Hangover.” Still, the wheels were clearly spinning with little evident forward movement, and the band had only one more album in them, 1998’s Lift. Besides the occasional lucrative reunion gig, the dissolution of the band has largely stuck.

An Introduction
–90 and 89: Antichrist Superstar and Three Snakes and One Charm
–88 and 87: No Code and Unplugged
–86 and 85: Greatest Hits Live and Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts
–84 and 83: To the Faithful Departed and God’s Good Urges

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