College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1996, 24 and 23

24. Victor, Victor

As I noted somewhere around the lower seventies, there was at least one Rush super-fan on the 90FM Director Staff in the first half of 1996, meaning he probably had a little bit of sway and influence on what got played at the station. It’s not that he would have gone into impose his will on people (although there were plenty of instances in my time when a person working in the offices would stroll into the studio to request something from a favorite new release), but deejays also would have been happy to play music from relevant albums when they knew he was around. That’s how I make sense of the high ranking of this bizarro side project from Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, which sounds, amazingly enough, exactly like what anyone would reasonably expect from a lifelong hard rocker with proggy tendencies who was trying to make something that sounded more modern in the still swelled wake of grunge. To Lifeson’s credit, this album is all over the place, including a title cut that, no kidding, represents what Rush might have sounded like if they’d enlisted Laurie Anderson as a domineering producer. The lyrics for “Victor” come from a W.H. Auden poem, which presumably gives the band its name, which may be indicative of the original artistic aspirations of the project. As far as long-term success, it wasn’t meant to be, as any plans for follow-up releases under this name effectively withered because of the label’s indifference.

23. Tori Amos, Songs for Pele

Myra Ellen Amos, going by the preferred first name Tori, was coming off two very successful albums in 1996. Both Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink were sizable hits, especially on college radio, where her pointed feminism set to intricate piano pop was a welcome counterbalance to all the boys with guitars that dominated playlists. As with her prior two solo efforts (not counting the spectacularly awful synthpop made with the band Y Kant Tori Read, nor even her award-winning paean to the Baltimore Orioles and the city they play in), Amos opted for a January release, undoubtedly with an eye towards catching kids as they returned to their various institutes of higher learning following winter break. Inspired in part by the end of a long-term romantic relationship, Amos committed even more fully to her exploration of gender, particularly the role of women in patriarchal societies, going to so far as to indicated by the album’s very title, Songs for Pele, that this was music fit for a goddess. Introduced by a lead single that was perhaps as puzzling as it was intriguing, the album didn’t have quite the same traction as her previous efforts, probably selling about half as many copies in the U.S. Still, a strong case can be made that the peaks of this album stand among her very best.

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
–82 and 81: Billy Breathes and Sweet F.A.
–80 and 79: The Process and Test for Echo
–78 and 77: Supersexy Swingin’ Sounds and Breathe
–76 and 75: Bob Mould and Walking Wounded
–74 and 73: It’s Martini Time and Trainspotting soundtrack
–72 and 71: Aloha Via Satellite and Fever In Fever Out
–70 and 69: Hi My Name is Jonny and One Mississippi
–68 and 67: Everything Sucks and The Aeroplane Flies High
–66 and 65: First Band on the Moon and Razorblade Suitcase
–64 and 63: Comic Book Whore and Peachfuzz
–62 and 61: All Change and Rude Awakening
–60 and 59: 12 Golden Country Greats and Songs in the Key of X
–58 and 57: Brain Candy soundtrack and Pinkerton
–56 and 55: Sublime and Count the Days
–54 and 53: Wild Mood Swings and The Cult of Ray
–52 and 51: Bringing Down the Horse and Crash
–50 and 49: No Talking, Just Head and New Adventures in Hi-Fi
–48 and 47: Lay It Down and Pogue Mahone
–46 and 45: I’m with Stupid and XTORT
–44 and 43: Tango and …finally
–42 and 41: Good Weird Feeling and Mint 400
–40 and 39: Happy Nowhere and Not Fade Away (Remembering Buddy Holly)
–38 and 37: Turn the Radio Off and Electriclarryland
–36 and 35: Naughty Little Doggie and In Blue Cave
–34 and 33: Eventually and Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks
–32 and 31: Beautiful Girls soundtrack and Strat’s Got Your Tongue
–30 and 29: Upstroke for the Downfolk and Set the Twilight Reeling
–28 and 27: Born on a Pirate Ship and The Golden Age
–26 and 25: Ænima and Dead Man Walking soundtrack

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