College Countdown: 90FM’s Top 90 of 1996, 2 and 1

2 cake
2. Cake, Fashion Nugget

Among college radio kids in the mid-nineties, there was a pretty healthy market for songs that took critical aim at their own music fandom. For example, Ben Folds Five first got noticed with “Underground.” In the case of the Sacramento, California band Cake, their opening salvo against the very consumers they were actively courting was even more scathing. “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle” had a clear novelty bend but was also catchy as hell, exactly the sort of thing that can often take hold on the college charts. It helped them get signed by Georgia independent label Capricorn Records, which rereleased their debut album, Motorcade of Generosity. It was the band’s sophomore effort, recorded at the behest of the label, that brought them major success. Fashion Nugget had a slightly more polished sound (the benefit of working with a supportive label) and, more notably, a single written by guitarist Greg Brown that practically defined the band. “The Distance” was one of those seemingly unavoidable songs during the fall of 1996, becoming Cake’s sole Top 40 single (albeit just barely, peaking at #35). Surely there were other songs getting college radio airplay (and a killer cover that required a special radio edit), but “The Distance” got played as often on some station’s as their top-of-the-hour legal ID bumpers. Cake hasn’t exactly been prolific, with only six albums across twenty years, but they have endured, and without much hint of break-up drama. In fact, their most recent effort, 2011’s Showroom of Compassion, managed to become their first chart-topper, debuting at #1 on the Billboard album charts. Now, it did so while setting the record for the weakest sales numbers to claim the top spot on the weekly chart, but a #1 is still a #1.

1 beck
1. Beck, Odelay

I’ve typed out a lot of fairly unkind words towards a signifiant number of albums on this particular countdown. Credit where it’s due: Beck’s Odelay is undoubtedly a better album than any of releases that topped the year-end 90FM chart during my time at the station. Bek David Campbell’s fifth album overall and his second for a major label, Odelay, is a stunner, offering a melding of old-school soul with modern pop sounds while simultaneously deconstructing everything he’s built. It’s cheeky, unpredictable, and incessantly catchy. It even made me momentarily believe in the possibility in the Grammys, when it became an unlikely Album of the Year nominee, only to lose to some hideous Celine Dion abomination, therefore safely restoring my cynicism. It wasn’t just the Grammys; the album was enough of a wide-ranging success that Beck kept turning up in the strangest of places. If it was a breakthrough, it was a highly deserving one. There are off-kilter gems all across its running time. It was exactly the sort of album I valued most during my college radio days: wherever the needle was dropped (or, by the nineties, the laser was directed) there was something good there, and usually something distinctly different. Arguably, it also established a tough benchmark for Beck. He remained and remains a justly respected artist, but the sonic revolution of Odelay made everything that followed sound drab in comparison, at least until the soul-bearing about face of Sea Change, which mostly matches its predecessor by refraining from any attempts to replicate its tricks. So, yeah, 90FM kids of yore, a lot of what you were playing makes my ears hurt just thinking about it, but you couldn’t have done better with the album you played the most.

Previously…
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
–24 and 23: Victor and Songs for Pele
–22 and 21: Down on the Upside and Music for Our Mother Ocean
–20 and 19: Supercop soundtrack and Dust
–18 and 17: Remember and A Worm’s Life
–16 and 15: William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits
–14 and 13: Down By the Old Mainstream and The Gray Race
–12 and 11: Star Maps and Car Button Cloth
–10 and 9: Black Love and Highball with the Devil
–8 and 7: Recovering the Satellites and Evil Empire
–6 and 5: XOC and Irresistible Bliss
–4 and 3: The Cable Guy soundtrack and The Crow: City of Angels soundtrack

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