I was a student in college radio when the grunge revolution took over. Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger all arrived within weeks of each other in the late summer and early fall of 1991 (although our station had a Music Director who was weirdly proud that Ten sat ignored and untouched on his desk for a good couple months after it arrived in the mail). One year later, the Singles soundtrack arrived, absolutely cementing the Seattle sound as the primary musical statement on the left end of the dial. I was there for all of it. And yet I don’t think of grunge as all that dominant, at least not then. (By the time I was working for a commercial alternative radio station, in the mid-nineties, it was ubiquitous and exhausted.) It’s not that we weren’t playing this stuff just as aggressively as everyone else. Instead, my tweaked perception comes from an automatic comparison to the trend that took over college radio a year or two earlier, seeming far more pervasive, even as it flared out more quickly.
Stateside, the beginning of the “Madchester” moment is probably tagged to the release of the Stone Roses’ self-titled debut, in 1989. That was the catalyst that led to college radio hits for the Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets and any number of other bands. For a little while, it felt like every other release that arrived at the station had the same tingly keyboards, the same loping beats, the same shiny Britishness. Since a relentless commitment to catchiness was one of the defining traits of the scene, it was relatively easy for this stuff to catch the ears of college deejays. When the commitment doesn’t have to be much more than one song in the midst of a three hour playlist, bright and catchy become highly coveted qualities in a track. And if the album cover is bold and colorful, well, all the better.
I know almost nothing about the band Top (or maybe they’re officially called T.O.P., my uncertainty further demonstration of the gaps in my knowledge), except that they fit the sound that we craved like sugar. Their album Emotion Lotion arrived right at the tail end of the Madchester invasion. Hell, with a release date in 1991, it may have actually missed it. But it fit a certain need we had: bouncy, catchy, a little tame. When I actively revisit the music of my college days, I tend to put one of the more challenging, artistically dazzling albums of the era onto or into the appropriate player. But when a song like Top’s “Easy” shuffles up, that’s the distinctive sound of my college radio days paying a visit.
Listen or download –> Top, “Easy”
(Disclaimer: You know how hard it is to search a band with a name like Top? If they were a more prominent band, or at least a modern band, it probably wouldn’t be so difficult. Girls is a ridiculously generic name for a band, and yet there they are on the first page of Google results. Top, though, it takes some digging and creative searching. Anyway, I think Emotion Lotion is out of print, at least as a physical item that can be procured from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the artist. Therefore, this track is shared here with the hope and understanding that doing so will impede no fair commerce. I will gladly and promptly remove it if asked to do so by any entity or individual with due authority to make such a request.)