College Countdown: CMJ Top 40 Cuts, March 16, 1990 — 20 – 17

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20. Kevn Kinney, “MacDougal Blues”

Back in the day, I don’t think we knew about the ability to claim Kevn Kinney as one of our own. Livin’ on the air in Central Wisconsin, we had a prideful devotion to artists who also called America’s Dairyland home, at least at some point. Kinney, the lead singer and chief songwriter of the band Drivin N Cryin, was, as it happens, a Milwaukee native. But his band was formed after a movie southward to Atlanta, and I doubt many of the reviews we read back in the day would have mentioned his lengthier heritage. We still shared his wares generously, especially when he struck out with his solo debut, MacDougal Blues. The title track and lead single covered a different geographic displacement, offering a wryly humorous assessment of moving to New York City with expectations of discovering a modern equivalent of the nineteen-sixties Greenwich Village folk scene only to encounter a far more callous, indifferent culture.

This cut was up from 32 on the previous chart.

 

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19. Ministry, “Burning Inside”

As the eighties gave way to the nineties, there were few bands making as aggressive of a sound for giddy college radio consumption as Ministry. Fully shaking off the mildly goth but fully accessible synth-pop they’d slung for the previous decade, Al Jourgenson’s outfit unleashed the album The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste in late 1989, and its lead single, “Burning Inside,” rattled broadcast towers from coast to coast. Jourgenson saw the harsh new sound as a more pure manifestation of his musical self, deeming the early music an example of a sell out. “I think there’s two kinds of music,” he told MTV at the time. “I think there’s good and there’s bad, and hopefully I’d like to be affiliated with the good side. I’m not going to get into this thrasho, technico, cyber-new-wave-o, sanitized, homogenized, boxed, out-it-out, 120 bpm, down your throat, ah you’re fuckin’ on to the next platter, you know?” Wish granted. “Burning Inside” can be described a lot of different ways, but it definitely can’t be characterized like that.

This cut was down from 5 on the previous chart.

 

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18. Everything but the Girl, “Driving”

And here we have a track that is essentially the exact opposite of the Ministry rage-blast. Everything but the Girl already had a reputation for pristine pop, and that was before producer Tommy LiPuma turned dials for the duo. LiPuma had a mountain of records in his discography, but he’d probably had his greatest successes with jazz so smooth it was basically textureless.  And one year later, he’d serve as executive producer on Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable…with Love, an album so rabidly inoffensive and steeped in nostalgia that it couldn’t help but being an enormous hit. With Everything but the Girl, he helped craft The Language of Life, which showcased the band’s impeccable pop craft, but also buried the songs in obscuring twee glisten. The most damning evidence of LiPuma’s heavy hand arrived two years later, when the single “Driving” was salvaged for an exquisite remake on the album Acoustic.

This cut was making its debut on the chart.

 

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17. Public Enemy, “Welcome to the Terrordome”

In the fall of 1990, I moved into a large, ramshackle house with several of my fellow college radio staffers. With approximately one-third of the station’s executive staff in a single domicile, we decided the house needed a catchy name. You know, like Graceland or Foxcatcher. Preferring something that evoked — however tangentially — our time in the on air studio, we landed on the Terrordome, borrowing the location named in a Public Enemy single from the 1989 album Fear of a Black Planet. My crew was about as far from Public Enemy as a half-dozen people could be, but we were able to drop in the fiercely rapped line “Welcome to the Terrordome” randomly onto party mix tapes. Priorities, you know. The track from which we sought transferred cool and danger was written to address controversy the group experienced when Professor Griff — designated as Public Enemy’s Minister of Information — made antisemitic comments in an interview. That also had no connection whatsoever to my crew, but, again, the song really made a party bounce.

This cut was up from 34 on the previous chart.

I wrote about the chart we’re tracking through at the beginning of this particular Countdown. Previous entries can be found at the relevant tag.

As we go along, I’ll build a YouTube playlist of all the songs in the countdown. The hyperlinks associated with each numeric entry lead directly to the individual song on the playlist.

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