College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #768 to #765

romeo condition

768. Romeo Void, It’s a Condition (1981)

The foundation of Romeo Void was laid when Debora Iyall met Frank Zincavage, while both were attending San Francisco Art Institute. Iyall had recently been inspired by Patti Smith concerts and felt she might have a voice that could command the stage. Alongside Zincavage, who played bass, a band came together and started gigging on the burgeoning Bay Area music scene. Romeo Void connected with upstart local label 415 Records and started releasing music, including their debut album, It’s a Condition.

Produced by David Kahne (who would later help Fishbone cement their sound), It’s a Condition is a finely hewn rendering of a certain musical moment, when post-punk, new wave, and shiny pop music were all sloshing together in one dynamic mélange. The jittery, jolting “Myself to Myself” is an understated thriller, and “Confrontation” is brisk and assured. Iyall was correct in assessing her own ability to bring intense character to a song through her vocal performance. She could deliver a powerhouse turn when it was merited, but it was arguably more impressive that could still inject abundant personality while dialing back to the cool, blasé vocals on “Talk Dirty (to Me),” or hitting on a chiller version of Siouxsie and the Banshee on “White Sweater.”

Romeo Void might be precisely of their time on It’s a Condition, but they also demonstrate a command of pop songcraft that imbues the brand of happy timelessness that has made many hits of the era stick to radio playlists like warm taffy. The languid, aching “I Mean It” deserves to enjoy the perpetual adoration of other power ballads of the day. Romeo Void earned modest but kind attention for their music. It’s a Condition suggests they deserved far more.

 

de7th

767. Dave Edmunds, D.E. 7th (1982)

As the title implies, D.E. 7th is officially the seventh studio album released by Dave Edmunds, but it also carried enough significant change within its grooves that it’s one of those mid-career efforts that represents new beginnings. After several albums on Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, Edmunds was without a home after the dissolution of the iconic hard rock band also meant the associated label was shut down. Edmunds landed on Arista Records in the U.K. and Columbia Records for U.S. distribution. Perhaps more significantly, the band Rockpile had broken up one year earlier, even as its stature was growing. It was time for Edmunds to reassert himself as an artist.

To command the music industry’s attention, Edmunds had help from no less than Bruce Springsteen. When Edmunds saw Springsteen perform in London, the Boss invited him backstage to turn over a song that had missed the cut for double album The River.  Juiced up with rockabilly swagger, “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)” became the album’s first single and a minor hit on album rock radio. Around the time the Stray Cats were making the modern charts safe for retro sounds, Edmunds proved he was the master of such revivalism. He also had a keen sense for which material suited him, knocking out covers of NRBQ’s “Me and the Boys” and  Chuck Berry’s “Dear Dad” that were so easy and natural, it was as if the songs always belonged to him.

Overall, D.E. 7th impresses because of how much range Edmunds finds within his preferred sound. Not everything works, exactly, but there’s a lot of charm to the convincing hoedown “Warmed Over Kisses (Left Over Love)” and zydeco-dappled “Louisiana Man.” And “Generation Rumble” offers engaging, easygoing modern blues of the sort that Clapton mistakenly thought was on his records. It’s a level of accomplishment typical of Edmunds. He wasn’t as flashy and didn’t receive as much attention as his peers, but he was often making better music.

 

 

keene try

766. Tommy Keene, Back Again (Try…) (1984)

Tommy Keene was properly hailed as a songwriter of rare gifts, able to conjure up chiming, elegant melodies and then couple them to lyrics that were wise without being ostentatious, sentimental without devolving to sappiness. On the EP Back Again (Try…), he offers the firm reminder that he was a grand performer, too. Comprised of a mere four songs — two originals and two live covers — the release is a perfect little chunk of sweetly unassuming college rock.

The gleaming title cut is a pristine example of Keene’s talent, effusive and emotionally complex, hurling out hooks as relentlessly as a the super-powered villain in a horror movie. It’s matched by the disc’s other original, the chiming, tender, and refined “Safe in the Light.” The EP closes with one of the covers, a take on the Rolling Stones’ nineteen-seventies deep cut “When the Whip Comes Down.” Keene and his band give it a nice raw rock energy that almost recalls seventies-style punk. It provided assurance for the Keene’s developing fan base that he had the ability to rattle the walls of their favorite local club when he came to town.

Keene released two EPs in 1984, and they were received with enough adoration from key taste-makers — including The Village Voice, arguably at the height of its influence — to alter the trajectory of his career. He was signed to Geffen Records and his next full-length album, released two years later, was his first — and only — to make an appearance on the Billboard chart.

 

juluka

765. Juluka, Scatterlings (1982)

One of the things I greatly appreciated about the ethos of college radio (though I’ll freely admit I didn’t always live up to it as well as I could have and should have) was the conviction that music from anywhere deserved a place on the playlist if it was made with passion and skill. The pop charts in 1982 might have had some diversity to them, but no one other than students plying their broadcasting trade on the noncommercial end of the band were likely to drop the needle on a album of Zulu-influenced music out of South Africa.

Scatterlings was the fourth album billed to Juluka, the band formed by Johnny Glegg and Sipho Mchunu. It sets its agenda immediately with opening track “Scatterlings of Africa,” which is vivid musically and wrenched with concern lyrically (“Broken wall, bicycle wheel/ African song forging steel, singing/ Magic machine cannot match/ Human being human being/ African ideas, African ideas — make the future clear”). The band hails from a nation that is rich in foundational human history and bearing ripe wounds of then-current transgressions against humanity. The tracks on Scatterlings offer the proper mirror.

Chipper music serves as home to melancholy lyrics about a man who’s gone missing on “Kwela Man,” setting a tone that is ambitiously dizzying. The material sometimes suffers from a softening typical of the time. The lovely a capella opening to “Digging for Some Words” gives way to music that sounds like African fusion jazz, or maybe Al Stewart at his most mystically mewling. It’s significantly better when Juluka keeps the energy up, as on the chugging “Siyayilanda” or the pleasantly funky “Two Humans on the Run.” Right or wrong, those moments sounds truer to me.

 

 

To learn more about this gigantic endeavor, head over to the introduction. Other entries can be found at the CMJ Top 1000 tag. Most of the images in these posts come straight from the invaluable Discogs

One thought on “College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #768 to #765

  1. I was fortunate to be introduced to Scatterlings in the mid-80s by a college friend who’d heard a song from it, likely “Scatterlings of Africa,” on the radio somehow; I enjoy it thoroughly. Great to see it on this list.

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