College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #740 to #737

hunter welcome

740. Ian Hunter, Welcome to the Club (1980)

Former Mott the Hoople lead singer Ian Hunter had been a chipping away at a solo career for the latter half of the nineteen-seventies when he found himself with something of a surprise hit in the 1979 album You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. Its singles performed only modestly, but the album was a solid seller, peaking at #35 on the Billboard chart. Hunter’s label, Chrysalis Records, saw a heated iron and decided it was imperative to get more product out into the marketplace as quickly as possible. The artist was on the road, making more studio time only the slimmest of possibilities. A simple, era-friendly solution was at the ready. A load of recording equipment was trucked over to the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood, and seven nights of Hunter’s concerts were put to tape.

Welcome to the Club is a prime example of the peculiar beast that was the double live album. Tracks like the squalling “Angeline” and “Just Another Night” typify the you-had-to-be-there vibe endemic to such releases, and there is an all-around klutziness to the mix. The intent of putting almost every sound at a roughly even level is surely to replicate the experience of being in the midst of the crowd. The result is more of a numbing quality, with the occasional rough distraction, such as the piercing scream of an audience member peppered across “Irene Wilde.” Hunter and his band (including guitar great Mick Ronson) are clearly delivering solid performances, but their barroom raggedness harms the material. Old Mott the Hoople standout “All the Way from Memphis” is sloppy and performed with a mild indifference, and “Bastard” is a meandering slog.

The fourth side of the album changes the dynamic somewhat with a trio of studio cuts, including soft new wave number “We Gotta Get Out of Here” and the slapdash, preening “Man O’ War,” on which Hunter sounds like David Johansen rushing in anticipation of promised smoke break. Those cuts combined with the live material served to fulfill the label’s goal well enough. Sales of Welcome to the Club reflected just enough of an ongoing curiosity about Hunter and his music. Hopes were high for the next studio release.

 

edmunds repeat

739. Dave Edmunds, Repeat When Necessary (1979)

In a way, Rockpile lived on within the grooves of Repeat When Necessary, the fifth solo album by Dave Edmunds. He and his most famous bandmate, Nick Lowe, has split to separate labels when they signed new solo deals, but they still wanted to collaborate. They couldn’t officially keep the band together under the Rockpile name, but they could assemble for each others albums and keep knocking out sterling retro pop.

Repeat When Necessary basically adhered to the policy inherent to its title, employing the artist’s already tried and true method of penning a couple new numbers and otherwise shrewdly rummaging through favorite records of the past and seeking contributions from like-minded contemporaries to fill out in the playlist. In this instance, the latter approach leads to standouts “Girls Talk,” written by Elvis Costello, and “Crawling from the Wreckage,” a typically caustic gem from Graham Parker. Edmunds also has the distinction of delivering the first recorded take on future Juice Newton hit “Queen of Hearts,” which has more of Buddy Holly feel in his rendering. Edmunds also gets a song from San Francisco performer Huey Lewis and his crew, complete with the presence of Lewis’s squeaky harmonica, with “Bad is Bad,” which was later reclaimed for the blockbuster album Sports.

Across the album, Edmunds is in fine form, whether roaring through the especially jittery rockabilly of  “Goodbye Mr. Good Guy” or strolling along the melancholy recounting of mutual relationship stubbornness in “We Were Both Wrong.” The backward-looking tendencies of Edmunds can sometimes obscure just how much he can push boundaries of what music can do, as heard on “Dynamite,” which forecasts the sludgy modernized blues rock of the Black Keys, albeit with a tinge of cool strum ease.

 

david secrets

738. David Sylvian, Secrets of the Beehive (1987)

The fourth solo album by David Sylvian, Secrets of the Beehive, positioned the artist to fully run with other paragons of iconoclastic, ornate British pop like Bryan Ferry and Kate Bush. Working closely with fellow inspired weirdo Ryuichi Sakamoto, Sylvian crafts enveloping music that consistently impresses with its layering and intricacy. The smooth elegance of “Orpheus” is representative, and it justly become one of Sylvian’s best known songs.

Probing and sedately gloomy, “The Boy with the Gun,” suggests the result of Peter Murphy taking over the lead vocals duties on R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People. The album also boasts the slickly complex “When Poets Dreamed of Angels” and the off-kilter jazz of “Mother and Child.” All the material has a clear artistic unity, but it also can swerve in unexpected ways, as Sylvian seems to be in a constant state of testing his own parameters.

Secrets of the Beehive was followed by the first major solo tour by Sylvian, another sign that the artist and his music industry bosses were aligned in a plan to bring his esoteric music to a wider audience. That bond started to fray by the time of Sylvian’s next album, Plight & Premonition, which included collaboration with Can’s Holger Czukay, hardly a possessor of a sensibility likely to lead to more MTV play.

 

beat pursuit

737. Beat Farmers, The Pursuit of Happiness (1987)

The Pursuit of Happiness was the second album the Beat Farmers released under their long-term deal with the MCA Records county-inclined sub-label, Curb Records. It was also the first release fully recorded after the band membership underwent some notable tumult in the wake of the major label signing, as singer-guitarist Buddy Blue departed in protest of the meddling of his new corporate overlords. The band didn’t necessarily sound all that different on The Pursuit of Happiness, but presumably there was a little more of a willingness to play nice, to find a balance between ribald raucousness and a more commercial approach.

By this point, the group also boasted a slick, sharp professionalism that impresses. “Hollywood Hills” makes a melding of punk attitude and roots rock sensibility seems effortless, and “Key to the World” dishes up a more gnarled version of the blues rock of George Thorogood. And there is almost a Meat Puppets brisk efficiency to “Elephant Day Parade.” Track after track, Beat Farmers flash sharp skills, whether with the snarling guitars of “Dark Light,” the mid-tempo crawl of “Big Big Man,” or the bouncy “Texas.” There may be few tracks that leap forward and announce themselves as potentially iconic, but the whole release is rock solid.

Curb started seeding songs from the album into soundtracks of the day, but The Garbage Pails Movie soundtrack was never going to approach the similar Top Gun platter in sales or attention. A breakthrough simply wasn’t likely. Beat Farmers kept at it for a few more years, but tragedy hastened the band’s end when lead singer Country Dick Montana died of a heart attack on stage. The band folded a few days later.

 

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

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