College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #668 to #665

rave book

668. The Rave-Ups, The Book of Your Regrets (1988)

The Rave-Ups had the misfortune of discovering how a little taste of success could lead to nasty legal entanglements in the cutthroat music industry. Earthier rock ‘n’ roll players on the sun-dappled, soft paisley Souther California independent music scene of the early-nineteen-eighties, the Rave-Ups saw a significant boost to their national prominence when fan Molly Ringwald advocated for their inclusion in various projects she worked on with filmmaker John Hughes. (At the time, Ringwald’s sister was dating Jimmer Podrasky, the Rave-Ups’ frontman.) The actress’s persistent championing of the group even landed them on film, performing in a club scene in Pretty in Pink. The major labels came courting the band, and they were eager to sign. But Fun Stuff, the smaller shingle that released the band’s first EP and then full-length, wasn’t keen to let them go. According to Podrasky, there were two years of legal wrangling required to excise the band from their obligation to Fun Stuff. By then, most of the major label interest in the band had withered away, roasted into nothingness by the heat of combative lawyering.

The last major label still standing before the band with a handful of flowers was Epic Records, so the band signed on and soon released The Book of Your Regrets. The album is definitely a product of the era, spotted with straightforward rock songs that are slicked up with studio polish. “Sue and Sonny” is the kind of stomping country-rock that the Blasters churned out with aplomb, and “Freedom Bound” unspools with a similar Sturm und Twang. And “These Wishes” represents the direction album rock radio could have gone in had the mushy metal of Bon Jovi and their ilk not diverted the train from the tracks ably laid by Tom Petty.

The Book of Your Regrets was a solid, well-regarded album, but the Rave-Ups’ bad luck persisted. Epic Records was enduring significant corporate restructuring and corresponding directionless confusion, so the album received little attention and indifferent promotion. The band took the blame and they were nearly dropped by the label. Only the intervention of a few true believers on the Epic payroll allowed the Rave-Ups to get another chance to record, resulting in the 1990 album Chance. It would be the band’s final recording.


gun juno

667. The Gun Club, Mother Juno (1987)

The Gun Club was no more. Band leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce had already scrambled the lineup a few times before decided to retire the name altogether, the 1984 album The Last Vegas Story supposedly the closing statement. Instead, following some tepidly received solo work, including a stab at subsisting as a spoken word artist, Pierce assembled a new version of the group and got to work on a new album, titled Mother Juno.

For the comeback effort the Gun Club recruited Cocteau Twins member Robin Guthrie to serve as producer, and the album occasionally exhibits a familiar shimmer. If “The Breaking Hands” were slipped onto the Cocteau Twins’ Blue Bell Knoll or Heaven or Las Vegas, no alarm bells would ring. More often, the album is notable for its tight sonic control as the Gun Club ranges widely within the territory of battle-toughened rock. “Bill Bailey” reworks the American standard “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” with a trampolining bravado, and “Yellow Eyes” is filled with lean, modernized blues guitar riffing that would stir envy in Jon Spencer. No matter how slick the record, the Gun Club also repeatedly show they can rattle their amps, as with the punk punch of “My Cousin Kim” and “Lupita Screams,” which comes across as a less grandiose version of the Cult.

Pierce held this Gun Club roster together for one more album: Pastoral Hide and Seek, released in 1990. Pierce later contended this group of musicians — guitarist Kid Congo Powers, bassist Romi Mori, and drummer Nick Sanderson —was the strongest iteration of the Gun Club. Though the lineup would change again, the Gun Club persisted for a few years, until Pierce’s self-destructive behaviors caught up with him. Long a heavy drinker, Pierce damaged his liver so severely that it effectively poisoned his entire system. He died of a brain hemorrhage in 1996. He was thirty-seven years old.


billy rebel

666. Billy Idol, Rebel Yell (1983)

According to Billy Idol, he discovered the term “rebel yell” through the Rolling Stones. Idol was invited to a party at Ron Wood’s New York brownstone, and he found himself standing with the host, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. With characteristic excess, the three Stones were forgoing cocktails or some other demure potable and were instead taking slugs straight from personal bottles of Rebel Yell bourbon. Immediately enamored with the phrase, Idol quickly saw it as a great title for both a song and an album. Working with guitarist Steve Stevens, Idol bypassed any allusions to U.S. history and instead paired a roaring rock riff with boastful lyrics of sexual prowess. Most of the words border on pure nonsense (“She said, ‘Come on baby I got a license for love/ And if it expires pray help from above”), but the repetitive chorus, with “more” hitting like a drumbeat, is close to irresistible. By previously established measures, “Rebel Yell” wasn’t a hit, peaking at #46 on the Billboard chart. The programmers at MTV loved it, though, and a major change in what and who dictated popular music was just getting underway.

Idol found more significant chart success with the swooning ballad “Eyes Without a Face,” which climbed into the Billboard Top 5. It also signaled the surprising range of the album Rebel Yell. Unified by Idol’s sneering swagger, the album contains INXS-style post-disco churn on “Daytime Drama,” weirdo glam on “Flesh for Fantasy,” pumping heavy metal on “Do Not Stand in the Shadows,” and airy synth-pop on “The Dead Next Door.” The songs aren’t always great, exactly, but they stretch and bend in surprising ways, nudging curiously around the corners of pop music heavily shaped by studio innovations. Rebel Yell is a valuable artifact for anyone seeking to understand where the overall music scene was sitting in early-to-mid-nineteen-eighties.

Rebel Yell also turned into a major hit for Idol, landing in the Top 10 of the Billboard album chart and logging double-platinum sales. For a whole generation of emerging new music fans, Idol became — in look, in attitude, in sound, in everything — the very definition of a rock star.



665. Billy Idol, Billy Idol (1982)

Following a tenure in Generation X and an initial tiptoe away from life as a band member with the EP Don’t Stop, a solo career officially launched with the released of the album Billy Idol. Idol has signed on with Kiss’s former manager, Bill Aucoin, and a strong sense of showmanship was obvious in place from the jump, including the simple yet shrewd choice of opening the self-titled record with the rallying cry of “Come On, Come On.” There was a rock ‘n’ roll party about to take place, and Idol was inviting everyone along for the riotous ride. So why not join in? There was a clear promise it was going to get “Hot in the City.”

If Billy Idol is casually positioned as a party record, it also stumbles off in other directions at time. It basically feels like a first album from an artist with a creative worldview that’s only partially formed. “Nobody’s Business” takes nineteen-sixties sunshine pop and lays a punk filter atop it, and “Shooting Stars” merges a zippy guitar line with Idol’s languid crooning for an intriguing schism. The ballad “It’s So Cruel” is mostly notable for the many variants Idol brings to his singing style across the track, as if he experimented wildly in the recording studio and producer Keith Forsey decided to keep it all.

Unsurprisingly, the song on which Idol is the most sure-footed was also the most significant hit, if not the highest charting single (a distinction that belongs to “Hot in the City”). “White Wedding” takes goth rock and dresses it up for public consumption, the gloom given a counterbalance by chiming guitars. Idol shot a music video at a discounted rate after his girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister, called in a favor. Delivered to MTV at about the time the cable channel was celebrating its first anniversary, “White Wedding” became a mainstay, giving Idol and his team a foundation to build on as he hurried to record his sophomore album, with maybe the occasional diversion thrown in — like, say, a birthday party for a Rolling Stone — to celebrate his ascendent status.

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

2 thoughts on “College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #668 to #665

  1. Big, big fan of The Book of Your Regrets, more so than Chance. In addition to the three highlights you note, I’d add the sympathetic “Mickey of Alphabet City” and the by turns playful and rueful “When the End Comes Before.”

    1. I try not to lean too much on when-I-was-in-college-radio reminiscing for these Countdown pieces, but I will add here that I remember “The Book of Your Regrets” as an especially dependable go-to in the stacks.

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