College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #644 to #641

descendents all

644. The Descendents, All (1987)

For what was expected to the final album from California punk legends the Descendents, drummer Bill Stevenson introduced a concept he’d co-created which was dubbed “All.” Cooked up on a fishing trip, in 1980, All was a fairly simple philosophy of never settling for less than is desired and putting in whatever effort is needed to achieve it. But there’s also a call for plain directness, of honing in on the true achievement and presenting it without adornment. Two tracks on the record, “All” and “No, All!” are over in an eye-blink, because they required no more than a second or two to successfully complete their goals.

Calling the album All was a way of staking out the ethos of the band, and, perhaps more crucially, the version of the band that would move on from there. Lead singer Milo Aukerman, who’d previously caused the Descendents to go on hiatus so he could pursue his studies in the field of biochemistry, decided to leave the music business altogether. Working as a scientist didn’t allow a lot of spare time for touring punk clubs, so the Descendents planned to cease, with the remaining band members going on to form a new group. After this release, they’d be known as All.

There are cuts on the album — such as “Clean Sheets” and “Coolidge” — that fully anticipate the more pop-punk direction All would take. Most of the album is the usual agreeable hodgepodge from the Descendents, gladly romping through established punk styles while also flashing a willingness to follow their creativity into decidedly weird territory. The chittering, chiming “Cameage” is nicely unsettling, and “Iceman,” inspired by the Eugene O’Neill play The Iceman Cometh, layers in weird tempo shifts and thick, steaming guitars to make a song that’s continually unexpected.

The Descendents went out on a couple extensive tours in support of All, yielding a pair of live albums as the proper valedictory. It was expected that the band would perform no more, but Auckerman’s retreat from performing didn’t last a decade. The Descendents reunited to make music again in the mid-nineteen-nineties and kept circling back around to one another in the years after.

 

raitt green

643. Bonnie Raitt, Green Light (1982)

Green Light, the eighth studio album from Bonnie Raitt, was partially the result of her retreat from the music business. After a particularly busy stretch, including as one of the more regular presences on the relatively new phenomenon of all-star benefit shows, Raitt retreated to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Removed from the hustle and bustle of the L.A. scene, Raitt felt she was able to reconnect with music through watching and playing with performers who were, almost by definition, only in it for the love of pulling a song together. Raitt wanted to reflect that on her next album.

Working with producer Rob Fraboni in a more modest studio space than she’d experienced in a while, Raitt emerged with an album that operated with a tuneful simplicity. The first shimmers of the fine, middle-of-the-road performer she’d become by the end of the decade were pressed into the grooves of Green Light.

“Keep This Heart in Mind” is pleasing, easygoing rock, and Raitt deploys the cool, grinding blues rock of “Let’s Keep It Between Us” with unbothered professionalism. Her cover of NRBQ’s “Me and the Boys” is a bouncy diversion, and the churning, charging title cut has just enough weight. “River of Tears,” penned by the Blues Magoos’ Eric Kaz, is similar to the breakthrough authenticity of later Lucinda Williams, albeit with far less grit. Green Light doesn’t exactly dazzle, but there’s still something rewarding about a rock album that precisely executes the basics.

 

wow jungle

642. Bow Wow Wow, See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang! Yeah! City All Above, Go Ape Crazy! (1981)

Malcolm McLaren was up to his usual iconoclastic impresario shenanigans when he recruited several members of Adam and the Ants to form a new group. After a lengthy hunt, young teenager Annabella Lwin was given the lead singer job, and the Bow Wow Wow started cranking out music. A few EP and single releases on EMI failed the produced the heavy chart action McLaren promised, and the group was dropped. They quickly found a new home on RCA Records and released their debut full-length, given the unwieldy title See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang! Yeah! City All Above, Go Ape Crazy! The promised breakthrough finally arrived when lead single “Go Wild in the Country” made into the Top 10 in the U.K.

The album is careening tour through mildly confused take on the trendy pop of the era, mostly distinguished by the propulsive drumming of Dave Barbarossa. “Chihuahua” combines the band’s trademark racing rhythms with dreamy pop that almost tilts in the direction of psychedelia, and “I’m Not a Know It All” has a post-punk tinge. “Orang-outang” is the sort of grimy surf rock faux western theme that sets Quentin Tarantino to salivating. Suggesting more of a muddled creative approach rather than a distinct vision, the album is padded with a few offhand oddities, such as “King Kong,” which comes across as something Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley might have come up with if they were recruited straight off their exemplary work on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to write an audition song for all poorly conceived musical about the oversized gorilla (“I’m like King Kong, I’m right and you’re wrong/ King Kong king, the king is strong”).

The best tracks on See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang! Yeah! City All Above, Go Ape Crazy! serves as proper showcases for the band members, especially Lwin. She sloshes personality into “Mickey, Put It Down” and stretches her voice like Silly Putty on “Elimination Dancing,” which forecasts the Sugarcubes, especially in the back and forth between Lwin’s singing and some shouted interjections. As notable for their imperfections as their intrigues, these cuts represent the sort of band Bow Wow Wow could have become. Aiming for stardom, they should have instead indulged in becoming musical weirdos.

 

madness moving

641. Madness, Keep Moving (1984)

According to Madness singer Suggs, the album Keep Moving represented the group at a low point creatively. After a series of hits, including the U.S. breakthrough “Our House,” Madness

“We had run out of ideas at that point,” Suggs told Uncut many years later.

Maybe the clearest idea that is evident on the album is a further shift away from the British ska sound that defined the band’s earliest work. The expected blurting horns eventually show up on the title cut, but they’re in a smooth jazz groove rather than punchy ska rhythms. There are still remnants of the old sound — “Prospects” settles into an easy reggae rhythm like its a sumptuous bubble bath — but Madness mostly sounds like any other pop act of the day.

There are interesting explorations to be found on Keep Moving, as Madness keeps trying on new guises. “The Sun and the Rain” is a direct descendent of the Small Faces at their most English, and “Brand New Beat” is reminiscent of David Bowie, though without the undercurrent of menace that enlivened his work. They give eighties British soul w whirl on “One Better Day,” and it drifts along blandly. The album’s most memorable track is “Michael Caine,” which interlaces a few snippets of the actor’s fine voice and sketches out a restrained dance music blueprint that Mick Jones would soon improve upon with Big Audio Dynamite.

Madness started to splinter after the release of Keep Moving. Keyboardist Mike Barson left the group once the recording process was complete. Within a couple years the band would crumble further and officially break up, leading to unpopular spinoffs and, before long, inevitable reunions.

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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