College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #544 to #541

lords new church

544. The Lords of the New Church, The Lords of the New Church (1982)

“I think that first record was really built on pure adrenaline,” drummer Nick Turner said of The Lords of the New Church several years after its release. “Maybe some chemical help as well, but it was pure adrenaline.”

The Lords of the New Church formed out of the remnants of major punk acts that flared and burned out in recent years. Turner was in the Barracudas, vocalist Stiv Bators was in the Dead Boys, guitarist Brian James was in the Damned, and bassist Dave Tregunna was in Sham 69. In coming together to form their new outfit, the pummeling fervor of their previous acts was generous applied, melded with an almost operatic goth rock. The big rock churn found on their cover of the great garage psychedelic song “Question of Temperature” essentially sets the template. They were going to remain true to what came before, but they were going to go bigger and bolder, taking their sound right up to edge of the vividly ludicrous.

The Lords of the New Church also know where to look to get some borrowed bombast. “Russian Roulette” is largely inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now with a title-generating dab of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (which feel like it might be an instance of drug-spun memories conflating the two movies), and “Apocalypso” does the New York Dolls and other similar predecessors proud. The band also has sound instincts about driving full-on when needed, as on the hypercafeeinated “Portobello.” I’m less convinced that the tingly synths on “Open Your Eyes” are the right choices, but sometimes nineteen-eighties music is just going to be nineteen-eighties music and that’s that.

The Lords of the New Church was a solid start for the band, a proper reintroduction for its members and an evolution to a refined musical sensibility. They convincingly mapped out a new route and revved their engine to go roaring along it.

 

motels careful

543. Motels, Careful (1980)

Before the recording of their sophomore album, Careful, the Motels made a relatively significant lineup change. Guitarist Jeff Jourard left the band and Tim McGovern took his place, his job interview undoubtedly boosted by his status as the boyfriend to lead singer Martha Davis. Other than that, the strategy for the California band centered on repeating what they’d done before, including once giving the producer job to John Carter, the Capitol Records exec who signed them to the label in the first place. Motels, the band’s debut, was only a modest success, but everyone was convinced they had the sound and the style to make waves commercially. Consistent effort was all that was needed.

Tracks such as the escalating pop mayhem of “Envy” and the bouncy “Cry Baby” certainly make the argument that the Motels had the stuff of greatness in them, just waiting for the tumbler to properly align, while the lolling ballad “Slow Town” probably best signals the approach that eventually would start generating major hits for them. Elsewhere on Careful, the Motels are clearly trying on different guises, presumably in the hopes that one of them might give them a way to sneak their way onto the charts. There a touch of Joe Jackson’s retro cool to “Bonjour Baby” and some leftover disco posturing on “Party Professionals.” Even when they’re not wholly convincing, the Motels remain solid performers.

Like its predecessor, Careful didn’t manage to break through and all of its singles remained outside the Billboard Hot 100. The situation didn’t necessarily call for wholesale reinvention just yet, but there was clearly a welling uncertainty in how to proceed. Better days were ahead, but the process of recorded their next album proved to be exceedingly difficult.

 

get close

542. The Pretenders, Get Close (1986)

It’s probably best to start with the understanding that the Pretenders are whatever Chrissie Hynde goddamn well wants it to be at the moment she wants it to be that way. Officially, the band was only on their fourth full-length studio effort with Get Close, but they’d already gone through more lineup changes than a professional sports franchise with unlimited funds and a fickle lunatic presiding over the roster. Hynde was the only mainstay from the beginnings of the band. Guitarist Robbie McIntosh, who had joined the band on 1983’s Learning to Crawl, was the only player to appears on every track of the album. Beyond those two, it was a rotating crowd in the studio, including seasoned session bassist T.M. Stevens, former Haircut One Hundred drummer Blair Cunningham (both of whom are credited as official band members), the great keyboardist Bernie Worrell, and who slew of musicians who’d been part of the Talking Heads’ sprawling endeavors. Get Close, by counting stats, was a big record.

Logistics management may have been a challenge, but Hynde remained as firm of an anchor as any act could hope for. The inspired, flirty “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and chugging, confident “My Baby” are worthy additions to the list of truly great singles generated by the band over the years. As if proving her lyrical range, the surprisingly sweet “I Remember You” immediately countered by the Eurythmics-like put-down “How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?” Even when the songs aren’t really all that strong, they blaze with attitude and assurance, a clear conviction that there’s a value to banging out some plainspoken rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s those moments when Get Close tries to push into some era-specific innovation that the album is at its weakest. Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine are the credited producers on the album, and both leave fingerprints of fuss. “Dance!,” running nearly seven minutes long, seems as if it’s trying to update an old nineteen-sixties dance craze number with a dash of prog rock excess and punk attitude. And the ballad “Hymn to Her” given the fully nineteen-eighties syrup treatment, putting it uncomfortably in line with Clearmountain’s money-minting collaborations with Bryan Adams.

Compared to its predecessors, Get Close was only a middling performer. While it yielded one respectable hit on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Don’t Get Me Wrong” — it was the first Pretenders album that didn’t crack the album chart’s Top 10. When The Singles arrived the following year, it felt like a valedictory gesture. There would be plenty more albums from the Pretenders (and even another top 40 single), but Get Close can be reasonably viewed as the last blazing sparkler of a great act’s

 

well well well

541. The Woodentops, Well Well Well… (1986)

As was often the case with U.K. bands, the Woodentops reached a point where they needed to find a way to draw together their various singles into a format that better suited the U.S. market. After a string of well-regarded single and EP releases on Rough Trade Records, it was time to compile a long-playing companion to their debut full-length, Giant, for North American record shops. One of the band’s singles, Well Well Well, was taken and essentially expanded, providing a sprightly, if somewhat clunky, survey of what the Woodentops had hashed out to that point.

The energetic, infectious “Move Me” suggests the Woodentops as a sort of British answer to the Feelies, taking the glum deadpan moodiness of the Velvet Underground and added a snappier version of postpunk fervor. The juming hootenanny “Do It Anyway” and the firm “It Will Come” demonstrate the band’s considerable chops and even more impressive focus. There’s a sense that they could bang out this buzzsaw fierce numbers with the blinding efficiency of an assembly line stamping machine. Since the compilation also traffics in the sort of loose experiments usually (and properly) relegated to B-sides, there’s some weirdness to wander through, too. “Steady Steady” suggests Bauhaus as a band with heavy Americana influences and a little too much appreciation for the scalding excesses of Jim Morrison at the height of his acid burnout self-aggrandizement. It’s probably incorrect to call that particular creative turn good, but, to be fair, it’s also not dull.

 

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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