College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #458 to #456

458. Beat Farmers, Tales of the New West (1985)

Drummer Country Dick Montana and and Jerry Raney kicked around in various San Diego bands for years before they started playing together. They recruited guitarist Buddy Blue and bassist Rolle Dexter to join them, and the quartet holed up in an abandoned warehouse in El Centro, California, rehearsing at every opportunity. By the time to returned to the clubs dotted across their home turf, the band, dubbed the Beat Farmers, had a repertoire of tight rock songs tinged with the influence of old blues and country records.

“We’re not hillbillies,” Montana told Spin. “We’re not old and Black. But we like all that stuff. We just suck it in and spit it out. It’s a natural bastardization.”

It wasn’t long before they were signed by California label Rhino Records, then — as now — largely specialists in reissues and novelty records. In further demonstration of the band’s hybrid vigor, production chores their debut album were shared by Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin and longtime Beach Boys collaborator Mark Linett. All those divergent sensibilities resulted in Tales of the New West, a brusque, raucous blast of rock ‘n’ roll fervor, reminding all who opened their ears to it that the musical genre was supposed to acknowledge rules only to break them.

As if to emphasize the uniqueness of the mold they were making, the Beat Farmers front-load a couple of covers on the album, truly emphasizing the sly, saucy innovation of their sound. Following album opener “Bigger Stones,” with a lean, homespun sound, the Beat Farmers the the Velvet Undergound’s “There She Goes Again” and turn it into a twangy paean to yearning. That’s followed by “Reason to Believe,” nicked from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, which becomes a burbling, dirty-blues grinder.

After establishing that could make distinctive, entertaining tracks from material by two of the more venerated songwriters then toiling in rock music, the Beat Farmers spent the rest of the record showing that their stuff wasn’t so bad either. “Lost Weekend” makes hay from the misery of waking up from another blackout drunk, and “Selfish Heart” is a crisply brisk confession of romantic infatuation. The requisite tracks featuring Montana’s rumbling vocals bring the Old West saga “California Kid,” and the ludicrously amusing “Happy Boy,” the latter undoubtedly the band’s most enduring legacy.

Their raggedy flag properly planted with Tales of the New West, the Beat Farmers sought out new business partners for their next record. They left Rhino and signed with Curb Records, a label that was starting to have respectable success with fairly iconoclastic country acts, and started work on their sophomore album, Van Go.

457. Minutemen, 3 Way Tie (For Last) (1985)

3 Way Tie (For Last), the fourth full-length album from Minutemen, included a thank you to some labelmates in the liner notes. A tip of the battered, sweat-stained hat was extended to the Meat Puppets, citing the “obvious inspiration” to be found on the album. Going into recording on the album, Minutemen co-leader D. Boom wanted to emulate the loose, lolling, crunchy rock music Meat Puppets were delivering at the time. Mike Watt, the other driving force behind Minutemen, preferred their typical collection of tight, fierce, smash-and-grab punk numbers. Representing the divide between the collaborators, the album in labeled with two clearly delineated halves: Side D. and Side Mike.

Adding to the sense that 3-Way Tie (For Last) was a little more slapdash than previous efforts, the record is strewn with covers, including a pass at the Meat Puppets’ “Lost.” Extensive touring (and Boon’s increasing proclivity for hard partying) meant there was a shortage of new material, a surprising change in creative for the band that just one year earlier release the monumental Double Nickels on the Dime, a double album stuffed full with forty-five songs. This time, Minutemen had to fill out the track list with versions of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, “The Red and the Black” by Blue Oyster Cult, “Ack Ack Ack” by the Urinals, and “Bermuda” by Roky Erickson. All are fine tracks, marked by the downbeat musical personality of Minutemen, but it’s hard to deny that they feel like filler.

It’s more satisfying when Minutemen do their thing, playing pointed, smartly spare, tough-as-galvanized-nails songs. The protest songs “The Price of Paradise,” “Big Stick,” and “Just Another Soldier” are angry and easy-going at the same time, as if by the influence of a mystical spell toiled and troubles from a punk club toilet bowl. Funky “No One” and trippy “Situations at Hand” demonstrate the range Minutemen could find within their established sound, and “Courage,” the band’s version of a big rock song, is so pristine in its polish that it practically gleams.

Even in a slightly compromised, ramshackle mode, Minutemen offered great, precisely personal music that was comfortingly familiar and yet like nothing anyone else was making at the time. And it would be effectively the last time Minutemen worked together on an album. Less than a month after the release of 3-Way Tie (For Last), Boon was killed in a freak automobile accident. Watt and George Hurley, the drummer of Minutemen, pulled together enough stray material for Ballot Result, an album promised on a flyer included with 3-Way Tie (For Last), and then dissolved the band for good.

456. Go-Go’s, Talk Show (1984)

Weighed down and wearied by the sort of personal woes endemic to a rock band that experienced sudden, overwhelming success, Go-Go’s wanted to go far from home to make their third album. After the smash success of their debut, Beauty and the Beast, the band saw their popularity soften with their sophomore effort, Vacation. They hoped to regain their mojo by recording in London with producer Martin Rushent, who’d had recent success with the Human League and former Buzzcock Pete Shelley.

Any hopes that the change of venue would help unify a splintering band were dashed, in part because Rushent preferred to work with the musicians individually. And personal ambitions were sometimes at odds with the preferences of other band members, most notably Jane Wiedlin’s stated and denied desire to take over some of the lead vocal duties from Belinda Carlisle. The band left the recording sessions feeling less together than when they went in.

The album that resulted, Talk Show, is a solid chunk of mid–nineteen-eighties pop rock, though. Led by the absolutely splendid “Head Over Heels,” which is the last Go-Go’s song that could reasonably termed a hit, the album moves through a set of cuts that have some connection to the bright, slightly retro charms of their debut while simultaneously trying to set a more modern stance. “Turn to You” and “Yes or No,” both released, are sweet without becoming cloying, catchy without becoming overly reliant on the hook. “I’m the Only One” is built on a slick groove, and “Beneath the Blue Sky” comes admirably close to the cooled-down, maturing style of the Pretenders in the same era. “Mercenary” is a lovely, affecting pop ballad.

Even so, there’s not quite enough material — or maybe confidence in the material they have — to make the album wholly satisfying. Given that Wiedlin later delivered the best solo work of any of the Go-Go’s, it’s somewhat surprising that the weakest songs are those with her as the sole credited songwriter. “Forget That Day” is slack, and “Capture the Light” has a punchy pop sound marred by unbearably cheesy lyrics (“I’m gonna capture the light/ And keep it in my heart”).

It was Wiedlin who pulled the thread that led to Go-Go’s unraveling entirely, announcing to her bandmates that she intended to quit the group at the end of the tour in support of Talk Show. Paula Jean Brown, of the band Giant Sand, was briefly brought in to replace Wiedlin, but the change didn’t take. Go-Go’s ended as a going concern in May 1985, though many, many reunions — and a few lawsuits — were still to come.

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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