College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #449 to #447

449. The Allman Brothers Band, Enlightened Rogues (1979)

Enlightened Rogues is one of the clearest examples in nineteen-seventies rock of a band rising from the ashes of their own self-destruction. The infighting after the Allman Brothers Band’s 1975 album Win, Lose or Draw swelled to such proportion that it became insurmountable, prompting an ending that was expected to be permanent, the various band scattering to other projects. Most notably, dual frontmen Gregg Allman started a band that again bore his name — though with the first name included — and Dickey Betts created Great Southern. The sore feelings didn’t last that long — or maybe didn’t outweigh the anxiety produced when looking at the comparatively soft record sales of the endeavors apart — and reunion chatter started by 1978. Most of the remaining members reconvened, and producer Tom Dowd, who was present for earlier band triumphs such as Idlewild South and Eat a Peach, was enlisted to increase the likelihood that old magic could be conjured up again.

It’s probably folly to suggest that Enlightened Rogues stands up to the earlier Allman Brothers releases that helped escape the canon of Southern rock, but the album is a tough, satisfying slab of squawking guitars, thunderous drums, and yearning vocals applied to time-tested blues structures. “Crazy Love,” with Betts on lead vocals, is the album’s opening declaration of intent, all snarling guitars and boogie shuffle. The band goes deep into the blues with the grinding “Can’t Take It with You” and the smooth, tight “Need Your Love So Bad.” Arguably, they only falter when they seemingly grow more comfortable. “Try It One More Time” falls into a jammy, snoozy groove, and the two slower cuts that close out the album — Allman’s Hollywood-living takedown “Just Ain’t Easy” and the toothless ballad “Sail Away” — are simply drab, withering on the stem compared to the rest of the material.

A solid successful for the band, Enlightened Rogues nonetheless represented the end of the band’s heyday. Already beset by legal squabbles, time in court began to outdistance time in studio. Personnel shuffles became commonplace and the band wriggled away from their longtime label home Capricorn Records only to land an abortive deal with Arista Records followed by a march to nostalgia act status on Epic Records. Enlightened Rogues was the final album from the Allman Brothers Band to register in the Top 10 of the Billboard chart.

448. The Boomtown Rats, Mondo Bongo (1981)

When the Boomtown Rats went into the studio to record their fourth album, Mondo Bongo, they were at their career peak. Their previous album, The Fine Art of Surfacing, was a hit across the globe, largely because it included the band’s seminal single, “I Don’t Like Mondays.” Armed with that cachet, frontman Bob Geldof and his bandmates settled in with Tony Visconti, producer of David Bowie’s most legendary albums, and decided to get ambitious.

As opposed to the punchy songs the band delivered earlier, Mondo Bongo is filled with studio frippery. What could have been an artful expansion of what they’d done before instead comes across as an attempt to disguise the thinness of the songs, whether the exhausting “Mood Mambo” or the overstuffed “Hurt Hurts.” They plop on a wanky saxophone solo — and some throwaway bigotry — on “Go Man Go!” and rework a Rollings Stones classic with a dose of snide goofing “Under Their Thumb…Is Under My Thumb.” The sharp new wave number “Straight Up,” marked by a careening tempo and slippery synths, is an example of what the Boomtown Rats could accomplished when the band put their mind to it, and the moony “Up All Night” is nearly on part with it. Mostly, the album is filled with mere diversions: the Kinks-like “Another Piece of Red,” the “I Don’t Like Mondays” retread “Elephant’s Graveyard,” and the drippy reggae pass “Banana Republic,” which is more 10cc than Bob Marley.

At least one band member also thought Mondo Bongo represented a decline in the Boomtown Rats’ creative credentials. Rhythm guitarist Gerry Cott left the group, staying long enough to complete the world tour in support of the record. He specifically cited the lackluster quality of the album as a key reason on his way out the door.

447. The Kinks, Low Budget (1979)

“That was one of the happiest periods of my life,” Ray Davies said of the time he recorded Low Budget. “I could walk over to Clive Davis’s office, play him some songs, and then we’d go recorded them with the Kinks.”

It was Davis, the head of Arista Records, who prodded to Davies to mine his more commercial instincts, regularly urging him to try a little harder to write a hit. During this stretch, Davies actually seem energized by the usually reviled suggestion. It was one such directive that led Davies to come with “Catch Me Now I’m Falling,” built on a soaring, irresistible hook that sugared up the medicine of lyrics about a United States suffering from a battery of crisis and feeling its superpower status suddenly in question (“Now I’m calling on citizens from all over the world/ This is captain America calling/ I bailed you out when you were down on your knees/ So will you catch me now I’m falling”). If it’s an unlikely topic for a radio smash, there was little likelihood the Kinks were ever going to spend much time in more conventional songwriting realms. After years of RCA Records feeling confused about what to do with the Kinks, at least Davis seemed to understand and like the band.

Low Budget, the Kinks’ third studio album for Arista, finds the band leaner and meaner than they’d been in quite some time, tapping into their garage rock roots. “Attitude” combines the old smash-and-grab verve with the rock expansiveness emblematic of the nineteen-seventies, and “A Gallon of Gas” puts raw blues in service of japery about the gas crisis (“I’ve been waiting for years to buy a brand new Cadillac/ But now that I’ve got one I want to send it right back/ I can’t afford the gas to fill my luxury limousine/ But even if I had the dough no one’s got no gasoline”). And the title cut is almost Zappa-esque in its merging of grinding sardonicism and syrup-thick, hard-rock guitar.

For U.S. audiences, Davies evident pleasure in music-making was very welcome, especially as album rock stations were gaining more of a foothold in commercial radio. Low Budget became the Kinks’ highest-charting studio full-length to date — and ever since — and it became their first gold album.

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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