College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #431 to #429

431. Bow Wow Wow, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going (1983)

The English band Bow Wow Wow were one of the earliest beneficiaries of the upstart cable network MTV. Bolstered by the distinctive look and cool charisma of lead singer Annabella Lwin, the single “I Want Candy, “ a cover of a song originally performed by the Strangeloves, became a staple on the channel and a hit across the globe. To work on a follow-up, the band was paired with Mike Chapman, who produced major hits for the Knack and Blondie, and Lwin was encouraged to take the lead on writing the lyrics. The breakthrough has already happened, and the label was ready to make the band even bigger stars.

The resulting sophomore full-length, When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going, basically locks into the mode Bow Wow Wow already established. Tribal drums drive a relentless rhythm, Lwin blazes through blunt lyrics, and the rest of the group simply tries to keep up. “Aphrodisiac” opens the album with that familiar adrenalized shimmy, and “What’s the Time (Hey Buddy)” is wild and racing, as if the band is trying to beat a countdown clock. There are attempts at sauntering off in other musical directions, which mostly reveal the lack of adaptability to band’s predominant approach. “Mario (Your Own Way to Paradise)” edges uncertainly in the direction of standard pop, and “The Man Mountain” answers the unasked question “What would it be like if Bow Wow Wow did their version of an old mountain ballad?” with Lwin intoning, “He don’t breathe, he don’t sleep/ He don’t even wash his feet.” In general, Lwin’s lyrics aren’t great, with heavy repetition and stream-of-consciousness nonsense. On “Do You Wanna Hold Me,” she howls, “Children, I wanna warn ya/ ‘Cos I’ve been to California/ Where Mickey Mouse is such a demon/ Where Mickey Mouse is as big as a house.”

There are hints that the band might be able to break free from the confines they’d set for themselves and find new creative avenues. The lovely snarl of sounds “Love, Peace and Harmony” is raucous and intriguing. There was no discovering if there was more in them, though. Not long after When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going was release, and shortly before embarking on a planned world tour, Lwin was fired from Bow Wow Wow, finding out by reading about it in NME. Without Lwin, there was really no band. The members all went off to other projects. Lwin and bassist Leigh Gorman later revived the group, and Bow Wow Wow has been performing together on and off, and in various iterations, ever since.

430. The Three O’Clock, Sixteen Tambourines (1983)

When the Three O’Clock recorded Sixteen Tambourines, they were essentially starting over. The L.A.-based band originally went by the name the Salvation Army, releasing a self-titled album in 1982. Then lawyers came calling, pointing out that there was a charitable organization that had a claim on the name that extended back more than a hundred years. Taking a new name from the time of day when they regularly convened for band practice, the Three O’Clock officially made their entrance with the 1982 EP Baroque Hoedown. Officially, Sixteen Tambourines is a full-length debut.

The Three O’Clock were part of the Paisley Underground scene, giving the hippie-vibe rock of the late–nineteen-sixties a fresh polish. They took a refined, restrained approach, as heard on the gentle, chiming psychedelia of “And So We Run” and the lilting, skipping “Stupid Einstein.” They occasionally add in another element — the Memphis Horns–style boost to “In My Own Time,” a Bee Gees cover, for example — but Sixteen Tambourines mainly provides mild twists on bygone grooves. “When Lightning Starts” has bouncy, sunny groove, and “Jet Fighter” zings along on an irresistibly catchy hook.

Sixteen Tambourines positioned the Three O’Clock properly in the college rock scene, catching the attention of all the right people. It made a significant enough ripple on the college charts to lure in I.R.S. Records. The upstart label with college radio dominance in their game plan signed the band and quickly set the machinery in motion to try and make them the next big thing on the left end of the dial.

429. Joy Division, Substance (1988)

Substance is a sequel, of sorts. New Order released a singles compilation by the name of Substance in 1987, and it became their biggest hit to date. It set new band highs on the album charts in both the U.K. and the U.S., and delivered New Order their first U.S. Top 40 single, with the slapping dance track “True Faith.” One year later, New Order mined their prehistory for another version of Substance, delivering a collection that stood as the first proper survey of the astonishing, trailblazing music of Joy Division.

The Joy Division version of Substance is centered on the band’s four singles that didn’t appear on one of their two studio albums. The major draw for more casual music fans was “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” which had already established itself as the theme to every goth prom unto eternity. Wondrous as it may be, the cut is one small shard of a beautiful broken looking glass of rock music. The quartet took what they learned from punk rock bands (all four members of Joy Division were in the audience the first time the Sex Pistols played Manchester) and turned it inside out, crafting music that was edgy, intense, dizzying, rapturous. “Transmission” churns and soars, “She’s Lost Control” flakes off shards of steel with every burst of beauteous noise, and “Atmosphere” swoon luxuriously atop a skittery drum beat that Larry Mullen Jr. absconded with.

Guitarist Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook, and drummer Stephen Morris collectively went on to form New Order, so they had plenty more to offer after the material on this version of Substance. That puts extra weight on the collection as a tribute to Joy Division’s lead singer, Ian Curtis, a troubled poet who committed suicide in 1980. His charismatic intensity is all over these songs, cracking them open like seismic ruptures in the ground. New Order came off of Joy Division like a tributary, but, for all their accomplishments, the couldn’t carry the roil of the preceding band’s river, and that’s because of Curtis. He was one of a kind.

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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