College Countdown: CMJ Top 1000, 1979 – 1989 — #338 to #336

338. The Mission UK, Gods Own Medicine (1987)

“I was sat at home one night, up very late, listening to records, and I’ve got Mission speakers,” Wayne Hussey explained when asked about the inspiration behind the name he chose for the band he formed after breaking away from the Sisters of Mercy. “And I’ve also got a Missionary diary that my parents gave to me when I was about twelve — you know, we used to go to church. I wanted something that was quite plain and could be international, a name I could hear on the radio.”

The aspiration toward easy international translation of the band name was dealt a blow in the important market of the U.S., where a Philadelphia R&B act already laid claim to the moniker. For purposes of North American releases, the band became the Mission UK ahead of the stateside release of their debut full-length, Gods Own Medicine. Sounding very much like the Sisters of Mercy with the grandiosity dialed back a notch or two (in addition to Hussey, bassist Craig Adams fled the other act), the album opens with the track “Wasteland” and Hussey flatly stating, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me.” At a fundamental level, the Mission was committed to being as goth as goth could be. Occasionally, as is almost inevitably the case with goth rock acts, the Mission flirts with self-parody, intoning archly glum poetry with dead-eyed intensity: On “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,” Hussey yelps, “No devil so dark/ As the devil I knew/ There’s no love lost/ And no reason why,” and eyeliner smudges spontaneously around the world.

Soaking decadently in the thick production provided by their regular collaborator Tim Palmer, the Mission offers goth-pop that could serve as the defining example for anyone oblivious to, and curious about, the form. “Dance on Glass” has echoes of the Cure when they slide in dark dance music, and “The Dance Goes On” is big and booming, designed to give the impression it has the power to knock down dank dungeon walls. In general, the Mission is uncommonly skilled at making their tracks swell to delightfully ludicrous proportions. On “Bridges Burning,” they someone combine the distinctive excess of both the Teardrop Explodes and U2.

Bands don’t set up their tents in the goth patch of the rock ‘n’ roll forest without expecting some heavy drama will follow. On the U.S. tour that followed the release of Gods Own Medicine, Adams fell prey to debilitating drug addiction which forced him out of the band so abruptly that a sound tech needed to serve as relief bassist at one concert. Adams was back in the fold by the time the Mission was ready to record their second album, Palmer was preoccupied with a high-profile collaboration with Robert Plant, so a new producer was needed. As it happened, one of Plant’s old bandmates was available and up for taking a crack and producing a Mission album.

337. The Greg Kihn Band, Kihnspiracy (1983)

According to Greg Kihn, he and the band that bore his name recorded the album Kihnspiracy right down the hall from where Journey toiled away on their smash Frontiers. There weren’t that many encounters between the two acts, and those that happened were largely simple and collegial, chit chat at the coffee machine or over a game of pinball. Kihn only realized the distance between approaches when he spied the raw product created by Journey in the form of an overloaded cart of multitrack tapes that held the new album. Kihn later estimated that Journey had nearly seven times more material than he did.

On Kihn’s meager collection of audio tapes, he did at least have the biggest song of his career. “Jeopardy” took a leftover disco beat, added a crunchy guitar part (the very first outing with the band’s new guitar player, Greg Douglass), and a set of effectively straightforward lyrics of romantic dismay that Kihn says he improvised over the course of twenty minutes or so. It is sugar-rush pop-rock, the sort of thing that sounds like a little miracle when it modulates across FM waves. Released as a single, “Jeopardy” made it to the runner-up position on the Billboard chart, barred from the top by Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

Kihn might have marveled at that stack of tapes Journey wheeled around the studio, but he also felt his band’s approach was superior. They were hardly newcomers (Kihnspiracy was the eighth album credit to either Kihn or the Greg Kihn Band), and Kihn felt their practice of working quickly made the music sound more energetic and spontaneous. Kihnspiracy suggests that everyone involved could have worked on the songs a little longer and more rigorously. “Fascination” and “Talkin’ to Myself” provide a hint at what Tom Petty would have sounded like if he routinely stopped his creative process once he felt the hook was good enough. The tepid “Curious” is like the J. Geils Band in a lazy run-through where they don’t think the tape is rolling. Even the cover of a airtight oldie, practically a requisite on Kihn records, is most notable for its half-hearted quality. Warbling through “I Fall to Pieces,” Kihn comes close to the cheap distaste of an ironic put-on.

Kihnspiracy, and “Jeopardy,” represent the clear commercial pinnacle for Kihn. The album and single outperformed anything that came before or after. Kihn only took one more single into the Billboard Top 40: “Lucky,” a soft, mid-tempo tune that peaked at #30. He never stopped making records, though, often circling back to the gimmick of crafting painful puns of his last name for album titles. The most devoted fans could have Kihnsolidation, Kihn of Hearts, True Kihnfessions, and Rekihndled in their collections.

336. The Church, Heyday (1985)

On the Church’s first couple albums, Steve Kilbey generally wrote all the songs and delivered them to his bandmates in more or less a final state. Partially inspired by the growing strength of the band as live performers, he had a different approach in mind for the band’s fourth album, Heyday. The Church got together in their familiar rehearsal space and jammed together, honing and shaping the material until they felt they had a set of nearly finished songs that Kilbey could then outfit with lyrics. This wasn’t an entirely new concept for the band — “Shadow Cabinet,” a track on the Remote Luxury EP, came together in precisely that way — so they were confident it could work. More importantly, they collectively felt this was the way to ensure that every songs played to individual and collective strengths.

“We all thought, me included, that each player could write their own parts better than one player could write all the parts,” Kilbey later noted. “What we started to realize was that our songs were going to be more pointillistic. Instead of a song where everyone is playing along, it was going to be more people playing different things.”

The unity through divergence philosophy is vibrantly apparent on the track “Tristesse,” which is chiming and layered, drifting in multiple directions at once and yet tightly cohesive. “Columbus” is similarly alive with probing, restless guitar parts, Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes bobbing like sparring partners, something clinching together and often dancing apart. Headlong, jittery “Tantalized” and fulsomely grand “Night of Light” have the invigorating friction of simpatico collaborators exploring with equal enthusiasm. In its spangly psychedelia, “Always Yesterday” is probably the exemplifies the new identity the Church is forming. The unlikely hit to come is pecking at the inside of this song’s shell.

Not every song finds its center of gravity — the instrumental “Happy Hunting Ground” is like a Peter Gabriel track minus the lurking genius — but Heyday is the sound of a band that can see greatness on the horizon and is figuring out in real time how to get there. That dazzling spirit of discovery was emblematic of the sound of college radio circa 1985. Every drop of the needle on a previously untouched record reverberated with possibility.

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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