Radio Days — 90FM’s Top 35 for August 9, 1991

This series of posts covers my long, beloved history interacting with the medium of radio, including the music that flowed through the airwaves.

Because of a task I’m gladly — gratefully even — taking on this week, my mind is regularly roaming back to consider the playlists I and my cohorts filled out at student-run radio station WWSP-FM, which operates at an assigned frequency of 89.9 megahertz, prompting all who sit behind the microphone there to round up and call it 90FM. Luckily, I don’t have to rely entirely on my faltering, fumbling memory to tell me what was played during my distant undergraduate years. I have resources at my disposal.

To help get the right mental wheels turning as I undertake diligently preparations, I offer this retrospective on the music that was being played when our weary, determined crew pushed through the final weeks of a typically understaffed summer. As submitted to the college radio trade publication CMJ for the issue cover-dated August 9, 1991, these are the thirty-five albums that earned the most airplay on 90FM.

  1. Living Colour, Biscuits

I’m somewhat surprised this received enough airplay to take the top position on the chart. Biscuits is a EP released about a year after Living Colour’s sophomore album, Time’s Up. It was presumably meant to give the band something new to hawk as they embarked on the first Lollapalooza tour, and the expected hodgepodge of leftovers, covers, and live cuts. It rocks pretty hard, and there were definitely DJs on the staff that gravitated to just this sort of material.

2. Mary’s Danish, Circa

The second studio album from Mary’s Danish, who had a healthy hit at our station with their debut outing and its scintillating lead single, “Don’t Crash the Car Tonight.” I remember playing their next (and final) album, American Standard, quite a bit, but I think Circa was more of blip. The main single from Circa, the cumbersomely titled “Julie’s Blanket (Pigheadnsakeface),” doesn’t even sound familiar to me.

3. Fish Karma, Teddy in the Sky with Magnets

The top Amazon review for this album insists, “If you only own one Fish Karma album, it should be Teddy in the Sky with Magnets,” which, you know, fair enough. More than many college stations, we were very susceptible to material that had a heavy aura of novelty to it.

4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Into the Great Wide Open

Among other things, this is the album on which Tom Petty blatantly swiped the lyric “A rebel without a clue” from the Replacements, who opened for Petty and his Heartbreakers on tour a couple years earlier. To be fair, Bonnie Tyler beat them both to the wry turn of phrase.

5. The Psychedelic Furs, World Outside

Basically the swan song for the Psychedelic Furs. They were well past their prime, but they still possessed an enviable knack for dreamy hooks.

6. Siouxsie & the Banshees, Superstition

Siouxsie & the Banshees were legends of the left end of the dial by the time they released Superstition, an album of shrewd pop elegance that could have pointed the way to a post-post-punk future. Instead, there was one more studio album before they shut it down.

7. The Bobs, Sing the Songs of

As noted, we were very susceptible to material that had a heavy aura of novelty to it.

8. The Candy Skins, Space I’m In

Space I’m In is a dandy, underrated piece of Britpop. I might have been responsible for some of the plays that kept this in our Top 10 for a while.

9. Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, “Sheriff Fatman” single

In my recollection, it was fairly rare that singles cracked the list we submitted to CMJ every week, but this chart argues against that. While there was general appreciation among our staff for the output of this now largely forgotten English band, I’m confident this advance single did well because DJs wanted to comedically riff on the band name, the song title, or both.

10. XTC, Rag & Bone Buffet

This stray bits collection from is, almost by definition, minor league material from XTC. That means it is still more impressive that the A material from other artists.

11. Sinéad O’Connor, “My Special Child” single

This standalone single from Sinéad O’Connor arrived while she was still gleaming with the afterglow I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, before the deeply misjudged full-length follow-up Am I Not Your Girl? “My Special Child” has a lot of weightiness to it. “I had written the song from my own experience. I wanted to put it out and use the money to raise awareness of child abuse,” O’Connor told Spin. “Then the Kurdish thing came up and seemed really urgent, so thought I’d do that. The song itself is about my experience with having had an abortion last year and how I dealt with that and how it made me feel.”

12. Animal Logic, Animal Logic II

The first Animal Logic did really well at our station. The unimaginatively titled sophomore outing started strong, but its subpar quality did it in.

13. Voice Farm, Bigger Cooler Weirder

I don’t remember this album at all.

14. Apollo Smile, Apollo Smile

This was a terrific pop album, somewhat atypical for our station that was more likely to fall in thrall with raucous rock bands. The following week, Apollo Smile topped out chart.

15. Chapterhouse, Whirlpool

I don’t remember if we even used the term shoegaze at the time to describe music that sounded like this (others definitely did, but the more granular descriptions often didn’t take hold at our station), but this is certainly an exemplary representation of the form.

16. King Missile, The Way to Salvation

As noted, we were very susceptible to material that had a heavy aura of novelty to it.

17. Havana Black, Exiles in Mainstream

Another album that made a stronger impression on the hard rock charts than the regular CMJ tally. I wonder if the Metal Thunder guys subbed a lot this week.

18. Squeeze, Play

I’m reminded that Squeeze made a lot of albums that were…just…sort of…there.

19. Baby Animals, Baby Animals

20. Celebrity Skin, Good Clean Fun

I don’t remember either of these. They both sound like lousy, overproduced rock. The transition from nineteen-eighties slickness to nineteen-nineties thudding grudge yielded some strange stuff.

21. Straitjacket Fits, Melt

New Zealand’s Straitjacket Fits made some terrific, atmospheric music. They had their adherents at our station (I was one of them), but they never crossed over to wider airplay.

22. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, God Fodder

Now this band was dominant on our playlists, thanks in large part to some absolutely sizzling singles. Later albums did surprisingly well, too.

23. Madding Crowd, Madding Crowd

I’m guessing as to what this is. Checking the other Top 35 lists published in the issue of CMJ, our station was the only one playing this album. The web that stretches worldwide yields no clear answers. It might be a self-titled release from an Australian band by that name, but shruggy emoticon guy.

24. Ramones, All the Stuff and More Vol. II

Getting a collection that was simply the third and fourth Ramones albums in rotation was like a gift to the on-air staff.

25. The KLF, The White Room

We barely nudged at the acid house music that took hold of some other stations. This act, and this album, got an impressive number of spins from us through the summer. It sounded good blasting out of the open station windows.

26. EMF, Schubert Dip

This album had exactly one song that anyone cared about (it was, to be clear, a pretty irresistible song). Schubert Dip got extra traction at our station because we ran a contest that invited listeners to mail in their creative suggestions as to what EMF stood for. I believe the entry we selected as the winner was Einstein’s Middle Finger.

27. The Innocence Mission, Umbrella

The tracks on Umbrella call to mind 10,000 Maniacs. They should have prospered at 90FM, but I remember them being routinely dismissed, unfairly, as a kind of second choice to Indigo Girls.

28. My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Sexplosion!

Grinding, gnarly songs referencing sex usually got a lot of appreciative attention from our staff. We were easy marks in that respect.

29. Liquid Jesus, Pour in the Sky

30. Last Crack, Burning Time

Seriously, I think our resident metalheads picked up a few sub shifts this week. Although, it’s also worth noting that Last Crack hailed from our state capital that was right down the interstate from us.

31. Various Artists, Deadicated

This is a better-than-average tribute album featuring several artists taking passes a Grateful Dead songs. Like all such comps, it provided a handy way to play some of the station’s most favored artists without having to dig deep into the stacks.

32. Primus, Sailing the Seas of Cheese

As noted, we were very susceptible to material that had a heavy aura of novelty to it.

33. The Mothers, 1st Born

This is what it sounds like when college rock of the Dream Syndicate and Guadalcanal Diary ilk is given some early-nineties studio spit and polish.

34. Big Audio Dynamite II, The Globe

There are few songs that were practically ever-present on our airwaves during the summer of 1991. Two of them are on this album.

35. Crowded House, Woodface

Just last night, my pal Wayne played the prime single from this album on 90FM. Thirty years later, it still sounds first-rate.

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