This series of posts covers my long, beloved history interacting with the medium of radio, including the music that flowed through the airwaves.
In my most recent return to the broadcast booth of my adored college radio alma mater, WWSP-FM, I counted down the Top 40 college rock cuts for this week in 1989. More specifically, I went through the Top Cuts chart that appeared in the issue of CMJ cover-dated June 16, 1989. That provided a fairly good idea of what the station I was at sounded like thirty-three years ago. The chart I’m sharing here provides an even better idea. As I’ve done before, I’ll provide an annotated version of the chart we submitted to the trade publication that primarily served student broadcasters. Because I was the station’s program director at the time, and therefore taking on most shifts that weren’t already filled by a member of our summer skeleton crew, I’m directly responsible for the playlist choices that led to the ranking that follows.
1. Bob Mould, Workbook
The debut solo album from one-third of Hüsker Dü, released about a year after a breakup we all understood to be highly acrimonious. It raced quickly to the top of our weekly chart and garnered plenty more airplay throughout the rest of the summer. If I recall correctly, this was the last new album our outgoing program director reviewed and put into heavy rotation before handing me the keys to his office and heading out to his post-collegiate life. It’s a dandy record to bid farewell with.
2. The Rainmakers, The Good News and the Bad News
If memory serves, this album significantly underperformed on college radio nationally, considering it was a band on their third album with a little bit of established credibility. On the full CMJ chart this week, The Good News and the Bad News debuted at #94, well below first-week rankings for Steel Pole Bath Tub, Greater Than One, and Phranc. The record definitely fit the roots-rock preferences of our DJs, at least one of whom was a Rainmakers obsessive who played them every shift and called in requests for them when he wasn’t on the air.
3. Tin Machine, Tin Machine
This is one of two records on our chart that nabbed us a mention on the Priority Emphasis pages of CMJ, a largely meaningless, basically random achievement that I was mortifyingly invested in.
4. Royal Crescent Mob, Spin the World
That Midwestern rock did always click for us. Royal Crescent Mob hailed from Ohio, and Spin the World was their major label debut. “Hungry” was the single and became a modest hit on college radio. I had a different favorite.
5. Dash Rip Rock, Ace of Clubs
More fabulous straightforward rock ‘n’ roll, this time from a Louisiana band. The album’s title referred to the fact that the group threw themselves wholeheartedly into touring every small-scale venue they could get booked into after their first label folded. That factoid was shared in the CMJ review and parroted by me endlessly on the air during the summer. And later, too.
6. 10,000 Maniacs, Blind Man’s Zoo
Blind Man’s Zoo was 10,000 Maniacs’ follow-up to their breakthrough release, In My Tribe, and it was a massive success at our station, winding up in the runner-up position on our year-end chart. Mostly, it had formidable staying power for us. Once it had cycled all way through to the very last stop in our new music rotation, it was regularly charting in our biweekly Top 5.
7. Something Happens, Been There, Seen That, Done That
The debut release from an Irish band. It definitely sounds like something we would have played quite a bit, but I think it elbowed off of our charts by the string of other relatively unknown bands that brought roughly the same vibe to their records that summer.
8. Soul Asylum, Clam Dip and Other Delights
An agreeably slapdash EP put out by Soul Asylum’s hometown label after they’d jumped to the majors. We played this far more than the humble assemblage probably merited. We did have a weakness for the Minneapolis acts (see #1 on this list).
9. The Godfathers, More Songs About Love and Hate
As I said about the title on Sunday night, isn’t this what all albums are, if you really think about it. This is another album we practically wore out that summer.
10. Ella Mental, Ella Mental
This band formed in South Africa before moving to Ireland, where they were spotted and signed by Warner Bros. This is one of those acts, not played much elsewhere and totally obscure now, that briefly flourished at our station. By the next year, most of our staff had forgotten them, too.
11. Mary My Hope, Museum
And here’s the other album that got out call letter typeset onto one of the Priority Emphasis pages.
12. Tupelo Chain Sex, 4!
The fourth and final album from the experimental group. I’m confident the band name convinced a fair number of our DJs thought that they were going to hear something very different than the goofball, jazz-based numbers that were actually pressed into the album’s grooves.
13. Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever
We were always a little more benevolent towards the legacy acts, and this album’s officially Tom Petty’s solo debut, was atop the character were reported for the previous issue of CMJ. Given that, I’m a little surprised this wasn’t a little higher on the station’s year-end chart. I have a feeling we nudged it through rotation at a rapid pace, especially once it really started taking off on commercial radio.
14. Guadalcanal Diary, Flip Flop
We weren’t originally serviced with this album. It took a lot of badgering of the reps from Elektra Records to get it. When did finally land in the mail bin, we made up for lost time. “…Vista” was essentially one of our theme songs of that summer.
15. Couch Flambeau, Ghostride
A Wisconsin band playing comedic punk rock? Yes, that was the precisely the equation to get ample airtime at our station.
16. The Cure, Disintegration
This might be the Cure’s very best album. Even at the time, we thought that might be the case. This did well for us, but the length of the tracks was a bit of a dissuasion for jocks who wanted to fit as many artists as possible into each shift. (Me. I’m typing about me there.)
17. Stan Ridgway, Mosquitos
The second solo record the former lead singer of Wall of Voodoo came and went at our station, and then everyone went back to digging our our copy of “Mexican Radio” when they wanted to play a cut with that distinctive voice.
18. The Dickies, Second Coming
Semi-legends of punk rock and an album title that’s a coy, lewd joke. Yes, that is another equation to get ample airtime at our station.
19. Maureen Tucker, Life in Exile After Abdication
The second solo album from the Velvet Underground drummer arrived not longer after an album from her former bandmate completed a long, prosperous run in our new music rotation. It is the 50,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Watts Records label, which necessitated creative shorthand when filling out the relevant part of the playlist.
20. Illustrious Illustrated Men, Ghöst At The Feast
I have only the foggiest memory of this album. It’s reminiscent of Graham Parker, which absolutely would have worked for a segment of our staff.
21. Adrian Belew, Mr. Music Head
Mr. Music Head is probably the most approachable solo record that the guitar wizard ever made. We were also aware that he resided in Wisconsin at the time. That also helped hold our interest.
22. Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, Root Hog or Die
As noted previously, brash, comedic rock generally did exceptionally well at our station.
23. Drivin’ N Cryin’, Mystery Road
In the long college radio heyday of R.E.M., any band from their neck of the nation was likely to get some loving attention on the left end of the dial. This Atlanta band broke bigger one album later, but this was the record had us sold.
24. Plan 9, Ham and Sam Jammin’
This band had a whole lot of albums to their credit by the time of this release, but I’m not sure that I (or most of my cohorts) knew that. I knew this was a pretty good record, though. And, importantly, it was a fun album title to say on the air.
25. Joe Jackson, Blaze of Glory
This was something of a return to more basic pop music after dalliances with more experimental work and movie scores. It fizzled most places. We liked it a lot.
26. Road House soundtrack
“Pain don’t hurt.”
27. Syd Barrett, Opel
A compilation of recordings the former Pink Floyd frontman made in the late nineteen-sixties. I know I gravitated to it to help fill the Robyn Hitchcock–sized hole in my shows when the album Queen Elvis moved out of rotation.
28. Human Drama, Feel
I don’t remember this record at all. Not one bit.
29. John Cougar Mellencamp, Big Daddy
I think of this as a pretty underrated album from the Indiana rocker. It was also the last one where he held onto the celebrity life preserver of the Cougar moniker. I was going to assert that this was the last John Mellencamp album that we put into rotation, but I suspect his next release, Whenever We Wanted, got airplay, too.
30. Hotel Hunger, This Is Where the Fun Starts
The debut LP from a Danish rock band. It’s not good.
31. Concrete Blonde, Free
This album was fairly new at this point, so I’m surprised it’s this low on the chart. It must have taken a little while for this one to catch on with us. It definitely did eventually, and subsequent releases were huge at the station.
32. XTC, Oranges and Lemons
This was likely in its final week on the chart, because this album was more than three months old at this point. This album is a treasure, and we treated it as such.
33. Zulus, Down on the Floor
It now feels not so great for this to the band name for a bunch of white guys from Boston. But I guess not everyone sees it that way; they reunited last year without any evident concerns about the icky appropriation and othering.
34. Screaming Trees, Buzz Factory
Like Drivin’ N Cryin’, Screaming Trees had a decent-sized hit in their future. We couldn’t claim an similar early embrace of the Mark Lanegan–fronted band, but I pulled Buzz Factory out of the stacks many times when I was in the mood to really rattle the speakers.
35. Cindy Lee Berry Hill, Naked Movie Star
We always had a little room for a record like this one.