Ten Classic College Radio Albums


For just a few years within the mid-Eighties, the trusty correlation between artistry and commerce in rock music appeared to interrupt down. Many of the perfect and most influential bands of the period, from the Smiths to the Replacements to Hüsker Dü, failed to interrupt via to Top 40 success or, like R.E.M., waited years to get there.

Yet, when you walked onto a university campus within the mid-’80s, these bands had been in all places, blaring out of dorm home windows, spinning in heavy rotation on college-radio stations on the left of the dial.

Here are 10 nice albums of the college-radio period. The listing may go on ceaselessly, so we’ll restrict ourselves to LPs that got here out between 1983 and 1986, that figured in Robert Christgau’s influential yearend Pazz & Jop polls (a measure of affect), and that symbolize the artist’s finest work.

(And when you take pleasure in this piece, contemplate studying our earlier entry on nice albums of the brand new wave period.)

White males dominate the next listing, simply as they dominated the college-radio underground. Prince, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Run-D.M.C. all launched traditional albums in these years. They achieved large, rapid business success, and fairly rightly so. The discs under didn’t.

MurmurMurmur – R.E.M., April 1983.

The launch of the primary R.E.M. album feels, in hindsight, just like the second school radio arrived. Here was a document stuffed with good songwriting, infectious hooks, top-drawer vocals and a wholly accessible sound, the qualities that would reliably propel a pop act to fame in prior many years. And the album bought effectively sufficient, peaking at No. 36 on the Billboard 200 album chart and yielding a (very) minor hit with “Radio Free Europe.” But you were not going to listen to R.E.M. on pop radio, nor see them on MTV. Hence, school radio. Murmur went into heavy rotation on campus radio stations and blasted out of dorm-room audio system. For a big quotient of mid-’80s school college students, there was no larger band.

Also beneficial: Each of the three subsequent R.E.M. albums, in gently descending order: Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction and Lifes Rich Pageant; and the marvelous Chronic Town EP.

Violent FemmesViolent Femmes – Violent Femmes, April 1983.

The Violent Femmes debut dropped a day after Murmur, and what per week for younger hipsters with stereos. “Blister within the Sun,” “Add it Up, “Prove My Love” and “Gone Daddy Gone” are immortal folk-punk anthems, completely irresistible. Violent Femmes could have been the third-best album of 1983, after Murmur and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, though the annual Pazz & Jop ballot put it at 26.

Double Nickels on the DimeDouble Nickels on the Dime – Minutemen, July 1984.

The thought of a double album from a band known as “Minutemen” is humorous in itself. (What is that, 80 songs?) But the Minutemen drew inspiration from a pitched artistic battle with their proficient SST Records labelmates, Hüsker Dü and the Meat Puppets. (See under.) The San Pedro boys had been essentially the most down-to-earth of the bunch: When I arrived at Mike Watt’s home for an interview, years later, he actually lobbed his bass at me. God assist me if I hadn’t caught it. Every Minuteman album is sweet, however this one might be the perfect. You get the deathless classics “Corona,” “This Ain’t No Picnic,” “Jesus and Tequila” and, after all, “Political Song for Michael Jackson to Sing.”

Also beneficial: What Makes a Man Start Fires?, from 1983, kicks off with “Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs.” 3-Way Tie (For Last) is the tragic swansong, launched shortly earlier than the dying of the nice D. Boon.

Let It BeLet It Be – The Replacements, October 1984.

The ‘Mats had been America’s reply to the Sex Pistols, elevating hooliganism to an artwork kind. They had been additionally one of many best bands of the school radio period, and Let it Be was their masterpiece. Tim, launched the next yr, was extra musically mature, however Let it Be brims with songcraft and uncooked emotion. “Seen Your Video” is as violently cathartic as something by Hüsker Dü, their Minneapolis rivals. “Unsatisfied” is the last word Gen-X anthem. Paul Westerberg was the Springsteen of ’80s lyricists, and “Sixteen Blue” reveals him as a chord-smith on par with Grant Hart and Bob Mould and whoever wrote R.E.M.’s songs. Let It Be might need been the perfect album of 1984, if one other fellow Minneapolitan hadn’t launched Purple Rain.

Also beneficial: Pleased to Meet Me, from 1987, the final nice ‘Mats album.

New Day RisingNew Day Rising – Hüsker Dü, January 1985.

Hüsker Dü was arguably the best SST band and one of many three or 4 most vital artists of the school radio motion, together with R.E.M., the Replacements and the Smiths. I feel New Day Rising is their artistic peak. I’d place it simply above Zen Arcade, the good double album of the earlier yr, which New Day rivals in power and exceeds in songcraft. The Hüskers had been a double menace, boasting two nice songwriters in Hart and Mould. They commerce blows right here, from the sonic blast of Mould’s title minimize to the backwoods lunacy of Hart’s “The Girl Who Lives on Heaven Hill” to the home fury of Mould’s “I Apologize,” and so forth. Put it in your turntable and grasp on tight.

Also beneficial: Hüsker Dü’s journey was all about power. It faltered with Flip Your Wig, in 1985, and dimmed steadily from there, however the guys dropped some nice songs alongside the way in which.

Up on the SunUp on the Sun – Meat Puppets, March 1985.

I’ll get flak for recommending this document above Meat Puppets II, the one Kurt Cobain coated in his well-known MTV Unplugged live performance. The Meat Puppets had been the third nice SST band, and all three grew by leaps and bounds within the mid-’80s. With Meat Puppets II (1984), the Arizona post-punkers reveal a dizzying vary of artistry, from slam-dance hardcore to virtuosic instrumentals to jam-band psychedelia. With Up on the Sun, the band finds its groove, reeling off a stream of melodic, light-psychedelic guitar-boogie classics. Warm guitar riffs anchor many of the songs, and the Kirkwood brothers adorn them with their distinctive model of hypnotic, vaguely off-key harmonies: that is school radio’s reply to Disraeli Gears.

Also beneficial: Huevos, from 1987, Curt Kirkwood’s homage to ZZ Top.

Fegmania!Fegmania! – Robyn Hitchcock, March 1985.

Robyn Hitchcock has had an extended and illustrious profession, first main the legendary Soft Boys after which as a remarkably sturdy solo artist. Not many others on this listing have put out nice albums within the new millennium. Later releases earned Hitchcock extra fame, however Fegmania! might be his artistic peak – or half of it. Hitchcock alternated between electrical and acoustic albums. Fegmania! got here a yr after I Often Dream of Trains, an acoustic assortment that’s most likely his strongest single outpouring of songs. But Trains barely registered within the States. Fegmania! made an impression, touchdown on the Pazz & Jop ballot. All 11 tracks are great. My favourite is “My Wife & My Dead Wife,” the kind of tune solely Hitchcock may dream up, not to mention pull off.

Also beneficial: Underwater Moonlight, by the Soft Boys; Black Snake Dîamond Röle, the solo debut; the stunning Element of Light; and the enigmatic Eye.

Rum Sodomy & the LashRum Sodomy & the Lash – The Pogues, August 1985.

With the songs “The Old Main Drag” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “Sally MacLennane,” the Pogues‘ Shane MacGowan reeled off new (or new-ish) Irish people songs that seemed like centuries-old requirements, conjuring recollections of Fairport-era Richard Thompson and pre-electric Dylan. You’ll hear them now in each Irish bar, however in 1985, you largely heard them on school campuses.

Also beneficial: Red Roses for Me, the primary LP, is almost nearly as good. The third, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, is stupendous.

Rain DogsRain Dogs – Tom Waits, September 1985.

After a decade of smoky piano ballads, Tom Waits reinvented himself as a boho pirate, exploring dozens of devices, particularly percussive devices, and writing little sea shanties that completely match his guttural Captain Beefheart growl. The first album on this vein was Swordfishtrombones, in 1983, however Rain Dogs was the larger achievement. Supposedly an idea album about New York, Rain Dogs sounds extra just like the travelogue of a seafarer who’s sailed ‘around the world. Mood items like “Singapore,” “Clap Hands” and “Cemetery Polka” – the entire album, frankly – play just like the soundtrack for the Pirates of the Caribbean trip in a darker Disneyland.

Also beneficial: Everything Waits launched from the start via Bone Machine (1992) is value listening to. Numerous the later stuff, too.

The Queen Is DeadThe Queen Is Dead – Smiths, June 1986.

Some Brits suppose The Queen Is Dead is the best rock document ever made. It’s definitely the excessive level for the Smiths, Britain’s premier college-radio band. Morrissey and firm launched a string of extraordinary (and terribly constant) singles between 1983 and 1987, admirably collected within the Louder Than Bombs double album. That document and this one had been completely important to any first rate indie document assortment. The different Smiths albums had been uneven. The 1984 debut is riotous enjoyable; Meat Is Murder (1985) appears extra fats than meat. Morrissey was Britain’s best lyricist of the period, and on this album, collaborator Johnny Marr serves up music worthy of his phrases.

Daniel de Visé is a frequent AllMusic contributor and writer of King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King.


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