What do normal people do during the summer anyway?
Fred, Channel 44 on your XM dial, has always been one of my preferred satellite stations, but this Memorial Day weekend (or week, really) it’s gone above and beyond the call of duty. Fred is counting down the 2044 Fred Essentials–generally covering the best and brightest in pre-Nirvana alternative rock (roughly dating back to the punk era, but I heard Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” and Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love” already, so clearly there’s some leniency there). It started on Tuesday, and we’re currently in the low 1100s, meaning we probably still have at least until Monday until it raps up.
What criteria, if any, Fred is using in compiling this countdown is entirely unclear. Though I would consider each benchmark alt-rock tracks, I heard “Psycho Killer,” “Don’t You Want Me” and “Temptation” all in the 1400s, lower than forgotten album tracks by Oingo Boingo and the Hothouse Flowers. Maybe it’ll get clearer once it gets to the top, but for now I’m trying to just enjoy the countdown at face value–it’s really cool hearing all these 7th-tier songs from A-list alt-rock bands (I’ve heard three tracks from The Clash’s Sandinista!–two of them from the second disc!) and all these notable-at-the-time (maybe?) one-offs from bands that would go on to have no future whatsoever.
Anyway, give me a countdown longer than a hundred and I’ll drive myself crazy trying to hear as much of it as possible (and given that, like the History of Pop Music marathon XM runs once or twice a year, the list runs 24 hours a day, I’m pretty much guaranteed to only hear half of it at the very most). Here’s a semi-representative sample of what I’ve heard so far, taken from what’s been played in the last hour or so. As them Pixies might say, it’s educational.
#1173. The Tubes – “Talk to Ya Later“ Always liked this song more than their actual big hit, “She’s a Beauty.” I never really understood these guys, though–they’re supposed to prog or art-rock or something, right? Then why do all the songs I know of theirs sound like Rick Springfield?
#1172. Katrina & The Waves – “Walking on Sunshine“ How exactly this falls into the alt-rock bloodline is totally beyond me–did these guys actually have cred or something at one point? In any event, it’s shameful that this song should show up on any Memorial Day countdown I deem worth listening to. One of the ten or so most annoying songs ever written, easy. At least it’s not higher.
#1171. Alphaville – “Flame” This is the sort of song that’s provided the countdown’s bread and butter so far–raise your hand if you knew that Alphaville (of “Forever Young” fame) had more than one song? This one’s all right, I guess, but at this point I can’t help but thinking “this is higher than ‘Temptation’?” for just about every bizarro song I hear.
#1170. Depeche Mode – “Big Muff“ So awesome. Depeche Mode, along with The Cure, The Clash and Elvis Costello, has been the artist I’ve heard the most on this list so far, and it’s crazy to hear this weirdo instrumental from the group’s first album on the channel at all, much less this high on a countdown of “essentials”. Can’t imagine what gets this to rank higher than “Leave in Silence” (which I heard somewhere back in the 1700s I think, reminding me of its extreme underratedness), but whatever.
#1169. Cocteau Twins – “Carolyn’s Fingers“ Another good call. Definitely one of my favorite Cocteau Twins songs, though it makes me wonder why I haven’t heard much in the way of dreampop or shoegaze elsewhere on the list thusfar–surely they can make room for a couple MBV or ealry Jesus and Mary Chain songs, at least.
#1168. Morrissey – “Tomorrow“ There’s been a fair amount of solo Moz on the list thusfar, but to my surprise, it’s been some of his a-listers–“You’re the One for Me, Fatty,” “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful” and “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get” have all already passed. Maybe it’s an anti-90s prejudice, I’m sure “Suedehead” and “Everyday is Like Sunday” will be pretty high, at the least.
#1167. David Bowie – “Fashion“ Strange to see a new wave classic like this go so low (especially considering that the infinitely inferior “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” was only a couple hundred lower), but I think they might prefer weirdo Bowie to disco-y Bowie on a list like this. There’s definitely an anti-mainstream bias going on in this list, which I guess is only appropriate for such a station.
#1166. The Chameleons – “Soul in Isolation” Already the third track I’ve heard from The Chameleons’ classic 1986 album Strange Times, which is pretty fucking cool. Personally don’t like it as much as the already-fallen “Swamp Thing,” but I’m kinda surprised The Chameleons were deemed essential enough for any placement on this list, so I’ll take it.
#1165. The Cult – “Heart & Soul“ Along with Billy Idol, probably the closest thing Fred’s list will come to mainstream 80s metal (though yes, I am aware that neither is particularly close). I never really understood who provided the core audience for The Cult, college rock fans or hard rock fist-pumpers–probably the confusion which lead to their place in rock history being so uncertain. Regardless, song isn’t particularly impressive either way.
#1164. Bauhaus – “She’s in Parties“ Yeah, I should probably hear some more of these guys. Hope “Bela” is in the top 50.