Bottom Feeders: The Rock End of the ’80s, Part 58

It’s the next to last week for Bottom Feeders but a grand week it is as it includes one of the most eclectic artists of the series and a true favorite of mine.  Without further ado, let’s get to the letters X and Y (that’s right, two letters today!) from the Rock End of the ’80s.

X
“Burning House of Love” 1985, #27 (download)

I think my overall experience with X was ruined based on the fact that my first introduction to the band was with Ain’t Love Grand! – the 1985 album from which “Burning House of Love” was from. The sound of this record is drastically different from their first four records and most of that is courtesy of producer Michael Wagener who produced them as if they were a metal band rather than Ray Manzarek’s who went for the punk sound that made them iconic. I can’t stand the album and thus it took me many years to go back to the first four and understand why everyone seemed to love them. Still, this album will always stick out to me when people use the term “sell out” as X did so to get a hit record.

XTC
“Generals and Majors” 1981, #28 (download)
“Senses Working Overtime” 1982, #38 (download)
“Dear God” 1987, #37 (download)
“King For A Day” 1989, #38 Modern Rock #11 (download)

We talked about most of these songs when XTC was the only band featured under the letter X in the original series. The question really isn’t if any of these are good or not, it’s which one is the best of four excellent tunes.

“Dear God” is a fantastic tune that wasn’t even on the original version of Skylarking until U.S. radio decided to play it as the flip side to the single “Grass.” It was then released on the album in the U.S. and Canada replacing “Mermaid Smiled” even though there was plenty of space to just include it on the disc without taking anything off. But I don’t think anything here can top “Generals and Majors,” the first single from Black Sea and one of the best songs XTC ever made.

Xymox
“Obsession” 1989, Modern Rock #11 (download)

By 1989 Clan of Xymox was simply called Xymox and they released their best album – Twist of Shadows – from which “Obsession” was located. Looking back on the album, it’s very dated and lacked any type of edge, though it still contained a high element of goth that made them such an underground hit in the first place.

Y & T
“Mean Streak” 1983, #25 (download)
“Don’t Stop Runnin’” 1984, #33 (download)
“All American Boy” 1985, #48 (download)
“Contagious” 1987, #41 (download)

In the ‘80s, Yesterday and Today changed their name to simply Y&T and released six albums, one of which was actually good. It’s a shame the chart didn’t begin earlier as their 1981 album Earthshaker isn’t quite that, but it’s worth a front to back listen for tracks like “Hungry For Rock” and “Dirty Girl.” Each album after that seemed to get worse, though every one of them has tracks worth listening to. “Mean Streak” off the album of the same name is one of the better songs of this period as is “Don’t Stop Runnin’”

Their biggest hit was “Summertime Girls” off the relatively weak Down For the Count, which also included the pedestrian “All American Boy.” “Contagious” seems like the dying screams of a band soon to break up.

Yes
“Our Song” 1983, #32 (download)
“Changes” 1983, #6 (download)
“Hold On” 1984, #43 (download)
“Hold On” 1985, #27 (download)
“Shoot High Aim Low” 1987, #11 (download)
“Final Eyes” 1988, #20 (download)

There are certainly members of this staff more qualified than me to discuss the merits of Yes, since I don’t necessarily like prog-rock. That said, the one period of the band I did like was of course the commercial ‘80s era material, so I do at least have decent knowledge of these songs.

Rock radio of course played a bit more of the prog material while the Hot 100 strayed towards the poppier stuff. “Changes” is one of the most memorable songs off 90125 other than “Owner of a Lonely Heart” but I’ve never been able to get into “Hold On,” either the studio version or the live version that charted the following year when 9012Live got released. ‘87s Big Generator really isn’t a great album but “Final Eyes” is one of the better tunes on the disc. I can certainly live without “Shoot High Aim Low” though.

Neil Young
“Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze” 1982, #56 (download)
“Mr. Soul” 1983, #14 (download)
“We R In Control” 1983, #42 (download)
“Touch the Night” 1986, #8 (download)
“Weight of the World” 1986, #33 (download)
“Long Walk Home” 1987, #14 (download)
“Ten Men Workin’” 1988, #6 (download)
“This Note’s For You” 1988, #19 (download)
“Rockin’ in the Free World” 1989, #2 (download)
“No More” 1989, #7 (download)

Has there been any artist in this series that has had such an eclectic group of hit songs? I’m a huge fan of Neil Young, one of the few artists that I will listen to anything from (yes, all the way back to his debut – weird for the guy that doesn’t listen to ‘60s and ‘70s music) and yet I still didn’t realize most of these made a dent in any chart.

I mean, it’s impossible for me to think that any station in the country played “Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleeze” or frankly anything off Re-ac-tor enough times to have it even hit the rock bottom of this chart for a week.

On the other hand, Trans still gets panned, but I really enjoy the record. Think what you want about the vocoder filled tracks like “Mr. Soul” and “We R In Control” but the melodies on all of those tracks are pretty damn great. The album feels weird thanks to the vocoder only being present in five of the nine tracks, but I still give Neil credit for doing something different on this one.

After Trans, there’s a little chart break for Neil as he put out Everybody’s Rockin’ – his unlistenable rockabilly album – and Old Ways, a pure country record that’s rather dull.

That was followed by Landing On Water, which I don’t think anyone but me likes. I’m not saying it’s the greatest record in the world but it’s a bizarre attempt at commercial rock while failing to get anything close to radio readiness out of it. I don’t know if I’ve ever really understood the album – just an attempt to piss Geffen off by giving them the rock record they wanted but making it just shitty enough to not get real airplay? Or did Neil really think some of the tunes like “Touch the Night” would be real hits? Somewhere in this is a big middle finger of some sort which is part of the Neil Young charm.

Critics seemed to like 1987’s Life a little better though it’s one of the few albums that I can’t listen to from the man. “Long Walk Home” was the only charting song from it.

I’m also not a blues fan so This Note’s For You doesn’t do much for me either though I can respect the change in sound again. The album was originally credited to Neil Young and the Bluenotes until Harold Melvin sued him and now it’s considered a Neil Young solo record (though really it’s now Neil Young and Ten Men Workin’). It’s funny to think that the title track didn’t do more on the charts since MTV played the video every four minutes in 1988.

Though if there’s any song that should be the surprise non-cross over song it’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” – still one of Neil’s best songs and of course covered by about 10,000 artists since its release. The track was off Freedom which the first album of a very creative six to seven year period for Neil, the pinnacle being the almost perfect Ragged Glory from 1990.

Quick Hits
Best Song: Neil Young, “Rockin’ in the Free World”
Worst Song: Y & T, “Contagious”

Appeared in the rock chart and Hot 100
XTC (1): “The Mayor Of Simpleton”
Y & T (1): “Summertime Girls”
“Weird Al” Yankovic (1): “Eat It”
Yes (5): “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” “It Can Happen” “Leave It” “Love Will Find A Way” “Rhythm Of Love”
Neil Young (2): “Southern Pacific” “Little Thing Called Love”
Paul Young (3): “Come Back and Stay” “Everytime You Go Away” “Some People”




  • Russ

    I remember hearing “Surfer Joe” on the radio a bit but “Opera Star” and “Shots” got a lot more airplay in Chicago.  A little surprised “Wonderin’” didn’t chart at all.  Gotta love Neil putting out records in the CD Age with the same frequency as in the vinyl age – IMO rock & roll died when the labels started insisting that bands NOT put out records any sooner than 3 years apart.  A real momentum killer.  Neil also rarely put out 70+ minute albums in the CD age; nothing turned me off more than albums that overstayed their welcome.

  • Anonymous

    I love Landing on Water…you are not alone.

  • smf2271

    Yeah, it’s funny how you sometimes read about Neil Young’s recent material that he just puts anything and everything on record and his albums are “short” when all he’s doing is playing by the pre-1985 school of rock.  I love hearing new stuff from him nearly once a year and a 45 minute album is still longer than the average pre-1980 rock record.  He actually has had a couple 70 minute albums (Chrome Dreams 2, Greendale) and many that were over 60 minutes.

    I agree that “Trans” is somewhat unfairly mocked, though I don’t quite understand why he didn’t just go whole hog with the vocorder.  I don’t think “Everybody’s Rockin’” is unlistenable either, though it’s not his finest moment.

    I also agree that “Generals and Majors” is the best of this bunch, though amazingly “Black Sea” has several songs I like even more.  A truly awesome record, as is everything between 1979′s Drums and WIres and 1989′s Oranges and Lemons.  (And like Neil Young, all their records all manage to be very different from each other).

  • http://twitter.com/nycgeoff nycgeoff

    I love Trans – it was my first exposure to Neil Young – a concert on some cable-over-antenna channel in the early 80s. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s hard to believe “Burning House of Love” is X’s only chart disturbance. Their obnoxious cover of “Wild Thing” made the Top 40 rounds in Houston, yet not even a bubble-under. I’ve only recently begun to dig into their catalog; Los Angeles is the favorite so far.

    My Best Song is a tough call between “Generals and Majors” and “Senses Working Overtime”, though “Dear God” (Todd Rundgren sighting, y’all!) remains significant as the first XTC record I ever bought (a domestic 45 with the orphaned “Mermaid Smiled” as the flip). “King for a Day” evokes those summer-of-89 memories I touched upon in my “Mayor of Simpleton” essay.

    Clan of Xymox still boast a cult following in Houston…their May 7 show here was the only US gig they booked for the year. I still bet we’re the chief reason “Imagination” cracked the Hot 100 in May; it was used as an example by radio-consultation honcho Guy Zapoleon (grrr</i) of the risks our market was taking by spinning more obscure acts as the expense of, say, Fleetwood Mac. (More here.) 1986′s Medusa is still my favorite CoX LP.

    Speaking of Houston radio, I guess we were one of the few AOR markets to spin 90125‘s “City of Love”; I heard that one more frequently than either “Our Song” or “Hold On”. “Changes” was omnipresent.

    I’ll keep my Neil notes brief: No “Sample and Hold”? Or “Wonderin’”? Yeah, Landing on Water‘s a cool record, especially “Weight of the World” and “Hippie Dream”.

  • http://www.drcastrato.blogspot.com drcastrato

    Surprised that I’m really enjoying Y & T, even Contagious. Got a better rip of All American Boy? this one is kind of slooshy.

    Agree that Black Sea is great.

  • http://www.bastardradio.com steed

    I see what you mean when you say it’s a little “slooshy” – I didn’t catch that on the iPod earbuds. I’ll see if I can get to a better rip tonight.

  • http://www.hemisphire.com hemisphire

    I couldn’t believe that a live version of “Hold On” by Yes charted higher than the studio version.  It’s not bad, but I haven’t listened to 9012Live in years.

  • http://digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_songs-Power-Pop.html Brett Alan

    “Dear God” is my favorite song, ever. Partridge once said that the song didn’t quite say what he wanted to say, but it says exactly what *I* wanted to say! As one of the DJ (but certainly FAR from the most prominent) who was playing the song when it was just a b-side, I have always been thrilled with its success.

    MTV didn’t play “This Note’s For You” every four minutes at first–it was initially banned by the channel, probably due to Michael Jackson threatening legal action. That might have been part of its lack of success, although I don’t see top 40 radio of that time playing something that bluesy in any event.

    I can certainly see why Ain’t Love Grand put you off X. I remember listening to that album for the first time with a bunch of colleagues from my college radio station, and it was almost as though someone had died. I was never that big a fan, but they had been so much better than that! 

  • http://digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_songs-Power-Pop.html Brett Alan

    “Dear God” is my favorite song, ever. Partridge once said that the song didn’t quite say what he wanted to say, but it says exactly what *I* wanted to say! As one of the DJ (but certainly FAR from the most prominent) who was playing the song when it was just a b-side, I have always been thrilled with its success.

    MTV didn’t play “This Note’s For You” every four minutes at first–it was initially banned by the channel, probably due to Michael Jackson threatening legal action. That might have been part of its lack of success, although I don’t see top 40 radio of that time playing something that bluesy in any event.

    I can certainly see why Ain’t Love Grand put you off X. I remember listening to that album for the first time with a bunch of colleagues from my college radio station, and it was almost as though someone had died. I was never that big a fan, but they had been so much better than that!