I think it’s important to know what kind of nerd you are. Nerddom can be very arcane, a subculture with shared codes that is impenetrable to those not in the know, or more expansive, a mass culture experience that brings together people whose only commonality is, say, a love of manga or “Lord of the Rings” or old Sub Pop cassettes. (I made that last one up, but I bet it exists.) And while I have my attachments to the broader nerd world – music, of course, but also superhero movies – what I really am is a data nerd.
So, what does that mean? Well, I love numbers. I am in thrall to things with a quantifiable value. That means, of course, that I have a Fitbit, and have at times been obsessive about hitting my targets. I can get lost in sports reference books and websites – basically long lists of numbers detached from context. I have similarly wasted considerable time reviewing movie box office receipts and television ratings.
In music terms, it means I have a serious attachment to where songs rank on the hit charts. I bought RPM regularly in the ‘70s and ‘80s and Billboard in the ‘90s and ‘00s, and it was totally for the weekly charts, not the articles. The pleasure I got from seeing how long a song was on the chart, or what was rising with a bullet, or if a favourite song entered the chart, is inexplicable, and, yes, kind of weird. But I have always loved numbers and their cold objectivity.
The ultimate music data nerd was Joel Whitburn, who passed away in June 2022 at the age of 82. Whitburn started analyzing Billboard’s charts in college, then put his knowledge to work at RCA in the ‘60s before starting his own company, Record Research, in 1970. Since then, Record Research, through a deal with Billboard, has published a seemingly endless series of books for other music data nerds telling us what is in those charts.
When I started this blog, I quickly realized that if I was going to reference chart performance by a song, I needed a better source than Wikipedia, and naturally thought of Whitburn. I had owned one of his books forever ago, a compilation of Top 40 singles through 1984, and it was heavily thumbed until it finally fell apart and was discarded. There are lots of his books available in stores or from places like Amazon, but for a true nerdgasm, you need to order from the company directly, and pay a serious premium to get the 1,200-page monstrosity pictured above shipped to your home. It’s been worth every penny. Browsing its pages, I see the names of bands and songs that I had long forgotten, and it’s been a joy to revisit oddities like the whispy soft-core pop of Christopher Atkins’ “How Can I Live Without Her” from “The Pirate Movie” soundtrack. It is not a good record, but I liked it enough in the summer of 1982 to record it off CJCB for a mixtape, and was so very glad to experience its horribleness again. Only a true music nerd, a Joel Whitburn, would understand.
And with that, here are my favourite “new” albums from last month:
- Faces – A Nod Is as Good as a Wink … to a Blind Horse (1971) (I am yet to have a bad experience listening to a Rod Stewart record, and, yes, that includes “Blondes Have More Fun”.)
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (1976) (Yeah, I know – I should’ve listened to this decades ago.)
- Nick Lowe – Labour of Lust (1979) (See Tom Petty, above.)
- Steve Miller Band – Abracadabra (1982) (I have always disliked the title song, but the album is a soaring meeting of power pop and new wave that feels like the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie, which is high praise in my book.)
- The Three O’Clock – Sixteen Tambourines (1983) (1960s Britpop/psychedelica filtered through an indie pop sensibility.)
- Public Image Ltd. – This Is What You Want … This Is what You Get (1984) (I think the widespread dislike of this record is about the audience’s expectations for what John Lydon would give them instead of a comment on the great brooding pop record that he delivered.)
- The Screaming Blue Messiahs – Bikini Red (1987)
- The Posies – Frosting on the Beater (1993)
- Nerf Herder – Nerf Herder (1996) (This is the band that would result if first cousins Bowling for Soup and blink-182 had a baby.)
- Sloan – Action Pact (2003)
- Ratboys – Happy Birthday, Ratboy (2021) (A strange blend of folk/country-tinged pop and early ‘90s female-fronted indie rock.)
- Julia Jacklin – PRE PLEASURE (2022)
- Sofie Royer – Harlequin (2022)
- Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen (2022)
- Melt Yourself Down – Pray For Me I Don’t Fit In (2022) (Jazz-funk with elements of Afrobeat, punk and hyperdriven ‘90s indie pop.)
- My Idea – CRY MFER (2022) (Lily Konigsberg can do no wrong in my eyes.)
- Shygirl – Nymph (2022)
- BODEGA – Broken Equipment (2022)
- Steve Lacy – Gemini Rights (2022) (Neo soul smashes up against psych pop and comes out the other side as its own distinct thing.)
- Sorry – Anywhere But Here (2022)