Lovely Recordings Hosted by Rusty Miller

The late 80s and early 90s were tough times for a teenage music nerd. Pop radio and MTV was all hair metal and watered-down hip-hop, there was no internet to foster discovery of new sounds, and the grunge movement had not yet ignited. Somehow I managed to latch onto some albums that wove big melodic hooks into songs with more than four chords. There tended to be good studio production and instrumentation that leant itself to close listening. While I did not know it at the time, these early exposures to recordings with aural depth set me on a path toward full-scale audio buffoonery.

Crowded House: Temple of Low Men (Capitol, 1988)
This is the commercially-unsuccessful followup to their self-titled debut and their best effort among four or five excellent albums. Songwriter Neil Finn is the master of conjuring a soaring chorus from a minor-key verse.

Listen or Download on Tidal

XTC: Oranges & Lemons (Virgin Records, 1989)
If you were an XTC fan from the beginning, then this Todd Rundgren-produced record went so far from their roots in punkish second-wave ska that it probably turned you off. But if you discovered this one first at age 15, it redefined your sense of what music could be. Baroque pop at its finest.

Listen or Download on Tidal

Michael Penn: March (RCA, 1989)
The hit "No Myth" kicks off this debut. Its remainder is chock full of great songs and arrangements that make use of the (analog) tools of the studio, and lyrics that hold up as poetry.

Listen or Download on Tidal (Bundled with followup album Free-For-All)

The first two albums by Toad the Wet Sprocket: Bread & Circus (Columbia/Abe's Records, 1989) and Pale (Columbia, 1990)
The girl I crushed on at summer camp handed me a dubbed cassette with one of these on each side, and I wore that sucker out when I was 17. What an impossible name for a band! What hooks and what textures! Within six months they would release a major-label debut, flooding the airwaves with "All I Want" and helping to usher in the era of alternative pop/rock. Bread has long been out of print but very recently re-emerged on Tidal.

Listen to Bread & Cricus or Download on Tidal
Listen to Pale or Download on Tidal

Cake: Motorcade of Generosity (Capricorn, 1994)
This debut album was a mainstay of my weekly radio show in freshman year of college. A mariachi trumpet bouncing over funk grooves, quirky songwriting that's both ironic and not, and a deadpan vocalist who's so white he can't get out of his own way? Genius. There's not much level compression on this one, so you'll want to turn the hifi up.

Listen or Download on Tidal

Rusty Miller is a professional coach and director of bicycle racing teams, an amateur electric bassist, and owner of the world's largest-known collection of t-shirts from family reunions. He lives in Greenville, SC where he listens to music on large speakers driven by a small amp, and shares a listening couch with one sympathetic wife and two black labs.

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garysi's picture

I was a fan from the beginning and I think The Mayor of Simpleton is one of Partridge's finest examples of lyrics,wordplay, what have you. Add the addictive bass line Moulding lays down and you have sheer blissful pop.

les's picture

Just to be pedantic... XTC's 'Oranges & Lemons' was produced by Paul Fox. Rundgren produced their Skylarking.

Rusty's picture

Pedantry is welcome here! Thanks for the "ahem."

Anton's picture

One of the best Lovely Recordings lists, ever.

z24069's picture


Great list! Have not thought about Toad TWS, XTC and a few others in quite a while; great recordings and fun music. Thank you for this list! Sharing in years of full-scale audio buffoonery.....