The Critical List: Rock Bottom in '89

The Grammy Awards nominations are the talk of the town this week. But the real hot topic at industry cocktail parties isn't always the year's most acclaimed albums. Sometimes, the hubbub is over the least acclaimed records. In fact, many execs have been ribbing each other in recent days about the albums that--artistically at least--everyone would like to forget.

That means it's time for Pop Eye's 10th annual Bottom 10 Poll, a collection of 1989's biggest critical flops. We've polled 40 writers, deejays, record execs, managers, musicians and rank 'n' file music fans for their picks for this coveted Dean's List of Decrepit Discs.

The year's biggest stink bomb? By a close margin, the winner was Stevie Nicks' much-maligned "The Other Side of the Mirror," which one voter described as having the sound quality of "a yak singing in a wind tunnel." It's Nicks' first appearance in the Bottom 10, though her last solo album made honorable mention in the 1985 voting.

It was also a big year for belly-flops by hard-rock bands (Kingdom Come and Whitesnake ranked No. 2 and No. 3), comeback attempts (David Crosby finished No. 8) and comics (Andrew Dice Clay had a strong No. 6 showing, nearly equaling Sam Kinison's No. 5 effort last year).

One voter, who picked Kingdom Come's album, sagely noted: "The record was so bad that the group was so embarrassed that they broke up after listening to it."

Bottom 10 voters also showed considerable brand-name loyalty. Three different artists--Cher, Belinda Carlisle and Billy Joel--were all repeats were from 1987's Bottom 10 poll. Diana Ross, who ranked No. 5 this time, topped her 1985 No. 9 showing. Milli Vanilli, placing No. 4, earned the highest spot for a first-time pop act since Samantha Fox's debut finished No. 3 in 1987.

As usual, our voters were eager to suggest new wrinkles. One voter wanted a special All-W Bottom 10 (which would include Whitesnake, Winger, Warrant and White Lion). Another voter suggested a special category for superfluous '60s group reunions, headed by Poco, the Jefferson Airplane and the Doobie Brothers.

One voter even narrowed his Bottom 10 choices to groups who had recorded Desmond Child songs (Cher, Alice Cooper and Kiss). Another voted for Warrant "simply because of the way they shake their hair in unison in their video."

Narrowly missing the final cut, but getting enough votes to merit honorable mention were albums by Phil Collins, Richard Marx, Michael Damien, Taylor Dane, Warrant, Britny Fox, the Jacksons, the Jefferson Airplane, Starship and Kenny G.

POP EYE'S

1989 BOTTOM 10

1. "The Other Side of the Mirror." Stevie Nicks.

2. "In Your Face." Kingdom Come.

3. "Slip of the Tongue." Whitesnake.

4. "Girl You Know It's True." Milli Vanilli.

5. "Workin' Overtime." Diana Ross.

6. "Dice." Andrew Dice Clay.

7. "Heart of Stone." Cher

8. "Oh Yes I Can." David Crosby.

9. "Storm Front." Billy Joel.

10. (tie) "Repeat Offender" Richard Marx.

"Runaway Horses." Belinda Carlisle.

HEAT TREATMENT: With the record industry just back from its annual holiday hibernation, the rumor mill has been running overtime, spurred by a rousing round of executive musical chairs and reports of label launches all over town. Here's a summary:

ISLAND RECORDS: This small label, now owned by PolyGram but still run by founder Chris Blackwell, has a new president, Mike Bone. He replaces Lou Maglia, who abruptly left the label last month. The 11th-hour deal with Bone startled the industry--especially new Hollywood Records chief, Peter Paterno, Bone's ex-lawyer, who'd been telling everyone in town that Bone had signed on at Hollywood (Bone had even attended a pair of meetings at the label).

Why didn't Bone take the Hollywood Records job? Industry insiders say money played a major role, since Island's offer was far more--easily six-figures more--than what Bone was offered at Hollywood. And Island could grant Bone the title of president, something Paterno couldn't deliver. "The money definitely played a big part in my decision--Chris said 'yes' to everything I asked for," Bone said. "With Island, I not only could have the position of president, but the opportunity to be at an existing, successful record company. And I don't have to move to California--I can walk to work!"

And why did Bone go to work for Blackwell, a notoriously difficult boss? "I figure if I could work for (Arista chief) Clive Davis and (Elektra chief) Bob Krasnow, who are very tough but creative guys, I could work for Chris Blackwell. He's been a success for 25 years, but sounds like a pretty great track record to me."

HOLLYWOOD RECORDS: Despite the embarrassment of losing Bone, Paterno still has made one key executive acquisition--luring Wes Hein away from Enigma Records--and is now looking for an A&R; chief (having already hired A&R; staffer Rachel Matthews away from Capitol). Paterno says he's targeting the label's first releases for August and hopes to announce a distribution deal sometime in February (industry observers give CBS the inside track). He says there are no hard feelings about Bone's last-minute reversal. "I was disappointed, but obviously Mike got a significantly better offer," Paterno said.

POLYGRAM: Industry observers agree that this label, which is still searching for a new president, is in disarray. The good news is that PolyGram's French-based chief, Alain Levy, has done a brilliant job overseas--one rival exec said PolyGram may have made more money in France last year than it did in America, an unprecedented achievement. The bad news: "In the U. S. it's really a mess--it's the quietest company in the world," said one top manager. "They need help and right away." Things are so quiet that none of PolyGram's top execs would return phone calls. But insiders say Levy has been in New York much of the last few weeks.

CHRYSALIS: After losing Bone, Chris Wright wasted no time in hiring John Sykes, an industry vet who was a key figure in the early development of MTV, briefly an agent at CAA and, most recently, head of Champion Entertainment, a management firm that handles John Cougar Mellencamp, Hall & Oates, Carly Simon and Taylor Dane. "Things were going great at Champion, but an opportunity like this doesn't come around very often and I couldn't turn it down," said Sykes, who began his career in promotion at Epic Records. "Chrysalis has some wonderful artists, both here and in England."

But can a small company like Chrysalis still compete with giants like CBS and Warners? "I think we're poised to take off in the '90s," he said. "We have the distribution clout to sell records, but a small, manageable roster so we can offer every artist special care and attention."

AZOFF: Oddly enough, the lowest-profile label so far is Irving Azoff's new venture, which just moved into its new Westside offices this week (a label name announcement is also due shortly). Azoff would not discuss his plans on the record. But he apparently has lofty ambitions. He told Billboard recently that Hollywood's start-up "is like a development deal compared to the commitment I have from Warners . . . It (ticks) me off for Paterno to try and claim he's in competition with me against anything." Sources close to Azoff said he is launching a major merchandising company in addition to recruiting young A&R; execs, a black music division chief and a label general manager. One name frequently mentioned for the latter post is key Warners exec Michael Ostin, but Azoff has said in the past that he has agreed not to raid executive talent from Warners labels.

IN THE EAGLE'S NEST: Despite what you may have read in the Hollywood Reporter earlier this week, there is only--as one veteran Eagles watcher put it--a 100,000 to one chance of the Eagles getting back together. Ever. However, here's a news flash: Founding members Don Henley and Glenn Frey have agreed to work on a project together. According to sources close to the duo, Elektra is planning to release a boxed set of the Eagles' hits, perhaps as early as next Christmas. While Elektra can apparently issue the collection without the group's official consent, Henley and Frey (who are now speaking again) have agreed to listen to the group's old tapes and see what unreleased material might be available for inclusion in the package. Sources say "quite a few" unfinished tracks are lying around, already equipped with rough vocals, which were originally recorded for the band's "Long Run" album. If Henley and Frey like what they hear, several unreleased songs (which include a track called "Too Much Drama Mama") could end up in the boxed set. Wouldn't that mean Frey and Henley would have to overdub new vocals? "If they get excited about what they hear," said a longtime Eagles guardian. "I wouldn't rule it out."

PAGING MR. KEY: If you're keeping a log of the all-time Top 10 performances of the National Anthem, we have a contender for the list. The Date: Jan. 28. The Place: The Superdome in New Orleans. The Event: The Super Bowl. The Singer: New Orleans R&B; legend, Aaron Neville, who will give the "Star-Spangled Banner" his distinctive "Tell It Like It Is" treatment.

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