A Mainstream Guide to the Alternative Rock Scene

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

MTV's weekly "120 Minutes" is the best way to keep up with what's happening in the fertile world of adventurous rock that is championed on alternative and college radio stations.

Every Sunday night, the two-hour program, hosted by Dave Kendall, offers the latest videos by a wide range of inventive artists, some of whom have gone on to mainstream acceptance, but most of whom started out on--or continue to work on--a largely underground level.

Among the artists you'd expect to see on a typical "120 Minutes" segment over the years: Sinead O'Connor, R.E.M., the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Stone Roses, X, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, XTC, Soul Asylum, Sonic Youth, New Order, the Sugarcubes and Faith No More.

In fact, all of those artists are featured with one song each on the first of two highly recommended volumes in a new Rhino Records series, "Never Mind the Mainstream . . . The Best of MTV's '120 Minutes.' " If you are interested in the videos rather than just the records, Rhino has also assembled a "Best of MTV's '120 Minutes' " videocassette.

Most of the selections on the two 16-song albums are from the late '80s, so they are designed as an historical overview of the alternative/college rock scene rather than surveys of what's new. Still, most of the artists remain active, making the albums a useful guide to mainstream pop and rock fans who haven't spent much time exploring the alternative scene.

The selections on volume one range from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and the Stone Roses' funk-rock gem "Fool's Gold" to O'Connor's driving "Mandinka" from her first album and XTC's celebrated "Dear God."

Volume two highlights include X's galloping "Burning House of Love," the Jesus and Mary Chain's uplifting "Head On," Joy Division's haunting "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and Public Image Ltd.'s insistent "This Is Not a Love Song."

Hot ICE: ICE, the indispensable monthly CD newsletter, celebrates its fifth anniversary with a new format (up from eight pages to 12) and a new column devoted to CD imports.

Pete Howard, a former record company staffer and disc jockey who started the newsletter in his apartment in March of 1987, now operates ICE from an office in Santa Monica with staff of 10 full- and part-time employees.

Howard, who comes up each issue with a dazzling array of scoops ranging from the production of new CD box sets to complaints about the sound quality of releases, estimates that he spends 50 hours an issue on the phone, gathering information. The newsletter is sold in about 50 record stores in Southern California, including all the Tower outlets. Subscriptions are available ($30 a year) by writing ICE, P.O. Box 3043, Santa Monica, Ca., 90408.

In the current January issue, for instance, Howard reports that nearly two dozen previously unreleased Otis Redding recordings will released soon by Fantasy Records. They include two alternative versions of Redding's biggest hit, "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay."

ICE also notes that more than two dozen U2 "B-side" singles that have never been released on an album are now available in a series of five-inch CD singles in Germany from BMG. They are available in this country at some CD stores that stock imports.

The expanded "new release" section (now covering more than two pages) gives these dates for upcoming albums: Jan. 14: the "Rush" soundtrack featuring Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris' live "At the Ryman" and Lou Reed's "Magic and Loss"; Feb. 11: the Cowboy Junkies' "Black-Eyed Man," John Anderson's "Seminole Wind" (featuring Mark Knopfler on guitar), and Feb. 18: the "Little Village" album featuring the team of Ry Cooder, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. Also due: Feb. 18: albums from the Jesus and Mary Chain, Lindsey Buckingham, the Sugarcubes and David Byrne.

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