Gunning For Hits writer and music industry veteran Jeff Rougvie curates the perfect mix of barbed rock, foundational hip-hop, and indie gems for his acerbic series about one A&R rep's descent into extremity.
Jeff Rougvie knows a thing or two about the music industry: music producer, music consultant, record label founder, music historian, and musician are just a few of the man's formal and current titles. He's worked with artists ranging from David Bowie to Nine Inch Nails and The Replacements (to name a very, very small sample.) In other words, Jeff Rougvie is a man you want to run into at a bar.
He has stories.
Some of those stories, veiled by fictional names, appear in Gunning For Hits, his wildly entertaining, biting dissection of the music industry circa 1987. Its first issue launched last month, introducing manipulative A&R shark Martin Mills as he attempts to sign Stunted Growth, an imminently talented up-and-coming group managed by the lead singer's shrewd girlfriend, Diane.
For the ongoing series with art by Moritat and colors/letters courtesy Casey Silver, Rougvie concocted an ambitious playlist featuring 35 tracks selected primarily from the heyday of CD success. Rougvie dives into his history and rationale for his curation below. Check out the Gunning For Hits playlist on Spotify.
Gunning For Hits #2 releases in comic book stores on February 13, 2019.
All of the music on our playlist relates to the story in some way, whether lyrically, for mood, or because they are of the period. On this page I’m going to run through the songs I picked for each issue and explain why they were chosen.
On a sidebar, if I’d wanted to create a soundtrack for the comic in physical form, the cost of licensing these tracks would’ve been cost-prohibitive. So while I’m happy to have the opportunity to curate a soundtrack without the cost normally associated, the artists don’t benefit nearly as much. So a very special THANK YOU to every artist represented here. The presence of their tracks in no way implies their endorsement of Gunning For Hits.
Also, if you like what you hear from a particular artist, I strongly suggest you buy a physical copy of their work. They actually get more money than if you stream it, and no matter what the format is, the audio quality will be better (used cassettes excluded). Moving on, although the comic takes place in 1987, the music spans decades, with some as recent as 2017. Since I’m trying to set the mood in a big way, issue one’s playlist has more songs than future playlists will. Thanks for listening—I hope you enjoy.
— Jeff Rougvie
“Video Trailer Mix,” Sigue Sigue Sputnik
Tony James (of this band, and many others on this playlist) is a hero of mine for a million reasons. He co-founded Generation X, he brilliantly masterminded the subversive Sigue Sigue Sputnik, he was pals with Johnny Thunders, and played with him and was in the touring version of Sisters of Mercy when they toured Vision Thing. He also gives the greatest interviews ever. I was fortunate enough to work with his band Carbon/Silicon (which also included Mick Jones of The Clash (squeee!). I love this track because it’s conveys an enormous amount of excitement through sound—perfect theater of the mind. It’s one of the reasons we did a comic trailer for GFH. Also, top '80s references that tie into the book.
Tsar are one of the all-time great lost rock bands. They were the subject of a major label bidding war (deservedly so!) and then had all the bad luck. The song title pretty much sums up what people used to imagine being in a rock band was like, but the underlying mood of the song is one of rage, and I think Tsar were in the depths of music biz disillusion when they recorded it. That said, lead singer and Tsar mastermind Jeff Whalen is releasing his debut solo album, “Ten More Rock Super Hits,” in February on my Supermegabot label. It’s a super-happy bubbleglam masterpiece.
"Vision Thing,” Sisters of Mercy
I listened to a lot of Sisters while writing this book, mostly the Vision Thing album (the aforementioned Tony James was in the touring version of the band at this time, but is not on the album). Not only is it a potential anthem for the excesses of the '80s music business, there’s a perfectly controlled (suppressed) menacing aggression at work here that I find oddly inspiring.
"No Way Out,” D Generation
DGen are another band that should’ve been huge. They were either too early or too late to the party, but man they looked and sounded great. This is kind of what I imagine Stunted Growth sounds like. The song is claustrophobic but huge—they should’ve been as big as Guns N' Roses, honestly. Lead singer Jesse Malin has made some great solo records too, and he owns all the best NYC clubs on the L.E.S.
"My Bag,”Lloyd Cole and the Commotions
One of the greatest songs ever written about record company excess, and perhaps my favorite Lloyd Cole track. I worked with Lloyd a few years after this came out. I tried to convince him to play this song live on those tours. I did not succeed. Lloyd’s Scottish, so cheers from another Scotsman.
"Roll With It,” Oasis
This has the attitude that pops adrenaline flow and lyrically all the feels of an aspirational writer.
"Even A Dog Can Shake Hands,” Warren Zevon
Martin Mills hates Los Angeles. This masterpiece of cynicism by L.A. native Warren Zevon, expresses why in under 3.5 minutes. It was the theme song to Action, a now dated but pretty brilliant comedy series about the movie business that would’ve been huge on HBO, its original intended home. But Fox picked it up and cancelled it before airing the final episodes, which were eventually released on DVD. Action was onto Harvey Weinstein years before the DA was. This is from Sentimental Hygiene, a 1987 album Warren made with R.E.M. backing him, and one of many high points in a pretty great catalog.
"Weasel Face,” Ramones
There are so many great Ramones tracks, but since this is from 1987, the year of our story, and Diane nicknames Martin “Weasel,” it works. Inspired by my friend Steve Kiwus, who, when I first met him, said, “So you’re a weasel. I always wanted to be a record company weasel.” Steve has sculpted many of my favorite toys.
"Ready Steady Go,” Generation X
Tony James again. Generation X begat Billy Idol, who I love but not as much as Generation X. Their three records as a band are nearly perfect. I could go on about them for days. They’re the punk band that would’ve broken big in the States, but they never had any meaningful promotion in America.
"Never Let Me Down,” David Bowie
As the man himself said, this is from his “Phil Collins period.” Fine singing here, and probably the best song on Never Let Me Down. Faint praise indeed. It’s a decent tossed-off potential pop hit for say, Robbie Neville, but a real nadir for Bowie. And he knew it. This was the beginning of David’s realization he had lost his way, which sparked my imagination and planted the seeds for GFH. It also speaks to the nature of relationship assumptions in our story.
“Notorious,” Duran Duran
This was released in 1986, a year before our story starts, but Duran are another act that was going through growing pains/broken at the time. They’d lost two members and their teen fanbase was growing up and moving on. Worse, the tension that powered the band’s sound, between the rockist urges of guitarist Andy Taylor and the artier aspirations of Nick Rhodes, was gone when Taylor split. It’s a big stupid '80s single, arguably their last great one. Diane probably secretly likes this.
"It’s Tricky,” Run-D.M.C.
Just one of the most brilliant early hip-hop tracks. The MCing is crazy good and the song and production keeps up. The week this came out, Melch (more on him in issue two) was visiting. He rented a huge white Caddy and we drove all over the Twin Cities looking for rare guitars for him to buy. This is ironic because a) he wasn’t a very good guitar player back then and b) he was the guitar player in my band in Hartford, so who am I to point fingers? As a guitar player, he’s twice the singer I was, anyway. At one point during his visit to Minnesota, I left him passed out in the parking lot next to First Avenue in the still-running-with-the-windows-rolled-down-and-the-keys-in-it ride, while I went CD shopping. This tape was on loop in the car's booming system. It’s a miracle no one stole him and the car. I believe I picked up a copy of Sammy Hagar’s VOA for him while he slept.
"Right On Track,” Breakfast Club
1987 Top 40 hit for this faceless, forgotten, extremely 80’s smooth pop group. Their history is bizarre; Madonna was once their drummer. They signed to the avant-garde label, ZE, but the album came out through mainstream MCA (aka Music Cemetery of America) and had a #7 hit. Breakfast Club recorded a second album that remains unreleased and the band was promptly dropped. Their non-Madonna drummer went on to write some hits with Madonna, but this song is endemic of mainstream '80s radio and a perfect example of a turntable hit (more about those in the issue two backmatter).
"Hold My Life,” The Replacements
From their greatest record, this may be their greatest song, perfectly encapsulating the quandary of '80s indie rock boys fighting the pull of responsibility and sell-out mentality (an anthema to any self-respecting '80s indie rock band). Plus, it uses lyrics from the Tooter Turtle cartoon Westerberg and I watched as kids. I admire Paul’s work, but he was always kind of a dick to me when we crossed paths (for no apparent reason, mind you). Even so, I later gave him a DVD set of the '66 Batman TV series, so he could watch it with his son, who was a huge fan. Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars were always sweet, wonderful guys to talk to/deal with.
“Sisters of Mercy," More
Another Sisters track from the mighty Vision Thing. This one speaks to pretty much everything Martin is and isn’t, and the vast emptiness inside him, as well as the excesses (again) of the entertainment industry. Plus, Eldritch and Jim Steinman working together is about as perfect and audacious as you’d expect. Eldritch and I once had a conversation about how The Sopranos would end. He said Tony would become a Senator and I thought he’d get mowed down in a drive-by during the opening sequence when he gets his paper in his bathrobe. You decide whose ending was closer.
"Rhymin & Stealin,” Beastie Boys
As their new book proves, Beastie Boys really were/are great. Also License To Ill was THE album of 1987—sorry, Bad—it was impossible to escape and why would you want to? I actually saw them open for Madonna (!) on the Like A Virgin tour a few years earlier, with DJ Double R (Rick Rubin!) on the wheels of steel. They sucked, but in a hilarious way.
"To Be A Lover,” Billy Idol
For period flavor, here’s another inescapable track from the summer of 1987, another of Billy’s great singles from one of his not-as-great albums.
"Sign ‘O’ The Times,” Prince
Prince means as much to me as Bowie. In my view, he was the icon of the 70s, the other of the 80s. The 1987 album this comes from may just be his masterpiece – but this track, the first single from the album, confused American audiences, who didn’t come to the album until the fizzier pop of “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and “You Got The Look” were hits. Europe got it right away. Lyrically this speaks to knowing your world and how it affects you, universal concerns but particularly poignant ones for Martin.
"Molly’s Lips (Live),” Nirvana
Relevance: Nirvana played their first show in 1987, showing that the musical tides were turning. This track, a Vaselines cover, sounds fucking great live. Pre-Nevermind and all the complications of superstardom, this one is ferocious and melodic, like all the best Nirvana stuff. The Vaselines rule.
"Out Ta Get Me,” Guns N’ Roses
1987 was the year of GnR’s legendary Appetite For Destruction. Love this track because even as Axl proclaims his innocence, you know he 100% did whatever they’re after him for. That constant fear of exposure mirrors Martin’s own. Also, FWIW, the day our story starts is approximately between the first Nirvana gig and the release of Appetite—arguably the most significant events in rock music in 1987.
“Lil’ Devil,” The Cult
Another track from ’87, this one speaks to a rock takeover that was right around the corner back then, when harder bands took the lead in sales and exposure.
"Look At The Rain,” Meat Puppets
Another fantastic alt-rock track from ’87, just to remind you that it wasn’t all cock rock posturing.
"Sweat Loaf,” Butthole Surfers
On the other hand, who knows what these guys were thinking? A ridiculous and magnificent take on Sabbath with Maybe my favorite intro of all time – “It’s better to regret something you HAVE done than something you haven’t.” Remember that, Billy. Hmmm….
"Wishing Well,” Terence Trent D'Arby
Another 1987 track. TTD was supposed to be the British answer to Prince. He was not. This track is “down the middle,” but has a nice swagger to it, too.
"New Sensation,” INXS
INXS were huge in the summer of 1987. I prefer Listen Like Thieves, but it’s hard to knock Kick. “New Sensation” says it all about Stunted Growth’s place in the world.
"Up In The Air,” Hüsker Dü
I love everything about this song from the Husker’s last album: the melancholy, the joy, the raucous tune.
“Poor bird flies up in the air, never getting anywhereAnd how much misery can one soul take? Trying to fly away might’ve been your first mistake.” Wow.
"Pour Some Sugar On Me,” Def Leppard
Pure dumb '80s. Brutal earworm. Genuinely good guys, too.
"Beyond Your Means,” Daniel Pemberton
I listened to a lot of the Molly’s Game soundtrack while writing GFH. Although he’s my favorite contemporary score writer, I find Pemberton hit and miss—I either love the whole score, or none of it. I suppose this speaks to his ability to deliver what suits the film, which is a good work ethic. This whole album really works for me and the tension of this is great for writing. FUN FACT: Pemberton wrote the Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse score, too.
"Under The God,” Tin Machine
Bowie digging himself out. It doesn’t go over that well, but you really, really have to love him for making the effort. This track got me super excited to hear the rest of the album but, except for this track, it puts me to sleep. Still, the lyrics are incredibly relevant, despite being 30 years old and the song kicks in the way you want Bowie to kick—with attitude.
"Don’t Believe The Hype,” Public Enemy
The follow-up to the mighty “Bring The Noise,” “Hype” was recorded in ’87, but not released until ’88, its parent album was the next step in rap evolution and is one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time. In 1987, it was the sound of the future. Martin would’ve been pissed he missed out on signing these guys and the message is more relevant than ever. Fuck influencers, like what you like, believe what you see, don’t do what you’re told, I never missed a chance to see PE live around this time—they were a mythical beast in those days, especially since Flav only made it to about half the shows I had tickets for. Also; Hype—what is it, what does it mean, is it good or bad?
"So You Want To Be,” Patti Smith
Originally written by the Byrds as an acerbic and cynical “be careful what you wish for” warning to aspiring rock stars, Smith’s version turns that sentiment upside down as a punky call to arms – she’s saying anyone can be a rock star, just do it. Both points of view are relevant to Stunted Growth’s story.
"Supernatural Superserious,” R.E.M.
A late-period masterpiece that captures all the weirdness of being young and awkward, while learning there’s a welcoming place for you somewhere. What a young lad from rural Wisconsin might feel when his little band takes off. Also a reminder for this writer to not get too uptight.
"Born To Lose,” Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers
Some people are just made that way, and are in our story. This song is a celebration of those unfortunates.
"Paint A Vulgar Picture,” The Smiths
Morrissey can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory these days with alarming predictability—he’s the Senator Susan Collins of pop—but at one time, he wrote biting lyrics about the marketing of rock stars, living and dead, and the fans who were the victims of these cheap ploys. From ’87 and lyrically relevant to our story.
“Matador,” Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
Sometimes a great movie ends, the bad guys are vanquished, the hero gets the girl, and credits roll. Then you’re walking to your car and you realize, “Wait, the hero killed the four bad guys who were sent to kill him, but that doesn’t mean the organization that sent them is ever going to stop trying to kill the hero, so what happens next?” In my perfect world, not War, Inc., but Gunning For Hits. Baller closing track.