Variety is the key to a healthy pop music diet--and that's the emphasis of this installment of the Alternative Top 10, a periodic guide to the best new singles and album tracks.
The list is headed by four recordings that encompass so much accessibility and craft that they are likely to be actual Top 10 singles in the coming weeks.
The heart of the list, however, centers chiefly on artists who work in styles that may be a bit too quirky for the kind of mass radio exposure that is required to be a national hit.
Yet it is these records--by newcomers with such offbeat names as Shakespear's Sister, 3rd Bass and Eat--that not only give character and seasoning to our pop fare, but also help shape the changes that are essential to stretching the music's boundaries.
The Alternative Top 10 doesn't automatically exclude records in the actual Billboard magazine Top 10, but the focus is on tracks by new acts or by artists--from such fields as alternative rock, rap, metal and country--that often get shunned by radio's mainstream pop formats.
The November choices:
1. Terence Trent D'Arby's "I'll Be Alright" (Columbia)--This tale of romantic celebration is a knockout mix of Sam Cooke soul and Beach Boys good cheer. A simply irresistible track from his new "Neither Fish Nor Flesh" album.
2. Tracy Chapman's "Subcity" (Elektra)--"Crossroads," an unnecessarily dour statement of independence and integrity, is the first single from the folk-accented artist's second album, but the more natural successor to "Fast Car" is this tuneful reflection on society's neglected underclass.
3. Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun" (Geffen)--The frisky "Love in an Elevator" is the first hit from the veteran rock group's "Pump" album, but this dramatic portrait of a child abuse victim will probably become an even more important part of the band's repertoire.
4. Soul II Soul's "Back to Life" (Virgin)--Another classy and imaginative dance-floor soundscape from the London team that gave us "Keep on Movin'." The album version is mostly a cappella (and it's fine), but the 7-inch single is even more seductive.
5. 3rd Bass' "Steppin to the A.M." (Def Jam)--Sturdy rhymes and snappy beats from the first white rap outfit from Def Jam since the Beastie Boys.
6. Shakespear's Sister's "You're History" (FFRR Records/Polydor)--Though this kind of novelty wears out quickly, the delightfully absurd put-down of an old lover is too much fun to ignore. Siobhan Fahey is married to Dave Stewart, which may explain some of the Eurythmic tension in the arrangement.
7. Adult Net's "Waking Up in the Sun" (Fontana/Mercury)--Brix Smith, a Los Angeles native no less, is best known for her work with English cult faves the Fall, but the singer-songwriter is concentrating now on her own group Adult Net. Unlike the darker Fall material, this is bright, Bangly pop.
8. Eat's "Skin" (Fiction/Mercury)--A wickedly satiric slap at a small-town fat cat, from a British band signed to the Cure's record label, built around an anxious, evil-eye swamp rock arrangement.
9. Mekons' "Memphis, Egypt" (Twin/Tone/A&M)--There's a lot of the Clash's independent spirit in this veteran English group, so it's only natural that the Mekons would borrow a bit of rock dynamics from Mott the Hoople, a band that was a favorite of the Clash's Mick Jones. This tenacious salute to rock sounds at times like a punk interpretation of Mott's "All the Way to Memphis."
10. Steve Stevens' "Action" (Warner Bros.)--Time out for a little '70s nostalgia. Billy Idol's former guitarist salutes the wonderfully energetic Sweet with a version of that old British group's 1976 hit.
LIVE ACTION: The B-52's will be at the Universal Amphitheatre on Jan. 3 and 4. Tickets on sale Sunday. . . . Two New Year's Eve shows have been announced: the Cult headlines the Long Beach Arena (on sale next Saturday) and the Neville Brothers at the Palace.