Part 4 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

In the years immediately following high school I spent a lot of my time driving up and down I-95. My quest (as well as my friends who accompanied me on these trips) was to find amazing and somewhat unknown music (or the latest UK import release from bands we already loved). In Philadelphia we would visit Third Street Jazz (not surprisingly, on Third Street), Sound on Market, and whatever CD stores had sprung up on South Street. Once Third Street Jazz closed down, we shifted our focus to AKA Music (the owner of AKA had been associated with Third Street). If these stores didn’t have what we wanted, we would make the trek to the Princeton Record Exchange in (you guessed it) Princeton, NJ.

On one of these treks I picked up a fanzine called Yeah Yeah Yeah! (no association with the band, this was before their time). In the review section there was an album that caught my eye – The Flamingoes / Plastic Jewels. The friend who was with me at time had heard a story about how THAT album had the same cover as the Fountains of Wayne record (another one on our list of albums to buy) because of the artist not securing the rights (something like that). Kind of a strange situation, really.

Our mission had suddenly become very clear on that day – buy both albums, and compare the music, since we were both struck by the odd situation of albums coming out within 6 months of each other with the same album cover.

The Flamingoes debut proved to be their only record as far as I can tell, and was an enjoyable slab of mid 90’s Britpop infused with some  punk attitude. The CD is still in my collection and occasionally I will give it some spins.

The first Fountains of Wayne cd has proved to be a timeless masterpiece. Melodies that seem instantly familiar, lyrics that will make you laugh and cry as you identify with them. It is worth noting that one of the songwriters, Adam Schlesinger wrote a catchy theme song for a movie – That Thing You Do. While the band in that movie – The Oneders (later changed to The Wonders to avoid mispronunciation) struggled to follow-up their hit single “That Thing You Do”, the debut album by Fountains of Wayne released way back in 1996 has no such issues – it is a flawless album filled with 12 gems that will stay in your head forever (well…16 years so far).

The tunes:

Radiation Vibe starts things off with a nice little groove with lead singer Chris Collingwood singing “Are you alone now / Did you lose the monkey / He gave you back aches / And now you slouch….He didn’t mean it / He’s just a dumb ape / Reading playboy / On your couch” The song is clearly building towards something….and suddenly the pop chorus explodes out of the speakers – “And now it’s time to say / What I forgot to say / Baby,baby,baby / Come on, what’s wrong? / It’s a radiation vibe  / I’m groovin on / Don’t it make you want to get some sun? / Shine on, shine on, shine on” Absolutely stunning start to the record, when the chorus kicks in you will be smiling and singing along in no time at all. Very Beatles-y feel to this song.

Sink to the Bottom starts off with a singer / songwriter vibe with the chorus refrain “I just want to sink to the bottom with you” getting things started off nicely. The music kicks in (though on later albums FOW were a real band, on the debut it’s just Chris & Adam) into a power pop anthem. This song reminds me of driving to the Jersey shore from the Philadelphia ‘burbs, singing out loud at the top of our lungs. Perfect summertime anthem.

Joe Rey is another power pop anthem kind of song. Lyrics are geeky and funny “Joey Rey smokes at three / Barks like a pigeon / And watches TV / He’s cool, cool, cool, cooler than I am” The song ends on a noisy guitar fade out which is designed to lead into…

She’s Got a Problem is a ballad type song that is a hummable song with somewhat dark lyrics. Part of FOW’s beauty is their ability to mask darkness in a veneer of geeky jokes. “I know a girl who should never be alone / I know a girl who should never be alone / She’s a danger to herself / And I’m worried about her health / She’s got a problem / And she’s gonna do something dumb”. When the chorus kicks in it really tugs at the heartstrings. What’s this girl gonna do? Kill herself? Break up with someone? Emotionally, this song is just perfect “Oh yeah (oh yeah) / And I can see the signs / Oh yeah (oh yeah) / Cause she’s only killing time / Oh yeah (oh yeah) / And she’s not long for this world”

Survival Car is another power pop sing along song similar to Joe Rey in its execution. Essential to the pacing of the album.

Barbara H slows down the pace just a bit, heavy emphasis on the geeky lyrics, again – absolutely a sing-a-long kind of song. Key lyric – “And now all day the radio’s been playing the same song / Can’t shake that tune but it’s ok / Maybe the world isn’t so small / Barbara knows it doesn’t matter at all”

Sick Day – the centerpiece of the album, and the greatest song Fountains of Wayne ever wrote. Perfectly captures the absurdity known as working in an office. Sad, funny, poignant. I’m just including the entire songs lyrics below because, this is a perfect song:

Check out the girl in the Harbor Tunnel
Crawling to work six feet under
And the day has barely begun
They’re all chewing gum

And laughing at the voice on the crackling radio station
Lead us not into Penn Station
Cause the best part’s just begun
We’re all becoming one again

And she’s making the scene
With the coffee and cream
And the copy machine’s not working
She’s a hell of a girl
She’s alone in the world
And she likes to say hey good lookin’
She’s on her way
She’s taking a sick day..soon

And here is the man pushing paper past her
Thinks up ways to make the day go faster
But the day goes on and on
He dreams of his lawn

And all about
the pretty careerist
the next cube over
The fat secretary,
the lunchtime lovers
‘Til the path train finally comes
The platform’s full of bums again

And she’s making the scene
With the coffee and cream
And the copy machine’s not working
She’s a hell of a girl
She’s alone in the world
And she likes to say hey good lookin’
She’s on her way
She’s taking a sick day..soon

And she’s taking her time
As she’s tossing a dime
At the man in the cardboard coffin
It doesn’t have to be fine
She’s ahead of the line
And doesn’t have to be here too often
She’s making a play
She’s taking a sick day..soon

I’ve Got a Flair – Increases the tempo just a bit after the last song. Power pop anthem. Starts off with a Weezer-ish feel (which may or may not be a good thing for you, for me it’s not a bad thing). Once the chorus kicks in, it elevates the song into above average. A deep album cut needed for the flow.

Leave the Biker – One of the funniest songs on the record, for some reason it reminds me of the bars in New Hope, PA. Chris seems to begging a beautiful woman to leave her biker boyfriend. Another sing-a-long with an emotional undercurrent that is hard for most bands to capture so perfectly. “Please leave the biker / leave the biker / break his heart” The last piano refrain seems to be directly lifted from The Beatles “A Day in the Life” – very nice.

You Curse at Girls – A ballad that has emotional music tied to somewhat funny lyrics. One of my favorites “Each time you curse at girls / You curse a little at yourself / Don’t you know a girl gets angry”

Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight – A harder edged song with a nice chorus. I can relate to the lyrics, I’m always speaking my mind about silly trends, Chris sings “I didn’t mean to make the trendy guy mad / But the feeling I’m immersed in now / Can only turn a good party bad / Somehow, somehow” I somewhat relive my youth every time I listen to this song with those lyrics. Perfection.

Everything Ruined – The album ends on a lullaby type ballad with no irony or sarcasm present “Slow down / There’s gonna be trouble / You’re gonna forget / What you’re doing / One false move, baby / Suddenly everything’s ruined”

An absolute perfect album from start to finish. Surely Adam Schlesinger has noted the irony of Fountains of Wayne being somewhat known as a “one hit wonder” due to the 2003 single “Stacy’s Mom” (a full 7 years after their debut album). Was the song he wrote for That Thing You Do back in 1996 somehow a tinted window into the future of Fountains of Wayne? Regardless – Fountains of Wayne have continued to crank out a quality album every few years. Some of those albums even have songs that are equal to or exceed the quality of the ones on the debut record. For me though, this record is the most emotionally resonant, the most consistent.

In late 1996 (or was it early ’97, memory is hazy) I had the opportunity to see Fountains of Wayne on the tour supporting the debut album. It was at a smaller venue in Philadelphia called the TLA – on South Street. The opening band was the Canadian band, Sloan. Although I had really enjoyed the current (at the time) Sloan record, One Chord to Another I wasn’t super impressed with the live performance. I remember the anticipation as my friends and I waited for Fountains of Wayne to take the stage. From the moment they began playing until the set was over, my friends and I danced, danced, and danced some more. Some may say we looked silly – I say it was a moment of my youth forever etched in time.

Stay tuned next week as I discuss Summer at Shatter Creek – All the Answers

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2 responses »

  1. liv4music says:

    FoW is perhaps the most underrated band of my generation. I flew from KCMO to Atlanta to see them back in Feb, and it was a little bit sad to think that after this long, consistently knocking it out of the park with each album release, that they were still playing in small venues. At the same time, selfishly perhaps, I loved that they were at a small venue, so that I could be right up next to the stage. I even nabbed an FoW guitar pick. How bold to profess that “Sick Day” is their best song. I honestly cannot say what my favorite one of their songs is. It would be hard enough to make a list of my 20 favorite FoW songs. There are basically two categories I can put all of their songs into: those that are really good and can listen to at least once a week, and those that I could listen to every single day. At the show, I knew all the words to just about every song they played. Perhaps that is part of their appeal to me, that I can hear all of their lyrics. Have you checked out their latest album, Sky Full of Holes?

  2. Sky Full of Holes was great….there are aspects of each record that I really, really enjoy. I’ve seen them a handful of times live and have always been blown away! Stacy’s Mom was a double edged sword – gave them a bit of $$ (I’d imagine), allowed their songs to get some use on commercials – but also gave the public a very wrong perception about them as a band. Can Fountains of Wayne really be in the same sentence as Bowling for Soup? In my opinion – a travesty.

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