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The Smithereens - the greatest NJ band??

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Welcome to WEEK 257 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #83 & S4Ep21)

The Smithereens - A New Jersey Revival Band That Deserves ITS OWN REVIVAL

Let me lay down some geography. I was born in Philadelphia. It will always be my first city love – hell, it’s right there in the name. I’ve been a New Yorker for over two decades. It will always be my favorite city. But for the 30 years in between, I was a proud resident of New Jersey, possibly the greatest state in the nation.

Alright, some of that last statement may be hyperbole. As a teen I didn’t feel so proud. It took leaving NJ to really love it. And greatest state? … Nope, that one I stand by. Whether or not you agree, one thing we can’t dispute is that a turnpike-load of legendary & incredibly diverse music has come from Jersey.

Take the three artists that most people think of first: Sinatra, Springsteen, Bon Jovi. None of them sound like each other. In fact, the only things they have in common are their NJ roots and Italian heritage – two things that OFTEN go hand in hand. Oh and they all kick ass. Then you have the Fugees/Lauryn Hill and freakin’ Whitney Houston. Two more legends. And I have to shout out two of my all-time faves: Fountains of Wayne & Kool & the Gang. Here’s a short list of some of the greatest acts from the greatest state:

· The Sugarhill Gang

· Blues Traveler

· Thursday

· The Gaslight Anthem

· Looking Glass

· Skid Row

· The Feelies

· Dramarama

· Donald Fagen

· Naughty By Nature

· Queen Latifah

· Ice-T

· Redman

· Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes

· Ricky Nelson

· The Shirelles

· Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons

· Dionne Warwick

· Sarah Vaughan

· Count Basie

· Wayne Shorter

· John Pizzarelli

· Halsey

· Patti Smith

· Debbie Harry

· The Misfits & Danzig

· Yo La Tengo

· My Chemical Romance

· Jonas Brothers

· Gloria Gaynor

Notice which band I didn’t include in this list? You guessed it: The Smithereens. I did that to prove a point. Most of the people I named are artists almost anyone can identify (okay, I put some personal faves in there like Dramarama & Looking Glass, but overall that’s true). Ask most people who the Smithereens are and you’ll draw a blank. Sure, you can say that about a ton of bands. But what makes the Smithereens special is that they were once HUGELY successful. They had a string of hit singles & albums in the late 1980s & early 1990s. Their songs were in movies. They performed & recorded with artists as big as Tom Petty, Lou Reed, Julian Lennon, Suzanne Vega & Belinda Carlisle.

Even more important, their music was awesome. Listen to “A Girl Like You”, “Blood and Roses”, “Only a Memory” or “Too Much Passion” and tell me I’m wrong. Then go deeper & hit some of my faves: “Girls About Town”, “Strangers When We Meet”, “Behind the Wall of Sleep”, “In a Lonely Place”, “House We Used to Live In”, “Drown in My Own Tears” & “Yesterday Girl”. I haven’t heard these songs in years and I can still recall them, because their dynamic mix of revivalist 1960s rock, punk & power pop is well crafted & infectious. It’s a crime of history that this band has been so forgotten, and that many of their earliest releases are so hard to find.

As you may know by now, I have a soft spot for artists who hang in there for decades whether they’re successful or not. It shows that music is their constant and their reason. That they don’t let the ups & downs derail their journey, including in this case the 2017 death of their prime mover, Pat DiNizio. And you can also probably guess I feel so strongly because that’s how I feel about myself & my own career. Despite very little recognition & even less money, I’ve put out a good 15 albums & EPs, hundreds of songs, and worked with dozens of bands on the side. And since my band REC is releasing a new album later this year, it ain’t ending anytime soon.

The Smithereens were one of those great power pop bands that showed you can be singer/songwriter-y & even haunting in the midst of sheer rock joy. You can hear their influence in lots of my earlier work, including “Do You Wanna”, “Deal”, “It’s Almost Over”, and this week’s pick, which clearly has the jangly/beefy power pop pedigree:

REC – “Beautiful Love” (from the album, Parts and Labour)

Do you remember the Smithereens? Are there other artists you wish people would remember? Did I miss any famous New Jersey musicians? Are there musicians you’re proud to call natives of your home state? Discuss dammit!


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