Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
I’ve already discussed the debut album from New Jersey’s The Smithereens twice, first in the Great Out Of The Gate series in 2015 and then the following year in the Thirty Year Thursday series about my favorite albums from 1986. There’s nothing else to say about this brilliant record so see below for my previous comments. The only update, unfortunately, was the death of lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Pat DiNizio in 2017 at the age of 62. The three surviving band members have carried on with guest vocalists Robin Wilson (of Gin Blossoms) and Marshall Crenshaw, keeping DiNizio’s songs alive, but no one could ever replace his distinctive vocals.
For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.
From GREAT OUT OF THE GATE Part 2:
New Jersey’s The Smithereens had been around since 1980, releasing a couple of independent EP’s, but their first full-length album is where the story officially began for anyone beyond their local scene. When the bass-driven single “Blood And Roses” hit the airwaves, it fit in perfectly with both classic rock & current music. Here was a band steeped in ‘60s British Invasion groups like The Beatles, The Who, The Kinks and The Hollies, but in lead vocalist/songwriter Pat DiNizio they had a unique talent who used those artists as inspiration for songs that sounded like no one other than The Smithereens. His bandmates (lead guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken) were deceptively sophisticated, providing clever arrangements to seemingly straight-ahead songs like “Time And Time Again,” “Strangers When We Meet” and “Behind The Wall Of Sleep.” As good as their rockers are, it’s the subtler tracks that make Especially For You so special. Suzanne Vega adds sweet harmonies to the lovely “In A Lonely Place,” and the acoustic break-up song “Cigarette” is an accordion-accented delight. My college cover band played a few Smithereens songs which were always well-received, and since I went to school in New Jersey I’ve always felt a close connection to their music. They went on to release more great records but Especially For You is probably their most diverse collection of songs and it holds up extremely well nearly 3 decades later.
From THIRTY YEAR THURSDAY (in July 2016):
There are plenty of killer songs in addition to those mentioned above, like “Listen To Me Girl” with its insistent midtempo groove, the bouncy “Crazy Mixed-Up Kid” and brooding album closer “Alone At Midnight.” Throughout it all there are jangly chords & killer riffs from Babjak, the Ringo-meets-Keith Moon drumming of Diken, Mesaros playing the exact groove that each song needs (a bigger compliment than it sounds) and DiNizio’s plaintive-yet-commanding voice. Don Dixon, who’s an incredibly talented musician in his own right but made his name as co-producer of REM’s first two albums, helped them deliver a radio-friendly collection of songs that straddles the line between retro & modern without a hint of the sonic overkill that was prevalent at the time. Somehow it still sounds just as fresh (to my ears, at least) 30 years after it was released.
I’ve never met a rock music fan who didn’t like The Smithereens, so even though they don’t get written up in music publications like many of their contemporaries, their songs have stood the test of time, and they will likely continue to sound timeless to future generations. I look forward to hearing from other fans, whether you’ve been listening since the ’80s or just recently discovered them.