Recently I came across Steven Hyden’s five-album test, a criteria which validates a band’s greatness if they have released five great albums in a row. Those who pass the test include The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Replacements, Yo La Tengo, and…Fountains Of Wayne? Yep, that one band that does that one song you know and love:
I was surprised that Hyden would approve FoW as a band with five consistent great albums. I couldn’t name any songs other than “Stacy’s Mom”, and there seemed to be a lack of praise for this band and their albums – I never felt the need to hear any of their albums like I do with The Beatles or Led Zeppelin.
So now I’ve gone through their past albums (they’ve been around since 1996!) and have dug up some new appreciation for these one-hit wonders. Hyden describes the power-pop band as the music version of How I Met Your Mother — easy for critics to brush off but extremely likable and relatable in some aspects, and this comparison makes more sense after listening to all their albums (and it’s also a complement). Also, I love How I Met Your Mother, so I really like most of these songs, and a lot of them would have sounded great in the show.
Here are ten great FoW songs that prove that this band, though maybe not as great as The Beatles, has indeed passed the five-album test.
1. “Radiation Vibe”
The first track off their 1996 self-titled debut. This song has everything – monkeys, Playboy, a great guitar riff, a cool music video, and Pittsburgh.
2. “Barbara H.”
FoW’s strongest songs are their character study songs about people we all know and, for better or worse, can relate to. “Barbara H.” is about a small girl with a big crush who becomes dismayed from being lost in a big city and hearing the same songs over and over again.
3. “Sick Day”
Another great character song, except it’s about all of us wanting to get out of the work rut and hang out on our lawns and hope that one day all of our hard work will lead us somewhere good.
4. “Troubled Times”
FoW’s follow up to their debut, 1999’s Utopia Parkway, is a little more polished, and “Troubled Times” is an example of a young band growing up.
5. “Bright Future In Sales”
My favorite FoW album might be 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers. In addition to being the album that has “Stacy’s Mom”, the rest of the album is full of crunchy guitar riffs and great lyrics to sing along to on your way to work in your car with your windows down. “Bright Future In Sales” is FoW at their most Cheap Trick.
Knowing someone famous before they became famous must be weird. What isn’t weird is the feeling that everyone else has gone away to bigger and better things while you’re stuck and not sure what to do with your life (“I used to work in a record store / now I work for my dad”).
7. “All Kinds Of Time”
This is one of two songs off Welcome Interstate Managers that has appeared on the TV show Scrubs (check out my version of Zach Braff’s iPod if you haven’t already). This is a nice song about the inner peace of knowing that everything will be ok in the end, even when you’re being attacked on all sides by an entire opposing football team.
8. “Hey Julie”
This is the other song from Welcome Interstate Managers that appeared in Scrubs. Though no song has come close to “Stacy’s Mom” in terms of popularity, this song about hating your job but having someone to care about was a modest hit.
9. “Karpet King”
From 2005’s Out-Of-State Plates, this is another character song about a Karpet King with a scary look and a drinking problem.
10. “Action Hero”
My favorite song off their most recent album, 2011’s Sky Full of Holes. This is a heartbreaking look at a father who still thinks he can be the superhero he wants to be in his mind.