Hidden Gems: 10 Great Fountains Of Wayne Songs That Aren’t “Stacy’s Mom”

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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.

 

6. “Hackensack”

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.

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Watch Zach Braff Make Fun Of ‘Garden State’ On SNL (And Listen To His iPod)

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This Saturday Night Live skit from 2007 is funny, but it’s especially great when Braff, pretending to be the kind of high school kid who will actually tell you that the Garden State movie and soundtrack changed his life, tries to convince everyone that a Garden State themed prom would be perfect.

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* update – video was taken off the internet 🙁 *

And for all you Braff fans, check out my Spotify playlist that combines the soundtracks of many Braff-related works (Scrubs, Garden State, Wish I Was Here, The Last Kiss) and other personal favorite songs that fit the cinematic wishfulness and melancholy mood of  Dr. Jon Dorian and Andrew Largeman.

Also, if you want a good read, check out this great Vulture piece defending Garden State, a movie you either love or love to hate.

Wish I Was Here is released today in limited release.

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10 Songs To Introduce You To…Guided By Voices

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There are a few people who will tell you that Guided By Voices is the greatest band of all time.

Now they’ll probably tell you that The Beatles or The Rolling Stones are the greatest band of all time – because that’s the answer you’re supposed to give – but they’ll tell you, after a few drinks, that no band means more to them than that band from Dayton, Ohio made up of thirtysomethings who recorded most of their albums on 4-tracks. They’ll also tell you that band leader and main songwriter Robert Pollard is the greatest songwriter of a generation, a man who was Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ray Davis, and Michael Stipe all in one who could write minute-long buzzy guitar anthems that could change your life if you were 12 or 42 years old. Their classic album Bee Thousand is considered one of the definitive albums of lo-fi. Some of their fans include PJ Harvey, Radiohead, R.E.M., The Strokes, U2, and a good portion of 90s teenagers.

And yes, they’re actually that good.

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GBV are a beloved band because, other than their great music, they took a very atypical path to fame. They’re made up of a bunch of buddies who loved music (and drinking) and recorded songs that they wanted to make for themselves. Yes, this sounds like every other band ever formed, but while every other band ever formed either compromised or broke up after the strains of failure or the pressures of success, GBV never compromised; in 2014 they still sound as noisy and great as they did in the late 80s.

They took inspiration from widely different genres – from jangle pop to fuzzy post-punk to British Invasion to prog rock – and crammed them all into songs about Tractor Rape Chains, Teenage FBIs, Salty Salutes, and other strange things that meant everything and nothing at the same time. Their song titles sound more like jokes than works of art, but the punch line is that these are some of the best rock songs of the 90s.

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GBV was also never intended to become anything more than just a hobby. Everyone in the band was in their 30s and had careers and families of their own – Pollard was a 4th grade teacher until Bee Thousand. For the first few years the band never played outside of Dayton and the early records were just handed out to close friends. Even when success and fame did find them, they still acted (and sounded) like a bunch of drinking buddies who accidentally became rock stars. Even if there was always drama and tension between Pollard and the ever-changing lineup (over 40 musicians have come and gone through GBV) the band managed to carry on through over twenty years of success, failure, and indifference.

GBV was also proof that you didn’t have just a short window of time to create something beautiful and meaningful and that you didn’t need to give up your life for the sake of art – Pollard was 37 years old when Bee Thousand was released. With cheap recording techniques, the band proved that you didn’t need fancy equipment to sound incredible. And even when the band traded in their 4-tracks for higher quality studios, they never compromised their core sound. They are one of the few bands who managed to gain massive success without compromising or selling out, and for that they are an essential band to hear.

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From 1987 to 2014 they recorded over 20 (!) studio albums and countless EPs and bootlegs and none of them are really that bad, making their discography one of the most prolific and impressive runs of any rock band. However, it can be intimidating trying to navigate through all that music, which is why many people just stick to Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, the only two GBV albums that are universally praised by indie-snobs and diehard fans alike. Those two albums are indeed their best, but there are so many more great songs that go unheard of that are stuck in weaker albums.

That’s where I come in. This is not the definitive list of GBV’s best songs, but it’s a place for newbies to start.

 

1) “Captain’s Dead”

GBV’s story began sometime around 1987 with the release of their first LP Devil Between My Toes. It’s not a great album, but Pollard and the gang had already figured out that their songs were going to be short, loud, and to the point (though “A Portrait Destroyed By Fire” is a whopping 5-minutes long), and, though it doesn’t necessarily sound lo-fi, it’s lo-fi in spirit. A band has to start somewhere, but GBV were already heading somewhere promising.

 

2) “Long Distance Man”

There are two types of GBV songs: short loud songs that are awesome and short acoustic songs that are awesome. Off GBV’s second album Sandbox, this is my favorite of the acoustic songs. For a whole minute we get to hear the kind of Rubber Soul inspired harmonies and thumbing acoustics that make it sound like a Beatles song.

 

3) “Exit Flagger”

1992’s Propeller was the first album of the GBV classic lineup, which consisted of Pollard and some other people I don’t know (this is a joke because it’s easy to think of GBV as the Robert Pollard show – the classic lineup consisted of Pollard, Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell on guitars, Greg Demos on bass, and Kevin Fennell on drums). You can immediately hear the improvements – “Exit Flagger” is leaner and catcher than many of their songs up to that point – as GBV are slowly coming into their own. This is also when the band started to become more famous outside of their hometown Dayton and began attracting a larger audience. This was supposed to be the band’s last album, but instead it was the first of many classic albums.

 

4) “Hardcore UFO’s”

If there’s one GBV album you’ve already heard of (or think you’ve heard of) it’s Bee Thousand. It’s their best album, and it went on to become the band’s breakthrough and one of the most beloved albums of the decade (you know your album is ok when Rolling Stone calls it one of the greatest albums of the 90s).

“Hardcore UFO’s” is one of the most unusual opening tracks of any rock record. It sounds like it starts in mid-track, as if by accident, and the guitars are clashing but in a strange way that makes you want to tune in and hear how they resolve. The song, like the album, sounds “off” in the best way possible. And what the hell is a Hardcore UFO? I don’t think anyone, including Pollard, actually knows, but that’s the beauty of this song and of this band; you don’t need ultra clarity to speak something universal and make people feel emotion.

Now individually many of these songs might not seem special, but the whole album is something to appreciate in its entirety, with all its strengths and weaknesses. “Hardcore UFO’s” is only the beginning of something truly special – listen to whole album.

 

 

5) “Game Of Pricks”

Bee Thousand is the stronger album, but Alien Lanes showcases the best of GBV. Twenty-eight songs clocking in just over 40 minutes, with only 6 of those songs going over the 2 minute mark, and most of them range from “meh, this is pretty good” to “Oh my God if The Who and The Kinks had a baby it would be ‘Game Of Pricks’ this song is amazing”. There are many forgettable moments, but some of the band’s best songs – “A Salty Salute”, “A Good Flying Bird”, “Motor Away”, “My Valuable Hunting Knife” – are all present here. Again, another album that must be heard in its entirety.

 

6) “I Am A Tree”

1997’s Mag Earwhig! was the transition record from the short lo-fi songs of the classic lineup to the long hi-fi songs of a new lineup. It was essentially a new band (Pollard pretty much fired everyone and hired Cleveland punk band Cobra Verde to back up his songs), but Pollard still wrote some brilliant tunes, and “I Am A Tree” (actually written by new guitarist Doug Gillard) is proof that hi-fi doesn’t necessarily mean a song is less authentic. This is also probably one of the few GBV songs that could have been on Guitar Hero.

 

7) “Hold On Hope”

This is actually the first GBV song I ever heard. When I heard this song during Scrubs I had no idea who the band was, but I immediately loved the song. I don’t want to call this a sellout song, BUT if I had to pick one it would have to be this – is there another GBV song with so many clean instruments? Lyrically this is also a very straight forward song about, well, holding onto hope, which may turn off some fans of Pollard’s typically cryptic lyrics. But hey, even a sellout GBV song is still great.

 

8) “Fair Touching”

2001’s Isolation Drills is one of the better albums of GBV’s more recent albums, and surely it’s the most accessible of their hi-fi album. “Fair Touching” might be one of my favorite album openers of any album by any band, and the rest of the songs sound good on their own, something you can’t even say for some songs on Bee Thousand. Other highlights include “Chasing Heather Crazy” and “Glad Girls”.

 

9) “Obvious #1”

This isn’t a GBV song, but you should know that Robert Pollard has a decent solo career worth checking out. Warning: like his band, his song (and albums) are also very hit and miss.

 

10) “Planet Score”

This is the sound of GBV in 2014. Motivational Jumpsuit came out this year, yet it sounds just as dirty (and great) as the band did in the 90s. It’s a beautiful thing knowing that Pollard can still write great songs this late into his already extensive career.

Here’s to the future. The club is open.

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Playlist: Zach Braff’s iPod

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This new playlist combines many of the songs from the Garden State and Scrubs soundtracks in addition to some other songs that I think match Braff’s great range of taste in music. There are also some songs on here from his new movie Wish I Was Here released in limited release July 18th.

 

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