I’m going to confess something that seems embarrassing at first but, please citizens of the interwebz, let me plead my case before you make any kind of judgment (because the Internet is all about reason and rational judgments, right?).
I like the Goo Goo Dolls.
No, really, I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.
I know what you’re thinking: “But…but…why?” Actually, that’s a comparatively reasonable reaction. Recently, I told someone I like the Goo Goo Dolls, and she basically laughed in my face.
I don’t think that experience is uncommon. I would contend that everyone enjoys a band that he/she would not readily admit to liking in front of a group of peers. For me, it happens to be the Goo Goo Dolls. But it’s difficult to explain my position when my friends are unnecessarily speculating on my sexual orientation while the rest are doubled over with laughter.
However, before I continue, I want to be clear that this is not an endorsement for a free pass on liking objectively terrible music. No, I’m talking about bands with which many people might not be familiar or bands that have dramatically changed artistic directions over the years.
For example, I was friends with a guy in my college dorm who legitimately loved the Gin Blossoms. At first, I thought that was odd even though I had virtually no knowledge of the band. To me, the Gin Blossoms were shorthand for generic ‘90s rock.
Being curious about his preference, I listened to some songs that weren’t “Hey Jealousy.” And you know what? They were pretty good. The Gin Blossoms weren’t going to become my new favorite band, but I saw why someone would reasonably like that band.
The Goo Goo Dolls fits the latter, though: a band that dramatically changed artistic directions. When I say I like the Goo Goo Dolls, people, on the whole, think of one thing and one thing only, “Iris.” That damn song, which was written for the awful Nic Cage-Meg Ryan vehicle City of Angels, was the beginning of the end.
The band arguably earned some popularity before “Iris” with “Name” of its fifth album A Boy Named Goo, but it was “Iris” (and its music video) off of 1998’s Dizzy Up the Girl that launched the band you probably know today—the one that performs with Taylor Swift (*shudder*).
Unfortunately, headlining arenas and new fans went hand in hand with not playing any old material ever again. That nearly five-minute acoustic ballad erased the potential for the band to carry on the Replacements legacy. Instead, people currently think of the band as a bunch of nancy-boys with manlights who play soft rock your mom likes.
But things used to be very different.
There was a time when the band played frenetic punk rock and college and alternative radio stations heavily rotated Goo songs.
The Goo Goo Dolls formed in Buffalo, N.Y., during the mid ‘80s, composed of Johnny Rzeznik (guitar), Robby Takac (bass) and George Tutuska (drums). Everyone knows Rzeznik as the band’s frontman today, but initially Takac was the band’s lead singer because of Rzeznik’s shyness. Later on, Takac and Rzeznik would kick Tutuska out of the band, replacing him with Mike Malinin.
Takac and Tuska were long-time friends who met Rzeznik while he was doing gigs with other bands in the Buffalo area. The trio started out as a cover band but started writing its own material.
The band’s original name was “ the Sex Maggots,” (think about that next time you’re nostalgically listening to “Iris” or “Slide”) but clubs wouldn’t bill the trio under that name. They needed a name for a gig and took it from an ad for a toy called a “Goo Goo Doll” in a True Detective that was on hand.
The band released its first album, Goo Goo Dolls, in 1987 on Metal Blade Records. The record earned the trio opening gigs for punk bands such as SNFU and Dag Nasty—and rightly so. Goo Goo Dolls is loud, fast and hard—unlike any of the band’s recent work. Don’t believe me? Listen to this track.
I bet if I asked you blindly to guess the band based on that song, the Goo Goo Dolls would have been roughly your 376th guess.
1989’s Jed followed the debut, and the next year the band released my favorite Goo album, Hold Me Up. Those three albums, and to a lesser extent the noticeably more polished Superstar Car Wash, are the Goo Goo Dolls that I love—not the current watered down, acoustic, quasi-romantic B.S.
Those first four albums are full of energy. They effectively blend pop punk and hard rock and, yes, they are a little rough (with the exception of Superstar Car Wash), but it’s just a reflection of the band itself.
The sound is evocative of two Minneapolis bands, the Replacements and Husker Du. I imagine it has something to do with coming from two cities with notoriously harsh winters, sitting, waiting through the dark and the cold while a collective vigor builds. The songs on the first three albums are fast and simple, while the songs on the fourth album show more complexity and incorporation of pop rock.
In a sense, the Goo Goo Dolls’ sound on those albums also reminds me of fellow New Engladers Dinosaur Jr. Like Dinosaur Jr., the Goo Goo Dolls managed to create an incredibly full sound with only three members. That has changed, though. Now they sound like that band that insists on playing at the local coffee shop, while you’re trying to study.
But the Goo Goo Dolls’ bratty, take-no-crap attitude from that era also struck a chord with me (puns!). The band’s musical direction and attitude were perfectly married and evident in songs such as “Up Yours.” The vocals reinforced the band’s attitude, too; Takac and Rzeznik basically shouted the lyrics. Unfortunately, Rzeznik started opting for the loud-whisper singing that, for reasons beyond me, took a foothold in late ‘90s rock music.
Clearly by now, some of you are thinking this is a case of “They sold out, man! Now I’m too good to listen to them!”
Well, not exactly.
I don’t have a problem with bands making more money and reaching more people. I do have a problem when they completely forsake their roots to do so. I know that’s a subjective standard, but I think my assessment of the Goo Goo Dolls’ artistic shift is more than fair.
When Green Day and Blink 182 (two of the most obvious examples of the sellout debate) signed to major labels, they essentially kept doing what they were doing. Later on both bands experimented more, but pop punk was always at their core of what they were doing.
But with Dizzy Up the Girl, the Goo Goo Dolls completely changed what they were doing. The trio got into the business of turning out mainstream, acoustic power ballads and started erasing their pasts with makeovers and set lists devoid of any songs prior to A Boy Named Goo.
The iTunes Store album review of Dizzy Up the Girl admits as much:
“‘Name’ changed the game for the Goo Goo Dolls. Prior to that unexpected hit ballad, the Buffalo trio was pretty much content to turn out amiably sloppy rock and roll in the style of the Replacements. Like the latter-day ‘Mats, they weren’t adverse to cleaning up their sound a little bit, but once they had a hit, they were happy to jump head first into the mainstream, cleaning up their rockers until they shone and embracing acoustic power ballads instead of shunning them.”
Then there’s this from the same review, which is patently absurd:
“The funny thing is, where most college rock bands of the Bush era sounded awkward as mainstream rockers, the Goo Goo Dolls sound better as a mainstream band, partially because they were hardly underground in the first place.”
The iTunes Store comments for Goo Goo Dolls are worse; especially considering most commenters seemed to think it was a new release.
“Is this a Joke? Did the Dolls return to their punk roots? Where is John? I hear Robby, and he did front the band at one time. I don’t want a rerun. I want them to SLIDE on HOME as they are now.”
“What happened u guys were amazing please don’t be like this u were my favorite band.”
“I know commercial suicide when I hear it!”
“Please John…get back…and stop this…we want ur original music…we wanna songs like Slide & Iris…we’re not in the 80’s anymore to hear this…”
You could say I’m a little bitter, but actually I’m just disappointed. I’m disappointed that there are guys like me, who have a healthy interest in rock music who will never hear a great song like “Hey” because no let them know the Goo Goo Dolls used to rock.
So, yes, “Please John…get back…and stop this…we want ur original music.”