The Feelies – Back in Print!
Today’s reader contribution comes from Hoboken resident Jake Stuiver – who shares some history and good news about the popular “Hoboken” band The Feelies.
Revival, Reissues, Live Shows
By Jake Stuiver
Although they actually lived in Haledon, about 20 miles outside of town, The Feelies were always considered a Hoboken band. Their fixture status at Maxwell’s, along with a rabid following in town, earned them a prominent role in the documentary “The Hoboken Sound,” a film that is the stuff of local legend but is sadly out of print (though rumor has it some quality bootleg DVDs are floating around town).
No longer out of print, fortunately, are the band’s recordings. On Sept. 8, Hoboken label Bar/None Records is releasing expanded and enhanced editions of The Feelies’ first two albums, the seminal “Crazy Rhythms” (originally released in 1980) and “The Good Earth” (from 1986, after something of a hiatus and lineup change). The reissues coincide with a recent revival of live shows, including an upcoming performance of “Crazy Rhythms” in its entirety at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival from Sept. 11-13 in Monticello, N.Y.
The highly influential post-punk outfit originally found its place in the New York City scene of the late ‘70s, playing mainly at CBGB, Max’s Kansas City and the Mudd Club, along with Maxwell’s. Known for their frenetically rhythm-based music and quintessentially quirky, nerdy image, The Feelies quickly built a national following that rendered its local shows tough to get into.
Tom Scharpling, host of The Best Show on WFMU on Jersey City-based radio station WFMU (91.1 FM) and a longtime Feelies fan, recalls the band spurring a burgeoning music scene that spawned other Hoboken bands that continue to thrive today (In fact, scenemates Yo La Tengo, who formed during the stretch between The Feelies’ first and second albums and whose member Ira Kaplan worked the soundboard for The Feelies at countless Maxwell’s shows, have their 16th album, “Popular Songs,” coming out the same day as the reissues. More on that to come.)
“By the time I was of age, The Feelies were already bigger than Hoboken, and I was never cool enough to get into the packed shows at Maxwell’s,” Scharpling said. “But between the shadow they cast, watching Yo La Tengo grow leaps and bounds with every record and having the best record store I’ve ever seen in Pier Platters, Hoboken was really the place to be in the late 80s. It’s not surprising those records have found their way back into print and are getting re-re-re-discovered by a new set of fans – they’re straight-up classics.”
“Crazy Rhythms” originally came out in 1980 on British indie label Stiff Records, Rolling Stone came to rank it 49th of the 100 best albums of the ‘80s. Nevertheless, the album’s commercial success never remotely matched its critical acclaim, and it drifted out of print. Living up to its title, “Crazy Rhythms” is packed wall to wall with manic rhythms that serve as the foundation for herky-jerky guitar melodies and intense pop blasts that showcase diverse influences including The Velvet Underground, The Beatles, The Modern Lovers, Television, early Brian Eno and The Stooges as well as contemporaries such as Talking Heads, The Embarrassment and Wire.
Read more and listen to an mp3 after the jump!
(The Feelies are back – continued…)
By the time The Feelies got around to making their second album in 1986, they’d been taking in a new set of influences, largely rural-punk pioneers such as The Meat Puppets and R.E.M. Appropriately, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck came on board to co-produce “The Good Earth,” and the result was a more downtempo, pastoral collection, still pulsing with the first album’s intensity, but in a more refined tone that recalled the country-influenced jangle-pop of The Byrds. The R.E.M. connection continues – The Feelies’ reunion shows of the past two years have featured a cover version of “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars),” from R.E.M.’s debut “Chronic Town” E.P., a song Buck has said was directly inspired by The Feelies. The performances have been a rare display of a band coming back under the influence of its own followers from its first go-round. “The Good Earth” originally came out on Coyote Records, the label run by Maxwell’s original owner Steve Fallon. Alas, it too never saw sales that matched its fan fervor, and slipped out of circulation.
The Feelies: “Let’s Go”
Both reissued albums feature deluxe packaging (on both CD and vinyl LP) with new liner notes by critics Jim DeRogatis and Jim Sullivan, respectively, as well as extensive bonus material including demos, B-sides, E.P. tracks and some new live recordings from the recent shows. It remains to be seen what will become of the band’s third and fourth albums, originally released by major label A&M. A limited-pressing CD reissue of the third album, “Only Life,” came out last year on the independent Water Records. The fate of the fourth album, “Time for a Witness,” remains up in the air.
Meanwhile, the reunited Feelies appear to be here to stay. They’ve been sprinkling their sets with some new material, and the prospect of new recordings is definitely on the table. They may only perform sporadically, but that wouldn’t be too far off from their heyday – never a heavy-touring band, they came to be known for playing primarily on national holidays. It was their penchant for playing on July 4 that inspired them to dust off in the first place, in fact, when Sonic Youth last year invited them to open at an Independence Day concert in Battery Park. Their agreement to do so generated enough buzz to warrant a nice write-up in The New York Times.
They then opened for Yo La Tengo at a New Year’s Eve show in Montclair, followed by a trio of stunning Maxwell’s appearances this past July 4 weekend. Other activities this summer included an acoustic performance at the Whitney Museum on June 26 as part of the Dan Graham Retrospective and a free show at the Pritzke Pavillion in Chicago’s Millennium Park on June 29.
Bar/None label chief Glenn Morrow, a big Feelies fan from early on, predicts the band will keep doing what it’s doing simply because it’s gotten better at it over the years.
“I think they’re a better band now,” he said. “They understand tempos better — they really love what they’re doing, and they really are in it for the pure joy of doing it. They really understand what makes the songs work.”