The California rock band’s debut album is a timeless gem
I suppose like most folks, the first time I heard of Counting Crows was in late 1993/early 1994 when seemingly out of nowhere they burst on the music scene with Mr. Jones. I instantly loved that tune and still do. It’s yet another example illustrating the formula for many great rock songs: A few chords, a good groove and a catchy melody.
According to a Rolling Stone feature from June 1994, the band from Berkeley, Calif. was generally well received by music critics, though many couldn’t resist the temptation to compare their music to other artists. The long list included The Band, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. The “sha-la-la” passage in the beginning of Mr. Jones was also compared to Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl.
It is simply amazing to me how meticulously new recording artists are oftentimes analyzed. In this context, I also recall initial criticism of Lenny Kravitz sounding too much like his ’60s influences. To that I say so what! The last time I checked, the ’60s was one of the greatest decades in rock if not the best! Plus, frankly, in how many different ways can you play songs that consist of three to four chords. So let’s stop this silly quest to over-analyze everything and remember what it’s ultimately about – enjoying great music, which brings me back to August And Everything After.
Released in September 1993 on Geffen Records and produced by none other than T-Bone Burnett, Counting Crows’ debut album marked an impressive start for the band. Like so many other music artists, they had struggled only a few years prior to the record’s appearance.
The album kicks off with Round Here, a terrific opener. Duritz wrote the song when he was still with his previous band The Himalayans, together with other members of that rock band Dan Jewett, Chris Roldan and Dave Janusko. The tune has great ups and downs in dynamic. It also became the album’s second single.
Mr. Jones captures the experience of so many struggling music artists and their dreams of making it big someday. In this particular case, it’s about Adam Duritz, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and Marty Jones, bassist of the above noted The Himalayans. Co-written by Duritz and Counting Crows’ guitarist and vocalist David Bryson, Mr. Jones was also released separately as the album’s lead single in December 1993. It became a major international hit for Counting Crows, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 on April 16, 1994, and hitting no. 1 on the Canada Top Singles chart. The tune also charted in Australia, New Zealand and various European countries.
Perfect New Buildings is another strong tune on the album. Written by Duritz, the song is about the emptiness that being on the road and sleeping in impersonal hotel rooms can bring, according to Songfacts.
Rain King is another co-write by Duritz and Bryson. The song was inspired by Henderson the Rain King, a book Duritz read during his studies at the University of California. According to Songfacts, he explained its meaning on Counting Crows VH1 Storytellers special as follows: “The book became a totem for how I felt about creativity and writing: it was this thing where you took everything you felt inside you and just sprayed it all over everything. It’s a song about everything that goes into writing, all the feelings, everything that makes you want to write and pick up a guitar and express yourself. It’s full of all the doubts and the fears about how I felt about my life at the time.” Rain King also appeared separately as the record’s third single and charted in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
The last tune I’d like to highlight is the record’s closer, A Murder Of One, which includes the band’s namesake in the lyrics. It also became the album’s fourth and final single. The song was co-written by Duritz and Matt Malley, the band’s bassist and vocalist at the time. In explaining the meaning, Wikipedia quotes Duritz as saying, “I can remember being eight years old and having infinite possibilities. But life ends up being so much less than we thought it would be when we were kids, with relationships that are so empty and stupid and brutal. If you don’t find a way to break the chain and change in some way, then you wind up, as the rhyme goes: a murder of one, for sorrow.”
Songfacts further explains, “the rhyme is a reference to a Mother Goose rhyme which came from an old superstition. It was said that your fortune was dependent upon how many blackbirds you see on your path. This practice was eventually looked upon as silly, as there is another common saying that an action can be “As useless as counting crows.”
In addition to Duritz, Bryson and Malley, the band’s line-up at the time also included Steve Bowman (drums, vocals) and Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, vocals). Among the additional musicians on the record was multi-instrumentalist David Immerglück, of friend of Duritz, who did not become an official member of the band until 1999. He remains with Counting Crows to this day, along with Duritz, Bryson, Gillingham. The current formation also includes Jim Bogios (drums, percussion) and Dan Vickrey (lead guitar).
Since August And Everything After, Counting Crows have released six additional studio albums, six live records and two compilations. About three weeks ago, the band wrapped up an extensive summer tour with Matchbox Twenty. The double-headliner included close to 50 gigs in the U.S. and Canada between July 12 and October 1. I haven’t seen any reports about plans for a new album. In the past, the band has released a new record every three to four years. The last, Somewhere Under Wonderland, appeared in September 2014, so maybe we’ll see something new next year.
Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard chars, Songfacts, JamBase, YouTube