Now Hear This: Goo Goo Dolls – Hold Me Up

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     Do you think Kiss should be judged based solely on “Let’s Put the X in Sex?” Should Def Leppard’s career be summed up by Adrenalize? Then don’t be so quick to write off the Goo Goo Dolls.
     
Click song titles for links!

     Did you know that the Goo Goo Dolls formed in Buffalo, NY in 1986 and used to be a punk band? Did you know that the band’s first album came out in 1987 on a small metal label called Mercenary Records and that bassist Robby Takac sang every song? My favorite is “Livin’ In A Hut.” Did you know that none other than Brian Slagel and Metal Blade released the band’s next two albums, Jed in 1989 and Hold Me Up in 1990? Did you know that both albums are fucking great? Jed is a raucous record full of blazing pop punk tunes like “Out of Sight” and “No Way Out.” Takac still handled vocal duties on most of the songs on Jed but by the time of Hold Me Up guitarist John Rzeznik was becoming a driving force behind the band. Even though Takac was still responsible for some of the best songs on the Hold Me Up Rzeznik began to display a knack for writing potential hits that would obviously come to the fore later on.

     Hold Me Up was produced by Armand John Petri, whose resume pre-Goo Goo Dolls consisted of engineering hard rock/metal albums by Talas, The Rods and Manowar. The first song on Hold Me Up is a majestic pop punk number called “Laughing,” written and sung by bassist Robby Takac. It’s a tremendous way to open the album and a contender for my favorite song on the record. Even though Takac’s vocal style is essentially to scream a lot of emotion still bleeds through, I for one think he’s amazing and does the song’s lyrics justice with his stirring and heartfelt delivery.

I wake up, I’m staring at the clock
my belly hurts and my head is like a rock
I get up to see what i can see
furthest I got was my black and white TV
eyewitness news brought to you at noon
oh my god, guess i got up too soon
because I feel like laughing


     Up next is the first of guitarist Johnny Rzeznik’s two swing-for-the-fences potential hit singles on the album, “Just The Way You Are.” It’s a great song, a bit corny perhaps but…who cares. I think it’s an excellent song and I connect with it emotionally. The Goo Goo Dolls were often compared with The Replacements at this stage in their career and certainly Rzeznik’s goal was to inject the same kind of raw emotion into his tunes that seemed to come naturally to Paul Westerberg, the difference being Westerberg maintained a snarky aloofness, you never quite knew how far his tongue was in his cheek. Rzeznik’s songs are heart on the sleeve, not heart up the sleeve. 

     Another manic punk rock rant from Takac called “So Outta Line” is followed by Rzeznik’s other obvious potential hit, “There You Are.” It’s another great song, meticulously put together and eager to please, but not too eager. There’s a measure of angst to Rzeznik’s delivery which can certainly be a dealbreaker for me in the wrong hands but Rzeznik’s songs are well-written, open and honest. It pains me greatly that in this day and age the Goo Goo Dolls are lumped in with a pile of shit band like Matchbox 20. Rob Thomas doesn’t sing, he whines. Thomas’ calculated, fabricated angst is ludicrously affected and nauseating. Rzeznik has been responsible for some pretty disappointing material in recent years but he earned my respect long ago and has not lost it. I can’t say I’ve liked anything off of the last couple Goo Goo Dolls records, but the songs don’t make me angry the way Matchbox 20 songs do. The Goo Goo Dolls maintain a credibility, at least in my book, that jokers like Matchbox 20 never earned, in fact quite the opposite.

     The worst song on Hold Me Up, a rather boring, moody number by Rzeznik called “You Know What I Mean” that doesn’t go anywhere is soon forgotten when Takac’s insane “Out of the Red” explodes from the speakers. Side One ends with a joyful cover of a killer Prince tune called “Never Take the Place of Your Man.” As they did on Jed with their blistering version of CCR’s “Down on the Corner” the band enlist their neighbor The Incredible Lance Diamond to sing lead on the track. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

     Side Two opens with an awesome rocker called “Hey” which features Takac and Rzeznik trading lines a la “Shout It Out Loud.” A great up tempo Takac tune called “On Your Side” is followed by an acoustic interlude called “22 Seconds” which is longer than 22 seconds. That snippet serves as an intro for a nice instrumental piece called “Kevin’s Song,” which brings us to what is probably my favorite song on the record, another hyperactive burst of pop punk adrenaline from Takac called “Know My Name.” Robby shreds his vocal cords on the defiant tune. This is one to play very loud in the car and scream along.

     The album closes with an excellent cover of the Plimsouls classic “A Million Miles Away” and an absolutely wonderful acoustic ballad called “Two Days In February” which was recorded live, apparently in a parking lot (you can hear traffic). The fact that the Goo Goo Dolls found fame with a couple shitty ballads is a shame because this song is as good as it gets when it comes to heart-rending ballads, and the fact that the band is performing it in a parking lot makes it all the more endearing. It’s an unbelievable and memorable way to close out the album, not to mention brave. Hold Me Up is one of my favorite albums of all time. Almost every song is a home run. On Hold Me Up the Goo Goo Dolls come across as a band making music they love for all the right reasons.

     In between albums the band were asked to write a theme song for the sixth film in the Nightmare On Elm Street series, Freddie’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, at the end of which a reanimated Freddie is (SPOILER ALERT) blown to bits with a pipebomb by his own daughter. Queen’s Brian May for some reason scored the film and the Goo Goo Dolls contributed a lackluster tune called “I’m Awake Now.”

     The band jumped ship to Warner Brothers (Metal Blade still got a piece) for their next album, Superstar Carwash, which is a very good record. The album got a pretty big push at the time it came out but the over-hyped single “We Are The Normal,” with lyrics by Paul Westerberg, was a real dud. Rzeznik began to take the reigns at this point, singing 8 of the 14 songs on the album, but Takac still delivered most of my favorites like “Lucky Star,” “Domino,” and “Don’t Worry.” The best song on the record is the last song, Rzeznik’s astonishing “So Far Away.”

     The song originated as a demo called “Dancing In Your Blood.” Thankfully Rzeznik rewrote it! I think “So Far Away” is goddamn magnificent.

     The band’s first hit, the hook-free “Name,” didn’t come until the next album, A Boy Named Goo, which was a let-down but still contained a couple of great songs, mainly just the first two, “Long Way Down” and “Burnin’ Up.” That makes two albums in a row on which the second song was a pop punk tune by Takac with the same title as an early Madonna hit (Lucky Star and Burnin’ Up). Coincidence? Of course the Goo Goo Dolls are most famous for what came next, a song on the City of Angels soundtrack called “Iris.” I am not a fan of the song but there were a couple of decent tracks on the subsequent record, Dizzy Up The Girl. I am especially fond of the last song on the album, “Hate This Place.” Rzeznik had one more classic tune in him, the first song on the band’s next album, Gutterflower. It’s called “Big Machine” and I like it a lot, the chorus still gives me goosebumps. Unfortunately the rest of the album stinks.


     One of the most disappointing things about the later Goo Goo Dolls albums is the way Robby Takac’s songs are neutered. How can you take a pop punk song and arrange and produce it like a modern rock song? It’s horrific. Takac also reigns in his vocals. It doesn’t make sense, I suppose they felt that Rzeznik’s songs had drifted so far in the wrong direction that Takac’s style no longer fit and Robby’s songs had to be made to conform to the new Goo Goo Dolls paradigm. Very strange indeed, and disheartening. But none of that changes the fact that the Goo Goo Dolls were once a great band responsible for many outstanding songs. I hope you agree.

     Epilogue: at the time of this writing the Goo Goo Dolls have a brand new single out called “Rebel Beat.” It’s the worst thing the band has ever done, just awful. Embarrassing. Why why why? It’s hard to imagine that the guys who did this did this.





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