Despite an unfortunate one day delay we will now return to the topic at hand: NRBQ.
For those who did not follow my helpful and life-changing instructions to check out some NRBQ over the weekend, I will describe them the best way I can. Imagine interstellar jazz traveller Sun Ra fronting a rock band and you will get an idea (albeit small and one-dimensional)about NRBQ. Not only does the band play some of the catchiest bar-band rock around, the band can immediately stop on a dime and play humourous ditties or songs just so crazy and “out” that it almost turns you off of the band and makes you decide to not listen to them anymore. Then, almost magically, the band will play something so tuneful and McCartney-like as to make you wonder why they are not all over the radio. It is this dichotomy that has both endeared the band to its’ many, many fans and also kept the band out of the mainstream.
You will often find two camps of NRBQ fans: ones who like the band better in it’s most popular incarnation when guitarist/songwriter/ex-Wildweed Al Anderson was still in the band (there were a few other guitarists before Big Al – he didn’t join until 1974) and those who like his replacement, Johnny Spampinato, Joey’s brother, who took over in 1994. Being a talented songwriter (besides being a demon on guitar)Anderson had to always know he could write hits. Even while being criminally ignored by the general public while being in the ‘Q – his songs were often covered by other country and rock artists. Nashville eventually called Anderson and he jumped ship, leaving the lead guitar spot open. Luckily Johnny shares the same genetic musical genius as his bassist/songwriter/singer brother Joey and he easily slid into the replacement slot and has also found his songwriting legs with the band as well, contributing one of their best latter-day songs, Be Here Now.
There is much argument over which album is the band’s best. They’ve recorded over twenty albums and about half of those are live documents, building them a following today that is populated by many jam-band fans who are attracted to the band’s willingness to experiment onstage and their formidable improvisational abilities. Since I prefer studio albums to live ones (which I feel never quite fully captue a band’s true sound and the total live experience)I find the albums most talked about are At Yankee Stadium, Grooves In Orbit and Wild Weekend.
At Yankee Stadium (1977) is a classic by anyone’s standards, containing most of the songs people associate with NRBQ. The songs Ridin’ In My Car, Green Light, and Me and The Boys are on this CD and it is, in a word, great. Every song is killer and pop bands like Cheap Trick and the Cars would dream of releasing this CD.
Wild Weekend (1989) is probably their best late period album, and the last album for which they were signed to a major label deal. They got a lot of press for this CD and it’s lack of commercial success despite the ‘Q reigning in most of the crazy side of their personality, sealed their fate as an underground band forever. There were a lot of potential hits on this that would have sounded great on the radio. It’s too bad radio sucks.
My personal fave is Grooves in Orbit, which came out in 1982. Not only does it have the killer song Rain At The Drive In but, to me, the album has the best selection of classic NRBQ songs than any other CD they did. This CD delivers on the promise that At Yankee Stadium suggested and, for the most part, the band was never this good on album again. The love songs are tender and meaningful and the rockers rock like hell.
You can probably tell that I can’t say enough about this marvelous band. While this is a just a small smattering of info, I hope it is enough to get you a little psyched about trying a few of the band’s CDs. All are worth the money because there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Some are better than others but all of them have some gems on them.
Are you new to the ‘Q?
The Music Nerd Knows……