Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Smithereens "11" : A Perfect 10


It may have been more appropriate to have written about The Smithereens "11" next year, the twentieth anniversary of its release. But I am getting too much joy from this marvelous record now, so I must share.

I had been thinking about the song "Blue Period," a gorgeous and heartbreaking duet by lead Smithereen Pat DiNizio and Go-Go Belinda Carlisle, featured on this record. Back in 1989 when the MTV crowd was playing air guitar to the opening bombast of the hit single, "A Girl Like You," I was savoring the beautiful string arrangement, the very Left Banke-sounding harpsichord, and the sweet harmonies of DiNizio and Carlisle that made "Blue Period" a stand-out tune on "11." Plus, there is a key moment in the last verse when the duo sings, "I think of you, much more than I'd ever be willing to say," where it seems like both singers are fighting back the tears as they harmonize. It's a little masterpiece of emotion that, like most of this record, was overshadowed by the big chords and video of the hit single.

Feeling a bit melancholy, I took "The Smithereens-11" off the shelf, and after 17 or 18 spins of "Blue Period," (can you spin on a CD player?), played the record from the top. A little over 30 minutes later I realized, this is a perfect record.

Recorded in 1989, before a band's goal was to fill up all 80 minutes of a CD regardless of whether they had 80 minutes of good material, Pat DiNizio, Dennis Diken, Mike Mesaros, and Jim Babjak created 10 tunes, modeled after the music they grew up listening to. The songs referenced The Beatles The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly, Phil Spector and the sounds of AM radio. They all ran about 3 minutes. They all had enough hooks to snag a flounder and they all had big, catchy choruses that infiltrated your skull and just remained there, swirling around the reward pathway of your brain.

"Baby Be Good," "Maria Elena," "Yesterday Girl," and "Cut Flowers," the one track co-written by DiNizio and Babjak, all beg to be played alongside such classics as The Turtles- "Elenore," "Walk Away Renee" by The Left Banke and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" by The Walker Brothers. (Listen to that chord change from the verse to the chorus in "Cut Flowers." Chills, Brother!) And the closing track "Kiss Your Tears Away," with sitar and phasing, is a dramatic and moving finale to one of the best records of the 80s.

At least 4 times a year, various magazines will remind us of the "Top 100 Albums Of All Time." It is always fun to peruse these lists, even if they contain the same albums over and over again. All deserving albums, but I do believe it's time to update the list. And I vote for The Smithereens "11."

I recently bumped into drummer Dennis Diken and told him I was writing this piece about "11" being a perfect album. He seemed surprised. He thanked me and said, "It's only ten songs." Hey budding rockstars, you hear that? It's only ten songs!

BLUE PERIOD



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