Tuesday, February 18, 2014

J. Geils Band - More Than Just The Pages Of A Magazine

Over their previous couple of albums, the J. Geils Band had tempered hard edged rock and roll laced with funk and R&B, by introducing some pop sensibilities in an effort to make themselves over, and more commercially appealing in a new wave world.  The final chapter of their metamorphosis arrived in the guise of the November ‘81 album release, ‘Freeze-Frame’.

The lead out single was the infectious, anthemic rock n’ roll offering, ‘Centerfold’.  The song was rawness dressed in sleekness, a diametrically opposed combination that strikes the perfect pop-rock balance.  The song was written and produced by the band’s keyboardist Seth Justman.  ‘Centerfold' debuted on the U.S. Hot 100 at #70 in the first week of November ‘81.  Thirteen weeks later it was sitting atop the U.S. charts at #1, replacing ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ by Hall & Oates (see previous posts).  ‘Centerfold’ captured the classes attention at #1 for six weeks in total, before being replaced by ‘I Love Rock ‘n Roll’ by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts - see previous post.  The song was backed by an eye catching promotional video, set in a classroom of scantily clad female models, presumably under the tutorship of Peter Wolf.  I can recall whistling and singing the incredibly catchy chorus melody - “na na nana na nah, angel is a Centerfold” - hardly does it justice in black font, but you get the idea.  ‘Centerfold’ also revealed all at #1 here in Australia (UK#3) for one week during March of ‘82, replacing ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell, and in turn being replaced by ‘What About Me’ by Moving Pictures - see previous posts for both artists.

The follow up single, ‘Freeze-Frame’, was the album’s title and opening track.  It’s a high power pop-rock nugget that bursts into life from the opening chorus shout followed by sharp synthesiser chords.  The track is wall to wall melodic hooks, woven together seamlessly into a four minute miracle of new wave energy.  ‘Freeze-Frame’ was backed at the time by a fun loving promotional video which intercut comic silent era film footage, with the band bouncing around on what appear to be parachutes, and then bringing out the industrial sized buckets of paint, all washed down by bottles of champagne.  In March of ‘82, ‘Freeze-Frame’ fast forwarded into the charts, until stopped frozen before it could reach #1 (US#4/ OZ#7/UK#27).

Single #3 was ‘Angel In Blue’ (US#40/UK#55), a new wave glossed slice of doo-wop.  The source album, ‘Freeze-Frame’, reached #1 on the U.S. album charts (UK#12/OZ#21) the same week that ‘Centerfold’ hit the top of the Hot 100, and eventually went platinum - the only platinum accredited disc of J. Geils Band’s career.  The album fitted perfectly into the new wave movement that was so dominant at the time, but there was enough original J. Geils Band DNA in the mix to keep long time fans interested.

On the back of such a commercial powerhouse as ‘Freeze-Frame’, the J. Geils Band staged a U.S tour that smashed box office records, and were also rewarded for paying their dues by supporting their heroes The Rolling Stones, on a European tour.  One of the Detroit dates on that live U.S. tour was captured on the live offering ‘Showtime! (Live)’ (US#23 - gold accredited), released in late ‘82.  The album yielded two charting singles, the doo-wop dedication ‘I Do’ (US#24), and a raucous cover of the classic ‘Land Of A Thousand Dances’ (US#60).  Several other J. Geils Band classics are also in the mix, including ‘Love Stinks’, ‘Sanctuary’, and ‘Centerfold’, but the album as a whole fails to offer up the same level of vigour as their 70s live outings.

Despite achieving commercial nirvana on their last studio album, all was not well within the J. Geils Band camp (this one time at band camp).  More specifically the partnership between core writers Peter Wolf and Seth Justman was not in a good shape.  Justman had been the prominent member of the team on ‘Freeze-Frame’, composing five of the nine tracks without Wolf’s input.  It was a long bubbling dispute that had intensified and came to a head when the band refused to record some material Wolf had co-written with Don Covay and Michael Jonzun.  Neither side would back down, and in the end Wolf was asked to leave the band in the middle of a recording session.

Wolf took some of that written material he had offered the J. Geils Band, and included it on his first solo album.  ‘Lights Out’ (US#24/ OZ#94) made a shining foray into the U.S. album charts late in ‘84, helped in no small part by the title track single (US#12/OZ#46), and the follow up single, ‘I Need You Tonight’ (US#36).  Given the meagre reception offered his old band for their first (and only) post-Wolf album, it would have been no surprise if Wolf had shown a little smile of satisfaction at his first outing post J. Geils Band.

His follow up album, 1987’s ‘Come As You Are’ (US#53), almost matched the performance of ‘Lights Out’, with the title track single again striding into the U.S. top 20 (#15/OZ#72), with a minor follow up hit in the form of ‘Can’t Get Started’ (US#75).

Wolf then parted ways with EMI, but kept on recording albums, from 1990’s ‘Up To No Good’, through to 2010’s ‘Midnight Souvenirs’ which peaked at #45 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, showing Peter Wolf had lost none of his commercial appeal.  Wolf continued to tour as a solo act, and in time would reunite with his old band mates on stage.

Now reduced to a quintet, and minus the front man presence of Peter Wolf, the J. Geils Band entered the studios in 1984 to record their studio follow up to ‘Freeze-Frame’.  Seth Justman and drummer Stephen Bladd handled the lead vocals, but neither were a match for the snarl of Peter Wolf.  Justman co-wrote all of the album’s nine tracks, along with his brother Paul, and produced the album as well.  Essentially the album, ‘You’re Gettin Even While I’m Gettin Old’ (US#80), is a Justman, synthesiser dominated affair, with flashes of the old J. Geils Band surfacing here and there, including on the only charting single lifted from the set, ‘Concealed Weapons’ (US#63/OZ#67).  When compared with its predecessor ‘Freeze-Frame’, it was no surprise that J. Geils Band saw the writing on the wall and called it a day soon after.

The band’s last released recording, and foray into the lower reaches of the charts was the single ‘Fright Night’ - US#91, in 1985, from the film of same name.  Given the departure of front man and key stylistic navigator, Peter Wolf, it was almost a given that the J. Geils Band ground to halt after just one more album together.  ‘Magic Dick’ Salwitz and J. Geils reunited in 1993 to form a blues band called Bluestime, and recorded two albums, ‘Bluestime’ and ‘Little Car Blues’, whilst other band members pursued various and sundry solo projects.

In 1999, the J. Geils Band reunited with Peter Wolf for a 13 date East Coast tour (less Bladd on drums).  In May of 2006, all six members took the stage at a special event to celebrate bassist Danny Klein’s 60th birthday.  A few more ‘one-offs’ followed over the next few years, including opening for Aerosmith at Fenway Park in 2010.  A series of short tours and one off performances followed, with the most recent outing of the J. Geils Band being as unofficial ‘kicker-band’ for Bon Jovi, in Detroit in 2013.  In September of 2010, J. Geils Band was a finalist nominee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - they missed induction that year, but surely it’s only a matter of time before they take their rightful place.

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