Monday, April 06, 2020

Celebrating the legacy of Adam Schlesinger

Adam Schlesinger, on the right, with Fountains of Wayne.
Photo: Courtesy of the Artist
As I write this column it's unbelievable that more than 337,000 Americans have been stricken during the coronavirus pandemic; sadly more than 9,600 persons across the U.S. have died as of April 6, 2020. 

Among those who have lost their life from complications caused by COVID-19 is singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/music producer Adam Schlesinger. The famed artist  only 52 and the father of two young daughters  died on April 1, 2020 in an Upstate New York hospital after reportedly battling against the infectious disease for more than a week. 

Although Schlesinger was best known as a member of groundbreaking New Jersey-spawned power-pop quartet Fountains of Wayne, over the past 25 years he was an in-demand tunesmith and producer who achieved acclaim for far-flung projects that earned him a Grammy win along with multiple Emmy wins and even an Academy Award nomination. 

Sprinkled across Fountain of Wayne's handful of full-length albums are countless masterworks (FoW also featured lead vocalist Chris Collingwood, lead guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young). Here are some of my favorites songs that benefit from Schlesinger's artistic touch.

Fountains of Wayne

"Radiation Vibe" — A stellar cut from FoW's eponymous 1996 debut, "Radiation Vibe" is bolstered by edgy guitar (including a touch of artful feedback), a driving rhythm section and an anthemic chorus. 

"She's Got a Problem" — Another standout from Fountains of Wayne, the wistful "She's Got a Problem" is a wonderful song that is more ballad than rocker but nevertheless has a driving quality that warrants the fuzzy guitars and sonic shadows of Lou Reed. 

"Sick Day" — Brilliant. The mix of literate and observant lyrics about the challenges of going into the office day after day enhanced by a rich melodic rockscape combine for a powerful punch. Another highlight on FoW's debut. 

"Hackensack" — FoW is best known for their gloriously uptempo power-pop-meets-indie rock. However, immerse yourself in "Hackensack" (off 2003's Welcome Interstate Managers), a baroque pop ballad that is as tender and affecting as anything put on disc that decade. 

"Mexican Wine"  We could all use a little hope in these dark times, right? Just listen to the melancholy-drenched chorus from "Mexican Wine" off Welcome Interstate Managers: "The sun still shines in the summertime / I'll be yours and you'll be mine / I tried to change but I changed my mind / Think I'll have another glass of Mexican Wine." A witty and tuneful song that kicks off the album, the ambitious harmony vocals and dramatic dynamics on the track make this one of the band's most interesting cuts.

"Stacy's Mom" — Fountains of Wayne's biggest-ever hit, the 2003 single "Stacy's Mom" reached number 21 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The infectious track revisited the sound of the Cars to be sure, and the accompanying much-played music video starring model Rachel Hunter (conjuring up the 1982 teen coming-of-age flick "Fast Times at Ridgemont High") helped solidify the song's success.

 "The Girl I Can't Forget" - One of the standouts on the 2005 compilation collection Out-of-State Plates is the exuberant "The Girl I Can't Forget." Few artists have ever delivered as convincing a story of youthful lust-meets-enduring love with as much force and cleverness wrapped in melodic sheen over a mere 3 and a half minutes as Fountains of Wayne achieved with this joyful ride.

"Strapped for Cash" — I was listening to "Strapped for Cash" (off 2007's Traffic and Weather) recently and memories of FoW tearing through the rocker on the main stage at Coachella in 2007 came flooding back to me. Like so many of FoW's greatest songs, there is a combination of brilliant storytelling, smart wordplay and undeniable song craft that makes for required and repeated listens. 

"Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" — When FoW released their brilliant album Sky Full of Holes via Yep Roc Records in summer 2011 few knew this would be the band's final studio effort. As years go by, I become more bewitched by the musical magic and lyrical poetry painted across its lucky 13 tracks. "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" is just one of the classics on the disc. The lines enthrall, none more than this: "Melancholy comes like a robin at your window.

Favorite Other Projects

"That Thing You Do" — The instantly-memorable title cut from the Tom Hank-directed film "That Thing You Do!" sounds as great today as it did when we first heard the Beatlesque gem in movie theaters and over the airwaves in 1997. Schlesinger wrote the song and sang back-up vocals on the recording as well.

"Work To Do" — The duo America's bona fide comeback album, 2007's "Here and Now" featured the legendary act performing Schlesinger's inspired "Work To Do." The breezy folk rock song blends the strains of Americana and tuneful pop in a beguiling track custom made for America singers Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley. Here and Now also features the winning "Ride On," an acoustic-flavored nugget he co-wrote with Bunnell.

"Our Own World — Monkees fans will always be grateful for Schlesinger's production on the band's most recent two studio albums (2016's Good Times! and the 2018 holiday album Christmas Party). On the wonderful "Our Own World," Schlesinger's contribution includes writing the inviting track and playing bass guitar as well.  

"Me & Magdalena" — One of the most beautiful pop recordings in recent memory, the Ben Gibbard-penned "Me & Magdalena" may well be the highlight on the Schlesinger-produced Monkees LP Good Times! The nuanced production showcases Schlesinger's all encompassing gifts as a master in any corner of a recording studio.

"House of Broken Gingerbread" — Schlesinger teamed up with American novelist Michael Chabon to co-write the rollicking power pop salvo "House of Broken Gingerbread" for the Monkees' Christmas Party. Don't let the title fool you; Micky Dolenz delivers an amazing lead vocal performance on an instant classic that sounds as good in summer as around Christmastime. 

Robert Kinsler

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