I landed in college radio in the fall of 1988. By that point in time, there were already loads of artist who were cemented as the signature acts of the left side of the dial: the Cure, the Smiths, R.E.M., and U2 (though the Irish lads had recently become the form’s first true graduates, moving on authoritatively to the “real world” of commercial radio). I think the accepted stratagem of cool kids mandated we primarily seek out bands who were more abrasive and challenging than those who bore our standards. That’s why Sonic Youth broke through in a big way that winter.
The station I called home tended to move a little more slowly when it came to exploring the outer reaches of modern music, which reflected the sensibility of the community we served. But I think it also spoke to an appreciation for creators who didn’t flail around with half-baked ideas, but instead truly and properly committed to the crafts of songwriting and musicianship. I will tell you without hesitation that the self-titled release commonly referred to as the White Album represents the peak of the Beatles’ power because they reinvent pop music anew with every track, but there’s a compelling argument to be made that it’s more difficult — and therefore more impressive — to create the pure perfection of something like “Love Me Do.”
The Smithereens arguably came closer to achieving that ideal of classic rock ‘n’ roll songwriting and execution than any other band of their era. The songwriting of Pat Dinizio effortlessly reached back to a simpler time, when relatively straightforward proclamations of love and heartache were enough to fill up a couple sides of a 45, providing a soundtrack that lasted all summer long. The emotions depicted in the songs weren’t facile. They were piercing and true, universal enough to be applied to any relationship weather front that sent me scurrying to the record player for validation or salve. Their songs were timeless, in the very best sense of the word.
I’ve typed this out before (recently, even), but it bears repeating: as much as any other artist, the Smithereens were the sound of my college radio experience. They hit the sweet spot of our varied tastes, so just about every on-air staffer could find a song or two that was irresistible. There were two full-length albums in the station stacks when I arrived, and the raggedness of the sleeves signaled how deeply the band was already embedded in the shared consciousness of the station. The needle could be dropped anywhere and find a true treasure.
So let’s drop the needle.
Listen or download —> The Smithereens, “Crazy Mixed Up Kid”
(Disclaimer: I assume most of the Smithereens catalog is available for purchase from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the original artist and the proprietor of said store. This track is not offered as an alternative to engaging in such commerce, but instead an encouragement to do so. Without a moment’s reservation, I can recommend any of the band’s first three albums — Especially for You, Green Thoughts, and 11 — and I’ll also note that the Smithereens is one of those rare bands that may actually be well-served by a smartly curated “greatest hits” collection. Blown to Smithereens fits that bill. Although I firmly believe sharing this song in the space in this way qualifies as fair use, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove this file from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)