Hootie & the Blowfish – cracked rear view (Deluxe Edition) (Atlantic)
A MONSTER album, 25 years later
We treat our pop stars very strangely here in America. For the really big ones, we usually lap them up like the all-you-can-eat dessert bar, then toss them aside and pretend they never existed. Take the Bee Gees for example. In 1978, the Brothers Gibb were everywhere. By 1980, they couldn’t get arrested in the States. I saw Hall & Oates in a small club in Cincinnati in 1992 after they had been kicked to the curb (they were fabulous, by the way). Other countries aren’t so rude (take Europe’s never-ending fascination with ABBA, for instance).
Another such band is Hootie & the Blowfish, whose debut album, cracked rear view, sold a gargantuan 21 million copies before they were shown the pop culture door to Siberia.
And, it’s a shame – they didn’t deserve it.
cracked rear view is made up of simple songs – most are fueled by a repetitive riff and three chords with lyrics about relationships. You could say it’s the precursor to modern country music – but instead of boots and pickup trucks, they sing about crying and hand holding (sometimes in the same song).
The album opener, “Hannah Jane,” is pure power pop. But, with Don Gehman’s muscled production, it comes off as Mellencamp meets the Gin Blossoms. The ballads are good, “Let Her Cry” and the even better “Time.” “Only Wanna Be With You” mentions their club buddies Dillion Fence (“put on a little Dylan / Sittin’ on a fence), who were arguably far more gifted melodically, but never got even close to stardom. Yet, “Hold My Hand” is the standout, even 20 years later. It’s a universal song of people coming together with a great chorus.
Hootie & the Blowfish were a really good bar band. I saw them in October of 1994 at Bogarts in Cincinnati. “Hold My Hand” had just come out as a single to AOR rock stations. My wife and I were pleasantly surprised by the packed house. This band had obviously created a buzz. For further proof, check out the live disc, recorded a few months later in Pittsburgh. They do a fantastic job with Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” while somehow making Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” sound like they wrote it.
There’s also a bonus disc of early material and b-sides. “I Go Blind” was another monster hit (originally written by the Canadian college rock band 54-40), but left off the original album. Another obscure cover, “Almost Home,” came from the Texas band, the Reivers. “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” came from the Led Zeppelin tribute album.
There’s also a bevy of early versions of these tracks on the album. Honestly, Gehman didn’t do much to improve these songs – they were fully-realized years before their major-label release.
Keep in mind – in 1994, the world was still knee-deep in Grunge – hailed at the time as the “savior of rock.” We now know it killed rock – DEAD. Rock stopped being fun – that’s why everyone listens to country music now.
cracked rear view still stands up as a fun, sing-a-long album. It’s time it got the respect it deserves. —Tony Peters