In the beginning, there was the Velvet Underground. A few people cheered at the time.
Then, there was Television and the New York No Wave scene in 1975-1978. Throw in the Ramones while you're at it.
Across the river in suburban New Jersey, there were a few people listening. Bored kids, mostly. What do bored kids do? Form bands.
At least those who listened to the Velvets did, that is. There's a school of thought that says (roughly) only 100 people liked the Velvet Underground in the 1970s, but of those 100, 90 of them formed bands.
Enter Haledon, New Jersey's Feelies.
Skitter-rock. Perpetually nervous music. Over-caffeinated guitars strumming along with wildly ecstatic percussion. I don't know how on earth to categorzie the Feelies except some weird amalgamation of those adjectives.
Picked up on a lark by the UK's famed Stiff Records, the Feelies released an album in 1980 (following a 7" on Rough Trade in 1979, "Fa Cé La" b/w "Raised Eyebrows" - same recordings as on the debut LP) and then got lost in the wilderness of suburban New Jersey again. That record, CRAZY RHYTHMS, was loved by every critic who heard it but bought by about 20 people at the time. Kinda like the Velvets... Unlike anything else out at the time, the clattering percussion and surgically clean guitars intertwine, mesh, jangle and twitter away like some deranged version of the Velvets meeting some backwoods jug band.
(Not released in America until 1986, the record finally saw greater commercial availability in 1990 when their then-label A&M re-released it with a bonus track cover of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It, Black" recorded in 1990.)
The Feelies didn't help their exposure (or lack thereof) by their pronounced tendency to only play gigs on holidays. They also dressed like nerds (reference CRAZY RHYTHMS' album cover photo). But what they did do is create unworldly music that only gets better with time. A lot like the Velvets...
The only consistent members of the band were/are guitarists Glenn Mercer (also vocals) and Bill Million (GREAT stage name!). Mercer/Million were the primary songwriters in the early years, with Mercer taking over more of the songwriting after their second LP. On CRAZY RHYTHMS they were joined by Anton Fier on drums, and Keith DeNunzio on bass. Fier later went on to form the critically-acclaimed Golden Palominos.
After the critical success, and commercial failure, of CRAZY RHYTHMS the band went back underground. Record label Stiff stiff-armed the demos for their proposed second LP, and the various Feelies played in random spinoff bands up through 1984 (the Trypes / Yung Wu / the Willies).
Come 1984, Mercer and Million decided to reactivate the Feelies name, and added Brenda Sauter on bass, Stan Demeski on drums, and Dave Weckerman on percussion (all of whom had been involved in those random side projects as well, so it wasn't a complete shock). Gigging a bit more frequently under the Feelies name, the band also found themselves in front of the cameras as the high school band in Jonathan Demme's 1986 film Something Wild (though that appearance on film was credited to the Willies). This expanded lineup eventually recorded the long-delayed second LP THE GOOD EARTH in 1986, with none other than R.E.M.'s Peter Buck behind the console producing.
Buck gave the sessions a much-needed "warmth" injection. Still around are the very dry untreated electric guitars, but the entire record has a more warm feel with gentle acoustics, relaxed harmonies, and just more solid "songy" songwriting than CRAZY RHYTHMS. It's got a really strong pastoral feel, and many consider it to be the band's best release (your humble blogger included). My favorite Feelies tracks are all on this record - from the gentle strums of "The High Road" to the glorious sounds of Mercer's and Million's guitars having sex with each other on "Slipping (Into Something)" to the 12-string freakout "When Company Comes" to the Byrdsian "The Good Earth" to the Citibank-commercial "Slow Down".
Also in 1986, the band released an EP entitled NO ONE KNOWS featuring two GOOD EARTH tracks ("The High Road" and "Slipping (Into Something)"), paired with gonzo covers of the Beatles' "She Said She Said" and Neil Young's "Sedan Delivery". This EP has only been released on vinyl.
1988 saw the band picked up by A&M Records, and the release of their third LP ONLY LIFE. With Glenn Mercer starting to dominate the songwriting, the album has a more pronounced Velvets feel, and is a more considered blend of the skittering CRAZY RHYTHMS sound with the warmth of THE GOOD EARTH. 1991's TIME FOR A WITNESS is a continuation of the same, and was a nice period at the end of the Feelies' sentence with the band calling it a day in 1992.
Fast forward to 2008, when the band announced several reunion gigs (with the late-80s lineup), and the reunion continues into this spring with the band performing at the scheduled R.E.M. Tribute at New York's Carnegie Hall in March.
Sadly all the band's catalog is long out of print. Twin\Tone, distributor of their 1986 releases, sells "custom-burned" CD-Rs of THE GOOD EARTH and NO ONE KNOWS (aren't all CD-Rs "custom burned"?) but Twin\Tone is not known for their reliable accounting to their acts (just ask the Replacements). Word on the street is that CRAZY RHYTHMS and THE GOOD EARTH are going to be reissued this year with bonus tracks, but this has been said the past several years as well and, well, no reissues have turned up. So here's hoping.
In the meantime you can grab all their commercial works here on the blog! What's missing? Some various covers that appeared on various promo releases, and possibly the odd cover that may have been on random compilations.
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COLLECTED WORKS 1980-1991
(minus compilation/promotional releases)
edit: links removed - all but Time For A Witness are now in print/remastered!
(1980 Stiff Records)
01 The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness
02 Fa Cé La
03 Loveless Love
04 Forces At Work
05 Original Love
06 Everybody's Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)
07 Moscow Nights
08 Raised Eyebrows
09 Crazy Rhythms
10 Paint It, Black (Rolling Stones, 1990 bonus track)
NO ONE KNOWS E.P.
(1986 Coyote / Twin\Tone Records)
01 The High Road
02 She Said She Said (Beatles)
03 Slipping (Into Something)
04 Sedan Delivery (Neil Young)
n.b. Tracks 01 & 03 are identical to the album versions below.
also, I only have this as mp3 sourced, I've cleaned it up somewhat as it was originally captured from scratchy/noisy vinyl. I hope to find a better version down the road, if I do you'll find it here.
THE GOOD EARTH
(1986 Coyote / Twin\Tone Records)
01 On The Roof
02 The High Road
03 The Last Roundup
04 Slipping (Into Something)
05 When Company Comes
06 Let's Go
07 Two Rooms
08 The Good Earth
09 Tomorrow Today
10 Slow Down
yes, the whole record is a "pick to click"...
(1988 A&M Records)
01 It's Only Life
02 Too Much
03 Deep Fascination
04 Higher Ground
05 The Undertow
06 For Awhile
07 The Final Word
09 What Goes On (Lou Reed)
TIME FOR A WITNESS
(1991 A&M Records)
02 Time For A Witness
03 Sooner Or Later
04 Find A Way
06 Doin' It Again
08 For Now
09 What She Said
10 Real Cool Time (Iggy/Stooges)
So there we have it. Great, great band, criminally underappreciated today. Spread the word!