Wednesday, February 25, 2009

forces at work: the Feelies

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.

- - - - - - - - -


(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)


(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.


(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
08 Away

09 What Goes On (Lou Reed)


(1991 A&M Records)

01 Waiting
02 Time For A Witness

03 Sooner Or Later
04 Find A Way
05 Decide
06 Doin' It Again

07 Invitation

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!


  1. I have since revised my CRAZY RHYTHMS song rankings, since making the initial blog post. I've been listening to the record pretty much continuously and I've decided the entire damn thing is stellar except the Beatles track, and even then that's pretty damn good too.

    So it's definitely up there with THE GOOD EARTH.

    -- Analog Loyalist

  2. Agreed, an amazing debut.

  3. Went and saw the Feelies in Philadelphia and Wash DC last month. Amazing shows. I saw them several times in the '80's so this was a real treat. Five!, count them, Five encores at the 9:30 club! Including Dancing Barefoot, She Said, She Said and Barstool Blues. Although, The Good Earth is my fav album, Only Life is my fav individual song.

  4. As a Jersey boy I really appreciated the Feelies. A great live band!

  5. I've got the ep (on Rough Trade!), if you want me to try and rip it.

    Why no contact details, so we can send you funny emails...

  6. dougal: I prefer to remain anonymous on the blog - copyright issues and violation of privacy etc - but if you post your email I'll get in touch - I'd love to get the EP decently ripped!

  7. Ok, email me at:
    stimpson [aaaat] phys dot huji dot ac dot il
    and we'll see how I can send it to you.

  8. more here:

    and here:

    I missed the free acoustic show at the museum last week and this weekend they were doing 6 shows in 3 nights in hoboken; all sold out!

    I too would love a good copy of the EP (Dougal) Cheers!

  9. I love the Feelies, and have since the mid-80's. I do not understand why you are giving away commercially-released music on your blog. What is up with that? If you are going to offer music, at least make it stuff that has not been released. It is an insult to the musicians, to be honest. Won't be coming back to this blog...

  10. @briteness: thank you for reminding me. I was in process of removing all the commercially-available records from my posts; at the time I posted this none of the Feelies catalog was in print. 3/4 of these records now are (only Time For A Witness remains OOP) so I'll be deleting these links.

  11. reading your feelies 101 introductory article (jejee) on your blog just made me go back to my forgotten box of lp's and realize i have almost everything the feelies put out...yep! the 'no one knows' ep also included, fortunately; most of these are waiting until i could get my hands on a decent-worth and insanely goog-sounding rega or alike turntable appears... my favorite feelies album always will be 'only life' maybe because it was my initiation on this criminally underrated band; 'the good earth' is close but imho the made all sound perfect on their third shot! on other rarities found in my box are the 1st dinosaur lp (with 'dinosaur' and not 'dinosaur jr.' written on it, that was before the 'cd' thing exploted... interesting blog you have, keep it alive while you can... peace bro' luis rafael