Classic Rock Sunday has returned! The glacially slow ramping up to full posting capacity continues here at Cheese Magnet, this week featuring the legendary J. Geils Band.
As the ’70s dawned, the music scene in America consisted of burnt out 60s holdovers, bland AM pop, folky singer songwriters and a few British blues-based hard rock holdouts like Led Zeppelin. But there was one band out of Boston that played a throwback style of ’50s rock and R&B influenced, good time drinking and partying music. The J. Geils Band was known for their high energy live shows, primarily due to motormouth front man Peter Wolf, the muscular guitar playing of J. Geils and high powered harmonica playing of Magic Dick, who along with keyboardist Seth Justman posessed two of the ’70s most majestic jew-fros.
The band burst on the scene with their self-titled 1970 album, a solid disc full of good time rock and roll but it was the follow up, 1971’s The Morning After, that introduced what would be some of their most popular tunes: the Magic Dick showpiece Whammer Jammer and their first top 40 hit, Looking For A Love:
Their first live album was released in 1973, the awesome Full House, recorded in Detroit, the city that loved them almost as much as their home town. The album featured the definitive live version of Whammer Jammer but for my money the iconic J. Geils song is (Ain’t Nothin’ But A) House Party, from their next album, Bloodshot. Peter Wolf proclaims “We’re gonna blow your face out!”, Geils proves it with the opening riff and the energy just keeps building from there:
The boys continued toiling away throughout the ’70s, kicking ass at every show and blowing away any big name band that dared to hire the Geils band to open their arena shows. They were staples of FM rock stations with hits like Must of Got Lost and Detroit Breakdown but it wasn’t until 1980 when Seth Justman took over producing duties that they became a little more commercial and had their first crossover megahit, Love Stinks. Even though the song barely made the Top 40 at the time, the sing along lyrics and goofy video spawned an early MTV hit, positioning the band for to go even more commercial with their next album, Freeze Frame.
Of course Centerfold was the huge hit off Freeze Frame, the culmination of 15+ years of giving 100% at every show. It went to number one and stayed there for six weeks. It’s hard to say how much of the song’s success was due to the salacious and scandalous (for the time) video, featuring a 35 year old Wolf dancing around with some stacked high school girls in their underwear. And of course the lyrics, despite his angst, are every high school guy’s dream: opening a Playboy to see his girlfriend in the centerfold? Yeah that really sucks.
Sadly, and like so many bands before them, the J. Geils Band imploded at the the peak of their popularity. Friction between Wolf and Justman led to the band breaking up. The split seemed to be permanent but just in the last few years they’ve reunited for gigs and short tours. A full fledged reunion tour seems unlikely so we’re left with some great live clips on YouTube.