Smithereens rarities

It was saddening to hear of the passing of Pat DiNizio, the lead singer of the Smithereens, last month at the age of 62. DiNizio and his New Jersey power pop band were masters at mixing hard-rock toughness with pop-hook tunefulness. The band's studio output had been sporadic since the mid-'90's, but most of their studio releases are still in print. However, their two early EP's from the early '80's are currently unavailable, as is a 1995 rarities compilation which has since become a rarity in itself.

Six years before the release of their first full-length album in 1986, the Smithereens self-released a four-song EP in 1980 titled Girls About Town. This 7-inch EP contained four songs with the word "girl" or "girls" in their titles, highlighted by a swell cover of the Beach Boys' "Girl Don't Tell Me". DiNizio – who wrote the EP’s other three tracks – used to describe the Smithereens sound as "AC/DC meets the Beatles"; on this EP, it sounded like the Beatles had not met AC/DC just yet. Instead, it sounds more like the Fab Four could have been hangin’ with Elvis Costello, as the sound resembles a middle ground between Merseybeat and new wave. The band’s familiar hard rock elements are nowhere to be found here. These four power-pop tunes have a likable youthful innocence, as do DiNizio’s vocals.

Midway between the release of their first EP and their first LP, the Smithereens issued another indie EP titled Beauty And Sadness in 1983. On these four better-produced songs, the Smithereens did sound approximately three years more mature than they did on the first EP. The hard-rock edges were beginning to appear, DiNizio’s vocal timbre was becoming more pronounced, and the lyrics of “Tracey’s World” and “Some Other Guy” (not to be confused with the Beatles song that they would cover two decades later) sounded almost, but not quite, as youthfully innocent. The band still showed retro tendencies on the compulsively danceable rockabilly number “Much Too Much”. But when you hear the neo-‘60’s pop-rock of the title track, that is when you hear the Smithereens becoming who they were. That song provided the strongest hint of the sound of their first full-length album Especially For You, released three years later.

The 1995 CD Attack Of The Smithereens collects 79 minutes’ worth of B-sides and rarities recorded between 1980 and 1992, with detailed liner notes by DiNizio and drummer Dennis Diken. It begins with early live performances (including the Beach Boys cover “Girl Don’t Tell Me” from their very first Jersey gig in 1980) and demos (the “Time & Time Again” demo was their very first studio recording, and it has a mid-‘60’s-style sound that is very unlike the finished version; the basement demo of “Blood & Roses” is the virtual equal of the finished studio version). The CD then compiles a baker’s dozen of the band’s B-sides, which find them covering everyone from the Beatles to the Who, Frank Sinatra to Irma Thomas, the Kinks to Iggy Pop, filtered through the Smithereens’ usually no-nonsense approach. Speaking of the Kinks, the CD also includes live tracks in which the Smithereens acted as a backing band for Ray and Dave Davies (“You Really Got Me”), for Beau Brummels founding members Sal Valentino and Declan Mulligan (“Just A Little”), and for early rock and roll songwriter Otis Blackwell (the Elvis cover “Don’t Be Cruel”, which Blackwell co-wrote). Also, we get a unique acoustic rendition of the band’s “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” with a lead vocal by British soul-rocker Graham Parker, recorded for the second episode of MTV Unplugged in 1989. (The show’s original host Jules Shear can be heard speaking at the beginning and the end of the track). What’s more, the CD also includes two obscure tracks recorded for various-artists compilations: the surf instrumental “Hang Ten High”, and a rendition of “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” based on the Cadillacs’ 1956 version. The CD ends with a mostly instrumental “Strip Club Version” of the band’s hit “A Girl Like You”, featuring jazz trombonist Ray Anderson. Although the CD does have the type of inconsistency and general lack of gravitas that we often expect from odds-and-sods collections, Attack Of The Smithereens is never boring, and it reveals much about what made this underrated power-pop band tick.

The Smithereens - Girls About Town

The Smithereens "Girls About Town" EP (D-Tone DT150) 1980

Track Listing:

1. Girls About Town
2. Girl Don't Tell Me
3. Got Me A Girl
4. Girls Are Like That

The Smithereens - Beauty and Sadness

The Smithereens "Beauty And Sadness" EP (Little Ricky LR 103) 1983

Track Listing:

1. Tracey's World
2. Much Too Much
3. Some Other Guy
4. Beauty And Sadness
5. Beauty And Sadness (Instrumental Mix)

The Smithereens - Attack of the Smithereens

The Smithereens "Rarities - Attack Of The Smithereens" (Capitol CDP 7243 8 32247 2 2) 1995

Track Listing:

1. Here Come The Smithereens (1945 Smith College Women's Choir)
2. Girl Don't Tell Me (first gig, March 1980)
3. Girls About Town (first EP cut)
4. Time & Time Again (original demo)
5. Don't Be Cruel (with Otis Blackwell)
6. Hang Ten High (compilation track)
7. Tracey's World (first in-store)
8. Blood & Roses (Pat's original demo)
9. Blood & Roses (original band demo, Pat's basement, Feb 1985)
10. Just A Little (live with the Beau Brummels)
11. The Seeker (B-side)
12. Yesterday Girl (Pat's 4-track demo)
13. Poor Little Pitiful One (B-side)
14. Maria Elena (acoustic)
15. You Really Got Me (live with the Kinks)
16. One After 909 (B-side)
17. World Keeps Going 'Round (B-side)
18. Behind The Wall Of Sleep (live with Graham Parker, MTV)
19. Something Stupid (B-side)
20. Shakin' All Over (B-side)
21. Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer (promo only track)
22. Ruler Of My Heart (B-side)
23. It Don't Come Easy (B-side)
24. Lust For Life (B-side)
25. Like Someone In Love (B-side)
26. A Girl Like You - (Strip Club Version) (B-side)