The Feelies: Crazy Rhythms

By: Ron Hart

Straight outta Haledon, NJ, The Feelies were the complete antithesis of cool back when they officially formed during the year punk broke (1976, kids). Named after a deep reference from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and dressed like the kids who ran the math club in high school, this quartet of North Jersey suburbanites were the outsiders amongst the outsiders of the NYC underground during the late '70s. They hated gigging in the city because driving through the tunnels gave them headaches, drank coffee the way Jimmy Page downed Jack Daniels before shows, and were known to shave onstage with electric razors plugged into their amplifiers.

But once co-frontmen Glenn Mercer and Bill Million switched on their guitars as the terse, tight rhythm section of bassist Keith Clayton and one-time Pere Ubu/Electric Eels drummer Anton Fier kicked in their boxcutter-sharp, jittery grooves, The Feelies were an unstoppable force. Their sound was pure minimalism, taking the repetitive patterns of such modern classical composers as Terry Riley and Steve Reich and compounding it with a Bo Diddley groove stripped down to the studs a la the Velvet Underground, creating a sonic style as unique as their image. Originally released in 1980 on the UK-based Stiff Records, the group's debut, Crazy Rhythms, is only LP to feature to Mercer/Million/Clayton/Fier lineup and remains one of the all-time great albums from the New Wave era. Now, after years of being out of print after the album's U.S. label, A&M Records, got sucked up by the Universal Records machine, Crazy Rhythms is available once again for a whole new generation to enjoy its quirky genius thanks to Individuals frontman Glenn Morrow's Bar-None imprint out of Hoboken, NJ, home of The Feelies' favorite haunt, Maxwell's.

Remastered and repackaged in a very cool slimline digipak (this is key, as the album's cover art featuring headshots of the original members of The Feelies against a sky blue backdrop is one of the main selling points - just ask Weezer, who paid homage via the cover of their 1994 debut), the CD and LP of Crazy Rhythms only features the original 9 tracks - which includes such favorites as "The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness", "Fa cé-La," and their scorching cover of The Beatles' White Album rocker "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey" - at the request of the band in order to maintain the integrity of the album's initial issue. However, the CD does include a download card that features five bonus tracks, including the original Rough Trade 7-inch single version of "Fa cé-La," demo versions of "The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness" and "Moscow Nights," and live renditions of the title track and a cover of the Modern Lovers' "I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms" from a March 2009 show at the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC.

Also released in tandem with Crazy Rhythms is its equally-indispensible 1986 follow-up, The Good Earth, produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. and one of the true cornerstones of that jangly, college rock sound we all love so much.

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[Published on: 11/4/09]

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