The other day, I heard Gin Blossoms‘ 1993 hit “Hey Jealousy“ (from their breakthrough 1992 album New Miserable Experience) on the radio. I was a big fan of Gin Blossoms back when alternative rock radio was in its infancy here in Cleveland, OH. The alternative rock revolution, of course, began in the wake of Nirvana‘s success, in 1991, after Nevermind was released, and, after “Smells Like Teen Spirit“ climbed the charts. The underground had become the mainstream.
In June 1992, the local radio station at 107.9 on the FM dial began playing a 24-hour loop of R.E.M.‘s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)“. That station, formerly WPHR Power 108 (a Top-40 station), changed its call letters to WENZ, branded itself 107.9 The End, and alternative rock radio was born in Cleveland. But, eventually, The End ended in 1999, becoming Z 107.9, and adopting a mainstream urban format. However, Cleveland’s influential rock station 100.7 WMMS began adding a more eclectic rock mix to their playlists, and, now, in addition to current metal/alt-rock hits, you can hear classics by Nirvana, Mötley Crüe, and Led Zeppelin.
Anyway, a year or so before Gin Blossoms broke out of their hometown of Tempe, AZ, I had acquired a sampler cassette distributed with a fanzine that was geared toward college radio music [that’s what we called “alternative rock” before it had a name]. Yeah, a cassette – because it was, like, early 1992. On that cassette, was an early version of Gin Blossoms‘ song “Mrs. Rita,” which later turned up on New Miserable Experience. I loved it, and, it’s remained one of my favorite Gin Blossoms songs. The band wasn’t exactly playing the angsty punk/metal hybrid that Nirvana was delivering to the disaffected masses, but, if you liked your rock always rootsy and sometimes jangly, Gin Blossoms was your band.
“Mrs. Rita“, the song, is about a palm reader. Mrs. Rita, the palm reader, runs her business out of a little house on University Drive in Tempe in 2006. I didn’t know that she was a real person until I spent a week in Tempe on a business trip. Gin Blossoms spent their early days playing the bars of the University of Arizona, and, our hotel was about a mile from the university. We spent our nights, for the entire week, eating and drinking on the campus. Mornings sucked. Anyway, on the first night, the hotel’s driver took us down to the campus in the hotel cab. On the way, I noticed a small building with a sign that read “Mrs. Rita’s Palm Reading.” I screamed, “Stop!!!” The driver just casually pulled over to the side of the road, looked back, and said, “You must be a Gin Blossoms fan.”
“Mrs. Rita“ and “Hey Jealousy“ were cool songs, but, New Miserable Experience had other jems. “Found Out About You“, the second single, is a great track about a cheating lover that delivers this cool line: “Did you love me only in my head?” The breezy ballad “Pieces of the Night“, the I-10 exit sign inspired “Allison Road“, and the hard rocking ode to a lack of self control “Hold Me Down“ are other favorites. The 2002 Deluxe Edition includes a cover of Big Star‘s classic of vehicular teenage sex, “Back of a Car“.
Big Star, by the way, was one of the best and most influential bands you never heard of. And, “September Gurls“ (from 1974’s Radio City, which also includes “Back of a Car“) is one of my top 10 favorite songs of all-time. I was pumping gas at a Sunoco gas station recently, and, I heard that ringing guitar riff over their loudspeakers. I couldn’t believe it! Paul Westerberg (of The Replacements) once said “Never travel far / Without a little Big Star” (from “Alex Chilton“, his tribute to the late Big Star front man). It’s good advice.
Anyway, Gin Blossoms‘ follow-up Congratulations, I’m Sorry (1996) included the band’s hit single “Follow You Down“, but, the album, overall, didn’t live up to their debut, and, the band broke up in 1997. However, in between Experience and Congratulations, the band released the great single “Til I Hear It From You“ which was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Empire Records (1995).