Rank Your Records: John Rzeznik Plays Favorites with the Goo Goo Dolls Records
'A Boy Named Goo' is not where you think it would be.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
If all you know by Goo Goo Dolls is the adult alternative ballads, then you don’t know the whole story. Although the band struck mainstream gold with the sentimental stuff like “Name” and the City of Angels soundtrack banger “Iris,” in the first ten years of the band’s life, they wrote a lot of loud fucking songs. Because if ever there was a band to hail from Buffalo, New York, it was these guys. When Johnny Rzeznik, Robby Takac, and (original drummer) George Tutuska first got together 30 years ago, they were just a bunch of teenagers that idolized everything coming out of the Twin Cities, like the Replacements, Soul Asylum, and Hüsker Dü.
Goo Goo Dolls no doubt mimicked their influences on their first three albums, making them sound like a perfect amalgamation of those three bands. Once they found their footing on 1990’s Hold Me Up, they had a powerful one-two punch on vocals: Takac’s croaky scream, which suited both his breakneck thrash punk and melodic power pop sides, and Rzeznik’s smoother, more emotive hard rock call. It was a shame that they never got much credit, because their devotion to living the life and playing such raucous punk resulted in some great music that to this day remains criminally overlooked and underappreciated (though maybe that will soon change). Chances are you won’t hear Beach Slang citing Jed or Hold Me Up as an influence in place of New Day Rising or Pleased To Meet Me, but listen closely to that band’s latest album, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, and the Goo Goo Dolls sound like the most logical inspiration.
After winning over critics in 1993 with the more refined and Paul Westerberg-featuring hard rock of Superstar Car Wash, the Goos scored big with their fifth album, A Boy Named Goo. Marking their greatest artistic shift towards a post-grunge, radio-friendly sound, the album left behind the heavier influences for a rugged power pop sound, led by the first two singles, the mosh-pit-ready “Only One” and the Sugar-y “Flat Top.” And then out of nowhere, a DJ on KROQ began playing the shit out of a hidden gem buried in the mid-section of the album, a ballad that would foreshadow the Goo Goo Dolls’ future. “Name” became an overnight smash for the band, establishing them as a Top 40 act and paving the way for the colossal soft rock anthem “Iris.” The mainstream suited the Goo Goo Dolls well, and despite facing some ire from original fans, they seized the day and never looked back.
From 1998’s multi-million-selling Dizzy Up the Girl to 2013’s Magnetic, the most recent phase of Goo Goo Dolls’ career has found them demonstrating an ability to reach the masses with a dependable, arena-fitted pop-rock sound. Noisey reached frontman John Rzeznik on the phone before playing for a couple thousand at a hometown show in Buffalo, and got him to rank the Goo Goo Dolls catalogue. Says Rzeznik about the challenge, “For me, it’s more or less the circumstances surrounding how we made the album than the actual material itself.”
10. Something for the Rest of Us (2010)
Noisey: Why is this your least favorite?
John Rzeznik: Because making it was so miserable. I had a really shitty time making that record. There was a lot of bad shit going on at the time. We kept getting hassled by the record company. They didn’t like it. And after a certain point I was drinking too much, so I just ended up throwing my hands up in the air and said, “Fuck it, do whatever you want with it. I don’t care anymore.” And looking back at it, the album is incredibly depressing, as far as the subject matter goes. So that’s my least favorite, but I recently sat down with Robby and we listened to it and thought there are some real good songs on there. But that whole situation was a black cloud.
The lyrics on the album were a lot more outward looking than usual.
Yeah, but really underneath all of that they were about hitting rock bottom. We just came up with some bullshit story to tell people. Really, it was just a bad time for us.
9. Jed (1989)
This was your second album…
This was the record where we didn’t really know how to play our instruments, and I thought we were a little too cocky for our own good.
This was the first time that you sang on a recording. What made you want to contribute lead vocals?
I just started singing because I wanted to try it. I’d get up drunk and pick up the microphone and go for it. And it was fun, but I don’t think we were fully formed as songwriters. We were still looking for our identity because we were still drawing heavily, heavily from bands like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. So we were still incredibly derivative at that point.
The very beginning of “7th of Last Month” and “James Dean” kinda teased the lighter direction you’d eventually take.
Yeah. But it definitely was still the formative stage of the band. We were still writing inside jokes to our friends on Jed.
8. Hold Me Up (1990)
That is when we started taking shape. Everything began to coalesce, and we were beginning to understand a little bit of what our identity was. We were caught between two worlds there, definitely. We were starting to write songs and become better at it, but we were still very much from the underground, and we were terrified to grow because we were afraid of what our friends would think of us. It’s so stupid. The rules surrounding punk music were a lot to deal with.
And again, your contributions grew and you sang five of the 14 songs.
Robby was responsible for me getting in front of a microphone. I gained a little more confidence.
Hold Me Up was the last real punk album you recorded. Was it more difficult to sing the faster punk songs or the slower pop songs that came later on?
It was getting easier because it was a question of whether I was going to be what I wanted to be or what other people wanted me to be. And Robby really helped me out with that by saying, “Just sing what you want to sing.” I didn’t really have an affectation; I just started to learn how to actually sing better. If you do something enough you start to get better at it, and I think I got better at it. Or at least more technically proficient at it. And I also started taking professional singing lessons, which I was excited about.
7. A Boy Named Goo (1995)
Really? Okay… This surprises me.
Yeah, a lot of people really love this record. And I like it too. I enjoyed working with the producer, a guy named Lou Giordano. This was the album we had our first hit on. But we were still flopping back and forth looking for our identity. We still had these super aggressive songs like “Long Way Down” and “Naked.” I love this record, but to me I think we were still in that awkward, middle phase of our career.
What was it liking going from being this underground band that nearly ended before this album, to one that ended up having a #1 hit with “Name?”
It was weird. It was also amazing how almost ashamed we were of ourselves for being successful to a degree. By the way, we weren’t financially successful because we got ripped off, which I can’t really go into. Well, we got screwed pretty hard on that one. But like I was saying, it felt weird. That was the point where people started to notice us. Before that we were sort of the critics’ darlings, because we were the little band that could. And then we did, and everyone turned their backs on us. We grew up in a world where when commercial success equals “you suck!” So there was a little bit of shame around that, but we continued on.
A Boy Named Goo was just reissued for its 20th anniversary. How does that feel?
I’m so proud that we did what we wanted to do. That we were pretty honest with ourselves and didn’t buckle to the pressure of our old friends and fans. It sort of amazes me how a little bit of growth and a little bit of success can breed contempt. And there were a lot of our friends who were really happy for us and awesome about it. But there were some people that felt we were changing to become rock stars. Dude, we went out on that tour and nobody knew any of the songs from the previous four records. So people were terrified of us because we’d go out there and slam the shit out of them for an hour. We ending up playing “Name” last because we didn’t want anyone to leave. Otherwise we’d hear crickets after playing that song because they all left.
6. Goo Goo Dolls (1987)
Your debut sounds like a completely different band altogether.
We were just young kids. That album was all balls and no brains. I love it because it was just so much fun. The first record we made in three days. We literally stayed up for three days making the first album. It was crazy, crazy, crazy for us to do that. We couldn’t believe anyone would give us a record deal. I look back on that record fondly but with just the slightest bit of a cringe. There are some songs where I think, “Oh my God, I can’t believe we said that.” But it was fun. I was 19 years old when we made that record.
Apparently Robby sang all of the songs because you were too shy?
Yeah. That’s the truth. And that seems kind of weird. I was a little too young and I’d never done it before. I had really bad stage fright, and Robby really guided me through that nonsense. He’s really helped me out a lot. This band wouldn’t exist right now if he wasn’t in it.
5. Gutterflower (2002)
I thought Gutterflower was a really good record, but the album before that got so big that everyone expected us to go through that again. We started to feel the pressure of what was going on. And I felt pretty disappointed after that, which was kind of a drag. But I really like this record. I think it’s pretty good.
4. Superstar Car Wash (1993)
This seemed to be the album where your name got out there.
I think this is where the band started to become something, yeah. I did some of my tightest and best writing on that album. It’s so heavily influenced by Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould, Soul Asylum—every band from Minneapolis! I don’t know what the hell was going on. I just thought, “Wow, I’m really getting good at this.”
Paul Westerberg co-wrote “We Are the Normal” for this album. How big of a deal was that for you?
You know, to some people, Keith Richards is their hero. I feel that way about Westerberg. Keith Richards got to do his thing with Chuck Berry, and I got to do it with Westerberg. That was amazing to me.
A few years ago you said that Superstar Car Wash the album you would recommend to someone unfamiliar with Goo Goo Dolls. Do you still feel that way?
Yeah. I felt that the first three albums really led to Superstar Car Wash. Not just chronologically, but musically, philosophically, everything we were trying to do at that time. It’s not a complex, physical music. And it wasn’t supercool. We were never hip, which is fine with me. We aren’t that interested in that whole situation. But all the times how we tried and failed to get across in our music, we actually succeeded on Superstar Car Wash.
3. Dizzy Up the Girl (1998)
I read that you struggled with writer’s block on this album.
Yeah. Yeah. I was just being a pussy. I’m sorry, but I really was just being a pussy about it because I was scared shitless after writing a hit song. Everyone in the world had said, “There’s no way you’re going to ever amount to shit!” And then we wrote a hit song, and it really truly felt that I had picked the winning lottery numbers one day. And then everybody stood around and said, “That’s awesome, man! Do it again!” And then I was like, “Uh oh! How do I do this again?” Then I blocked myself up because I was trying really hard to write these perfect songs and this perfect album, and make this big statement. And I realized that I had paralyzed myself trying to please other people. So I just said, “Fuck it!” The big lesson I found out about writer’s block is that it doesn’t exist. And that as a writer, I have to sit down and I have to write through the shit, keep writing, keep going, and keep going until I like something I’ve written. And then shift into high gear and get it done.
This album really confirmed that you could follow up that hit though.
Yeah. It was a really fun and exciting time in all of our lives. Robby and I left home and went to California with some success and a little money, and proceeded to act like assholes for a few years! We never really felt like rock stars, but we wanted to play with the idea of what it felt like to be rock stars for a little while. It didn’t sit that well with us, so we just kind of retreated after a few years of acting like dicks.
2. Let Love In (2006)
I like that record. The songwriting was really beautiful. I thought lyrically I was doing really, really well on this album. And it was fun to work with Glen Ballard. He’s such a great producer. That record sounds so good! There was a certain amount of strength, this perfect balance of strength and sentimentality in the guitars. Glen was the first producer that was so compassionate with what the “artist” wanted to do. It was almost like a psychologist. He wanted to know what we were trying to say here. He didn’t kiss our asses, like we were writing in an echo chamber and him telling us it was good. He was very, very adept at steering us in the right decision.
Well, he did produce Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill and he also worked with Michael Jackson.
Yeah, he wrote stuff with Michael Jackson. He’s so incredible. I had never met a true artist until I worked with him. And then there’s Rob Cavallo, who did the other half of the album. He’s one of the greatest rock producers of the last 20 years. We sort of got tired with each other, I think, in a way. We always liked each other, but it felt like the relationship had just run its course. We enjoyed sleeping together but couldn’t commit.
1. Magnetic (2013)
Why is this your favorite?
It just came out of such a dark time for me. And I had learned to be optimistic again. It also the first time I’d done real collaborations with people. I had been sitting in a room alone writing songs for 20 years. Literally, I was sitting in a room by myself. So to be able to meet up with some friends of mine that I’d really liked—and I have met a lot of songwriters over the years—and get a chance to hang out with them, and pick their brains and learn and grow was really amazing. Obviously this list is going to change day to day, hour to hour, but that’s why Magnetic is my favorite album to listen to right now.
The production on this album was a lot more contemporary.
Yeah, that’s a big thing on this record that’s coming out in March. I go in on a Tuesday, and I’m hanging out with my buddy Greg, who’s messing around with a synthesizer. Or we sit around and play piano. It’s just the freedom of it. I no longer feel the pressure of trying to write hits for the radio anymore. And it’s a lot of fun sitting with the people I work with. I have an incredible amount of respect for them. We give each other a lot of room to breathe and we have fun. Robby and I started writing songs together again on this album. On Magnetic I said, “I’m not going to tie myself down to one producer because I think and feel different things on different days.” The albums have always been, like, “where is my head at?”
Cam Lindsay is on Twitter - @yasdnilmac