"she’s carryin’ a burnin’ torch inside / she holds it firm & tight"

Written by Lost in the '80s, Music

1982 was a big year for the J. Geils Band – after 13 albums, hundreds and hundreds of live shows and a few scattered Top 40 hits, they became overnight sensations with “Centerfold” spending six weeks at Number One and “Freeze Frame” following in the Top Ten.

The “Freeze Frame” album is a certified 80s classic, no doubt, showcasing a band honed by years on the road firing on all cylinders. Front to back, there’s not a dud in the bunch – even “Flamethrower”, an album track consigned to the b-side of the “Freeze Frame” single caught fire (heh) on the Black Singles chart, and it’s easy to see why. “Flamethrower” is arguably the hottest (heh) song on the album, a scorching (I’ll stop now) funk number that should have been single number three, not just a b-side. I’ll say that “Flamethrower” best represented all sides of the J. Geils Band – the Stones-ish blues swagger, the chunky funk, the accessible pop sensibility, all wrapped up in five glorious minutes.

Then it all went to hell.

A power struggle between chief songwriters Peter Wolf and Seth Justman fractured the group the next year. Wolf took his voice and embarked on a solo career, while Justman kept the band and the powerful brand name. 1984 promised a showdown between the two projects.

Peter Wolf struck first with “Lights Out” and its title track single. “Lights Out” was a fair success, making the Top 40, but while the voice was unmistakable, there was something bland and studio musician-ish about the whole affair. The spark was missing. I preferred the follow-up, “I Need You Tonight”, because it seemed quite contemporary, glossy production and all, and it’s just a better song, really. It scraped the Top 40 as well. Now it was the J. Geils Band’s turn.

Many people don’t want to remember “You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m Gettin’ Odd”, including presumably the band itself, since it’s mentioned nowhere on their official website. I am here today to say it’s not that horrible. Really. The problem is just that you listen and think, “Gee this isn’t too bad, but if Peter Wolf was singing it, it’d be so much better.” That thought only occurs about twice per song, though. Once you get past that it’s a hooky, kooky little affair that seems a bit “Freeze Frame 2: Electric Boogaloo”. In fact lead-off single “Concealed Weapons” is almost an exact Xerox of “Freeze Frame”, with a guitar lick stolen from either “Day Tripper” or Killing Joke’s “Eighties” (take your pick – Nirvana would later steal it yet again for “Come As You Are”), another lick lifted from the “Peter Gunn Theme”, and a melody line so familiar you almost want to sing “I could see it was a rough-cut Tuesday, Slow motion weekdays stare me down…”

The album and single tanked. I remember seeing the album in cut-out bins everywhere soon after its release, where of course I picked it up and kind of enjoyed it. Peter Wolf went on to have a few more hits and sell some more albums while the J. Geils Band went on to record the theme for “Fright Night” (AWFUL), then call it a day. The band reunited in 1999 for a tour, but when tickets didn’t move, they split again.

We’ll always have “Flamethrower”, though.

“Flamethrower” peaked at #25 on the Billboard Black Singles Chart and at #30 on the Mainstream Rock Chart in 1982.
“I Need You Tonight” peaked at #36 on the Billboard Hot 10 and at #22 on the Mainstream Rock Chart in 1984.
“Concealed Weapons” peaked at #63 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #26 on the Mainstream Rock Chart in 1984.

Go nuts for J. Geils Band tracks on iTunes.

Ditto for Peter Wolf.