How many bands can boast 22 albums of original material, 11 live albums, and 14 compilations? Ok, maybe the Rolling Stones. But NRBQ’s legacy is all the more surprising in that they have held a band together despite pretty limited commercial success. Founded in 1966, the group has run through 16 members over the decades, though Terry Adams, Al Anderson, Joey Spampinato and Tom Ardolino clocked the most time. And that helps explain the consistently high quality of their recordings. While the Stones pretty much ran out of creative steam post-Tattoo You, NRBQ continued to recombine their distinctive band of country and jazz-tinged poprock influences into winning tunes. Not familiar with their canon? Relax. There’s a hit single-worthy winner on every album, usually more than one!
You Can’t Hide
The band’s 1969 major label debut was simply titled NRBQ and therein lay the quirky, melodic, deceptively simple, intensely musical formula they have refined ever since. Half covers, half original material, only “You Can’t Hide” sounded vaguely rock and roll in a conventional sense. Then came an album with Carl Perkins (1970’s Boppin’ the Blues) and their first label drop. 1972’s Scraps saw the band bounce back, showcasing their mastery of old-timey poprock on tracks like “Only You.” Then came 1977’s All Hopped Up and NRBQ had musically and creatively arrived. From the Beach Boys-like background vocals animating “Riding In My Car” to the CCR-ish “Help Me Somebody” to the sweet harmony soaked “Still in School” to the Byrdsian “That’s Alright” the band anticipated the sixties-reviving new wave scene that was to come. The next few years witnessed a slew of should-be hits emerge like “I Want You Bad” from 1978’s At Yankee Stadium and “Me And The Boys” from 1980s Tiddly Winks, the latter also featuring the Everly-ish “Beverly,” the Beatlesque “That I Get Back Home,” and a great updated cover of their own “You Can’t Hide.” 1983’s Grooves in Orbit had the hooky rocker “A Girl Like That” while 1985 saw the band record a sweet album with Skeeter Davis (She Sings, They Play).
Riding In My CarI Want You BadThat I Get Back Home
Despite strong albums, almost constant touring, and the occasional major label release, NRBQ has remained a band seemingly on the verge of success without ever quite breaking through. Even a tour with R.E.M. and the Virgin-released Wild Weekend in 1989 couldn’t put them over the top. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of solid material. Personally I love “Boy’s Life” and “If I Don’t Have You” from Wild Weekend, the rumbly guitar anchoring “A Little Bit Of Bad” from 1994’s Message from the Mess Age, the jazzy overtones on “Ain’t No Horse” from 1999’s NRBQ (The Yellow Album), the vocal harmonies on “Love Is Waiting” from 2002’s Atsa My Band, and the eccentric mélange of styles on “Call of the Wild” from 2004’s Dummy. The band went on hiatus after Dummy but resurfaced in 2011 and 2014 with strong albums that rivalled some of their best work. From 2011’s Keep This Love Goin’ I’d single out the swinging title cut, along with “I’m Satisfied, “Here I Am” and “The Animal Life.” 2014’s Brass Tracks is frankly, pretty amazing: a rich trove of fresh, solid songwriting and great playing. Check out “It’ll Be Alright,” I’d Like to Know,” “Can’t Wait to Kiss You” and “Love This Love We Got.”
If I Don’t Have YouA Little Bit of BadKeep This Love Goin‘It’ll Be Alright
Before the internet put band bios at our fingertips we used to have buy music compendiums from the likes of New Music Express, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and the Trouser Press. I’d seen mention of NRBQ in most from my late teens but only really just discovered them recently. I can’t believe what I’ve been missing! If I had a poprock hall of fame NRBQ would be charter members. Get caught up with them at their website and Facebook page.