Let’s set the scene: It’s 1987. I’m 17. My friends and I are hanging out in the parking lot of a 7-11 in San Diego. None of us drink, so that part of our rebellion manifests in slurpees and junk food. We’re gathered around my beat up 4-cylinder Ford Mustang, purchased from a substitute teacher who lived down the street from our house, with money saved up from my first job. The doors are wide open, we’re sitting on the hood, the stereo is cranked and we’re blasting the Goo Goo Dolls!
Wait… what? The Goo Goo Dolls?
To be fair, our long-haired, eighties punk rock soundtrack featured a bunch of the usual suspects as well: Mötley Crüe, Judas Priest, Black Flag and the rest. But maybe surprisingly, the Goo Goo Dolls figured very heavily into our nose-thumbing, parent-baiting, rebellious teenage listening. While the band’s iconic single “Iris” turns 20 years old today, the above all transpired a whole decade earlier, when the Goo Goo Dolls were still pretty much a full-on punk band (having only just recently shed the name Sex Maggot!).
As you can probably tell, there’s a dramatic difference between 1987 Goo Goo Dolls and 1998 Goo Goo Dolls, and they’re not the only mainstream artist with a punk rock past. Soul Asylum started life in 1982 as a band called Loud Fast Rules, and the early Soul Asylum records were similarly wild and loose and miles away from “Runaway Train.” The Replacements, too, while a beloved, seminal, indie rock band, and whose later records would mellow out significantly, were pretty punk on their first few records. Their 1982 EP Stink even opens with the sound of a cop trying to shut down a house party, before the band explodes into “Kids Don’t Follow,” one of the best fuck-the-man punk rock anthems ever, and apparently a pissed off response to U2‘s “I Will Follow.”
Both the Replacements and Soul Asylum were also a big part of our teenage 7-11 parking lot playlists. But we’re here to talk about the Goo Goo Dolls, and as “Iris” celebrates 20 years of radio domination, what better way to pay tribute than to go all the way back to when the Goo Goo Dolls were young punk rock whippersnappers?
The Dolls’ 1987 self-titled debut is a ramshackle, loose-limbed, sloppy and gloriously drunken mess. The songs are snotty and snarly, but still crazy catchy. There are definitely hints of the mainstream poppiness that would come to dominate the band’s sound, but here those melodies and hooks are crammed into short, sharp blasts of garage punk with titles like “I’m Addicted,” “Torn Apart,” “Beat Me,” “Slaughterhouse” and the GGD classic, “Don’t Beat My Ass (With a Baseball Bat).” This record also began a tradition of scattering kick-ass covers across the band’s first few albums. Here, it’s Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” and Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Another standout is “Hammering Eggs (The Metal Song),” which, true to its title, is extremely metal. And while the song was likely a parody cooked up in a drunken practice session, it’s convincing enough that it kind of made sense when the band ended up signed to Metal Blade Records for their next album.
1989’s Jed offers more of the same hook-heavy, poppy punk delivered at breakneck tempos and with plenty of vitriol. There are still songs with titles like “Sex Maggot,” “Love Dolls” and the anthemic but still punk-as-fuck “Up Yours,” but by this point, the group had mastered the art of fusing killer choruses with mosh pit-worthy riffage. Check out the opener “Out of Sight,” whose to-die-for earworm of a chorus is most definitely at odds with the near-metallic punk of the rest of the song. Covers on Jed include Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Down on the Corner” and the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” The former features lead vocals by lounge singer Lance Diamond, who would became a frequent cover collaborator on subsequent albums.
Hold Me Up is the third and final entry in the Goo Goo Dolls’ punk rock trilogy, and by far the poppiest of the bunch. There’s still plenty of sonic heft and distorted crunch, but the hooks are undeniable, with practically every song sporting the sort of melodies most other bands would be lucky to stumble across once an album, if not once a career. Hold Me Up also features some inspired cover choices: Prince’s “Never Take the Place of Your Man” (sung again by Lance Diamond) and the Plimsouls’ “Million Miles Away,” which might be even better than the original. And full disclosure: I actually learned to play the acoustic ballad “Two Days in February” on the guitar to try and impress my girlfriend at the time…
My friends and I kind of stopped paying attention to the Goo Goo Dolls after Hold Me Up, although the band’s next two records, Superstar Carwash and A Boy Named Goo, did a pretty great job of balancing the group’s punk rock past with their more polished pop future. Now, here we are in 2018, and while most folks probably know and love the Goo Goo Dolls from hits like “Name,” “Slide,” “Black Balloon” and of course “Iris”, but my heart will always belong to these early records. Let’s just never forget, that without “Don’t Beat My Ass (With a Baseball Bat),” we probably would never have had “Iris.” So here’s to 20 years! Join me as I grab some Cheetos and beef jerky, post up by the dumpster behind the corner store, and crank this Goo Goo Dolls Parking Lot playlist!