August & Everything After – Counting Crows (1993)
Last week I mentioned the large number of sophomore albums on this list and hinted at another list of great second albums.
Today’s featured album is something more traditional — a fabulous debut. Great first albums are special because not only do they contain memorable music in their own right, they are invested with the promise of what’s to come. When discovering a new artist who instantly clicks, it’s hard not to imagine how that career might develop over future decades.
In the case of Counting Crows, debut record August and Everything After was the first of only five studio albums the band has released over 20 years (not counting an album of covers they put out just this month). And while I wouldn’t call it their best (giving that honor to 2002’s Hard Candy), it is among the most assured and satisfying debut albums I’ve ever heard.
The record has an organic feel — the sound, inspired by artists like The Band and Van Morrison as well as more contemporary alternative bands, is rich and emotional. It is produced just enough to not feel very produced at all.
And most important, it features a terrific batch of songs — songs brimming with confidence, full of unexpected turns and dramatic flourishes. Standouts ‘Round Here’ and ‘Anna Begins’ are the kind of complex masterpieces you’d expect from a songwriting veteran, not a bunch of California twenty-somethings working on their first studio album.
And pop standouts ‘Mr. Jones’ and ‘Rain King’ prove that these guys can pen radio ear candy just as well as the heavier stuff.
I do think August & Everything After has diminished a bit over time. While the songs mentioned above and a few others are peerless, the back half of the record sags in places. But that nitpick just means the difference between top ten and top five.
I was down at the New Amsterdam staring at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation with a black-haired flamenco dancer
You know she dances while his father plays guitar
She’s suddenly beautiful
We all want something beautiful
Man I wish I was beautiful
So come dance this silence down through the morning
Shalalala la la la la yeah.. uh huh yeah..
Cut up Maria! Show me some of them Spanish dances
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
Cause I want to be someone who believes
Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales
And we Stare at the beautiful women
“She’s looking at you. Ah, no, no, she’s looking at me.”
Smiling in the bright lights
Coming through in stereo
When everybody loves you, you can never be lonely
Well Ima paint my picture
Paint myself in blue and red and black and gray
All of the beautiful colors are very very meaningful
Yeah well you know Gray is my favorite color
I felt so symbolic yesterday
If I knew a Picasso
I would buy myself a gray guitar and play
Mr. Jones and me look into the future
Yeah we Stare at the beautiful women
“She’s looking at you.
I don’t think so. She’s looking at me.”
Standing in the spotlight
I bought myself a gray guitar
When everybody loves me, I will never be lonely
Ill never be lonely
cause im never gonna be lonely
I want to be a lion
Yeah!, Everybody wants to pass as cats
We all want to be big big stars,yeah but we got different reasons for that
Believe in me cause I don’t believe in anything
and I, I want to be someone to believe to believe to believe yeah!
Mr. Jones and me stumbling through the barrio
Yeah we stare at the beautiful women
“She’s perfect for you, Man, there’s got to be somebody for me.”
I want to be Bob Dylan
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
When everybody loves you, ah son, that’s just about as funky as you can be
Mr. Jones and me staring at the video
When I look at the television, I want to see me staring right back at me
We all want to be big stars, but we don’t know why, and we don’t know how
But when everybody loves me, I want to be just about as happy as can be
Mr. Jones and me, we’re gonna be big stars.