When New York power-pop band Fountains of Wayne were nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2004, they’d already recorded three albums. The nomination was on the back of the hit ‘Stacy’s Mom’ – the gimmicky, new-wave flavoured song proved an albatross for the band. The three albums they recorded before their Best New Artist nomination contain their most beloved work.
When Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger started writing songs for their debut album, Collingwood was listening to The Kinks. He mimicked Ray Davies’ technique of peppering songs with specific details, setting the tone for their career. Like The Kinks, Fountains of Wayne’s songs often celebrate the mundane, although they’re unable to inject the same sincerity into their songs. ‘Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim’ and ‘Halley’s Waitress’ are among the band’s minutiae-laden titles.
After recording their debut album Collingwood and Schlesinger added lead guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young, creating the band’s lineup for the rest of their career. The partnership between Collingwood and Schlesinger frayed on later albums, and they broke up in 2011. Schlesinger passed away from Covid-19 complications in 2020.
#5 Sky Full of Holes
The creative partnership between Collingwood and Schlesinger was fraying when they recorded their fifth album, and Fountains of Wayne split after touring Sky Full of Holes. They warmed up for the album by playing acoustic gigs, and this flowed through to the record, with a more pronounced country flavour than before. At the time of writing, Sky Full of Holes wasn’t even available on Spotify. It’s not that bad – the upbeat tracks like ‘The Summer Place’ and ‘Radio Bar’ are stronger, although the gentle ‘Cemetery Gates’ is a fine close to the band’s career.
#4 Traffic and Weather
Collingwood struggled with depression and alcoholism during this era of Fountains of Wayne, and Schlesinger dominated their fourth album. The band tried to work up songs from jams but only ‘Strapped for Cash’ was retained. It’s less consistent than their earlier records, but if you compile the best songs from the band’s last two records, there’s a pretty solid LP here. ‘Yolanda Hayes’, an ode to a disaffected DMV employee, is the highlight, but there’s also ‘Strapped for Cash’ and ‘Someone to Love’.
#3 Welcome Interstate Managers
The band’s third album contains their best-known track, ‘Stacy’s Mom’. But despite a strong opening, with ‘Mexican Wine’ and ‘Bright Future in Sales’, it’s a step down in quality. After a pair of tightly constructed records, Welcome Interstate Managers runs for close to an hour, sprawling over 16 tracks. It would have been prudent to cut tracks like the jokey country number ‘Hung Up On You’, although it’s worth listening out for mellow highlights like ‘All Kinds of Time’ and ‘Hailey’s Waitress’. Despite the success of ‘Stacy’s Mom’, Welcome Interstate Managers only peaked at #115 on the Billboard 200.
#2 Fountains of Wayne
When Fountains of Wayne recorded their first LP they weren’t yet a fully-established band, just a songwriting duo of Collingwood and Schlesinger. Schlesinger is the group’s drummer on the debut, while the duo are joined by bassist Danny Weinkauf, who’d later work with They Might Be Giants. Fountains of Wayne was recorded in a week, and cost $5,000. It’s their most fun and energetic record, with memorable power-pop songs like ‘Radiation Vibe’, ‘Leave the Biker’, and ‘Sink to the Bottom’. The jazzy touches of ‘Sick Day’ hint at interests beyond radio-friendly power-pop.
#1 Utopia Parkway
On their second album, Fountains of Wayne add some more sophistication to the fun power-pop of their debut. The addition of Young and Porter to the band helps to flesh out their arrangements. The album’s named for a street in the New York borough of Queens and the songs were chosen to reflect the surroundings. The music was styled after the bands that Collingwood and Schlesinger heard growing up, like Loverboy, The Cars, and Journey. It’s their most consistent record – the singles ‘Denise’ and ‘Troubled Times’ would have been hits in a just world, while ‘Amity Gardens’ and ‘A Fine Day for a Parade’ show a more serious side for the band.
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Great band. We will miss him/them.
I would have “welcome” as no 1 and not number 3, but whatever.
My three favourite FOW songs come from that album (not Stacey’s mom)
2. All kinds of time
Take a listen.
All great stuff.
I know all those songs well – I like those ones, especially All Kinds of Time, but it’s still more of an inconsistent trudge than the first two IMO.
Utopia Parkway is my favorite one even though I never lived on Utopia Parkway, but pretty close though when we lived in Forest Hills. And then like you next I like the first one, or as I call it, The one with the kid pretending he’s Superman. The albums after the one with Stacy’s Mom I never really heard.
I read while writing that this article that another album also used that Superman kid with the Rabbit cover – it was released almost at the same time.
I always wondered if it was a picture of one of them, but I guess not.
Nope, they got it from a photographer.
Yeah Wiki says an English photographer sold them the picture but he sold it to somebody else too for their album. Lol. I can’t believe that none of them are even FROM Queens. We always thought that a couple of them were and at least one of them lived on Utopia parkway, but only one of them is even from New York and a couple of them are from England!!! And Pennsylvania. We always talked about them them as if we finally had another band from Queens. Lol. Cuz Brooklyn has all the big famous musicians and we were always jealous of Brooklyn because hardly any of the good ones are from Queens, even though Queens is actually bigger!! Simon and Garfunkel and the Ramones are the biggest names from Queens. We had a lot of famous actors and actresses though. But for some reason Brooklyn had most of the big musicians. I thought that really sucked.
Yeah – you’re right. Queens doesn’t have a lot for its size.
Even the Bronx has more good ones than Queens!! Phil Spector and a lot of the girl groups, Laura Nyro, Kiss, Billy Joel, Carly Simon just off the top of my head. And Brooklyn had most of the Brill Building people for some reason.
Sadly, all I know is Stacy’s Mom! My kids love that song too!
Your kids have got it going on! (but not in an inappropriate way).
I know some of their songs but I want to know them more…I feel kinda ashamed that I don’t know more because they are in my wheelhouse.
Those first two albums are really good – later on I think you can see behind the curtain a bit too much, and it feels too contrived.
Yea I need to listen to those. I know I would like them. I have heard songs by them that I liked better than Stacy’s Mom.