I understand why August and Everything After was such a huge record, but it sure seemed seemed uneven to me. So as they became a huge band that shoulda been right up my alley, I was really lukewarm on Counting Crows.
On one hand, I’m never going to quibble with a Billboard Top Ten folk-rock hit single that cops from “Brown Eyed Girl” and features the phrase “I want to be Bob Dylan.” On the other was that the major labels were becoming experts at co-opting indie and it was hard to tell initially if Counting Crows were truly on our or some kind of folk-rock version of Bush or Stone Temple Pilots or (shudder) Live.
This, of course, was back when all of that bullshit mattered.
Anyways by the time 1994 was halfway through, it was clear that they were a band that I needed to pay attention to, no matter how popular, as three things happened in short order that put me fully on their side.
March 31, 1994. Remember Madonna’s first appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman? It got some write-ups as Dave was retiring, as it was — especially for the CBS show — massively squirm-inducing and completely uncomfortable.
Anyways, that’s pretty much all that people remember from that episode. But what I remember is that after Madonna’s segments, the Counting Crows made one of their first network TV appearances and performed a killer version of “Round Here.” So not only did they not do a song that was in the Top Ten at that exact moment, they managed to blow all of the lingering bad vibes right out of the studio. It was a complete surprise.
June 4, 1994. In one of my very last acts as a Fresnan, Manny & I drove up to San Francisco to see the Big Star reunion at the Fillmore, featuring Alex Chilton & Jody Stephens w/ Ken Stringfellow & Jon Auer of The Posies. This was incredibly early in the cycle of reunion shows and we had no idea what to expect.
The reconstituted Big Star were pretty great, but the biggest surprise was that one of the opening acts, billed as “The Shatners,” turned out to be Counting Crows, playing under a pseudonym in order to play a gig with one of their heroes while ensuring that the Fillmore filled up with Big Star fans, not Counting Crows fans. Total mensch move.
June 9, 1994. “Einstein on the Beach” comes out on DGC Rarities Vol 1. One of the last compilations that I ever purchased, I was looking forward to DGC Rarities Vol 1 because it contained non-album tracks by Nirvana (Kurt’s death was still resonating hard), Teenage Fanclub, Hole, Sonic Youth, The Posies, Beck and others.
But — surprise — the song that I loved the most was the Counting Crows one. From fade-in to the very end “Einstein on The Beach (For an Eggman)” flows better than anything on August and Everything After and sports a chorus that is completely indelible:
The world begins to disappear
The worst things come from inside here
All the king’s men reappear
For an eggman, on and off the wall
Who’ll never be together again
I have no idea if this was recorded at the same time as August and Everything After because it’s not on the bonus tracks of the reissue, all I know is it felt like the first time to me Counting Crows seemed like an actual band, and not Adam Duritz and some other dudes, and it primed me for their next two excellent albums.
Fan-made video for “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)”