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Fairweather Johnson

Fairweather johnson todd in shadows

Date Aired
November 19, 2019
Running Time
19:18
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Todd: I... haven't really thought very hard about what qualifies for this show, but I get questions sometimes so I wanna be real clear about this: Not every unsuccessful album is a Trainwreckord. Um, for example, Cyndi Lauper.

Video for Cyndi Lauper - "Girls Just Want To Have Fun"
Todd (VO): First Cyndi Lauper album, huge. [brief clips of Cyndi Lauper - "True Colors"...] Second one, wasn't really as good and didn't do quite as well; and [..."I Drove All Night"...] then the third album did kinda bad and...[...and Cyndi Lauper & Alan Cumming performing "Pimp's Ballad" at the 2006 Tony Awards] she kinda goes away after that and she shifts her work to other media.

Todd: That's...normal. That's a perfectly typical arc for a pop star. [graphic of declining graph] All careers end. And except for an elite few, no one finishes theirs on top. The name of the show is [shot of logo for...] Trainwreckords. I'm looking for truly colossal disasters. It's gotta be something a little more noteworthy than just any old album that doesn't sell. [beat] But we're gonna make an exception today.

Audio for Hootie & the Blowfish - "Only Wanna Be with You" plays over concert footage
Todd (VO): If there is any band on Earth who shouldn't be on a show about spectacular failures, it is Hootie & the Blowfish.

Todd: 'Cause they weren't a spectacular anything.

Clip of Hootie & the Blowfish - "Hold My Hand"
Darius Rucker: With a little love
And some tenderness
Todd (VO): One of the least pretentious and, let's be honest, least ambitious rock bands of the '90s, Hootie & the Blowfish's sound was so middle-of-the-road, it was like they'd scientifically pinpointed the exact [image of geometric diagram of...] mathematical center of the road with quantum precision.

Todd: And it's weird 'cause on paper, they had a number of distinguishing characteristics.

Video for Hootie & the Blowfish - "Let Her Cry"
Todd (VO): Like their many hit singles, their frontman's distinct and sometimes overwrought vocals, the very fact of having a black singer in a lily-white genre, and just one of the [shot of Hootie & the Blowfish logo] stupidest names in the history of rock. And yet despite that...they never seemed more than just a bar band.

Todd: Bunch of regular guys with a band.

Todd (VO): Nothing at all particularly amazing about them. Except for one major thing.

Todd: They sold 20 million records.

Clip of the band accepting Pop/Rock Favorite New Artist Award at the 1996 American Music Awards
Todd (VO): Even for the '90s, when the record industry was still swimming in money, the number of CDs moved by this one band was absolutely nuts. [clip of MTV News interview] In the year 1995 alone, they sold 12 million copies of their [cover appears onscreen of their...] debut album, Cracked Rear View.
Clip of Charlie Rose interview with the band
Charlie Rose: According to The New York Times, 1 out of 27 Americans own at least one of their albums.
That sounds like it can't be true.

Todd: But trust me, I was there, they were actually that big.

Video for Hootie & the Blowfish - "Time"
Todd (VO): Even my father, who did not listen to modern rock, bought that album. Hootie crossed demographics, made oceans of cash. [clip of live performance] Hootie & the Blowfish was America's band.

Todd: And then...they weren't.

Clip of Hootie & the Blowfish - "Tucker's Town"
Darius: Staring back at you
Todd (VO): I've joked before that Hootie's second album might as well have been shipped directly into the [shot of...] used CD rack. I don't know if anyone at the time realized this was a career killer...

Todd: ...but history has written it off as one of the slumpiest sophomore slumps ever recorded.

Todd (VO): No one was predicting it'd do Cracked Rear View numbers, but Hootie took a [screenshot of Los Angeles Times article: "It's Not Much to Hoot About"] staggering 80% drop in sales. [shot of album cover for...] Even the title, Fairweather Johnson, seemed to predict how fickle the Hootie craze was.

Another clip from Charlie Rose interview
Dean Felber: We're, you know, hoping that in 10 years we'll still be together and that people can look back at that point and say, you know, "Well they, they put out 5 really good albums..."
Todd: Mm. Yeah, no.

Todd (VO): By the end of 1996, it already seemed like everyone had written off the Blowfish as a regrettable era best left in the past. And even Hootie's defenders nowadays don't really have any interest in revisiting their unloved follow-up.

Todd: Except me. 'Cause I gotta know.

Video for Hootie & the Blowfish - "Old Man & Me"
Todd (VO): How does a band sell 12 million records in one year and then just disappear? How? How, how, how, how, how?

Todd: Well, slowly but surely, with a little love and some tenderness, we will find an answer for how and why the Hootie phenomenon ended just as bafflingly and abruptly as it started. [sighs] This is Trainwreckords.

Trainwreckords intro, followed by album cover for Fairweather Johnson
Todd: Every so often, a writer will get this kind of...bug in their head, just like a dare to themselves, a challenge.

Todd (VO): [book cover of Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright] Like, "Can I write a whole novel without using the letter 'E'?", [screenshot of Slate article "Kanye West Has a Goblet" by Jonah Weiner] "Can I write an all-access celebrity profile interview with Kanye West that's just me reading his Twitter feed?"

Todd: Or, here's one: "Can I make a whole 20-minute video about [album cover for Fairweather Johnson] Hootie & the Blowfish's second album and make it interesting?" It's a tough assignment. I can't promise you I'm going to succeed.

Clip of VH1 performance
Todd (VO): I guess I wanted to do this just 'cause of one thing, which is the only reason this album qualifies for this show. I'm just fascinated by the sheer depth of the plunge.

Todd: When you take a cracked rear view back at Hootie-mania, it does not make a whole lot of sense.

Clip of 2Pac and Kiss presenting the award for Best New Artist at the 1996 Grammy Awards
2Pac: And the Grammy goes to...[arrow points at 2Pac with text: "Tupac F-ing Shakur] Oh, my other homeboys! Hootie & the Blowfish!
Todd can do nothing but throw his hands up in bewilderment

Todd (VO): And then, basically immediately following this Grammy ceremony, they vanished from the face of the earth! How could they have turned out to be such a flash in the pan, when they had so little flash?!

Todd: Well, the easy conclusion to make about their downfall is that they were fucking lame, and we all snapped to our senses.

Clip of Hootie & the Blowfish performing on SNL
Todd (VO): Certainly after a year of over-play, Hootie & the Blowfish had to become "Hootie & the Backlash" real quick. I mean, they were so corny and edgeless.

Todd: In lead singer, Darius Rucker's own words, [reading while doing a Darius Rucker singing impression] "People hate us because we don't write songs about how much we hate our parents." [normal] I assume that's how he said it. But I feel like lameness alone doesn't really cover it.

Todd (VO): [clips of "Mr. Jones" by...] Counting Crows, ["Push" by...] Matchbox Twenty, [and "When I'm Gone" by...] Three Doors Down, these were all unhip bands and they all managed to have big hits after their first album. [clip of live performance of "How You Remind Me" by...] Nickelback had tons of backlash and their fans are still ride-or-die.

Todd: For Hootie to have that steep a drop off, they must have really alienated their fans by radically altering their sound.

Video for "Old Man & Me" starts
Darius: Well an old man said to me
In a voice filled with pain
Where you going young man
Todd: No, that's still clearly Hootie.

Todd (VO): Not gonna mistake that for any other band in the universe.

Todd: Actually, why don't we back up? What made this earnest and straightforward group of frat bros so big to begin with?

Video for Alice in Chains - "Them Bones"
Todd (VO): When we talk about '90s rock, we're usually talking about grunge and post-grunge and alternative. [clip of Stone Temple Pilots live performance] But that stuff was actually burning itself out by the mid-90s because of drugs and death and general messiness, and the world was just getting tired of shit being heavy all the time.

Todd: People forget that there was also...

Video for Sheryl Crow - "All I Wanna Do"
Todd (VO): ...another, rootsier rock scene that really came into its own in the early '90s. Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Clapton unplugged. You know, VH1 rock.

Todd: And crossing over between those two scenes, there was, of course, R.E.M.

Clip of live performance of R.E.M. - "Man on the Moon"
Michael Stipe: If you believed they put a man on the moon
Todd (VO): After about a decade of being the best college rock band in America, R.E.M. improbably broke through in the early '90s and became superstars. [clip of "Losing My Religion"] They were huge and hugely influential, but...there was always gonna be limits on how big they got. [clip of "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?"] Like Nirvana, they were weird and abstract and uncomfortable with being mainstream, [clip of "Shiny Happy People"] and their intersection with pop stardom came from very uncharacteristic songs like "Everybody Hurts" and "Shiny Happy People". It wasn't the kind of thing they could sustain for very long.

Todd: So that's where Hootie comes in.

Clip of Hootie live performance
Darius: We'd like to drink this to R.E.M. because if it wasn't for them we wouldn't be a band, and this is for them.
Todd (VO): Hootie & the Blowfish counted R.E.M. as their main influence, but...they were not nearly as oblique, so they filled in the gap for anyone who liked mandolins but could do without confusing lyrics about Andy Kaufman and shit like that. [clip of Garth Brooks live performance] And considering the early '90s was also the era of the big Nashville boom, I'm guessing they picked up a lot of the Garth Brooks audience also, [clip of Darius Rucker - "Wagon Wheel"] as evidenced by Rucker's eventual turn as a country star.

Todd: After all, they were a very traditionalist band, [brief clip of live performance] their lyrics were very direct and they built their success the old fashioned way, through relentless touring. So Hootie were basically the band for everybody. And if you want my opinion about it, there's also that...yeah, Cracked Rear View was a pretty solid record with some good singles.

Clip of "Hold My Hand"
Hootie & the Blowfish: Hold my hand
Todd (VO): Well, "Hold My Hand" still sucks, I don't like that one. [brief clips of...] But I do really like the cornball "Only Wanna Be with You", and I do a pretty good "Let Her Cry" at karaoke. And in the wake of Darius' solo comeback and a big, successful Hootie reunion tour this year, some critics have tried to make the case that [screenshot of article: "Hootie & the Blowfish, Great American Rock Band (Yes, Really)"] Hootie was a deserving, worthwhile band.

Todd: But those defenses definitely don't include Fairweather Johnson.

Video for...
Todd (VO): Well, why not? Okay, this is the first single, "Old Man & Me".
Darius: Well I wonder who will walk with me
When I get to heaven
It's, uh... it's okay, I guess. It's about Darius telling some old man he's going off to war, hooray.
Darius: Gonna fight a war
Gonna fight for my country
Todd (VO): And the old man says "Oh, you know, I was once stupid like you but, you know, war is stupid and you're stupid". And Darius reflects on the old man's wisdom.

Todd: Mm...personally I'm having trouble connecting with it.

Todd (VO): Respecting your elders is [screenshot of "OK Boomer" meme] not really a resonant message in 2019. And I can't imagine needing anyone to tell me that war is bad. I know war is bad. But, you know, nothing wrong with that either. Nothing super offensive about saying war is bad.

Todd: Listening to it, you wouldn't at all think it was the song that led to the decline of the Hootie empire.

Todd (VO): It sounds exactly the same as the last album.

Todd: In fact, that might be the problem.

Clip of Charlie Rose interview
Todd: In interviews, the band made a big deal about evolving on the second album, getting a more mature sound now that they were older and not just fresh out of college.
Mark Bryan: I think what you have is a more mature version of us on that record, you know, a more experienced version.
Todd: "Old Man & Me" is the exception.
Album cover for Kootchypop demo
Todd (VO): That was an old song from their original demos. [clip of "Old Man & Me"] So this being the single is the record company playing it safe, giving people more of the Hootie sound they loved. But to me...

Todd: ...that, that's already a bad sign.

Todd (VO): It wasn't good enough to get on the first album, now it's good enough to be a lead single?

Todd: Nnh, sounds dicey to me.

Todd (VO): But there was a bigger problem, a problem that would have existed regardless of the songs.

Todd: And that was a problem of timing.

Screenshot of Billboard article: "Hootie & Co. Try To Repeat History On 2nd Atlantic Set"
Todd (VO): Fairweather Johnson dropped just a couple months after the last single from Cracked Rear View was released. [screenshot of Billboard 200 from March 23, 1996, with Cracked Rear View at number 11] Cracked Rear View was still in the top 20, selling thousands of copies a week.

Todd: That's a lot of Hootie all at once. You gotta give people time to miss you or, you know, leave people wanting more.

Video for Ariana Grande - "Thank U, Next"
Todd (VO): Then again, that's also what people told Ariana when she dropped Thank U, Next, and she did it anyway and it worked out pretty well for her.

Todd: But, of course, there's a big difference there, which is, you know...

Todd (VO): ...Thank U, Next is close to her best work ever...

Todd: ...and Fairweather Johnson...was not.

Montage clips of Hootie live performances
Todd (VO): The sophomore slump happens for a lot of reasons, but the big one is that bands get to polish their first batch of songs for years on the road before they get signed, and then they've only got a few months to write their second.

Todd: You're not gonna find a better example of that than Hootie.

Todd (VO): And they only had themselves to blame for it, because...rushing out their second album was their idea. They'd been playing the same set for five goddamn years, and apparently, even when you are Hootie & the Blowfish...

Todd: ...there's only so much Hootie & the Blowfish you can listen to.

Clip of MTV News interview
Todd (VO): They were dying to get out some new ideas. Unfortunately, I don't think they had any. [shot of Hootie on the cover of Entertainment Weekly] Like, you read the PR and, you know, some of the kinder reviews for Fairweather Johnson and they talk about how this is the more [shot of Guitar World magazine cover: "Hootie & the Blowfish - New Album New Sound"] thoughtful, complex, deeper Hootie, with more sophisticated and layered sounds, and reading...

Todd: ...those reviews makes me feel like I'm losing my goddamn mind. They didn't budge an inch!

Clip of Charlie Rose interview
Todd (VO): I can only assume that by "more mature and complex", those writers mean that Hootie stopped having hooks, or being any fun. [clip of live performance] Like, there are differences between the first and second album. They're subtle, but they're there. [shot of cover for Cracked Rear View] Like, here's how Cracked Rear View starts.
Clip of live performance of "Hannah Jane"
Todd: [starts bobbing to music] See? I'm bouncing right away. Now, here's how Fairweather Johnson starts.
Clip of live performance of "Be the One"
Darius: I wonder
I wanna die with you
Todd (VO): This is not fun at all. It's minor-key and ugly.

Todd: This is like if someone went up to the band [clip of "I Alone" by...] Live and were like "I like how miserable and joyless you are, but I kinda wish you had less edge, could you be wimpier?"

Todd (VO): That first album took a real critical beating, and I guess Hootie got tired of being called lightweights. So, I sense them not trying to upend their sound, exactly, but just be a little more respectable, be artsier like R.E.M., use a couple heavier riffs like Pearl Jam. But that's like [clip of "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)"] by...] Journey deciding that they're an angry punk band now. No, you're not. You are who you are, guys. [clip of...] "Only Wanna Be with You", Hootie's biggest and best song, was not only cheesy as hell, it was about being cheesy. Their lameness was their charm. It's what the people wanted. If anything they should have been even lamer!

Clip of "Old Man & Me"
Hootie & the Blowfish: Seen a million places
Todd (VO): "Old Man & Me" did crack the top 20 for a few weeks, but that would be the last time they ever sniffed the Hot 100.

Todd: Like, here's the second single, "Tucker's Town".

Clip of "Tucker's Town"
Darius: Going down to Tucker's Town
Todd (VO): Tucker's Town is a place in Bermuda where they recorded the album. [shot of Wikipedia page for "Tucker's Town"] And Wikipedia helpfully tells me that the black townspeople were forced off their land there to make room for a resort and golf course.

Todd: So, that's what this song is about, maybe?

Todd (VO): Actually, I'm gonna be straight with you, I have absolutely no idea what this song is about.

Todd: I think it's about racism.

Clip of band performing the song on The Rosie O'Donnell Show
Darius: Your father called my name
Then he sighed with great relief
'Cause it wasn't me that you were clinging to
Todd: But honestly, it might just be a breakup song.
Clip of "Tucker's Town"
Todd (VO): Like, the pieces are there but they don't seem to be connecting to each other. I mean, he's sad 'cause of racism and/or breakup...

Todd: ...so he's gonna go down to Tucker's Town where he can relax.

Darius: Where I can laugh for free
Nobody stares at me
And I'd love to hurt the population
Todd: What, why?!

Todd (VO): What, what population? The white population? The black population? What are you talking about?!

Todd: See, here's the promise Hootie made in their first album. [image of Darius Rucker with quote: "There's no symbolism in our songs." - Associated Press interview, 1995] You wouldn't ever have to think very hard about what they meant. You heard 'em once, and you got it. And it worked. You...

Video for...
Todd (VO): ...listen to "Let Her Cry" and you've got a very vivid, detailed portrait of a relationship in its bitter end stages. [clip of...] "Tucker's Town" is vague and half-formed. As is much of the album.

Todd: There is also one other major difference between albums 1 and 2. Darius' singing has gotten noticeably worse.

Clip of VH1 live performance
Todd (VO): I mean, he was always easy to make fun of [doing Darius Rucker singing impression] 'cause he sang like this. [clip of "Tucker's Town"] But on the second album he really amps it up. He over-emotes everything and he is basically unintelligible.
Montage clips of Darius yarling
Todd (VO): What the fuck is he saying?

Todd: Aaahhhreeehhuuughh. I swear to God, he's trying to sing without using consonants.

Shot of CD track listing with "Fairweather Johnson" circled in red
Todd (VO): You know what, why don't we jump to the title track? Easy enough to tell what that one's about.
Audio for "Fairweather Johnson" plays over live footage
Darius: I like the Steelers in '75
Todd (VO): If you don't know the term, a fairweather fan, or a fairweather friend, [images of cheering Steelers fans...] is someone who's only there during the good times and [...and an empty stadium except for two people] when things start looking bad, they're nowhere. Like, yes, this is about sports, all of the Blowfish were big sports fans. But there's obviously personal resonance there, too. An overnight sensation like Hootie had to have been wondering about their own fans' loyalty.

Todd: So this is obviously metaphorical...

Darius: Fairweather Johnson
Mark: Johnson, I like the Braves in '95
Darius: [laughing] I like the Braves in '95
Todd: [pause] I had more I wanted to say there, but the song's already over. [shot of album on Spotify, with "Fairweather Johnson" selected] It was a 45-second joke song. It was the best song on the album.

Todd (VO): I'm not kidding, it was. It was the catchiest song and I knew what it was about. It's the only moment that's not, like, a dead slog. Certainly the most memorable. [shot of Hootie on the front of Rolling Stone] Some reviewers, I think, were trying to be kind to this album 'cause, you know, they'd dismissed the first one and then it blew up. [screenshot of article: "The Hootie & the Blowfish Review That Got a Rolling Stone Editor Fired] There were rumors that legendary critic Jim DeRogatis got fired from Rolling Stone for being too negative about this record. [clip of live performance] Everyone else is trying to be kind by talking up how many new elements they had. Like, there's a tiny bit of accordion on this one song. There's a song called [shot of back of CD cover, with a red circle around...] "Silly Little Pop Song".

Todd: Should add some levity.

Audio for "Silly Little Pop Song" plays over concert footage
Darius: One thing's for sure
I just can't find a way
Todd just throws his hands up
Hootie & the Blowfish: Ooh, la la la
Todd: Yeah, a couple barely audible "ooh la la"'s does not turn your dour-ass song into a breezy pop delight, guys.
Clip of Rosie O'Donnell Show performance
Todd (VO): Like, you could feel all the writers grasping at straws to identify something noteworthy about this record. In the UK, where they had less clout, the critics were not nearly as respectful. [picture of Time Out cover next to quote] London's Time Out magazine called this record [speaking in English accent] "...duller than Dull Dave McDull's duller brother Dennis." [normal] I imagine the...

Todd: ...Zero Punctuation guy writing that.

Shot of Fairweather Johnson album cover
Todd (VO): Even the album art is boring! I look at this record and I think it's gonna play [text appears over album cover: "Cricket Chorus, sixty minutes of relaxing sounds of nature"] ambient cricket sounds to help me sleep!
Various headlines regarding "Fairweather Johnson"
Todd (VO): In the aftermath, the label denied the album was a flop. After all, said one executive [transcript from statement of Jan Azzoli, Atlantic Records] "It sold 400,000 copies in its first week, [imitating Darius Rucker] so all those people moaning and groaning can stick it up their ass." [normal] Yeah, everyone who's connected with them talks like that now, I've decided.

Todd: But in hindsight it obviously was a flop....

Video for "Tucker's Town"
Todd (VO): …because their career slammed to a halt and they never touched the Top 40 again. [image of "How to Get Fired from Rolling Stone] And I think that deleted Rolling Stone article has a good point why. It wasn't just a subpar follow-up.....

Todd: …they also weren't a good live band.

Clips of more concert footage
Todd (VO): I mean they were a professional live band. They had to be, they did 300 shows a year. It's just...they had the same DNA and influences and touring schedule as, you know, [clips of concerts for...] Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, all those other jam bands.

Todd: But Hootie didn't jam.

Todd (VO): They didn't experiment. I've looked at clips of their live shows at their height, they sound exactly like the CD.

The guitar riffs from both the album version of Time and one from the North Charleston Coliseum live performance, showing no difference between the two
Todd: You could've just stayed home!

Todd (VO): There was no variety or spontaneity in them. And that's why, unlike Dave Matthews, they never developed that die-hard cult fan base.

Todd: The thing about being the band for everyone, is that you're also the band for no one.

Todd (VO): They had no core audience, so as soon as the hits dried up, those giant crowds disappeared.

Todd: And, it's not a sad ending for them obviously.

Video for Darius Rucker - "Don't Think I Don't Think About It"
Todd (VO): Darius found his true calling in Nashville where, corny directness is a good thing. [clip of Hootie & the Blowfish - "Hold On"] And they're on a big reunion tour right now and honestly, I think they're better now than they were at their height. And I think they all know that Fairweather Johnson was boring, [clip of another live performance] 'cause when they play their only hit from it, they mash it up with [brief clip of...] Public Enemy's "Fight the Power".
Darius: 1989 the number another summer
Sound of the funky drummer
Hootie & the Blowfish singing "Fight the Power." Now there's something I thought I'd never see. And honestly, I think their new record's kind of good, too. [clip of "Old Man and Me"] But Fairweather Johnson you can skip. I think ultimately, all we can do is write it off as a boring failure.

Todd: [shrugs] Just like this video. Swear to god I'll cover like, Hulk Hogan's album next time or something, just anything more interesting than this. [imitating Darius Rucker] So long everybody!

Gets up and leaves

Video for "Old Man and Me" ends
Ending music: Todd plays "Only Wanna Be With You" on piano

THE END

"Fairweather Johnson" is owned by Atlantic Records

This Video is owned by me

THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!

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