These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.
The J. Geils Band had been around a long, long time before they had the kind of commercial breakthrough that’s the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll dreams. They formed in 1967 in Worcester, Massachusetts and undoubtedly logged a lot of hours in the nearby Boston clubs. Their first album came out on Atlantic Records in 1970 and they had significant success over the years, especially on “Album Oriented Rock” stations, as the format that emphasized the aspirational brethren of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones was called. They’d even logged a few singles in the U.S. Top 40, with one song, 1974’s “Must of Got Lost,” even threatening to make the climb into the Top 10. Good stuff all around, but still nothing like what the band experienced when they released their twelfth album in the fall of 1981.
I don’t know that Freeze Frame was hotly anticipated when it came out (although it may have been, given that their prior effort, Love Stinks, was the band’s highest charting album to date), but it was definitely greeted with effusive admiration, led by a five-star review in Rolling Stone, the undisputed rock ‘n’ roll bible at the time. The lead single is what radically transformed the stature of the band. “Centerfold,” which told the tale of discovering an old crush from school in the pages of a dirty magazine (perhaps inspired by lead singer Peter Wolf’s old relationship with actress and Playboy model Angel Tompkins), went all the way to #1 and stayed there for six weeks, until it was displaced so “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts started its own lengthy run at the top in what has to be one the toughest, ballsiest spans the pinnacle of the Billboard chart ever had. (That changed in a big way with the next #1 and the one after that.) The album’s title cut was released as the second single, and it garnered enough airplay to make it into the Top 5.
For the next single, the band opted for their original choice for the lead single. In fact, they were at the video shoot for their initial pick, “Angel in Blue,” when the head of EMI, their label at the time, called up and suggested the more bright and buoyant “Centerfold.” I’d wager there’s no one out there interested in second-guessing that call. Lovely as “Angel in Blue” is, it’s inconceivable that it could have had the same impact as the earlier singles, even without the empirical evidence of it peaking at #40, though it came of the heels of a pair of songs that make radio programmers eager for the next J. Geils band offering. Of course, the moony ballad was different enough from the punchy singles that preceded it that the variety may have disappointing rather than satisfying for listeners.
J. Geils band has one more visit to the Top 40 with a cover of The Marvelows’ “I Do” off of their 1982 live album Showtime! That was also roughly represented the end of Wolf’s tenure with the band. He had a fairly auspicious solo debut followed by enough a dwindling career that eventual reunions with his former bandmates became all but inevitable.