Just Can’t Wait

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(Pictured: sometime in the 70s, J. Geils (L) plays guitar as Peter Wolf (R) spontaneously combusts.)

Last night, following the death of guitarist J. Geils, Billboard published a list of the J. Geils Band’s biggest Hot 100 hits. The top two are easy to guess. “Centerfold” did six weeks at #1 in February and March of 1982. During the week of March 27, “Centerfold” sat at #7 and “Freeze Frame” at #10. The latter eventually spent four straight weeks—the entire month of April—at #4.

(Topic for future consideration: the remarkable stasis of the Hot 100 during certain weeks of the early 80s. We’ve touched on it occasionally, how in some weeks the chart would barely move at all. For example, during one of the weeks “Freeze Frame” was at #4, the top 6 positions remained unchanged from the previous week, and the other four songs in the Top 10 merely swapped positions. It’s got to do with Billboard‘s methodology at the time—this was the era of the “super star” or “super bullet,” as explained by a reader a few years ago. Somebody with a decent work ethic ought to look into it.)

You may be surprised to learn that the third-most-popular J. Geils hit on the Hot 100 is not “Give It to Me,” but the marvelous “Must of Got Lost,” which went to #12 during the first week of 1975 and is my favorite thing the band ever did. “Give It to Me” ranks fourth, reaching #30 in the summer of 1973. The list also includes “One Last Kiss,” which somehow crept to #35 during the disco-drenched winter of 1979; “Love Stinks” (which lead singer Peter Wolf now performs as a bluegrass number); “Angel in Blue,” the third single from the Freeze Frame album; and the raucous “Looking for a Love,” which scratched to #39 in January 1972.

There’s one song missing, but it’s not because I didn’t try.

I came up in radio at the end of the era in which local music directors could still use their own ears to make hits. The guy who programmed D93 in Dubuque was one of them, having built up a modest collection of commemorative gold records and attaboys from bands and labels for being among the first in the country to play certain hits. But for every gamble that paid off, there were others that didn’t, and as a result, the station played its share of stiffs that went nowhere.

In the summer of 1980, at WXXQ in Freeport, I was not hired as the music director, but the guy who had the job let me do it anyway. And I figured that if other music directors could turn certain records into hits, I could too. I have written many times about how I jumped on Billy Joel’s “Sleeping With the Television On,” sure it was going to be a smash, but there were a couple of others. I added “Stupefaction” by Graham Parker and the Rumour, most likely because I was a young acolyte of Bruce Springsteen by 1980, and Parker/Springsteen comparisons were in the air that summer. (Vintage video here.) And the first time I heard it, I was damn well sure that “Just Can’t Wait,” the third single from the J. Geils album Love Stinks, was going to eclipse both “Come Back” and “Love Stinks,” and I was going to be one of the first music directors in the country to get on it.

It made the Hot 100 for five weeks, reaching #78 in its second week on and then slowly fizzling out.

As I listen to “Just Can’t Wait” now, it doesn’t sound quite so great as it did then. The best part is the opening riff, and the refrain sticks in your head, but the verses sound pretty weak, and Peter Wolf has sung lots of stuff much better. So maybe America was right about it, and I was wrong.

Not for the first time, and not for the last.

My social media feeds were full of tributes to J. Geils last night and this morning. I’m not surprised. My peeps have excellent taste. Jeff at AM, Then FM, has two great stories. Somebody I don’t know personally, Charlie Pierce of Esquire, tweeted last night that of the 10 best concerts he’s ever seen, three of them were by the J. Geils Band. Lots of people whose curiosity has now been piqued are about to discover why the band is considered one of the great live acts of all time. Good for them.

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7 responses

  1. The best part of that pic: Magic Dick twiddling his thumbs in the background, waiting for showtime to *really* begin.

    I fear history will not be kind to the J. Geils Band.
    Their studio work was kind of uneven; their hits were not that many or that large; their body of original songs is not really that amazing; and a reputation as a killer live band only counts for so much as the concerts get further and further into the past.
    And yet … they were as hot and as cool as you’d ever want a band to be, when they were good.

    I think J. Geils his ownself was, and is, a highly underrated guitar player. (At least I haven’t heard a lot of people specifically singing his praises over the years. Maybe I’m just not listening to the right sources.)

  2. A big part of that early-80s chart stasis was that Billboard (despite a couple of earlier false starts) began using airplay as a factor in its Hot 100 chart numbers in 1981. Combined with declining single sales (falling fast since peaking in 1974), airplay ended up being the dominant factor.

    So…the radio stations watch the charts, keep playing the biggest hits, the biggest hits stay the biggest hits….and there you go. Five or six records that really don’t move until burnout strikes.

    Putting airplay in a sales chart is like GM counting every time you see one of their cars on the street as an additional sale.

  3. At the moment, I’m building a Geils tribute block for Tuesday’s show, focusing (as is my wont) on the lesser-knowns in the catalog. “Just Can’t Wait” is in; you’ll have to tune in (or check my current Last.fm stats) for the rest. (Freeze-Frame will factor by law, being THE soundtrack for your programmer’s final month of sixth grade.)

    Our mutual appreciation for “Sleeping With the Television On” has been established; while “Stupefaction” is an ace cut, my pick from The Up Elevator (apart from the obvious draw of the Springsteen collab “Endless Night”) has always been “Love Without Greed”.

    1. Yes! “Love Without Greed” smokes.

  4. For me the unheralded Geils cut (they went by that moniker then) is “Surrender” from the Monkey Island LP. Our local AOR had it in high rotation, what a great tune.

    To me “Centerfold” is their “My Ding-a-Ling,” what made them famous but not their greatest.

  5. I was listening mostly to R&B in ’81-’82, and both “Freeze Frame” and, especially “Flamethrower” were all over R&B radio in Southern California. “Flamethrower” was in fact so popular that a duo by the name of Felix & Jarvis put out a rap version called (wait for it…) “Flamethrower Rap”, which also got a lot of R&B airplay at the time.

    Me, I hated all of the stuff I heard off of the “Freeze Frame” album. To this day, I pretty much switch the station when those songs come on.

    For me, their should-have-been-a-hit sleeper cut was “Love-Itis” from the 1975 “Hotline” album. It was the album’s only single, and it stiffed hard. Didn’t even “Bubble Under”.

  6. […] had to write fewer tribute posts than we did in 2016. Here’s one about Chuck Berry, one about the J. Geils Band, and one about Adam […]

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