Today it was my pleasure to hear about a new musical project by the New Jersey band, The Smithereens. If you do not know them, I can assure you that they are both talented musicians and the rare Nice Guys as well. I know them in two ways: for their own garage/power pop songs like “Only A Memory” and “A Girl Like You,” and also that they are huuuuuuuuuuuuge fans of many of my favorite bands, like the Beatles and the Kinks and the Who. Yes, I know there are many huge fans of these bands, but these guys are huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge fans, and back that right on up by doing very honorable covers of said bands’ work alongside their own. OK, I hear you, so these guys are fans and they do cover versions, like ALMOST ALL BANDS. Ah, but not like this, doubters, not like this.

On May5th, The Smithereens release their version of “Tommy” on E1 Entertainment (Koch Records). Yes, the Who song. And yes, not just that song but a whole bunch of the songs from that seminal double album, as a 40th anniversary tribute to the original issue. You can listen to bits of it all right here:

Is it wonderful, brave, silly, or what to take on what is probably the most well-known work of a world-famous rock band? For me, when looking at covering other artists’ songs, that question is always answered in the same way: do it better and/or bring something new to it. There are enough watery and weak cover versions in the world, as well as note-for-note faithful reproductions that seem to lack any of the original magic somehow. I would rather hear someone beating on a Campbell’s soup can with a stick singing along to “Yesterday” than the most studied perfect Paulie McSame version. Do something to make me listen, or think. I don’t even have to like it, but I can respect that you tried to do your thing with it.

But in this case, it is not so simple. All in all, here the Smithereens are staying very faithful to the Who’s original work. There are no vibraphones, no massive re-orchestrations, no goat choirs, and no Campbell’s soup cans, that I am aware of. The songs are done cleanly, with great heart, and with quite awesome professional chops. Believe me, I listen with an ultra-critical ear here. Keith Moon and John Entwistle are, respectively, my favorite drummer and bassist of the EVER. You can’t really copy them, replace them, and certainly can’t make that unique amazing magic of the team of them happen again, one, because you aren’t them, and two, they are dead. Roger Daltrey is technically out-singable, but it is most difficult to reach his level of passion and dedication to making the words work. Pete Townshend’s guitar playing, moving from delicate to roaring in the space of a few seconds, is completely unique as well.

So, what do I think we have here? What did the Smithereens bring to “Tommy” 40 years down the line? I know, and you are going to think I am silly for saying it, but I think I know.


It’s in every note, how much these guys love that band. I hear it in the way they play. I see in my mind the hours they spent as kids listening to “Tommy” with headphones on in their rooms, staring at the record cover, holding it in their hands. Sometimes you listen so much it is like the songs become part of your cell structure. It’s just in there. To be able to feel that, to play with such passion and depth and talent and capture it, and have someone else be able to feel it, is quite an accomplishment. It is what a real tribute is all about, Charlie Brown.

Not to mention that I bet they had a total blast doing it. Good on ya, Smithereens, good on ya. May 5th. Be there.