Who is Adam Schlesinger? Find out this week, as I explore some of my favorite tracks by the power pop savant.
I became a fan of Adams Schlesinger five or six times without realizing I did.
Adam is a songwriter, producer, band-leader, and performer who writes absolutely astounding pop hooks and tunes. Where other great pop minds like Max Martin have focused on radio pop, Adam has devoted his talents to other subgenres of music.
This week, I want to survey some of his songs (many of which I fell in love with independently before checking the credits). I’ll start not with the song I discovered first, but his flagship project: power pop/alt rock band Fountains of Wayne, where he is writer, producer, bassist, and band leader, with frontman Chris Collingwood his partner in crime.
When I was in 10th grade I heard the song “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. I loved the tune and silly lyrics but mostly I loved the sound: crisp and dynamic pop rock polish that emphasized delicious hooks, clear vocals, and a tight, rock instrumentation. In passing years, I would come to know this as “power pop.”
Late in college, I rediscovered Fountains of Wayne, and learned they are cult legends for nerdy white dudes who dig power pop hooks (i.e. me). Steven Hyden controversially proclaimed them one of few champions in the seminal “Five-albums Test” article. Over the past five years, they’ve gradually risen in my personal pantheon (and would be a lock for Dan’s Top 100 Everything if I made it in 2017, perhaps as a package with other Schlesinger projects).
While “Stacy’s Mom” remains their trademark number (and perhaps their slickest tune), there’s a stunning depth to their catalog, and a definite arc: From the childlike self-titled debut through 2011’s Sky Full of Holes, which explores the mundanity of adulthood in understated but emotional terms, Fountains of Wayne has mirrored every phase of my life so far. (Rumors of a Schlesinger-Collingwood rift put the band’s future in doubt, but I’d love a dark midlife crisis album from the band at some point.)
I have a soft spot for the satiric Traffic and Weather from 2007, probably my favorite Fountains album from front to back. That said, the early album has some of their all-time highlights, including today’s Song of the Day.
“Mexican Wine” features a playful, rollicking riff that makes great use of contrast. (The first loop of each chorus cuts out the bass for a moment of sonic levity.) It has one of those great, gut-check key changes. The lyrics fly by in a blur, telling the story of a pair of winos who at least have each other, even if they can’t quite cope with modern adult life. All in all, a catchy gem (with a wacky, surprisingly high-budget video).