It is almost impossible to mention the Goo Goo Dolls and immediately think of their 1998 chart topping hit “Iris” – yet, to define them by one song is to miss the heart of what makes the Goo Goo Dolls such an epic band. Of course, the added imagery of a fallen angel played by Nicholas Cage who forsakes his heavenly ordained purpose to experience love with a fragile human played by Meg Ryan, makes it hard to separate the Goo Goo Dolls from the movie “City of Angels” but it’s worth the effort.
Originally formed under the moniker Sex Maggot in 1985, the band has largely maintained their original members for 33 years which is virtually unheard of. The band switched to their more palatable name on an eve of a gig after the concert promoter refused to put Sex Maggot on his marquee. As legend has it, John Rzeznik haphazardly threw out the suggestion “Goo Goo Dolls” after spotting an ad for a goo-goo doll in a True Detective magazine. At the time the band thought it would be a farcical poke at the post-punk era that the band found themselves in. The joke backfired when the band quickly accumulated too many fans to change the name back. It was the first of two changes that eventually catapulted the band to success.
After releasing their first three albums to relative static from fans, the Goo Goo Dolls switched then back-up singer Rzeznik to frontman for their fourth album ‘Superstar Carwash’ in 1993. Two years later, the Goo Goo Dolls had their first commercial success with the single “Name” from the album ‘A Boy Named Goo’. The album is widely considered one of the most successful alternative albums of the mid-90s and garnered the band’s record label, Metal Blade, their first double-platinum status. Unfortunately for the band, the album was pulled from Walmart shelves in what became a he-said-she-said argument about the album’s cover art. While Walmart maintained that the album was pulled due to low-sales, Metal Blade asserted that it was an overreaction to isolated complaints that the cover art was offensive. The art in question is of a naked child covered in blackberry juice which reportedly looked like blood to some.
Despite the controversy, the Goo Goo Dolls continued to press on and in 1998 they released the highly anticipated album ‘Dizzy Up the Girl’ which featured four U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles – ‘Iris’, ‘Slide’, ‘Black Balloon’ and ‘Broadway’. Incidentally, the album is also one of their most eclectic. The pop hits are balanced with post-punk songs like “Bullet Proof” and “All Eyes on Me”. Then the album takes a detour and offers a nod to their 1990 acoustic gem “Two Days in February”. Although ‘Dizzy Up the Girl’ may be the band’s most commercially successful album, it is also the album that seems furthest from the punk roots that their early fans loved. In many ways, it is an album defined by commercialism rather than musical vision.
By 2002, the Goo Goo Dolls had shaken off the pressures of creating music for the masses and the result was the enjoyable alt-rock sounds of ‘Gutterflower’. The album is largely performed in minor chords that are expertly paired with lyrics about longing and heartbreak, making it the perfect response to the sex-laden hip hop songs that were dominating the radio waves. Fans rewarded the effort garnering the album Gold status and a number four spot in the Billboard 200.
The Goo Goo Dolls continued their success in 2007 when they set a record for most Top-10 Hits in adult-rock history with their 12th chart-topper, “Let Love In,” the title track of their 2006 album. Once again, the album contained the heavy riffs and melancholic lyrics that exemplify the best of the band.
With that said, their most recent release, ‘Boxes’ is a far-cry from their punk-rock roots and is filled with a staggering number of poppy anthems. However, there is an earnestness and ease with which the songs are written that seems to flow naturally with the band’s evolution – not to mention the state of our nation. Songs like “Souls in the Machine” and “Long Way Home” center around fighting the good fight together. All in all, the album is a message of hope during a bleak socio-political environment.
Bottomline, with a career that spans three decades and includes 14 Top-10 hits, 11 multi-Platinum albums and arguably one of the most diverse musical catalogues out there, the Goo Goo Dolls are a band whose live performances you won’t want to miss.