Top 10 J. Geils Band Songs
Before the No. 1 hit “Centerfold” made them ubiquitous MTV stars in 1981, the J. Geils Band were one of the best bar bands in America. They scored the occasional Top 40 pop song (“Give It to Me” and “Musta Got Lost” both hit the Top 30), but their repertoire was mostly filled with old blues and R&B party-starters made famous by guys like John Lee Hooker and Bobby Womack. They made their name on their live shows — their concert albums from the ’70s did their best to capture the frenzied settings — but shifted gears on 1978’s weird but wonderful Monkey Island album, before finally emerging as a full-force pop band (complete with disco keyboards) on albums like Love Stinks and Freeze-Frame in the ’80s. Our list of the Top 10 J. Geils Band Songs gathers cuts from their entire career.
The J. Geils Band were coming off a commercially dead period when they decided to play up the keyboards on 1978’s Sanctuary. When it proved to be somewhat of a success, they crammed even more contemporary-sounding keys onto their next album, 1980’s Love Stinks. The LP’s first single, the Eurodisco-inspired “Come Back,” became their highest-charting song in six years.
The original version of this harmonica-powered instrumental was on the band’s second album, 1971’s The Morning After. But the definitive version showed up the next year on their first live record. Recorded in Detroit, “Live” Full House features the J. Geils Band at their rawest and bluesiest. “Whammer Jammer” is a highlight, with the group’s harmonica player, Magic Dick, in the spotlight.
“(Ain’t Nothin’ but a) Houseparty”
The band’s fourth album, Bloodshot, made it to the Top 10 in 1973, mostly thanks to the pop-leaning hit single “Give It to Me” (see No. 2 on our list of the Top 10 J. Geils Band Songs). The album’s opening track, “(Ain’t Nothin’ but a) Houseparty,” was more representative of the group’s juke-joint roots. The sweat practically drips off the song.
“Centerfold” (see No. 3 on our list of the Top 10 J. Geils Band Songs) was still hugely popular when the title track of the J. Geils Band’s only No. 1 album was pulled as the second single. It reached the Top Five, too. Like many of the band’s ’80s songs, “Freeze-Frame” replaces the gritty R&B of the group’s early days with a glossy pop sheen ready-made for Top 40 radio.
The J. Geils Band had a Top 25 hit with a live version of their cover of the Marvelows’ doo-wop classic “I Do” in 1982. But we prefer the slick studio take found on 1977’s Monkey Island album, an experimental detour that played around in new sonic playgrounds (the title track runs nine minutes). “I Do” doesn’t quite fit the tone of the LP, but it’s one of the band’s best tributes to ’60s R&B.
The title track to the band’s 1980 comeback album is all over the place: There’s some ’60s garage-rock guitar in there, some late-’70s New Wave synths and a singalong chorus straight outta the era’s arena rock. All of them eventually meet for a glorious collision that results in one of the group’s heaviest, and best-loved, songs.
“One Last Kiss”
After being absent from the Top 40 for four years, the J. Geils Band sharpened their pop hooks and returned in 1978 with Sanctuary, their tightest-sounding record in years. “One Last Kiss,” the album’s hooky hit single, climbed to No. 35, marking a commercial rebirth that would last until the band’s breakup in 1985.
The J. Geils Band had flirted with pop sounds in the past (see the two tracks sandwiching this one in our list of the Top 10 J. Geils Band Songs), but “Centerfold” was a full-on embrace. The song stayed at No. 1 for six weeks and sent Freeze-Frame, the band’s 12th album, to the top of the charts. It’s a long way from “Whammer Jammer,” but their big pop move was richly deserved.
“Give It to Me”
Before “Give It to Me” hit the Top 30, the J. Geils Band’s only appearance in the Top 40 was with a ragged cover of the Valentinos’ 1962 R&B hit “Lookin’ for a Love.” Their fourth album’s closing track clocks in at more than six minutes, thanks to an extended percussion breakdown mid-song, but it’s the single’s edit, focusing on the meaty hook, that gave the band their breakthrough hit and their first Top 10 album.
“Musta Got Lost”
Like a few other cuts on our list of the Top 10 J. Geils Band Songs, “Musta Got Lost” appeared in different forms on various albums during their 15-year-career. The original version of “Musta Got Lost” was on their 1974 album Nightmares … and Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle (where it was called “Must of Got Lost”) and managed to hit the Top 20. But the best-ever version appears on the 1976 live album “Blow Your Face Out,” which was recorded in front of an ecstatic hometown audience in Boston and in Detroit. The live version is preceded by a two-minute bit of bebop fairy-tale poetry by singer Peter Wolf. By the time the band joins him, the energy levels are pushed to a whole other level of greatness.