When I think of college and the bands that defined those years, Gin Blossoms always rise to the top.
To this day, numerous songs off New Miserable Experience elicit those unrealized feelings at the time that today bring back memories of spring afternoons studying or relaxing in my dorm room after class.
New Miserable Experience broke the airwaves in 1994 and I climbed on board. A couple of years later Gin Blossoms met the un-fortunes of many bands trying to once again encapsulate a wide breadth of drama filled melancholy songs. Though 1996’s Congratulations, I’m Sorry has aged more like fine wine it didn’t light up the charts as its predecessor.
Sadly, but not too surprisingly, the band, likely still reeling from the 1993 suicide of co-founder and primary New Miserable Experience song writer Doug Hopkins, called it quits in 1997. But Gin Blossoms never fell off my playlist and much to my delight, several years later they returned.
My first Gin Blossoms concert was free as this band who helped define 90s era alternative rock music played a 2003 small town summer fair (practically in my backyard) in Brea, CA. A few days later I caught a paid ticket performance at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, CA and over the years saw them play a number of times including another free show at Hollywood Park horse racing track.
Rather silently, Gin Blossom released the underappreciated but highly anticipated (by me) album Major Lodge Victory and it seemed as though they took on new life. They continued to tour around the country regularly, squeezing as much as they could from their 90’s work with the occasional new album song or two stuck in the setlist. After a while, this led to mostly mailed-in performances, though still quite enjoyable, as they seemingly struggled to retain and regain a solid following. Nine years ago at the Linn County Fair in the small town of Albany, OR, I stopped singer Robin Wilson as he skateboarded to the nearby hotel!
Yet, Gin Blossom carried on and released No Chocolate Cake in 2010 that didn’t move the needle much but in early 2017 released New Miserable Experience on vinyl, took my advice to tour the album in its entirety (OK, at least I like to think so) and hit it out of the park with last year’s Mixed Reality.
No doubt a wildly long introduction to this latest Top 10 Best Songs list. Actually, I thought I covered it already but remembered waiting until Mixed Reality [Explicit] was released and must have forgot.
As always, this list could change especially since drummer Scott Hessel indicated possible future albums to come. But I present the Top 10 Best Gin Blossoms song in no particular order though #1 comes pretty close as it has always held a special place in the soundtrack of my life.
- Found Out About You – New Miserable Experience
I have a hard time categorizing anyone as a “genius” songwriter but the line “I get the time too often on A.M. radio” gets me every time. The Hopkins penned song became one of the band’s biggest hits and still enjoys airplay today. The opening guitars bleed melancholy and personally this one hits home as I am sure it does for many others.
- Long Time Gone – Major Lodge Victory
So much happening on this song. Guitars, harmonica, bass, time signature changes, upbeat, a bit mournful, great drums and I think some piano in there too. A quintessential rock song. Dig it.
- Idiot Summer – Dusted
Upbeat and awesome. Two versions exist: the original off 1989’s debut album Dusted and then on the Till I Hear It From You EP with the one off Dusted a bit more aggressive rock. Great hooks and a rhythm that will keep you singing long after the needle lifts.
- Allison Road – New Miserable Experience
One of the more “cheerful” songs off New Miserable Experience, guitars again play a key roll offering depth and just an overall outstanding song. Wilson wrote this song and as it turns out (if memory serves me right) Allison was an ex-girlfriend from where else, but Portland! “Allison Road” doesn’t get the airplay as the others off NME but it’s a concert staple and for good reason.
- Face the Dark – Mixed Reality
Perhaps the best song off Mixed Reality this song could have been written 25 years ago and been a hit single off NME but we know how the music industry is these days. Wilson kills it again but you know what really stands out? Bill Leen’s bass guitar. A subtle intro about 13 seconds in that anchors through to the end. Take that away and you don’t have the same song.
- Come On Hard – Major Lodge Victory
I’d be up for an anniversary tour of Major Lodge Victory (just in case anyone from the Gin Blossom’s camp is reading) an almost forgotten “We’re back!” album. So many songs on this record excel but this isn’t a Top 20 list. “Come On Hard” leads the way and shows the band keeping their core sound while breaking from their past with an eye on the future.
- Until I Fall Away – New Miserable Experience
If you want a song to wallow in your sorrows, then go ahead and listen. New Miserable Experience wasn’t all Hopkins as this song was written by Wilson and guitarist Jesse Valenzuela. It makes me sad even when things are going right. “There’s nowhere to go but down…”
- Break – Mixed Reality
I’ve used many adjectives for Wilson’s vocals over the years and advocate he’s got some of the best and polished in rock music. “Break” demonstrates my reasoning. Classic Gin Blossoms, I love the one-two from Valenzuela and Scott Johnson on guitars and “Break” which opens Mixed Reality affirms Gin Blossoms hold on soupy pop music that leaves you numb.
- The End of the World – Major Lodge Victory
Cleary, I’m a sucker for songs built on the foundation of despair. Wilson nails the vocals again and the guitars (especially the acoustic) provide the heart. So good.
- Follow You Down – Congratulations I’m Sorry
The flagship song off Congratulations I’m Sorry offers an upbeat almost satirical counter to the emotional tinged New Miserable Experience. Who would have thought a harmonica as the focal point? I’m glad Wilson keeps it handy on stage. Congratulations I’m Sorry, perhaps the best album name ever, gets overlooked as it came with high expectations on the heels of NME. It still went platinum but did not measure up to its younger brother despite a solid track list.
Well now. Where is “Hey Jealousy” perhaps the most popular Gin Blossoms song? That’s why there’s an asterisk. It’s a favorite no doubt but an obvious choice. I also didn’t include any off No Chocolate Cake which didn’t have the same hits as Major Lodge Victory and Mixed Reality but has a few gems of it’s own. And, I dropped “Learning the Hard Way.” Despite having just six studio albums Gin Blossoms have an abundance of songs that trigger the musical senses.