The Goo Goo Dolls (Contemporary Musicians)
Image Pop-UpThe Goo Goo Dolls.
In early 1995 the Goo Goo Dolls were dubbed "America's best unknown band" in their record company biography. They had released several albums, each of which garnered ample critical acclaim and expanded their loyal fan base, yet full-blown commercial success eluded the Dolls until late 1995, when their song "Name" became a huge hit at modern rock radio. Even greater success followed with the release of the hit "Iris" in 1998, which originally appeared on the City of Angels soundtrack. While the band has often been compared to the post-punk garage pop of the Replacements, Huh magazine's Dave Kendall described the band as, "poppy punk rockers, just like the Buzzcocks and 999."
The Goo Goo Dolls, comprised of singer-guitarist Johnny Rzeznik, singer-bassist Robby Takac, and drummer Mike Malins (who replaced drummer George Tutuska in 1995) formed in Buffalo, New York, in 1985. Before choosing the name Goo Goo Dolls, the band was briefly known as Sex Maggot. Takac and Rzeznik decided on the name Goo Goo Dolls when they spotted an ad for a doll with a moveable, rubber head in True Detective magazine.
Punk Rock Influences
Early musical influences for the band include the Sex Pistols, the Damned, Devo, the Plasmatics and other punk rock pioneers of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rzeznik told Huh's Kendall, "The first wave of punk stuff that came from England just blew me away when I heard it The Damned and the Buzzcocks, all that was amazing. Then there was the East Coast American stuff the Ramones and the Dead Boys. And some of the West Coast stuff Fear and the Dickies and those bands were great."
Rzeznik was born in 1965 to a postal clerk and his wife. He has four older sisters. His grandparents arrived in the United States from Krakow, Poland, in 1913. After moving to Buffalo when Rzeznik was a child, his family opened a neighborhood bar. As a teenager, he decided he wanted to become a plumber. His father died of complications from alcoholism when Rzeznik was 15. His mother died six months later. Rzeznik told Billboard's Timothy White, "My mom was gone six months later 'cause she was so lonely. If it hadn't been for my sisters, I wouldn't have made it."
Rzeznik worked as an assistant plumber for one day before quitting to enroll at Buffalo State University. At the time he was playing in a band called the Beaumonts, a hard-core punk outfit. Rzeznik's cousin played in a heavy metal band of which Takac was a member. The two met through this connection and became fast friends and, not long after, musical collaborators.
Rzeznik shared his band's philosophy with Billboard's White, allowing, "Our music is saying that it's best to keep yourself more process-oriented than outcomeoriented If you can somehow do things from the bottom of your soul, but not get hung up dwelling on them, then it's a good, unselfish feeling."
Began as a Cover Band
The Goo Goo Dolls started out covering songs by artists as diverse as Prince, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Plimsouls, adding their own twist of homespun humor. The band had to rent performance spaces in order to play. Matt Ashare of the Boston Phoenix described their early original material as "loud, raucous songs that combined Ramones-style buzzsaw guitars with Cheap Trick hooks and a lot of rock-and-roll heart."
The band's debut album, Goo Goo Dolls, released on the independent Mercenary label, was picked up in 1987 by a larger indie, Celluloid Records. Takac told Rolling Stone's Chris Mundy of the band's relationship with the label, "I'll give the guy at Celluloid Records one thinge put out our record But we'd say, 'We need twenty dollars for gas,' and he'd say, 'What the f**k are you calling me for?' They were making 90 percent of the profit, we paid all of the bills."
The Goo Goo Dolls then decided to try their hand in Los Angeles, where they struggled mightily, surviving on peanut butter sandwiches. They signed with the Death/Enigma label and released the album Jed in 1989. The band discovered major-label media visibility with their next album, 1990's Hold Me Up, issued on Metal Blade, an imprint of Warner Bros. The album's title is a tribute to the faith of the Catholic-raised band members, though it is meant more as a general statement about spirituality than Catholicism specifically.
First Successful Singles
The release of 1993's Superstar Car Wash, which included the lauded singles "Fallin' Down" and "Already There," served to underscore the artistry, dedication, and talent of the Goo Goo Dolls. By 1993 the Dolls were being heralded as the next Replacements. Paul Westerberg, the leader of that band, even wrote the lyrics to one of the songs on Superstar Car Wash. But A Boy Named Goo, released in 1995, would mark the band's crossover to mass appeal, sparked by their song "Name."
A Boy Named Goo was produced by Lou Giordano, whose credits include albums by Husker Du, Sugar, the Smithereens, and Pere Ubu and who is credited by Rzeznik with imparting a raw, rough, power-pop sound to the album. Rob Cavallo, who earned his reputation working with Green Day, also produced. Both Rzeznik and Takac contributed songs to A Boy Named Goo.
Although all members have relocated to Los Angeles, the Goo Goo Dolls still consider Buffalo home. Guitar World's Tony Gervino called the city a place where "a pitcher of beer is pocket change and everybody owns their own bowling shoes." Rzeznik's father was, in fact, a three-time bowling champion, and each band member owns his own bowling ball. Rzeznik told New York Newsday's Ira Robbins, "I have a great life. I get to sleep till noon. I get to scream and yell and run around and drive around in a bus and have people talk to me about myself. Wow!"
Following the release of A Boy Named Goo, the Goo Goo Dolls became embroiled in a legal battle with their record label, Metal Blade, in a feud over royalties. An agreement was eventually worked out, and the Goo Goo Dolls moved to Warner Bros., the parent company of Metal Blade. After this ordeal and the replacement of original drummer George Tutuska with Mike Malins, a former member of Minor Threat, Rzeznik suffered from writer's block. The Goo Goo Dolls took a few years off while Rzeznik attempted to overcome the problem, which he eventually did with the song "Iris," composed for the City of Angels soundtrack. Rzeznik spoke of this period in Billboard: "I was able to step out of myself and assume another character and write from his perspective, not mine. I was really bogged down in a bit of a writer's block, and so that freedom was good."
Record-Breaking Hit Single
"Iris" was released on the City of Angels soundtrack in 1998, and went on to spend an incredible 18 weeks at the top of the Billboard chart. The song was also nominated for three Grammy Awards. Later that year a new full-length album, Dizzy Up the Girl, was released. The album featured "Iris" and three other songs that went on to become chart-topping singles. Dizzy Up the Girl went triple platinum in the United States and sold over six million copies worldwide.
Three years passed before the Goo Goo Dolls released another album, 2001's Ego, Opinion, Art, and Commerce. This album compiled a collection of songs spanning the band's entire career. Carla Hay likened the album to a "musical scrapbook" in Billboard: "It's a noteworthy chronicle of the band's evolution from a bar band playing gritty, post-punk music to a multi-platinum act with a more melodic, mature sound."
The band released Gutterflower in 2002, which went gold in a few months' time. However, sales slowed rapidly following initial interest in the album when it was first released. Jim Farber of the New York Daily News blamed Gutterflower's poor sales on the format of modern rock stations in 2002. The music in heavy rotation at that time was much harder and more aggressive than it was in 1998, when "Iris" was a smash hit. But Farber also noted that "It doesn't help that Gutterflower sounds like a Xerox of the band's older hits, which could turn off even their pop fans." Indeed, critics of the album all seemed to have the same complaint that the Goo Goo Dolls weren't coming up with anything original. However, that didn't bring down the members of the Goo Goo Dolls. As Rzeznik remarked in Billboard, "All you can do is write music you believe in. If no one else hears your songs besides you and your girlfriend, it isn't less valid."
Goo Goo Dolls, Mercenary/Celluloid, 1987.
Jed, Death/Enigma, 1989.
Hold Me Up, Metal Blade/Warner Bros., 1990.
Superstar Car Wash, Metal Blade/Warner Bros., 1993.
A Boy Named Goo, Metal Blade/Warner Bros., 1995.
Dizzy Up the Girl, Warner Bros., 1998.
Ego, Opinion, Art, and Commerce, Warner Bros., 2001.
Gutterflower, Warner Bros., 2002.
Billboard, February 25, 1995; April 15, 1995; September 5, 1998; October 2, 1999; June 2, 2001.
Boston Globe, April 13, 1995.
Boston Phoenix, April 7, 1995.
Dallas Moming News, April 15, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, September 25, 1998.
Guitar Player, October 1998.
Guitar World, July 1995.
New York Newsday, March 24, 1995.
RIP, August 1995.
Spin, June 1993.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Warner Bros. Records publicity materials, 1995.
. Kimberly Taylor