Guilty pleasures: Goo Goo Dolls – Dizzy Up the Girl (1998)

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NICK DERISO: There are funny stories from when the Goo Goo Dolls were nobody.

These tales were, before “Dizzy Up the Girl” made them matter, just about the only thing that might help you forget that dumb band name.

Almost.

The band will talk about the time in Raleigh, N.C. After driving for 18 hours, GGD — not yet the superstars of video channels — discovers they’re opening up for the schlocky heavy-metal band Extreme. Undaunted by the angry jeers of the crowd, they played on. To no avail, the Goo Goo Dolls said, nor to any applause. In fact, they said they “resorted to low vaudevillian jabs at the headliner to make themselves feel better.”

This was, more often than not, routine. See, the band was making powerful records — songs with penetrating lyrics and the thrashy sound that was popular back in the late 1980s. But the soon-to-be-rechristened Goo Goo Dolls (more on that later) were too much like the better, if more unmanageably punk, Replacements.

So they played on.

We then find them at another bar, this time in Fayetteville, N.C. Incredibly, they’re scheduled to open for Extreme — again. Luckily, perhaps, the bar owner gave the band 200 bucks and told them not to bother playing.

Before they left, members say, they removed the letters from the marquee so that it read “Tonite in Concert REM.”

What’s funny is, this was a bold step up from other odd jobs they’d done.

Lead singer John Rzeznik was once a hot dog vendor, for instance. He said he would park his cart near a local phone booth, so he could talk to friends between customers. When some one would walk up, Rzeznik would simply leave the phone dangling then get back on when the dog was done.

By the time of this late-1990s breakthrough, the only dog in Johnny’s life was his golden lab, Clooey. Now, Rzeznik loved his wife, mind you. They were childhood sweethearts. But it was Clooey who traveled everywhere with the lead singer. On concert nights, she was often, as on the night I talked with Rzeznick, waiting in the wings. Rzeznik even sneaked Clooey into hotels, wrapping her in a blanket so managers would think he was carrying a sleeping child.

Clooey was also in the studio when the Goo Goo Dolls cut the tune that finally made them an “overnight” success, 10-years-in: “Iris,” which they contributed to the “City of Angels” movie soundtrack. The song, with its plaintive message and thundering orchestration, went on to top the pop charts for what must have been months.

Bye bye, opening dates for Extreme. They also left an indie called Metal Blade for the majors.

The album that followed, called “Dizzy Up the Girl,” consolidated GGD’s newfound position as smooth power pop hitmakers — and displayed a kind of polish and prowess unknown to them just a few years before. Where once the Goo Goo Dolls blew speakers over with face-plant chords, here they let the songs breathe.

This remains a radio-ready masterwork for them, a CD that balances warm acoustic and orchestral touches with hooks both heartrending and memorable.

“We’ve all grown as people over the years,” Rzeznik said, “and the music reflects who we are. … I’m not 18-years-old anymore, and to write songs that look at life from the perspective of an 18-year-old would be ridiculous — although, that hasn’t stopped a lot of people from trying to do that in the past.”

“Dizzy Up The Girl” boasted a bold new finesse for GGD, even as it retained a bit of the aggressive sound that old fans loved. A bigger audience responded. Co-founder Robby Takac, who plays bass, recognized that: “I think … it draws people into the spaces rather than just pounding them with sound,” he said, back then.

Rzeznik agreed. “Making this record was a serious growing process for us,” he said.

And a relief to fans who thought the long draught after their minor 1996 hit “Name” had doomed the group to life as an answer to a trivia question.

Where they’d been is on the road. The Goo Goo Dolls spent the entire time touring, polishing up this new vision of the band and writing new songs. They took a brief period off, then hit the studio feeling tanned and rested.

The payoff for the Goo Dolls was immediate. The follow-up to the No. 1 “Iris,” another grown-up ballad from “Dizzy” called “Slide,” was also a certifiable hit. And the new tour was a sell out.

Nearly a decade later, the group could be found performing outside the Superdome, on the evening the New Orleans Saints returned for an emotional date on Monday Night Football after Katrina.

The transformation had been, well, extreme.

“Sure, I still pinch myself once in a while when I think about what’s happened to us. But, mostly, I don’t think about it at all,” Rzeznik said. “I just want to get to the next song.”

That would be the Goo Goo’s post-hurricane hit, “Better Days.” I stood there as they played it, amongst the crush of onlookers outside the stadium, and thought about this old album — so honest, and modern, and approachable.

Not even their Hall of Fame Dumb Name could ruin that.

Nick’s notes: The group was originally called (sorry, this is worse) the Sex Maggots, but switched after a club owner booked them only to find that he couldn’t get the local newspaper to print his band listing. … “Goo Goo Dolls” reportedly comes from a True Detective newspaper ad for a toy. … Also, Replacements’ lead singer Paul Westerberg co-wrote the song “We Are the Normal” from 1993’s ‘Superstar Car Wash’ album.

Purchase: Goo Goo Dolls – “Dizzy Up the Girl”

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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