Counting Crows: Recovering the Satellites
When a band comes along and on their debut album, releases a seeming unending stream of hits, from “Mr. Jones” to “Round Here” to “Rain King”, what do they do for a follow up? The answer to that question is the album Recovering the Satellites, the sophomore effort from Counting Crows. Rather than re-create lightning in a bottle, they decided to merely continue their story-telling brand of songs, vulnerable and confessional while also being able to be memorable and quotable.
Track two on the album is the single “Angels of the Silences”, the first released from the album. It served to reintroduce rock/alternative radio to Adam Duritz’ distinctive vocal delivery. Musically, the guitars have a little more feedback than the typical song from their first album, but not too much so as to turn off fans of their earlier songs. It features a sing-along style chorus about longing for something that will likely never happen.
Track three, “Daylight Fading”, also served to expand the Counting Crows sound. It features a more classic-country guitar (not so much twang, as bending strings) and drawling vocal delivery. The song compares the titular “Daylight Fading” to the feeling of struggling to connect to friends and loved ones. It was the third single from the album, but honestly, I don’t remember hearing it on the radio and it is instead relegated to album track status in my mind.
Speaking of album tracks, track five, “Goodnight Elisabeth” is and has always been a crowdpleaser. The lyrics tell the story of waiting on a girl Adam was interested in, and she was interested too, but neither had time for each other. He being a successful musician and she busy with school. The longing comes across in both the lyrics and the musical delivery.
I’m going to fast forward to the reason I really wanted to give this album a 20th anniversary send off. Track 13, “A Long December” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I cannot even begin to guess how often the song has had specific meaning in my life, how often I’ve sung the chorus, how many more times in my life I will find new joys in the track. It tells the story of a real-life incident where one of Adam’s friends was hit by a car and spent much of December in the hospital being treated for her injuries. The lyrics are a treasure trove of meaning and discovery, from “it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls”, to “I guess the winter makes you talk a little slower” to “I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on/to these moments as they pass”.
Aching pours out of every line, clearly inspired by how worried Adam was for his friend. You can feel the longing and the sensation that he’s just trying to get through the month, all while hoping that there will soon be a day when he’s no longer smelling “hospitals in winter”.
Personal story: Around Thanksgiving 2012, my son was in the hospital for 12 days, after having swallowed a foam substance they had to extract via surgery. I spent 12 days and nights sleeping on the hospital bed, spending the days at his bedside, going to the family break room in the morning to take full advantage of the free Folger’s coffee. November may not be winter, but I fee I lived this song. There was an end to hospitals, but those 12 days were among the longest stretch of time I can remember experiencing.
Counting Crows have continued to have success on Adult Oriented Rock radio, even having a comeback hit from one of the Shrek movies, but their albums, at least to me, have never seemed as cohesive ad the one-two punch of August and Everything After followed by Recovering the Satellites. I have continued following their career, but apart from their 2014 release, Somewhere Under Wonderland, they have never felt as cohesive as they did in the mid-1990s.