Joey is a song from Concrete Blonde’s third and most successful album Bloodletting. The song was released in 1990 and was sung by Johnette Napolitano.
The song, Joey, has been said to be about being in love with an alcoholic. Concrete Blonde lead singer Johnette Napolitano stated in her book, Rough Mix, that she wrote it about Marc Moreland of the band Wall Of Voodoo – the bands played many of the same Los Angeles venues in the ’80’s. Moreland died of liver failure in 2002; Napolitano discussed Moreland and writing the song about him in a concert known as the “D.C. Sessions.”
The song was written in the cab on the way to the studio, it was the last vocal recorded on the album due to Napolitano’s reluctance to record the lyrics, which were hard for her to deal with (see story below).
The lyrics to this song didn’t come easy to Johnette Napolitano. In an interview with Songfacts, she told the following story:
“We did a demo with no lyrics. It was just like scratchy vocals, just me making sounds, basically, where I knew the melody would go. And right away everybody reacted to it. There weren’t any lyrics, but there was something about the music that everybody really reacted to. And so we went to England to record the record with Chris Tsangarides, our producer. I knew what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t looking forward to saying it. And so it was the last vocal that I recorded.
And I remember Chris every day, ‘Do we have vocals to ‘Joey’ yet? Do we have words to ‘Joey’ yet?’ And I’m like, ‘Not yet.’ So I literally wrote them in a cab. I knew what I was going to say, it’s just a matter of like a cloud’s forming and then it rains. The lines are forming in my head and they’re all in my head, and I know the chorus, and I know what I’m going to say. It’s just a matter of fine tuning the details and how I’m going to lug it out. And then it rains. The clouds all formed and it rained. And then it happened. And that was it. And it was just there.”
This is by far the biggest hit for Concrete Blonde, and their only one to make the Hot 100 at # 19 (they have placed several songs on the Modern Rock charts).
This was a # 1 hit for 4 weeks on the US Modern Rock charts. It gained popularity as “alternative” music was coming into the mainstream and radio stations were looking for stuff like this to play. Finding female voices was particularly problematic for radio program directors in this era of Pearl Jam, so this song was a welcome addition to many playlists.
Johnette Napolitano has expressed little interest in hit singles or album sales, which led to tensions with the group’s label, I.R.S. Records, which signed them in 1986. After five albums with I.R.S., including the gold-certified Bloodletting, the label offered them a deal where the group was sold to Capitol Records.
The group still refused to serve the musical tastes of a wider audience, and they ended up on independent labels. These days, their artistic credibility is unquestioned, but at the time, they took some criticism for daring to have a hit song. Napolitano addressed this in a 1993 interview withHappening when she said:
“People call that song a ‘sell-out’ only because it sold records. If I could intentionally write a Top 40 song, don’t you think I would have done it on the first album?”
The video (see above) continued in the vein of the alcoholic theme. It features Napolitano with the band playing in a small club while one lone patron drinks to excess. It was the only Concrete Blonde song to receive significant airplay on MTV.
Editor’s Note: This song strikes a chord in me that is sometimes as painful to listen to, as it seems to have been for Johnette to write. Loving someone who is in the throes of addiction is a kind of addiction in itself, and I have yet to meet anyone who truly understands how it feels unless they themselves have loved an addict. There are scars inside me from it that will never fully heal.