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Quintessential Albums :: Recovering the Satellites :: Counting Crows

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A Little History:

Recovering the Satellites is the second album by Counting Crows, released on October 14, 1996 in the United Kingdom and two days later in the United States. Released three years (and two years of worldwide touring) after their debut album, it reached #1 in the United States and was a top seller in Australia, Canada, and the UK as well.

For this album, the quintet became a sextet, with fellow San Franciscan Dan Vickrey added, contributing a second guitar as well as sharing in songwriting credits on four of the fourteen tracks. Steve Bowman was replaced as drummer by Ben Mize.

Counting Crows brought in producer Gil Norton for Recovering the Satellites (The track Miller’s Angels was produced by Marvin Etzione).

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Lyrically speaking, the album is full of songs in which Adam Duritz contemplates his loss of privacy and sudden change of fortunes, among other angst-ridden subjects. Sleep, and the lack thereof, is also a recurring theme, as is failed relationships and weather (all three common themes in most of Counting Crows music).

Angels of the Silences was the lead single and is the second track from the album. The song peaked at # 3 on the U.S. Modern Rock Tracks chart, making it the highest-placing single from the album. Adam said of the songs on VH1 Storytellers as:

I write quite a few songs where the sort of issue is faith–having faith, keeping faith. And this song in particular is about the difficulty in having faith in things, and finding things to have faith in, in yourself, in God, in like he said, a woman. Faith is a weird thing, it in a sense it is all about waiting. It’s not actually about getting anything, you know, faith is about the wait, because once you get something there is no need anymore. So a lot about faith is just the willingness to sort of throw yourself on a fence and hang there for a while. That’s a very difficult and bitter thing, you know. In this song, I keep saying the main character, *I*, I said, “All my sins, I would pay for them if I could come back to you.” It’s not just about finding things to believe in, it’s about wanting to be able to believe in anything too. And it’s about all the voices that get inside your head and whisper for you to do it or not to do it as well. And it’s called “Angels of the Silences.

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A Long December was the second single and thirteenth track from the album. The song peaked at # 5 on the U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks and # 1 on the Canadian Singles Chart.

The music video featured Courtney Cox, who Adam once dated.

Adam said of the song, also on VH1 Storytellers:

“In the middle of December of ‘95 my friend Jennifer got run over by a car, and just creamed; and I spent that whole month, while we were just beginning the record and most of Jan & Feb in the hospital, each like, morning and early afternoon then I’d go to the studio, the house where we were recording, and we’d play all afternoon and all night . It was a very weird time because ya know, there is a lot of stress ; not that it’s a big deal being a second album, but any album. There just not that easy to make. It’s a very stressful process, and especially when you’re first starting out. And like I said, I spent a lot of time in the hospital which is pretty weird. But one day I just left the studio about 2 in the morning, and I went to my friend Samantha and Tracy’s house which is Hillside Manor; and uh.. That’s what we call it anyway, it’s just a little house and I sat there talking with them, I woke ‘em up, got ‘em out of bed and made ‘em talk to me for a couple hours, then I went home to my house. “And I wrote this song between about 4 and 6 and then went to the hospital the next day, and came to the house and I played it for the guys before dinner and … and taught it to them after dinner. And we played it about 6 or 7 times ..and .. do you remember which take number it was? Take number 6. We just stopped, that was it. We recorded the song, it was done. We all went in to the kitchen and had a cold beer, I grabbed Brad our engineer and ran back out about 5min later, had him play the tape three times, just recorded all the harmonies …and uh..we’ve never touched it since, that was it. It’s a completely live song except for the harmonies. “It’s a song abo ut looking back on your life and seeing changes happening, and for once for me, looking forward and thinking… ya know…things are gonna change for the better ‘maybe this year will be better than the last’ and uh… and so, like a lot of songs on the end of album it’s not about everything turning out great, but it at least is about hope…and the possibilities …”

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Daylight Fading was the third single and also the third track of the album. This song, along with previous releases such as Mr. Jones and A Long December, had video rotation on MTV and VH1. Adam said about this song:

“At some point, it’s always going to happen…it’s a lifetime commitment. (Life’s) always going to go up, it’s always going to go down…. for me, at least. It may not be as extreme as it once was. There’s always going to be periods where I don’t write for a while, where I get sort of bitter. Maybe life will change and get better that way. But, you know, I wouldn’t…wouldn’t bet on it. It’s a one in a million thing to get what we got. Everybody that’s in our position wants….all of our friends at home, everybody wanted to be in a rock band. And, we have a lot of friends who are still playing music who are really good who haven’t had the success. We’re together, spending our lives playing music, unless we screw it up. I wouldn’t trade that for anything….any happiness… any peace of mind…there’s nothing in the world that I would trade for being able to do this with my life. Instead of having some wasted life like I thought I was going to have. At the same time, if you have difficulties coming into this sort of a situation, fame doesn’t necessarily fix them. It fixes some things, but it doesn’t fix any problems you might have with yourself. If you have problems dealing with people, all you have now is more people. Some of it actually exacerbates. It’s not a black and white thing, it’s a gray thing. There’s really parts of it I wouldn’t trade for the whole world, and parts of it I have trouble with, adjusting to those things. I’d really gone into hibernation and I didn’t know how to deal with the fact that the thing which was most important to me in my life was causing me the most pain and…um….fear that I’d ever been through. Fear….really, fear over what was happening. I was very scared dealing with all those people all of the time. Everywhere I went, I was really freaked out by that. Honestly, I can say “have you ever been scared of anything?” I was just scared. I didn’t dislike the people or anything, I just was….scared. And that was a weird thing to have…that the thing that you wanted the most in your life was causing you this sort of thing…this tape-loop you can get onto and it’ll drive you crazy. And I didn’t see any way out of it. Those songs are kind of about that…I just don’t know how to deal with this… I *didn’t* know how to deal with it. Now I just pretend its not happening. Because I’m not on the road yet. (In trance-like voice) I AM NOT HERE…I AM NOT HERE….THERE IS NO AUDIENCE HERE.”

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What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

It would be near impossible for me to choose my # 1 favorite Counting Crows album. Some days, of course, I lean towards their freshman album, August and Everything After, like the majority of fans, I think. Much like Pete Yorn’s debut, musicforthemorningafter, sometimes August and Everything After overshadows all the other albums, which does an injustice to the other great music that came later. Thing is, there are so many songs on the other albums that have been so monumentally important to me that it would be tragic and wrong, and impossible, to not include some of them in my “quintessential” lists.

This one, their sophomore endeavor, is so important to me and over the years, and through the re-listens, endears itself to me more and more. There are so many songs that hit me emotionally in that deep and bittersweet way, songs that hold in them memories of mine that are opened and unraveled with every new listen, songs that remind me of love and loss and significant moments in my life.

The sleeplessness, the losses, the longing, the questions of love and hope and faith, and all the wishes for a better new day all resonate so strongly with me. And the “Los Angeles” and “California” in the songs, I relate to them so much, too. There is a beautiful sadness in this album, a gorgeous melancholy, and an unforgettable desperation that is so real and raw and wonderful. This album has an edge to it, too, a rockier sound than its predecessor, and an overarching theme that is timeless, to me.

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My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Goodnight Elisabeth

“If you wrap yourself in daffodils,
I will wrap myself in pain.
And, if you’re the queen of California,
baby, I am the king of the rain.”

2. A Long December

“And it’s one more day up in the canyon,
and it’s one more night in Hollywood.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean,
I guess I should.”

3. Catapult

“All of these quiet battered voices,
wait for the hunger to come.
we got little revolvers,
and stupid choices,
and no one to say when we’re done.”

4. Mercury

“She’s entwined in me,
crazy as can be.
Yeah, but she’s all right with me.”

5. Recovering the Satellites

“Maybe you were shot down in pieces,
maybe I slipped in between,
but we were gonna be the wildest people they ever hoped to see,
just you and me.”

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