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Counting Crows & the Gospel

“I have no grasp on whether anyone will like this,” Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz told Rolling Stone last fall, concerning the band’s then-unreleased project Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings. “It’s about some pretty unpleasant stuff.”

If you’re under the age of 25, then odds are you don’t remember the days when Counting Crows took the pop world by storm.  I was in sixth grade when CC played their breakout single “Mr. Jones” on Saturday Night Live, Adam wearing camo shorts, combat boots and a hand-knit sweater, pieces of dreadlocks sticking out from a beanie. For me, that performance stands as the moment when an eleven-year-old raised in the backwoods of Fishook, IL first discovered rock music.  (By the say, this is tower. I’m a 25 year old radio host in Chicago on 89.7 Shine.FM. This should be filed under “music blog” and my bio should show up…but it isn’t).

The song, an anthem about California musicians trying to make it big, score the girls and see their faces on TV propelled their debut album to sell 7 million copies.  Over the next  11 years, CC released three more studio projects, two live albums, and a greatest hits compilation, and (most fans) assumed that they would just fade away. 

Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings,  out three weeks ago, has been a pretty quiet release. It currently sits at #19 on the Billboard charts, surpassed in sales by trendy acts like Panic at the Disco and veteran rockers like R.E.M.

In a perfect world, this album would be discussed in churches across America, as it deals so well with the excesses that wreck families, careers, and lives.  The band spends the first half of the album (Saturday nights) delivering hard rock anthems about hard rock living, and the second half (Sunday mornings) dealing with the fallout, sleeping off the hangovers, and searching for redemption.  It’s a very in-your-face project, with Duritz winding up alone and drunk in a bar in Italy, receiving oral sex from a girl he doesn’t know, and concluding “I am the king of nothing.”

Allmusicguide.com sums up the second half of the album well:

Now they have to answer for broken love, wasted life, and day-to-day loneliness where the price regret extracts doesn’t bring redemption, and looking to the horizon brings only a reflection in a dirty window. Is there a choice to do anything but do it over and again in a ragged, ever shrinking circle? Rock & roll can’t answer that, and the Counting Crows know better than to provide a simple silver lining.

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If you are a fan of Rilo Kiley’s  exploration of sexuality and excess on From Under the Blacklight, then you may find Saturday Nights to be a sister project of sorts, though the latter looks more at the fallout while the former focuses mainly on fun.

In the end, Saturday Nights won’t propel Counting Crows back to the glory they experienced with “Mr. Jones” and August and Everything After.   But considering the heartache on this project, the band probably doesn’t want to go back to that place anyway. 

Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings isn’t going to find a huge audience. It’s not going to get much radio play, and it’s not going to catch the collective ear of the emo kids that so many bands cater to these days. But those who take the time to listen will find that Duritz paints an honest picture of spiritual searching, laid over a sweeping soundscape.

On the song “Cowboys,” Duritz sings “this is a list of what I’ve should have been, but I’m not,” followed by line “Sunday comes to gather me into the arms of God who will welcome me/because I believe/oh I believe.” These aren’t the lyrics of a CCM artist, but they present a striking picture of grace and repentance nevertheless.

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