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Single Again: Counting Crows – ‘Mr. Jones’

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(Danny Clinch for Geffen Records)

(Danny Clinch for Geffen Records)

By Dan Weiss

Single Again is a new column on Radio.com where Dan Weiss investigates chart hits of the past and present, their stories and what they meant and how good they really are.

For this edition of Single Again, Radio.com spoke to Adam Duritz of Counting Crows about “Mr. Jones,” the biggest of several hits that helped make Counting Crows’ debut album August and Everything After the fastest-selling album since Nirvana’s Nevermind at the time.

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“Mr. Jones”: blessing or curse?
Umm…what do you mean?

Well, did the band get sick of it after a while or was there trouble getting out from under its shadow as a hit?
Oh, I thought we did. But I’d get sick of any song.

Haha.
When you make a record, there’s no sense of what’s the single. It’s just one of ten songs. It wasn’t even the one the label wanted, nobody wanted it as a single.

Really?
I just thought it was a good introductory track. Everybody thought the big hit was probably “Rain King,” or that the first single should be “A Murder of One.” I mean, it had that Jesus Jones drumbeat, and what they think is going to be successful is what was just successful right before that. So “A Murder of One” had that little boom-chi-ba-di-ba-doom drumbeat, so they wanted it to go after what the kids wanted. But we didn’t really blow up over “Mr. Jones,” that’s the thing. It wasn’t even until we played Saturday Night Live and played “Round Here” that the record took off. I always thought “Round Here” was more responsible for it.

Was the song inspired by a real Mr. Jones?
Yeah, Marty [Jones]. The bass player of all the bands I was in before Counting Crows. That song is pretty much the story of me being out one night drunk and trying to meet girls. There’s more to the song than just a story.

The stuff happening in the song?
Just this fun night out we all had. You had the guitar player, he was one of the few Americans ever to become a really top-level flamenco guitar player in Spain. He was home from Madrid for a little while, he was playing with his dad, in a mission with his old flamenco troupe. He saw him play and then we went to get drunk afterwards. In the corner of the bar we saw Kenney Dale Johnson, Chris Isaak’s drummer at the time. Like, pre-Chris Isaak being really famous. His first album was out, and Kenney Dale was in the corner with like, ten girls. So that’s what the song’s about. But it’s also about the dreams in your life and how they’re not gonna turn out to be what you think they are. I mean, it keeps saying “When everybody loves me/ I’ll never be lonely.” Which is, you know, stupid. [laughs] But it’s still good to dream about stuff.

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Do you think that’s what resonated with everyone so much, that it was so relatable?
I have no idea. I just think it was catchy.

Have you ever heard from Bob Dylan’s camp about the song?
I don’t think so. [“I wanna be Bob Dylan/ Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky”] is a tossed-off line in the song, I’m sure he’d understand that of course.

It wasn’t an intentional reference to “Ballad of a Thin Man?”
Oh no, it was. It just worked out. Marty’s name is Jones. And there’s that Talking Heads song [“Mr. Jones”], and there’s “Ballad of a Thin Man.” And Dylan’s just the iconic singer-songwriter.

Who would you consider the iconic funkier musician to be?
Oh, I don’t know. Rick James.

Do you think the song would be a hit if it was released today?
I have no idea. Nobody thought it was going to be a hit then! It just happened.

I’ve always wanted to know why “Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)” never made it onto August and Everything After, huge personal favorite of mine.
I think it’s very, very catchy, and it is fun, but it’s more clever than it is meaningful. It wasn’t even left off the record. It was never recorded for the record. That song that went out, that was literally a demo that we recorded in [Crows’ guitarist] Dave Bryson’s studio. He put it on the DGC Rarities record because who the hell is going to buy DGC Rarities? I wanted to shut things down; after “Mr. Jones” I said to release “Round Here” and then nothing else. We’d tour but no more singles. Then without my permission they put out “Einstein on the Beach.”

How come you didn’t want any more singles released?
I thought it was enough. I don’t think it’s always good to try and grab as much as possible. Sometimes that backfires on you, artists lose their whole career because people are just sick of you. We came close to that anyway with “Einstein”…we’re talking about a song on a rarities record that went to #1! That doesn’t really happen. The next single probably would’ve been “Rain King” and that probably would’ve been huge. That record sold ten million as it was.

I’d always heard “Rain King” on the radio, and “A Murder of One” so I had no idea those weren’t even intended singles.
I think at one point the entire record except for “Raining in Baltimore” and “Ghost Train” had gotten played on the radio.

What was the most extravagant purchase you made after the album was a hit?
I bought a house years later, but that was around the time of Recovering the Satellites years later. I bought a lot of CDs, DVDs, art.

No gray guitars or anything?
You know, I don’t play. I’m a shitty guitar player. I have one really great guitar that was given to me by one of my bandmates, but I’m a terrible guitar player.

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Counting Crows will hit the road this summer — get the dates over at their website

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