A.M. (Wilco album)
|Studio album by Wilco|
|Released||March 28, 1995|
|Genre||Alternative country, alternative rock|
|Producer||Brian Paulson, Wilco|
A.M. is the debut album of Chicago-based alternative rock band Wilco, released on March 28, 1995. The album was released only months after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country band that was the predecessor of Wilco. Prior to the release of the album, there was debate about whether the album would be better than the debut album of Son Volt, the new band of former Uncle Tupelo lead singer Jay Farrar.
Although A.M. was released before Son Volt's Trace, critical reviews were modest and initial sales were low. The album was later regarded as a "failure" by band members, as Trace became a greater commercial success. It was the band's last album to be recorded in a purely alternative country style, as following the record the band began to expand their sound across multiple genres. It is also the only Wilco album to feature Brian Henneman of The Bottle Rockets as a lead guitarist.
Context and recording
Uncle Tupelo's last album, Anodyne, featured a new lineup for the band — a five-piece outfit with drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirratt, and multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston. Tensions mounted between singers Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, and Uncle Tupelo played its last concert on May 1, 1994 at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, Missouri.
Only days after the breakup, Tweedy decided to form a new group. He was able to retain the lineup of Uncle Tupelo sans Farrar, and rechristened the band Wilco. In mid-May, the band began to rehearse songs in the office of band manager Tony Margherita, and hired producer Brian Paulson, who produced Anodyne. Wilco first recorded demo tracks for the album at Easley studio in Memphis, Tennessee in June. Stirratt recommended the studio based on previous experience as a member of The Hilltops, and Tweedy had heard of the studio through a Jon Spencer Blues Explosion recording. Reprise Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, signed Jeff Tweedy after hearing the tapes, and recording for the album continued through August.
Jeff Tweedy was preoccupied with trying to establish Wilco as a viable band on the Reprise label and decided to add another guitarist to the band. Brian Henneman, the lead singer for The Bottle Rockets, was brought into the recording sessions as a lead guitarist. Steel guitarist Lloyd Maines and bassist Daniel Corrigan also contributed to the album. Corrigan also photographed the band for the liner booklet. Howie Weinberg mastered the album, while Barbara Longo provided graphic design. Brian Henneman had to leave the band shortly after recording the album, and was replaced by former Titanic Love Affair guitarist Jay Bennett. Tweedy also attempted to create a more collaborative environment than Uncle Tupelo, requesting songwriting contributions from other members. John Stirratt submitted three songs, hoping to become a secondary songwriter for Wilco. However, although the songs were recorded as demos, only one ("It's Just That Simple") was selected to appear on the album, and was the only Stirratt song to appear on any Wilco album.
The album's title is intended to reference Top 40 radio stations, and the tracks reflect a straightforward country-rock sound. The band members felt that they needed to establish themselves outside of the Tupelo fanbase. However, Tweedy later stated that in actuality, they were "trying to tread some water with a perceived audience." Tweedy wrote a song about the Uncle Tupelo breakup, but decided that he didn't want any material on that subject matter to appear on the album. (It can be argued, however, that first single "Box Full of Letters", as well as "Too Far Apart" allude to the dissolution of Farrar and Tweedy's friendship and working relationship.) Critic and author Greg Kot wrote in Wilco: Learning How to Die that "Tweedy's voice and personality are as modest as the arrangements; there's little sense of drama, and virtually no hint of risk. Tweedy attributes some of the straightforwardness of the album to his abuse of marijuana at the time. Shortly after the album, Tweedy stopped smoking pot, to which he credits the introspectiveness of further albums.
While Wilco was recording tracks, Jay Farrar formed a band of his own, Son Volt. Son Volt signed to Warner Bros. Records and began recording their first album (also produced by Paulson), Trace, in November 1994. The fact that both Wilco and Son Volt began working on album almost immediately after the Uncle Tupelo breakup caused debate among critics, fans, and Warner Brothers about which would be the better band. Joe McEwen, who originally signed Uncle Tupelo to a Warner subsidiary, felt that Wilco was taking a step backwards from the material on Anodyne. McEwen urged Richard Dodd, who had recently mixed Tom Petty's Wildflowers, to remix the album. Dodd emphasized Tweedy's vocals to increase the chances of success on radio.
Wilco began touring before the album was released. Their live debut was on November 27, 1994 at Cicero's Basement Bar in St. Louis, a venue where Uncle Tupelo had first received significant media attention. The band was billed for that concert as Black Shampoo, a reference to a 1970s B-movie, and the show sold out. Wilco continued to tour for two hundred shows, culminating in show at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas in March 1995. A.M. was released on Reprise Records on March 28, 1995.
Commercial and critical reception
|Problems playing this file? See media help.|
A.M. received modest reviews from critics. Holly George-Warren of Rolling Stone called the album "one hell of a country-guts debut", praising the influence of Gram Parsons and Neil Young on the music. However, the album still received a moderate three-and-a-half star rating. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic enjoyed "I Must Be High", noting that Wilco can "subvert the [alternative country] genre without losing its accessibility", but felt that the following songs were disappointing. However, fellow Allmusic critic Matthew Greenwald found the album to be "brilliant and underrated." Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the album a three-star honorable mention, but called it "realist defiance grinding sadly down into realist bathos." The Village Voice placed the album at position 34 on the 1995 Pazz & Jop critics poll. The band was disappointed by the critical reception, since Trace was met with better reviews. According to Henneman:
|“||The first Son Volt record was pretty fucking good. It was like watching a prize fight at that point. Wow! He slammed him there! Ouch! What a counterpunch! It was exciting being on the sidelines watching these guys. It's like Jay had something to prove with that first album, an urgency to it that none of his albums since have had. I felt he had a chip on his shoulder, and it shows up in the music. It was stunning. It was humbling. I think that kicked Jeff in the ass.||”|
A.M. only hit number 27 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, whereas Trace peaked at number 116 on the Billboard 200; by 1997, Trace had outsold A.M. two-to-one. Wilco released "Box Full of Letters" as a single, but it received little airplay. For the only time in Wilco's career, ticket sales failed to meet expectations. As of 2003, the album had sold about 150,000 copies.
All songs written by Jeff Tweedy unless otherwise noted.
- "I Must Be High" – 2:59
- "Casino Queen" – 2:45
- "Box Full of Letters" – 3:05
- "Shouldn't Be Ashamed" – 3:28
- "Pick Up the Change" – 2:56
- "I Thought I Held You" – 3:49
- "That's Not the Issue" – 3:19
- "It's Just That Simple" (John Stirratt) – 3:45
- "Should've Been in Love" – 3:36
- "Passenger Side" – 3:33
- "Dash 7" – 3:29
- "Blue Eyed Soul" – 4:05
- "Too Far Apart" – 3:44
- Jeff Tweedy – lead vocals (1-7, 9-13), rhythm guitar (1, 3, 13), acoustic guitar (2, 4-7, 9-12), bass guitar (8)
- John Stirratt – bass guitar (1-7, 9, 10, 12, 13), piano (6), organ (13), backing vocals (2, 3, 6), lead vocals/acoustic guitar (8)
- Ken Coomer – drums (1-6, 8-10, 12, 13), backing vocals/cowbell (2), a snare drum played with a brush (7)
- Max Johnston – dobro (1, 3, 9, 13), fiddle (2, 10), mandolin (4, 8, 10, 12), banjo (5-7), backing vocals (2)
- Brian Henneman – lead guitar (1-9, 12, 13), small stoned guitar (10), backing vocals (2)
- Daniel Corrigan - backing vocals (2)
- Lloyd Maines - pedal steel guitar (1, 6, 8, 11, 12)
- Wilco, Brian Henneman and Daniel Corrigan - handclaps, crowd noise, glass cheers (2)
- Daniel Corrigan – photography
- Richard Dodd – mixing
- Barbara Longo – design
- Brian Paulson – producer, engineer, mixing
- Howie Weinberg – mastering
- Wilco – producer, engineer
- Bob Andrews – Production Coordinator
- Allmusic review
- Entertainment Weekly review
- Robert Christgau Consumer Guide
- Rolling Stone review
- Kot 2004. p. 73-75
- Llewellyn, Kati (September 8, 2005). "Jay Farrar Speaks Extensively About Uncle Tupelo's Breakup". Pitchfork Media. Last accessed June 8, 2007.
- Kot 2004. p. 77
- Kot 2004. p. 89
- Dawne, Vanessa (1995). "Wilco (interview)". Pop Culture Press.
- Kot 2004. p. 91
- Only Jeff Tweedy was signed to the label, gaining exclusive rights to publishing royalties. However, Tweedy did split a portion of these royalties with the band. See Kot 2004 p. 92.
- Kot 2004. p. 92
- A.M. album notes, March 28, 1995. Reprise Records.
- Kot 2004. p. 94-5
- Fricke, David (March 20, 1997). "Not Just a Country Rock Band". Rolling Stone.
- Cameron, Keith (May 1997). "Last Twang in Town". Vox.
- Sheridan, Phil (February 1995). "Roger, Wilco". Magnet.
- Kot 2004. p. 96
- The band was briefly known as Grain before Trace was completed.
- Kot 2004. p. 90
- Kot 2004. p. 93
- Lanham, Tom (January 1997). "Being and Nothingness". CMJ New Music Monthly.
- Greenwald, Matthew. ""Too Far Apart" (review)". Allmusic. Last accessed July 17, 2007.
- "The 1995 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. Last accessed July 9, 2007.
- Kot 2004. p. 97
- Byrne, Richard (September 20, 1995). "Here Comes the Son". Riverfront Times.
- "Heatseekers". Billboard. 1995-04-15.
- "The Billboard 200". Billboard. October 7, 1995.
- Kot 2004. p. 125
- Kot, Greg (2004). Wilco: Learning How to Die (1st ed.). New York City, NY: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-1558-5.