The One after the Big One: J. Geils Band, HOTLINE
It is impossible to play a J. Geils Band record and be sad. Each is a party on a platter, full of the band’s signature amped-up takes on R&B classics and originals that sound like amped-up takes on different R&B classics. In the ‘70s, the band was one of the premier live acts in the U.S., and in 1974, they had a bona-fide hit with “Must of Got Lost,” which skirted just under the Top Ten. One might have asked at the time whether the band would follow it up with more hits.
The answer was “not immediately” (that would come in the ‘80s), though HOTLINE (1975) certainly had the potential. Kicking off with a cover of Harvey Scales and The Seven Sounds’ “Love-Itis,” the band establishes the groove and gets the party started. One can’t help but be bowled over by front man Peter Wolf’s swagger, or the exuberant back and forth between Magic Dick’s harmonica and J. Geils’ fretwork. On the pumping John Brim blues “Be Careful (What You Do),” Seth Justman’s keyboard work shines, whether he’s doing open-handed runs up the piano during the harmonica parts or chugging steadily underneath a guitar solo.
The originals—written by Wolf and Justman—can be just as fun. Love’s got Wolf all mixed up on “Easy Way Out”—either that, or he has a wicked hangover (“I ain’t lookin’ too good,” he sings, “I ain’t feelin’ so hot”). “Think It Over” is really two songs in one—hopped up verses slow down to a pleading, oh-so-slow chorus—yet never feels disjointed. And the album-closing “Fancy Footwork” is a great Motown homage that might serve as Wolf’s theme song (“Watch me dance dance / Do it all night long”).
HOTLINE serves as a fine follow-up to J. Geils Band’s first big hit; like much of the band’s output, it lights up any room where it’s playing and gives everyone in the room an excuse to move.