Like Genesis, Hall & Oates, Kool & the Gang and REO Speedwagon, the J Geils Band had been cranking out albums since the wee years of the ’70s, yet only achieved a sustained commercial run at the dawn of the ’80s. Their lengthy ’70s discography can sound rather repetitive, for there’s admittedly only so much one can do with cartoon boogie. The band’s innovation, if any, was to inject more of a ’70s rock dynamic and compositional flexibility into an antiquated rock/pop/soul aesthetic indebted to the sounds of ’60s Detroit, especially Mitch Ryder. Their best studio albums from this period were Ladies Invited (1973), Nightmares…and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle (1974) and Monkey Island (1977).
Befittingly, the introduction of goofy New Wave elements into their sound (shades of The Cars and The Boomtown Rats) would usher in their greatest run of chart success, and their amusing videos for such ingratiating hits as “Love Stinks”, “Centerfold” and “Freeze Frame” added to the myriad of wonderful lifelong memories that the golden age of MTV provided for its lucky viewers.
But what took them so long?
It was a common line throughout their first decade that the J Geils Band were ‘the greatest live act’, yet by now this was being leveled with the charge that their live prowess was the only thing they had going for them, and that they’d never mature into a sufficient studio act.
Incidentally, their contract was in jeopardy by the time they commenced with the Monkey Island sessions in 1977, and their fears of impending termination prompted a concerted effort towards creative, exploratory songcraft. And while it didn’t give them their desired commercial breakthrough, this fine album would nonetheless show that they were capable of producing more than just jukebox music for ‘funky retro diners’, and it appeased their coffers well enough to afford the band’s renewal. Intermittently, their 1978 Sanctuary album proved to be a step sideways rather than forward. But the fruits of their redoubled creative focus, in tandem with their unabated stage power, would ultimately sprout to the surface. For as Rolling Stone said in a 1980 article on the band, Love Stinks was making “more noise out of the box than any of their albums in years,” – the last point perhaps being a reference to their only prior (albeit minor) hit, “Must of Got Lost” in 1974.