Counting Crows' Adam Duritz: My Life In 10 Songs

A photograph of Adam Duritz and his favourite single sleeves
(Image credit: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

As far back as he can remember, Adam Duritz was all about the songs. Writing his first one at the age of 18, reflects the Maryland-born singer, was “the biggest moment of self-definition in my life”, signposting the path towards Counting Crows’ beautifully observed and ten-million-selling 1993 debut, August And Everything After. But running in parallel with Duritz’s own songcraft was always a rapacious fandom that still sees him lose days to the rifling of record crates. We asked the frontman for ten of his very favourites.       

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The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back (1969)

The first concert I ever saw was the Jackson 5 playing a rodeo in Texas when I was six years old. As a little kid, it blew me away: the clothes, the dancing, the music. As an adult, I can really appreciate just how fucking good that music is. Specifically that song, with the chicken-scratching guitar, Michael’s vocal coming in and out of Jermaine’s more gritty voice, and that incredible riff that’s played on bass and piano. The verses don’t even have any drums on them. It’s a fucking amazing song.

King Floyd – Groove Me (1971)

It’s been one of my favourites my whole life. It is an astoundingly funky song. It is out of this world. The bassline and his vocal over it – it fucking kills me. It’s all the more special to me because, for years, I thought it was by Pink Floyd. I really did. When I was a kid, I had a live record by The Blues Brothers and they played this song. And I hadn’t heard Pink Floyd yet, but I knew the band was meant to be really different in the beginning with Syd Barrett. Then, when I went and got The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and The Madcap Laughs, I was like, ‘Well, this doesn’t sound anything like Groove Me’. So I went back and checked – and it was actually by King Floyd.

Bruce Springsteen – New York City Serenade (1973)

I don’t know that it’s the best, but The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle is my favourite Springsteen album, because he creates a world you can get lost in. Y’know, by the time he’s making Born To Run, that world has cheapened and the paint is peeling off the walls and he’s got to get out of there. Certainly, by the time of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, that whole world is falling apart. But on this album, you really feel how magical it was for him as a kid growing up in Asbury Park, and how it so inspired him to write these songs. You can feel it pouring out of him. I could have picked any song off that record, but I just love New York City Serenade. Y’know, the intro, with the sound of those piano strings – it’s just beautiful.

Big Star – September Gurls (1974)

When I was a kid, it’s not like it is now. There was lots of music you couldn’t buy. Vinyl went out of print, especially for bands like Big Star. But I’d read so much about how great they were: my heroes in R.E.M. talked about them and The Replacements wrote a song about them [Alex Chilton]. My parents took me on a trip to Britain when I was a kid. We went all over England, Wales and Scotland, and I dug through every used bin in every record store in every town. I got all of Big Star on that trip and it changed my life. That, probably more than anything else, was the most influential music on me. People say that nobody really listened to the Velvet Underground, but everybody who did picked up an electric guitar and started a band. And I think, for the next generation after that, it was really Big Star. There’s no Replacements, there’s no R.E.M, there’s definitely no Counting Crows, without Big Star.

BMX Bandits – Serious Drugs (1993)

The Gigolo Aunts – who toured with Counting Crows and are friends of ours – had covered Serious Drugs and I called them and said, ‘What is this song? It’s amazing! Did you write this?’ And they were like, ‘No, it’s by this band BMX Bandits’. So I sought it out – and realised that BMX Bandits was full of all my favourite musicians, before they were in my favourite bands. Y’know, there was Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, and a guy from the Soup Dragons [Sean Dickson], and the singer was Joseph McAlinden, who was also from a band called Superstar that I was obsessed with in the ’90s. That song is so charming and it’s always felt really special to me.

Teenage Fanclub – Ain’t That Enough (1997)

We were labelmates on DCG, and they came out with Bandwagonesque a couple of years before we released August And Everything After. I remember very vividly being on tour for Recovering The Satellites in 1997, and being over in Europe when Songs From Northern Britain came out. That whole tour, I couldn’t stop listening to it. I thought it was the most beautiful record I’d ever heard. So heartfelt, very different from the other Teenage Fanclub stuff, but just so loving created. I could have picked Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From, Planets, we’ve even covered Start Again. I get warm thinking about it. I listen to it all the time.

Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child (1970)

That’s another that’s been one of my favourites my whole life. I thought it was a Jackson 5 song when I first heard it as a kid. It’s not – but it could be. It’s just a magnificent piece of songwriting, and the vocals… it’s one of the most joyous soul songs ever recorded. It’s very dear to me, because when I moved to LA, I bartended at The Viper Room for years. It was my second home. When it got to closing time each night, after we’d shooed all the people out, we’d always play O-o-h Child. It was just the song we closed the bar with, every night. When work was done, and it was just us, it was always, like, ‘O-o-h Child!’ It was the way we rewarded ourselves at the end of the night.

Dashboard Confessional – So Long, So Long (2006)

When people were dismissing the Counting Crows and saying we weren’t very cool to like, Chris Carrabba was out there talking about how we were the most important band to him. He asked me at one point to sing on So Long, So Long from his record Dusk And Summer. Honestly, he didn’t need me at all. The background vocals he already had on there were so good, just sung by him. But I love that song and we’ve been really close friends ever since. When I work on new songs, I’ll send them to Chris. I want to know what he thinks. He does the same with me.

The Negro Problem – Bleed (1999)

Stew, who is the main guy in The Negro Problem, I think is one of the best songwriters alive. He was nominated and won Tonys when he wrote Passing Strange on Broadway – and he lived with me while he was in that play. He’s like a kid who grew up in Los Angeles, but he’s influenced by all different kinds of music: funk, soul, pop. He’s as much Burt Bacharach and Paul McCartney as he is Sly Stone. Everything on that record, Joys & Concerns, is incredible. It’s like if The Beatles grew up black in Los Angeles, making records in the ’90s, that’s what they would sound like. It’s, like, horns and strings and melodies. Bleed is probably the worst example of that, because it’s really stripped down. But it’s just a devastating song.

Gang Of Youths – Fear And Trembling (2017)

They’re an Australian band and they’ve made two records. One is called The Positions, but this is off of Go Farther In Lightness. David Le’aupepe and I met a few years ago when they played New York and became really close. He went through a lot of shit: his first wife died of cancer and it was brutal. The first record is really about that, but Go Farther In Lightness is about so much more. It’s a brilliantly expansive record. Fear And Trembling is the opening song, and it goes from being an almost Tom Waitsy ballad to an absolutely explosive in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll song. If you get a chance to see them, they may be the best rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet right now. They’re so fucking good, it’s like seeing Springsteen when I was a kid. It’s that transporting.

Counting Crows’ Butter Miracle, Suite One is released May 21st on BMG.

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.