"The ones I love the best are the ones where he sounds like he's falling over drunk while he's playing": Goo Goo Dolls' John Rzeznik on the soundtrack of his life

John Rzeznik headshot
(Image credit: Claire Marie Vogel)

Impossibly pretty and able to drop platinum power ballads as if on a whim, John Rzeznik, Goo Goo Dolls’ singer and main songwriter, has been fronting the band for what seems like an improbably long 37 years. Here, he opens up on the best and worst of times. And why he still loves Led Zeppelin.


The first music I remember hearing

The first song that really struck a chord with me was Fox On The Run by the Sweet. I had four older sisters, so I got stuck listening to all their music, that may have had an influence on my songwriting… I was seven or eight years old at the time. My daughter’s two and a half, it’s funny, she likes listening to some of my songs but not others, Acoustic #3, that’s her favourite.

The greatest album of all time

Who’s Next. It was that period of The Who where Pete Townshend was at the height of his powers, it ushered in the next level of what The Who would become, they seemed like this unstoppable machine.

The guitarist

Jimmy Page, I have all these links to YouTube videos of him playing the solo from Stairway To Heaven live, bootlegs and official releases, and then I have the studio version and I compare all the different solos he did, some are so good, but the ones I love the best are the ones where he sounds like he’s falling over drunk while he’s playing; there’s so much raw emotion coming out, yeah, he’s fucked up! But he’s still just killing it, it’s amazing, man.

The first song I performed live

I was in a hardcore band in 1985, we were called the Beaumonts, we used to do Harry Nilsson’s Without You, our version was about 180bpm, my god…

The songwriter

Probably Tom Petty, something about those songs, an album like Damn The Torpedoes always appealed to me, even when I went through my indie rock snob phase where I couldn’t listen to anything on a major label, I’d still always listen to Tom Petty, he was a great songwriter.

The best record I made

There’s two, but the one where I think I was coming into my own as a songwriter was a record called Superstar Carwash, the production is very dated, but the songs are really well written. And then Something For The Rest Of Us, the record company hated it, but I look back on that record, and it was probably the most close to the bone writing that I’d ever done, I was extremely depressed and I was at the bottom of my alcoholism, but when I listen back to that record now, it took me ten years to listen to it, I went, my god, this is a fucking good record.

The worst record I made

Our debut album, I guess, we made it for $750, and $200 of it was spent on beer and speed, we had the studio for three days, so we had to stay up for three days, so we got some trucker’s speed and a lot of beer and went into the studio and recorded everything as fast as we could and that was the end of that. It might be the worst record, but it was an honest record.

My biggest disappointment

I loved Genesis and I loved Peter Gabriel too. I loved them up through Duke. I loved that record. It is so emotionally satisfying for me to listen to that album. But at Abacab I just went: “Ah, I’m done!” They were so amazing up until then.

The most underrated band ever

Hüsker Dü, those albums, stuff like Zen Arcade sound terrible, but they’re playing this distorted, fast music and you start to hear these audio hallucinations, stuff you never heard before, harmonics being played, these open chords, detuned guitars, all these sounds that are overwhelming. The raw emotions in his voice, it wasn’t easily digestible, but they were my rock for a long time.

The best live album

Live at Leeds is a great record, it’s a true live record, the lightning caught in the bottle moment, you don’t really get that many live albums anymore, and you certainly don’t get live albums like that.

My Saturday night/ party track

I don’t go out any more, I quit drinking. When Robby [Takac] and I used to go out a lot we were poor and in Buffalo, and it’s Saturday night and you’re broke, you get a cheap bottle of vodka and you invite all your friends over to the house, get loaded there and listen to music and then you go to the club and buy a couple there. Iggy to Depeche Mode to Motörhead to Yes, it was interesting, we were very into Julian Cope and Robyn Hitchcock; Madonna Of The Wasps, what a song…

The song that makes me cry

A song by Bonnie Raitt, I Can’t Make you Love Me, that song destroys me! And then there’s a song called What’ll I Do, Irving Berlin wrote it, beautiful, Sinatra sang it, a hundred people sang it, it’s in the great American songbook, I guess.

My ‘In the mood for love’ record

Avalon. I think Roxy Music’s Avalon has probably got more guys laid than one of my records. It’s amazing when people say to me: “Dude, Iris got me laid, thanks so much!” But all of Avalon, and a lot of the Roxy catalogue, it’s sexy stuff.

The song I want played at my funeral

Tom Waits, one of his love songs, like Ol’ 55, maybe, Downtown Train, a song like that – sad but beautiful. 

The original version of this feature appeared in Classic Rock 268, published in November 2019. Goo Goo Dolls tour Australia and New Zealand in February and March

Philip Wilding

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion.