Published on March 27th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Cracked Rear View’ – Hootie & the Blowfish 
Summary: Hootie & the Blowfish hits the ground running as rock’s newest nice guys. Were they innovative? Not so much. Instead, they proved why that’s not always necessary.
Length: 43:04 | Release: July 5, 1994
Produced By: Don Gehman | Label: Atlantic
Top 40 U.S. Singles: 3 | Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 1
Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View is a celebration of all things fundamental. It’s right up there with sunny days, mischievous puppies and girls in sundresses.
The album made one of the all-time greatest first impressions in rock. Released in the summer of 1994, Hootie’s debut has sold upwards of 16 million copies. It was the best-selling album of 1995 and the Recording Industry Association of America rates it the 16th bestselling album of all time.
According to the RIAA, the best selling debut album in history is Guns ‘N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. That has sold a hefty 18 million copies. Boston’s self-titled debut has sold 17 million copies.
For comparison’s sake, Britney Spears’s first record, …Baby One More Time, moved roughly 14 million units.
No one ever accused Hootie’s Cracked Rear View of not being self-aware. Its members (Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld) stick to their strengths. The four multi-instrumentalists dressed tried-and-true subjects in radio-friendly “sha-la-la” choruses. Hootie was about major keys and crisp backing vocals. Hootie was asking to hold your hand.
Hootie was not, um, experimental.
Cracked Rear View was embraced at a time when grunge and alternative music dominated the rock scene. Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains all released chart-topping albums that year. But Hootie led a distinctly different charge. A Rolling Stone cover story in 1995 was entitled “Sex, Golf and Rock & Roll.”
Hootie might have been the perfect reminder to lighten the hell up.
Darius Rucker looks back on the mid-’90s.
The album’s opener, the warmth that is “Hannah Jane,” pits us in the middle of Hootieville. But the three singles that followed (“Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You”) invited the masses to the party. The first was straight-ahead pop but the second was about an alcoholic spouse and the third was a bit of an ode to Bob Dylan.
Let’s take a closer look.
“Hold My Hand” is the band’s calling card. It’s their first and signature hit. A nod to young – if not naive – affection, we listen as a narrator makes his play both literally and metaphorically. “I want to love you the best that I can,” he says. There’s no double-meaning here. He’s asking you to sit down in the front seat, not the back. Perennial harmony man David Crosby sings backup on the track, which was supposedly dates back to the band’s college days in South Carolina.
From “Hold My Hand:”
Yesterday, I saw you standing there
Your head was down, your eyes were red
No comb had touched your hair
I said get up, and let me see you smile
Well take a walk together
Walk the road awhile
“Let Her Cry” is the finest of the Big Three. Rucker’s noted the song’s autobiographical element during interviews. In the song, however, he sings from the reverse position. It was Rucker who was the main offender in an alcoholic relationship. The result is a rediscovery of his transgressions as the narrator in the song sips a beer and feels sorry for himself.
What are the dangers of pushing too hard? What are you risking by doing too little? One could make the argument it’s here that frontman Darius Rucker first dawns a “country” guise. The future “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” star delivers a tragic domestic tale with a vocal as soulful as it is heart-wrenching.
We give similar compliments to Johnny Cash, don’t we?
She never lets me in
Only tells me where’s she’s been
When she’s had too much to drink
I say that I don’t care
I just run my hands through her dark hair
Then I pray to God you gotta help me fly away and just…
The narrator wrestles with fond memories of the pair growing together, but present turmoil is staining their masterpiece.
Last night I tried to leave
Cried so much I could not believe
She was the same girl I fell in love with long ago
She went in the back to get high
I sat down on my couch and cried
Yelling oh mama please help me
Won’t you hold my hand and…
The character is a desperate man, but doesn’t appear to harbor any resentment. It’s quite a song.
Hootie’s video for “Let Her Cry.”
“Only Wanna Be With You” is another you’re-the-greatest-girl-in-the-world song, and is the only tune I know of that references both the Miami Dolphins and Bob Dylan. The narrator’s crush complains she doesn’t understand lyrics from Dylan’s “Idiot Wind.” Rucker then sings a few lines from the song.
“Ain’t Bobby so cool?” he gushes in the chorus.
The album was produced by Don Gehman, a man I was unfamiliar with until I started researching this album. Gehman has produced R.E.M. (Life’s Rich Pageant), Blues Traveler (Truth Be Told) and several albums by John Mellencamp. Those include 1982’s American Fool (responsible for “Jack and Diane” and “Hurts So Good”) along with 1987’s Lonesome Jubilee (“Paper in Fire”).
Hootie playing “I’m Goin’ Home” live at Farm Aid ’95, at the height of their power.
After the Big Three, the album is surprisingly consistent. And if you purchased the album in 1995, were you necessarily expecting depth? “I’m Goin’ Home,” “Time,” “Drowning” and “Goodbye.” All solid.
Make no mistake, Hootie gave us a complete album.
So the big question: Why don’t I listen to it more?
The best I can do is to compare it to a lovely destination less than five miles from my apartment. There’s a walking trail and a little park that I can honestly say is beautiful. The trail is roughly three miles – just the right distance – and it ends with a grassy field that sweeps across the land and leaves little doubt that it was sculpted in detail by God himself.
Yet I’m hardly ever out there. Typically, something more pressing has my attention instead.
The same goes for Cracked Rear View. It’s always a pleasure, but more pressing music is being made.
After Cracked Rear View, Gehman returned to produce the follow-up, 1996’s Fairweather Johnson. It debuted atop the Billboard album chart, but the best reading I could find on the album’s sales turned out to be somewhat telling. As of 2012, the album had sold 2.3 million copies.
Remember the monster numbers at the beginning of this piece? Before we knew it, the band began to feel as “90’s” as the hi-top fade.
But, like the fade, Rucker has rebounded. Working with producer Frank Rogers (Brad Paisley, Trace Adkins), he’s become a bonafide country star. Starting in 2008, he released three country albums in five years. Each of them produced at least one number-one single on Billboard’s U.S. Hot Country Songs chart.
As of March 2014, few male vocalists are bigger in the genre. Good for him. He seems like a good man, and he deserves it.
With that, I think I’ll hit the trail. Every so often, there’s nothing better.