Casting shadows on the winter sky as you stood there counting crows
One for sorrow, two for joy
Three for girls and four for boys
Five for silver, six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Counting Crows is an alternative rock band from Berkeley, California. They gained popularity in the mid-nineties for their debut album, August and Everything After. The band takes its name from the divination rhyme about crows, which also appears in the song "A Murder of One," quoted above. The group is fronted by and essentially is singer-songwriter Adam Duritz, a "Russian-Jew-American impersonating African-Jamaican" whose lyrics are largely inspired by his personal relationships, life, and chronic dissociative disorder.
Their music can be best described as a harmonious blending of alternative rock and country rock. Some of their most prominent influences include Van Morrison, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, The Band, and Neil Young; they have paid tribute to many of their other influences with their cover album Underwater Sunshine.
Music by Counting Crows has been featured on the soundtracks of Clueless, Mr. Deeds , Cruel Intentions, Two Weeks Notice, and Shrek 2. "Accidentally in Love" from Shrek 2 was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar in 2005 and played at the Oscar ceremony.
The band is unusual in that it actively encourages the recording of its concerts and the distribution of the resulting bootleg recordings. The band hosts a trading network on its website to enable fans to swap concert recordings. Fans can also visit an unofficial torrent site, Crowstown, which offers video and audio bootlegs for free.
- Adam Duritz (Lead vocals, piano, primary songwriter)
- David Bryson (guitar, mandolin, vocals)
- Dan Vickrey (guitar, vocals)
- David Immerglück (guitar, mandolin, pedal steel guitar, slide guitar, vocals)
- Charlie Gillingham (keyboards, accordion, vocals)
- Jim Bogios (drums)
- Millard Powers (bass guitar, upright bass, piano, vocals)
Prior principal members
- Steve Bowman (drums, 1991-1994)
- Matt Malley (bass guitar, vocals, 1992-2005)
- Ben Mize (drums, vocals, 1994-2002)
- August and Everything After (1993)
- Recovering the Satellites (1996)
- Across a Wire: Live in New York City (2-disc collection of live performances recorded for MTV and VH1) (1998)
- This Desert Life (1999)
- Hard Candy (2002)
- Films About Ghosts (The Best Of...) (2003)
- New Amsterdam: Live at Heineken Music Hall (2006)
- Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings (2008)
- Live from SoHo (an iTunes exclusive album, 2008)
- August and Everything After - Live at Town Hall (recorded 2007, released 2011)
- Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation), a Cover Album (2012)
- Echoes of the Outlaw Roadshow (live album, 2013)
- Somewhere Under Wonderland (2014)
Songs, albums, and performances by Counting Crows feature the following tropes:
- Anti-Love Song: About half of them, most notably "American Girls", "Anna Begins", "Anyone but You", "Ghost Train", and "Butterfly in Reverse".
- Album Title Drop:
- This Desert Life is named for a line in the song "High Life".
- Films About Ghosts is named for a line in "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby", which is included on the album.
- Somewhere Under Wonderland is named for a line in "Earthquake Driver".
- Also related, the above mentioned band name drop in "A Murder of One".
- Blatant Lies: Anna Begins contains the repeated line I am not worried/I am not overly concerned to signify the narrators denial that hes falling in love with the titular character. Later in the song he admits hes been worried the whole time. This may be a nod to 10ccs Im Not in Love, which employs a similar rhetorical device. Another similar instance is in Colorblind, where Duritz sings, I am fine. He does not sound fine.
- Break-Up Song: "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby", among others.
- Captain Obvious / Shaped Like Itself: From "Le Ballet d'or""I would be lying if I didn't tell you the truth"
- Concept Album: Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, divided into two sides on the precept that "On Saturday night, you sin; on Sunday morning, you repent". The album is also a deep exploration of Duritz' depersonalisation-derealisation disorder and, more generally, failure.
- The Cover Changes the Gender: The cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" turns "a big yellow taxi took away my old man" to "a big yellow taxi took my girl away."
- Cover Song: In addition to the Cover Album, their official discography includes covers of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" (which provided one of their biggest hits), The Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil", and Jackson C. Frank's "Blues Run the Game" (a bonus track on some versions of New Amsterdam). Several of the songs from Underwater Sunshine have also made appearances on their various live albums.
- Dark Reprise: The original recording of "Mr. Jones" is a song about wanting to be famous. The version featured on Across a Wire is about why you shouldn't want to be famous.
- Darker and Edgier: August and Everything After was a sweetly melodic, very subdued folk album. Their second, Recovering the Satellites, added distorted guitar, angry lyrics, and several swear words.
- Also, the original version of "Round Here". See Despair Event Horizon.
- Saturday Nights is probably the darkest and edgiest Counting Crows will ever get. It's borderline metal at times. Sunday Mornings is way lighter musically but, lyrically, is still pretty dark.
- Despair Event Horizon: "Round Here" is about a girl who's crossing it. The narrator doesn't sound much better off.Round here we talk just like lions, but we sacrifice like lambs
'Round here she's slippin' through my hands.
- It should be noted, while the Crows' version mainly comes across as a melancholy classic-rock tune, the original Himalayans (Adam's old group) version seriously fits with the lyrics (to the point that you're unlikely to ever hear the Crows' version the same way again).
- Distaff Counterpart: Maria. The most widely-accepted and often-quoted explanation, from Duritz himself:"She's just an idea of someone I came up with when I was writing 'Round Here.' I mean, she's me. It's through the eyes of a girl, but it's someone very much like me struggling at the edge, not sure if she's going to fall off on one side or the other. It's a theme that's stuck through songs. So she keeps popping up."
- Distinct Double Album:
- Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings is probably one of the most extreme examples out there. While it was released on one CD, the band themselves consider it a double album, as the two halves were written and conceived separately, and it's usually referred to that way in marketing because its two halves are so different. Saturday Nights is hard rock, bordering on metal. Sunday Mornings is mostly contemplative country-folk, with the two exceptions of "You Can't Count on Me" and "Come Around"; these are both closer to the style of Saturday Nights, though not as dark musically. Lyrically, the two halves of the album explore different aspects of failure.
- Across a Wire is a live example, with the first disc (VH 1 Storytellers) being (mostly) acoustic and the second (MTV Live from the 10 Spot) being electric. Some songs are included on both discs, but the arrangements are significantly (often radically) different.
- Driven to Suicide: Maria in "Round Here" sounds pretty close to this.She looks up at the building, says she's thinking of jumping
She says she's tired of life. She must be tired of something.
- Either/Or Title:
- The title of one song on Hard Candy is given as "If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead".
- The full title of Underwater Sunshine is Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation).
- Epic Rocking: "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby", at 7:46.
- "Palisades Park" clocks in at 8:21, making it their longest studio track ever released.
- Live versions of "Round Here" and "Rain King" are known to go on for over eleven minutes. The version of "Round Here" on disc two of Across a Wire is exactly ten minutes long. ("Anna Begins" on the first disc runs for 13:55, but less than half of that is the song proper; it's still a bit over six minutes long, though).
- Also topping the six-minute mark are "High Life" (6:21) and the hidden track "Kid Things" (7:06).
- Fading into the Next Song: "Hanginaround" fades into "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" on This Desert Life.
- Flyover Country: "Omaha, somewhere in middle America..."
- Gratuitous French: "Le Ballet d'or" means "Golden Ballet".
- Greatest Hits Album: Films About Ghosts (The Best Of...)
- Hidden Track: They are fond of putting hidden tracks on their albums, usually by placing a long period of silence after the last song followed by the hidden one. This means that the track won't show up as an option when viewing the tracks on the CD the only way to hear it is to wait through or fast forward through the silent portion of the last track.
- I Am the Band/Face of the Band: Most people only know Adam Duritz by name. This is because he writes almost all the songs, is literally the voice/sound of the band, and is extremely charismatic. The band simply wouldn't exist without him.
- Incredibly Long Note: In "Sullivan Street".
- Ironic Nursery Tune: In "A Murder of One" with the "One for Sorrow, Two for Joy" rhyme (see Magpies as Portents trope) used in a song about an abusive partner, and then later in "I'm Not Sleeping" we get "I said rain rain go away\ Come again some other day,\ Cause I got all this shit to say\ But I've gone back to find my way", which is very powerful in context.
- Literal Metaphor: There are many passages in their work that probably come across as metaphorical to people who havent had dissociative experiences, but are likely fairly literal descriptions of Duritz experiences. For instance, the following passage from Round Here probably reads as poetic imagery to most people, but is actually a fairly accurate description of how people with depersonalisation-derealisation syndrome experience reality:I walk in the air, between the rain
Through myself and back again
Where? I dont know.
- Having a sense of oneself as an outside observer of ones own experiences is a fairly common symptom of dissociative disorders; a person suffering this disorder may not feel connected to their body or their self.
- Los Angeles: "Goodnight L.A.", "Come Around", and "Los Angeles".
- Long-Runner Line-up: Since 2005, the lineup of the band has been stablenote .
- Lyrical Dissonance: Adam Duritz is pretty much the master of upbeat, poppy rock songs about emotional detachment and despair.
- "American Girls" is a sparkly, upbeat pop song — about realizing your lover is insane yet being unable to leave them.
- "Einstein on the Beach (For an Eggman)" is similarly upbeat and cheerful-sounding, but it's about Albert Einstein's guilt of being involved in the design of nuclear weapons.
- "If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead" is another upbeat pop-rock song... about the singer realizing that his childhood idols are dying one by one and that he's unable to connect emotionally with the women in his life.
- And then there's "You Can't Count on Me", where the singer is almost joyful to finally realize that the women in his life are nothing but playthings he can toss aside when he's bored with them.
- "Chelsea" is a languid, serene ballad with Duritz' piano and voice accompanied by several jazz wind instruments... and lyrics like "It's good for everybody to hurt somebody once in a while/The things I do to people I love shouldn't be allowed."
- Madness Mantra: Several. For instance, She says, Its only in my head/She says, Shh, I know; its only in my head, from Round Here, reflecting Marias awareness that her mental problems are not reflective of external reality. Of course, as the next stanza reveals, her awareness that her problems arent real doesnt make suffering them any easier for her. This is Truth in Television, as anyone whos been there will be able to tell you. Depersonalisation disorder is not a psychosis, since its sufferers maintain intact reality testing (i.e., they can distinguish fantasy from reality and are aware that their mental issues are problems with their own perception rather than consequences of external reality). However, this does not necessarily make the disorder easier to deal with, as sufferers often obsess over their sanity and may continually worry whether they exist or whether their perceptions are real.
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: They mostly stay in 1-5 territory, but most of the Saturday Nights half of Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings is probably in 6-7 range. A few other songs, mostly from Recovering the Satellites, may also reach this high.
- Mood Whiplash: Often used to great effect. The Sleeping children better run like the wind segment is much more turbulent than the rest of Round Here and is used to indicate Marias internal turmoil, and contrasts dramatically with the almost lullaby-like Its only in my head that immediately follows. That is immediately followed by Maria suggesting the songs narrator sleep with her, then admitting that shes contemplating suicide. This trope can also be Truth in Television regarding some mental disorders, as sufferers may feel they have unstable grasps on reality or experience strong, rapid changes in mood. Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings is also a spectacular example, not just between the two halves of the album but, often, within individual songs.
- Musical Pastiche: On the whole, while they have clear musical influences, they don't wear them on their sleeves, but there are a few cases that stand out. "New Frontier" nails R.E.M.'s style so closely that you might think it was Michael Stipe singing at times. "Carriage", meanwhile, seems to be Counting Crows' Dave Matthews Band song, again with Duritz doing a fairly convincing impersonation of Matthews. "Anyone but You" has a pretty good The Beach Boys pastiche towards the end. "I'm Not Sleeping" is, at several points, quite reminiscent of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus", particularly in its string arrangement. The Across a Wire version of "Ghost Train" sounds more than a bit like a lost Neil Young & Crazy Horse track, organ solo aside. And "If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead" makes its influence from The Band plain in its very title.
- Ode to Intoxication/Ode to Sobriety: "Perfect Blue Buildings" and "Amy Hit the Atmosphere" are both about heroin users. The former is about jonesing for a fix, trying to get "a little oblivion" so he doesn't have to think about himself or his life. The latter is happier, though — Adam, Amy, and the others they'd shoot up with always used to talk about being taken on a "rocket ride" to somewhere they really belonged; eventually, Amy got clean, finally getting "out of this gutter".
- One Steve Limit: Averted since 1999; David Bryson was a longtime member of the band, and then David Immerglück joined up. To lessen confusion, the former is now listed on the album as Dave Bryson, and the latter is often announced in-concert as "Immy".
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: Just listen to Round Here.I said I'm under the gun...
- Precision F-Strike: They don't use profanity that much, but there are a few songs where it pops up ("I'm Not Sleeping", "Recovering the Satellites", etc.).
- Real Life Writes the Plot: "A Long December" is about Duritz's breakup with Courtney Cox, and "Come Around" is partly about his leaving California and moving to New York.
- Rearrange the Song: The acoustic disc of Across a Wire features several radical examples of this trope, incorporating instruments like banjos and accordions that weren't included on the original versions. Adam actually says they played mostly rearrangements of their electric material for this show because they liked the new feelings and meanings the process of rearranging the songs brought to the surface.
- Rock-Star Song:
So if you see that movie star and me
- "Have You Seen Me Lately?"
- And more recently "Los Angeles".
If you should see my picture in a magazine
Or if you fall asleep by the bedroom TV
Honey, I'm just trying to make some sense out of me.
- Running Gag:
There's a piece of Maria in every song that I sing
- Well, less of a gag than a theme; during live performances, the band tends to work sections of "A Murder of One" into their other songs. It helps that they tend towards jamming while performing live.
- They also name drop a woman named "Maria" in several of their songs, such as "Mr. Jones", "Round Here", and the unrecorded "August and Everything After". Lampshaded in Mrs. Potter's Lullabye:
- Sanity Slippage Song: Up to half of their songs, really. This is somewhat a case of Write What You Know, as Adam Duritz has revealed that he has suffered from depersonalisation-derealisation disorder, a dissociative mental disorder that results in severe difficulty perceiving one's place in reality (it can be compared to having an existential crisis of epic proportions, as experiencing events as if they are occurring to someone else rather than to oneself, or as sensing oneself as a character in a fictional story rather than as a participant in reality).
- Self-Plagiarism: The Across a Wire version of "Mr. Jones" borrows several lines in its final verse from "Miller's Angels" on Recovering the Satellites.
- They're fond of slipping in references to The Sandman in many songs.
- Also many references to Henderson the Rain King, including one song title "The Rain King"
- "The only sure road to true love is to find your inner Ric Ocasek". Duritz about his cover of "You Might Think"
- On Across a Wire, Adam opens "Mr. Jones" by quoting the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star". All versions of the song refer to Pablo Picasso and Bob Dylan.
- "If I Could Give All My Love -or- Richard Manuel Is Dead" emulates both Richard Manuel's signature piano style and the main riff from "The Weight", his biggest hit with the Band.
- It is quite likely that the subtitle of Underwater Sunshine is a tribute to Fairport Convention's album What We Did on Our Holidays, considering that it contains a cover of one of the songs from that album ("Meet on the Ledge"). The main part of the title may be a reference to the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight.
- "Monkey" has a reference to Ben Folds.
- Multiple songs refer to artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, including "Angels of the Silences" and "When I Dream of Michelangelo".
- In addition to the obvious one, "Elvis Went to Hollywood" contains references to Viktor Frankenstein and Alex Chilton.
- The Show Must Go On: A 2002 performance in Los Angeles saw drummer Ben Mize fall ill mid-show, requiring his hospitalization. After a brief intermission, the band switched to acoustic instruments and performed several songs without a drummer, before drummers Randy Guss of Toad the Wet Sprocket (their opening band) and Todd Roper of Cake (who was in the audience) were persuaded to appear onstage to finish the show.
- The Shut-In: The Across a Wire version of "Mr. Jones" heavily implies that the narrator has become this by the end.
- Something Completely Different: "Palisades Park" opens with a minute-long trumpet solo coupled with a jazz-influenced piano piece. Then the main piano riff kicks in with the first verse, backed by very jazzy, swingy drums, vibrato-infused, bluesy guitar licks and a new, almost talk-ish singing style that differs from Adam Duritz' usual style. Despite all of this, the rest of Somewhere Under Wonderland is pretty much standard Counting Crows.
- "Chelsea" from the much earlier Across a Wire is a similar case, with a bunch of jazz wind instruments accompanying Duritz' piano and voice. By the standards of the album, it's also an example: it's the only studio piece; it's the only song they hadn't recorded before on one of their firsttwo albums; it's an extreme cases of Lyrical Dissonance even by Counting Crows standards.
- Three Chords and the Truth: "Untitled (Love Song)" by The Romany Rye, which Counting Crows covered for a couple of B-sides and eventually picked for Underwater Sunshine. The album notes (written by Adam) state this about The Romany Rye's performance of the song:"It was their last song and they were absolutely torching it. [...] There's only one 4-chord pattern in the song. You make it work by feel. It was the end of the gig and they were just...LEANING into it. What can I say? It got good to me. All I could think was 'Ooooh man, I wanna spend 5 minutes doing this myself'."
- Uncommon Time:
- Most of "Mercury" is in 4/4, but the intro and some of the instrumental fills are in 7/4. This likely ties in with the lyrics, actually ("She'll change so suddenly/She's just like mercury/Yeah, but she's all right with me").
- "Start Again" (a country-styled cover of Scottish alternative rock band Teenage Fanclub) jumps around a lot.
- Word Salad Lyrics: Adam Duritz just might be the king of this trope. Ironically, most of his lyrics make perfect sense in context.