Take Five: Matthew Sweet Obscurities

Matthew Sweet embodies the best qualities of what is known as power pop. His inerrant sense of melody, knowing way with a hook, accessible lyrics and superb taste in musical associates have all helped to earn him a well-deserved reputation as an exemplar of the form. His most popular releases – 1991’s Girlfriend, his fourth album Altered Beast (released 30 years ago this July) and his series of collaborative albums with Susanna Hoffs – are full of musical gems. But so too are his earlier and lesser-known releases. Here are five Matthew Sweet obscurities you should know.

The Specs – “Look Out Girl (You Need a Direction)” from KFMQ Homegrown Album (1980)
Matthew Sweet was a junior high student in Lincoln, Nebraska when he joined this local cover band as its bassist. He brought an original song to the group, which would be recorded and released on a various-artists compilation of local acts. Sweet was still finding his way as a songwriter; this very early Sweet composition takes much of its inspiration from “This is the Modern World” by British mod trio The Jam.

Oh-OK – “Such N Such” from Furthermore What EP (1983)
Inspired by R.E.M.’s early work, Sweet moved to Athens, Georgia to attend college and kick-start his musical career. There he joined Oh-OK, a group featuring Lynda Stipe (sister of R.E.M.’s lead singer) in time for the group’s second release, Furthermore What. Produced and engineered by Mitch Easter at his Drive-In Studio, the record’s six songs were all group-composed. Sweet played guitar; the vocals were handled by Stipe and her co-lyricist Linda Hopper.

The Buzz of Delight – “Briar Rose” (1984)
At the same time Matthew Sweet was working as a member of Oh-OK, he formed a pop duo with David Pierce, the group’s former drummer. The two recorded and released a 1983 single, “Christmas,” and a six-song EP, Sound Castles the following year. Sweet and Pierce were prolific, writing and recording other tunes that wouldn’t see release for many years. One of those was this tune, eventually featured on the 2002 compilation To Understand: The Early Recordings of Matthew Sweet.

“Cortez the Killer” from Goodfriend (1992)
Sweet released his breakthrough album, Girlfriend, in 1991. A promotional-only companion set called Goodfriend was pressed on CD and distributed by Sweet’s label; it included alternate versions of Girlfriend songs plus rare bonus tracks. One was this, a live recording featuring guests the Indigo Girls, covering the Neil Young and Crazy Horse classic from 1975. Goodfriend eventually received commercial release as a bonus disc on the 2006 Legacy reissue of Girlfriend.

“Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” from Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits (1995)
Sweet has long been a fan and intelligent consumer of pop culture. His work as a member of Mike Myers’ Ming Tea (on the track “BBC”) was a highlight of the first Austin Powers film. But two years before that, Sweet lent his talents to an all-star collection of remakes of classic cartoon themes. Alongside performances by the Ramones, Liz Phair, Violent Femmes and Tripping Daisy, Sweet’s reading of “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” is a highlight of the album.