Whether telling aching tales of high-school football heroes staring down their twilight years or dishing teen-boy fantasies about a certain bodacious mom, New Jersey's Fountains of Wayne have spent 15 years becoming the rock'n'roll equivalent of Mark Twain. This continues with their fifth album Sky Full of Holes (out Aug. 2), which features gorgeous radio-ready numbers like "Richie and Ruben" - their chronicle of two buddies' failed plan to open a nightclub. To better understand their songwriting process, SPIN asked Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger to reveal the music that influenced them the most. If anyone can make a case for why Swedish pop stars Abba are worth your time, it's them.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn The Torpedoes
"Twelve-year-old me got goosebumps from 'Refugee,' and even now I'm mesmerized by the video, with its gritty shimmering film," says Collingwood of Petty's 1979 classic. "The band was tight and loud, everyone knows that - but for all the money you can spend on guitars, drums, and amps, nothing propels the groove of that song more than a $10 shaker. Definitely an inspiration for the shaker that goes all the way through [the Fountain track] 'Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart.'"
Randy Newman, Little Criminals
"I'd actually pick pretty much any Randy Newman album, but this was the one I had first," says Schlesinger of the singer-songwriter's 1978 album, which yielded the single "Short People." "He showed that you could write in the voice of a character, and also that you could write an entire song about a very small moment, like in 'You Can't Fool The Fat Man.'"
Aztec Camera, "The Bugle Sounds Again"
"High Land, Hard Rain came out when Def Leppard and Michael Jackson were huge, and what a contrast it was to hear songs that didn't rely on a pose or stagecraft to make their point," says Collingwood of these Scottish New Wavers. "It was beautiful and strange and oblique and confessional all at the same time, and it made me want to read Keats and learn jazz chords. Adam and I met Roddy Frame very briefly at an Aztec Camera show in New York City, in what must have been about 1987. We were talking for a while and I thought things were going great and we were all smiling and nodding and then I realized that for the last five minutes he had been saying 'I have to go now' in a thick Scottish accent."
Abba, "Knowing Me, Knowing You"
"Throwaway verse, pre-chorus buildup, fucking gigantic chorus and the best guitar riff in human history," Collingwood raves of the Swedish pop group's 1977 smash. "Almost always I prefer sad songs to happy ones, and for some reason I keep going back to the I-III-IV of this song's riff section in my own songs, like 'Valley Winter Song,' 'Cemetery Guns,' and 'Troubled Times.' Brian and I visited the studio in Stockholm where all those classic Abba songs were recorded. Amazingly, it was one of the deadest, most non-reflective spaces I've ever been in. I found it very instructive that Abba managed to make such gigantic recordings in a small room where you could barely hear your own hands clapping. Later we got drunk and threw fruit at people from a hotel window."
Blue Öyster Cult, "Don't Fear The Reaper"
"This song's fusion of metal and jangle-pop just about perfectly aligned with my transition from Kiss albums to the Beatles and the Byrds," says Collingwood. "Same with the lyrical idea, I think. The reaper imagery sits well with young kids, right next to their monster toys and skull t-shirts, but the real story is kind of sappy and romantic. Also one of the first songs I learned to play on the guitar, at least up until the middle part, which I'm pretty sure requires a math degree."
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, "Winchester"
"The best Robyn Hitchcock songs are like T. S. Eliot, where you're emotionally pushed and pulled even while your brain hasn't figured out what's going on," says Collingwood. "At the time of Element of Light, I was in college and writing bad imitations of Del Fuegos songs. By contrast, this record taught me that sometimes the plot isn't as important as the details of the story, that some of the best songs are collections of observations and emotions rather than a coherent narrative. I would rather people be puzzled than bored, I guess."
"His songs are often so funny that you don't even notice how musically sophisticated they are," says Schlesinger of this New York songwriter, a fixture on the jazz and cabaret scene in the '60s. "And one of his signature tunes is about his lawyer, 'My Attorney Bernie.'"
Crowded House, Intriguer
"Chris and I have both been fans of Neil Finn since his Split Enz days," says Schlesinger of the Australian band. "Their latest album is subtle and it took a minute to sink in, butI find myself still wanting to hear it all the time."
Gian Carlo Menotti, Help, Help, the Globolinks!
"It's a science fiction opera about these weird cloud creatures that invade earth, and if they touch you, you turn into one of them," says Schlesinger of this '60s German opera, originally titled Hilfe, Hilfe, die Globolinks!. "But they're scared of music. I had a book version of it, illustrated by Milton Glaser, that scared the shit out of me as a kid. So I used to sleep with a little plastic recorder next to my bed just in case they showed up. It was a big influence in the sense that it kept me playing music constantly."