Happy 25th Anniversary to Sheryl Crow’s debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, originally released August 3, 1993.
The 1987 Wyn Cooper poem “Fun” begins, “’All I want is to have a little fun / Before I die,’ says the man next to me.” That meager request, the beginning of a poem exploring ennui, capitalism, and mortality, would become the signature line of one of the ‘90s biggest pop songs. This ironic turn would be Sheryl Crow’s first big hit. “All I Wanna Do” was nominated for a Grammy award and pushed Crow straight into the spotlight.
Cooper, not the most famous of contemporary poets, was rewarded with royalties and recognition of his work. But besides sharing existentialism buried in barroom banter, the two have more in common. In 1993, Cooper and Crow were two artists plugging away to little applause, rarely in the spotlight but steadfastly dedicated to their passions. They peddle the down-home, Middle America aesthetic, one with record-label backed easily listening, the other with small poems in independent journals.
The theme of collaboration (and the issue of creative ownership) runs deep in Crow’s debut album Tuesday Night Music Club. The title of the album comes from the shorthand used to describe the group of songwriters who came together in producer Bill Bottrell’s studio weekly. Once initiated into the group, Crow found a new direction for her debut album, originally too slick and commercial, now rooted in a country and blues sound missing from the Top 40 charts.
Tuesday Night Music Club was released in 1993, the same year similarly shaggy-haired rocker chicks like Melissa Etheridge and Liz Phair were climbing the music charts. But Crow’s deep commercial roots (she started her career writing jingles, and her first big music industry break was performing as a backup singer for Michael Jackson) helped her stand out from the pack, and ride the wave of “All I Wanna Do”’s immense popularity to a successful music career.
25 years later, the standout of the album is the ballad “Strong Enough.” The defiant refrain “nothing’s true and nothing’s right / so let me be alone tonight” introduces a song wrestling with self-doubt and self-love. The man in question seems to be an afterthought, the focus instead on whether or not Crow is deserving of love. It’s lilting, slow tempo and relatively simple guitar chords have spawned multiple covers, the track finding a niche in the empowered female arena.
The thump and twang of “Leaving Las Vegas” helped to define Crow’s country aesthetic. It has familiarity to the lyrics, but remains impersonal, the demons being wrestled feeling undefined. This lack of authenticity would become part of a greater debate, Crow claiming the song to be autobiographical, while co-writer David Baerwald attributed inspiration to his friend John O’Brien, author of a book of the same name. This discrepancy, amongst other rifts, created a divide between Crow and the “Music Club,” a battle of several decades over where credit is due.
Reflecting on Tuesday Night Music Club, squabbles over creative rights look a little silly. Several tracks on the album are highly derivative, a factor that greatly contributed to the album’s success. Songs like “Can’t Cry Anymore” feel torn from the Tom Petty songbook, while “The Na-Na Song” is a “Subterranean Homesick Blues”-style bop. Most songs have aged well, like the funky “Solidify” and “ What I Can Do For You,” the first single from the album. Failing to chart higher than #97, it was re-released to an eager audience after “All I Wanna Do” took off.
With Tuesday Night Music Club, Sheryl Crow helped to usher in the new genre of coffee shop music. Adult contemporary with a rock edge, she became an alternative to the alternative scene. With her self-titled follow-up album, Crow introduced a little more grit to the formula, but returned to her pop roots in the subsequent years. Tuesday Night Music Club is an impressive debut album, regardless of the amount of studio musicians it took to craft, and sparked the career of a woman savvy enough to take a sparse country poem and create one of the biggest hits of the ‘90s.