“You don’t even care where that other missile is headed, do you?
“Of course I do. I know exactly where it’s headed. Hackensack, New Jersey.”
–Superman and Lex Luthor from Superman, 1978
FOW are best known for their surprise hit, “Stacy’s Mom” from their third album, 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers. This album as a whole is arguably their best, and “Stacy” is far from the best song on this 16 track collection. Track 4, “Hackensack” stands out for me because of its subtle draw and cadence. It’s one of those songs that you might think is pleasant on first hearing, but its hooks don’t really set in your jaw until you’ve bitten on a few listens.
It’s rare in modern music for me to find a song that hooks with the cadence of the lyrics. “Hackensack” is built mostly on one melody line that changes little throughout the song, until the chorus pushes it up the register with “I will wait for you…” Up front in the mix is a simple clean electric guitar that mostly mimics the melody before going solo into the last chorus. It’s backed up by a baseline and processed piano sound that builds as the song moves along. What leaves this listener wanting more the most are lines like “ I saw you talkin’ to Christopher Walken on my TV screen”. All the words, especially in verse one, seem to settle right into place, like every one of them hinges on its own cue. This kind of punctuation needs to be heard to fully understand, so check out the video below.
Like many songs the Fountains of Wayne catalog, “Hackensack” describes a rather sad state of affairs for its protagonist, while couching the woe in a lilting tune that almost distracts a listener from getting the glum nature of this story. Getting stuck somewhere we want to escape is easy for just about any listener to relate to. It’s hard to tell exactly how many years the narrator has been trapped in Hackensack, but it’s clear he’s not happy with how his life turned out (“…now I work for my dad, scraping the paint off the hardwood floors, the hours are pretty bad.”). Watching TV, he sees his high school dream girl interviewing celebrities, but instead of leaving to find her, only vows to wait where he is in case she ever gets back.
While “Stacy’s Mom” got all the attention on this album, two follow up singles “Mexican Wine” and “Hey Julie” failed to match its success. What may come as a surprise though are the tracks that have shown up in unexpected places. “Valley Winter Song” was the backdrop for an L.L. Bean commercial, while “All Kinds of Time”, a look inside the mind of a star quarterback was used on a commercial for the NFL Network. Other songs from the album appeared on the TV shows Scrubs and One Tree Hill. Interestingly, Katy Perry covered “Hackensack” for her recent Unplugged album as well. So, there’s a chance you may have heard a good chunk of the songs on this album, even if you may not have heard of them.
“Hackensack” makes a worthy addition to a hook enthusiast’s stash of songs, and holds up under lots of listening. Put it on some day when you’re feeling sorry for yourself, and say “At least I’m not stuck in Hackensack (or insert your small town).” But if you are, use it as motivation to get out while you can!