This week I’m time traveling back to 1998. I was just kind of listening to whatever at the time, I was far more pre-occupied with “grown up” business than I was music. But of the handful of things to catch my ear, this alt-rock gem really grabbed my attention. It also grabbed the attention of a lot of music fans at the time, being the first major success of a newer record label and offering an outsized hit the band is still known for to this day.
Fastball – All The Pain Money Can Buy
Released March 10,1998 via Hollywood Records
My Favorite Tracks – Which Way To The Top?, Fire Escape, Charlie The Methadone Man
Fastball had signed to Hollywood Records, a subsidiary of Disney that had yet to score any real success. The band had released one album that didn’t make any waves and they regrouped for this sophomore effort.
Fastball took a different approach to their second album – the band featured two principal musicians in Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo. Each wrote a song and did the lead vocals for their effort. While Zuniga would get one more song on the record over Scalzo, it would be Scalzo who composed the massive hit.
The album’s run time is fairly concise at 42 minutes but there are 13 songs on the original release. I’m going to switch up my typical format today and discuss a handful of highlight tracks in detail, then run through the rest briefly. This post would be massive otherwise.
The album opens with what became the smash hit single. The song charted at or toward the top of several US and Canadian charts and was ever-present in early 1998. The Way was released a few months ahead of the album and it propelled the album to platinum status in a few months. Fastball members were working regular shift jobs when The Way began taking over alt-rock radio.
The song depicts a pair who leave their lives behind and head out on a journey. The destination is unspecified and even unknown. It is a great song that hits the vibe of just leaving and setting out for adventures unknown. Without any understanding of the song’s inspiration, The Way works fantastically on its own.
But the song does have a story behind it and it’s a pretty dark one. This article discusses the news story that inspired Tony Scalzo to compose the track. An elderly couple in Texas set out for a festival at a town very near their own, yet wound up missing. Their car and remains were discovered in Arkansas a few weeks later. The couple’s disappearance was a big news item in Texas while they were missing and Scalzo wrote most of The Way before the couple were found. The song would immortalize the couple even in spite of their sad fate.
The second track was also the album’s second single and placed within the US Top 40. The song is a bright, poppy alt-rock number about being into someone. It’s accompanied by a pretty funny video. It, like many songs on the record, have a polished sound without delving into jangly riffs or other simple tricks. It is simply recorded and executed and kept clean.
Which Way To The Top?
On to the fourth track that features a special guest on vocals. 90’s alt-icon Poe contributes her voice to the track. The song asks the ages-old question of how to climb out of one’s rut and get to the top. It’s a pretty ironic song for Fastball, since their way to the top was literally The Way. This song does a great job of conveying the melancholy vibe of being at the bottom while also sounding hopeful for more in the future.
A bit of a dark turn here, the song itself slots right in to the rest of the album musically but the lyrics get really dark. The song’s narrator is in a dark, quiet place and wants someone dead. No elaboration is given on who or why. It’s a bit of a vague murder ballad and is a curious and unsettling tune.
Charlie The Methadone Man
A weird and interesting tune that has a look at just what the title says – a fella named Charlie that’s into methadone. The song doesn’t really either lionize or pass judgment on Charlie and his habit, rather it simply observes his movements. No clue if this was based on someone real or if Miles Zuniga just cranked it out off the top of his head but the song is a great one from the album.
Out Of My Head
The album’s third single and another hit that got into the top 20 on the US chart. It’s a sadder tune that looks at one’s own bad behavior in a relationship. It’s a far more introspective and honestly practical song about such things than what is normally churned out in that regard.
The song would get a second life decades later when Machine Gun Kelly used this song’s chorus for his song Bad Things. Camila Cabello guested on the track. Tony Scalzo reacted positively to the song’s use by MGK.
The last song I’ll look at in full is a quick number that looks over a past long-distance relationship. There isn’t a ton going on lyrically, just a few verses that offer a bit of background then a one-line chorus simply stating “I know I should just leave you alone.” While still fitting the album’s overall pop-alt vibe the driving chorus does provide a heavy moment.
Six other songs slot in at points on the record. Better Than It Was and Sooner Or Later are more upbeat tunes on the first half of the record. Warm Fuzzy Feeling is a fun song about “making it,” something the band wrote a lot about and also accomplished here. Good Ol’ Days is a horn-driven nostalgia trip. The album closes with two somewhat vague and darker-themed numbers in Nowhere Road and Sweetwater Texas.
All The Pain Money Can Buy was a huge success for Fastball. The album hit platinum in both the US and Canada and The Way was a huge hit single. It was also the first major success for Hollywood Records, which would later go on become a hit factory based on the various Disney TV personalities who recorded songs.
The album was a masterstroke from a band who thought they were going to be dropped by their label and who faced an uncertain future in the music business. While never replicating the success of this album, Fastball are still at it today now with eight albums under their belts. While the group came and went from the mainstream consciousness, they left a massive impression during their time there.