Jim Babjak’s masterful stinging, chiming guitar break played on his Rickenbacker is the linchpin of what is quite arguably one of the finest rock songs of the 1980s, The Smithereens’ “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” a stunning piece of power pop that has the distinction of sounding retro and modern at the same time.
Babjak formed The Smithereens in 1980 with fellow Carteret (NJ) High School graduates Dennis Diken (drums) and Mike Mesaros (bass) and Scotch Plains, NJ native Pat DiNizio (vocals and guitar). Babjak’s brilliant guitar work can also be heard on Smithereens tracks such as “Blood And Roses,” “A Girl Like You,” “Only A Memory,” “Blues Before And After,” “Now And Then” and “Top Of The Pops.” In addition to their own material, The Smithereens also recorded full-length covers of The Beatles’ Meet The Beatles and The Who’s Tommy.
Babjak’s composition “White Castle Blues” from The Smithereens’ 1986 debut album Especially For You got him inducted into the White Castle Hall of Fame. He also leads the band Buzzed Meg.
The Who, Live At Leeds
In 2010, The Smithereens were fortunate enough to be part of a Who tribute concert, which took place at Carnegie Hall. An added bonus was sharing a dressing room with Mose Allison! I offered him a glass of Scotch, and while we were toasting Pete Townshend, he said that The Who’s arrangement of his song “Young Man Blues” changed his life. I told him, “It changed mine, too!”
Otis Redding and The Jimi Hendrix Experience,
Historic Performances Recorded At The Monterey
International Pop Festival
The attack of Hendrix hitting the opening chord to “Like A Rolling Stone” vibrated throughout my body and made me want to play like that. Flip the record over and wow! Otis hit the stage like a cyclone, leaving no prisoners.
Saturday Night Fever, The Original Movie Sound Track
I hated it, and it was the biggest soundtrack of all time! I loved the Bee Gees’ earlier LPs. What happened? As I grew older, I have since come to appreciate its brilliance for what it is. The movie is a great film but during my teenage years, the music from this album made me rebel. I wanted to play in a rock band even more.
The Smithereens, Especially For You
It was our first full-length album. If you look at the charts from 1986, The Smithereens stood out like a sore thumb. They even created a new category called “alternative rock.” We played what was natural to us. No record company pressure, just a pure labor of love. I would have been happy if it sold 5,000 copies. Much to my surprise, it resonated with many, many people.
The Kinks, The Kink Kronikles
I played this 8-track tape in my car during a ridiculously spontaneous idea of following The Kinks’ tour bus after a concert, not knowing my friends and I would end up in NYC. We were singing “I’m not like everybody else” at the top of our lungs. I stopped my car in the middle of the street in front of the Warwick Hotel and we all jumped out to get their autographs.
The Dictators, Go Girl Crazy!
In 1976, I was frequenting a new club called CBGB. I bought this album after seeing The Dictators there several times. The songs had a punk edge while, at the same time, catchy and humorous. It was a breath of fresh air during the disco/corporate-rock period… an exciting time to change it up. The inner sleeve has them pictured inside a White Castle. How can you go wrong with that?
The Smithereens, Meet The Smithereens
The release of this album and the press it garnered, including a huge feature in The New York Times, had reinvigorated our career. Many of our fans thought we had broken up, when, in fact, we never stopped touring. People asked, “Why record a tribute album?” Answer: not one record label at the time wanted an original album from us.
Illés, Illések és Pofonok
I was in Hungary during the Summer of 1969, visiting relatives. My cousin took me to see a James Bond knockoff film that featured the band Illés. They were the Hungarian Beatles. The film was forgettable but the band was featured in the movie. I fell in love with their songs. I realized then that The Beatles’ reach influenced the whole world, even an isolated country occupied by the Soviets.
The Rolling Stones, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!
By the time I was a high-school sophomore in 1972, I received a boost of confidence as a guitar player because I was able to play the opening riff from the song “Carol.” Then I tackled the solo to “Sympathy For The Devil.” I was a rhythm player until I discovered Chuck Berry’s riffs in a roundabout way. This opened a huge door for me as a lead guitarist.
The Beatles, Hey Jude (The Beatles Again)
LPs were a luxury for me in 1970, and this was my very first album. Around this time, I had a dream that I was in The Beatles and we were playing at the 8th grade dance! We played a song that didn’t exist, but it sounded like a Beatles song. I’m still searching my brain to remember that elusive song. It could be a hit.