Wilco-"Passenger Side" from "A.M."
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Published on Apr 24, 2012
A.M. is the debut album of Wilco, released on March 28, 1995. The album was released only months after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo. Prior to the release of the album, there was debate about whether the album would be better than the debut album of Son Volt, the new band of former Uncle Tupelo lead singer Jay Farrar.
Uncle Tupelo's last album, Anodyne, featured a new lineup for the band — a five-piece outfit with drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirratt, and multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston. Tensions mounted between singers Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, and Uncle Tupelo played its last concert on May 1, 1994 at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, Missouri. The concert included the two singers providing lead vocals on an equal amount of songs.
Only days after the breakup, Tweedy decided to form a new group. He was able to retain the lineup of Uncle Tupelo sans Farrar, and rechristened the band Wilco.
Jeff Tweedy was preoccupied with trying to establish Wilco as a viable band and decided to add another guitarist. Brian Henneman, the lead singer for The Bottle Rockets, was brought into the recording sessions as a lead guitarist. Steel guitarist Lloyd Maines and bassist Daniel Corrigan also contributed to the album. Henneman had to leave the band shortly after recording the album, and was replaced by former Titanic Love Affair guitarist Jay Bennett. Tweedy also attempted to create a more collaborative environment than Uncle Tupelo, requesting songwriting contributions from other members.
The album's title is intended to reference Top 40 radio stations, and the tracks reflect a straightforward country-rock sound. The band members felt that they needed to establish themselves outside of the Tupelo fanbase. However, Tweedy later stated that in actuality, they were "trying to tread some water with a perceived audience." Tweedy wrote a song about the Uncle Tupelo breakup, but decided that he didn't want any material on that subject matter to appear on the album (It can be argued, however, that first single "Box Full of Letters", as well as "Too Far Apart" allude to the dissolution of Farrar and Tweedy's friendship and working relationship.) Tweedy attributes some of the straightforwardness of the album to his use of marijuana at the time. Shortly after the album, Tweedy stopped smoking pot, to which he credits the introspectiveness of further albums.
While Wilco was recording tracks, Jay Farrar formed a band of his own, Son Volt. Son Volt began recording their first album (also produced by Paulson), Trace, in November 1994. The fact that both Wilco and Son Volt began working on album almost immediately after the Uncle Tupelo breakup caused debate among critics, fans, and Warner Brothers about which would be the better band. Joe McEwen, who originally signed Uncle Tupelo to a Warner subsidiary, felt that Wilco was taking a step backwards from the material on Anodyne. McEwen urged Richard Dodd, who had recently mixed Tom Petty's Wildflowers, to remix the album. Dodd emphasized Tweedy's vocals to increase the chances of success on radio
Wilco began touring before the album was released. Their live debut was on November 27, 1994 at Cicero's Basement Bar in St. Louis, a venue where Uncle Tupelo had first received significant media attention. The band was billed for that concert as Black Shampoo, a reference to a 1970s B-movie, and the show sold out. Wilco continued to tour for two hundred shows, culminating in show at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas in March 1995.
Although A.M. was released before Son Volt's Trace, critical reviews were modest and initial sales were low. The album was later regarded as a "failure" by band members, as Trace became a greater commercial success. It was the band's last album to be recorded in an alternative country style, and is the only Wilco album to feature Brian Henneman as a lead guitarist.
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