If Adam Schlesinger had only been in Fountains Of Wayne — even if he’d only penned the title song from Tom Hanks’ directorial debut That Thing You Do! — his status as a power-pop master would’ve been secure. However, the musician, who died from complications of COVID-19 on Wednesday at the age of 52, was involved with a staggering number of additional projects throughout his life.
In recent years, Schlesinger’s highest-profile work was for the beloved TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; in fact, he won a 2019 Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics for “Antidepressants Are So Not A Big Deal.” He also co-penned eight songs for Stephen Colbert’s A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!, which won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album, and teamed up with his Crazy Ex-Girlfriend musical collaborator Rachel Bloom to score a forthcoming musical based on The Nanny.
However, in addition to this work, Schlesinger wrote, produced, and performed with numerous rock and pop artists — including some potentially surprising collaborators. Although his c.v. contains dozens and dozens of indelible songs, here are 11 moments that reveal he’s a power-pop master.
Josie And The Pussycats – “Pretend To Be Nice” (2001)
In recent years, the 2001 film adaptation of Josie And The Pussycats has received much-overdue praise. The movie’s soundtrack — which features songwriting contributions from Adam Duritz, Letters To Cleo’s Kay Hanley, Babyface, and the Go-Gos’ Jane Wiedlin — is also finally getting the respect it deserves. The glammy, exuberant Schlesinger composition “Pretend To Be Nice” in particular stands out: Sung expertly by Hanley, the song features a female protagonist who’s completely exasperated — but still entranced — by a hot-and-cold boyfriend: “If you could just pretend to be nice/ Everything in my life would be alright.”
Superdrag – “I Guess It’s American” (2001)
Superdrag and Fountains of Wayne both specialized in well-crafted, out-of-time power-pop with smarts and humanity. Naturally, the result of Schlesinger co-writing a song with Superdrag’s John Davis — the obscurity “I Guess It’s American” — is a freewheeling fuzzbomb full of absurdist wordplay.
The Click Five – “Just The Girl” (2005)
In September 2005, sharp-dressed boy band the Click Five peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the Schlesinger-penned “Just The Girl.” The sugary pop-rock song, which boasts zippy retro keyboards and lush harmonies, boasts lyrics about crushing hard on someone who’s playing hard to get. While in other hands this sentiment could curdle into bitterness, Schlesinger’s tone is charmingly soft: “When she sees it’s me/ On her caller ID/ She won’t pick up the phone.”
Ivy – “Thinking About You” (2005)
In parallel with Fountains Of Wayne, Schlesinger also played in the band Ivy. Together with co-producer/co-writer Andy Chase and vocalist Dominique Durand, the trio crafted sleek sophisti-pop. Ivy’s transformative 2002 covers album Guestroom presaged the interpretive work of the Bird & The Bee, while 2005’s superlative electro-pop effort In The Clear brought the lush, sparkling standout “Thinking About You.”
Bowling For Soup – “High School Never Ends” (2006)
Bowling For Soup built their commercial success on sly retro-pop nods. Commercially speaking, “High School Never Ends” didn’t land with as much oomph as “1985,” which went double-platinum and peaked at #23 on the pop charts, but it was still memorable. Co-written by Schlesinger and vocalist Jaret Reddick, the chugging power-pop song boasted sticky hooks and smart commentary: “And you still don’t have the right look/ And you don’t have the right friends/ And you still listen to the same shit you did back then.”
America – “Work To Do” (2006)
In 2006, Schlesinger and James Iha co-produced Here & Now, an album for ’70s AM Gold gods America. Among the highlights of the LP — which also featured a cover of Nada Surf’s “Always Love” — was the impossibly lovely, Schlesinger-written “Work To Do.” Driven by cascading harmonies and jangly guitars, the cautiously hopeful song posits that despite the “long hours and late nights” needed to mend a relationship, that effort will pay off: “If we try, we just might/ Make it all right/ It might all work out somehow.”
Hugh Grant & Haley Bennett – “Way Back Into Love” (2007)
In the 2007 movie Music And Lyrics, a fading British pop star — played in brilliant fashion by Hugh Grant — writes an earnest song called “Way Back Into Love” for a younger artist named Cora Corman, portrayed by Haley Bennett. The resulting duet, which in real life was penned by Schlesinger, is an optimistic song that yearns for new beginnings and romantic inspiration.
Tinted Windows – “Messing With My Head” (2009)
As far as power-pop supergroups go, it doesn’t get much better than Tinted Windows, which brought Schlesinger together with Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos, Taylor Hanson and James Iha. On the group’s only album, a 2009 self-titled effort largely written by Schlesinger, “Messing With My Head” stands tall. Hanson’s vocals add earnest, skinny-tie sweetness to the song’s muscular ’70s AOR rock riffage.
Kathy Griffin – “I’ll Say It” (2012)
Leave it to Schlesinger to appreciate the somewhat-lost art of a well-crafted TV theme, as he wrote the title song for comedian Kathy Griffin’s Bravo late-night talk show, Kathy. In her hands, the sunny song is an effervescent nod to ’60s garage-pop and mod-soul that’s full of character. After news of his death broke, Griffin tweeted that Schlesinger was “wildly talented” and gracious, to boot. “He was so patient with me as I was recording [the song] in the booth, guiding me at every step. He did the gig as a favor, in a little home studio on a Saturday.”
Fever High – “Tantalized” (2015)
Schlesinger produced and was a Wizard Of Oz-like background songwriting figure for Fever High, the synth-pop duo comprising Anna Nordeen and Reni Lane. In a perfect world, the bubblegum electro song “Tantalized” would’ve been a huge hit, as its snappy ’80s beats and sparkling keyboards rival those favored by iconic production svengalis Stock Aitken Waterman.
The Monkees – “Our Own World” (2016)
Several years ago, Schlesinger was tapped to produce Good Times!, the stellar comeback LP for the Monkees. In addition to tracks penned by Ben Gibbard, Rivers Cuomo, and Andy Partridge, the album also included a Schlesinger composition. Boasting lovestruck lyrics with a pure heart, the “Our Own World” sounds tailor-made for the Monkees: “You’re a dreamer, just like me/ We don’t need reality/ We’re in our own world.”