Top Pops Smithereens

‘Top of the Pops’: A Conversation with The Smithereens

The Smithereens are an iconic American rock band that formed in the 1980s, with founding members Pat DiNizio, Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros, and Dennis Diken. They are from Carteret, New Jersey and have played around the Jersey Shore throughout their ongoing career, so it’s only fitting that they stop by West Long Branch.

The Smithereens are performing with guest vocalist Marshall Crenshaw at Monmouth University on Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. in Pollak Theatre.

They earned a large following with their single ‘Blood and Roses’ from their first album, 1986’s Especially You. The song was also featured in an episode of the hit 80s TV show Miami Vice. The band’s most notable hits include ‘Beauty and Sadness,’ ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep,’ ‘Strangers When We Meet,’ ‘Only a Memory,’ ‘Too Much Passion,’ and so much more.

Their alternative/punk energy mixed with the “teenage symphonies” of some of their heroes Brian Wilson and The Beatles, makes them stand out as a music group.

After the passing of lead vocalist Pat DiNizio in 2017, founding members Babjak, Mesaros, and Diken decided to do the only thing they knew how to honor their friend and bandmate: by playing one last live show. However, to continue his legacy, the band has gone on with touring.

The Smithereens have performed at famous places along the Jersey Shore. From the Stone Pony to the Wonder Bar, and Green Parrot, they are rock kings of the Shore.

Dennis Diken, the founding drummer of The Smithereens, shared his favorite memories of playing the Jersey Shore music scene. “For us, playing ‘down the shore,’ we’ve always had great audiences and people are always programmed to have a good time,” Diken said. “We always look forward to playing down the shore and we’ve always got great support. We have wonderful memories of all the shows we’ve done in those towns, so yeah it’s a great time.”

The Jersey Shore is known for producing music greats like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi, but is the scene still alive? To Diken,  there’s still talent coming from Monmouth’s backyard.

“Oh very much so, there’s all kinds of pockets of music going on in New Jersey. Too many bands to mention, certainly the Asbury Park scene. New Jersey has been so vital throughout the years,” Diken pointed out.

As they continue to tour throughout the Jersey Shore area, founding guiatarist Jim Babjak recognizes that it’s quite a different experience without DiNizio on stage with them. “It’s been bittersweet, the audiences have been so wonderful. We’re just moving forward and working on some new material,” Babjak said.

When the band decided to get back on the road in 2018, they had to find a lead singer. However, they found much more than a singer, because guest vocalist Marshall Crenshaw is a headline act in his own right. He is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and radio host. He has joined The Smithereens on a road that has extended from the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival, to a West Coast tour in early 2019.

To Babjak, the addition of Crenshaw still preserves the rocking sound of The Smithereens. He said, “Well we go way back with Marshall, we’re old friends. He actually played keyboards on our first album. [He brings] his work ethic, his pop sensibilities, we have the same taste in music, and it seems like we always come up with something new and fresh. He’s great to work with.”

Even with adjusting toward a new vocalist, Babjak said that it’s not hard getting back on the road. “It’s like riding a bike. This is our 40th year anniversary and not only that, but Dennis and I have been playing together since 1971, when we were 14 years old. And Mike has been playing with us since 1975 so the three of us have been together for years,” Babjak mentioned.

The band is very excited to perform at Monmouth University, which Diken doesn’t recall performing at before. There aren’t as many up and coming rock bands in today’s era as there were in the 80s when The Smithereens got their start, so it is important for the students of Monmouth to listen to and appreciate a legendary Jersey Shore rock band. Maybe they can get inspired and continue to rattle the Jersey Shore with awesome music, people, and energy.

Tickets for the show are between $35 and $50, with a Gold circle seating option priced at $60. Tickets can be reserved through the Monmouth University Performing Arts Box Office.

IMAGE TAKEN from Goldmine Magazine