What if we told you that one of the single most successful pop ballads of the 1990s was written by a band originally called Sex Maggot?
What if we also told you that this same band started out on one of the greatest metal records of all time, Metal Blade Records, a label that has worked with the likes of Metallica, GWAR, Mercyful Fate, Cannibal Corpse and countless more metal elite.
The band in question here was formed in 1986 in Buffalo, New York. The founding members of the band were vocalist and guitarist John Rzeznik, bassist and vocalist Robby Takac, and drummer George Tutuska.
Initially, the band was named “Sex Maggot,” but they soon changed it to the less provocative “Goo Goo Dolls” just before a gig, inspired by an advertisement for a toy in a True Detective magazine. The band’s early sound was heavily influenced by punk rock, with elements of heavy metal and pop rock.
Their early years were marked by a relentless work ethic and a desire to break through the music scene. They played at small gigs and put out records under the labels Mercenary and Celluloid, even getting embraced by the CBGBs crowd before then jumping up to a larger label, Metal Blade Records.
The Goo Goo Dolls’ transition from punk rock roots to a more mainstream pop sound was a gradual and strategic move that significantly shaped their musical identity and success. Their early albums like “Goo Goo Dolls” and “Jed” were characterized by aggressive guitars, heavy bass, and raw, energetic vocals. But despite their passionate performances and intense sound, these early works did not bring them widespread commercial success.
A pivotal moment in their musical evolution came with the release of their fifth album, “A Boy Named Goo” in 1995. This album featured “Name,” the band’s first significant hit and a track that notably diverged from their previous punk rock sound. “Name” incorporated more melodic elements, a slower tempo, and emotional, introspective lyrics. The success of this song was a turning point for the band, signaling that their new direction could yield the widespread popularity they had been striving for.
The band’s transition then reached its peak in 1998 with the release of a little ballad you’ve definitely heard (a thousand times), called “Iris.” Released as part of the soundtrack for the 1998 film “City of Angels,” it became an instant hit and a global sensation.
The song showcased the band’s matured pop sound, complete with sweeping string arrangements and heartfelt lyrics that resonated with a broad audience. “Iris” topped various music charts and received several Grammy nominations, catapulting the Goo Goo Dolls into the mainstream music scene.
The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart for a record of 18 weeks and also reached number one in the Billboard’s Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 charts. Its widespread appeal led to numerous awards and nominations, including Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group. “Iris” solidified the Goo Goo Dolls’ place in mainstream music and continues to find success today, even decades after its release.
Since the meteoric success of “Iris”, Goo Goo Dolls have of course maintained their more polished, pop-rock sound, earning them numerous hits and a loyal fanbase worldwide. While they have not abandoned their rock roots entirely, their evolution from a punk band to a massive pop band remains a feat that few other bands have successfully pulled off.