Back in 1993, if your radio was tuned to an adult-alternative or top 40 station, you likely wouldn’t go a day without hearing, "Sha, la, la, la, la, la, la. Mmm. Uh huh." During that stretch of mid-90s musical angst, "Mr. Jones," the catchy first single off Counting Crows' debut album, was as omnipresent as black Doc Martens and flannel shirts.
Chances are you could still hum a lyric or two from that hit or from the broodier "Anna Begins" or "Rain King." But even the most devoted Counting Crows fan likely couldn’t sing the melody of the album’s title track, "August and Everything After." After all, it was never actually recorded and released.
Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz believes in the power of what he calls "mystery and mythmaking" in music.
"Putting a song you can't actually hear on the front of the record is good for that sort of thing," he said, referring to the handwritten lyrics for "August and Everything After," the orphaned title track scrawled on the now-seminal album's cover art.
That album catapulted Counting Crows to international stardom almost overnight and has sold more than 10 million copies on the strength of timeless hits like "Mr. Jones" and "Round Here." But the sprawling, nine-minute ballad the album is named for felt unfinished both lyrically and musically at the time, and a bit out of place alongside its would-be sibling songs. So it remained on the cutting room floor.
Now, more than 25 years later, the band has unearthed, recorded, and released the song as an Amazon Original—Counting Crows’ first new single in more than four years, only available to stream and purchase on Amazon Music.
Tracking down one of rock music’s most anticipated songs
The seeds for the project were planted last year when Counting Crows manager Mark DiDia reached out to Stephen Brower on the Amazon Music artist relations team. "He'd seen the Amazon Original August Greene jazz/hip-hop supergroup project we did with Common," Brower recalled. "That led to a chance to sit down with Adam in New York."
The pair batted around ideas for an Amazon Original collaboration, exploring creative ways to pay homage to the "August and Everything After" album. Duritz suggested revisiting the aforementioned song, which had proven to be an enigma for the band and its fans.
"I think coming back to the lyrics and completing them with a contemporary perspective was something that was creatively satisfying for Adam," Brower said. "He wasn’t interested in highlighting the album in a traditional way."
“We work with artists and labels to develop unique musical experiences and avenues to bring their visions to the world, and to create intimate moments of discovery for our listeners.”
The concept also felt like a perfect fit for the Amazon Originals mission. Amazon Music has worked with labels and artists to release hundreds of exclusive Amazon Original projects, most recently Jack White's "Kneeling at the Anthem D.C. live EP, a new song by Sia, Katy Perry's new holiday single, "Cozy Little Christmas," and the "Produced By" series, which pairs producers like Matt Ross-Spang and Simone Felice with artists across various genres to create exclusive recordings for Amazon Music listeners.
"We work with artists and labels to develop unique musical experiences and avenues to bring their visions to the world, and to create intimate moments of discovery for our listeners," Brower explained. "So, to work with a band with the legacy of the Counting Crows—and specifically to help Adam and the guys finish a missing piece to an album that means so much to so many people—that's exactly the kind of opportunity we’re looking for."
On track for a reinvention
Reinterpreting selections from their catalog is second nature for the band members, who keep themselves and their audiences on their collective toes by tweaking melodies, phrasings, and song structures onstage. Classic Counting Crows material is rarely performed the same way twice.
"It’s always about looking at stuff I wrote on a different day than today and trying to see it and experience it the way I feel about it today—not the way I felt about it then," explained Duritz.
He continued, "It's a filter you pour today through... and that means looking at a song partially written 25 years ago isn't a shocking or different experience for me."
Breathing new life into “August”
The pieces of the puzzle came together fairly seamlessly. The band already had an orchestral arrangement for the song, by Grammy Award winner Vince Mendoza in 2005 at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (one of the only times the band has performed it live).
“(Mendoza) came up with a really interesting arrangement—not the whole band or the whole orchestra, but parts of each," Duritz said. "Drums, bass, and pedal steel from us, plus the string section and one cor anglais, which is like a big oboe."
Duritz had a connection with AIR Studios in London, founded by the late Sir George Henry Martin, which had an opening in November 2018, a time when Mendoza was also available. "We booked the studio and the London Symphony Orchestra," Brower said. "And we knew we wanted to document the experience so fans could see it all come together, so we brought a film crew with us."
"It was magic"
All parts were recorded live, with Mendoza conducting the strings and woodwinds as the band played and Duritz laid down vocals. Everyone in the room that night knew they had something special.
"We finished one take, which I really let go and nailed. It had a lot of feeling," Duritz recalled. "And at the end, all the orchestra members had their batons out and started tapping—bam bam bam—on their music stands. I'd seen that in movies but had never experienced it before."
"It was magic recording it," he added. "You can just feel the cool when you listen."
Starting today, Amazon Music listeners (Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers globally) can ask, "Alexa, play the new song by Counting Crows," either in the Amazon Music app for iOS and Android or on Alexa-enabled devices.