On April 5, 1997, Whatever and Ever Amen by Ben Folds Five debuted on The Billboard 200 at #90.
Ben Folds Five was a quirky anomaly in popular music for the late ’90s. The group’s namesake, pianist Ben Folds, had a sharp sense of humor and a lyrical mastery that was outrageous and insightful. His sense of humor is immediately evident in the band’s name. Ben Folds Five was a guitar-less, power trio that included Robert Sledge on bass and Darren Jessee on drums. Despite its lack of guitar, the band could rock hard, with Sledge taking his bass to sonic extremes.
The band’s pop sensibilities, harmonies and arrangements are unique, while giving nods to several artists in pop history. You can hear the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, the Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Elton John, Joe Jackson, Queen and others in very deliberate moments from their discography.
The origins of Ben Folds Five reside in Chappel Hill, N.C., circa 1994. The trio is said to have described their sound as punk rock for sissies. In 1995, they released their eponymous debut on Caroline Records (a subsidiary of Virgin Records). The album garnered a following in the UK and Japan. Following a successful European tour in the summer of ’96, the band was courted by Sony to join its 550 Music label. The result was Whatever and Ever Amen.
The LP peaked at #42 on the US album charts and generated five singles. The first single, “Battle of Who Could Care Less,” is a wonderful ode to slackers and contains the album’s title in its lyrics. “Battle of Who Could Care Less” went to #26 in the UK and #23 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart in the US.
But it was an unfunny and poignant slow song from Whatever and Ever Amen that turned into the “hit” for which the band became known (and, consequently, was rarely performed during their final tour of 1999). “Brick,” a song of despair, abortion and loneliness, was written by Folds and Jessee. The single would go to #19 on the Hot 100, #6 on the Modern Rock Tracks and #26 in Britain.
After years of hauling that baby grand piano from venue to venue, Ben Folds Five disbanded in late 2000. Although each member went on to pursue solo projects, they have regrouped for a handful of performances over the years.
“Battle of Who Could Care Less” http://youtu.be/0Y1wm7CFRCQ