In 1984, guitarist Mike Connell teamed up with his brother, bassist David Connell, and lead vocalist Doug MacMillan to form The Connells. Based out of Raleigh, North Carolina, they’re noted for their jangle-style rock music. The content of their songs tends to reflect the American South and its cultural influence. In addition to the three men, drummer John Schultz and multi-instrumentalist George Huntley also joined the band.
In 1985, The Connells released an album that featured “Hat’s Off,” a song that served as a direct protest against the United States president at the time, Ronald Reagan. That song was included in the U.S. edition of the band’s debut album, Darker Days while in the U.K. the song list was slightly different. After the release of the album, The Connells embarked on a concert tour before returning to the recording studio in 1986. Boylan Heights became the start of a signature sound for the band that would dictate the rest of their career.
Boylan Heights made reference to a community in Raleigh. The attempt to win over the interest of major record companies failed. It wouldn’t be until 1987 that the album would be released as TVT Records picked it up. However, this was not a match made in heaven as The Connells wound later sign up with I.R.S. Records. The band’s business decision met with legal issues that saw over a decade’s worth of battles before the judge’s decision ruled in favor of TVT.
The group’s second album was a college favorite, allowing the Connells to embark on another busy tour schedule. In the process, the brothers and their bandmates invested in musical instruments that allowed them to produce heavier music sounds than they did previously.
Fun and Games
Fun & Games was The Connells’ third studio album, which was released in 1989. This album was considerably less folky than what was recorded in the first two albums. It was from this album, that “Sal” made history as one of the band’s most popular songs, especially when it was performed live. After this album was 1990’s One Simple Word. Like the previous albums, it was a big hit on college radio stations.
However, it wasn’t until 1993’s Ring, did The Connells finally score a big enough impression to win over a broader audience. At first, this album got off on a slow start in the U.S. and it put the band into a position where they considered splitting for good. Then “74-75” was released as another one of the band’s Celtic-style ballads. In the U.K. and across Europe, it became a breakthrough commercial success. It allowed The Connells to embark on a European tour, often opening for Def Leppard, at the time. The success of the single led Ring to achieve tremendous European success long before the American audience gave it notice.
In 1996, Weird Food and Devastation again saw The Connells tap into new sound directions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to properly feed off the momentum of Ring. The style was darker and somewhat quirkier. While on tour in 1997, Doug MacMillan became too ill to continue so the band had no choice but to take a break so that he could recover from the emergency surgery he had to undergo after he was diagnosed with diverticulitis.
The Connells’ seventh studio album, Still Life, was the final recording the band released as a TVT Records label. Released in 1998, the tracks featured on it weren’t nearly as harsh sounding as Weird Food and Devastation. After this release was 2001’s Old School Dropouts. At this point, Peele Wimberley was no longer with the band and was replaced by Steve Ritter. Still Life turned out to be the final recording for George Huntley as he decided to leave the band to spend more time with his family. Taking his place was Mike Ayers.
Although The Connells are still technically together as a band, each person moved on to embark on careers outside the entertainment industry. David Connell’s career path now includes landscape painting and art shows. Mike Connell practices law in Raleigh. George Huntley became a real estate agent, as well as worked with the music department at the University of North Carolina.
On occasion, The Connells do perform together, usually for benefit concerts and music festivals. However, there was new recording material that was released in 2013. The group also celebrated its thirtieth anniversary at a concert performed in their hometown in North Carolina. On September 24, 2021, The Connells released Steadman’s Wake, which was the first studio recording they did together in twenty years. David and Mike Connell, as well as Doug MacMillan, remain as the classic lineup still with The Connells.
Top 10 Songs From The Connells
#10 – Hat’s Off
The first recording of “Hat’s Off” was featured on the 1985 album, Darker Days, before it was released a second time on Black Park. The second version was more aggressive and it was this one that was released as a single. The Connells made it no secret they disapproved of Ronald Reagan’s brand of politics. Many solid fans of The Connells are in agreement this was the group at their best as performers. Edgy, honest, and sometimes controversial, “Hat’s Off” was just the start of a Celtic-sounding rock band that would make this part of their musical trademark.
#9 – Scotty’s Lament
From the album, Boylan Heights, “Scotty’s Lament” was a jangle pop tune that featured Celtic-style bagpipe sounds and chiming guitar that made this become an anthemic favorite for The Connells and their fans. Although it wasn’t released as a single, it was one of the standout tunes from the band’s 1987 studio recording.
#8 – I Suppose
“I Suppose” was a ballad that paid a somewhat haunting tribute to Raleigh’s upper-class community. Although it never appeared on any official music charts, it was a college campus favorite, especially among the students familiar with North Carolina’s capital city.
#7 – Fun & Games
“Fun & Games” was the title track from The Connells’ third studio album. Released in 1989, that song saw the band’s lead singer, Doug MacMillan, take on a more active role as a songwriter. The introductory acoustic guitars gave way to the blast of furious power pop that had a fist-pumping chorus too irresistible not to sing to.
#6 – Insane in the Brain
In 2002, The Connells performed “Insane in the Brain” as a cover song for the Cevin Soling compilation album, When Pigs Fly: Songs You Never Thought You’d Hear. The 1993 original from Cypress Hill was a number nineteen hit on the US Billboard Hot 100 after it was released as a single. For The Connells, they were among the recruited recording artists by Soling to produce an album that featured the least likely artists to perform certain song selections. The Connells rose up to the challenge and made their version of “Insane in the Brain” an interesting, yet entertaining number.
#5 – Get a Gun
On the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, “Get a Gun” peaked as high as number twenty-four after it was released as a single in 1991. It came from the album, One Simple Word and was the second of two songs from the recording that would make an impression on the official music charts. The buzzy jangle of “Get a Gun’ was part of the trademark sound of The Connells that made them college campus favorites.
#4 – Something to Say
“Something to Say” was the first hit as a single for The Connells after it peaked at number seven on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart in 1989. From the album, Fun & Games, this song served as one of many anthemic-like tunes that became a musical trademark for the band. While The Connells may not have had a huge fan following, they did have loyalists who appreciated the band’s melodic ability to share their stories at a musical level.
#3 – Stone Cold Yesterday
On the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart, “Stone Cold Yesterday” peaked as high as number three. For The Connells, this was the highest-charted song in the U.S. recording artists. It came from the group’s fourth studio album, One Simple Word. Part of the appeal behind “Stone Cold Yesterday” was the infectious influence it had with its sing-along chorus and explosive guitar performances.
#2 – Slackjawed
Released in 1993 as the lead single from the album, Ring, “Slackjawed” became the final hit from The Connells that would chart on the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. It peaked as high as number nine, not long after the band performed this song on an episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. The power of this song came from the jangle-style guitar play that became the true dictators behind the brand of music The Connells were best known for.
#1 – 74-75
“74-75” was the 1993-released single that saved the recording career of The Connells as its popularity topped a series of European-based music charts. It also became a number fourteen hit on the Official UK Singles Chart. Throughout Europe, “75-75” won several music awards, making this Celtic-influenced ballad the most successful the band has ever produced as recording artists. Part of the appeal of “74-75” was the reflective take it had on how much people have changed over the stretch of time. The music video featured a series of students from the 1975 class of Needham B. Broughton High School with before and after photographs.
Although the song itself never appeared on any US Billboard charts, it was immensely popular in Europe. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) certified “74-75” with silver while it became certified gold in Germany and Sweden.
Top 10 Songs From The Connells article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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