Though the term smithereens has Irish/Gaelic etymology, the hard-pounding British Invasion-influenced band from Carteret, NJ is known to have derived their name, instead, from a Yosemite Sam catchphrase to Bugs Bunny:

“Ya better say your prayers, ya flea-bitten varmint, I’m-a-gonna blow ya to smithereens!”

(the word itself meaning small broken pieces or fragments).

A look through The Smithereens album entitled “Blown to Smithereens,” their best-of compilation covering songs from their first four Capital Records releases (1986-1991), leaves one wondering how this propulsive power-pop quartet brandishing hammer-heavy guitars over such melodic hooks remained so underestimated, and never did exactly – in the parlance of the music industry – blow up.

Hefty, sometimes even haunting gems that might well have left The Smithereens a much bigger deal included ‘Blood & Roses,’ ‘A Girl Like You,’ ‘Only A Memory’, ‘Strangers When We Meet,’ ‘Top of the Pops,’ ‘House We Used to Live in’ and ‘Drown in My Own Tears’ – a roster of tunes that would fit snugly somewhere between Paul Westerberg’s Replacements and Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers. Yes, they were badly, and sadly, underrated.

This video for another classic Smithereens slammer, ‘Behind The Wall of Sleep,’ however, was not. You’ve really got to see it. Pat DiNizio, The Smithereens’ intense lead singer and songwriter, not only showcases his trademark beatnik goatee but possibly the strangest hairdo since A Flock of Seagulls landed. And bassist Mike Mesaros employs a series of raging Rockettes leg kicks that would embarrass MTV pariah Billy Squier. Though it’s primarily a straight performance piece, it’s a pretty dated and disjointed disaster.

None of which, of course, takes a thing away from this ripping tune. DiNizio practically sneers through his lyrics, which include references to swinging ’60s supermodel Jean Shrimpton (“She had hair like Jeannie Shrimpton/Back in 1965”) and Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman (“She held a bass guitar and she was playing in a band/And she stood just like Bill Wyman/Now I am her biggest fan”). And midway through guitarist Jim Babjak materializes with a solo reminiscent of a fellow Jersey guy – note, in particular, his squawking, totally Springsteen-esque turn at 1:48.

Jean Shrimpton, in 1965

In a sense, The Smithereens remain in one piece today. Though their leader DiNizio passed away in 2017 they continue to make regular appearances utilizing a singing rotation of Marshall Crenshaw and Robin Wilson (from the Gin Blossoms), allowing them to rightfully claim that 2023 marks their 43rd continuous year as a band. But realistically their notoriety peaked some 30 years ago, and even then never met their merit. For a band named after a Yosemite Sam line, I ponder just what in tarnation happened? Maybe rightful fame did escape them, but I still reckon they were some of the hootin’est, tootin’est, shootin’est, meanest, roughest, toughest hombres that ever crossed the Rio Grande, er, the Jersey Turnpike.