Friday Song: “Freeze Frame”

A week with a romantic interest told through film metaphors — and another massive hit for a Boston-based band

SLR cameras were a big deal in the 1980s, as were keyboards in music.

In 1981, two songs opened with the sounds of auto-wind SLRs — Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” and the J. Geils Band’s “Freeze Frame.”

A facsimile of the SLR shutter sound persists to this day on smartphones.

The J. Geils Band emerged out of Boston, starting their journey in 1967. John Warren Geils, Jr., was the namesake of the band. He grew up in New Jersey, and dated Meryl Streep when she was a sophomore and junior in high school. Later, he attended Northeastern University in Boston, and played trumpet in the marching band. Drawn to folk musicians in Boston, he left Northeastern for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he studied mechanical engineering. He founded a band there with a bassist and harmonica player. The band was called Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, and these three would evolve and add members to become the J. Geils Band, releasing their first album in 1970.

Geils died in 2017 of natural causes in his home in Groton, MA.

By the time the band finally had its first #1 hit — “Centerfold,” which stayed at the top of the charts for six weeks in 1982 — young fans had no idea the group had been around for more than a decade. Their most successful song previously (“Must Of Got Lost”) reached #14 in 1974.

Peter Wolf was a major part of the band’s blues, funk, and soul sound. When the band became the talk of the town, Wolf was featured on a Rolling Stone cover featuring the text, “Herpes, The Pill, VD: Why Sex Isn’t Fun Anymore.” This was just before the AIDS epidemic hit.

Keyboardist Seth Justman became the band’s primary songwriter and produced the album, while his brother Paul directed the video — as well as the videos for “Centerfold” and “Land of 1,000 Dances.”

  • Interestingly, Tom Petty strongly considered offering his hit “Don’t Do Me Like That” to the J. Geils Band, as he thought it sounded like one they might like. Producer Jimmy Iovine convinced Petty to hold onto it, but you can imagine how it might have been a massive, but different, hit for J. Geils.

Unlike most hit songs, the chorus is basically Peter Wolf yelling “freeze frame” and the band calling it back. Each chorus lasts about 10 seconds. The song recounts the story of a memorable week with a romantic interest using film metaphors.

The band truly enjoyed shooting the video, and considered it a way to celebrate finishing the album. It shows.