Sammy – Tales of Great Neck Glory

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Many years of listening to Sammy’s sophomore (and final) album led me to imagine:  these are two privileged kids from Long Island who were smart enough to get into a good grad school on their merits (not through some legacy bullshit) and instead decided to spend a few years goofing around playing indie rock, knowing that they were doomed to end up working at their father-in-laws’ hedge funds anyway. If you then take the trouble to do research into Sammy, you’ll learn that I was not that far off target. Luke Wood was an executive at Geffen in the early ‘90s, eventually becoming the president of DGC Records. He then went to Interscope Records and later joined Beats Electronic as its president and COO, which he guided towards its acquisition by Apple, Inc. He left Beats in 2020. He is on the board of trustees at his alma mater, Wesleyan University. Jesse Hartman continued making music after Sammy disbanded, and then branched out to filmmaking and acting. Hartman had played on tour with Richard Hell and the Voidoids in 1990.

What I Think of This Album

Look, at its worst (or perhaps at my worst), Tales of Great Neck Glory hints that these dudes might actually be insufferable. But much more often, you get the sense that anyone who dismisses this as Pavement pastiche is way off base. In fact, Jesse Hartman and Luke Wood have made a fun, idiosyncratic, tuneful, sharp, and dare I say emotionally substantial, little record. If you get past the familiar sonics, there is a great deal of art and heart here. 

Sometimes you’ll get an evocative quatrain (or couplet, as you prefer):  “I used to sneak / Into your room / I felt like I was raiding / King Tut’s tomb” (from “Encyclopedi-ite”). More than once, there will be depth and poignancy, like the Pygmalion-esque fantasy of “Neptune Ave. (Ortho Hi Rise).” “Anything” is a document of single-minded, possibly pathological, devotion. Absurdism rears its head on the disquieting “Horse or Ballet.”

Sammy has a soft spot for outsiders. A victim of class warfare is treated with kindness on “Kings Pt. v. Steamboat.” “Slim Style” is an appealingly lazy shuffle, with a damaged, doomed, glammy sense of seedy sadness that updates the Velvet Underground for the indie kid set. The surprising “Chilling Excerpts Bare the Soul of a Monster” is a sympathetic defense of an underachiever.

By the end of it, you can see the daylight between this band and Pavement. The difference between the two is that while Pavement believes in nothing, Sammy is brave enough to wear its heart on its (designer) sleeve.   

Ephemera:  One of the three guest drummers on this album is Alexis Fleisig, who was the drummer for Girls Against Boys. Three members of GVSB previously had been in the Washington, D.C. area band Soulside. Also in Soulside was Luke Wood.

The Best Thing About This Album

The display of sincerity during the Age of Irony.

Release Date

April, 1996

The Cover Art

Call me crazy, but I think this cover shot of Jesse Hartman and Luke Wood makes them look a little bit like Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. Right? Anyway, I like the neon and the sort of throwaway nature of the shot, as if the band couldn’t care less what ended up on the cover. I actually think this is a still from the video for “Neptune Ave. (Ortho Hi Rise).”

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