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The band's original lineup included Johnny Rzeznik (guitar, vocals), Robby Takac (bass, vocals), and George Tutuska (drums, percussion). Takac and Tutuska had been long-time friends in school and met Rzeznik while he was playing in the band The Beaumonts with Takac's cousin, Paul Takac and close friend Michael Harvey who was the inspiration for the band. The trio picked their name from a True Detective ad for a toy called a Goo Goo Doll. "We were young and we were a garage band not trying to get a deal. We had a gig that night and needed a name. It's the best we came up with, and for some reason it stuck. If I had five more minutes, I definitely would have picked a better name", John stated. With Takac as their lead singer, the band released their first album, Goo Goo Dolls in 1987 on Mercenary Records, but was picked up in 1988 by Celluloid Records, a larger record company. They played around Buffalo's underground music circuit and across the country opening for punk bands such as Gang Green, SNFU, Dag Nasty, Bad Religion, Motorhead, ALL, The Dead Milkmen, Doughboys, Big Drill Car, The Gun Club, Uniform Choice, The Dickies, and DRI and playing with fellow Buffalo bands. The band released its second album, Jed, in 1989.
The band released its third album, Hold Me Up, in 1990 and featured Rzeznik as the lead vocalist on five tracks, including the single, "There You Are"—as well as their then concert favorite, "Two Days in February". After being embraced by local college radio and punk scenes (including such venues as CBGB), the Goo Goo Dolls incorporated elements of heavy metal, pop rock, and punk rock into the album. In 1991, the song "I'm Awake Now" was recorded for the soundtrack of Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare.
Superstar Car Wash, released in 1993, received significant media attention. The critical success and encouraging sales of their last album resulted in a larger budget from Metal Blade Records. The album was partially recorded at Metalworks Studios in Mississauga, Ontario. The single "We Are the Normal" received a major push toward play on college and independent radio, and its video was displayed on MTV's 120 Minutes program. "Fallin' Down" made it onto the 1993 soundtrack of Pauly Shore's hit film Son in Law.
A Boy Named Goo, released in 1995, had a catchy rock sound, and became one of the most successful alternative rock albums of the mid-1990s. It sold modestly in this time; however, it was not until the release of the single "Name" that the band experienced any viable commercial success. A Boy Named Goo became the first album in Metal Blade history to achieve double-platinum status. This success, however, proved bittersweet, as the band found themselves in a legal battle with Metal Blade records. The band filed suit against Metal Blade, claiming they had not earned any royalties from their album's sales, which was attributed to a "grossly unfair, one-sided and unenforceable contract" which had been signed by the band in 1987. The two sides reached a settlement which had the band signed to the Metal Blade's distributing label, Warner Bros. Records, under which the band released their sixth album, Dizzy Up the Girl, in 1998. The undisputed success of "Name" marked a fundamental change in the band's sound from alternative rock to a more mainstream, adult-oriented direction; this disappointed many of the original fans of the band. "Name" made the band popular, and led to guest appearances on Beverly Hills, 90210, Charmed, and even presented an award to Michael Jackson.
"Iris" was included on the triple-platinum Dizzy Up the Girl, and was among top-ten hits "Slide", "Black Balloon", "Broadway", and "Dizzy" from the same album. In 2001, the Goos released their first ever compilation CD, What I Learned About Ego, Opinion, Art & Commerce. Next, Gutterflower (2002) achieved gold certification, producing the hits "Here Is Gone", "Sympathy", and "Big Machine". On July 4, 2004, the band performed a free concert in Buffalo, playing through a deluge of rain that can be seen on the DVD released later that year. The DVD also contained a studio version of the Goo Goo Dolls' cover of "Give a Little Bit" by Supertramp. The single reached the top of the Adult Top 40 chart in 2005. July 4, 2004 has been proclaimed "Goo Goo Dolls Day" in their native Buffalo, New York.
In 2006, the Goo Goo Dolls marked their 20th anniversary with their new album Let Love In, which included the studio recording of "Give a Little Bit" as well as other top 10 radio singles "Better Days", "Stay with You", and "Let Love In". With their third consecutive single ("Let Love In") from the album, the Goo Goo Dolls hit a record 12 top 10 hits in Adult Top 40 history, beating Matchbox Twenty and Sheryl Crow until Matchbox Twenty's release of Exile on Mainstream and the Goo Goo Dolls' release of "Before It's Too Late" from the Transformers Soundtrack, which left both groups with 13 top 10 hits in the Adult Top 40. Goo Goo Dolls planned to release another single from Let Love In, "Without You Here", as well as a song from the July 2007 Transformers movie called "Before It's Too Late", originally titled "Fiction". To promote the new single, the Goo Goo Dolls performed "Before It's Too Late" at both The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on June 8, 2007, and again at The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson on June 22, 2007.
On June 27, 2007, the Goo Goo Dolls performed to a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado. The performance premiered on HDNet in high–definition on Sunday, September 30. The entire concert was released as a DVD on the limited edition version of their 2008 release, Vol.2. Though the album has not (as of 2007) been certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), various music sites have asserted that it has gone gold.
On November 13, 2007, the Goo Goo Dolls released a greatest hits album entitled Greatest Hits Volume One: The Singles, which includes a new version of "Name" recorded and mixed by Paul David Hager, and a remix of "Feel the Silence" by Michael Brauer. On August 19, 2008, a second greatest hits album was released entitled Vol.2, which includes b-sides, rarities, and a live performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre from their "Let Love In" tour.
The Goo Goo Dolls announced recording sessions for a new album, on their official website, unrelated to their Volume Two in 2008. In addition, the band performed as part of the O2 Wireless Festival in London's Hyde Park in the summer of 2008, at the Miller Lite Rock 'N Racing show at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during qualifying for the 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, as well as performing a four-show tour across England.
On June 12, 2009, the band mentioned on their Facebook page that the producer for their new album was Tim Palmer. On August 15, 2009, Robby Takac posted an update on his Twitter account stating that the recording for the new album had been completed, and the mixing of the album was yet to be done. Then on September 18, 2009, John Rzeznik stated in an interview on Good Day L.A., that the new album had tentatively been titled Something for the Rest of Us.
Something for the Rest of Us was released on August 31, 2010. While the album was full of the pop-rock that has sustained the band for decades, lead singer/guitarist Rzeznik's songwriting took on a more somber, serious tone. Something for the Rest of Us included the single "Home", which extended the band's record to 14 top ten hits at the Hot AC radio format (more than any other artist in the history of that format).
The band performed a live mini-concert at the Apple Store in Manhattan, New York on December 2, 2010.
During an interview with UpVenue on February 16, 2011, Rzeznik confirmed that he was writing new material for a new album: "I've actually been experimenting, in this last week, while we've been out on this tour, just writing lyrics and then figuring out the melodic structures", said Rzeznik. "We can't wait another four years to put another album out; that's just a ridiculous waste of time."
On August 9, 2012, the band announced that they had started recording their tenth studio album. The new album, titled Magnetic, was recorded using multiple producers. On January 18, 2013, the band released the first single off of Magnetic titled "Rebel Beat". Magnetic was released on June 11, 2013 and debuted at #8 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart. On July 19, 2013, the band released the second single off of Magnetic, "Come to Me".
In October 2012, "Iris" was ranked number one on Billboard's "Top 100 Pop Songs 1992–2012" chart, which ranked the top songs of the first 20 years of the Mainstream Top 40/Pop Songs chart. The list also featured the Goo Goo Dolls' hits "Slide", ranking at number nine, and "Name" at number 24. The Goo Goo Dolls are the only musicians to have three songs on the list, two breaking the top 10 and all three falling within the top 25. They are also the only musicians that have back to back singles (Iris, 1998 and Slide, 1999) featured on the list.
On December 27, 2013, Malinin announced his departure from the band via Twitter and Facebook.
The Goo Goo Dolls contributed to the soundtrack of the broadway musical Finding Neverland in 2015. The soundtrack, released June 9, 2015, contained the song "If the World Turned Upside Down."
The Goo Goo Dolls celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of A Boy Named Goo by releasing a special edition of the album on November 27, 2015. The special edition contains the original track listing of the album, along with seven unreleased tracks. In addition, Dizzy Up the Girl and A Boy Named Goo were released for the first time on vinyl on October 8 and November 27, respectively.
The band spent the majority of 2015 in the studio writing and recording their eleventh studio album, Boxes, at Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, Washington. Robby Takac revealed that there were eleven tracks, two of which were songs he sang lead vocals on, and that three out of eleven tracks were already completed. The album was released on May 6, 2016.
On February 22, 2016, the band announced a 2016 summer tour with Collective Soul and Tribe Society to promote Boxes.
Goo Goo Dolls released an exclusive vinyl box set for Record Store Day on April 22, 2017 entitled Pick Pockets, Petty Thieves, and Tiny Victories (1987–1995) on Warner Bros. Records. The five vinyl disc box set features their first five studio albums, including their first album, Goo Goo Dolls on vinyl for the first time since 1987, Hold Me Up for the first time on vinyl domestically, Superstar Car Wash and Jed for the first time ever on vinyl and A Boy Named Goo. There were just 1,000 copies of the box set pressed.
On May 12, 2017, Goo Goo Dolls released a five-song EP entitled You Should Be Happy. The EP features four original songs, as well as a remix of the title track from their last album, "Boxes". In support of the EP, the band toured throughout the summer of 2017 on the "Long Way Home" tour with Phillip Phillips. The tour included a performance in their hometown, Buffalo, on August 12. With 2018 marking the 20th anniversary of Dizzy Up the Girl, the band embarked on a commemorative tour where they performed the album in its entirety. The tour began on September 30, and wrapped that November. Also in 2018, the band released two live albums: The Audience is This Way in June, and The Audience is That Way in November.
At the beginning of 2019, the Goo Goo Dolls announced on Twitter that they were working on a twelfth studio album. On record store day (April 13, 2019), a vinyl box limited to 1000 copies under the name Topography was released. The box set includes studio albums from 1998 to 2013 (Dizzy Up the Girl, Gutterflower, Let Love In, Something For The Rest of Us, and Magnetic). On June 21, 2019, the single Miracle Pill was released, the first single from the twelfth studio album of the same name, which was released on September 13. From there the songs Money, Fame & Fortune, Indestructible and Fearless were extracted as singles.
On August 24, 2020, they announced their first Christmas album: It's Christmas All Over, which was released on October 30.