Dittyday 6: The Motels

Just so you know, this one was brought to mind, and eventually found its way here, because of a lyrics quiz.*

The Motels are a band that barely escaped ‘one-hit wonder’ status in the early eighties, mostly by having two songs that became popular, but part of this was because these songs departed from their normal style; their other work, or at least everything that I found when I started checking them out more, just didn’t gel into the pop culture of the time. While they dropped into obscurity fairly quickly, just about everyone that listened to music in the eighties will recognize both songs, even if it’s with, “Oh, yeah – I haven’t heard this in a while.” Lead singer and guitarist Martha Davis has a strong, distinct voice, slightly haunting, and uses it to good effect in both of their hits. The members of the band are not what I would consider ‘accomplished’ musicians and their compositions are simplistic, but they use this very well to produce recognizable riffs and melodies, where the music stays with you just as much, if not more so, than the singing – it doesn’t take instrumental expertise to create a ‘hook.’ Both songs remain a bit formulaic, and brief, but they fill it out well and demonstrate a good knowledge of balanced instruments and counterpoint lyrics. Full credit to Davis: no transcript of lyrics is necessary to follow her. This is the better song, ‘Only the Lonely’ (from the album of the same name) released in 1982. And since this is the eighties, a saxophone serves as an integral part of the bridge, but as I’ve said before, this is many times better than the folk guitar trend that sprung up in the nineties. Meanwhile, since I’m the one bringing this to your attention, you know the bass forms a strong part of the melody.

Only the Lonely – The Motels

Their next hit isn’t as strong, and lyrically it’s vague and lackluster, though Davis still makes it work – you’re listening for the vocals, not really the story. It evokes the ‘end of summer’ vibe quite well, even when the reference to “last summer” seems to imply this was some time past rather than happening in the present. Again, fairly simple musically, and this time resorting to the over-sustained guitar riff that is used far too often, muddying up the actual notes and chords; this would have been much better with the effects toned down, but at least it only appears in the bridge. Given all that, it still has the ability to stay with you, the keyboard fills remaining behind in your head for a long time. This is ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ from 1983, off of the album Little Robbers.

Suddenly Last Summer – The Motels

Listening to some of their other work, you might find that the voice is recognizable, but not at all the style, and the broody and soulful lyricist has given way to someone a bit wilder, which is plainly visible in some of the videos of their work, especially live – Davis seems a little of a ham. I’d have to say I’m better with just the audio.

[A brief side note: While I’ve only included the audio in this post, the videos are easy to find if you’re so inclined, and the one for ‘Only the Lonely’ was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who’s been mentioned here before and, really, has done a shitload of music videos as well as several feature films. Once you’ve seen a few, you’ll start recognizing similarities and style. Music videos, especially in the early days, could be all over the place, but Mulcahy’s likely set a standard for those that followed, usually being quite elaborate productions with a great sense of place and mood.]

* “We kiss altogether wrong – no intention”