The Motels were formed by Martha Davis in 1972 in Berkeley, California. At the time they were called The Warfield Foxes, but later realized this was a bit clunky for a band trying to secure a recording contract. After moving to Los Angeles, they changed their name to The Motels before disbanding in 1976.
Wait a minute. Aren't The Motels another of those annoyingly similar 80s bands? How could they have disbanded in 1976?
Hold on a minute, cowboy. Martha Davis would reform The Motels in 1979 with a completely new roster of players. This version would feature Jeff Jourard on guitar, Marty Jourard on keyboards and saxophone, Michael Goodroe on bass and Brian Glascock on the drums. Of course, the driving force of the band was Martha Davis. The strong, defiantly sultry spell she could weave while singing could put you into a trance.
The self-titled debut album from The Motels in 1979 brought us in touch with a darker slice of L.A. that wrapped its sound around the emerging New Wave phenomenon. The album featured perhaps the strongest and most deadly of the band's set list. "Total Control" delved deeper into the psychosis of possession long before songs like Every Breath You Take became prom themes. Jeff Jourard would leave the band after the album and was replaced by guitaist Tim McGovern.
Stay in bed
My head hurts
Maybe even you
And I'd sell my soul
For total control
Yeah, I'd sell my soul
For total control
The Motels' underrated 1980 release, Careful, was a dark and moody masterpiece, causing some to compare them to a New Wave spritzer combined with misty watercolor memories of the poetic past. Whatever that means. It wasn't until the third album from The Motels that they would get some major airplay in the United States ("Total Control" had been a hit in Australia but was mostly ignored in the United States at its time of release).
1982's All Four One was one of those glossy early 1980s super-produced synthesized throw aways, except that it really wasn't. Unless you are primarily interested in "pop sensibility" this isn't even their strongest album, but by far the biggest seller. We all remember hearing about how "Only The Lonely" can play (frequently enjoyably misheard as "Only the lonely get laid"). We also remember the mostly bizarre tale of how if we "Take The L" out of "lover" it is "over." We were doing some playful things here, but the real meat is elsewhere on the album. Still, the album stinks of the period's tendency to pour furniture polish all over everything and make everything as cutesy as possible. Because of this, The Motels are remembered as some kind of "one-hit wonder" band from the early 1980s. This soon to be gold album had initially been rejected by the band's label, Capitol Records, causing Tim McGovern to leave and the album to be re-recorded with new guitarist Guy Perry and a host of studio supplied "additional musicians." This was a bad omen.
The Motels seemed to be trying to climb out of and away from the stamp that was now burned into their collective forehead. In 1983 they released Little Robbers, whose singles have held up better to the microscopes of time than those of their previous album. However, the rest of the album was mostly flat. It felt like the band had run out of material at times. Martha Davis did look like some kind of sultry 1940s film noir femme fatale on the cover, but one of the hits played like a lament...
Sometimes I never leave
But sometimes I would
Sometimes I stayed too long
Sometimes I would
Sometimes it frightens me
Sometimes it would
Sometimes I'm all alone
And wish that I could
One summer never ends
One summer never begins
It keeps me standing still
It takes all my will
And then suddenly last summer
The death bell was sounding hard in 1985 when the band released Shock, which was anything but. The band felt like they were trying to go mainstream into some form of pseudo-heavy guitar rock. It was around this time that their version of "Take My Breath Away" was rejected for the Top Gun soundtrack in favor of the version recorded by Berlin.
There was much talk in 1987 that Martha Davis was suffering from some form of cancer, and the band was broken up. An album that started as a Motels album became a Martha Davis solo effort called Policy. Martha confessed that she had gone through some personal issues that included a battle with cancer. She was back trying to reclaim her sultry and dark singing style. Policy was not regarded as a commercial success, but its lone single, "Don't Tell Me The Time" became a top ten hit in Australia, where they seem to truly appreciate Martha.
The band reformed in 1998 with a number of personnel changes and began touring as "The Motels featuring Martha Davis." Some memorable live performances came from their touring, including a very seductive version of "Total Control" that I keep hearing in my musical wanderings without any idea how to get a handle on it. Please send it to me immediately. Thank you.
Research bumbled at AllMusic.com
and at random music fan sites
Lyrics are the intellectual property of Martha Davis and The Motels
Don't sue me until I'm living at the bus stop again.