Martha Davis and The Motels


by Wayne Franklin


During the early ‘80s, when MTV actually showed videos, is where I first heard “Only the Lonely” by The Motels. There was this lady on the TV with jet-black hair, and her heavily made-up face (come on, it was the ‘80s) filled the screen, and she sang “We walked, the loneliest mile / We smiled, without any style / We kissed altogether wrong / No Intention.” I had to be all of 13 or 14, so I was in my “moody teenager” years, and I just said to myself “oh, man, I know that feeling . . .she’s talking to me.”

I didn’t even have a girlfriend by that time. What did I know about walking lonely miles?

One thing I did know was that Martha Davis, lead singer for The Motels was a brilliant lyricist. Even at 13. So when I was presented the opportunity to review Anthologyland, a 2-CD retrospective, I jumped at the chance. This was a group that knew my teenage pain! I owed it to them to review this CD!

Anthologyland is a 32-track collection of hits, live performances, B-sides and rarities. It covers the last 30 years (who knew they had been around for that long?) from their debut in 1971, (when they were known as The Warfield Foxes), to today, and all of the personnel changes in between.

This anthology, though it would undoubtedly appeal to anyone who appreciates decent music, was obviously created for true, hardcore Motels fans. The gems presented here will leave fans of Davis and crew almost completely satisfied. It starts off with a demo of the song “Every Day Star”, recorded in 1974. This cut, according to the liner notes (penned personally by Davis), was the song that “convinced (the band) to head south (from Berkeley, CA to Hollywood) in search of the old ‘fame and fortune’”. Upon the hearing it for the first time, I could have sworn I was listening to an old Heart song.

Next come a handful of live recordings from 1979 and 1980: an instrumental of Nelson Riddle’s “Route 66”, and three cuts from their 1979 debut LP The Motels (“Total Control”, “Celia” and “Counting”). It’s somewhat refreshing to hear these live performances, obviously recorded at small venues, hearing the hunger for fame in Martha’s quivering, vibrato-laden voice. Other live versions of songs included here are “Mission of Mercy” (from the All Four One LP), and an incredible rendition of “Remember The Nights” (from the album Little Robbers) from the group’s January 1984 appearance on Saturday Night Live (I’m pretty sure I watched that performance when it happened).

The discs are also sprinkled with alternate versions and unreleased outtakes. Songs like “Amigo”, “Next in Line”, and “Mystery DJ” would most likely have never seen the light of day had Martha not agreed to put this collection together. Then there are the alternate takes of Motels hits such as “Some Things Never Change”, “Suddenly Last Summer”, and of course, my favorite, “Only the Lonely”.

Also included are fantastic collaborations with Sly Stone (“Love and Affection”, a Joan Armatrading cover from the film Soul Man), and Ivan Neville (“You Got What It Takes” from the film A Smile Like Yours), and collectors items like a demo of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and a demo of “Take My Breath Away”, the song made famous by Teri Nunn and Berlin, but first offered to Martha Davis and The Motels.

If there is one disappointing aspect of this breathtaking collection, it would be the exclusion of the track “Take the L”, from the All Four One LP. Okay. Maybe Martha didn’t have any special versions of the song. I feel it should have been included, at least, for having the coolest hook: “Tale the L out of lover / And it’s over”. Come on! How cool is that?

Added features like liner notes written by Davis, and album artwork by California tattoo artist Sebastian Orth make Anthologyland a new wave/rock and roll history lesson worth learning.

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