|Day 26: The Motors (Love And Loneliness)
May 22, 2020
In 1978 I was privileged to spend 4 months living with my parents in London, England, while my father did a sabbatical. Because this was the 1970's and things were much less restrictive than they are today, my high school allowed me to finish classes early so that I could leave in May and stay through the whole summer.
In retrospect, I must have come back completely insufferable. (I'd ask my friends from then, but they would say that I was already insufferable.) Think about it, a 16-year American West Virginian in London at the time popular music was being transformed by punk and new wave. Sadly, I was completely oblivious to that musical transition at the time. My record collection back home was still predominantly Queen, ELO, Foreigner, and Elton John. Even though my sisters and one of their friends were with my parents and me for awhile, for the most part I was left alone in London, allowing for frequent visits of The London Dungeon, daily volleys of tennis balls off the chimney on the roof of our apartment building, routine walks along the streets of London feeling like a native, and a lot of time spent with BBC Radio pressed to ear with my little transistor radio.
BBC Radio opened my eyes to a whole lot more music. The entire time I assumed that a lot of what I heard was what my friends were listening to back home. I was amazed when I got home to find that almost all of the songs I listened to that summer were not ever being played on American radio. Some should have been, given the refusal of American radio to abandon what we have come to call classic rock: "Davy's On The Road Again" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, "Wild West Hero" by ELO, "Dreadlock Holiday" by Ten CC, "Baby Stop Crying" by Bob Dylan. These were songs all by bands well established in the states, so I frankly couldn't fathom why no one had heard them when I returned in August.
However, on the other hand, my insufferable nature came from my belief that I was bringing back the coolest of the cool to Morgantown, WV, when I returned, bands I knew were completely unknown back home: The Boomtown Rats, Ian Dury, Jilted John, and The Motors. In at least one of those cases, what was insufferable was more than just me. But perhaps Gordon is for another day.
The Motors had a Top 40 hit in England while I was there with the very poppy "Airport," and when I returned to the states to discover no one I knew had even heard of the group, let along the song, I was confident in saying they would be the next big thing in the United States. I quickly found their Approved By The Motors in the import section of a local record store and got at least a small circle of my friends to appreciate the pop masterpieces that are "Airport" and "Forget About You."
So two years later when I saw a video for a new Motors' song, "Love And Loneliness," on television, I believed that their time had finally come in America. Researching online over the last few days, though, I can't find a single reference to its appearance on American television. I am sure it was late at night. It had to be, after all when else did one discover cool music on television back then? I would have sworn it was either Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, or The Midnight Special, but I have found no evidence.
Regardless, at the time I was convinced that America would embrace this British group. It seemed not that far removed, musically, from much of what was popular at the time: the double keyboards at the core of the song seemed the cool version of Supertramp, riding the popularity of "Take The Long Way Home"; the central keyboard motif interlaced with the guitar was Jefferson Starship's "Jane" riding high up the chart; and their squeaky clean version of "Punk/New Wave" seemed akin to Steve Forbert on the charts with "Romeo's Tune." "Love and Loneliness" has a blend of guitar and keyboards that seemed unstoppable at a time when most of the Top 40 was an awkward mix of disco, pop and new wave. Nothing seemed more new wave that the crashing rush of keyboards, guitars, and drum fills on "Love And Loneliness." Besides, the American public would quickly learn that one of the band's leaders was almost 40 and had been in a bluesy pub band before moving to The Motors. How much safer could a new wave be?
Lyrically it exuded everything one could want, certainly more than "Jane, you're playing a game of hide and go seek/Jane, you're playing for fun, but I'm playing for keeps." The verses seemed to contain kernels of pithy truth that even the most shallow of listeners should appreciate. "You said that money would never get us down/you didn't know you lied," or later, "I'd read your mind if I had a chance/I don't know if I'd ever find our love in there/or just old photographs."
Moreover, how could someone not be moved the chorus?
Now loneliness is there despite the love we make/
And loneliness knows where to find the friends we make/
And the place we live is just a new street number/
Of an old address called love and loneliness.
Everything about the song and the band seemed cut for success in America. Get the song's album in front of the public and it was a foregone conclusion. My mind changed the day I saw the the album, Tenement Steps, in my local record store. I know the success of singles often has very little to do with the success of the album. Tenement Steps' outer sleeve was cut like a series of steps, meaning it was chopped off at the corners, with the inner lyric sheet completing the square:
Yes, that red you see here is the inner sleeve.It seemed cool when I bought it, but it quickly became confusing and frankly a little ugly. It was a real-life version of Spinal Tap's Smell The Glove.
It's insane to think that "Love And Loneliness" suffered because of the cruel fate of a drunken PR pitch for its album design. However, even back then my confidence in the buying public was cynical. I was confident that good music needs no damn gimmick, which drives away serious buyers (Granted, Culture Club might have change my mind in a few years.)
Tenement Steps was the last album The Motors made. Their career, even in England, fell off the edge of the top step dramatically. In America, few even knew they once made the climb. There's a lot of love and loneliness in being one of the few to care.
"Love And Loneliness." The Motors. Tenement Steps. Virgin. 1980. Link here.