“Was Ezo” b/w “Trance And Dance”
DinDisc Records DIN 27 (UK)
Released on October 30, 1980
Produced by Mike Howlett

More than any other Martha and the Muffins single, this feels like the one that got away. Like every single they released in 1980 after “Echo Beach,” this made no impact on the British charts. Martha Ladly, lead singer and songwriter on “Was Ezo,” wasn’t even in the band when this came out, having departed in August. As the remaining five members toured North America with her temporary replacement (Jean Wilson), DinDisc and its parent label Virgin had begun to lose faith in the Martha and the Muffins. By this point Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark had become the label’s hot performer, with “Enola Gay” reaching #8 on the UK charts on September 26 and their second album Organisation just released. Also, other new DinDisc recording acts had transitioned from artist development to product launch; Ladly herself was being vetted by DinDisc for a solo recording career. When Virgin retrenched briefly from U.S. distribution, concert bookers started to drop out, and the Muffins’ fall/winter North American tour was reduced from 47 dates to 36. It would have been even shorter had the band not obtained a manager — a first in the democratically organized art-school band — in Canadian record man Gerry Young, who fronted his own money to salvage the tour.

Thus, as a rare showcase for Martha Ladly’s talents, the “Was Ezo” single belonged to no existing band at the time. More’s the pity, because this is a gem in the Martha and the Muffins singles catalogue. On Trance and Dance, “Was Ezo” occupies the same spot, sequentially and thematically, as “Saigon” did on Metro Music. Yet this tale of village life in medieval Japan (“Children sing a baby salmon song”) is at odds with the modern perspectives of Trance and Dance, and Ladly’s concise pop composition struggles to gain traction in the dry ‘rock’ mix that producer Mike Howlett gave the album.

On the single, the recording of “Was Ezo” is different and shorter than on Trance and Dance — and still unavailable on any other Martha and the Muffins release. You get the same essential elements, but Howlett’s mix for radio adds an effervescence that makes this the superior version. The Ace Tone organ doesn’t quite drone as loudly; Ladly and Johnson’s voices are given a delightful airy echo in the chorus; and its fade-out on the chorus leave listeners wondering what Ladly and Johnson might have further contributed, had the band retained two Marthas, to the la-la-la pop vocal style of so much female-fronted indie music that came after the Muffins.

“Trance and Dance” is a Martha Johnson composition and one of the oldest Martha and the Muffins songs, but it sounds like the bridge to the band’s musical future. The b-side is an edit of the album title track (and still unreleased on any subsequent album), although at six minutes long it still has a lot to love: its wide-open sonic spaces, the hypnotic rhythm of drum machine against drum kit, Johnson and Ladly’s harmonies, Mark Gane’s middle-eastern guitar riff. The track deletes the album version’s final quiet minute, which sounds like a bottle rolling along a desolate street as winds roar above — most likely, one of Mark Gane’s sound recordings. Fine, let the two Marthas, here together for one last time, claim this enchanting single for themselves.

 

M+M – “Only You”; b/w “Watching the Boys Fall Down” (WAKE 18)

The 7″ catalogue:
introduction
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Suburban Dream” (MM 001)
Martha and the Muffins – “Insect Love” b/w “Cheesies and Gum” (DIN 4)
Martha and the Muffins – “Echo Beach” b/w “Teddy The Dink” (DIN 9)
Martha and the Muffins – “Saigon” b/w “Copacabana” (DIN 17)
Martha and the Muffins – “Paint By Number Heart” b/w “Copacabana” (VS 1115)
Martha and the Muffins – “About Insomnia” b/w “1 4 6” (DIN 19)
Martha and the Muffins – “Suburban Dream” b/w “Girl Fat” (DIN 21)
Martha and the Muffins – “Was Ezo” b/w “Trance And Dance” (DIN 27)
Martha and the Muffins – “Women Around The World at Work” b/w “Twenty-Two in Cincinnati” (DIN 34)
Martha and the Muffins – “One Day in Paris” b/w “Women Around the World at Work”; (104.209)
Martha and the Muffins – “Swimming” b/w “Little Sounds (Excerpts)” (VS 1136)
Martha and the Muffins – “Danseparc (Everyday It’s Tomorrow)” b/w “Whatever Happened to Radio Valve Road” (WAKE 1)
Martha and the Muffins – “World Without Borders” b/w “Boys in the Bushes” (WAKE 2)
Martha and the Muffins – “Several Styles of Blonde Girls Dancing” b/w “I’m No Good at Conversation” (WAKE 4)
M+M – “Black Stations/White Stations” b/w “Xoa Oho” (WAKE 7)
M+M – “Cooling the Medium” b/w “Big Trees” (WAKE 8)
M+M – “Song In My Head” b/w “Riverine” (WAKE 14)
M+M – “Someone Else’s Shoes” b/w “Million Dollars” (WAKE 16)
M+M – “Only You” b/w “Watching the Boys Fall Down” (WAKE 18)