Let’s start with the obvious: Martha and the Muffins were never a ‘singles band.’

The musicians in Canada’s greatest new wave band came of age in the 1970s, a time when the rock album was the format of choice for mass audiences and (in the case of the young Muffins) adventurous listeners alike. The group signed to a UK label, DinDisc/Virgin Records — a first for the Toronto Queen Street West music scene, where bands until that point pursued only domestic record deals — for an 8-album contract. Granted, they got out of that increasingly burdensome deal by the fourth album, yet their next label (Current Records, formed by their manager) kept them focused on recording albums, especially once touring diminished as a career concern. Singles, the band believed, were what record companies worried about, and they involved activities (radio promotion, televised lip-sync performances, promotional videos) the members often disdained.

And yet… the reason most casual music listeners (outside the U.S., anyway) know about Martha and the Muffins is “Echo Beach,” an urgent, affecting single that broke the U.K. top ten in the spring of 1980, then took a victory lap through Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. Meanwhile, Gen X-ers in the U.S. may know the band as M+M, the duo composed of lead Muffins Martha Johnson and Mark Gane, whose funk-pop hit “Black Stations/White Stations” went to #2 on the Billboard dance charts in June 1984. (Johnson and Gane have retroactively reattributed their M+M recordings to Martha and the Muffins, so I do too.)  The band’s songwriters were quite capable of crafting hooks and recording catchy tunes for radio and music television, a fact that excited their industry keepers even when the musicians considered it just one of several musical options.

Forty years later, the nineteen 7″ singles that Martha and the Muffins released between 1979 and 1986 comprise an intriguing body of work that has never been given its proper due. There are two Martha and the Muffins compilations — 1987’s Faraway In Time focuses on the DinDisc/Virgin albums, 1998’s Then Again reviews the larger catalogue — but both are irregular archives of the band a-sides and rarely dip into b-sides. If the singles don’t convey the full scope of the band’s sound or cover the entire length of their career (the small, seven-inch vinyl single fell out of industry fashion before the band called it quits in 1991), these recordings document the band’s strategy for contributing to global pop culture: inspired (and occasionally delusional) campaigns for the charts on the a-side, arty curiosities on the b-side. Furthermore, when heard in their original sequence, Martha and the Muffins’ singles trace a path through the sounds of the 1980s: from an early, innovative example of keyboards-and-saxophone new wave combo, through a rich vein of post-punk abstraction, to an arty funk-pop, and arriving finally (perhaps inevitably) at a glossy “big 80s” sound. The fact that, for the most part, these recordings never became popular examples of those musical trends allows their idiosyncrasies to emerge for the ears of contemporary listeners.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of “Echo Beach,” I revisit the 7″ singles of Martha and the Muffins and M+M. Over the next nineteen posts, I focus on a different single. Each post include YouTube clips of the original a-side/b-side recordings, which took some considerable online research (there’s occasional misinformation in the captions of popular clips).

Catalogue notes: Across this eight-year period, Martha and the Muffins released different singles marketed to different countries. (See them all listed on the band’s Discogs page.) The canonical singles correspond to the country of their label’s origins: the UK (DinDisc/Virgin Records) for 1979-82, then Canada (Current/RCA Records) for 1983-86. I count each release as a unique single if it features a unique a-side, but as a variant of the same single if the only difference is the b-side. And yes, there are 12″ Martha and the Muffins singles, though not as many as you might imagine; since their b-sides largely contain dance mixes and instrumentals (all compiled on expanded CD reissues of studio albums), I skip over them.


The 7″ catalogue:
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)