“Echo Beach” b/w “Teddy The Dink”
DinDisc Records DIN 9 (UK)
Released on January 25, 1980
Produced by Mike Howlett

As the new decade began, Martha and the Muffins had a debut album in the can when they released their second British single. Written by guitarist Mark Gane, “Echo Beach” is exactly the same recording and mix here as on Metro Music (released in February 1980). Why mess with perfection?

That strobing keyboard tone that fades the song in! That riff! The rush of the chordal descent on the wurlitzer organ! Martha Johnson’s deadpan vocals! The increasing urgency when Martha Ladly joins in on the pre-chorus (“From nine to five I have to spend my time at work…”)! The absence of a chorus! That sax break! Finally, the emotional release when a chorus materializes to fade out the song: “Echo Beach, faraway in time…”

Actually it’s probably futile to try and break down the magic this song. Many have discussed the distinctive qualities of the composition, arrangement, and lyrics, including Mike Howlett himself in a dissertation for a PhD in record production at the University of Glamorgan. (But still: listen for Andy Haas’s flute!) Mojo Magazine ranked “Echo Beach” #67 in its “Ultimate Jukebox: The 100 Singles You Must Own.” Writer Martin O’Gorman gets a detail or two wrong (Martha Ladly on sax?) in his pithy summary of the single’s enduring appeal.

Maybe it’s better to recall the contemporaneous impact “Echo Beach” had on UK pop. Consider the British singles charts on March 23, 1980, when “Echo Beach” peaked at #10 (the top 15 singles are below; for the top 75, click here). Above Martha and the Muffins are four other female vocal hits, all squarely marketed in soft-rock, Euro-pop and disco formats. For the sound of other women really doing something new musically, look further down the top 75: Blondie’s “Atomic” (descending from their fourth UK #1), Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Happy House,” maybe Bette Bright’s pop-ska “Hello I Am Your Heart” or the Tourists’ “So Good To Be Back Home Again” (down from their last top 10 performance before reforming as Eurythmics), and certainly Lene Lovich’s “What Will I Do Without You” (an eventual #1). Thin pickings — small wonder the music press originally associated Martha and the Muffins with the style of Blondie (an unimaginative assessment) or the B-52s.

The single’s b-side, “Teddy The Dink,” is a co-write between Gane and his Etobicoke high school friend, Brian Harvey. The version here is different than the one on Martha and the Muffins’ second album, Trance and Dance. This one has a go-for-broke quality that contrasts with the methodical construction of “Echo Beach” and presents a catty side to the two Marthas’ vocals; it’s one of a few Muffins recordings from 1980 that warrant quick-take comparisons to the B-52s (I might add their DinDisc label-mates the Revillos as well). That said, the Trance and Dance version of “Teddy the Dink” recorded later for is superior in separating Johnson and Ladly’s voice and highlighting Ladly’s keyboard. But this is the one most 1980s jukebox junkies will know.

“Echo Beach” spent ten weeks on the UK single charts and pushed Martha and the Muffins’ debut album Metro Music into the UK album charts for good measure. By the end of the year, “Echo Beach” reached #1 in Australia, #2 in New Zealand, #3 in the band’s home country Canada, and #12 in Germany. It got the band invited to lip-sync on “Top of the Pops.” DinDisc Records was elated, having no hits to date of this caliber. Virgin Music even released commercial sheet music for “Echo Beach” — another promotional push not so surprising when you recall that DinDisc founder Carol Wilson got her start in Virgin’s music publishing division.

Quite literally, “Echo Beach” changed everything for Martha and the Muffins. The song’s popularity became overwhelming for the group, whose six-piece line-up would splinter by the year’s end. The title phrase itself eventually eclipsed even the band in name recognition — see what happens when you enter “Echo Beach” and then the random name of an English-speaking or European country into Google. Today it may be hard to remember there were really no Echo Beaches of note before 1980, when one single gave name and feeling to a place that we all want to escape to, boring jobs or not.


Bonus Beach!

“Echo Beach” (stereo version) b/w “Echo Beach” (mono version)
Virgin/DinDisc Records VA 86000 (U.S. promo)
Released probably in summer 1980
Produced by Mike Howlett

A subsequent promo mono mix of “Echo Beach” indicates the single was targeted toward North American AM radio, further evidence of the song’s continuing ascent into the center of popular culture. (In Canada, the joke goes that AM radio stands for Anne Murray.) “Echo Beach” didn’t quite have the same impact — really, any impact — in the U.S. as it did elsewhere, for reasons Muffins and management continue to mull. It’s hard to imagine. Most likely they start with the fact that Virgin Records cut back its U.S. distribution (through Atlantic Records) for a brief spell in 1980, exactly the time that Metro Music hit the stores stores. In any case, it’s bizarre to imagine AM radio’s non-stop hit parade creating a space for this intimate, headphones-recommended moment of a song. Also, it’s disappointing to lose the stereo pan of the keyboard pulse that opens the song. (Thanks to Brian Fuller for sending a copy of this promo single my way.)

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)