“Saigon” b/w “Copacabana”
DinDisc Records DIN 17 (UK)
Released on April 11, 1980
Produced by Mike Howlett

Woe betide the band choosing a follow-up single to “Echo Beach,” the unexpected smash hit for Martha and the Muffins and a commercial breakthrough for their label DinDisc as well. “Saigon” didn’t repeat that success, and the band would hear an increasingly anxious request for “another Echo Beach” for the remainder of the label’s brief existence. Perhaps there was nothing else on Metro Music quite up to the standard of the bit hit.

What the Muffins’ fourth single did deliver, however, was a track of hypnotic rock and intriguing lyrics atop a simple four-on-the-floor beat. The foundation of “Saigon” is the Ace Tone organ that steers the melody; helmed by Martha Johnson, its tremolo and (call it for what it is) its schlocky tone evoke the head-music heyday of early Pink Floyd and Popul Vuh. For her opening riff, Johnson received co-writing credit with David Millar, the Muffins’ founder who had demoted himself to soundman in early 1978, thus making way for the classic six-piece line-up. With a song that dates back to the Muffins’ 1977 formation, Millar inaugurates the band’s tradition of writing, singing, and performing about places and spaces. The two Marthas narrate with droll ennui the decadent travelogues of ex-pats in Vietnam, “drinking absinthe till dawn”  before it all went to hell.

The single offers an all-new recording of “Saigon,” to date unreleased on any Martha and the Muffins album. It deletes the first instrumental bridge from the arrangement you hear on Metro Music, which trims about twenty seconds off the album version and highlights the vocals of the track. Perhaps this was deemed necessary because, even more than for “Echo Beach” (with its singalong outro), there’s no obvious chorus for “Saigon.” The single offers a hot mix; the Ace Tone organ falls on your lap and sounds even fatter than the one on the album version. And there’s saxophone! Andy backs up the two Marthas’ lines — Howlett takes care not to lose those vocals — and adds other melodic embellishments. (Why the album version either removed or mixed down Andy’s sax, one can only guess; I’d wager among other reasons someone thought this might shore up the band’s AOR bona fides for North American audiences.) In sum, the “Saigon” single recording is an excellent alternate to the album version.

“Copacabana” is a David Millar composition. This instrumental sends the musicians ascending and descending through chord changes against an ersatz Latin rhythm (a bolero? a cha-cha?) that alternates between 12/8 and 8/8 time. Truth be told, it’s not the most pleasant Martha and the Muffins tune. Move the stylus to the beginning of the b-side again, and you hear the track backwards, perhaps to appreciate a closely similar sequence of chord changes beneath the errrUUPP-errrUUPP reverse-tape effect. Reader, the tune doesn’t improve in reverse. Let’s just say that for historical purposes, “Copacabana”  illustrates the structural games and aleatoric strategies that intrigued Millar and the other Ontario College of Art students in the band. “Copacabana” would appear on the band’s next single in Canada (where the “Saigon” single was not released) but otherwise isn’t found on any Martha and the Muffins album.

This YouTube clip for “Copacabana” features the promo cocktail-lounge napkin sent out with the “Saigon” single — the basis for the 7″ sleeve design (which, however, doesn’t unfold into a larger square). Although there’s no design credits on the single, this was likely the work of Peter Saville, who was DinDisc’s in-house designer while he developed designs for Factory Records and Roxy Music, among other clients. His cover for Metro Music, which was spending six weeks in the UK album charts at this time, would eventually be recognized by the professional association British Design & Art Direction as a jury-winning selection for media including record sleeves and promotion. Martha Ladly explained to me Saville’s role in the Muffins’ creative process.

We showed him a bunch of stuff. We had ideas. We pretty much knew what we wanted, but he was able to put it together in such a way that the whole design made sense and became iconic. You know, that first album sleeve of ours is iconic. At that time, it was one of his well-known sleeves. Of course, we were fascinated with all the work that he was doing with Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. We became friends with them. And we loved the work that he was doing at Factory. And we played at The Factory, actually.


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)