“Suburban Dream” b/w “Girl Fat”
DinDisc Records DIN 21 (UK)
Released August 29, 1980
Produced by Mike Howlett

This is the second single that Martha and the Muffins issues in advance of their second album Trance and Dance. Upon its release, the lineup it features had already begun disintegrating with the departure of Martha Ladly following the end of the Muffins’ UK tour dates on August 6. (Her final performance with the band can be viewed here.) The story surrounding her exit from the band is understandably complicated (I’ll elaborate it in my future book about Martha and the Muffins), but the gist is that she had become an emblem of the pop-chart aspirations that DinDisc Records mandated for the band, and which had alienated Andy Haas and especially Mark Gane. The conflict was personal — Gane and Ladly had been a romantic couple for the previous two years — but also, and perhaps more substantially, artistic. As Mike Howlett told me:

Mark Gane, when we did the second album, he says to me, “If I’d known that ‘Echo Beach’ would become such a big pop hit, I would never have written it. And I shall never write another song like that.’ I swear he said that to me… [Otherwise,] I don’t remember it as being a difficult album [to record].

This context lends irony to — and hints at fraught, behind-the-scenes discussions of — the choice of “Suburban Dream” for the second single, since the song was arguably the most straightforward, crowd-pleasing song from the Muffins’ early material. We’ve encountered it before, of course, because of the retrospective viewpoint of this series; in fact, very few people in 1980 outside of Ontario, Canada (specifically Queen Street scenesters and devoted CFNY-FM listeners) would have recognized the song from the band’s first DIY single. (Note: don’t be fooled by the 1979 single sleeve on the YouTube clip below, or the uploader’s insistence that this is the first recorded version of this song. This is one of those times where you can’t always rely on what the internet tells you.)

This a-side is a different recording of “Suburban Dream” from both the earlier single and the track that would appear in a month’s time on Trance and Dance. (It remains unreleased outside of this original format.) With a brighter mix for radio, it’s set at a slightly quicker tempo, powered along by Tim Gane’s four-on-the-floor beat, and features the most forthright of Martha Johnson’s vocal takes on this song. Particularly enjoyable is the new arrangement on the instrumental break: Carl Finkle’s bass line walks up and down for the first part, jumps up an octave for the second, then underlines a third section punctuated with alternating rests on the third beat, before returning to a final verse section that is reduced by half here from the album version’s length.

“Girl Fat” is a stark contrast with the new wave rocker on the a-side. Another group composition, it’s not a million miles away from the art-school ideas motivating “1 4 6,” but now the Muffins draw from the contemporaneous British postpunk aesthetic as well, and this new influence is salutary. Johnson’s vocal delivery sounds a bit contrived but adds an important element of sexual tension.


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)