“Black Stations/White Stations” b/w “Xoa Oho”
Current/RCA Records WAKE 7 (Canada)
Released in February 1984
Produced by Daniel Lanois, Mark Gane and Martha Johnson

Exhausted by keeping a group of full-time members together, Martha Johnson and Mark Gane informed Jocelyne Lanois and Nick Kent after the final concert of the Danseparc tour (at Toronto’s Ontario Forum, August 15, 1983) that they were breaking up Martha and the Muffins. Relieved of other Muffins, they cast off the old band name and permanently adopted the M+M (“em plus em,” not “Eminem”) alias that they had begun phasing in over the past year and a half. Almost every song would be a Gane/Johnson composition from here on out. For the first M+M album Mystery Walk, Daniel Lanois joined them a third time, intrigued by the opportunity to explore dance rhythms with the finest musicians and studios that their Current/RCA album budget could afford. After the album’s completion, Lanois would leave Mark and Martha for the big leagues, making his mark first co-producing U2’s The Unforgettable Fire with Brian Eno.

“Black Stations/White Stations,” a commentary on the segregated nature of U.S. radio and MTV, took shape first in Lanois’s studio in Hamilton, Ontario with a foundation of vocals (including Parachute Club percussionist Julie Masi in the background), guitar, guide bass, rhythm box, and sequencer. From there it traveled to legendary New York recording studio the Power Station, where the ace R&B rhythm section of drummer Yogi Horton (Brian Eno’s recommendation) and bassist Tinker Barfield were brought in. Barfield improvised the bass line that became the song’s central riff, accented by Gane’s guitar and jazz horn players the Brecker Brothers (Lanois’s recommendation).

Notwithstanding its extended recording process in two countries, the resulting track was easily the most convincing funk-pop that Johnson, Gane and Lanois ever recorded. “Black Stations/White Stations” conveys a joy (captured in Martha’s gut-strength “HA!” after the chorus) that suggests the delight that Johnson and Gane felt at how well the studio musicians fleshed out their musical ideas. M+M’s art-school ethos surfaces in the middle (“I believe Martha and I played a Prophet 5 synthesizer while Daniel continuously changed the tape speed as it was being recorded,” Gane told music writer Randolph Michaels), followed by the cold sweat of a percussive break before Johnson summons the final verse: “If waves could speak, I wonder what they’d say.”

The 7″ single of “Black Stations/White Stations” contains a shortened version (still unreleased on any other format) that trims the bridge, the outro, and the time between chorus and verse. Dancers and musos will object, but the underlying foundation is strong enough to withstand a radio edit. On the b-side, “Xoa Oho” is an instrumental that recycles the fluffy synthesizer clouds from Mystery Walk‘s “Garden in the Sky” and adds electronic tabla-type percussion plus a new melodic resolution. The result transforms the album cut from a seductive dream into a waking trance.

“Black Stations/White Stations” gave Johnson and Gane their biggest success in the U.S. Four months after its release, the 12″ record peaked at #2 on Billboard’s Dance/Disco Top 80, after manager Gerry Young hired an independent U.S. radio plugger (Brad LaBeau of ProMotion) to get the song added to key American urban radio stations on the east coast. Various 12″ singles include an extended dance remix, an instrumental version, and the LP version of “Black Stations/White Stations.” The instrumental is especially notable, with generous helpings of guitar parts not heard (at least very well) on the single. All of these longer remixes plus “Xoa Oho” are included on the 2014 CD reissue (“30th Anniversary Edition”) of Mystery Walk.


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)