“Only You” b/w “Watching the Boys Fall Down”
Current/RCA Records WAKE 18 (Canada)
Released in March or 1987
Produced by David Lord, Mark Gane and Martha Johnson

Confession: I haven’t heard this on its 7″ recording format, unlike all the other singles I’ve written about in this series. But the time lengths on the labels suggest this single contains album versions from The World Is A Ball, which seems very likely given its origins.

The story goes that after the last single, RCA had decided to stop working M+M’s second album (i.e., Martha and the Muffins’ sixth album, as retroactively rectified on the 2017 expanded CD reissue) any further. The multinational had given low priority to The World Is A Ball: retrenching the album’s printing to Canada and Europe; treating the U.S. as only a market for M+M dance singles; and declining to release the album on CD at a time when the compact disc was becoming increasingly popular for music consumers. Martha Johnson and Mark Gane felt different about the album’s viability, so they went ahead and made an experimental DIY promo video of “Only You,” driving around Toronto at night filming the projected lyrics against different surfaces, for instance, and mounting a camera atop a washing machine. “I think both of us still regard that as our one of or perhaps our best video,” Mark told me, and they used its existence to pressure RCA to release one more single out to accompany it.

The 7″ shows a different style of music than the prior pop-funk singles off The World Is A Ball. Both tracks were recorded with the Canadian rhythm section of bassist David Piltch and drummer Mike Sloski, who accompanied M+M in early 1987 on a 12-date concert tour across eastern Canada. (No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last time Mark and Martha toured.) Due either to printing error or marketing conceit, the label suggests this is a double A-side single: “Only You” is printed “side 1,” and “Watching the Boys Fall Down” is printed “side A.”

“Only You” is extraordinary in the Muffins repertoire, a prototypical alt-rock anthem. If the tune is conventional in form and 80s production value, the performance is fierce, even edgy.  Mark Gane’s treated and gated guitar is mixed loudly, driving along a stunning Johnson vocal performance. The bridge and outro feature a forceful instrumental break (guitar and bass stuttering out chords atop cavernous drum fills)  that I find it hard not to bob (bang?) my head to. By the end of the track, Martha belts out, “Only you can make the the heavens cry” like the full-throated rock singer she had spent ten years denying she was.

On the flipside, “Watching the Boys Fall Down,” Martha sasses here and growls there to a lyric decrying the mandatory masculinity that oppresses men. The track floats atop a percussive, vaguely world-music rhythm (on the album, the track segues seamlessly out of the reggae-infused “I Watch • I Wait”). This bottom secures David Lord’s twinkling keyboards and brassy riffs and fills the middle with sonic space — a rare entity, given David Lord’s busy production style. The result isn’t far from the kind of sounds Daniel Lanois was recording with Peter Gabriel at the same time in Bath, England.

As the final single in the Martha and the Muffins 7″ catalogue, “Only You” serves effectively as an indicator of Mark and Martha’s musical development since founding the band ten years before at the Ontario College of Art. The two have become inarguably seasoned and skilled musicians, songwriters and arrangers, even though they still couldn’t read music. If their postpunk edge has been sanded off by this point, their experimental ethos is still intact and, on less pop-focused tracks like the a-side and b-side here, still throwing sparks.

And that’s it. Shortly after the single’s release, Mark and Martha packed up their studio gear and nine boxes of personal belongings, and departed Toronto to return to Bath, England, where they lived and created music for another three years. They also broke ties with their manager, his label, Current Records, and their connections to RCA Records. This period resulted in a seventh album, Modern Lullaby, recorded once again under the Martha and the Muffins name, and released on Canadian indie label Intrepid Records. The 1991 album would even be supported by a new single, “Everybody Has a Place,” with a promo video that got little traction on Much Music or other pop-music media which had been better to Martha and the Muffins in the previous decade. But this was a single in promotion only; by this point, outside of esoteric indie labels, the 7″ a-side/b-side vinyl medium had become obsolete.

(For a discussion of “Everybody Has a Place,” and an overview of the next period in the Martha and the Muffins story, click here.)


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)