35 Years Ago: The Motels Break Up Then Breakthrough With ‘All Four One’
The Motels imploded, then hit the big time, with All Four One. So did singer Martha Davis' private life – and not coincidentally. It seemed the only thing going right for them involved the Billboard chart, but even the Top 10 success of the album's second single "Only the Lonely" became a stone around the Motels' neck.
They'd been around a while, having formed in Davis' hometown of Berkeley, Calif., in 1971. By the time the Motels released 1980's Careful, the lineup had solidified around Davis, with her boyfriend Tim McGovern on guitar, Marty Jourard on keyboards, Michael Goodroe on bass and Brian Glascock on drums. That circuitous journey had the Motels thinking about a gutsy move with their third album, a darker and more musically challenging project which was to be titled Apocalypso.
"I always wanted our music to be a little strange," Davis told the Record in 2013. "The people I listened to, like David Bowie and Brian Eno, were outside of the mainstream."
Problem: Capitol Records had other ideas. They flatly rejected Apocalypso, saying it was too quirky for the marketplace.
"We did as all bands do, locked ourselves away in a room with a tape machine and started making demos – a heady, wonderful experience, where we made up the rules," Davis told the Golden Age of Music in 2011. "Tim’s influence and command over the process is not to be overlooked. When we were convinced we had amassed the perfect collection of what were obvious hits or at least great album tracks, we went to the label. When Capitol heard the album, the reaction was something like, ‘We’ll release it if you really want us to, but the promotion department will not work it.’”
The Motels, who had already withstood pitched battles between McGovern and new producer Val Garay, were shattered. Davis and McGovern broke up during follow up sessions to re-record the album, and she basically had to start the band over.
"He began demanding the power," Davis told People in 1982. "I'm not territorial at all, until it's taken away from me – and then I get into a protective-bitch attitude."
Listen to the Motels Perform 'Take the L'
Garay eventually brought in a series of studio musicians, which smoothed out the Motels' sound even as Glasscock was pushed out by studio drummer Craig Krampf. Waddy Wachtel and then Guy Perry stepped in for McGovern. Two different bassists subbed for Michael Goodroe.
"When the rejection of the album came, it became an opportunity for me to go, you know what? None of this is working. You’re not working, move on," Davis told Golden Age of Music. "That’s when Val jumped in whole hog and basically replaced the band. None of it was fun! It was really a bad time in my life. Strangely enough, I got cancer within that period, and I know exactly why. That sort of stress and strain is not good for your body."
When it was over, six tracks from Apocalypso had been completely redone. Four new tracks – including the charting song "Take the L" and a cover of "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" – were also added. Music videos for both "Only the Lonely" and "Take the L" helped secure breakthrough status for the sleek, radio-ready All Four One, which rose to a career-best No. 16 on the Billboard album charts after its release on April 5, 1982.
There had been a heavy price for success, Davis admitted. "That album, though it was the most successful, was way too produced and slick," she told the Record. "We had a hit, but it was a tradeoff, and it went even more pop afterward. I didn't know how to put the brakes on." They scored a second Top 10 hit a year later with "Suddenly Last Summer" but, by 1987, the Motels were over.
Davis re-started the group in the late '90s, but with new backing musicians, then finally issued Apocalypso in 2011 – just as it had originally been recorded.
“All Four One came out, and we had our first real chart success in the U.S. We were mainstream, baby," Davis told the Golden Age of Music. "But something was lost with Apocalypso, the album that got away. I look at it as the last time the Motels were uninhibited, wild, and not worried about our place on the charts. In my heart, I think I’ve always liked Apocalypso more.”
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