Nope, Not A 1-Hit Wonder: The Motels

The early 80s were kind of a weird time for pop music. On one hand, you had a ton of post-disco stuff and much AOR (album-oriented rock) like REO Speedwagon and Foreigner. Yet there was also the beginnings of rap and the resurgence of R&B.  And of course post-punk and new wave.

It was the new wave scene that gave birth to the band focused on here: The Motels. Yeah, they were the group led by the talented Martha Davis who scored a big hit in 1982 with “Only The Lonely” only to have no more hits.  Right?

Not quite.

By the time “Only The Lonely” became a hit, Davis and Co had been knocking around the LA scene for a while.

Davis was part of the first incarnation of The Motels, formed in 1971 in Berkeley. That group gigged throughout much of Southern California for much of the 70s. According to Wikipedia:

The Motels and two other local bands, The Pop and The Dogs, kicked off the local band scene with a concert at a self-produced show titled Radio Free Hollywood, held at the old theatre, Troupers Hall.[citation needed] Prior to this show, few if any unsigned bands played local high profile clubs like the Whisky and The Roxy.

By the late 70s, they had been offered a contract with Capitol Records, which they declined. They also recorded a demo for Warner Bros which was rejected. In 1977, the first incarnation of The Motels split citing creative differences.

In 1978, Davis and guitarist Jeff Jourard (who had played in a pre-fame incarnation of Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers) decided to reform The Motels. They recruited Jourard’s brother Marty on keyboards and saxophone, Michael Goodroe on bass and Brian Glasscock on drums. This incarnation ended up sharing rehearsal space with The Go-Gos at the punk club The Masque. They were soon getting much attention and on Mother’s Day 1979, they signed with Capital Records. Their self-titled debut album was released four months later.

That first album was pretty dark. One of the better known songs from it is one called “Celia” which deals with heartbreak and abuse and includes the following lyric:

“I heard him say he wasn’t gonna kill you/He was just gonna f—- up your pretty face.”

Much like The Doors and Jane’s Addiction, The Motels were quite good at showing the dark side of life in LA.

None of the songs from The Motels’ debut made the top 40. By June 1980, Jeff Jourard was out and Davis’s boyfriend Tim McGovern had replaced him as lead guitarist. The Motels’ second album, Careful, was released in the summer of 1980 and made it to 45 on the Billboard charts.

Problems ensued when the band began work on their next album, to be titled Apocalypso. Upon hearing the finished album, Capitol claimed it was uncommercial and “Too weird.” Evidently, the suits at Capitol hadn’t heard the two previous albums. By December of 1981, McGovern had split from both the band and as Davis’s boyfriend.  Producer Val Garay brought in studio musicians to augment the band as they re-recorded the album. It was eventually released in April of 1982 as All Four One and contained the aforementioned Only The Lonely, which made it into the top 40 at number 9.

Another single “Mission Of Mercy” made it to 23 on the top 40.

“Take The L” made it to 52

And “Forever Mine” made it to 60

In 1983, The Motels followed up All Four One with Little Robbers. They made it to number 9 again with the Tennessee Williams titular inspired “Suddenly Last Summer”.

“Remember The Nights” made it to 36

In 1985, The Motels released what would be the final album of that particular incarnation with Shock. The overall tone of it was more mainstream. It was clear that Capitol Records wanted to keep the commercial gravy train rolling

The title track of Shock made it to 84 on the charts

“Shame” on the other hand hit 21

But that would be it for The Motels. In 1987, they broke up, reportedly due to a cancer scare Davis was going through at the time.

Davis would later reform The Motels and the group continues to record and tour. In 2011, the original version of the Apocalypso album was released.

A lot of The Motels output still holds up quite well. Their sound may have been too edgy to reach the top 40 more than they did (the catchy hooks were undoubtedly indispensable in helping “Only The Lonely” and “Suddenly last Summer” into the top ten. But they were a pretty good band who deserve to be better remembered than as one-hit wonders.

More Nope, Not a One Hit Wonder

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Posted on May 10, 2016, in Music, Nope, Not a 1-Hit Wonder and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Yeah, I really think The Motels are a solid band. Martha Davis reminds me of Grace Slick in the way in which she gives the middle finger to the ordinary and just goes for it. I have this American Bandstand video from 1982 on my YouTube playlist in which Martha introduces the rest of the band and is acting quite mischievous.
    On the awesome game “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories” (anything with “Vice” in the title, I’m there; even 1982’s “Vice Squad” and 1986’s “Hollywood Vice Squad”!!!), “Only the Lonely” is played on radio station Emotion 98.3 (after that is the 10cc song “I’m Not in Love”, so I stop what I’m doing for both). Man, those GTA games have introduced and reintroduced me to a lot of music.


  2. Craig Hansen

    First of all, from a long-time commentator here, I’m so glad to see this topic return. Has it really been almost a year since the last entry? Wow. Thank you for bringing this back. May Not A 1-Hit Wonder never die! Seriously, keep ’em coming guys.

    I was still just a kid when “Only The Lonely” played on the radio in 1982, but I do remember hearing it play quite a bit on Top 40 radio stations back then. Matter of fact I still hear this song play on local “oldies” stations on a regular basis, and I probably appreciate it even more now than I did back then. It’s absolutely a great song.

    I had no idea The Motels had any other hit singles. Weirder yet to me the next year “Suddenly Last Summer” also reached the exact same chart position, #9, as their everlasting “Only The Lonely”. I listened to the song and have no recollection of it whatsoever. It was obviously a hit, but like most hit singles it just came and went without a trace. That could be a lesson to be learned over the course of this series.

    Again, I wasn’t listening to Top 40 radio on my own quite yet in 1983 so some songs of this era do escape my personal experience. But I do find it interesting that “Only The Lonely” has lived on decades later on oldies stations, while the exact same-charting song “Suddenly Last Summer” has come and gone over the decades without a trace. Just goes to show, chart performance isn’t everything.


    • It’s too bad, because i think “Suddenly Last Summer” is a good tune (I remember it most from hearing it played at the AMC movie theater in the early 1990’s; I find the music video interesting too, with it’s whole Harlequin romance novel theme).


      • Craig Hansen

        Hearing “Suddenly Last Summer” for the first time tonight, I would say yes it is a good tune. It’s catchy in a way. And how many songs from 33 years ago can stand up to a first listen now? But it just doesn’t grab me, or have that emotional connection that “Only The Lonely” does because I grew up with it.

        But still, I’m glad to see that The Motels avoided the dreaded “One Hit Wonder” title by getting another Top 10 hit under their belts. And it peaked in the same position as their better-remembered-song!


    • Almost a year?!? Jeff and Daffy have been slacking! 😉

      I was also glad to see the return of “Nope”. Now we have an even 20 entries.


  3. Here’s the thing about New Wave. For all the talk of being The New Youth Movement, it’s quite remarkable how Martha Davis is such a good example of how a good number of its exponents had already, shall we say, been around the block for some time.


    • Some have said that New Wave is simply combining the rebellion of punk rock with the best of disco, so that makes sense to me.


  4. One thing I’m actually surprised not to see mentioned in this article: how MTV played a huge part in the “Only The Lonely” success story. In fact, “Only The Lonely” is usually pointed out as one of early MTV’s classics.


    • Yeah, MTV did a great job in the 1980’s and early 1990’s of exposing audiences to certain bands & music, and helped launch many careers. Nowadays, “Only The Lonely” would be pretty lonely on that channel, as it would likely be the only video being played:-).


  5. Did you know that The Motels were originally offered “Take My Breath Away”, which eventually became a #1 hit for Berlin?


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