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?
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. 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.