Barenaked Ladies – Backtracking

Barenaked Ladies – Backtracking

11th December 2018 0 By Wes Bowie

A look back at an established artist or bands entire back catalogue

Every few weeks the Solo Armada will select a chosen artist/band and invite you to listen to each and every studio album that the artist/band has produced and discuss on social media.

From their debut to the last album released. An opportunity to understand and discover a bands original beginnings and how their music has evolved over the years and not rely on greatest hit compilations or that comfortable album that you’re so familiar with.

Luke Martin has taken over the writing duties this month for:

We can all name classic bands that have been around forever, bands whose music will stand the test of time in the hearts and minds of the masses. There are plenty that spring to mind, but there are also bands that have stealthily stuck with us, consistently making music for the sheer enjoyment of it.

It was 1988, and Earth was a different planet. The Soviet Union was still a thing, as was the Berlin Wall. Donald Trump was just a real estate developer, and had only been married once. Phones were still normally attached to wires, Princess Dianna was alive, Dolly Parton was made more of skin than plastic and a band called Barenaked Ladies (BNL) could often be found messing around on stage. Thirty years later and most of these things are no longer the case, but, after the release of their 16th studio album, Barenaked Ladies are still treating us to their unique song writing, complete with their signature style of finding inventive and obscure ways to liven up the mundane nature of that which we experience every day.

One fateful night, somewhere in Ontario, Canadia, Ed Robertson found himself in the awkward predicament of being booked to play at a battle of the bands event, despite no longer being in a band. Fortunately, he had previously attended a Bob Dylan concert with his friend, Steven Page, during which they had grown bored of the concert and started amusing themselves by coming up with fake band names, one of which was Barenaked Ladies. When asked to confirm his band’s participation, Ed told the organiser that his band were now operating under this moniker, and promptly called Steven to see if he would be interested in playing the gig with him. The pair planned three rehearsals, completed none, and ended up improvising a set list on the night. It clearly went well, as they were booked to open for another band at a local pub. In an effort to appear more professional the duo again arranged three rehearsals, and again did none. To this day the band perform improvised segments in their shows as a nod to those gigs.

Gordon (Released 28th July, 1992)

It was four years before BNL delighted us with the release of their debut studio album, funded by the success of their tape The Yellow Tape, which became the first platinum certified indie tape in Canada.

The album included songs that remain a staple part of the band’s set lists to this day, such as ‘If I Had a $1,000000’ and ‘Brian Wilson’, the latter a tribute to the Beach Boys legend who himself rearranged and performed the song with a separate band. ‘If I had £1,000000’ has since appeared on TV shows, a film, a baseball stadium and as a Ben and Jerry’s flavour. The song commonly features ad-libbed sections when performed live, and as such is often the longest song on the set list. It was one of our first real tastes of BNL’s bizarre, silly humour, listing the things they would buy for their lover with $1,000000 (from a green dress to the remains of John Merrick).

Though it perhaps isn’t one of the first songs we think of when we think about the band, the song ‘The King of Bedside Manner’ is cemented in BNL folklore for the tradition it started. Struggling to record a version they liked, the band decided to do so completely naked, a practice they repeated on several future works.

Maybe You Should Drive (Released August 16th, 1994)

Debuting at number 3 in Canada, this album marked the band’s first foray into the US charts, reaching 175 on the Billboard Top 200. The album was mostly recorded in what Steven Page referred to as a “Cold, industrial wasteland.”

The opening song ‘Jane’ tells the story of a man’s hopeless romance with a woman named Jane St. Clair. As is often the case with BNL, there is a slightly unusual story behind the writing. The character was named after an intersection in Toronto which co-writer Steven Duffy claimed sounded like “The most beautiful intersection in the world.”

Recording of the album nearly fell into peril during the rehearsal stage when keyboardist Andy Creegan, brother of bassist, Jim, considered leaving the band. He was convinced to stay for the album’s recording and tour but left shortly after.

Born on a Pirate Ship (Released March 19th, 1996)

Try reading the album title whilst mimicking the pose of the boy on the cover and you’ll understand the inspiration for the name, childish though it may be!

This album featured the song ‘Trust Me’, which had been previously been recorded for ‘Maybe You Should Drive’. It also contained the song ‘The Old Apartment’ which became BNL’s first US hit in 1997, and was probably the song that began to put the band on the map in America. The album would be certified gold there, but not for another four years, following the success of their next album, Stunt.

‘Back’ was featured on this album as well as the ‘Brian Wilson 2000’ single, and was the song from this album that was ritualistically recorded in the nude. The album also featured a re-release of ‘If I Had $1,000000’.

Stunt (Released 7th July, 1998)

The fourth and most successful album for the band, Stunt marks its 20th anniversary this year and features some proper belters!

Many of you may be familiar with the song ‘One Week’, which became BNL’s first US number 1 and also reached number 5 in the UK. To this day, playing the song will prompt all who know it to do their best White-boy Canadian Rapping (Not an actual genre… Yet).

Perhaps appropriately, ‘Alcohol’ was the song recorded naked for this album. As ever there were a series of lyrics and songs that showed of the brilliant and bizarre humour of the band, for example ‘In the Car’, a song about a first romance, featuring genius lines such as “It was mostly mutual masturbation, and though we talked of penetration, I’d have to wait for someone else to try it out.”

The tour of Stunt provided the setting for the documentary BarenakedIn America which featured the song ‘Long Way Back Home’ in the closing credits, the song was recorded but not released on the standard edition of the album.

Maroon (Released 12th September, 2000)

Following the success of Stunt, BNL kicked off the new millennium by debuting at number 1 in Canada with their follow-up album, Maroon. It sold around 150,000 copies in its first week, and despite generally taking on a more serious tone, the singles ‘Pinch Me’ and ‘Falling for the First Time’ among other album tracks uphold the band’s humorous side to a degree, as does the preservation of the nudity tradition for the song ‘Humour of the Situation’.

The song ‘Baby Seat’ was the last song co-written with Stephen Duffy, who had previously collaborated heavily with Steven Page. Henceforth the band decided to keep writing within the band.

Bonus track ‘Hidden Sun’ (not a listed track, but begins 3 seconds after the end of ‘Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel’) was written by Kevin Hearn, who had joined the band as a keyboardist following Andy Creegan’s departure, but spent much of the Born on a Pirate Ship tour in hospital for chemotherapy, he wrote the song during his time in hospital.

Everything to Everyone (Released 21st October, 2003)

After a pretty successful release of a greatest hits album in 2001 that marked a decade as a band, and was also dedicated to the victims of 9/11, BNL returned to the studio to record a sixth full-length album. As mentioned above, it was the first time that the band kept all the song writing within the band, meaning that other members of the band, notably Jim Creegan and Kevin Hearn, were more involved in this process. The album received mixed reviews, and was most notable for the increase in political commentary compared to former BNL albums.

It was also a longer album than usual, 14 tracks and three bonus tracks on a Limited Edition release. There were also several tracks that were recorded but unreleased, including ‘Sign Me Up’ which the band described as “basically us swearing our heads off for six minutes.” It was the last track that the band recorded naked.

The artwork was an oil painting by a gentleman named Chris Woods, the original painting, on a 60” square canvass can allegedly be found in Steven Page’s farmhouse studio, Fresh Baked Woods.

Barenaked for the Holidays (Released 5th October, 2004)

A fairly even mix of traditional jingles, classic Christmas hits and holiday-themed tracks written by the band themselves, this album reached gold status in Canada, and was the first released independently by BNLs own record label Desperation Records.

It was also the first album recorded at Steven Page’s own recording studio, Fresh Baked Woods, as well as the first not to feature the recording of a “naked track.”

Despite the seasonal record being produced at his studio, Page later admitted that he was not keen on the idea of making a holiday album and this is reflected in the fact that he has only two writing credits on the album, one of which was for ‘Green Christmas’, which was a re-record of a song written in 2000 for the How the Grinch Stole Christmas soundtrack.

The album was also released on Barenaked on a Stick, a USB stick containing the album, live recordings and a few other treats. This was used as an experiment and subsequent albums were also released using this format.

As You Like It (Released 3rd June, 2005)

By now you may have noticed (if you were previously unaware), that BNL aren’t like most other bands, particularly if you’ve been listening to the albums as you’ve been reading this. However if you were still unsure of the level of their peculiarity then this might give you reasonable idea.

As You Like It is a Shakespeare themed album, recorded for the Stratford Shakespeare festival, and comprising of Shakespeare’s lyrics arranged by BNL (mostly Steven Page). It was sold as an album only at the festival, and as such is extremely rare.

Barenaked Ladies Are Me (Released 12th September, 2006) / Barenaked Ladies are Men (Released 6th February, 2007)

My apologies if you were hoping only to hear about full-length, original material albums, I’ll return to them now. Though again, there lies peculiarity with this album’s release. Perhaps due to BNL now independently releasing their own music, there were many more songs recorded for it than usual. In fact there were 29 far too many for one album, so Barenaked Ladies are Me was created as a 13 song album, and was followed up by a 16 song album Barenaked Ladies are Men.

As if this were not strange enough, a series of additional releases featuring the songs from both albums were published in the five months between the albums coming out, and to this day many consider the result a staggered release of one full length album as opposed to two separate albums.

The name Barenaked Ladies are Me is allegedly a pun on Barenaked Ladies Army. AllMusic stated that the album “should not only stand as a creative high point for the Canadian rockers, but a truly superb would-be double album.”

Though memorable for many reasons the album is perhaps distinguished as being the last full-length album to feature co-founder Steven Page, who left the band in 2009 after BNL recorded Snacktime! A children’s themed album with accompanying book and illustration by Kevin Hearn.

All in Good Time (Released 30th March, 2010)

Despite the departure of Steven Page, BNL wasted very little time in getting back to the studio, and had finished recording this album only five months after the split. Though now only a four-piece, 27 songs were written for the album, with 18 being recorded.

In the absence of Page, Ed Robertson (the other co-founder, a co-lead vocalist) took over the lion’s share of the vocals, with Kevin Hearn and Jim Creegan also providing a considerable contribution on this front.

The first single, ‘You Run Away’, charted at number 25 in Canada, becoming the band’s highest charting single since ‘Pinch Me’ a decade earlier. The album itself reached number 3 in Canada, and topped the independent charts. ‘Every Subway Car’ was the only other single but did not chart.

Grinning Streak (Released 4th June, 2013)

BNL did not record another full length album for three years, though they did release a greatest hits album (the first album to feature The Big Bang Theory Theme) and a rarities collection which were meant to be released together, but ended up coming out as standalone records in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Grinning Streak was the return, and now-frontman Ed Robertson claimed that it was one of the quickest albums the band had ever written and recorded, though the first single, ‘Boomerang’ was written a year prior to the others and originally was intended to be released in the summer of 2012.

The album debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 26,000 copies in the first week. This made it the band’s most successful album launch on the billboard chart in a decade since Everything and Everyone also debuted at number 10.

The album was released on Vanguard Records as opposed to the band’s own label this time, and also stood out for Robertson handling lead vocals on all but one song. There are 12 songs on the album, though several bonus tracks (including some acoustic versions of the album tracks) were released on a deluxe version the following year.

Silverball (Released 2nd June, 2015)

You’ve made it folks, the eleventh full length original material studio album, Silverball was again released on Vanguard Records and featured Ed Robertson as lead vocalist for the vast majority of the album (Kevin Hearn did two and Jim Creegan one).

‘Matter of Time’ was made exclusively available as a free download for people who had bought tickets for the band’s 2015 tour Last Summer on Earth.

The name of the album perhaps draws inspiration from Robertson’s love of pinball, and the title track’s video was released as a thank you to the community of pinball.com from Robertson.

The tour of the album provided the setting for the BNL Rocks Red Rocks live album that released in 2016. Spotify Canada also released an audio track-by-track commentary by the band for the album.

Fake Nudes (Released 17th November, 2017)

Fake Nudes marked the fourth studio released since the departure of founding band member Steven Page who was the major songwriter for the band. Obviously questions were raised on how his departure would impact the band musically but with the release of Fake Nudes any doubts were laid to rest and the album was well received. The album features songs with their characteristic quirks such as the reggae inspired ‘Nobody Better’. However, the first four songs reflect upon the current political state of America.

So far that’s all from BNL but they can still be found performing and are showing no signs of calling it a day after three incredible decades. I guess all that’s left to do is say farewell for now, whilst quoting these immortal legends: “Thanks that was fun.”