Back in the day when LPs were the most popular format for music, I used to go to the record store two to three times a week and go through the stacks to familiarize myself with artists I didn’t know. I had no idea what kind of songs were on these albums, but I got to know the album covers and kind of made snap judgements about what kind of music the band played. For a few years, I used to see this album by The Motels
What did I think was on it? I figured they were a goofy southern rock band that had a kind of dumb name. I mean who could stand up and proclaim “I’m a huge fan of The Motels.” The Motels? The name alone just connotes cheapness. It’s like they tried a bunch of names, couldn’t figure out a good one, and then after spending a lot of time on the road, they realized their group’s name was right there in front of them when they went to bed at night. I mean you could say you were members of the KISS Army, were a fan of The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Pretenders, The Police and proudly proclaim…wait. If you look at those names divorced from their standing in rock history, they are kind of dumb, too. Okay, so The Motels isn’t all that bad in light of their contemporaries, but what about the music? Well, I didn’t buy the album above for the reasons stated. But when All Four One came out, I sure did. It was all over AOR radio, and when “Only The Lonely” crossed over to Top 40, they ceased to be a new wave band and were pure pop confection. But before they sailed with the formula that The Suits at Capitol Records pushed the group to conform to (i.e., “Suddenly Last Summer,” “Shame” and the like) they had this great album opener –“Mission of Mercy.” The thick guitars, the deep bass, and even the tasteful use of keyboard signaled that The Motels weren’t quite new wave and more traditional rock (at least on this song). And the fact that Martha Davis has this kind of sultry thing going on with her voice made her an atypical lead singer for a rock band. But you know what? It worked for me and eagerly bought All Four One for this “So L.A.” I wasn’t much of a fan of “Only the Lonely” and “Take the L,” but I did like many of their non-Top 40 hits.
Their follow-up to All Four One left me flat. It was like the band was trying too hard to be something they weren’t: a kinda sorta vaguely weird new wave band from L.A.
I had pretty much given up on them by then, but to this day I keep coming back to All Four One because this album represented a period when The Motels had found their voice.