Martha and the Muffins

Echo BeachMetro Music
About InsomniaTrance And Dance
Women Around The World At WorkThis Is The Ice Age
SwimmingThis Is The Ice Age
Danseparc (Every Day It’s Tomorrow)Danseparc
Black Stations, White StationsMystery Walk
Cooling The MediumMystery Walk
Rainbow SignModern Lullaby

Embed from Getty Images
Martha and the Muffins 1980 (back row l-r) Carl Finkle (bass), Mark Gane (guitar), Tim Gane (drums) / (front row l-r) Martha Johnson (vocals, keyboards), Andy Haas (saxophone), Martha Ladly (keyboards, vocals)



Muffins playlist


Contributor: Rob Jones

I was living and working in the East End of London in the late 1990s as an ancestry VISA immigrant from Toronto when the unlikely subject of Martha and the Muffins came up in conversation at my place of work. A colleague of mine, I suppose knowing that the band were Canadian like I am, told me how much she loved Echo Beach. That song had been the band’s sole hit in Britain and in other regions other than Canada. It was a great point of reference for me and my Londoner colleague, both of us working very boring jobs as office clerks.

That conversation got me thinking about that song and that band. I’d grown up hearing their singles on the radio and loved them in the 1980s when I was a school kid turned teenager. But by the next decade, I’d kind of thought of them as something of a cultural given. While away and out of my cultural context, I began to be more mindful of what Canadian artists had accomplished on the world stage. As for this band, they are pioneers of Canadian art rock, hitting early as proponents of authentically homegrown punk and new wave out of Toronto’s fertile Queen Street West scene. And they had way more than just one song in them.

For the first selection in this Martha and the Muffins aka M+M Toppermost list, I really do have to talk about Echo Beach from their 1980 full-length debut Metro Music. My erstwhile colleague was bang on correct about how great it is. It really is an exceptional piece of writing, full as it is of white-collar existential dread accompanied by a classic guitar riff. It’s also atmospheric, emotionally nuanced, and instrumentally in sync with the story of its narrator who dreams of a life removed from the dreary one she’s got. No wonder it was such a big hit everywhere.


About Insomnia, a single from their 1980 follow up Trance And Dance, shows them bearing down on their ability to weave together disparate styles into their unique sound. This one is full of jangly Sixties-style tunefulness that’s bursting with charm, textural variance, residual punk energy, and sassy baritone saxophone, all culminating with a cheeky Who reference as an ending.


On their third record, 1981’s This Is The Ice Age, the single Women Around The World At Work sets a feminist anthem of outraged protest to a sophistipop-meets-post-punk groove, replete with growling guitar, tart saxophone, and a tighter rhythm section than previous. By this time the band included Jocelyne Lanois on bass. Her brother Daniel sat in the producer’s seat as he would stay for their next two albums.


On Swimming, multi-instrumentalist and writer Mark Gane takes the lead vocal on this cut that’s inclusive of the immortal lyrical hook “we’re afraid to call it love; let’s call it swimming”. This song slides by on the charm of that line alone even before one considers the song’s sonic detail, rhythmic complexity, and Robert Fripp-like guitar lines. Also, the lines “shouting threats and sending out a counter glow” finds him daring to sing in his own Southern Ontarian accent, which made it all the more appealing for me as a person with that same accent.


Obedience is the opening cut to 1983’s Danseparc, their fourth record. Its mechanised Remain In Light-like funk matches its lyrical themes of bureaucratic dehumanisation. Singer Martha Johnson shows off her range as a vocalist, her usual detached croon contrasted by a punkish roar in a song that’s easy to dance to even as one takes in the anger and outrage of its central thesis.


Title track to that same album, Danseparc (Every Day It’s Tomorrow) is gravely portentous and full of nightmarish images even if it too is supremely danceable. With an intricate and growling bassline cut with a roiling guitar part and chatty saxophone, this cut is one of their mightiest offerings. This was the beginning of their M+M period. They’d later revert to their Martha and the Muffins name exclusively. Sometimes a band name just chooses you.


Nineteen-Eighty-Four’s Mystery Walk boasted an irresistibly funky lead single in Black Stations, White Stations that reflected that titular division more and more when it came to radio programing. The lyric this is 1984 was both factual and symbolic in a song full of brassy texture featuring the Brecker Brothers on horns. Its rhythmic bounce was made for the dancefloor while its lyrics lament the fading likelihood that we’d all get to dance together to the radio the same way we once did.


As if to make a point about how deft they were at creating extremely catchy singles, Cooling The Medium slyly references another Canadian in Marshall McCluhan in this effervescent if slightly bookish love song. This single incorporates a lush gospel style vocal backing on the carry me down, carry me to the river refrain with sparklingly pristine guitar that’s just bursting at the seams with the lifeforce, as is the whole song. Pure joy.


After 1986’s less arty, more pop-oriented The World Is A Ball album, Martha and the Muffins returned to their original name and to their moodier and atmospheric roots. Rainbow Sign from 1992’s Modern Lullaby embodies that shift and displays their continuing attention to sonic detail that includes a warmer and more wistful sound. Even domestic chart showings did not reward them for it. So, they put the band on the shelf for a while.


After raising a family, winning a Juno (a Canadian Grammy, basically) for Martha’s children’s record, scoring TV and films, and playing reunion shows, Martha Johnson and Mark Gane revived the Martha and the Muffins name as their musical vehicle and put out 2010’s Delicate. This tune was the single, presenting their core sound with a gnarlier vibe, and with lyrics displaying a more carnal intent to go along with it.


Apart from their rightfully celebrated single international hit, their body of work contains treasures that are worth seeking out in the digital age when musical borders are so much more permeable than ever before. Over the course of decades, Martha and the Muffins treated Canadian pop music listeners to a stylistically evolving range of musical delights while always sounding like themselves.

The late-Nineties conversation at my London office job reminded me of the extremely high quality of their output as writers of singles, but also crafters of a highly integrated sound of their own. I realised then that Martha and the Muffins is actually one of the greatest bands Canada has ever produced – which really is saying something even if the rest of the world doesn’t know that as well as it should.



Martha and the Muffins official website

Martha and the Muffins official YouTube channel

Martha and the Muffins retrospective article – CBC

Martha and the Muffins biography (AllMusic)

Rob Jones is a music writer and blogger born in Toronto. After living in London, England for a time, he now lives in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia with his partner and their many houseplants. As a child, he followed the familiar path of falling in love with The Beatles and with AM radio hits in the 1970s and into the 1980s. He came into his own as a music fan during the new wave era, then embracing all manner of music into adulthood from 1930s country blues to Big Beat techno, while always feeling at home with indie-rock and singer-songwriter folk as his sonic homebase. He is the primary author and Editor-in-Chief of the music blog The Delete Bin.

TopperPost #1,090


  1. David Lewis
    Dec 6, 2023

    Echo Beach captures perfectly that longing to get out of the grind of daily life.’From 9 to 5 I have to spend my time at work/ My job is very boring I’m an office clerk’. Maybe only ‘Friday on my Mind’ by the Easybeats and ‘Bow River’ by Cold Chisel go close to capturing the essence of having somewhere away from the stress, the grind and the bullshit of everyday living.
    The rest of these I’m looking forward to hearing. If they’re half as good as ‘Echo Beach’, they’ll be terrific. (And yes, you say they are at least that good, so I’m excited.)

    • Rob
      Jan 23, 2024

      I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, David. M+M were innovators here in Canada, among the first to produce new wave domestically without sounding like they were imitating anyone.

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