112. Barenaked Ladies

Barenaked Ladies are a rock band from Scarborough, a district of Toronto, Ontario. Founded by schoolmates Ed Robertson and Steven Page, the band first achieved success by word of mouth; their 1991 Yellow Tape EP was the first independent release (in Canada) to sell 100,000 copies. The following album, 1992’s Gordon, featured many of their best songs and established them as stars in their home country.

It took several years to capture an American audience. Gradual interest for the band’s quirky, humorous performances developed, and after a successful live album, the group made it big with Stunt, featuring the #1 single “One Week”. The band continues to compose and perform in concert, though founding member Steven Page left the band in 2009 to pursue other musical interests.

The Barenaked Ladies on Wikipedia

http://www.barenakedladies.com

“The Yellow Tape” Cassette

The Queen of Quirk

I learned about Barenaked Ladies from my youngest step daughter, Linda Kathryn, or by her preferred acronym, “LK”. Sometimes we just call her L. LK is a quirky girl. She values the whimsical things in life, and gravitated towards the artistic, bohemian types in school.

One evening in the mid-nineties, me and L were hanging out, and she showed me the music video for “If I Had $1,000,000” on her nifty new Shoe Box EP, an innovative feature for a music CD at the time. By then, the band was very popular in Canada, and like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the fans knew every song lyric, and pelted the band with macaroni and cheese at the appropriate moment:

“If I had a million dollars,
we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinner.”

(throw macaroni here – a practice now discouraged by the band)

“But we would eat Kraft dinner. Of course we would, we’d just eat more.”

— Steven Page and Ed Robertson

There’s a component of my personality that always searches for the humorous, the whimsical, the off beat, and the outrageous. I fell in love with “If I Had A $1,000,000” immediately — the childlike simplicity, the wry humor, the clever word play.

(that’s Steven Page on the left, and Ed Robertson on the right)

LK also purchased Gordon, and turned me on to another great song, “Brian Wilson”. After that, I followed the Barenaked Ladies’ career, looking for other gems. I happened to see LK last week, and said I was doing a profile on Barenaked Ladies, and asked her opinion of the band. She remembered listening to Stunt repeatedly during her year studying in France, but had otherwise lost touch with the band. She passed along the gift of the Barenaked Ladies to her parental units, and rarely looked back. Congratulations, L, your one major contribution to the ‘rents musical education.

LK With The Tater

Nowadays, LK is a French teacher, and lives in southeast Portland. You know, the hip part of town. She maintains her sense of whimsy.

School For The Gifted

Ed Robertson and Steven Page met in a special elementary school program for gifted students. They are about the same age, though Page skipped first grade. It took them several years to recognize their common interests and begin playing music together. Not only playing, but also writing songs and even improvising material on stage, making Barenaked Ladies concerts exciting and amusing. On LK’s Shoe Box CD, the band launches into an impromptu rap about “Barbecue Donuts”.

Page appears to be the more sensitive of the pair, while Robertson is steadier and more prolific. To typecast the two great friends, Steven Page is the John and Ed Robertson is the Paul. Page has a beautiful singing voice, capable of great pathos, while Robertson offers up a steady stream of geeky humor behind a driving rhythm guitar.

Almost every song is written by the band. A notable exception is fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn’s (pronounced ‘KOH-bern’) “Lovers In A Dangerous Time”. Cockburn’s original version suffers a bit from 1980s pop instrumentation and production values, while the Barenaked Ladies’ version better captures the urgency of the lyrics:

In this film clip, Steven Page sings his last song with the Barenaked Ladies. “Call And Answer”, from the album Stunt, was written by Steven Page and his longtime writing partner, Stephen Duffy, a founding member of the English rock band Duran Duran. The song elegantly describes a romance at the crossroads:

Just Listening and Re-listening To Smiley Smile

While LK’s love affair with the Barenaked Ladies ended years ago, I dial up their best songs on the iPod on a regular basis. Eight of the eighteen songs on my collection have been played ten or more times. By comparison, only one Beach Boys song, “In My Room”, carries that distinction. Critical acclaim for the band is inconsistent at best; they have been dismissed as sex-obsessed jokesters, at other times lauded as collegiate party all-stars. There’s considerable disparity between their best songs and their other work. They are “five-hit wonders”, with a handful of brilliant statements: the Cockburn song, two by Page, one (“One Week”) by Robertson and one co-written (“$1 Million”) by the duo.

The greatest of their songs is “Brian Wilson”, a tribute to the great Beach Boy songwriter. Written by Steven Page on his twentieth birthday, this song captures his obsessive nature, about music and creativity and love, but it’s also a testament to a luxurious life, and the ability to wallow in one’s own self-pity. The song resonates with me; I was moved to tears several times during this essay, as I listened and re-listened.

“So I’m lying here, just staring at the ceiling tiles.
and I’m thinking about what to think about.
Just listening and re-listening to Smiley Smile,
and I’m wondering if this is some kind of creative drought.”

— Steven Page

Have you ever seen an audience sing along like this?

“Snowman” is a Roberston original from Barenaked For The Holidays. The “Yellow Tape” version of “If I Had $1,000,000” is the preferred version, and found on the Shoe Box EP. “One Week” is a borderline four star song, whereas “Brian Wilson” sounds like a five star song on many days.

Barenaked Ladies Songs:

Brian Wilson, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭✭
One Week, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭✭
If I Had $1,000,000 (Yellow Tape), Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭✭

Call And Answer, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭
Lovers In A Dangerous Time, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭✭

Be My Yoko Ono, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
Pinch Me, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
If I Had $1,000,000, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
It’s All Been Done, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
I’ll Be That Girl, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
One Week (Live), Barenaked Ladies ✭✭
Snowman, Barenaked Ladies ✭✭

The Old Apartment, Barenaked Ladies
Falling For The First Time, Barenaked Ladies
Alternative Girlfriend, Barenaked Ladies
Hello City, Barenaked Ladies
What A Good Boy, Barenaked Ladies
In The Car, Barenaked Ladies

Related Songs:

In My Room, The Beach Boys ✭✭✭✭✭

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