No, it’s not Tuesday again, and your eyes are not deceiving you. While considered by most to be an ’80s band, the Motels’ self-titled debut actually came out in 1979. Filled with Martha Davis’ trademark yearning vocals, the album got a bit of a slow start in the States as the first single, “Closets and Bullets,” did nothing for the band’s profile. The second single, however, scored the band a Top Ten hit in Australia and Top 20 in France.
“Total Control” (download) is a smoldering, yearning tune, full of desire mixed with a bit of rage as Davis wishes for a modicum of dominance over her lover. Well, not a “modicum,” but “total control.” Sort of an important distinction there. Davis’ delivery is fraught with emotion as the song builds the tension, but instead of an explosion, we get more of a sense of surrender as the saxophone kicks in. Whether it was too subtle or just plain too long (five minutes plus) for American radio, the song’s failure to break the band was a tragic loss.
Here’s the band in 1979 performing the tune on German TV’s Musikladen. I love this performance for two reasons — Martha’s cig burnt down nearly to the butt (catch the final drag she takes off it after the first verse) and the submissive position she takes during the sax solo that on the surface completely contradicts the lyrics, yet illustrates the song’s desperation perfectly.
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The Motels would have to wait for two more albums and three more years before scoring a hit in the U.S. with All Four One and “Only the Lonely.” Later, “Total Control” finally got its place in the sun when it was covered in 1985 by Tina Turner as her contribution to the million-selling We Are The World album.
Meanwhile, Davis recently formed a new version of The Motels — they’ve recorded three (!) new albums this year and are currently playing dates in Southern California.
“Total Control” peaked at #109 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Chart in 1979.
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