Rising from the punk rock-inspired Los Angeles music scene of the late '70s, The Motels produced a range of guitar-oriented versatile pop/rock that for a time fit perfectly into the new wave movement. However, buoyed by the strong presence of frontwoman Martha Davis, the group actually exceeded that niche quite handily over the course of five studio albums in seven years. Here's a chronological look at the top songs from accessibly captivating '80s band The Motels.
As the third and final single from The Motels' self-titled 1979 debut, this track - like its predecessors - failed to make much of a mark on the U.S. or U.K. pop charts. Nevertheless, it's a guitar-fueled atmospheric rocker that manages to sound simultaneously raw and polished. Much of the credit for the latter must go to Davis, whose velvety vocals are both emotive and nearly perfect at all times. As for the edgy sound, lead guitarist Guy Perry shows great versatility and tone distinction, and combined with a tight band performance, new wave music circa 1980 very rarely got better than this.
Pop/rock bands fronted by charismatic, beautiful brunettes weren't exactly rare during the early '80s (The Pretenders, Heart and Scandal come to mind immediately, for example), but The Motels are unjustly underrated in terms of ensemble synergy. This final single from 1980's Careful also failed to break the band among the music masses, but it's a powerful reflection of Davis's considerable vocal charms as well as an aggressively melodic new wave gem. The luxury of this particular quintet stemmed from its two guitarists (Davis and Perry) but also its multi-instrumental ace Marty Jourard. A top-notch rhythm section completes the sonic picture of a precise yet utterly distinctive American band.
This nearly flawless 1982 track - the lead-off single from 1982's All Four One, itself a reworking of a recording originally intended for the shelved Apocalypso record - peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard pop charts and also made the Top 10 on the U.S. niche mainstream rock and dance charts. It's a remarkably versatile single that features memorable guitar and saxophone solos as well as a lovely slow-burn vocal performance from Davis. While the song certainly qualifies as legitimately top-notch new wave, it also transcends that category in terms of pure songwriting quality. An '80s classic that holds up very well over the course of repeated listening.
4. "Take the L"
As a follow-up single, this song failed to generate impressive chart results, but that doesn't mean it's not clearly one of pop/rock's finest mid-tempo romantic gems of the early '80s. Other new wave music certainly combined keyboards, guitars and melodramatic vocals, but something about the three-pronged attack of Davis vamping it up, Jourard providing synth textures and Perry delivering vibrant, raw lead guitar helped distinguish The Motels from the rest of the pack. Though heavy on style, the group had plenty of rock chops and mainstream appeal to vault itself into the era's elite.
This track, which became the band's second and final Top 10 U.S. pop hit in the fall of 1983, possesses one of the core attributes of The Motels from start to finish: pure elegance. From the opening keyboard strains by Jourard to the achingly sultry vocal performance of Davis, this track retains a tempo just faster than typical ballad territory. This helps to amp up the tasteful rock guitars that often serve as a trademark for the band's best work, which could have influenced the song's rise to the top spot on Billboard's mainstream rock charts. This is fine, heartfelt rock that makes the most of its easygoing but wistful charms.
Little Robbers bookended 1983 for the band nicely but modestly with a No. 36 peak on the pop charts. However, it presents another vibrant performance from Davis & Co., even if the instrumentation could be overly busy at times. Few female rock singers could touch Davis at her best in terms of full and richly passionate singing, and that's an '80s music truth that not every fan of this era's offerings got a chance to embrace back in the day. Ultimately, this is music that holds up very well three decades later, especially in light of the production that could have stamped an indelibly dated blemish on the proceedings. Ensemble kudos for avoiding that fate.