Monday, March 7, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #114

While most Punk and New Wave Bands were harking back to the garage bands of the mid-sixties, one of the more interesting groups of the era chose instead to meld the the skinny-tie sound onto a framework of 1950s pop and R&B.  Formed in Vancouver in 1977, Doug & The Slugs created a sound that was unique and quirky, yet undeniably catchy.

Singer/songwriter Doug Bennett quit his day job as a graphic designer and put together a combo of like-minded musicians (guitarists Richard Baker and John Burton, keyboardist Simon Kendall, bassist Steve Bosley and drummer John "Wally" Watson), and began playing the Canadian club scene.  Their shows quickly became popular events, with the band often inviting fans to show up dressed in themed costumes - secret agents one night, clowns the next, etc. - with the band doing the same. With their high-energy good-time sound, the live events were more party than concert, and Canadian record labels began to notice.

The band did not want to lose their creative control, however, and at first opted to form their own label, Ritdong Records.  Ritdong released the first Doug & The Slugs single, "Too Bad," in late 1979.  Containing one of the greatest you-cheated-and-I-found-out choruses of all time ("Too bad that you had to get caught/That's not like you to lose face/So sad that you're not as smart/As you thought you were in the first place") and featuring Bennett's signature everyman vocals, it quickly became a local hit.  Seeing the potential for national and international success, the band cut a deal with RCA to act as the distributor for Ritdong, and quickly issued their debut album, Cognac And Bologna.

With a rerecorded "Too Bad" issued as the lead single and eventually winning a Juno Award as 1981 Single of the Year, Cognac And Bologna swiftly reached the lower rungs of the Canadian Top 40 Albums Chart.  Follow-up singles "Chinatown Calculation" and "Drifting Away" fell a bit short of the success "Too Bad" had seen, but kept the band afloat until 1981's Wrap It.

Wrap It leaned a little more obviously toward the New Wave and showed a band getting better at what they do.  The main single, a surprisingly successful mix of '50s doo-wop and '80s ska/2-tone rhythms called "Real Enough," came close to competing with "Too Bad" as the band's finest moment and kept the party atmosphere rolling, and Wrap It sold even better than Cognac And Bologna across Canada.

1983 saw their best-selling Canadian release, Music For The Hard  Of Thinking, and its concurrent single "Making It Work."  But Doug & The Slugs had yet to break outside of the Great White North, despite receiving rave critical reviews and some MTV airplay.  RCA dropped the band, who were quickly picked up by A&M.  Two more albums followed, Popaganda (1984) and Tomcat Prowl (1988), but neither had the impact of the earlier material.  Their debut single, "Too Bad," would see renewed interest in 1999 when it was used as the theme song for comedian Norm MacDonald's short-lived sitcom The Norm Show.

Doug & The Slugs never really ceased to exist, although Bennett did release some solo material along the way.  While they never did see much success outside of Canadian borders, they continued to be a popular live band with a strong following.  Sadly, Doug Bennett passed away in 2004.  Shortly thereafter, an excellent "greatest hits" package, Slugcology 101: A Decade Of Doug & The Slugs appeared, neatly gathering just about every must-hear track from this wonderful band.  After some consideration, the band decided to continue on under the Doug & The Slugs moniker, bringing on singer Ted Okos not to replace Doug Bennett, but to celebrate their late frontman.  They continue to play live shows today.

Please enjoy the clips for Doug & The Slugs' two most wonderful songs, "Too Bad" and "Real Enough":

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