KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Satur-debut – BARENAKED LADIES “GORDON”

The goofy album cover and silly band name didn’t help Canada’s Barenaked Ladies win over critics & “serious” music fans, but their musicianship, vocal harmonies and instantly memorable tunes made their 1992 debut Gordon an all-time classic for those of us who value those qualities. For anyone who was fortunate to catch them in concert, especially in those early days, their live shows became legendary, and a few years later the mainstream caught on. I previously praised this record in the fourth Great Out Of The Gate post, and you can read my comments about it below.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.

 

 

From GREAT OUT OF THE GATE Part 4:

Canada’s Barenaked Ladies are vastly underrated. Much like They Might Be Giants, whose debut I discussed here, the silly nature of some of their material…and the goofy cover photo of their first full-length album…give the impression that they’re a joke band. It didn’t help that the songs which gained the most notoriety here, “Be My Yoko Ono,” “If I Had $1,000,000” and “Brian Wilson” (“Lyin’ in bed just like Brian Wilson did”), appear to be quirky & juvenile, but scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find a group of extremely talented musicians with two very distinct lead vocalists. Steven Page’s booming voice is offset by Ed Robertson’s more down-to-earth delivery, and the harmonies provided by drummer Tyler Stewart, keyboardist Andy Creeggan and bassist Jim Creeggan add sophistication to just about every track on this record. There are plenty of highlights, including jazzy album opener “Hello City” (which pays homage to The Housemartins’ “Happy Hour”), the bombastic (in the best possible way) “What A Good Boy,” the acoustic Latin-tinged “Blame It On Me” and the prophetic “Box Set,” which jokingly suggests an extended career ahead of them (via a 6-CD box set of hits, rarities & demos) that, much to their surprise, essentially came true. A string of Top 10 albums was still a few years away but the musicianship & songwriting abilities were on full display right from the start. As someone who caught them on their earliest US tours in small New York City clubs, I can honestly say that they were one of the most thrilling live bands I’ve ever seen.

 

I know it’s unlikely I’ll convince the naysayers but I urge anyone with an open mind to check out the above songs and hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Who else was listening to them in the early ’90s? If you saw one of their shows do you agree that they were an incredible live act? And do you still love this record nearly three decades later?

23 comments on “Satur-debut – BARENAKED LADIES “GORDON”

  1. stephen1001
    March 28, 2020

    Nice choice, Rich – so many excellent songs (and well said about how talented they are too).
    Enid was my intro to the group & for that reason, likely still my favourite track!

    Like

  2. Bill Van Orden
    March 28, 2020

    Barenaked Ladies first hit me like if TMBG were a lounge band. I found GORDON to be truly refreshing, and I was an instant fan. Crisp, professional and smart. Comfortable Rock. I miss Steve…but I still see the band whenever they are in my neck of the woods. BNL is as smooth as Kraft Dinner.

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    • A lounge-y TMBG is an accurate first impression, Bill. Of course other than the obvious quirkiness, each band has its own unique charms. They’re certainly not the same without Mr. Page but I’m glad they’re hanging in there and making new music. You have to assume that a reunion is inevitable. Probably for the 30th anniversary of this album in a couple of years.

      Like

  3. jprobichaud
    March 29, 2020

    This debut is my early twenties in a nutshell. I know this album intimately. Not every song is perfect but it’s pretty great for most of its duration. You didn’t note “The flag”, which to me, is a huge standout on the record. I got it on vinyl a couple years ago and it’s beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I guess you’re a few years younger than me as this was a key album of my mid-twenties (I was 26 when it was released, and when I first saw them as an opening act at a small NYC club). I agree that each song may not be perfect, but many of them are, and for a new band it’s quite an accomplished collection. I agree about “The Flag” even though I didn’t single it out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jprobichaud
        March 30, 2020

        I actually first heard them in high school, a year or two before this came out. I remember the infamous Yellow Tape making the rounds and they played a bunch of high school shows in my neck of the woods (though I never did get to see them). This album, though, was one that I listened to for years, even after stopped checking out any of their newer material.

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      • So you were there on the ground floor with BNL. Very cool. I love the excitement of discovering a band in their infancy and seeing them become popular. Of course then we accuse them of selling out and have no interest in them anymore. Sad but true.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jprobichaud
        March 30, 2020

        I don’t know that BNL sold out. They stayed pretty true to who they were. I just moved on to other things. I still think they’re super talented and this album is chock full of nostalgia.

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      • I meant to put “sold out” in quotes since I don’t feel that way, about BNL and most acts accused of selling out.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jprobichaud
        March 30, 2020

        Gotcha. I tend to agree.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. deKE
    March 29, 2020

    These guys exploded on MuchMusic in 92 Big Time Rich. I even bought this debut so there ya go. I liked the harmonies and the acoustic stuff. They are very good at what they do. I caught them a few years ago at our Bluesfest in town and they were missing the frontman. Good show though.

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    • I’m glad they made an impact on you even though they don’t fit the classic rawkin’ “Deke” profile. Not a surprise, though, since I know you’ve got pretty diverse tastes. I’ve never seen them live without Steven Page. He was such an integral part of the BNL experience so it’s hard to imagine who would fill in that vocal vacancy. The band is always tight, so I’m sure they still kicked ass.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. christiansmusicmusings
    March 29, 2020

    While I definitely had heard of their name, I wasn’t familiar with Barenaked Ladies’ music. I have to agree these songs are pleasant to listen to, and the lyrics are kind of entertaining as well. I wonder how Yoko Ono and Brian Wilson felt about them! 🙂

    These guys definitely don’t sound like amateurs. But it appears they did present themselves like a bunch of goofballs. Therefore, perhaps it’s not too surprising many people didn’t take them seriously.

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    • Not sure how Yoko felt about that song (if she’s even aware of it) but I know that Brian Wilson not only enjoyed it but eventually performed it in concert. It’s on one of his live albums. Although they might look like goofballs on the album cover, and they joke around a lot on stage, they’re all great showmen & musicians so they would win over even the most cynical listener…at least during their ’90s heyday.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Bill P
    March 29, 2020

    BNL are a band that, because of their widespread popularity in the 90s, will always have their sound be defined by that decade and their success in it. You hear them and you think “it sounds like the 90s.” But, they are a clever and talented band that deserved all the success they achieved.

    I like these guys in the same vein as I like TMBG and Weird Al. When you listen to the music, they have tight arrangements and they can write very catchy melodies. They are songs that stick in your head. Sometimes, because of the oddball nature of the songs or lyrics, they can be called “novelty acts.” I think this undersells the musicianship that was used to create the work. It is incredibly creative for Weird Al to hear Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” and then conceptualize lyrics around the Amish experience. These guys aren’t writing simple I-IV-V blues based rock and then doing a line of blow. They are clever musicians who write witty, intellectual poetry even if the subject matter might be inane. It is still clever.

    I enjoy the fact that now BNL have branched into kids music. Again, they can write clever, catchy tunes that are still eminently listenable to the adults. Check out “The Ninjas” or “7 8 9.”

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    • Very true about BNL being a particularly “90s band.” What makes them special is that they had their own unique sound so they were among the trendsetters of that decade. I hadn’t considered Weird Al among the comparisons but you make some great points about his creativity. So yep, he & BNL & TMBG are all oddball geniuses.

      I haven’t heard BNL’s kids music but will seek it out. Their holiday album is a perennial favorite in my household. It’s one of the first albums my wife & I listen to as we’re decorating our house after Thanksgiving. Well worth a listen if you haven’t heard it.

      Like

      • Bill P
        April 3, 2020

        I haven’t heard the BNL Christmas album but I will check it out under your advisement. I was realizing earlier this week as my younger son was listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” that perhaps Weird Al isn’t quite the same as BNL and TMBG. They create their own melodies where Al takes already known songs and creates something new. It is still a clever talent but do recognize the slight difference.

        I don’t want to go down the well worn “music was better in my day” argument but your point about BNL’s unique sound making them trendsetters for the decade was on point. When actual A&R people that were musicians rather than ad executives had more control, they could recognize these unique, quirky musicians for the talent they had. Now it seems the music has to fit an algorithm and marketing metrics, possessing only 4 chords, and being perfectly gridded and pitched from ProTools plug-ins taking a lot of soul out of the whole creative process. The real music is still out there, it is just pigeon-holed into its own little niche here or there on the internet or a Spotify playlist and it doesn’t affect our culture in the same way.

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      • I believe Weird Al also writes originals but not many people care or are even aware. But I always give him credit as creating good parodies is an art form, and he’s been doing it successfully for decades.

        Your last sentence about how “real music is still out there” is perfectly written. I know a lot of people who dismiss all new music outright and I feel bad for them because they’re missing out. The difference between then and now is that listeners have to do the work to find the good stuff, but there’s always something new & interesting to discover. And if you can’t, then find something you missed during those “good old days.” Thanks for your feedback.

        Like

  7. 80smetalman
    March 29, 2020

    Interesting, I only know the songs “One Week” and the theme to the “Big Bang Theory.” I didn’t know they had been around much longer.

    Like

    • Not sure how much of an impact they would make on you but I can say that some of the music they did before their commercial breakthrough (around ’96, I believe) is fantastic and worth checking out.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sarca
    March 29, 2020

    Ah, memories of my senior year in high school! Fine album! Enid was my favourite, but the whole album was great.

    Like

    • How dare you be so much younger than me, as this album was part of the soundtrack of the year I turned 26. Haha. “Enid” is one of my favorites as well. I think a lot of fans love that one, and for good reason.

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