Sometimes, you run into an infectious song that immediately clicks with you and your ear. You play it, and play it. Over and over again till you’re absolutely and thoroughly sick of the track. You abandon it, find another. Rinse and repeat. It kinda reminds me of Jesus Raza’s memorable quote from The Professionals (1966), a portion I’ll quote here:
“Quick, sordid affairs. Lust, but no love. Passion, but no compassion.”
Then, there are those you tune in and enjoy whenever you catch them playing (be they on radio or wherever). Not so much “in to it”, but enjoying either the melody or the lyrics, nonetheless. Especially if you were never into the group that sang it, before or after. The tune somehow didn’t initiate that incessant replay loop music listeners sometime get into and burn out upon.
Despite that, the song lingered, even if it was on the periphery, over the years. That’s how I’ve felt toward Only The Lonely by The Motels. I was never into the New Wave group, even if they were L.A.-based. Didn’t hate them, just didn’t love ’em. And yet the song, written by and given a sultry turn, by lead singer Martha Davis has held on to me. And me to it. As Martha described the song’s genesis,
“‘Only the Lonely’ was one of those songs that was sitting on my guitar waiting for me. It literally wrote itself. It’s a song about empty success. It came about while the Motels were experiencing critical acclaim, traveling the world, riding in limos, and yet I was probably as sad as I had ever been. I was in a horrible relationship and had not yet recovered from my parents’ death (I doubt one ever does). The contradiction of these two worlds was where “Only the Lonely” lived… bittersweet.”
Perhaps, that’s one reason the song has endured with me. It had a recognizable lyrical sense that touched a little too close to home. I know, for sure, the other was its immortal guitar riff, by musician Guy Perry. It stood out in a decade with a number of them. Ah, the music of the 80s. Uniquely, the fact Perry’s riff was almost immediately stepped on by Marty Jourard‘s stellar sax solo that followed certainly brought that segment to this listener’s fore.
A rare mix of individual instrumentals for a popular song. It’s not surprising this number, along with its sister tune, Take the L (“Take the L out of lover and it’s over” was a clever lyric for its day, even if it remains the lesser melody), emerged around the same time as MTV and all the resulting promotion that paralleled the music videos of the era. The first single from their All Four One album, Only the Lonely reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #27 on the Adult Contemporary chart, as well as #6 on the Billboard Top Tracks chart.
Whatever the early 80s brought with it, this number was neatly tucked inside for all to discover. I’ve read some consider Martha and The Motels as the key group that shaped later artists, No Doubt and Gwen Stefani. I can hear some truth in that. Still, the song carries a sadness tinged to its notes and lyrics that remains something palpable for those who lived through the Reagan Years. Yet, as Allmusic noted:
“… a generation of junior high students heard the chorus, “Only the lonely can play,” as “Only the lonely get laid,” one of the most popular mondegreens of its era.”
It’s why the track has lasted with me, I guess. Time to click the remote, channel over to “video-radio” and cue those keyboard chords, folks.
We walked the loneliest mile We smiled without any style We kiss altogether wrong No intention We lied about each others dreams We lived without each other thinkin' What anyone would do Without me and you Chorus: It's like I told you Only the lonely can play So hold on here we go Hold on to nothin' we know I feel so lonely way up here You mention the time we were together So long ago, well I don't remember All I know is that it makes me feel good now Repeat chorus