The Motels were a part of the 1980s New Wave invasion, even though they were mostly from LA. It seemed foreign, that invasion, homegrown or not. The catalyst for most of the musical change seemed to come from Britain, at least in my memory, and with it a sophisticated, romantic, almost dapper shift in Rock. Instead of the long hair and torn jeans of the 1970s, beloved by the too-late generation coming of age in those years, we had young men with short hair, citified clothes, often a suit and tie, and young women with an equally cosmopolitan, generally urban appearance.
Of course, there was no right way to look, and the New Wave invasion was plenty diverse, without orthodoxies, so there were offshoots, outliers, misfits and so on. And Punk Rock was a major influence in general, redirected, masked at times, but still the biggest undercurrent overall. In general, however, the 1980s brought us a different kind of rebellion through song and dress, one that seemed, on the surface at least, to be less outwardly anti-establishment — cleverly so, in most cases. Artists, often taking their cue from David Bowie and Roxy Music, might dress for a corporate interview in concert, but their music and stage presence told a different story, one that probably was quite scandalous to the old silent majority.
The Motels, especially in songs like “Only the Lonely (1982),” built a bridge between Film Noir, romantic girl groups of the 1950s, 1970s punk and the space-themed electronica of bands like Missing Persons. When I hear Martha Davis, the band’s lead singer, I flow back in time — three decades, four, five . . .
With or without knowledge of her own tragic story, there’s more to their music than first meets the ear.