It was while working at the obscure occupation of wallpaper inspector that songwriter Mark Gane had the idea that became the award-winning New Wave song Echo Beach. A guitarist and art student, Gane along with his partner, vocalist Martha Johnson, was a founding member of the popular band Martha and the Muffins, recently named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of Canada’s 50 Greatest Artists Of All Time.
Gane came up with the song’s nostalgic first verse while daydreaming his time away at the wallpaper factory where he worked inspecting newly manufactured wallpaper for flaws. He was bored – very, very bored. As he told Songwritingmagazine.co.uk: “Needless to say it wasn’t exactly rocket science, so I could daydream while I was doing this. Even though it was about two or three years before I actually wrote the song, that’s where the germ of the idea came.”
Just the third song that Gane had written, the evocative Echo Beach eventually became the band’s breakthrough single. As he explained, “I really didn’t know anything about writing pop songs because I came out of an experimental improv music background. That is probably why there’s no chorus till the very end.” Echo Beach opens with an insistent, mesmerizing, circular guitar riff, followed by Johnson’s restrained, dreamy vocals painting the picture of a bored young employee. Coupled with Andy Haas’s masterful, plaintive sax playing, the track quickly became an audience favourite. Gane remembered that in the late 1970s the band played often in Toronto’s Queen Street West scene. “Even in those early days, people went crazy for Echo Beach…. it was obvious that there was something about the song.”
Martha and the Muffins signed with Virgin Records’ Dindisc label in 1979, recording Echo Beach in a studio near Oxford, England with producer Mike Howlett. Their New Wave, synth-pop (maybe find another adjective for ‘synth-pop’ as we didn’t use many synthesizers on the first album) album “Metro Music” was released in early 1980 in the U.K., Europe and Australia first, and when it was finally released in Canada, it topped out at No. 5 on both the RPM and CHUM charts. (Despite worldwide enthusiasm, Echo Beach did not chart in the U.S., although the band’s later songs did well there.)
Echo Beach and “Metro Music” both went gold before the end of 1980, culminating in the JUNO award for Single of the Year in 1981, as well as a nomination for most promising group of the year in both 1981 and 1982.
In the intervening decades, not only has the nostalgic song been covered by various artists, but the term “Echo Beach” has become a phrase used around the globe. Gane muses, “One of the astounding things about being a songwriter is how this song has embedded itself into various cultural memes.” (possibly examples/links here if room?)
Martha and the Muffins have subsequently released alternative versions of their much-beloved track, including an acoustic track for its 30th anniversary.
Echo Beach earned a SOCAN Classic Award in 2012.
Martha Johnson summed up the song’s universal appeal for the dub label Echo Beach (named for the Muffins recording): “The reinvention of Echo Beach by so many artists brings new life and a new audience to the song. After all, don’t we all long to get back to the beach?”
JUNO and CASBY award winner Mark Gane was influenced by the innovative English rock band Roxy Music and the songwriting of Bryan Ferry. With Martha Johnson, he co-produced the Juno-winning children’s album “From the Tree House.” Their co-written Black Stations/White Stations peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. dance charts. Gane continues to score film and TV shows with Martha Johnson, and to create and exhibit his visual art.