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Barenaked Ladies

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Barenaked Ladies, clever Canadian band on the razor’s edge of pop and novelty. M EMBERSHIP: Steven Page, gtr., voc. (b. Scarborough, Ontario, June 22); Ed Robertson, gtr., voc. (b. Ontario, Oct. 25, 1970); Jim Creeggan, acou. bs. (b. Feb. 12, 1970); Andrew Creeg-gan, kybd. (b. July 4, 1971); Tyler Stewart, drm. (b. Sept. 21, 1967).

Singing guitarists Steven Page and Ed Robertson knew each other from their grade-school days, but only started playing together in their late teens, when they were working at a camp for musically gifted children. They started making demo tapes just for fun in Page’s basement. They came up with a name for their act during a Bob Dylan concert. They were so bored that they started making up band names, and came up with Barenaked Ladies. The name reflects their songs, once described as a mixture of intellectual hedonism and vaudeville clowning.

Initially, Page and Robertson played on the street, busking for coins. When they started getting paying gigs, they brought the Creeggan brothers on board—Jim on double bass and Andrew on keyboards. With the addition of drummer Tyler Stewart, they had a road-ready quintet.

Through constant touring, frequently opening for alternative bands Corky and Juice Pigs, they became quite popular. With their concentration on entertaining, they were asked to play at Toronto’s annual City Hall New Years Eve Celebration. When the City Council got wind of it, they pulled the plug, saying the band’s name objectified women. Suddenly they became a cause célèbre in the Toronto papers as an illustration of the silliness of political correctness versus common sense. This raised people’s curiosity about “the band causing all the furor.” Their tape, made as a demo, became the first independent cassette release ever to go platinum in Canada.

Sire Records signed them and released their debut album, Gordon . With songs that ranged from the pathos laden “Brian Wilson” to the nutty “Be My Yoko Ono” to the downright strange “Steven Page Is Having a Baby” (Gordon was the baby’s name), the album outsold U2 and Michael Jackson in Canada, eventually moving over 800, 000 copies (or octuple platinum). They were named group of the year at the Juno Awards (the Canadian Grammys), playing the show dressed as clowns. They took Gordon on the road in a show they called “Mr. Rockin’s All You Can Eat Salad Bar Tour.”

While waiting for a flight back from London’s Heathrow Airport after touring Europe, Robertson was notified that his brother had died in a motorcycle accident. They played the next show anyway, rather than canceling a concert for 22, 000 people. Adding to their road woes, Page discovered he couldn’t write on tour. When the concert jaunt finally ended, he invited his friend Steven Duffy from the English bands Duran Duran, Tin Tin, and Lilac Time to spend a week with him in Toronto. Over the course of the next month and a half, they wrote seven songs together. Four of them made it to the group’s next album, Maybe You Should Drive . Meanwhile Andrew Creeggin left the group, and was replaced by Kevin Hearn. With all that turmoil, the relatively somber Maybe You Should Drive didn’t sell well in the U.S. or Canada.

The next two years were tumultuous. When they weren’t on the road, they were dealing with a change in management to the company that represented Lillith Fair creator Sarah McLachlan. They finally recorded Born on a Pirate Ship . The song “The Old Apartment” charted largely due to a video directed by actor Jason Priestly. It eventually hit the Top 40.

Adding to their popularity in the U.S., the song “Shoebox” was used in an episode of the hit TV series Friends . They released a special enhanced EP centered on the song. However, their popularity had ebbed in Canada to the point they couldn’t fill Massey Hall in Toronto only two years after selling out two shows. Their next album, the live Rock Spectacle, renewed interest in a track from Gordon, “Brian Wilson.” The song got Adult Album Alternative radio play and the album sold over a million and a half copies.

In 1998, after ten years together, Page and Robertson got something they desperately wanted: a major worldwide hit. “One Week” got frequent MTV play and topped the charts in the U.S. The album that it came from, Stunt, went Top Ten. The tune, a rapid-fire patter song, included references to Sting, Yoda, Aquaman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Chinese chicken. Stunt sold over one and a quarter million records in its first six weeks. By the end of the year it had sold over three million copies in the U.S. However, Hearn came down with leukemia. While his prognosis was good, Chris Brown took over on keyboards as he recovered.

In the wake of the band’s new popularity, Gordon went gold and Rock Spectacle went platinum.

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