Barenaked Ladies

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By combining humor, songcraft, and an eclectic mix of folk and pop/rock, the Barenaked Ladies enjoyed considerable popularity in their native Canada before rising to universal status with 1998′s “One Week.” Vocalists Ed Robertson and Steve Page launched the band in the late ’80s as an acoustic act, traveling to different college campuses and playing warm-up gigs for comedy troupes. These early shows played an important role in the group’s foundation, as Robertson and Page began injecting their performances with humorous between-song exchanges to hold their audiences’ attention. The trick worked, and the band’s mixture of humor and musicianship was forever cemented.

Following the duo’s tour of the college circuit, the Barenaked Ladies expanded into a tight musical group with the addition of bass man Jim Creeggan, his brother Andy on keyboards, and drummer Tyler Stewart. Several cassette tapes were released and helped increase the band’s regional popularity, but 1991′s Yellow Tape was a different animal, selling so rapidly that it soon became the first independently released tape to reach platinum status in Canada. The hype was compounded by the fact that Toronto’s mayor, June Rowlands, considered the band’s name to be sexist and demanding to women, and therefore forbade the Barenaked Ladies from playing a 1991 New Years Eve concert near City Hall. The story found its way onto the front page of The Toronto Star, and sales for Yellow Tape promptly soared. In typical style, BNL laughed the debacle off and booked a different show. Meanwhile, record labels had begun approaching the band with attractive offers, and BNL soon signed with Sire/Reprise and issued their full-length debut,Gordon, in 1992. Featuring “Be My Yoko Ono,” “If I Had a $1,000,000,” and “Brian Wilson,” the album moved over one million units and initiated BNL’s reign as Canadian pop kings.

At the height of grunge’s popularity, producer Ben Mink came aboard to helm the acoustically mellow Maybe You Should Drive in 1994. Songs like the jaunty “Alternative Girlfriend” and the sweetly melodic “Jane” were college radio favorites, but changes were on the way. Before the bandmates could collect themselves for a third album, Andy Creeggan left the lineup in order to finish college and Look People guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Hearn hopped on board for BNL’s joint tour with Billy Bragg. Hearn joined the group as a permanent member for 1996′s obscuro-pop album Born on a Pirate Ship, and the band charted new celebrity territory by appearing on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 to perform their Top 40 hit “The Old Apartment.” Success came fast, and BNL sold out countless summer shows. This merry mayhem was captured on the band’s first live album, Rock Spectacle; the uninhibited and playful effort (complete with improvised rapping and stage banter) introduced a new audience to an aspect of the band that had been winning them fans since they started — their live shows. Rock Spectacle was BNL’s first record to be certified gold in the U.S., and it paved the way for their biggest album to date.

Stunt, the group’s fourth studio effort, was issued in July 1998 and transformed the Barenaked Ladies into commercial heavyweights in both the U.S. and U.K. Buoyed by the chart-topping single “One Week,” the album debuted at number three on the Billboard charts and went on to sell over four million units. The band upgraded to stadium performances for their subsequent North American tour, leaving behind the theaters and clubs of their previous shows, but sadness loomed over BNL’s carefree effervescence. Hearn had been diagnosed with leukemia earlier that spring and spent almost six months recuperating. Geggy Tah’s Greg Kurstin and multi-instrumentalist Chris Brown, a fellow BNL comrade, filled in for Hearn on the Stunt tour. After a bone marrow transplant in October, Hearn was free of all cancerous cells, and BNL were reunited at their commercial peak. Maroon followed two years later and reached platinum status on the success of “Pinch Me,” although the group’s constant touring was also beneficial. Maroon displayed a more mature (yet still comical) band and netted the band two Juno Awards for Best Pop Album and Best Group, as well as a nomination for a Grammy. A greatest-hits collection, Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits (1991-2001), was issued in fall 2001 and celebrated BNL’s work and bond as a musical family.

Two years later, the band released Everything to Everyone and effectively fulfilled their contract with Reprise Records. The album sold relatively poorly, however, and Reprise neglected to offer an extended deal, thus returning the Barenaked Ladies to independent status for the first time since 1992. Unfazed, the group soldiered onward. A holiday record, Barenaked for the Holidays, arrived in 2004, while the companion albums Barenaked Ladies Are Me and Barenaked Ladies Are Men were issued in 2006 and 2007, respectively. – Andrew Leahey

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