I had this album in the mid-eighties; I think I might’ve been late to The Payola$, and that maybe the band’s “Eyes of a Stranger” – ubiquitous thanks to the video, and MuchMusic’s need for Canadian content in its early days – had already been a hit.
Anyway, that wasn’t the song I liked on No Stranger to Danger, which was the Vancouver group’s second full-length. The opening track “Romance” is a killer, and “Some Old Song” and “Youth” still get my blood flowing, if just a little.
Video – The Payola$, “Romance”:
Growing up, I was a sucker for singer/lyricist Paul Hyde‘s jaded romanticism on songs like “Rose” (about a junkie) and “Hastings Street” (about a junkie). I have to laugh now, looking back on the 18 or 19-year-old me, listening to “Hastings Street” and not knowing a thing about the street outside of the song. Now, of course, having lived in Vancouver for decades, Hastings Street is part of the landscape, like the mountains and Telus Science World.
Getting back to The Payola$: one of their shows in Winnipeg – at the Centennial Concert Theatre, if memory serves – was one of the first times I got backstage, I think because I’d written a story on the band for my community college rag. I remember for some reason asking Hyde about the future of the band, and him saying something about the group having to make some money soon or they would go “tits-up.” It was the first time I’d ever heard the term (Hyde would’ve been 10 years old than me, probably 29 or 30).
There were a lot of interesting things about The Payola$; they weren’t punk and they weren’t quite new wave, either. No Stranger to Danger has ’80s production but the songs hold up. The Clash was obviously a huge influence – The Payola$ too dabbled with reggae and ska. The band’s creative engine was comprised of schoolboy chums Hyde, a British emigré, and Bob Rock, originally from Winnipeg. In the ’90s and beyond, Rock would become a sought-after producer (Bon Jovi, Metallica, Aerosmith), but No Stranger to Danger was produced by Mick Ronson.
Ronson is a whole other story – he was David Bowie‘s guitarist for awhile and formed Mott the Hoople with Ian Hunter. Ronson continued to play with Hunter during the latter’s solo career, although probably around the time of No Stranger to Danger, The Clash’s Joe Strummer and Mick Jones were producing Hunter’s Short Back n’ Sides album. Full circle.
The Payola$ recorded a third record, 1983’s Hammer on a Drum, which featured the hit “Never Said I Loved You”, a duet with Rough Trade’s Carol Pope (and now we’re really heading down the rabbit hole of ’80s Canadiana). I think “Where is This Love” might also have been a hit on Canadian radio and MuchMusic. My favourite songs on the album were both on the second side, however; “Christmas is Coming” is another Hyde-ian junkie’s lament and an unjustly forgotten Christmas anthem, and record-closer “People Who Have Great Lives” is a joyous, life-loving rocker.
Eventually the band devolved into Paul Hyde and The Payola$ and then just Rock and Hyde for the 1987 album Under the Volcano. That record too had some memorable songs, though, including “Dirty Water”, “The Blind the Deaf and the Lame” and another of my favourite Hyde/Rock rockers, “Middle of the Night”.
Since then, the duo have only released one seven-song EP, 2007’s Langford Part One (named after the Vancouver Island community where Hyde and Rock grew up). Alas rock ‘n’ roll can be cruel and I guess there wasn’t enough of a demand for a Part Two. Rock ‘n’ roll also never forgets, though, and I hope this little tribute will encourage some people to check out The Payola$. And for those who remember, please share any Payola$ tidbits you might have in the comments section.