Jan 09

The Top 100 Tracks Of All Time: 35. Matha & The Muffins – Echo Beach

FT/6 comments • 1,790 views

Some songs stand outside of time. Often they are one hit wonders, divorced from a bands career and existing with no backstory outside the song itself. So to me Echo Beach has always existed, as one of a clutch of holiday records which sound as great now as when they were released.

Except, except, Echo Beach is also so much of its time. It supplanted Y Viva Espana and perhaps Barbados as the ultimate package holiday record. And to me that is what Echo Beach is all about. I don’t believe that the beach in question is the ultimate secluded destination, it is just that magical beach of that magical holiday. I went on my first foreign holiday, first package holiday – to Malta – in 1980 (far away in time indeed). The package holiday boom had started in the seventies and was now a staple of British life. So that 1980’s trip to Malta coincided with the release of Echo Beach. And for all its saxophone and spiky punk-lite delivery from Martha, it is a song about conformity – it fit on Radio 2 even then. It was about something we can all understand, those little bits of heaven in our mundane lives.

The key couplet, one of the best rhymes in pop, starts the chorus:

From nine till five I have to spend my time at work
My job is very boring, I’m an office clerk

And there but for the grace of our heart go all of us, clerk or not. It is a song of quiet desperation, for all its summery trappings. Because its not really a song about being on holiday, its a song about longing for the holiday, holding on to the memories as the only thing that can get us through the working week. It is a song of surrender dressed in a Hawaiian Shirt. And of course in the UK in 1980, there is even more bitterness and longing. To go on holiday you have to have a job in the first place; unemployment was soaring as this creapt up the charts.

Which is perhaps why its fitting that the beach on the UK sleeve shown above is Chesil Beach. Ian McEwan’s recent novel is arguably the sexual subtext to Echo Beach in novel form. Is Martha longing for Echo Beach for the lovely sunset? She does watch the sun go down twice, dirty crossword style. The On Chesil Beach comparison is hard on McEwan’s novella, Martha and her Muffins version is much easier to dance to.

(Echo Beach was voted the 35rd best Canadian single of all time by a show on CBC. Can you, daerest reader, think of 34 better?
HINT: The Safety Dance came in at number 36).


  1. 1
    Matthew on 19 Jan 2009 #

    CBC’s “best Canadian single of all time” is “Four Strong Winds” by the excitingly-monikered Ian & Sylvia. Lucky it didn’t make UK #1 in 1963; while it has a not entirely charmless melancholy about it, I think it would have gotten not more than 3 or 4 under the Popular marking system…

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Four strong winds seems to have a few fans – not all of them Canadian. I was aware of Neil Young recording it but wikipedia lists several others.
    For a full list of the top 50 Canadian singles look here:
    Maybe we can take a look at these when we finish the popular project? ;-)

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 19 Jan 2009 #

    Now I think of it I have a vague memory of seeing Martha and the Muffins supporting Roxy Music around 1980/81. I can’t remember much besides ‘Echo Beach’

  4. 4
    Lena on 19 Jan 2009 #

    This one made it on to the list (as I recall) by popular acclaim; one of the few that listeners demanded en masse HAD to go on. And yes, it is worth looking at that list as a whole, for sure!

  5. 5
    Seamus on 21 Jan 2009 #

    Echo Beach was a must-have song on any decent party-tape in Australia at the time. Had a great sax break too that just seemed to hit a soaring note of freedom which I guess is what the song was all about! As for Four Strong Winds, I first heard it done by The Searchers and it always impresses Canadians if you can tell them that it’s Alberta’s State Song!

  6. 6
    Pete on 21 Jan 2009 #

    I am quite keen on compiling a list of the best sax breaks in pop, seeing how unpopular they have become. Sure there are some ropey ones, but during this period there are some truly awesome sax breaks which make records. The sax break in Echo Beach always surprises me, in a pleasant way. Its almost like the opposite of the Pretty in Pink, when the original is played and I am expecting sax.

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