The Monroes: A Story of The Music Biz

It's no secret the music biz has always been a "a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs." With a negative side, too.

Case Study: The Monroes.
These guys got together. Typical So-Cal dudes who loved playing music. They found a guy with an amazing voice. Name of Jesus Ortiz. Some folks will tell you he renamed himself "Tony Monroe" because all the guys in the band were adopting "Monroe" names as an anagrammatic play on "The Ramones". But part of it is A&R guys wouldn't sign a rock band with a guy with a Hispanic name fronting it.

They write some songs. They play out. They start to generate interest. They sign with a label based in Japan: Alfa Records. They go into the studio and record a fantastic EP, which features a song called "What Do All The People Know?"

"What Do All The People Know?" is a masterpiece of pop songwriting. The melody is strong, the harmonies are pretty. It's catchy. It's everything you want in a song, and it sounds exactly like the 80s.

So this track starts getting tons of local airplay. The kind where you can feel the wave building and you know it's going to break and fling you to the next level in your career. I've felt that wave tug at my heels more than a few times in my life, but never with the force The Monroes must have felt. Probably because I have yet to write a song as good as "What Do All The People Know?"
"You know I told you once tonight that you could always speak your mind
You work so hard to say what's right
I watch you do it all the time"
That's how the song starts, those ambiguous and surprising words sung in a tone melancholy, pleading, and accusing...over a rather peppy synth intro. The song builds from there, piling hook upon hook.
Could you be the girl I really love?
All the people tell me so
But what do all the people know?
That's the chorus, and I love that twist, that question. So surprising. It's full of wonder, but spiced with suspicion. We've all been there, in a new love's first early rush. Your friends all say "you are perfect for each other". They're all trying to push you together. But what do they know? Especially since they only see a small bit of the relationship. And then when you think you understand the narrator and the song, the bridge hits:
Do you think I'm blind to what you do?
Do you think I really care for you?
Or is it just another game
That you and I pretend to play
Do you think we both should let it show?
Do you think we both should let it go?
Or is it just another game
That you and I pretend to play
Just brilliant. I feel it captures that wary circling and feinting of two loves so well. Plus the song has handclaps.

So they're starting to plan tours - they've opened for the big acts of the day: Toto, Rick Springfield, and Greg Kihn. They're starting to think about a video. They're on the Mike Douglas Show (the Oprah of its day).

And then the bottom falls out of their world: Their Japanese label withdraws from the US market. While they're on tour. Their record is at #56 on the top 100. But now they have no money, no tour...they don't even have records to sell.

After a depressing year of regrouping, they manage to get signed to Columbia, but their spirits are sort of broken. Columbia won't release any of their music, and the band can't get out of the deal. They're stuck. They can't write any songs, their audience has vanished. The wave recedes, and the band slowly disintegrates.

They break up and go their separate ways, and the world never gets to see what else they would have done. MTV would have probably crushed these guys anyhow. By the time they were ready to blow up, video was king. These guys were amazing musicians, but they certainly weren't going to compete with Duran Duran, or even A Flock of Seagulls in the image department.

Here they are. The video is from their appearance on the Mike Douglas Show, but it's been edited to fit the recording of the song.

Monroes, I salute you. You guys were amazing. You deserved better!