By: David McPherson
Rough Trade were innovators. Equal parts new wave, punk, and pop, this Toronto-based band led by Carole Pope and Kevan Staples marched to their own beat. Art, music, and theatre collided in their compositions. The band was a vehicle to have fun—and poke fun—at the world’s shortcomings through lyrics laced with social, sexual, and political satire.
Forty years ago, the band released its second album (For Those Who Think Young) on Bernie Finkelstein’s True North Records. The original title Pope toyed with was replacing Young with Jung (in reference to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung). Finkelstein persuaded the band otherwise. He figured the reference might confuse and alienate a sector of their audience, while those who got it would still get the double entendre. Pope says when penning this title track she also had the tagline for Pepsi in mind.
When told For Those Who Think Young celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2021, Staples is surprised. “In many ways, it doesn’t seem that long ago, and sometimes it does,” he says. “Musicians tend to be young at heart and live in a perpetual state of teenagehood.”
Rough Trade started in the early 1970s, but their commercial peak came in the 1980s after signing with True North. Their first record for the homegrown label (Avoid Freud) was released in the fall of 1980. “High School Confidential,” the controversial, and sexually explicit single from this record was a Top 20 hit and in 2020 was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. For Those Who Think Young continued the band’s trajectory to stardom thanks to another hit single “All Touch,” which was Rough Trade’s biggest commercial success—reaching No.12 in Canada on the RPM charts and No. 58 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Looking back, Finkelstein feels this single could have cracked the Top 40 south of the border if it wasn’t for unfortunate circumstances beyond their control.
“Our distributor in the U.S. went bankrupt the week when we hit No. 58 on Billboard with a bullet,” he recalls. “In the 1970s, ’80s—and even today—if you have a record that is climbing the charts and all of a sudden the record company can no longer ship singles to the stores, pay its promotion people, and deal with radio, your record dies. That is what happened with ‘All Touch.’ It took almost one year to get the rights back…it was a real mess.”
Despite this setback, the record was a huge success. The album brought Rough Trade to new audiences—especially garnering accolades and fans in Europe. The band toured to places they had never been before like Denmark and Holland. Staples doesn’t recall many details about the recording sessions since he, and the rest of the band back in the 1980s, were living in the moment and soaking in the social scene. What he recalls is this: For Those Who Think Young saw the band “stretching [its] creative spirit.” “The album got recognition in other parts of the world and we were well on our way to becoming international stars, but that didn’t quite pan out,” he laughs.
Staples’ three favourite cuts from this record are: “Attitude,” “Baptism of Fire,” and “Sacred and the Profane,” which featured background vocals from Dusty Springfield. “Every one of those songs, when I listen to them today, bring back memories of the people playing them,” says Staples. “I can visualize us on stage somewhere…they are like children, as people often say, songs are your babies, and when you are done, it’s like what next? I tend not to look back, but every once in a while, I’ll listen to one of our tracks and say, ‘That was pretty cool!’”
Carole Pope emanates cool. A leader in the LBGTQ+ community long before these terms existed, the singer-songwriter is not one to look back either. The septuagenarian British-born artist is currently workshopping and trying to finalize financing for Attitude: the Musical based on the life of her brother Howard, a New York-based musician who died of AIDS in 1996. The Pope-penned musical features new compositions as well as many Rough Trade songs, including a handful from For Those Who Think Young. If you listen to the record today, you can see why Pope is using these songs as they lend themselves to a theatrical setting.
Like Staples, Pope does not recall specifics about these sessions 40 years ago. On the sizzling single “All Touch,” the JUNO-winner says: “I don’t know exactly how it came about. It was just a statement of ‘get off me’ and a little bit about fame and vapid people.” The process for writing songs in those days between Staples and Pope was always collaborative. “Kevin would put his musical ideas down on a cassette tape, then I would write lyrics and obsess over them,” she adds.
Working with producer Gene Martynec, a founding member of Kensington Market, at Manta Sound was an incredible experience. This was a time long before Pro Tools and other recording software. “You had to be able to sing a whole track,” Pope says.
FOR THOSE WHO THINK YOUNG FAST FACTS:
ARTIST: Rough Trade (Carole Pope, Kevan Staples, David McMorrow, Terry Wilkins, Buck Berger; Backing vocals: Dusty Springfield, Shawne Jackson, and Colina Philips)
RECORD: For Those Who Think Young
LABEL: True North Records (Canada); Boardwalk Records (U.S.)
STUDIO: Manta Sound (Toronto)
PRODUCER: Gene Martynec/Kevan Staples
ENGINEER: Gary Gray
ALBUM ART: General Idea (Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal, AA Bronson)
- All Touch
- For Those Who Think Young
- Bodies in Collision
- Prisoner in my Skin
- The Sacred & The Profane
- Baptism of Fire
- Fakin’ It
- Blood Lust