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More to Danger than Stranger

Payolas No Stranger to Danger—classic eighties albums
The Payola$’ No Stranger to Danger (1982).

Classic albums of the eighties: Payolas No Stranger to Danger

The Payola$ were a Vancouver band that started out punk, went new wave and featured hard-rock record producer Bob Rock. 

No Stranger to Danger followed 1981’s debut In a Place Like This. That record contained the Canadian college rock radio hit “China Boys.” But Danger’s  “Eyes of a Stranger” gave the group a bona fide hit.

But there’s more to this album than that noir-ish MuchMusic standout. Opening track “Romance” is a killer, and “Some Old Song” and “Youth” still get the old Canadian punk blood flowing.

Video – The Payola$, “Romance”:

Growing up, I was a sucker for singer/lyricist Paul Hyde‘s beyond-his-years romanticism on songs like “Rose” (about a junkie) and “Hastings Street” (about a junkie). I have to laugh, looking back on the 17-year-old me, listening to “Hastings Street” and not knowing a thing about the street outside of the song. Now, having lived in Vancouver for decades, Hastings Street is part of the landscape, like the mountains and Telus Science World.

Payola$ in Winnipeg

One of the first times I got backstage (I think the first was a Colin Wilcox show, at Le Rendez-vous) was a Payola$ show. in Winnipeg. I think because I’d interviewed Hyde for my community college rag. I remember asking Hyde about the future of the band. “We have to tour otherwise we’d go tits-up,” I believe he said. 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 a while 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.

Hammer On a Drum

The Payola$ recorded a third record, 1983’s Hammer On a Drum. It featured “Never Said I Loved You”, a duet with Rough Trade‘s Carol Pope. 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 has 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.

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  1. Sean McCready Sean McCready

    You hit the nail right on the head regarding how well No Stranger To Danger holds up. And not just some of it. IMO the entire album is fantastic and has the kind of frenetic energy and biting honesty that never sounds dated. The synths and production style are definitely of their time but never sound cheesy unlike most other pop/rock music of the era. Any time I find a vinyl copy in decent shape I buy it. I believe I have three or four pristine copies and have tossed a couple which got scratched or damaged over the years. It really was unfortunate that their name really did limit their exposure in the US. Eyes of a Stranger should have been a massive hit on MTV, same thing for Romance, Some Old Song and Rose. I think that if they had been given proper exposure No Stranger to Danger could have been a huge “debut” in the US market with Hammer on a Drum as a very solid next effort with another three or four possible hits.
    It really was a tragedy that Paul Hyde and Bob Rock never managed to make it out of the minor leagues as a unit.

    • Yeah, there are some songs on Hammer On a Drum that I love – “People Who Have Great Lives” springs to mind immediately. Also there were some great tracks on the Rock & Hyde album – “Holy Water” I think was one. At least they had the one hit – albeit in Canada!

      • Sean McCreDy Sean McCreDy

        Yeah I agree that there was usually one decent single on their later albums. And when you listen to the Rock and Hyde or P H & the Payolas albums as a single stand alone they both are above average pop/rock releases. However neither are well served by comparison to the bands earlier stuff. Coming as they did after such a strong one two combo that Stranger and Hammer/Drum were. Specifically, Here’s the World for Ya seems at times to be a overly calculated attempt to manufacture a stateside hit album. It is no wonder that most fans and critics like it the least. Anyway it is awesome to get a chance to talk about one of my personal favorite (and criminally under appreciated) bands with another fan. Mention the Payolas to most people nowadays and you’d be lucky to get anything above a blank stare.

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