Who remembers Minutes from Downtown?
Who remembers Minutes from Downtown? I probably never would have heard of them had I not spent some hours playing DJ at the University of Winnipeg radio station in the early eighties. It was there (I think) that I stumbled upon the band’s single, “Wrapped in Velvet”. The song might have been on the station’s playlist.
It’s a blast of feel-good new wave pop; even better is the B-side, “Wish I Had Stayed”, which benefits from having a little more bite.
Outside of those two songs, which I have on a 7″ single (bought at the time, picturesleeve!), I had never heard anything else from the band, and knew very little – although I knew they were Canadian, and probably from Toronto. And I liked that single, at least when I was 18.
So when, at a Winnipeg record sale this past fall, I came across what I at first thought was a full-length album (but which, upon closer inspection, revealed itself to be a five-song EP), I didn’t hesitate to plunk down my $8 (there was no negotiation on this one with the vendor, I’m afraid).
So what did I get for my money? Here’s a quick synopsis.
Turns out I had heard this one, but have no idea where. Must have been another single. It has an AM-radio-friendly sound, like a Canadian version of Los Angeles New Wavers The Motels (remember them? “Suddenly Last Summer”? Here’s a video (live, lip-synched) of what I consider their finest moment, “Forever Mine” – as perfect a pop song as any to come out of the eighties, in my opinion). “Heaven Street” could have been included on the soundtrack to the (1983) movie Valley Girl; with its chiming intro, it could almost be a Christmas song.
“Wrapped in Velvet”
Hadn’t heard this one in years, but it holds up as catchy, memorable, very ’80s pop. Minutes from Downtown’s indebtedness to ABBA comes through in the melody and vocals. The lyrics are hopeless, though: “You’re an addiction…” Nice bridge, sweet almost flamenco-ish guitar flourishes, and an outro that reminds me of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back”. I’m also reminded of another obscure ’80s band, Boy Meets Girl (I think I still have the cassette! All reasonable offers considered).
“Wish I Had Stayed”
Ah yes. This track has a horn-inflected (well, ’80s-synth-type horns) opening that recalls Manhattan Transfer or something. What I like most about this track is the breathlessness of the chorus; vocalist Lucasta really shines on this one, she really gets to belt it out. There’s a neat percussion break that makes me think of Parachute Club. You could play this one at a parade. Think “Borderline”-era Madonna (in fact, “Borderline” was released in the same year).
“Pushing the Limits of Love”
Getting into unknown territory here. This is the song that opens the second side, and it’s not inspiring optimism for the final track. Pure filler, from the title to the lame lyrics to the afterthought of a chorus. Even Huey Lewis would deem this one cheesy hackwork.
“24 Karat Gold”
Much better. Starts off Parachute Clubby then moves into Motown beat/urgency and back again. The chorus is grabbing me the second time I’m hearing it in a way that it didn’t at first. Minutes from Downtown (the EP) is redeemed…
Just who is Minutes from Downtown?
Fortunately, canadianbands.com has the answer to this and other pressing questions. For instance, the singer’s full name is Lucasta Ross (changed from “Rochas”, according to canadianbands.com), and was briefly in Toronto all-girl band The B Girls (they have a story). Minutes from Downtown’s first single was “Heaven Street” b/w “24 Karat Gold”. And it turns out that “Wrapped In Velvet” b/w “I Wish I Had Stayed” had made the Canadian top 40, so maybe I’d heard the band there?
Anyway, the bio contains a bunch of interesting factoids, including that drummer Graham Stairs went on to produce the Barenaked Ladies. Recommended reading (and listening) for those who perversely enjoy (guilty as charged!) a certain strain of ’80s Canadian new wave pop.