On this day in 1961, Matt Johnson, mastermind behind The The, was born in London.
Johnson not only founded the band, but has been its only constant since The The played
their first gig in 1979.
Johnson was raised above the pub the Two Puddings, owned by his father, where Brit
rockers such as David Essex and Long John Baldry played. His interest in music was
furthered by an uncle, who owned nightclubs where legends such as Howlin' Wolf and
the Kinks performed. When Johnson left school at age 15 to work for a music publisher,
he had already been playing in bands such as Road Star.
After a stint in a band called the Gadgets, Johnson formed The The with synthesist Keith
Laws. The duo released the single "Controversial Subject" on the indie label 4AD
Records in 1980. But Laws quickly grew bored and left Johnson alone to do further
recording. Johnson continued making an album with drummer Peter Ashworth and
released it under his own name as Burning Blue Soul in 1981. But he returned to
the moniker The The and signed with an arm of CBS Records for such moody pop
singles as "Uncertain Smile" and "Perfect." With the participation of Squeeze pianist
Julian "Jools" Holland, The The issued Soul Mining, a gold-certified U.K. album,
on Epic Records in 1983.
Johnson found controversy in 1986 when The The issued the single "Sweet Bird of
Truth," which had lyrical content closely aligned with a conflict in Libya. Because of the
track, Epic was advised to remove the U.S. flag from its London offices in case of a
possible Libyan bomb attack. The similarly political Infected (1986) hit the U.K. top
20. The album, which made #89 in the U.S., also spawned the single "Slow Train To
Dawn," featuring singer Neneh Cherry.
As The The began their first major world tour in 1989, they enjoyed another U.S. chart
entry with Mind Bomb, which was inspired by Johnson's interest in the Bible and
the Koran. This version of the band included guitarist Johnny Marr, formerly of the
Smiths, and ex-ABC members James Filer (bass) and David Palmer (drums). In 1992,
The The issued Dusk, which co-producer Bruce Lampcov described as "[John
Lennon's] Plastic Ono Band without the crap songs." The album, which included the
single "Slow Motion Replay," was a U.K. smash, going to #2. Two years later, the band
released the Dis-Infected EP and then Hanky Panky (1995), a
well-received collection of country great Hank Williams' songs.
When Johnson returns with new music, it remains to be seen if The The name will
Other birthdays: Bill Pinckney (Drifters), 73; Nesbert "Stix" Hooper (Crusaders), 60; Pete
York (Spencer Davis Group), 56; and Marcia Schofield (ex-Fall), 35.