The The's Matt Johnson

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.