Barenaked Ladies, frequently abbreviated BnL (no, not that one), are a Canadian alternative rock band formed in 1988. When they hit it big, they did it with a quirky style that could convey alternatively humour or heartbreak at will. In doing so, they redefined what Canadian popular music could be, and showed that Canada never needed to copy any other culture.
They got their name when founding members Ed Robertson and Steven Page were discussing names for a band during a Bob Dylan concert; when they went to sign up for a music competition shortly thereafter, and realised they needed to come up with a band name on the spot, they panicked and the rest is history.
Although their first hit song was a dynamite cover of Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," they soon began making considerable waves with their own creations with a cheap independently produced demo tape, called The Yellow Tape, that was rejected by all the music labels. With nothing else to do with it, the band started selling copies at their concerts and it caught on like wildfire until it hit national Platinum sales status (100,000), the first ever indie label to do so in Canada. They're mostly known for sometimes intelligently snarky, sometimes just plain goofy lyrics, a tendency to improvise, and a light-hearted stage show combining all of the above.
Once banned by the mayor from playing at a New Year's venue in their native Toronto due to their "obscene" name, they were later given the key to the city. There's a message in there somewhere.
The line-up has changed thrice, with Andy Creeggan leaving prior to the recording of Born On a Pirate Ship, Kevin Hearn arriving after said recording (but before the release), and Steven Page leaving the group for a solo career in 2009. The current band consists of:
- Ed Robertson: Guitar/Vocals
- Kevin Hearn: Keyboard/Vocals/Guitar/Other
- Tyler Stewart: Drums
- Jim Creeggan: Bass/Vocals
- Gordon (1992)
- Maybe You Should Drive (1994, last album with Andy Creeggan)
- Born On a Pirate Ship (1996)
- Rock Spectacle (1996) (First Live Album)
- Stunt (1998, first studio album with Kevin Hearn, also the album that has "One Week" on it)
- Maroon (2000)
- Everything to Everyone (2003)
- Barenaked for the Holidays (2004, holiday album, in that it has songs about Hanukkah as well as Christmas)
- Barenaked Ladies Are Me (2006)
- Barenaked Ladies Are Men (2007)
- Talk To The Hand: Live In Michigan (2007) (Second Live Album)
- Snacktime! (2008 kids' album)
- All In Good Time (2010)
- Grinning Streak (2013)
- Silverball (2015)
- Fake Nudes (2017)
This band shows examples of:
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In the song "Grade 9", the band members reminisce about embarrassing nicknames they were given in high school:Jim: "They called me chicken legs!"
Andy: "They called me four-eyes!"
Steve: "They called me fatso!"
Tyler: "They called me buckwheat!"
Ed: "They called me Eddie."
Bar brawlers and drifters
- "Jerome" has an example of this with actual crimes:
Gamblers and gun fighters
Ladies of the evening
...and copper miners
- Audience Participation: During concerts, people would throw Kraft Dinner during the line that mentions it in "If I Had $1000000."
- People in the know don't throw...
- For a while they didn't perform the song because they were tired of getting hit with boxes (on the live version, you can hear them complain about it after the line). These days, any boxes that do get thrown are donated to food pantries.
- They also have donation boxes at their concerts with signs requesting that your Kraft dinners go there instead of the stage.
- Similarly, people sometimes throw underwear on stage during "Pinch Me". Yes, for that lyric. See Heh Heh, You Said "X" below.
- People in the know don't throw...
- Ascended Fan: Steven Page is an avid fan of The Mountain Goats and has performed with them during the Ships and Dip cruise.
- Similarily Kevin Hearn is a fan of relatively unknown Dutch band Nits and has played with them at their 30 year celebration in 2004, also getting their drummer Rob Kloet to play on his solo efforts.
- Bad Santa: His elves have a few grievances to discuss in "Elf's Lament"
- Bait-and-Switch: Their cover of "Jingle Bells," which begins as a sombre piano ballad before unexpectedly bursting into the much more uptempo version we all know, only getting more and more ridiculous as it goes along.
- The Band Minus the Face: Following Steven Page's departure.
- Band of Relatives: Bassist Jim Creeggan and former pianist/percussionist Andy Creeggan are brothers.
- Bilingual Bonus: A line in "Maybe Not" has the Dutch curse "donder maar op". roughly translated to "Fuck off", so it triples as both a Precision F-Strike and Getting Crap Past the Radar.
"Consider yourself told in Dutch"
- It also is Lampshaded by the next line:
- Boggles the Mind: In "Conventioneers", two co-workers hanging out in the same hotel room are playing Scrabble. One plays the word "LOVE". Despite their best attempts to awkwardly laugh it off, Coitus Ensues.
- Bookends: Not counting hidden content, "Crazy", the last song on Gordon, ends with the riff from "Hello City", the first song on the album.
- Brick Joke: "I'd buy you a fur coat but not a real fur coat, that's cruel." In the next verse, they sing "I'd buy you a green dress, but not a real green dress, that's cruel."
- A possibly unintentional one: Track 9 on Barenaked Ladies Are Me is called "Maybe You're Right". Track 9 on the follow-up album Barenaked Ladies Are Men is called "Maybe Not".
- Calling the Old Man Out: "Great Provider".
- The Cameo: The song "Snacktime!!" features several friends of the band stating some of their favorite snacks via phone call, including Geddy Lee, Jason Priestly, and "Weird Al" Yankovic.
- Canada, Eh?
- Captain Obvious: "If I had $1000000...I'd be rich." Despite the obvious Canadian currency jokes in the 90s, one million in Canadian was still worth a lot. Nowadays it's almost exactly as much as a million American dollars, and often more than that in the years since the 2009 recession.
- Careful with That Axe: The live version of "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank" takes a sudden nosedive in tone near the climax, with a few whispered lyrics immediately followed by Steven screaming the final lines. Considering what the song is about, it just makes it creepier.
- Celebrity Is Overrated: "Celebrity"."Leave your heart
Lay down your art, you're here for the party
Smile and wave, try to behave
Be happy that they've made you a celebrity"
- Cerebus Syndrome: Before Maroon, the main BnL studio albums predominantly consisted of comical (or at least tongue-in-cheek) songs with one or two serious tracks thrown in for good measure. From Maroon onward, the amount of down-tempo Serious Business in each album has increased.
- Christmas Songs: The album "Barenaked For the Holidays", with both original and familiar Christmas songs, as well as a couple of Hanukkah songs.
- Conversational Troping: "Box Set" seems to discuss just about every music trope that an aging musician past his prime will inevitably run into.
- "It's All Been Done" is basically a song about romantic clichés.
- Corpsing: Steven Page can be heard trying in vain not to lose it on both "The King of Bedside Manner" and their incredibly ridiculous cover of "Jingle Bells." You can practically see Page and Robertson smiling on the last verse of "If I Had $1000000" and trying to hold it in after Page ad-libbed the "not a real green dress" line.
- Creator Breakdown: Analysed in "Brian Wilson," with multiple shout outs to different major signposts in Wilson's actual Creator Breakdown. Later turned meta when Brian Wilson covered "Brian Wilson."
- A Date with Rosie Palms: One possible interpretation of "It's Only Me (The Wizard of Magicland)."
- Duct Tape for Everything: According to "Duct Tape Heart", if your heart is broken, you can just make a new, more durable one out of duct tape! note
- Even Evil Has Standards: The song "Bank Job" was about a gang of bank robbers who call off a job when they enter the bank, only to find the bank was full of nuns.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: The one line in "If I Had $1000000": "Haven't you always wanted a monkey?"
- Also, the entire point of "Another Postcard."
- Executive Meddling: Discussed in "Box Set": "Disc Two, it was all brand new, an album's worth of songs/But we had to leave the whole disc blank 'cause some other label bought 'em."
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Born On A Pirate Ship is named after a childhood attempt at this; try saying the album name while sticking your tongue out and pinching it.
- The song "Go Home" has the line "And if you think of her as Catherine the Great, then you should be the horse that helps her meet her fate". note
- Gilligan Cut: An awkward moment of Unresolved Sexual Tension in "Conventioneers" leads to this:And we laugh... and we laugh... and we laugh
And we have to or we'll end up in the bath
(next verse) And now we're in the bath...
- Granola Girl: "Alternative Girlfriend" has shades of this.
- Hand-or-Object Underwear: On the cover of their live album for the Au Naturale tour, all five then-members of the band are fully naked and use their hands in this manner, in combination with Speech-Bubble Censoring (technically, it's the album title). On the poster that advertised the tour itself, the "object" covering BNL's nudity was co-headliner Alanis Morissette, who was also naked herself and using hand underwear.
- Heh Heh, You Said "X": "Pinch Me": "I could hide out under there/I just made you say underwear." This usually causes audiences to throw underwear. Ed tends to lampshade the audience's reaction by changing the line to "I just made you throw underwear."
- Hurricane of Puns: "Adrift". It works because they're mostly Stealth Puns, and combine with the music to make a surreal effect on the whole.
- I Don't Know Mortal Kombat: Ed once got a very poor score when trying to perform "One Week" in public on Karaoke Revolution. His reaction? "Lousy? I wrote this song!"
- If I Were a Rich Man: "If I Had $1,000,000" is about what a guy might buy with that money, such as buying his girl a fake fur coat.
- Imagine the Audience Naked: Or, Imagine Everyone Naked. Early in their career, when the band had trouble finishing a song for Gordon ("The King of Bedside Manor"), someone suggested that the band should try this – only without the "imagine" part. The resultant "over-the-top nervous energy" of the recording, as producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda described it, inspired the band to do this for one song per album until 2003.
- Improv: It's not uncommon during concerts to see them making up songs on the spot, or humorous interjections when the band is shooting the breeze on stage.
- Incredibly Long Note: "Break Your Heart"
- Also the opening syllable in "Eraser"
- Steven's "fat lady" in "Tonight Is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel".
- There's a very subtle one at the end of "Helicopters".
- The Insomniac: "Who Needs Sleep?"
- Intercourse with You: A few rare depressing examples including "In the Car" (a song about two people having sex despite no emotional connection) and "Conventioneers" (about a man sleeping with a co-worker and regretting it afterward).
"Back and forth like a choo-choo train."
- Then there's "In The Drink".
- Ironic Echo / Meaningful Echo: The line "You're the last thing on my mind" in the song "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" goes from meaning "I'm not thinking about you" to something completely different by the end of the song.
If I had a million dollars
- The titular line, 'It's all been done,' may be this as well, with the final repetitions of the phrase being literal if the subjects of the song are reminiscing at the end of time.
- From "If I Had $1000000":
(If I had a million dollars)
Well, I'd buy you a fur coat
(But not a real fur coat; that's cruel)
Well, I'd buy you a green dress
(But not a real green dress; that's cruel)
Anyone with half a heart would help me out
- The titular line to "Half a Heart" goes from "even someone who barely cares would help me" to "even someone who would normally help would leave me to my fate" in each chorus:
Before they ever let the other half find out
But if they could see how far I've let you down
Anyone with half a heart would let me drown
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Their live album Rock Spectacle is pronounced "Rock Spec-tac". The "le" is silent. note
- Inverted with "We're dans le maison" in "One Week." They pronounce it "Don luh Mays-on," and in at least one interview tried to pretend "Don Lemazon" was the manager for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It's actually French for "in the house."
- It's Been Done: "It's All Been Done", obviously.
- Least Rhymable Word: "Four Seconds" manages to rhyme the word "orange" three times (with "door hinge", "four-inch", and the amusingly strained "store in Germany", respectively).
- Location Song: "Hello City" is a Take That! aimed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
- Long-Runner Line-up: The time between their first roster change and the second was 14 years.
- Loony Fan/Stalker with a Crush/Yandere: The song "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank" is written from the perspective of a male one of these. By the end of the song, he's gone off the deep end and has murdered the object of his affections.
- The object of said affections is Anne Murray.
- Lyrical Cold Open: "I Know", "Break Your Heart", "Have You Seen My Love?", "One and Only", "Jerome", "The Love We're In", "Enid", several tracks on Snacktime!, and most famously, "One Week" and the theme song to The Big Bang Theory.
- Lyrical Dissonance: All too common. One example that springs to mind is "Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel," an upbeat, cheery song reminiscent of carnival music - sung from the perspective of a guy bleeding out in the street. It actually features a calliope.
"I'll be that girl and you would be right over
- "In the Drink". An easy-going, jazzy little song in which Jim Creeggan declares, "I want to drink your blood".
- The king of this must be "I'll Be That Girl", a rather bouncy song about pining over an overly self-absorbed person, and what he'd do if he were her.
And if I were a field, you would be in clover
And if I were the sun, you would be in shadow
And If I had a gun, there'd be no tomorrow"
- "Alcohol" is an upbeat little ditty about alcohol. It's also an upbeat little ditty about alcoholism.
- "Fun and Games" fits the bill, considering it's a happy little ditty that includes the line "We knew your sons and daughters would be blown in half."
- "Angry People" is a happy-sounding song (complete with tap-dance segment in the bridge) about...well, the title says it, really.
- Male Frontal Nudity: While not seen by the public, there was formerly plenty of this in the studio. From 1992 until 2003, the band had a tradition to record one song per album completely naked, a rule that applied to anyone else in the studio as well. See if you can listen to the following "naked tracks" in the same way knowing how they were recorded:
- Gordon: "The King of Bedside Manor" (see Imagine Everyone Naked, above)
- Maybe You Should Drive: "Intermittently"
- Born on a Pirate Ship: "Back" (left off the final album, but released a year later as a B-side to "Brian Wilson (2000)")
- Stunt: "Alcohol" (the only naked track to be released as a single)
- Maroon: "Humour of the Situation"
- Everything to Everyone: "Sign Me Up" (left off the final album, and remains unreleased; described by the band as "basically us swearing our heads off for six minutes")
- In interviews for Barenaked Ladies Are Me, the band confirmed they had abandoned the tradition, saying it had gotten old. However, the first album to not include a naked track was, perhaps ironically, 2004's Barenaked for the Holidays.
- Miniscule Rocking: "Little Tiny Song", appropriately enough.
- Mondegreen: "Tonight Is The Night I Fell Asleep At The Wheel" makes deliberate reference to one of the more famous ones, "Slow-motion Walter, the fire engine guy."
She got a new apartment
- Also invoked in "Testing 1-2-3" in the second verse:
It's out on the escarpment
And in her glove compartment are my songs
She hasn't even heard them
Since she found out what the words meant
She decided she preferred them all wrong.
- Motor Mouth: "One Week" — apparently, even they have trouble getting the lyrics right.
- "Pinch Me", "Another Postcard", "The History of Everything", "Four Seconds", and "Odds Are" also qualify. "Testing 1, 2, 3" even lampshades this, possibly expressing some frustration at the fact that their songs without "a bunch of really fast rhymes" don't seem to get as much attention.
- Non-Appearing Title: They completely averted the Album Title Drop up until Snacktime. All in Good Time still manages to avert it because the title track was ultimately left off of the album.
- Their best-of collection, Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits, notably lacks "Box Set", the very song that inspired its title.
- Finally averted with Silverball, which was even given its own video.
- Nonindicative Name: The band is actually composed entirely of fully-clothed men.
- Although on each of their albums from Gordon (1992; their first major label release) to Everything to Everyone (2003), they did record one song per album completely naked. (On a couple of occasions, however, the "naked track" ended up coincidentally being left off the final album.) The concept was abandoned while recording 2006's Barenaked Ladies Are Me; the band said it had gotten old.
- Ode to Intoxication: "Alcohol" is a deconstructed version.
- One-Hit Wonder: Discussed in "Box Set".
- Only Sane Man: "Get in Line" wavers back and forth between this and total Paranoia Fuel.Dictate a memo to myself, try to find if I'm the only one in complete health.
- Overly Long Name: Ed's full name is Lloyd Edward Elwyn Robertson. He claims that he came by this name as the result of a bet his father made.
- Perverse Sexual Lust: Surprisingly in One Week:Gotta get in tune with Sailor Moon, 'cause that cartoon has got the boom anime babes, That make me think the wrong thing.
- Power of Love: According to 'Odds Are', you have a much better chance of falling in love by the time the track ends, than you would die in a multitude of horrible ways... Which the bulk of the song, sans-chorus, spends detailing.
- So, it's an example of the statistical power of love?
- Precision F-Strike: A group strike at the end of "Go Home".
- Protest Song: Discussed in "Helicopters".
- Also all of the War On Terror songs noted under Take That! below.
- Rockumentary: Barenaked In America.
- Reincarnation: Theme of "It's All Been Done".
"His fontanelle pulses with lives that he's lived, with memories he'll learn to ignore
- Although it's left ambiguous whether it's reincarnation or really boring immortality.
- Could even be Time Travel.
- More notably, "When You Dream". It's practically an ode to this.
And when it is closed, he already knows, he's forgotten all he knew before"
- Although it's left ambiguous whether it's reincarnation or really boring immortality.
- Shout-Out: Soooo very many, especially on their earlier albums.
- Rush's "Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit of Radio", and Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy" are sampled and a reference to "Stairway to Heaven" is made during "Grade 9".
- The band repeats the phrase "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto" several times in "The King of Bedside Manor".
- Not to mention the fact that they do so immediately after yelling "STYX!"
- Among other things, The X-Files, Sailor Moon, Akira Kurosawa, Snickers candy bars, Sting, and LeAnn Rimes are all referenced in "One Week".
- "Odds Are" features the lyrics "twenty-three or four to one" which is a reference to Chicago's song "25 or 6 to 4".
- The video of "One Week" starts with a homage to the "Doll on a Music Box" scene in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
- "Brian Wilson".
- Not only is "Silverball" a thinly-veiled shout-out to Pinball, but the lyrics also include shout-outs to the Lord of the Rings game and the original pinball rock opera, Tommy.
- "Pollywog in a Bog" contains a reggae breakdown in the style of Prince Fleeswallow from Parappa The Rapper, complete with his famous "Ribbit, ribbit!" chant.
- "Four Seconds" gives a subtle nod to Canadian band Blue Rodeo.
- Snow Means Love:
- The holiday song "Footprints" is basically all about this trope.
- As is the "Winter Wonderland" song.
- Speech-Bubble Censoring: The cover of the live album Au Naturale Live features this (even if it was technically the album title) combined with Hand-or-Object Underwear.
- Spell My Name with an "S": "If I Had $1000000" is the proper way of writing one of their hit's titles, not "If I Had a Million Dollars" or "If I Had $1,000,000".
- Stalker with a Crush: "Straw Hat and Old Dirty Hank" is a song from the viewpoint of one of these. Inspired by... a farmer who was arrested for stalking Anne Murray.
- Also a common (but inaccurate) interpretation of "The Old Apartment".
- Stealth Pun: Basically the entirety of Adrift:"The onion rings, the phone makes me cry."
"The water falls, the fire flies
"You're an abacus and my heart was counting on us"
"The birches bark, the willows weep
But I lie awake
I'm adrift without a snowflake"
- Step Up to the Microphone: As well as usual lead vocalists Steven Page and Ed Robertson, every other band member has been the lead vocalist on at least one song. These songs are often Out-Of-Genre Experiences, if not downright Big Lipped Alligator Moments.
- On Gordon, Both Creeggan brothers share the lead with Page on "I Love You".
- On Maybe You Should Drive, Andy sings lead on "Little Tiny Song".
- On Born on a Pirate Ship, Jim sings lead on "Spider in My Room" and "In the Drink".
- On Maroon, Kevin sings lead on the Hidden Track "Hidden Sun", which is about his recovery from leukemia.
- On Barenaked Ladies Are Me, Jim sings lead on "Peterborough and the Kawarthas", and Kevin on "Vanishing".
- On Barenaked Ladies Are Men, Kevin sings lead on "Serendipity" and "Another Spin".
- Barenaked For the Holidays and Snacktime! both had a number of songs not led by Ed or Steven. Drummer Tyler Stewart even briefly steps up to the mic on these albums.
- On All in Good Time, their first album after Page's departure, Kevin sings lead on "Another Heartbreak", "Jerome", and "Watching the Northern Lights", while Jim takes the mic on "On the Lookout" and "I Saw It".
- On Grinning Streak, Kevin sings lead on "Daydreamin'".
- Tyler has also assumed lead vocals in live performances of at least one of Page's former songs ("Alcohol"), as has Kevin ("Sound of Your Voice", which Kevin wrote but Steven sang until he left).
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: "The Old Apartment". A guy breaks into an apartment where he and his girl used to live, because he wants some of his old stuff back. In the process, he revisits some old memories and realizes life isn't quite the same now that they've moved away.
- Take That!: The track "Shopping" from "Everything for Everyone" seems to have been inspired by Bush's reaction to 9/11, particularly his near immediate insistence that people "support the American economy" so "the terrorists" don't win.
- "Fun and Games" from "Barenaked Ladies are Men" is a fairly explicit condemnation of the War on Terror.
- Also "Maybe You're Right", "Take It Back", and "Rule the World with Love" off "Barenaked Ladies are Me"
- "Next Time" and "Second Best" also off Everything To Everyone both directly call out George W. Bush.
- The opening track on Gordon, "Hello City", is a Take That to Halifax, Nova Scotia, which according to commenters on SongMeanings gave the band a raucous and rude reception when they played there before becoming famous.
- At least two of the tracks on All In Good Time deal with Ed's frustration with Steve's departure; in an interview, he said that the group owed it to their fans to produce good music because they effing care.
- "Fun and Games" from "Barenaked Ladies are Men" is a fairly explicit condemnation of the War on Terror.
- Technician vs. Performer: Steven was the performer to Ed's technician. As detailed in Barenaked In America, Ed has the guitar skills and a decent singing voice while Steven has the pipes but limited guitar skills.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Lampshaded in "It's All Been Done".
- Turn Your Head and Cough: Lyrics in the chorus of the song "Get In Line" are very reflective of things heard during physical exams, including the phrase "turn and cough."
- Visual Pun: In the video for "Alternative Girlfriend", there's a scene where they smash a whole bunch of pumpkins.
- Vocal Tag Team, before Steven Page left the band. Still done in concert, with Kevin filling in for Steven on some of the older songs.
- Maroon is a notable exception to this rule. Steven dominates the album, with Ed singing lead on only two tracks ("Pinch Me" and "Falling For the First Time") and sharing the lead on "Go Home".
- Grinning Streak is also an exception, being entirely dominated by Ed except for Kevin's "Daydreamin'".
- Word Salad Lyrics: The verses for "One Week," which were really only meant to showcase Ed's rapping skills.
- Wretched Hive: "Jerome" is about a Ghost Town in Arizona that used to be one of these in real life, back in the Wild West days.
- Yoko Oh No: Discussed and justified in their first song, "Be My Yoko Ono."
- Your Cheating Heart: "Off The Hook" is sung in the second person to someone (presumably a woman) who's male partner cheated on them and wants to be forgiven, until their partner catches them calling the person they were unfaithful with, ultimately blowing their second chance.