The Infinite Jukebox: Martha and The Muffins’ Echo Beach


It’s just a pop song. A pop song by a Canadian band that turned out to be their only UK hit and their most memorable song, coming halfway between the British New Wave and the American version. But as we already know, pop songs aren’t necessarily only pop songs, and neither is this.
Martha and The Muffins actually had two Martha’s, Johnston who sang and Ladley, who played keyboards. ‘Echo Beach’ has all the makings of a commercial single, a neat introductory guitar riff, a solid, uptempo beat, a yearning chorus and a soaring sax break, leading into one of those repeating outros that, if you’re in tune with the song, can go on for several sections of eternity without you being tired of it.
A solid, smack in the middle of its times, pop song.
But obviously it’s more than just that, or it wouldn’t be on The Infinite Jukebox. Because, though at times I feel like I’m in the minority on this, songs are about words as well as tunes.
It starts with Martha Johnson confessing that she has a habit, after work, of sneaking down to Echo Beach. She sounds a bit defensive about it, it’s uncool, but she can’t help it. But she heads out there to watch the sun go down, because there she’s on her own.
The job’s dull, she’s an office clerk, she works nine to five and the only thing that keeps her going is that every day, at five, she is down there.
Echo Beach may be a place, but it’s more than that, it’s a state of mind. It’s completely alone, completely peaceful, and at the same time completely lonely. But the loneliness is what she craves. Her life is empty, the job offers her nothing by way of fulfilment, and each day, when it’s over, she goes to Echo Beach where she can truly empty her head, of everything but the winds and the water, the sunset and the silence.
On Echo Beach, there’s not a soul around. On Echo Beach, waves make the only sound.
Each day, she draws the emptiness into her, but it’s the emptiness she chooses for herself, the place she goes to find herself, where no-one else can find her.
And the rising tempo of the song crashes into the sax solo, screeching and straining, roaring and soaring, saying what can’t be said. Echo Beach is not a place, it’s a state of mind, and under the cover of a catchy beat and a chorus that invites our voices to join in, we’re finding for ourselves a place of solitude and beauty, where we can open our minds to something way beyond the human, the limitedness of how we are forced to live our lives.
And the beat returns, the music clears, and Martha and Martha come together to repeat, over and over, ‘Echo Beach, far away in time’, until we realise that this quasi-mystical place of peace and release is no more, that whatever and wherever Martha is doing, she no longer has Echo Beach, except in her mind, and we all of us yearn with her for that place when we can simply be, in the moment, and not let anything else in the world affect us.
We yearn so often in vain.
Echo Beach, far away in time, Echo Beach, far away in time…

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