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Toronto, Canada's quirky popsters Barenaked Ladies were never ones to follow a trend. They were more interested in making someone laugh than being astute and serious. Most of all, a friendship consumed this band, and that bond cemented their place in alternative rock.
Teenage friends Ed Robertson and Steven Page found themselves laughing at the innocent and childlike term "barenaked lady" while attending a Bob Dylan concert in 1988. Both Robertson and Page agreed that it would make a funny band name, and since the duo was already into rock music and playing guitar, the Barenaked Ladies were born. Joining them were bass man Jim Creeggan, his brother Andy on keyboards, and drummer Tyler Stewart, and the Barenaked Ladies began to blend their comic relief sensibilities inside an eclectic mix of jazz, folk, and rock.
The famous self-titled Yellow Tape (1991) captured BNL's first independently recorded material. However, Canadians weren't too fond of the group's naïveté. They were branded a novelty act by some, but The Yellow Tape proved successful when it became the only indie release to achieve platinum status in Canada. Record labels entered an instant bidding war, and Sire won over the band. Their rock & roll dreams were beginning to unfurl. Their zany, wacky, and hip debut, Gordon, was released in 1992, and college kids across North America were keen on singles such as "Be My Yoko Ono," "Enid," and the charming favorite "If I Had a $1,000,000." Canadian contemporaries also warmed up to the silliness of "If I Had a $1,000,000" and BNL began their reign as Canada's pop kings, alongside the Tragically Hip. Not everyone was amused, however. Toronto mayor June Rowlands considered the band's name to be sexist and demeaning to women, and therefore forbade the Barenaked Ladies from playing a local gig in 1992. In typical style, BNL laughed it off and resumed their schedule.
At the height of grunge, Ben Mink came around to produce the acoustically mellow Maybe You Should Drive in 1994. Songs like the jaunty "Alternative Girlfriend" and the sweetly melodic "Jane" were college radio favorites, but changes were on the way. Before they could collect themselves for a third album, Andy Creeggan left the band in order to finish college and Look People guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Hearn hopped on board for BNL's joint tour with Billy Bragg...and never left. Hearn joined the band for 1996's obscuro-pop album Born on a Pirate Ship and again BNL charted new celebrity territory by appearing on an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 to perform their Top 40 hit "The Old Apartment." Success was fast, leaving BNL to sell out countless summer shows. This merry mayhem was captured on the band's first live album, Rock Spectacle (pronounced "rock-spek-tak"). The uninhibited and playful effort introduced a new audience to the aspect of the band that had been winning them fans since they started -- their live shows. It even included one of their signatures -- improvised rapping and stage banter. Rock Spectacle was BNL's first album to be certified gold in the U.S. The Barenaked Ladies had finally arrived, positioning themselves to take over America -- and the pressure was on.
Stunt, the band's fifth album, was issued in July 1998, marking a pivotal time for BNL. "One Week" was their most popular hit to date, and Stunt debuted at number three on Billboard. The North American Stunt Tour moved them from theaters and clubs and made them stadium sweethearts. Sadness loomed over BNL's carefree effervescence, however. Hearn had been diagnosed with leukemia earlier that spring and spent almost six months recuperating. Geggy Tah's Greg Kurstin and multi-instrumentalist Chris Brown, a fellow BNL comrade, filled in for Hearn on tour. After a bone marrow transplant in October, Hearn was free of all cancerous cells and BNL was at their finest.
The Don Was-produced Maroon followed two years later and did moderately well with "Pinch Me" and constant touring. Still their comical selves, and now glorified pop stars, Maroon introduced a more mature group and Page's lyrics had now become more abrasive. They grew into men, some of them marrying and having children by this time, so the progression was natural. That same year, BNL won two Juno Awards for Best Pop Album and Best Group, as well as being nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "Pinch Me."
They proved to be unstoppable, and still enjoyed their rise to fame and had fun at the same time. Taking its title from their song "Box Set," a greatest-hits collection, Disc One: All Their Greatest Hits (1991-2001), was issued in fall 2001 and celebrated BNL's work and bond as a musical family. Two years later, the band returned with Everything to Everyone. Barenaked Ladies Are Me and the companion album Barenaked Ladies Are Men followed in 2006 and 2007 respectively. ~ MacKenzie Wilson, All Music Guide
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