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The Diodes

The Diodes - Red Rubber Ball / We're Ripped - 7

Red Rubber Ball / We're Ripped - 7"
Columbia - 1977

Michael Panontin
When the Ramones visited Toronto in September 1976 to play a couple of shows at a small theatre on Yonge Street, legend has it that everyone in attendance went on to form their own punk band. There is always at least a grain of truth in every bit of hyperbole, and in this case that grain took root in a couple of students there that night. "The first punk show I saw was the Ramones at the New Yorker," the Diodes singer Paul Robinson would tell Sam Sutherland in his excellent Perfect Youth: the Birth of Canadian Punk. "That gig was important to everyone," the band's guitarist John Catto chimed in.

The pair had bonded in university over of a love of off-beat rock and roll, especially the sounds emanating from New York City's lower east side. So when the Talking Heads were booked to play the A-Space gallery the following year, the guys jumped at the opportunity to open for them. With seven or eight hastily scribed songs to their credit, the Diodes took the stage that January night and by all accounts did well enough to at least consider continuing in the barely nascent Toronto punk scene.

But when an early gig in the basement of the Colonial Underground erupted in a riot, local punk bands found themselves blackballed from playing in bars across the city. The ever resourceful Diodes, who by now had added bassist Ian Mackay and drummer John Hamilton, took the DIY spirit to its obvious next level and booked a space that would blow the whole scene wide open.

Number 15 Duncan Street was a converted warehouse in an otherwise seedy district just to the west of downtown. The top floor was occupied by "this weird, radical arts group" called the Centre for Experimental Art and Communication. The basement there was vacant, and co-founder Bruce Eves offered it to the band as a rehearsal space in exchange for some backing music for an experimental seven-inch called 'Raw' / 'War' he was planning to include with the CEAC's summer newsletter. But as was often the case with punks, things got a bit out of hand. "They went off to Europe for the summer, leaving the keys with us," laughed Robinson. "We opened up this club without telling them."

That club, the now-infamous Crash 'n' Burn, lasted barely a few months before it was forced to close. But so many bands passed through its doors, either to play or to hang out, that by the time fall rolled around punk was on the verge of becoming mainstream and, perhaps more to the point, the Diodes had managed to score a contract with Columbia Records.

"Literally, the day after the Crash 'n' Burn closed, CBS asked to hear some demos," said Catto. By September, the four were in the studio recording the tracks that would grace their debut LP, including a charmingly punked-up version of Paul Simon and Bruce Woodley's 'Red Rubber Ball', a #1 hit in Canada for the Cyrkle in the summer of 1966. Though the Diodes' version only reached a modest #96 up here in Canuckistan, it opened things up for the guys in a big way. "We toured with the Ramones. We played all over the States and Canada. Then all of a sudden, we were playing the El Mocambo, which never would have given us the time of day," recalls Robinson.

Unfortunately, there was no happy ending in the Diodes' narrative. Like many of the yobs who came to the Crash 'n' Burn to stupidly smash things because, "It's punk, man", the suits at CBS completely misunderstood the band, trying desperately to fit them into some gimmicky stereotype of safety pins and violence. By December of 1978, with Christmas just around the corner, and with new material recorded, including what would become their biggest hit, the catchy 'Tired of Waking Up Tired', the Diodes were unceremoniously dropped by the label.

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