Steven Page and Ed Robertson first began playing together in the mid 80’s as part of a Rush tribute. Rumour has it when the Scarborough, ON natives first decided to go out on their own, they got the idea of the name after seeing Bob Dylan in concert, who used the phrase “A barenaked lady isn’t so bad.” Doing the circuit as a quirky duo, they soon hooked up with brothers Jim and Andy Creeggan (bass & piano/drums/percussion respecively) and continued on their merry way after changing their name and doing the metro Ontario scene.
By ’91 Andy Creeggan had moved over predominantly to piano (along with some percusion duties) with Tyler Stewart the new drummer. The band’s penchant for their on-stage humour and impromptu acoustic concerts were a favourite on live radio and in the media, but gained their fair share of negative publicity as well, when then-Toronto mayor June Rowlands wouldn’t allow them to play in Nathan Phillips Square because of the ‘offensive’ nature of their name. The same year saw them wind up on two compilation tracks with “Be My Yoko Ono,” first on a Toronto radio station CD and then on Intrepid Records’ INDIE-CAN ’91.
While in New York the next spring on a promo tour they inadvertently met Sean Lennon (the John Lennon son who DIDN’T sing “Valotte”), who reassured them that their underground fave about his mother didn’t offend her at all. The song wound up on their third independent release. Though it was self-titled, it became know simply as THE YELLOW TAPE and mass-marketed by Page Productions, Steven Page’s father. It also featured other future hits like “Brian Wilson” and “If I Had A Million Dollars.” The tape eventually went gold, the first time in Canadian music history an indie release had reached the 50,000 plateau.
Their first video was also a low budget indie release that year, thanks in part to VideoFact. The quirky cover of Bruce Cockburn‘s classic “Lovers In A Dangerous Time,” around the same time it wound up on Intrepid Records’ KICK AT THE DARKNESS Cockburn tribute album. Much Music picked up on the video and the added publicity began a bidding war, with Sire Records winning the battle. Partly as a publicity stunt, but more at a ‘screw you’ gesture to Rowlands who was still mayor of Toronto, the band held a public signing in Scarborough.
GORDON, their first full length release came out later that year. With the bulk of the recording done at Le Studio in Morin Heights, the record featured a lot of their earlier underground faves remastered and cleaned up. “Enid,” a sarcastic, witty number about a pen-pal love gone wrong became the first single and was repackaged a couple of times, including one that featured “Having A Baby” from their indie days and not on the album as the b-side. “Enid” broke the band mainstream, followed by “Grade Nine.” “Be My Yoko Ono,” the semi-sombre “What A Good Boy,” “Brian Wilson” (also in several single formats – one which also featured the indie only “Trouble With Tracy” as the flip side) and “If I Had A Million Dollars” all helped push the album gold and made the band a household name and the hottest act on the circuit, touring extensively around the continent for the better part of the next year and a half.
They went into Greenhouse Studios in Vancouver and came out with MAYBE YOU SHOULD DRIVE in ’94. Produced by Ben Mink, the lead-off “Jane,” with a live version of “What A Good Boy” as the b-side, “Alternative Girlfriend” and “Life In A Nutshell” all helped make it the band’s second straight gold record. Andy Creeggan at this point decided to pack it in, get dressed and go on to a solo career. More world tours ensued for the next year with Creeggan’s replacement Kevin Hearn. The band recharged their carefree effervescent batteries either hanging out or, in Jim Creegan’s case, found a side project with his brother Andy entitled, appropriately Brothers Creeggan, releasing the first of four collaberations in ’95. The Ladies’ next project, THE SHOEBOX EP, featuring some of their hits from their indie days was released in ’96 to keep the name out there, just before BORN ON A PIRATE SHIP, now featuring Hearn as a full-fledged member, and highlighted by the smash “Old Apartment,” whose video was directed by Jason Priestly (Beverly Hills 90210 fame).
The Montreal and Chicago stops on their world tour that spring resulted in the live lp in ’97, ROCK SPECTACLE, showcasing the band in all its live quirky genius. They finally exploded Stateside in ’98 with the release of STUNT, and the Billboard topping single, “One Week.” The guys then whore’d themselves out by lending the song to a car commercial, but cashed in big time by doing so. The album would go on to sell two million copies in the US alone, due also in part to its second single, “It’s All Been Done.” Other tracks included “Light Up My Room,” “I’ll Be That Girl,” “In The Car,” “When You Dream” and a remake of “Who Needs Sleep?” (the ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ song), prompting a North American tour that moved them from theatres and clubs and made them stadium sweethearts. But all wasn’t well in the Ladies’ locker room. Hearn had been diagnosed with leukemia during the recording sessions and spent the next six months recuperating. Hearn missed the big tour, replaced by Greg Kurstin and Chris Brown. But after a bone marrow transplant in October, Hearn was given the green light to go and rejoined the band.
They came back stronger than ever in August 2000 with the upbeat pre-release single “Pinch Me”, followed by MAROON. With Don Was behind the controls, the album showed the steadily progressing maturity of the band, though they hadn’t lost their sense of comic relief even though they were now bona-fide pop stars around the globe. Tracks like “Pinch Me,” the lead-off “Too Little Too Late,” “Falling For The First Time” and “Humour of the Situation” showcased a more indepth BNL. Page and Robertson both proved they couldwrite more substantial, if not sometimes abrasive lyrics. That same year marked the band’s first time up at the Junos podium, winnign for both Best Pop Album for STUNT and Best Pop Group. They were also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with for “Pinch Me.”
After the self-explanatory DISC ONE – ALL THE GREATEST HITS in ’01, and entering the DVD age a year later with a self-titled compilation of studio and live videos mixed with behind the scenes footage, they returned from the studios with EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE in the spring of ’03. Criticized for trying to take themselves too seriously, the album was a serious alternative/pop album that lacked the in-tongue poke at life that brought them to the dance, but touched on more political and social issues with a personal apporach. Tracks like “Celebrity,” “War On Drugs,” “Unfinished,” “Maybe Katie,” “Second Best” and “Another Postcard” warranted more sold out shows across the globe.
The next couple of years were for the most part spent off the road and taking it easy while the band enjoyed time with families and friends. They jumped on the Xmas album bandwagon in ’03, releasing BARENAKED HOLIDAYS in conjunction with a CBC TV special. Along with the usual assortment of holiday classics, the record also featured some less traditional offerings, including “Green Christmas,” (which was also featured on the ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ featuring Mike Myers along with “Grim Grinning Ghosts”), the African Aid classic “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” with Sarah McLaughlin.
They again found themselves on a movie soundtrack, when “One Little Slip” was used on the animated feature “Chicken Little” in ’05, the same year they released a pair of DVD’s, AU NATURALE – a live compilation capturing them in all their glory, and THE BARENAKED TRUTH. In ’06 they released BARENAKED LADIES ARE ME, a 13-song CD but with a twist… The band also offered two bonus songs, as well as a deluxe edition that fans could order right off their website.The catch? It came on a USB flash memory stick complete with 29 songs and special bonus content. The content itself was more of a live, raw feel, with Page and Robertson doing less pre-production themselves, the result culminating in tracks like the uncharacteristically driving rhythms of “Wind It Up,” “Adrift,” “Bull In A China Shop” and “Rule The World With Love.”
They returned in ’07 with BARENAKED LADIES ARE MEN, following up on its predecessor. “Serendipity,” “One and Only,” Running Out Of Ink” and “Why Say Anything Nice?” continued in the natural evolution of the band’s sound and philosophy about music in general, resulting in another sold out world tour. Another live DVD released that year, when portions of the Michigan dates made up the TALK TO THE HAND – LIVE IN MICHIGAN album, which featured regular and acoustic live performances of the band’s biggest hits.
In mid ’08, Page found himself on the wrong end of the law when he was arrested for cocaine possession. The band laid low for several months following that, but in early ’09 the band announced they’d split company with Page under amicable circumstances. Although pretty much keeping off the road, they picked up where they left off later that year by working on new material as a foursome, releasing the kids’ album SNACK TIME that summer.
In 2010, a revitalized band released ALL IN GOOD TIME, which featured the tracks “Summertime,” “On The Lookout,” “Jerome” and “Watching The Northern Lights,” among others. Critics agreed the album was one of the band’s tightest in years. They were featured in an episode of “The Bachelorette,” shortly after the album’s release, where they debuted the new single “You Run Away” while playing for a group date.