Each week, ex-KDHX DJ Chris Ward examines a song from his quarantine-based playlist dealing with isolation, loneliness, hope and germs. This song and more can be found on the Spotify playlist, “Pande-mix: an end of the world playlist”: https://spoti.fi/2WZGTJZ.
“What Do All the People Know?” — The Monroes — Single (1982)
“Lately I am so confused, I really don't know what to do”
I’m on a years-long quest to get you to discover this song. And here, at the end of the world, it’s now or never. On an alternate timeline, this “greatest lost one-hit wonder of all time” sits somewhere between A-Ha and the Cars as an instantly recognizable ‘80s new wave hit. The first time you hear it, you’ll feel like you’ve already heard Rick Dees cue it up 1000 times. It’s a Weezer cover-revival waiting to happen. In a fair and sane universe, this song would have spread like a virus, infecting listeners across the globe (I knew I could shoehorn this one into the pandemic somehow).
So, what happened? Way back when, the Monroes were primed for breakout success, booked as a supporting act with Rick Springfield and Toto. The San Diego band had made their national TV debut on the Merv Griffin show in 1982. For those who don’t know, this was The Late Late Show with James Corden of its day — famous, but not that funny or memorable. However, mid-tour, the Monroes’ label went belly up, leaving the would-be ‘80s hit single dangling without promotion or support. It was quickly forgotten by history, while “Jesse’s Girl” would go on to dominate wedding receptions.
Another deep dive back reveals other visual clues to the band’s possible non-success. In the Sex Appeal-dominated ‘80s, lead singer Tito Ortiz makes his TV debut in a too-big blazer and blue jeans, and bobs along nervously beside Bob Monroe exhibiting Big Dad Energy (current YouTube view count: 95K). It’s all incredibly endearing and sweet. Another YouTube search reveals a video called “OMG What Do All The People Know 2018 version,” with the two reunited leads performing an acoustic version in what appears to be a wood-paneled double wide trailer (current view count: 626).
Somewhere in between those two performances is a documentary I’d love to see.
For online listening, the Monroes exist, depressingly, on Spotify as “The Monroes: Official Band from the 80s” with their lone would-be hit listed as “What Do All the People Know? (Complete Song with Extra Lyrics: from Original Monroes of the 80s).” But the streaming service gives us seven recorded tracks, which are pretty good! It’s Loverboy meets synthwave/vaporware, and it’s highly listenable and would be right at home in a Karate Kid beach-hangout scene.
In the past couple of years, I have heard “What Do All The People Know?” about a trillion times. I have yearned to sing it at Karaoke, where it graces no song book. I force it onto every playlist I can. If you check the national FM Spinitron listings, I’m positive I’m the only DJ who kept its fire burning. And so, one of the greatest ‘80s songs of all time remains my cool little secret. What do all the people know about music, anyway?
This song and many more can be found on Chris Ward’s Pande-Mix playlist on Spotify.