The Diodes - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Along with the The Viletones and Teenage Head, Toronto’s The Diodes were one of the first Canadian punk bands. All three bands played at Crash’n’Burn, the Toronto punk club opened and operated by The Diodes with manager Ralph Alfonso during the summer of 1977. The Canadian branch of CBS subsidiary Columbia Records signed the band that summer, making them one of the first punk bands to have a major label deal. The Diodes split up in 1981 after releasing three albums of material that was highly melodic and musical by punk standards.
John Catto and Ian Mackay were students at the Ontario College of Art when they formed The Diodes in October of 1976 with singer Paul Robinson, a graduate student at York University. The first lineup of the band included visual artist David Clarkson and drummer Bent Rasmussen. In 1977, the Diodes booked Talking Heads at OCA and made their live debut as the opening act.
According to Dot Tuer’s essay “The CEAC Was Banned in Canada,” Crash’n’Burn only operated from May through August of 1977. Crash’n’Burn was located in the basement of Toronto’s Centre for Experimental Art and Communication (or CEAC) – a government-funded multimedia gallery run by a radical artists’ collective called the Kensington Arts Association. The Diodes made their vinyl debut on the “Raw/War” single (1977 Crash ‘n’ Burn/CEAC), packaged with an issue of the CEAC newsletter, Art Communication Edition #8. One side of the single is devoted to a collaboration between The Diodes and CEAC artists Amerigo Marras and Bruce Eves, while the other side is filled with spoken word content by Mickey Skin of The Curse. Ross McLaren’s black-and-white film Crash’n’Burn (1977) documents the night Teenage Head, The Diodes, The Boy Friends, and the Dead Boys performed at the space. The CEAC itself closed the following year after the arts council withdrew funding.
According to the exhaustive interview in Maximumrocknroll #306 and #307, Columbia signed The Diodes in August of 1977, one week after Crash’n’Burn closed. The Diodes covered the bubblegum ditty Paul Simon wrote for The Cyrkle, “Red Rubber Ball,” on “Red Rubber Ball/We’re Ripped” (1977 Columbia), which was the band’s first major label single. Both songs appear on The Diodes (1977 Columbia), the band’s classic debut full-length album, which particularly displays the musicianship of drummer and keyboardist John Hamilton. Removed from their immediate context, The Diodes’ musical chops, melodic sensibility, relatively broad tonal palette, restrained tempos, and references to 60’s pop-rock (“Red Rubber Ball,” “The Shape of Things to Come”) made the band sound closer to power-pop than punk.
The Diodes toured the United States in early 1978, performing a new song that would be their next single. “Tired of Waking Up Tired” (1978 Epic), a garage anthem with a Del Shannon-style minor to major chord change in the bridge, is The Diodes’ most celebrated moment. The Diodes split up in 1978 when it seemed that CBS was not going to release the second album they had recorded. Robinson moved to New York and Catto formed a new band in Toronto. Before joining The Diodes, Hamilton had played in the band Zoom with The Viletones bassist Chris Hate. The Viletones split up around the same time as The Diodes, and Hamilton joined up with their three instrumentalists to form The Secrets.
Due to the radio success of “Red Rubber Ball,” however, CBS decided to release the band’s second album, Released (CBS), in 1979. Hamilton stuck with The Secrets, so The Diodes recruited new drummer Michael Lengyell and signed a new deal with RCA following a west coast tour in early 1980. The band toured Canada following the release of Action/Reaction (1980 Orient/RCA). Robinson and Catto moved to England in the summer of 1981, effectively breaking up The Diodes. After relocating, Catto and Robinson formed the band High Noon.
Tired Of Waking Up Tired: The Best of The Diodes (Sony Canada), released in 1998, is a remastered collection that includes the first two albums plus previously unreleased tunes such as “Noise,” “Headache,” and “Burn Down Your Daddy’s House.” The compilation is an excellent introduction to the band and also happens to be the only Diodes release in print. In May and June of 2007, Robinson, Catto, Mackay, and Hamilton briefly reunited for four Diodes shows – two in Liverpool, England and two in Toronto.