The true tales of D.A. and DA!

I have long been an enthusiastic collector of rare recordings. Searching out a musical rarity has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing, although it can sometimes get frustrating when a song or record takes a long time to track down. But, so far, I can’t say it has ever taken me 37 years to track down an elusive song.

It did, however, take some record collectors that long to find a mysterious song from 1979. That song was titled “Ready ‘N’ Steady”, by an unknown recording artist called D.A. One person who tried for decades to find this song was music historian Joel Whitburn, who has written numerous books compiling chart data from Billboard magazine. This song showed up on the Billboard singles chart for 3 weeks in 1979, peaking at #102, meaning that it was “Bubbling Under The Hot 100” in official terms.

But there seemed to be no sign of this single’s actual existence on the planet. Whitburn and other collectors were unable to track down any copy of this record, even after the internet made it easier to search around the whole wide world for rare music. Whitburn once suspected that the artist identified by the magazine as D.A. may actually have been the Chicago post-punk band called DA, who spelled their name with no periods but sometimes with an exclamation point. It’s not hard to imagine the folks at Billboard making that type of typo, right? But the band DA denied having recorded the song. The magazine identified the single’s record label and catalogue number as Rascal 102, suggesting that there was a Rascal number 101 that also could not be tracked down. But the Rascal label was equally mysterious, and a supposed street address for a label by that name belonged to an abandoned house in Detroit. Whitburn and other collectors understandably came to believe that the record was, in fact, a "phantom record" which was fictitious and nonexistent.

And it was true that the record did not actually exist – but the song did. In 2016, it was finally revealed that the artist called D.A. was a California-based mortgage broker named Dennis Armand “D.A.” Lucchesi, who died in 2005. His collaborator on the song was one Jim Franks, who is still alive, and who still had the song in his possession. As it turns out, the song was only recorded to tape, and never actually pressed to vinyl. According to the AV Club website:

“Ready ’N’ Steady,” along with “three or four other songs,” was recorded in 1979 after a major label representative witnessed the band played live. He offered the band studio time and promised that he would help the band get a song on the Billboard charts, which he did. Adding to the “Raiders Of The Lost Record-ness” of the situation, Rascal Records was named after the publicist’s dog.

The song was broadcast on the radio, probably for the first time ever, in 2016 on KFAI-FM in Minneapolis. Here is a YouTube video that finally makes the long-sought song available to the world.

As you can hear, the song was basically a catchy piece of bar-band silliness, made somewhat presentable by its piano and female backing vocals – which I am guessing were provided by studio session hands. It sounds like D.A. and the Dukes – reportedly the band’s full name – were big fans of the Southern rock genre, and D.A. himself comes across very much like a David Lee Roth wannabe.

So, what do we learn from this? In the pre-SoundScan days of the Billboard charts, chart placements were corruption-prone. Singles chart positions were supposedly determined by record sales and radio airplay. But “Ready ‘N’ Steady” was never pressed on record, and was believed to have never been played on the radio before its eventual discovery in 2016. It’s hard to figure exactly how the label rep managed to “get the song on the Billboard charts”, but it had to have been done through devious means. The probable thinking was that since the song was placed on the “Bubbling Under” chart instead of on the Hot 100, the chart showing would be enough to attract attention for D.A. and his band, but would probably be forgotten soon after. But, on the contrary, it piqued the curiosity of some people for 37 years!

So, what about this other band called DA that was mentioned earlier? DA was a three-woman, one-man quartet from Chicago who were part of that city’s early-‘80’s underground post-punk scene, and bore a noticeable musical resemblance to Siouxsie and the Banshees. Their frontwoman was Lorna Donley, who also played bass. The band released an indie single in 1981, and an EP in 1982.

DA’s debut single “Dark Rooms” was a moody Gothic song with an eerie Joy Division-like atmosphere, depicting (perhaps metaphorically) the feeling of a child’s fear of sleeping in the dark. The B-side track, “White Castles”, has more of a daytime garage ambience, pairing a nervous bass riff by Donley with a distorted lead guitar for an agitated effect. The single is a potent specimen of the new wave era.

The five-song EP Time Will Be Kind was a technical step forward. It maintained the same indie post-punk aesthetic, but with a somewhat brighter sound; the tempos were mostly faster, and the lead guitar had more of a shimmer. “Silent Snow” was the track that most recalled the earlier single’s moodier sound. Donley’s lead vocals were more reminiscent of Patti Smith this time around; on the standout “Three Shadows”, she anticipated Kim Gordon’s work with Sonic Youth. DA were ahead of their time in many ways, presaging the sounds of numerous alternative artists from the later-‘80’s and the ‘90’s – but, unfortunately, they never recorded again.

Decades later, on Record Store Day in 2010, a DA compilation LP titled Exclamation Point: (Un)released Recordings 1980-81 was issued, limited to 1,000 copies and pressed in white vinyl. This LP contained “Dark Rooms”, all of the songs from Time Will Be Kind (including its 18-second would-be title track, and a slightly less sparkly alternate mix of “Silent Snow”), four demos recorded in August of 1980 (which could pass for fully-formed tracks by many other indie-label alternative artists), and two fairly intense live tracks recorded during the Summer of ’81 (including a feedback-drenched cover of the Who’s “The Good’s Gone”). With 2020 hindsight, these tracks seem reminiscent of the Pixies, Breeders, Sonic Youth, and various female-fronted alternative artists of the ‘90’s – but these tracks were recorded at the beginning of the 1980’s, showing how far ahead of the curve this Chicago quartet was. Time has been kind to the DA oeuvre. (Note: The LP’s liner notes mention “White Castles” and a still-unreleased cover of the Seeds’ “Pushin’ Too Hard”, but those two tracks were left off the LP due to time constraints).

Lorna Donley died suddenly at the age of 53 from a ruptured aorta in December of 2013.

DA - Dark Rooms / White Castles

DA “Dark Rooms” b/w “White Castles” (Autumn single AU-1, 103023X) 1981

Track Listing:

a. Dark Rooms
b. White Castles

DA - Time Will Be Kind

DA “Time Will Be Kind” EP (Autumn AU-6, 202032X) 1982

Track Listing:

1. Next To Nothing
2. Strangers
3. Silent Snow
4. Three Shadows
5. This Doubt

DA - Exclamation Point: (Un)released Recordings 1980-81

DA! “Exclamation Point: (Un)released Recordings 1980-81” (Factory 25 FTF-500) 2010

Track Listing:

1. 1:28 *
2. Dark Rooms
3. Silent Snow **
4. Mirrors *
5. Time Will Be Kind ***
6. This Doubt
7. Fish Sh-- *
8. Strangers
9. Next To Nothing
10. The Killer ****
11. Oh Boy! *
12. Three Shadows
13. The Good’s Gone ****

 * -- Demo recorded in August 1980
 ** -- Alternate Mix
 *** -- Salvaged outtake from Time Will Be Kind EP sessions
 **** -- Recorded live in 1981