The Crash Test Dummies

Crash Test Dummies. A folk-rock band formed in Winnipeg around 1985, the Crash Test Dummies initially played acoustic cover versions of songs by such rock and folk-pop artists as Alice Cooper and the Roches, at the Blue Note Café.

Brad Roberts of The Crash Test Dummies
The very deep voiced Brad Roberts of The Crash Test Dummies performs at the Live Green Toronto Festival Yonge-Dundas Square July 16, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. They had big hits with the songs Superman and Mmm mmm mmm mmm.\r\nPhoto taken on: July 16th, 2011 20343318 \u00a9 Paul Mckinnon | Dreamstime.com
Ellen Reid of The Crash Test Dummies
Ellen Reid of The Crash Test Dummies performs at the Live Green Toronto Festival Yonge-Dundas Square July 16, 2011 in Toronto, Canada. They had big hits with the songs Superman and Mmm mmm mmm mmm. Photo taken on: July 16th, 2011. 20355965 \u00a9 Paul Mckinnon | Dreamstime.com
Crash Test Dummies. A folk-rock band formed in Winnipeg around 1985, the Crash Test Dummies initially played acoustic cover versions of songs by such rock and folk-pop artists as Alice Cooper and the Roches, at the Blue Note Café. The group's leader, Brad Roberts (b Winnipeg 10 Jan 1964, BA [Winnipeg]), became known for his peculiar, relatively low baritone singing voice. The other members of Crash Test Dummies comprised pianist, keyboardist, accordionist, and singer Ellen Reid (b Selkirk, Man 14 July 1966); mandolin, guitar, and harmonica player Benjamin Darvill (b Winnipeg 4 Jan 1967); bass guitarist Dan Roberts (Brad Roberts' brother, b Winnipeg 22 May 1967); and drummer Michel "Mitch" Dorge (b Winnipeg 15 Sep 1960). In the late 1980s, Brad Roberts attended a songwriting workshop at the Winnipeg Folk Festival with US singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett, and wrote a handful of original songs.

Crash Test Dummies recorded a demo tape of Brad Roberts' "literary," folk-influenced pop songs and performed at the 1989 Winnipeg Folk Festival. BMG Canada signed the band with only five songs, and Roberts and the group quickly prepared additional original songs and released The Ghosts That Haunt Me (1991). The album included the Canadian No. 1 hit "Superman's Song," which is witty, slow, acoustic, and cello- and fiddle-oriented, recalling the similarly literary emergence of baritone Leonard Cohen. The Ghosts That Haunt Me was eventually certified quadruple platinum in Canada (at least 400,000 copies sold), and sold a similar number of copies in the US. The band won 1992 MuchMusic Video awards for best music video, and People's Choice favourite music video and favourite video artist, as well as a 1992 Juno award for group of the year.

In less than a year, the band graduated from performing in small clubs (such as Toronto's Rivoli) to much larger venues (such as Massey Hall). In the context of early 1990s' mainstream heavy metal and hip-hop, Crash Test Dummies' highly eccentric approach fitted a general profile of alternative rock, as evidenced by their six 1991 CASBY awards from listeners of the Toronto-area radio station CFNY. In some songs, the band recalled earlier meanings of "alternative" in the music of such artists as the Velvet Underground and Lou Reed (US, experimental/psychedelic rock); the Talking Heads (US, eccentric post-punk, new-wave rock) and the Violent Femmes; and the Pogues (energetic Irish/Celtic, folk-pop rock).

Subsequent Recordings

Crash Test Dummies' second album, God Shuffled His Feet (1993), became a significant breakthrough, reaching No. 9 in the US and No. 1 in the UK and eventually selling 6 million copies in the US and nearly 10 million copies worldwide. The highly unusual "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm," featuring a lyricless hummed chorus, reached No. 2 in the US. The band performed on Saturday Night Live, the Late Show with David Letterman, and other major US shows, and their version of XTC's "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" (featuring Ellen Reid) appeared on the soundtrack of the comedy film Dumb and Dumber (1994) and reached No. 4 in Canada in 1995. The group received 1995 Grammy award nominations for alternative performance (God Shuffled His Feet), best pop vocal group, and best new artist, and performed at the 1995 Juno awards ceremony.

On the follow-up albums A Worm's Life (1996) and, especially, Give Yourself a Hand (1999), the band pursued influences from harder rock, electronica, drum and bass, jazz, R&B, and funk. "He Liked to Feel It" and "My Own Sunrise" (1996) and "Keep a Lid on Things" (1999) were minor hits in Canada. In 1999, the group opened shows by Alanis Morissette at such large venues as Toronto's Air Canada Centre, and won a Prairie Music award for best pop album for Give Yourself a Hand.

Early 2000s
Brad Roberts assembled a new version of Crash Test Dummies, including Reid, his brother Dan, Dorge, and Stuart Cameron for I Don't Care That You Don't Mind (2001). The group released Jingle All the Way (arrangements of Christmas standards, 2002); Puss 'N' Boots (featuring influences from R&B, 2003, including the minor hits "It's a Shame" and "Flying Feeling"); and Songs of the Unforgiven (2004). A "best of" compilation was released in 2007. In the early 2000s, Brad Roberts also worked independently and re-engaged with his acoustic origins, releasing the EP The Cape Breton Lobster Bash Series (2007). In addition, Darvill (as Son of Dave) released B. Darvill's Wild West Show and 01 (Husky Records, 1999-2000); Reid released Cinderellen (2001); Roberts released the rock documentary Crash Test Dude (double-live CD and video, MapleMusic, 2001); and Dorge released the instrumental album As Trees Walking (2002).

Discography

The Ghosts That Haunt Me. 1991. BMG Canada/Arista ARCD 8677

God Shuffled His Feet. 1993. BMG Canada/Arista 74321-16531-2

A Worm's Life. 1996. BMG Canada/Arista 74321-39779-2

Give Yourself a Hand. 1998. BMG Canada/Arista 07822-19048-2

I Don't Care That You Don't Mind. 2001. Cha-Ching 80291-16801-2

Jingle All the Way. 2002. Koch KOC-CD-8439

Puss 'N' Boots. 2003. Cha-Ching 10004

Songs of the Unforgiven. 2004. SPV Deep Fried 10005

Best of Crash Test Dummies. 2007. Sony BMG 88697152362


Further Reading

  • Niester, Alan. "Brad Roberts is the front man, lead singer and raison for the Crash Test Dummies' être ...," Globe & Mail, 18 Jan 1991

    "Crash Test Dummies," Contemporary Canadian Musicians (Toronto 1997)

    "Jamming with lobster fisherman leads Dummies singer back to acoustic sound," Canadian Press NewsWire, 27 Apr 2001