The One-Hit Wonder File: “What Do All The People Know”

Some songs don’t just get stuck in your head, they etch themselves permanently into the fabric of your memory. One tune that not only fits but clearly defines, that description is “What Do All The People Know,” by The Monroes. Originally released in 1982, the song’s memorable lyrics, swirling keyboards, melodic guitars, hard-driving drums, and heartfelt vocals are suffused with more than a touch of a sound that came to be known as New Wave. All of these elements combined to create a glorious tune that became an instant power pop classic. The song should have been just the first in a string of hits for The Monroes, but due to factors beyond their control, it became the band’s only single.

The San Diego-based group was initially formed by keyboard player Eric Denton, along with bass player Bob Davis, aka Bob Monroe. The band’s lineup also included guitarist Rusty Jones, drummer John Gilstrap, and lead vocalist Jesus Ortiz, aka Tony Monroe. All of the original members were veteran musicians with a passion for creating well-crafted rock and roll music. The newly minted Monroes began recording some demos, including “What Do All The People Know,” which was penned by Bob Davis. The band signed up with manager Jon Deverian, who got the group added to the roster of Alfa Records, a Japan-based record label.

The Monroes went into the studio with Bruce Botnick, who had produced albums for The Doors and Love, and engineer Alex Vertikoff, who’d worked with The Rolling Stones. Alfa Records liked the sound of the demos better, so the group went back to the boards and touched up the original versions of their songs with additional vocals and guitar parts. The band’s self-titled EP was issued in 1982. The hook-laden first single, “What Do All The People Know” was getting a  significant amount of airplay, and The Monroes went on the road, opening for Toto and Rick Springfield. The band even appeared on The Merv Griffin Show performing their single, which had started to climb the charts.

Then the cracks started to show. Alfa Records decided to pull out of the US market and dropped the band. Without any help from the label, “What Do All The People Know” stalled at number 59 on the charts. The group’s contract ended up at CBS Records, which did little to initiate any new recordings from them or offer any sort of support to them. The band was struggling with internal issues at the time, and Rusty Jones, Jesus Ortiz, and John Gilstrap eventually departed the group. The band finally broke up in 1988. It seemed like that might be the end of the road for them, but The Monroes — and “What Do All The People Know” — refused to be forgotten.

The group’s signature tune lived on, as the song managed to find its way onto several power pop and New Wave compilations throughout the years. During the mid to late 2000s, various members of the band reunited to perform together. In 2013, an EP of unreleased music by the group was released, including an alternate version of “What Do All The People Know.” Then in 2018, a new iteration of The Monroes was launched by Bob Davis. A new album, The Monroes 2.0, followed in 2019, beginning a new chapter for the band. “What Do All The People Know” may be the band’s only “hit,” but this early 1980s slice of power pop perfection is still beloved by fans and musicians alike, including rocker Cherie Currie, who covered the tune on her 2020 album, Blvds of Splendor.

-John Visconti

Photo: The Monroes album cover (fair use image)

PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…

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John Visconti is a lifelong music and movies aficionado with wide-ranging tastes, from The British Invasion and Motown, to the blues, a dash of jazz, on through to power pop, funk, retro soul, folk, bubblegum and metal. He digs film noir, screwball comedies, classic B movies, and Toho’s original Godzilla series. In the late 1980s, John was a writer and editor for the KISS fanzine Fire. A friend once called him “the human incarnation of an entertainment encyclopedia.” After long stints in the worlds of publishing and IT, he’s currently working in healthcare. You can check out his blog, John V's Eclectic Avenue at http://jveclectic.blogspot.com.

3 comments on “The One-Hit Wonder File: “What Do All The People Know”

  1. Amy Clarke

    I forgot that song! But it’s now on my playlist.

  2. I remember that song. Great song

  3. I literally just bumped into this tune for the very first time (?!) on an 80s compilation disc. It is the last song out of a 3-disc collection and I literally heard half of it, and thought, who in the world is this? The Monroes? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of them, but they could have been huge judging by their sound. They should have gone further. They are like a more music savvy The Producers, have the poppy blend of Springfield, with the cool-factor of Duran Duran and keyboard sound of Howard Jones. I like them and wish I’d known of them. Glad to read they’re back in some manner – best of luck!

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