#25: Sign Of The Times by Mens Room

City: Halifax, NS
Radio Station: CJCH
Peak Month: June-July  1983
Peak Position in Halifax ~ #7
Peak position in Vancouver ~ did not chart
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube: “Sign Of The Times
Lyrics: “Sign Of The Times

Mens Room was a studio project featuring three well-known Canadian singers. Charity Brown, a Kitchener native who had success in Canada with the group Rain. Charity Brown’s biggest hit was “Take Me In Your Arms” from 1975.  Cherrill Rae was half of the successful British-Canadian duo The Raes with her husband Robbie, who released three albums, had a hit television variety show in Canada from 1978 to 1980. Caren Cole was a classical musician and rock singer from Toronto who would later have a Hi-NRG hit with “I Need A Lover Tonight”.

Cherrill Rae (born Cherrill Yates) was born in England but lived in Ontario as a child. In Canada she developed an appreciation for R&B, especially the Motown sound. She moved back to the United Kingdom to continue her musical studies and pursue a singing career. Cherrill met Robbie Rae in England when Cherrill was performing on Robbie’s TV show, and were engaged soon afterward. Since their solo careers in the UK kept them apart for too long, Robbie and Cherrill moved to Canada, where they began to perform and record, first as Cherrill and Robbie Rae and then as a duo called the Raes. They scored their first hit in Canada in July 1977 with a disco-styled remake of Doris’s “Que Sera Sera” and followed it up with their self-titled debut album, The Raes, the following year.

Their second album, Dancing Up a Storm, was released in 1979. Picked up for U.S. release by A&M Records, it included their best-known song, “A Little Lovin’ (Keeps the Doctor Away)”, which became a top-five hit on the Billboard Dance Club chart. After the record was added by influential radio stations on the East Coast such as WKTU in New York and WRKO in Boston, it reached #61 on the Billboard Hot 100. The duo appeared on Soul Train and American Bandstand. Their followup single was called “I Only Wanna Get Up And Dance”. The Raes were nominated for two Juno Awards and hosted their own network variety show called The Raes on CBC from 1978–1980. In 1980, the act split up as Robbie and Cherrill headed for divorce. And Cherrill embarked on a solo career.

Phillis Boltz was born in Kitchener, Ontario. After she graduated from high school she started singing in a band called Landslide Mushroom. By the late 60s she was a lead vocalist in another Kitchener band called Rain, who she remained with into the early 70s. From the outset her stage name with Rain was Phyllis Brown.

In 1973 Brown left Rain. She was able to land a contract later that year with A&M Records. Though she still was called Phyllis Brown, she shortly changed her stage name again. Given her Motown-sound-alike vocals she bet that Charity Brown would be a name that was distinctive enough to help radio listeners remember her songs on the radio. Her debut single in 1974 was a cover version of the 1967 Martha & The Vandellas hit “Jimmy Mack”. Building on her modest success she next released a cover of the 1962 hit for Mary Wells, “You Beat Me To The Punch”. That year when Dionne Warwick first heard Charity Brown sing she said, “That lady has a big voice!”

In 1975 Charity Brown released her debut album, Rock Me. It included more soul and Motown covers. These included “Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)” a #4 R&B chart hit for Kim Weston in 1965 and a big pop hit for the Doobie Brothers in 1975. It was the Doobie Brothers coincidence of releasing that song as a single about the same time Charity Brown’s single version was released that crowded her out of having the record really take off. Another one of the tracks on her debut album was “Saving All My Love”.

In 1975 Charity Brown was at that year’s Juno Awards she was nominated for the Most Promising Female Vocalist. But she lost the nomination to Suzanne Stevens. In 1976, 1977 and 1978 Charity Brown was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year. She lost to Joni Mitchell in 1976 and to Patsy Gallant in both 1977 and 1978.

Brown was a regular performer into 1980 going on tour to different clubs across Canada. She also appeared on a number of TV shows including Anne Murray’s Ladies Night Show in 1978 and in 1979 on the Winnipeg based CBC show, Gerry and Ziz.

Cherrill Rae and Charity Brown were both off the highs of their respective music careers into the early 80s. They teamed up with classically trained singer Caren Cole to form Mens Room.

Mens Room released a self-titled EP in 1983 that included four of the tracks that would be on the album. The first single was a remake of British 80s all-female group The Belle Stars’ biggest British hit “Sign Of The Times”. The Belle Stars original climbed to #2 in Belgium and Ireland, #3 in the Netherlands and the UK, #7 in Norway, #10 in Sweden and #21 in New Zealand.

Mens Room released “Sign Of The Times” in the spring of 1983.

Sign Of The Times by Mens Room
“Sign Of The Times” was written by the Belle Stars bandmates: Lesley Shone, Jennie Matthias, Miranda Joyce, Sarah-Jane Owen, Judy Parsons, Stella Barker, and Clare Hirst. “Sign Of The Times” is a song about the pieces of information that lead the woman in the relationship to conclude that the man in her life has her caught up in a stagnant relationship. It’s not going anywhere. They may have fun in bed, but he’s not really in love. He tells her he is in love, it’s just that he wants “success.” His priority is his career and not her. The lyrics detail what she thinks about lying alone in her bed:

Why do we go on with this useless love-affair,
when it seems to me that you don’t really care?
I realize now nothing is new,
time to live my life without you, without you, without you.

“Sign Of The Times” peaked at #4 in Levis (QC), #7 in Halifax (NS) and Ottawa, #8 in Hamilton (ON), #9 in Kingston (ON), #10 in Toronto and Regina (SK), and #11 in Oshawa (ON). The B-side “Best Years Of Our Lives” was a cover of a Modern Romance tune. The B-side climbed to #7 in Winnipeg.

A promo single was also released of their version of The Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You”.  A full album followed, with the first four tracks being produced by Canadian producers Brian Ainsworth and Michael McCarty. The rest of the album also consisted of mostly remakes of well known songs including The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”, the Rolling Stones’ “Tell Me”, and rarer tracks including BB Gabor’s “Simulated Groove”, and The Dooleys’ “In Car Stereo”.

The one original by Mens Room,  “Baby I’m Back In Love Again”, became most famous for being Family Ties star Tina Yothers’ only single in 1987, which she also performed on Family Ties.

Mens Room attempted to switch up the girl group sound of the 60s with a new wave accent. But by the end of 1984, the group split up and the singers went on to other pursuits.

Caren Cole released a single in 1986 titled “I Need A Lover Tonight”.

Charity Brown dabbled in animated features as a voice for different characters in two 1985 films: Rumpelstiltskin and The Velveteen Rabbit. In 2007, Charity Brown appeared in concert at the Kitchener Blues Festival. She also released an album sampler for her forthcoming album, Wings of Time. The album was released some time later featuring her son, Michael Boltz, on drums.

Cherrill remarried another musician, Nick Cucunato, and has revitalized her career by performing in several acts, including Backstreet, Rae and Rockit, the Cherrill Rae Trio lounge act, as well as a fly-on act with Carnival Cruise Lines. Today, she continues to perform her nightclub act on occasion and resides in Florida.

March 4, 2024
Ray McGinnis

The Raes (TV series),” Wikipedia.org.
The Raes,” Canadianbands.com, April 11, 2022.
Proudly Canadian: Charity Brown, Cashbox Magazine Canada, November 18, 2015.
Charity Brown, Canadian Bands.com.
Nasty G, “Mens Room,” Isle of Deserted Pop Stars, July 5, 2013.
Belle Stars, “Sign Of The Times“, Stiff Records, 1983

Sign Of The Times by Mens Room
CJCH 920-AM Halifax (NS) Top Ten | July 1, 1983

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