54-40 PhotoVancouver's 54-40 takes their name from James K. Polk's presidential campaign slogan "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight," which sought to expand the U.S. border northward. 54-40 formed in 1981 as a trio consisting of Brad Merritt (bass), Darryl Neudorf (drums), and Neil Osbourne (vocals); they began touring the Western Canadian club circuit, without gaining much attention. In 1984, Phil Comparelli was added on guitar and vocals; Neudorf left shortly thereafter and was replaced by Matt Johnson (not The The's frontman).

By the time of the band's self-titled album in 1986, their folk/roots approach had earned them favorable comparisons to R.E.M. Subsequent albums found the band moving into harder-edged territory. A lack of U.S. interest led to 1992's exclusively Canadian release Dear Dear, but by 1994, continued success in their homeland helped to make a U.S. release possible for Smilin' Buddah Cabaret in 1995. ~ Ron Wynn, All Music Guide