Archive for December, 2011

Guy Lombardo’s ‘Auld Lang Syne’

Posted on: December 27th, 2011 by ScottMc No Comments

By James Sandham

It’s hard to tell whether “Auld Lang Syne” is more famous because of Guy Lombardo, or whether Guy Lombardo is more famous because of “Auld Lang Syne.” Either way, the two are indelibly linked, and as we move into the holiday season there’s not a more appropriate song by which to remember London, Ontario’s favourite son and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s first inductee.

“Auld Lang Syne” is, as many people know, the first song of the new year played in New York City’s Times Square. You can thank Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians for that. Due to their annual New Year’s Eve broadcasts, which were televised from NYC’s Waldorf Astoria, Lombardo and his band were a bulwark of year-end celebrations across North America and remained so from the late 1920s until 1976, the year before Lombardo’s death. “Auld Lang Syne” was then, as it continues to be, a traditional part of the New Year’s Eve party, a Guy Lombardo trademark.

And if listening to it makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, consider that the song’s history actually runs much deeper. The words were originally written in 1788 by Scottish poet Robbie Burns, and were set to the tune of a traditional folk song now known as “Roud # 6294.” Some lyrics, such as the first verse, have been traced back even further – to a ballad called “Old Long Syne,” printed in 1711. Suffice it to say it’s a very old song, the singing of which on Hogmanay (the Scots word for the last day of the year, synonymous with New Year’s Eve) soon spread with Scottish immigrants to the rest of the world.

So just what are they singing about anyway? Well, “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates from Scots to “old long since,” but it can be phrased more idiomatically as “long long ago,” “days gone by” or simply “old times” – hence the song’s popularity not only on New Year’s Eve, but at graduations and funerals as well. Since it’s written in Scots it’s kind of hard to follow, but it basically begins by posing the rhetorical question “Should old times be forgotten?” It’s generally interpreted as a call to remember long-standing friendships – perfect for those maudlin moments after the ball’s dropped. And a fitting reminder of a man who was one of Canada’s early great musicians.

This Week in History December 26, 2011 – January 1, 2012

Posted on: December 26th, 2011 by ScottMc No Comments

By: David Ball

Happy Holidays! Hope you aren’t all still dealing with the effects of tryptophan after gorging on yesterday’s turkey.

Music giant catches a big Canadian fish…

On December 27, 1986 word was released that Saskatchewan rockers The Northern Pikes signed their first major record deal with Virgin eight days previous, on Dec. 19, 1986. The $350,000 contract was for the band to produce two studio albums with options that could include an additional four albums. Their first LP for Virgin, Big Blue Sky, was released in the summer of 1987; it was certified gold and contained breakout Top 30 single “Teenland,” as well as the fan-favourite “Things I Do For Money,” which were both written by bassist and co-leader Jay Semko. Their 1988 follow-up was the equally successful Secrets of the Alibi and its three moderate-selling singles. Although not released as a single, Secrets of the Alibi’s most hard-rocking tune, “One Good Reason,” became a concert favourite and popular on college radio. Who doesn’t love the Stonehenge-themed music video with wrecked cars replacing the famous standing stones? Oh yeah, good thing for Virgin there was a record option since the Pikes’ next effort for the label was the platinum-selling, award-winning Snow in June.

Teenage sensation does it again…

Ottawa’s Paul Anka capped off an impressive 1959 when his 45, “It’s Time to Cry”, reached No. 4 on December 30th’s Billboard Hot 100, the teen idol’s third straight Top 5 single (preceded by 1959 chart-topper “Lonely Boy” and No. 2 “Put Your Head on My Shoulder”). “It’s Time to Cry” remains Anka’s sixth-highest charting single and among 11 others that reached Billboard’s Top 10 sung by the prolific singer-songwriter during his ongoing 50-plus-year career. Not included on this list are popular songs he wrote for others artists, including “She’s a Lady” by Tom Jones (No. 2 in 1971), the theme for “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “My Way,” a 1969 Top 30 single and signature song for Frank Sinatra, as well as RPM’s No. 1 country track in January 1978 for Elvis Presley.

North America New Year’s tradition begins thanks to a Canadian…

Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians performed “Auld Lang Syne” for the first time at the Dec. 31, 1929 New Year’s Eve bash at New York City’s Hotel Roosevelt Grill. The London, Ont.–born big band leader would host the yearly party at the Roosevelt for the next 32 years, plus 16 more when it moved to the Waldorf Astoria. The annual event was broadcast live across North America on CBS radio (and later on television). Although Lombardo and His Royal Canadians produced many huge-sellers during their long illustrious career, including “Winter Wonderland,” “The Band Played On” and “The Third Man Theme,” it was their definitive interpretation of “Auld Lang Syne” that became their international calling card, especially in the United States and their adopted NYC. Lombardo’s name remains synonymous with New Year’s Eve while “Auld Lang Syne” is still the first song spun when the clock strikes midnight at the Times Square celebrations.

This tragic news more than likely made everyone’s New Year’s hangover feel much much worse…

Hank Williams, one of the most important singer-songwriters of the 20th century, died on Jan. 1, 1953. He was 29. Considered the father of country music, Williams recorded 35 Top 10 Billboard country singles in just five years (11 of which reached No. 1), beginning with 1948’s “Move it on Over” through to 1953’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” his last of five posthumous hits. Williams rewrote the country music rulebook and influenced virtually every act that followed, as well as many in other genres. Dozens of his songs are classics, with lyrics reflecting a troubled home life and destructive battles with many demons.

Born in Mount Olive, AL, on Sept. 17, 1923, Hiram King Williams was given his first guitar by his mother when he was eight. Barely in his teens, the Williams family moved to Georgina, AL, where a young Hiram hooked up with Rufus Payne, a black busker who taught the future country superstar blues guitar in exchange for food. Payne became one of Williams’ biggest influences as blues is at the root of many of his best-loved songs. Hiram eventually settled in Montgomery and began his professional music career in 1937 with his first band, The Drifting Cowboys. Around this point, he dropped Hiram for Hank because it sounded more country (although where I’m sitting, King would have worked well too). In 1941, Hank was hired to do a regular slot on WSFA Radio, a gig he’d have until the end of the decade. On WSFA, Williams’ shift had him perform covers of his heroes (notably Roy Acuff) along with some of the latest country hits. While working in Montgomery, Williams met his future wife, Audrey Mae Sheppard, in 1943. They married the following year and moved into Hank’s mother Lily’s Montgomery boarding house. Sheppard became Hank’s manager and by 1947, the pair decided to give Nashville a try. Williams impressed Fred Rose, head of Acuff-Rose Publishing. After he recorded two successful singles for Sterling Records he was signed to MGM in 1947, with Rose becoming the singer’s manager and producer.

At MGM, Williams released a series of big records from 1947 to 1949, and in the spring of 1949 he had a national coming-out party at the Grand Ole Opry after he performed his No. 1 hit “Lovesick Blues,” which elicited an unheard of six encores. Hank and Audrey welcomed their first child on May 26, 1949 – Randall Hank (a.k.a. Hank Williams Jr., the recently disgraced “Monday Night Football” singer) – the same year he reformed his most successful incarnation of the Drifting Cowboys. For the next three years, Williams produced a staggering number of hits with his band, including chart-toppers “Cold, Cold Heart” and “Hey, Good Looking,” and became a big concert draw across the country. By 1951, his fame had expanded outside of country music and some of his songs were covered by mainstream artists. Williams even appeared on Perry Como’s variety TV show. However, as his fame and wealth grew so did his personal problems. His drinking became more and more debilitating while his marriage was starting to crumble. After Hank injured his back in 1951, he began taking morphine to deal with the pain. The couple separated in early 1952 with Williams relocating back to Montgomery. Now battling addiction, and with his health and performances on a noticeable decline, Williams was fired by the Grand Ole Opry. Shockingly (and somewhat impressively), he was still recording hit after hit.

By the end of ’52, Williams was a mess. He developed heart problems, addiction issues, missed gigs and was ditched by the Drifting Cowboys. And to make things even worse, he became reliant on prescription drugs. En route to a New Year’s gig in Canton, Ohio, he was found dead in the back of a Cadillac. Because of inclement weather, Williams hired a car in Mobile to drive him to Canton (before he got in the car, a doctor gave him an injection of two doses of vitamin B12 and morphine). The country star was allegedly found in the backseat gripping a whiskey bottle. He was buried in Montgomery three days later as “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” was ascending the charts.

Next week: Jesse Winchester and Robert Goulet

“One Good Reason” by The Northern Pikes


Five Canadian Songs About Winter

Posted on: December 24th, 2011 by ScottMc No Comments

By James Sandham

Canada. True north strong and free. Land of the beaver, poutine and maple syrup. Lumberjacks. There are many clichés that come to mind when considering what’s north of the 49th parallel. But none is more poignant than the snow. Snow transcends cliché. It’s an intimate aspect of every Canadian’s psyche. And winter, its harbinger – well, that word should resonate viscerally with anyone here who’s made it through a full one. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Canada’s songsters find it such fecund subject matter. From Gordon Lightfoot to Malajube, the Canadian winter has been a source of inspiration (and despair) for many. So, as it wraps its icy arms around us once more, what better time to hunker down (preferably someplace warm), heat up some poutine and take a look at five of the best odes from our country, to our season.


J.P. Hoe – “Snow Plow”

“Yeah, there was insulin. And sure, there was the telephone. But every warm-blooded, snow-shovelling Canadian will tell you, the greatest invention ever was the snow blower.” So opens J.P. Hoe’s ode to his favourite power tool. But these introductory meditations are no mere exercise in hyperbolic excess. As a Winnipeg native, and the man behind the perennially popular J.P. Hoe Hoe Hoe Holiday Show, Hoe knows snow. Crisp, clean and fluffy to the eye, it can be nonetheless deadly to the cardiopulmonarily infirm. Toro vendors, rejoice.



Gordon Lightfoot – “Song for a Winter’s Night”

As Lightfoot explains in his introductory remarks to the video, this song was actually written during a bad storm in Cleveland, Ohio, as he ruminated on the “snow and the winter and the romance thereof.” Nothing like a thunderstorm in the Midwest to make you wax nostalgic for the good ol’ snowstorms back home, I guess. A beautiful composition nonetheless – complete with ringing sleigh bells – to celebrate winter’s under-appreciated romance.


Maplewood Lane – “Canadian Winters”

Another entry under the “romance” category of winter songs is Maplewood Lane’s “Canadian Winters,” which, unlike the aforementioned contribution, speaks to a decidedly more prominent aspect of the winter: its loneliness. It’s not all snowflakes and hot chocolate, you know – it can be long and grey and dreary.


Hilary Grist – “Branch’s Arms”

Here’s another little-known aspect of the Canadian winter: it makes you kind of crazy. Some say it’s due to the lack of natural sunlight, but whatever the reason, it would certainly explain Hilary Grist’s “Branch’s Arms,” – a song that starts off in ostensible sympathy for the weighty snow that trees must bear upon their branches these dark and chilly months, but ultimately concludes (spoiler alert) with the decision to simply chop said branches off and burn them to stay warm. Actually, maybe that’s not so crazy after all….


Malajube – “Montreal -40ºC”

Photo by: Joseph Yarmush

Rounding out the bunch, how about a little instalment from our friends across the Rideau? Not quite sure what this one’s about – not only due to my français merdique, but also because, even in English, the lyrics are less than clear. One thing that’s for certain though, is that Montreal is très froid. That said, it’s probably also one of the best Canadian cities to see in the snow. But that’s the thing about Canadian winter – the duality of the experience, the ying mixed with the yang, beauty mixed with despair, hardship mixed with heartfelt warmth…. It’s a crazy time, so bundle up.


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