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Archive for July, 2012

This Week in Music History: July 30 to August 5

Posted on: July 30th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Move over Woodstock and Monterey Pop…

Over 450,000 people attended Canada’s largest outdoor concert, which was held on July 30, 2003, at Downsview Park in Toronto.

Officially titled Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, but commonly referred to as SARSfest, the show was a benefit to help Toronto’s struggling economy and once-thriving tourism industry, which was savaged by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak accompanied by a travel warning issued by the World Health Organization. (In fact, much of Canada was painted with the same SARS brush by the rest of the world.)

The benefit was organized at the behest of the headliners, The Rolling Stones, who wanted to help the city they’ve had a long – and sometimes sordid – relationship with. Their star power ensured a lucrative payday and enhanced the city’s battered international image across the globe. (I lived through this and can tell you most of my fellow Torontonians considered the worldwide reaction to SARS overblown, misinformed, unfounded and xenophobic.) The CBC and MuchMoreMusic provided television coverage, and the world press reported the event as well.

I think the only one dreading the feel-good gig was the owner of the nearby Idomo Furniture store, Gerrit de Boer, who no doubt feared a repeat of the wall of raw sewage that flooded his flagship location during Pope John Paul II’s World Youth Day visit to Downsview Park the previous summer. The park’s 7,000 portable toilets were unable to accommodate over 800,000 worshippers, causing the sewer lines to back up and consequently send a Noah’s Ark–like level of decidedly unholy human sludge (32,000 litres) into the store, desecrating nearly his entire inventory.

Organized in just a month, SARSfest featured both daytime and evening bills. The afternoon lineup was a hodgepodge of dissimilar acts linked together for the greater good, including (in order of appearance): The Have Love Will Travel Revue (Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi’s blues revival), Sam Roberts, Kathleen Edwards, La Chicane, The Tea Party, The Flaming Lips, Sass Jordan, The Isley Brothers and Blue Rodeo.

The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, July 30, 2003.

Far more interesting was the star-studded evening lineup: Justin Timberlake, a reunited Guess Who, Rush, AC/DC and The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, Timberlake’s 20-minute set was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The former ’N Sync standout had to endure thousands of boos and angry taunts from AC/DC fans – as well as dodge the occasional thrown water bottle. What a bunch of jerks! Sure Timberlake may not have fit the rock-heavy evening lineup, but he was there in good faith and volunteered to help the beleaguered city. Leave it to some moron AC/DC fans to attack the talented performer. To his credit, Timberlake was all class regarding his poor reception. To paraphrase: If I was here to see AC/DC, I’d boo me too.

Jerk fans aside, if SARSfest had a competition for best performance, AC/DC would have won hands down. The quintet delivered rock anthem after rock anthem, including “Hell’s Bells” and “Thunderstruck,” thrilling the decidedly pro-AC/DC audience. Almost as good were The Flaming Lips and The Guess Who. The former ’60s icons reformed for this special event with Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings sounding as fresh as ever. Unfortunately, Rush put in an uncharacteristically sloppy performance, though the prog-rock trio had a good excuse: they were the last band added to the lineup and didn’t have enough time to properly rehearse (they also felt obligated to take part since they’re from Toronto).

The Rolling Stones at Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto, July 30, 2003.

As a longtime Stones fan, I think they sounded pretty tight – no surprise given they interrupted their European tour to headline the show. They had no trouble whipping the crowd up during most of their 90-minute set and sent everyone home happy with classics “Tumbling Dice,” “Ruby Tuesday” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” One of their only missteps was when AC/DC whipping boy Timberlake joined the legends for a duet on “Miss You.”

As Jane Stephenson wrote in her original Sun Media review of the show: “Unfortunately, Jagger and Timberlake didn’t really mesh in terms of style, particularly when Timberlake inserted the chorus of his song, ‘Cry Me a River,’ into the Stones’ disco-inflected chestnut.”

Many fans booed, which visibly infuriated Keith Richards (he’d clearly had enough of the crowd’s anti-Timberlake antics). I love this man and thank you Rolling Stones!

Sincerely,
Canada

 

On August 3, 1954, The Crew Cuts remained at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart for a second straight week with “Sh-Boom” (sometimes referred to as “Life Could Be a Dream”). Originally released by R&B vocal group The Chords earlier the same year, the groundbreaking Toronto pop band did a more traditional big band take on the doo-wop cut. (The Chords’ single is considered to be one of the first pop songs to reach the Top 10 – it peaked at No. 9.) The Crew Cuts’ “Sh-Boom” stayed at No. 1 for an impressive nine straight weeks and remained on the charts for over two months. Sh-Wow!!!

Although they had many self-penned hits in Canada, The Crew Cuts made their fortune in the United States doing covers of doo-wop and R&B songs. The quartet broke up in 1964, but reunited in Nashville in 1977 and again in 1984 when they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame with fellow vocal groups The Four Lads and The Diamonds.

 

Another feel-good event took place on August 5, 1989.

Rod Stewart headlined a benefit concert in Boston, Massachusetts, in honour of Terry Fox. The Marathon of Hope runner lost his battle with cancer in 1981, but his legacy continues to inspire the world. At the benefit, Stewart performed the soulful song “Never Give Up on a Dream,” which he co-wrote with Bernie Taupin and Jim Cregan, and that captures the essence of Fox’s journey.

Since the track – which was recorded on Stewart’s 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours – is about Canada’s greatest national hero (in my humble opinion, but I’m right) it immediately became one of my all-time favourites. I especially like the lines: “Inspiring all to never lose/It’ll take a long, long time for someone to fill your shoes/ It’ll take somebody who is a lot like you/Who never gave up on a dream.”

Note: On September 1, 1981, after 143 days and more than 5,300 kilometres, the young one-legged crusader was forced to abandon his cross-Canada run to raise funds and awareness for cancer research.

The idea for the tune came sometime in late 1980 or early 1981 when the British rocker happened to watch a documentary about Terry Fox: “I saw it on TV and thought that’s certainly worth a song.”

Epic understatement aside, it’s unfortunate Stewart has never composed any other songs during his long and productive career that rival the depth and compassion of the Fox tribute – unless, that is, you find “Tonight I’m Yours” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” truly inspirational.

Regardless, because of “Never Give Up on a Dream” and the Boston benefit concert (the money raised went to cancer research), Stewart gets a free pass for life from me. I’d even look the other way if he released an album of all Ke$ha tunes. Well, maybe not.

Next week: Procol Harum and Metallica

“Never Give Up on a Dream” by Rod Stewart

I Want to Ride My Bicycle, I Want to Ride My Bike

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Riding a bike is a wonderful thing to do at any time of the year, but never more so than during the warm months of summer. Bike riding and summertime just seem to be made for each other – maybe because they share a lot of the same associations: freedom, easy-goingness, innocence and relaxation.

Just as summer will always be associated with summer vacation in my mind, bike riding will always be associated with the carefree feelings of childhood – and that’s a good thing to hold on to, I think. Plus, when you’re in a sea of sweltering traffic, there’s something undeniably liberating about just being able to cruise on by it or, like here in Toronto, being able to hop down to the lakefront trail and ride home peacefully. So to celebrate summer’s most sublime pastime, here are a few clips and artists singing of the bicycle’s glory.

Mark Ronson and The Business Intl. – “The Bike Song”

Mark Ronson is an English DJ, musician, music producer, artist and the co-founder of Allido Records. He’s also the man behind this song and video. More than just “a” bike song, it’s “the” bike song, a whole cinematic tribute to two-wheeled pedal power and the joyful freedom that comes with carefree cruising. With a plot that centres around some nefarious bike-thievery and the subsequent thwarting of said bike-thievery by autonomously operating bikes, followed by a whole lot of general bike-related awesomeness, it’s pretty much normal life on a bike.

 

Lily Allen – “LDN”

Here’s another ode to two-wheeled glory from across the pond, courtesy of recording artist, actress and fashion designer Lily Allen. Those Brits really seem to dig their bikes. Consigned to her bike because “the filth took away my licence,” Allen subsequently realizes that bike riding “doesn’t get me down and I feel OK, ’cause the sights that I’m seeing are priceless.” Just one of the many benefits of the bicycle. Ride on, fair Lily.

 

Robin Thicke – “When I Get You Alone”

The son of Canadian actor, comedian, songwriter, and game and talk show host Alan Thicke, Robin Thicke is an R&B singer-songwriter, musician and composer. His “When I Get You Alone” isn’t about bikes or bike riding per se, but the music video depicts the love song through the story of a very passionate and soulful New York City bicycle courier. Then again, who knows? The love Thicke sings about could very well be the love he feels for riding his bike.

 

Toronto Bicycle Music Festival featuring “Funeral Song” by Richard Laviolette

Here’s another interesting bike and music-related bit: the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival. It’s a free community event that’s been running for a few years now, sponsored by both the Toronto Arts Council and Ontario Arts Council. It basically involves a series of outdoor, pedal-powered concerts, which this year will feature Snowblink, Gentleman Reg and Rae Spoon among others. It takes place Saturday, September 15, 2012. For more information check out the Toronto Bicycle Music Festival website or watch the festival’s short film.

 

Queen – “Bicycle Race”

And to finish things off, how could we not include the one that started them all, bike song of all bike songs: Queen’s original tribute to simple, sustainable transportation. This song says it all. So go forth, music lovers, and ride!

This Week in Music History: July 23 to 29

Posted on: July 24th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

At the end of their July 25, 1969, gig at the Fillmore East in New York City, Crosby, Stills and Nash were joined by Neil Young for the first time, which made the folk-rock supergroup even more supergroupy. The trio were looking to expand their sound, so Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegün recommended the Toronto-born rocker and Stephen Stills’ old Buffalo Springfield band mate.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stills was originally leery of bringing his old collaborator aboard (he apparently wanted to distance himself from Buffalo Springfield). Graham Nash also needed convincing since he didn’t know much about Young. After a series of meetings, the duo agreed to add him to the group. (Young’s contract allowed him to also maintain his career with his new band, Crazy Horse.)

David Crosby’s reaction to the new addition: “Where am I?!” Actually, I made that up, but it is David Crosby, so it could be true, don’t you think?

Young appeared on only a few songs at the Fillmore gig, mainly in a supporting role. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young kicked off their first tour (fleshed out with supporting members drummer Dallas Taylor and Motown bassist Greg Reeves) with an August 17, 1969, concert at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The band’s second tour stop was at a small, insignificant music and art fair called Woodstock, where, interestingly, Young skipped most of the group’s hour-long acoustic set and requested to be cut out of the documentary.

As a full-time member of the group, Young wrote some of the band’s best songs, including the Canadian folk masterpiece “Helpless” and one of rock’s best and most virulent protest songs, “Ohio.”

CSN&Y broke up in 1971, but have reformed many times over the years. Their last studio album, Looking Forward, came out in 1999, and the group staged a well-received “Freedom of Speech” tour in 2006.

 

Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 26, 1959. Written by Anka, the song was the Ottawa-born teen idol’s only No. 1 hit in his illustrious – and still active – 57-year career. He had score another chart-topper in 1957 with “Diana,” but that was on the Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart, a precursor to the Hot 100.

Anka can be seen performing “Lonely Boy” in the low-budget exploitation teen film, Girls Town, which was released on October 5, 1959. In this truly unwatchable motion picture, the singer-songwriter also performed “It’s Time to Cry,” “Girls Town Blues” and “Ave Maria.”

In addition to featuring Anka in his first on-screen role, the film also starred blond “sex bomb” Mamie Van Doren and jazz singer Mel Tormé, as well as a supporting cast featuring several children of famous actors, including the hack sons of silent film legends Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. Incidentally, Anka’s 1959 followup single was the far more timeless “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart.

 

Honestly, I didn’t make this up…

A riot erupted after MC Hammer’s July 28, 1991, concert in Penticton, B.C., – he was in town as one of the headliners for the Penticton Peach Festival. Approximately 2,000 fans looted and smashed stores in the downtown area and wrecked tourist hot spots located on the nearby beach. Penticton’s then-mayor, Jake Kimberley, read the Riot Act and 90 idiots were jailed while 60 people received injuries during the mayhem.

What caused the riot? Well, I have a few theories: Hammer’s faulty decision to open with “U Can’t Touch This,” followed by 90 minutes of all-new untested material; the Los Angeles–based rapper was misheard by approximately 2,000 fans as saying “It’s riot time!” instead of “It’s Hammer time!”; or approximately 2,000 fans finally realized en masse that they actually paid money to see MC Hammer perform.

Joking aside – although I’m kind of being serious about the latter theory – according to a Castanet.net story from 2006, “the cumulation of several large events over one weekend resulted in a mob of thousands descending on the downtown area.”

Founded in 1947, the Penticton Peach Festival is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year from August 8 to 12, and two of the fest headliners are the great Canadian rock bands Lighthouse and 54-40. No riots are expected, unless Hammer is a last-minute replacement for 54-40 lead singer Neil Osborne.

 

A happy birthday goes out to one of the most influential bassists in rock!

Gary Lee Weinrib, better known to the music world as Geddy Lee, the bassist, keyboardist and lead singer for progressive rock band, Rush, was born in North York, Ont., on July 29, 1953. Gary became “Geddy” because Lee’s mother, a Polish immigrant and Second World War concentration camp survivor, had a thick accent and had trouble pronouncing his name.

Lee took up bass as a teenager, influenced by the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, The Who’s John Entwistle and Cream’s Jack Bruce. He was recruited to join Rush by childhood friend Alex Lifeson when he was just 15 years old, also assuming lead singer duties. Rounding out the young power trio was drummer John Rutsey.

Lee’s dexterous and highly adventurous bass style was clearly inspired by his musical heroes, however even in their formative years, Rush sounded nothing like the heavy blues bands that they were reportedly influenced by, such as Blue Cheer, Cream and especially Led Zeppelin; only “Here Again,” from their 1974 self-titled debut, comes close.

Still, Rush weren’t a full-on progressive rock band until Neil Peart replaced Rutsey in the summer of 1974. The proficient drummer and deep-thinking lyricist helped redefine the trio. The conventional rock heard on the first album was replaced with harder-hitting and technically challenging material – and a slew of hit albums soon followed.

During the mid-1970s through the 1980s, Rush became one of the most popular touring bands in the world and produced some of progressive rock’s greatest albums: 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres (not to mention two of rock’s most admired live albums, 1976’s All the World’s a Stage and 1981’s Exit…Stage Left). And when the band’s defining albums, Moving Pictures and Signals, were released in the early ’80s, Rush became one of the biggest rock bands in the world. The affable threesome remain superstars today and continue to put out one bestselling studio album after another. Their latest effort, Clockwork Angels, harkens back to their 1970s hard-hitting prime.

Even though his voice is off-putting to some, Lee’s high-register vocal chops – compared favourably, believe it or not, to Woody Woodpecker and Robert Plant on speed – put a distinctive stamp on Rush’s music. It’s impossible to imagine any other singer capable of doing a better job on the group’s dozens of radio hits, including “Fly by Night,” “Closer to the Heart,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer” and “Subdivisions.”

An avid wine collector and huge baseball fan, Lee is one of the most respected bassists of his generation. His legion of admirers includes Primus’ Les Claypool, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris and Metallica’s Cliff Burton. Lee is a six-time winner of GuitarPlayer’s Best Rock Bass award and is also enshrined in the respected magazine’s Hall of Fame.

My favourite of Lee’s non-Rush work includes his memorable comedic turn on Bob and Doug McKenzie’s 1981 hit single “Take Off.” Lee and his band mates were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and made officers of the Order of Canada in 1996.

 

Next week: The Crew Cuts and Terry Fox

“Closer to the Heart” by Rush, from Exit…Stage Left

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