By David Ball
“This Time,” the third and final single from Bryan Adams’ North American breakthrough, Cuts Like a Knife, peaked at No. 24 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on October 29, 1983. The track, written by Adams and Jim Vallance, became the Kingston, Ontario–born rocker’s first venture onto the United Kingdom charts, which is indeed surprising given the success of the LP’s more prominent previous two Billboard and RPM hits, “Straight From the Heart” and “Cuts Like a Knife,” the latter of which reached the Top 10 in the United States.
Though the album won four JUNO Awards in 1984, Cuts Like a Knife was not well received outside of North America upon its initial go-round. However, album sales grew to over $2 million worldwide the following year when Adams released his career-defining effort, Reckless. Sales and accolades aside, it’s pretty much a flip of the coin when it comes to deciding which is the better of the two releases as both are widely recognized as two of the finest rock albums of the 1980s.
Since it’s Halloween time, I’ve been getting into the spirit by reading some spine-tingling yarns by one of the masters of horror, H. P. Lovecraft. Still, even Lovecraft’s stories “The Tomb” and “Herbert West–Reanimator” pale in comparison to the frights that will surely be uncovered, intentionally and unintentionally, in the forthcoming Ke$ha autobiography – or equal the level of dark despair created by the evil genius known as Dr. Tongue.
Not known for being a song-and-dance satirist – unlike most of his “SCTV” co-stars – it’s a bit of stretch to include John Candy in This Week In Music History, but WHO CARES?! It’s John Freakin’ Candy, it’s Halloween time and, from where I’m sitting, the lovable multi-layered comedic genius deserves props for bringing North American television audiences some hilarious music-related characters during his SCTV years, including Gil “The Fishin’ Musician” Fisher – a perfect send-up of the long-running CTV fishing show hosted by TV sportswriter and amateur angler Red Fisher. (I’m particularly fond of Gil’s episodes featuring Wendy O’Williams and her shock-punk band The Plasmatics, The Tubes and Joe Walsh). Then there was clarinet-playing Yosh Shmenge in the Leutonian polka supergroup The Shmenge Brothers (a.k.a. the Happy Wanderers) as well as Candy’s mighty impression of Luciano Pavarotti (check out the K-Tel commercial “Stairway to Heaven” parody featuring the iconic opera singer).
Candy started his professional career with the CBC in Toronto in the early 1970s. He then hooked up with Chicago’s ground-breaking Second City improv troupe when it opened its sister branch in Toronto in 1973, joining such comedy talents as Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas and Eugene Levy. In 1976, “SCTV” hit Canadian airwaves via Global TV and was picked up in syndication in the United States a few years later. The sketch comedy was a big hit on both sides of the border (and sometimes funnier than rival “Saturday Night Live”), winning two Emmy Awards, and the show subsequently made stars out of many of its main cast members.
Although Candy scored a few bit film parts in the 1970s and early ’80s, including in Steven Spielberg’s 1941, The Blues Brothers and Stripes, his silver-screen career didn’t really take off until “SCTV” went off the air in 1983. Candy delivered memorable support work in several big budget comedies, including Splash (1984) and Brewster’s Millions (1985) before landing one of his most lasting roles, that of amiable shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith in John Hughes’ heartwarming and rip-roaringly funny 1987 road trip masterpiece, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. He followed it up two years later with the beloved blockbuster Uncle Buck. Speaking of the former, one of the film’s funniest scenes involves Candy as Griffith driving at night, playing air piano and saxophone while listening to Ray Charles’ “Mess Around,” as his reluctant road trip partner Neal Page (Steve Martin) sleeps. Outright madness ensues.
While it may be true that Candy’s immense talent was wasted by most filmmakers (check out the bombs Who’s Harry Crumb? and Delirious), his career appeared to be on the upswing around the time of his untimely death with 1991’s Only the Lonely, 1992’s JFK and 1993’s Jamaican bobsled comedy Cool Runnings. Heck, I even gave Michael Moore’s Canadian Bacon a mild thumbs up after seeing it in a Toronto theatre when it was released in 1995. Candy died in his sleep at age 43 while filming Wagons East in Mexico on March 4, 1994. There’ll never be another one like him. Dr. Tongue et. al, I salute you!
I’m guilty of being ignorant about this one (and many more music facts for that matter): I’ve always assumed this Montreal superstar’s song never made it onto Billboard’s Top 30. I must be living in some sort of box or something…
Corey Hart’s “Boy in the Box” reached No. 26 on the U.S. pop chart on November 2, 1985.
From the album of the same title, the follow-up single to the Billboard Top 5 and RPM No. 1 hit single “Never Surrender” charted 19 spots higher in Canada and did even better in the U.S. than Boy in the Box’s third single, “Everything in My Heart” – which is impressive, given that the latter was a Canuck chart-topper. Interesting fact: One of the producers on the JUNO Award–nominated LP was Jon Astley, the ex-brother-in-law of The Who’s Pete Townshend. (C’mon! I’m always looking for a place to squeeze in a Who reference somewhere!)
It feels like it was just last week that I mentioned Celine Dion winning beaucoup de Félix Awards at the 1985 gala… perhaps because the story was indeed featured in last week’s TWIMH. Whattya gonna do? So, without further adieu, in yet another installment of the semi-regular series: This Week in Celine Dion History…
The Quebec diva won an impressive five Felix Awards at the 18th Gala de l’ADISQ (the Quebec equivalent of the JUNO Awards) in a ceremony held in Montreal on November 3, 1996. Dion won five Félix trophies as selected by the ADISQ jury in the categories: Quebec Artist Achieving the Most Success in any Language Other Than French, Performance of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Best Selling Album of the Year (for her 1995 French-language album D’eux) and Quebec Artist Achieving the Most Success Outside of the Province of Quebec (I had money on Mitsou).
D’eux also won the 1996 JUNO Award for Best Selling Francophone Album, and the Montreal multilingual megastar won another 12 international accolades that same year including the Médaille des Arts et Lettres (Medal of Arts and Letters), presented by France’s minister of culture recognizing Dion’s status as the bestselling French-language artist in history. Magnifique!
Next week: More Bryan Adams and Cutting Crew
Driving scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) with Del Griffith doing the “Mess Around”:
By James Sandham
Apart from Christmas, I think Halloween has got to be the most musical of holidays. Bands love writing songs about Halloween. Or about zombies or monsters, which are both pretty much synonymous with the holiday. So whether you’re out trick-or-treating or you’re at home handing out the goods, here are a few tracks to put you in the spooky holiday spirit.
The Creepshow – “Zombies Ate Her Brain”
Here’s one from back in 2007 by Burlington, Ontario’s horrorbilly kings, The Creepshow. Short and sweet, its entire thematic arch is essentially summarized by the title: a girl goes to a graveyard; zombies eat her brains. It doesn’t get much better than that for Halloween.
Metric – “Monster Hospital”
This is from Metric’s JUNO Award winning third album, Live it Out, which was released in 2005. While I’m not exactly clear what vocalist Emily Haines is singing about – both “monsters” and “hospitals” figure ambiguously in the lyrics – the music video is rife with classic horror imagery, such as hands reaching up through the floors, bleeding light sockets and various ghoulishness. Great stuff from the Toronto-based quartet, and oh-so-very spooky.
Wednesday 13 – “I Walked With a Zombie”
Wednesday 13 is a musician from Charlotte, North Carolina, who is currently the frontman of the Murderdolls, and who used to be part of Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13 before they broke up – so you can tell he’s got Halloween bona fides. This track, however, comes from his solo work, off the album Transylvania 90210: Songs of Death, Dying, and the Dead, which was released in 2005. The music video has lots of vintage horror film excerpts worked in, so it’s perfect for Halloween rocking.
Misfits – “Halloween”
As the previous track demonstrated, there’s something about punk and Halloween/zombies/vintage horror movies that just seem to go together, and this classic from 1981 is another great example. It’s the Misfits fifth single, reissued in 1985 on their compilation album, Legacy of Brutality. The lyrics go something like: “This day anything goes / Burning bodies hanging from poles / I remember Halloween / Candy apples and razor blades / Little dead are soon in graves / I remember Halloween” – which leads me to wonder where lead singer Glenn Danzig grew up. Neighbourhood sounds rough.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show – “Time Warp”
And of course, this one. No Halloween is complete without some kind of Rocky Horror Picture Show reference or tie-in. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Before horror-punk, psychobilly and horrorbilly were all the rage, this was the true soundtrack of Halloween, and it’s still going strong nearly 40 years after the film’s 1975 release. Bask in the amazingness that is Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff. And have a happy Halloween.
By James Sandham
Well, music lover, it’s been one of those weeks. Work’s been getting me down, and all I want to do is get out, go listen to some music and maybe take a hike or something while the trees are still looking as lovely as they are.
That’s not going to happen though, chained as I am to my desk, so instead I’ve come up with a playlist to help me make it through until the weekend. Maybe you’re having a week like this, too? If so, you might find that some of these songs resonate with you.
Sam Cooke – “Chain Gang”
Ah yes, the Monday morning classic and one of my favourite songs with which to start the week. This song came out as a single in 1960 and reached No. 2 on the American charts. It’s by Sam Cooke, of course, the singer extraordinaire who was tragically shot by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the motel where he was staying. What a way to go. I guess it makes another Monday not seem so bad.
Drive-By Truckers – “This F***ing Job”
Here’s a cheery one. The title pretty much sums it up, and I guess we all feel that way sometimes. Luckily, for most of us, that’s the extent to which this particular piece of art imitates our particular slice of life, and we don’t actually have to go through everything detailed in the song’s rather cinematically tragic music video.
Bob Dylan – “Maggie’s Farm”
This is a great song to which to resent working. It was released in 1965 on Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album, and it’s about as resonant today as it probably was back then. Of course, it’s generally interpreted as Dylan’s declaration of independence from the protest folk movement, casting him as the pawn and the folk music scene as the oppressor – so that kind of changes things, if he’s not actually talking about “working,” but rather about being “artistically constrained” by his “scene.”
Loverboy – “Working for the Weekend”
The Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2009 inductees didn’t get in on good looks alone – they also wrote classic tunes, like this one, which I’m sure nearly everyone has belted out at least once on their way home from work. Sadly, this is a reality for all too many of us.
Harry Belafonte – “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)”
And then… there is this one. If I’d written it I would have called it “The Quitting Song” or at least “The Closing Song,” because it seems to perfectly capture the feeling of the end of the day, as you drag your weary body home – hopefully to something better. I’m humming it right now, in fact. “Me want to go home…”
By David Ball
In last week’s TWIMH, I wrote that Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Fred Turner is one of Canada’s most underrated artists. Well, I’d like to add another talented-but-chronically-under-the-radar act to the list: the Stampeders.
For whatever reason (and I certainly don’t know the answer), the JUNO Award winners’ important Canadian-rock legacy has diminished over the decades, certainly in comparison to their more famous homegrown rivals from the late 1960s and 1970s, Lighthouse and The Guess Who.
Formed in Calgary in 1964 as The Rebounds, the sextet changed their name to the Stampeders a year later and relocated to Toronto in 1966. By 1968 the lineup was trimmed down to a trio consisting of founding members Rich Dodson, Ronnie King and Kim Berly. They maintained a healthy chart presence in Canada during their initial 13-year run, which included seven Top 10 singles, but the Stampeders only managed to generate a measly one hit in the United States: “Sweet City Woman.”
The toe-tapping country-rock single from their 1971 gold-selling debut, Against the Grain (awkwardly retitled: Sweet City Woman in the U.S.), reached the No. 8 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 23, 1971. It fared far better in Canada where it conquered three RPM charts (pop, adult contemporary and country). From 1971 to 1976, eight Stampeders’ LPs were solid domestic sellers, but Against the Grain was the only record to do any sort of damage south of the border… although “damage” is subjective given the album’s 172nd Billboard finish (it reached RPM’s Top 10). Give the excellent Best of Stampeders album a spin and try to tell me they aren’t one of the best Canuck bands from the 1970s.
JUNO Award winners Crash Test Dummies released their most successful album, God Shuffled His Feet, on October 26, 1993. The Winnipeg folk rockers’ critically praised followup to their impressive 1991 debut, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, was an international smash highlighted by its first-place chart finish in both Austria and New Zealand along with a No. 2 chart finish in the United Kingdom and a Top 10 showing on Billboard in the U.S.
Somewhat surprising was its sluggish performance on Canada’s RPM album chart, stalling at an underwhelming No. 17. Don’t chew on the latter mini-disgrace for too long, though, because God Shuffled His Feet eventually shuffled up sales of over five million copies worldwide (including going three times platinum domestically), and four of its 12 songs, all penned by frontman Brad Roberts, charted in Canada, including the Billboard Top Fiver and Grammy and JUNO Award–nominated single, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.”
Speaking of that Jerry Harrison–produced, almost-novelty, love-it-or-hate-it hit tune of theirs – which spotlights Brad Roberts’s quirky lyrics and distinctive, easygoing deep-as-Barry White baritone: it lost the coveted 1994 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal to “I Swear” by All-4-One. The last time I was subjected to the inedible fat-free R&B-light ditty known as “I Swear,” it made me swear like an Oshawa-bound truck-driver, repeatedly, in a crowded mall… and I believe in front of nuns.
In another instalment of the semi-regular series: This Week in Celine Dion History…
On October 27, 1985, the burgeoning chanteuse was the big winner at the seventh edition of the Félix Awards, named in honour of legendary Quebec singer-songwriter, actor and poet Félix Leclerc. Dion took home five Félix trophies to sit on her fireplace mantel next to the ones she won in 1983, which included the awards for Best Female Performer and Discovery of the Year.
Statues are handed out annually to the Quebec artists deemed most deserving by members of the Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo – and there’s little doubt the golden-voiced performer blessed with a five-octave range met Félix’s criteria.
By 1985 and at the tender age of 17, Dion was already a household name in la belle province and had already begun to make a name for herself across the rest of Canada and around the world with several hit French-language albums and international awards under her belt.
On a related note, Dion refused the 1990 Félix Award for Anglophone Artist of the Year for her English-language debut, Unison, because she believed she wasn’t an anglophone artist.
On October 28, 1977, Neil Young released his seminal 35-song triple-decker compilation, Decade, a comprehensive snapshot of the prolific singer-songwriter’s career from 1966 to 1976, including a couple of gems from his past affiliations and five unreleased cuts.
Compiled by the Canadian singer-songwriter and containing self-penned liner notes, the tome features selections from every Young-related release minus the live albums Time Fades Away and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 4-Way Street. Some of the unreleased gems are: “Down to the Wire” with Dr. John and two of Young’s old Buffalo Springfield band-mates, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay; Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s alternate version of “Like a Hurricane”; and the live solo acoustic FM radio staple “Sugar Mountain” (previously found on the B-side to 1968’s “The Loner”).
Long-suffering Young completists know this frustrating fact: For literally decades, Decade remained the only official career retrospective until a few minor compilations popped up in the 1990s. Young has long promised a Decade II, but we’re still waiting. With the “Time Waits for No One” pace he’s been taking, Decade III or even Decade IV seems more likely.
On a personal note, back in the early ’90s during the end of my Queen’s University years (man, I’m old), my friend Al accidently melted Disc 3 of my pristine Decade triple vinyl. I didn’t notice until I played “Cortez the Killer” one night and it sounded scratched to hell. The sly little bastard bought a used copy when I wasn’t home and sneakily tried to pull the wool over my eyes and ears. No dice, but to this day I still play the dinged-up Decade doppelganger with each pop, crack and skip committed to memory decades ago.
Next week: TWICDH (This Week in Celine Dion History) and Corey Hart
“Sweet City Woman” by the Stampeders
By James Sandham
Well, music lover, I’ve been continuing my fall jazz kick, and this week I’ve been into Oscar Peterson, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1978 inductee. He’s released more than 200 recordings, won eight Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Award) and is generally considered to be one of the best all-around jazz pianists of all time. It’s quite a life.
It all started in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood, where Peterson was born in 1925. Perhaps it’s no surprise, having been born into the heyday of classic jazz, that Peterson’s interest in music began early on. It’s reported that at age five he was already honing his skills on both the trumpet and piano, but a bout of tuberculosis at age seven put the kibosh on the former. It may have been for the better, though, because from that point on Peterson was able focus exclusively on the piano, the instrument on which he would later become a legend.
Peterson’s father, Daniel, who had emigrated to Montreal from the West Indies with Peterson’s mother, was one of his first piano teachers. Peterson’s sister, Daisy Sweeney, who was a classical piano player, also taught him some early lessons, as did Hungarian-born pianist Paul de Marky. It was largely due to their training that Peterson reached the heights he did. They had him practising hard on a daily basis – sometimes for up to six hours. As a result, by age nine Peterson was playing with a level of control that would impress most professional musicians. At the age of 14 he won a national music competition organized by the CBC, and at that point dropped out of school to pursue music full time.
Peterson initially worked as a pianist for a weekly radio show, playing at hotels and music halls on the side. But an important step in his career came when he joined American jazz impresario Norman Granz’s now-legendary Verve label and became involved with Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic project. Granz became Peterson’s manager – a relationship that would last most of Peterson’s career – and Peterson often praised him for standing up for him and other black jazz musicians in the segregationist south of the 1950s and 1960s, including one incident where Granz stood up to a gun-toting southern policeman who wanted to stop Peterson from using a “white-only” taxi.
In spite of such racist barriers of the time, Peterson’s talent and prestige only continued to grow. He redefined the jazz trio by bringing the musicianship of all three members up to the highest level, and included both white and black players – a controversial move in the 1950s. Peterson and his trio produced such successful albums as Night Train and Canadiana Suite. While his early trios are considered the setting in which he was strongest, Peterson went on from there to perform variously with quartets, duos and solo.
By the 1990s, after a lifetime of achievement in the musical world as a composer, musician and teacher, Peterson could be found working as a mentor in York University’s jazz program, and even served as chancellor of the university for a time. His arthritis, however – which he’d suffered from since he was young – increasingly affected his ability to play. Peterson also underwent hip surgery, and in 1993 he suffered a stroke, which reportedly forced him to turn down the position of lieutenant governor of Ontario that had been offered to him by longtime admirer and friend Jean Chrétien.
Peterson took two years to recuperate and his virtuosity was never restored to its original level. After his stroke he relied principally on his right hand to play. Nonetheless, he continued to play and tour into the 2000s.
In 2007, however, Peterson’s health deteriorated rapidly and he was forced to cancel performances at the Toronto Jazz Festival, as well as at a Carnegie Hall all-star performance that was to be held in his honour. He died of kidney failure at the end of the year, at home, in Mississauga.
Oscar Peterson – “C Jam Blues”
By David Ball
Many have come close, but scant few have actually earned the right to wear the “Biggest Rock Act in the World” championship belt. I can think of only three Canadian artists – Neil Young (several times), Rush (circa Moving Pictures) and, for about a year, Bachman-Turner Overdrive – who can rightfully lay claim to the elite of the elite title worn at one time or another by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Van Halen, U2 and Radiohead.
Some of you might be thinking: BTO??!! You better believe it! For a couple of years, the influential Winnipeg quartet ruled the planet with a string of massive hit singles, including “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and “Takin’ Care of Business,” as well as three consecutive Top 5 hit albums: 1973’s Bachman-Turner Overdrive II, 1974’s Not Fragile (Billboard No. 1) and 1975’s Four Wheel Drive. Plus, they were one of the hottest touring bands in North America.
A big part of the group’s popularity can be attributed to the “T” in BTO: Fred Turner. The bassist and singer, also known as C.F. Turner, was born on October 16, 1943, in Winnipeg.
After playing in a number of groups in Manitoba’s largest city throughout the 1960s, Turner was asked to join promising local rockers Brave Belt as their touring bassist in 1971. At the time, Turner was in a cover band called D-Drifters, and his talent caught the attention of Neil Young, who recommended the bassist to Brave Belt’s Randy Bachman and Chad Allan, both formerly and famously of The Guess Who.
As luck would have it, before the recording of Brave Belt’s second studio album Allan packed his bags, and Turner was hired as his replacement. After a third Brave Belt LP failed to materialize (although demos were already in the can), management convinced the group (consisting of Turner and brothers, Tim, Robbie and Randy Bachman) to change their name – and Bachman-Turner Overdrive was born.
I’m not going out on a limb by stating that Turner is one of Canada’s most criminally underrated talents. (I’ll bet $$$ that noted BTO disciples, The Sheepdogs, would wholeheartedly agree with me, too.) Although Randy Bachman was the recognizable star of the group due to his role in The Guess Who and was responsible for some of BTO’s big hits, Turner’s contributions were equally vital. He wrote and sang lead vocals on many of the band’s best-known songs, including “Let It Ride,” “Roll on Down the Highway,” “Blue Collar” and “Gimme Your Money Please.”
Robbie Bachman has suggested in many interviews over the years that BTO’s transformation from Brave Belt’s country leanings to loud arena rock anthems occurred only when Turner officially came into the fold. He brought in the harder edge and attitude, and a grittier vocal delivery.
Randy Bachman moved on to a solo career in 1977, and BTO released two albums with bassist-singer Jim Clench in 1978 and ’79, with Turner moving over to rhythm guitar. Various BTO incarnations carried on until 2010, including a few with Randy – but Turner is the only member of the original band to appear on every album.
As a fan of Randy Bachman’s CBC Radio One music program “Vinyl Tap,” I welcome all the self-promoting that goes on by the famous host. He keeps the legacies of his old groups fresh and alive on an almost weekly basis while raising the international profile of the old BTO co-leaders’ recent reunion tour – as Bachman & Turner – along with the release of the duo’s 2010 self-titled album, a solid return to their mid-’70s prime.
Hair premiered at the Off-Broadway Anspacher Theater on October 17, 1967. The award-winning, tribal, counter-culture musical was written by lyricists James Rado and Gerome Ragni, with music provided by Montreal’s Galt MacDermot. The renowned Canadian composer’s catchy melodies on iconic songs such as “Aquarius” and “Good Morning Starshine” underscored the true essence of the late ’60s Summer of Love flower power.
The original Off-Broadway production had a limited six-week run and went through several rewrites before its official Broadway opening the following April. One of the changes included making the story more realistic: the far-out, hippy-dippy space alien aspiring to be a cinematic director subplot was altered, replaced by a real, live and decidedly less flaky human character.
The Broadway production ran for 1,750 performances, while the soundtrack featuring the original cast sold three million copies, garnered several hit singles and won a Grammy Award in 1969. Because of its timeless qualities, Hair has not once been out of production since its inception. Immediately after its initial late ’60s run, touring companies brought the musical to most countries around the world, and international revivals have popped up every few years, including the acclaimed Broadway production in 2010. The inevitable film adaptation was released in 1979.
MacDermot followed up Hair by composing the music for three successive and successful rock musicals: 1971’s Two Gentlemen of Verona (Tony Award–winner for best musical) and 1972’s Dude (featuring Canadian cast member Salome Bey) and Via Galactica.
Because of his love of jazz, funk, classical and popular music, MacDermot has enjoyed an equally impressive non-theatrical career, highlighted by his Grammy Award–winning collaboration with saxophone great Cannonball Adderly on “African Waltz” in 1960. He also provided the scores to the 1970’s Ossie Davis–directed blaxploitation flick Cotton Comes to Harlem (starring Redd Foxx) and Rhinoceros, a little-seen 1974 feature starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. One of his songs, “Cold Coffee,” can be heard in Norman Jewison’s teriffic 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. MacDermot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009.
Robbie Robertson’s self-titled solo debut was certified gold in the United States on October 21, 1988. Released in North America exactly one year earlier, the nine-song JUNO Award–winning effort was co-produced by Daniel Lanois and Robertson, and, as surprising as this sounds, it also marked the ex-leader of The Band’s debut as a lead singer (the guitarist and songwriter was relegated to backup duties, by choice, during the pioneering rock group’s 13-year tenure).
Some of the star-studded musicians who helped out during the recording sessions included Robertson’s former Band mates Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, Lanois (percussion), Tony Levin (most notably his stick/bass work on the smoky hit single “Somewhere Down the Crazy River”), Peter Gabriel (who sings a duet with Robertson on the Richard Manuel tribute single “Fallen Angel”), Terry Bozio and U2’s Larry Mullen Jr., The Edge and Adam Clayton. What?! No Bono or Sheryl “I’m on every high-profile album ever recorded” Crow?!
Robertson’s debut went two times platinum in Canada in the winter of 1989, and a slicked-up but otherwise honest cover of its leadoff track, “Broken Arrow,” became a Top 20 Billboard hit for Rod Stewart in 1991.
The Toronto-born, Canadian Music Hall of Fame member (inducted with The Band in 1989) and officer of the Order of Canada released his fifth solo album in the spring of 2011.
Next week: More Celine Dion and Crash Test Dummies
“Not Fragile” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, live 1974
By James Sandham
Well, music lover, somehow it’s already October, Thanksgiving has slipped by, and I’ve had to dig out all those sweaters it feels like I only packed away a few months ago. Yes, autumn is here in all its glory.
It’s the perfect time of year to slow down, relax and appreciate what’s going on around us: the leaves changing colours, the air growing crisper and cooler. And there’s something about the sun this time of year – it reminds me of honey, all golden and viscous. It really is beautiful, and there’s nothing that helps heighten the appreciation of autumn more than some good music – so, to that end, I’ve put together a few songs for the season.
Oliver Schroer – “Field of Stars”
I’ve been in love with this song lately. It’s like the aural equivalent of walking through an autumn forest as the sun slants through the coloured leaves – there’s an element of the divine hidden somewhere in there. It’s composed and played by Ontario-born fiddler Oliver Schroer, a former Toronto street busker, JUNO Award nominee and prolific composer. It comes from his album Camino, which was recorded in churches as he, his wife and two friends walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail in 2004.
Brigitte Bardot – “Un jour comme un autre”
This song doesn’t have anything to do with autumn per se, but I’ve been playing it a lot lately, and I think it’s because the fall always makes me a little more predisposed to classic oldies like this one. There’s something inherently nostalgic about this season, and tunes like this one just seem to go hand-in-hand with fall. Not to mention the subtle underlying melancholy of the season – while autumn is beautiful, there’s also something sad about it as things end, the year edges toward conclusion and the vibrancy of summer fades. This song is perfect for watching leaves drift from the trees on those grey autumn days. It’s sung, of course, by famous French fashion model, actress and singer Brigitte Bardot, an icon of the 1960s.
Georgie Fame – “Sitting in the Park”
Speaking of classics from the ’60s, I had to include this one: Georgie Fame”s cover of the 1965 Billy Stewart single “Sitting in the Park.” It’s another good nostalgic song for autumn, particularly for strolling around in parks, which is de rigueur for this time of year (you gotta get out where the trees are). Fame is a British musician, probably best known for his jazz work, who had a variety of hits in the ’60s.
Miles Davis – “Nuit sur les Champs-lyses”
This is a song from the French film Ascenseur pour l’chafaud, which was released in North America with the title Elevator to the Gallows, and it’s probably one of my favourite tracks by Miles Davis. Listening to it immediately calls up imagery. For me, it’s sitting alone on an autumn night, the street outside your window deserted, lights reflecting off the rain-slicked road and drizzle pattering against the window (possibly, as long as we’re idealizing here, while drinking a good glass of port). This song is quiet autumn nights at their finest.
Chet Baker – “Autumn Leaves”
And as long as we’re talking autumn and jazz, how could we omit this one? This song is autumn, its very own little soundtrack, and it’s been covered by practically every jazz player worth knowing since it was originally written in 1945 by Hungarian musician Joseph Kosma and French poet Jacques Prevert. The song’s French title was “Les feuilles mortes”(“Dead Leaves”), and American songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote the English lyrics (which are absent from this version). It quickly became a pop and jazz standard.
Hope these songs put you in a seasonal mood. Have a wonderful autumn!
By David Ball
The Who brought their massive and yet ultimately premature farewell tour to Toronto with a sold-out show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Stadium on October 9, 1982. The venerable British Invasion quartet was calling it quits (for the first time) with one final 42-date hoorah, and the T.O. gig was the 12th on the first leg of their North American tour (the second leg concluded with the ballyhooed Maple Leaf Gardens show on December 17).
The good news for their legion of fans was that Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Kenney Jones delivered entertaining action-packed shows on most nights. The bad news was that the set lists for the tour, including the show at the CNE, featured selections from It’s Hard, the group’s generally limp 1982 swan song, minus the gritty anthem, “Eminence Front.” As a lifelong Who fan, I’ll go on record in stating that It’s Hard’s “Athena” may well be one of the most putrid 45s Townshend has ever written for his band, rivalling any sick-inducing single unleashed by other aging 1960s supergroups during the decade of the ’80s, including anything by Chicago/Peter Cetera, The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” and, of course, Starship’s “We Built This City.”
The Who’s followers are notoriously belligerent toward opening acts – and Toronto was no exception. The CNE stopover featured Joe Jackson, who was an unfortunate last-minute replacement for The Clash (the English punk pioneers had to cancel that night because they were booked on “Saturday Night Live”).
The amiable English pop crooner was jeered mercilessly throughout his warm-up performance and, as legend has it, walked off stage shortly after being struck by a perfectly thrown “loaded” hotdog. Poor Joe, but no doubt the feisty audience of over 60,000 would’ve greeted The Clash in a similar manner, perhaps minus the loaded hotdog soaked with mustard, ketchup, corn relish and heaps of onions. Case in point: Joe Strummer and company were booed throughout their notorious Shea Stadium shows on October 12 and 13, as well as during some of The Who’s other farewell tour dates. But if you’ve heard anything from The Who’s Last LP (“highlights” from the 1982 tour; I freakin’ own this) and The Clash’s excellent live compilation From Here To Eternity (featuring several explosive performances from the farewell tour), you’ll realize the crowds booed the wrong band.
“Constant Craving” became k.d. lang’s most successful foray into the American pop charts when it reached No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 10, 1992. The single from the JUNO Award–winning album Ingénue was written by lang and Ben Mink, and went on to win the reformed Alberta cow-punker the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
After its success, the aching contemporary torch ballad was re-released internationally in 1993 and became an even bigger hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at No. 15. “Constant Craving” was a No. 2 hit on both Billboard’s and RPM’s adult contemporary charts, and also garnered an impressive Top 10 pop finish in Canada. Perhaps because the song is so darn catchy, The Rolling Stones unknowingly, allegedly, used part of the refrain in their not-as-good 1997 single, “Anybody Seen My Baby?” After Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were accused of plagiarism, Mink and lang were added to the song’s writing credits.
For whatever reason, the music world is littered with artists who peaked artistically and commercially on their first album. It’s a pity that The Knack, The Strokes, My Bloody Valentine and the Sex Pistols had only enough quality in their creative song catalogue to produce a great debut. Then there are those who started off rather modestly only to get bigger and better as their careers matured: Prince, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, The Who, The Kinks, Rush, Neil Young, U2, K’naan – and Triumph belongs in this distinguished group, too.
Before becoming one of the nation’s biggest rock exports of the late 1970s and 1980s, the JUNO Award–nominated Mississauga, Ontario–based power trio – comprised of bassist Mike Levine, drummer/singer Gil Moore and guitarist/singer Rik Emmett – released their eponymous debut through RCA to little fanfare on October 13, 1976.
Reviews were generally positive and the record mustered a solid domestic following, but distribution outside of Canada was nearly non-existent. The album was re-released internationally in 1984 and again in 1996 (the latter with a newly designed Uriah Heep–ish album sleeve and title: In The Beginning).
Produced by Levine and Doug Hill, the nine-song effort offers a decent intro template to Triumph’s brand of adventurous guitar rock and contains the FM radio-friendly single and concert favourite “24 Hours a Day.” Curiously, the proggy track, written by Emmett, marks the only time in the band’s 20-plus-year career that Levine can be heard singing lead vocals – and he does a pretty good job. The song, along with a couple of the other standout cuts from the debut album, was included on the international release of Triumph’s hit 1977 followup, Rock and Roll Machine.
Triumph formed in the summer of 1975 when Levine and Moore, armed with a newly signed contract from a local record company, persuaded a “brash, loud, and noisy” 21-year-old Emmett to record a demo with them (quote courtesy of triumphmusic.com). The threesome started gigging around the Toronto area in September of the same year. They cut their full-length debut the following autumn and scored their first hit single with a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” in 1977.
Known for their explosive live concerts, which literally included explosive pyrotechnics and cornea-scorching light shows, Triumph signed a new contract with RCA in 1978 and the partnership ushered in the trio’s most fruitful phase. By the early ’80s Triumph were rock gods on the strength of their live prowess (check out their star-making performance at 1983’s US Festival) and gold-selling twofer, 1981’s Allied Forces (with hit singles “Magic Power” and “Fight the Good Fight”) and 1983’s Never Surrender. But after the release of their ninth studio album, Surveillance, in 1987 with record company MCA, Emmett left in order to pursue a solo career. A rejigged version of Triumph bravely trudged on, assigning former Frozen Ghost axe-man Phil X with the unenviable and impossible task of filling Emmett’s shoes. However, following the 1993 release of the disappointing Edge of Excess, they finally called it a day and disbanded.
On a decidedly brighter Dio “devil horns” fist-pump note, Levine, Moore and Emmett reformed for a series of gigs in 2007 on the heels of the announcement that Triumph was to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 2008 JUNO Awards. And in the summer of 2012 Triumph released the potent DVD/CD Live at Sweden Rock Festival, which captures the band’s 2008 reunion concert. Could a new studio effort be in the works?
Next week: Fred Turner of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Hair
“24 Hours a Day” by Triumph (1976)
By James Sandham
It’s been a beautiful fall so far, so I’ve been out doing what I usually do in this kind of weather, which is digging through the bins of cheap vinyl outside the record shops. Sometimes you come across something good, and sometimes you don’t, but either way you’re pretty much guaranteed to discover some hilariously weird album art – which is exactly how I came across Moe Koffman. I had no idea who he was, but his album’s cover art was so funny I had to have it. Plus, it was only a buck. Turns out, however, that Koffman was one of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1997 inductees and, furthermore, he plays a pretty mean saxophone to boot.
Koffman was born in 1928. In addition to the sax he also played the flute (for which he’s most famous) and clarinet. He made his name as a jazzman, but a lot of the tracks on Turned On (the album of his on which I got such a good deal) seem a lot more on the funky side. In fact, they kind of reminded me of the soundtrack to a 1960s TV cop show. They were, in other words, pretty awesome.
Koffman grew up in Toronto and attended the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music), where he studied under Samuel Dolin, a founding member of the Canadian League of Composers. Koffman dropped out to perform in dance bands, and in 1950 moved to the United States. By 1955, after working with big bands, such as Jimmy Dorsey’s, he was back in Toronto to start a band of his own. Just three years later he released one of his first big singles, “Swinging Shepherd Blues,” a seriously smooth flute jam, which made it to No. 23 on the American Billboard chart.
From there Koffman went on to appear in countless commercials, background music, and film and TV soundtracks. He was a pretty famous session musician back in his time. In the ’70s he released several popular albums with arrangements of works by classical composers and was a guest performer with a number of symphony orchestras across Canada. At the same time, he was also booking performers at George’s Spaghetti House, which sounds like a total dive, but was actually a pretty well-known jazz place down on Sherbourne Street (though, as the name implies, it was also an Italian restaurant and apparently had some pretty garish lighting). Koffman himself performed a weekly gig there.
After a pretty rocking and jazz-filled life, during which he played with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Koffman succumbed to cancer at the age of 72, and died in Orangeville, Ontario. He was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1993, and four years later was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. You can still hear his music as the opening and closing scores of CBC Radio’s “As It Happens.”
Yes, it’s crazy what you can find out about just by digging through boxes of old records.
Moe Koffman – “Funky Monkey”
By David Ball
For many of us – even the non–Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Argonauts and monster truck fans – it will always be (and still should be) the SkyDome, and not the Rogers Centre. Likewise, for the more wizened across the country and the millions around the world who have passed under its majestic marquee since its celebrated grand opening on October 1, 1960, it will always be the O’Keefe Centre, and not the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. Admittedly, I was finally growing accustomed to calling the venerable multi-purpose Canadian venue by its 1996-branded Hummingbird Centre moniker before it was renamed by the electronics giant in 2007.
The attractive postwar Toronto landmark, designed by English ex-pat architect Peter Dickinson, sits on the southeast corner of Yonge and Front Streets and was built for $12 million by O’Keefe Brewery; the purveyors of an uninspiring, but cheap domestic swill owned the facility until 1968. Possession of the 3,200-seat hall, still the largest of its kind in the country, was handed over to the City of Toronto and renamed by its new sponsor, Hummingbird Communications, in the mid-1990s.
Cursed with poor natural acoustics partly due to its cavernous size, the facility was originally intended to host only large-scale productions, specifically ballet, opera and theatre performances, and it made an ideal home for both the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada. However, both original longtime tenants relocated operations a few blocks west to the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts when the glass-and-grey box opened in 2006.
But because of the venue’s growing popularity and large capacity, big mainstream acts were also booked there, eventually bringing about two state-of-the-art acoustic redesigns, first in 1996 and again in 2010, the latter as part of Sony’s current mega-million-dollar project featuring the Daniel Libeskind–designed L-shaped 57-storey condo retrofit – or as some locals, including outspoken Toronto Star urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume, see it: a city hall cash-grab and permanent disfiguring of a former modernist architectural “jewel” and would-be heritage building. I guess we’ll see how it all looks when construction is complete sometime in 2013. I’m hopeful it turns out far better than Libeskind’s garish vision of another Toronto landmark, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal addition to the north wing of the Royal Ontario Museum (although seeing dinosaurs peering down at you through exploding glass panels as you trudge down Bloor Street is pretty freaking awesome).
The spectacular October 1, 1960, gala featured a pre-Broadway performance of Camelot, starring the original cast, including Julie Andrews (I still have the hots for the Sound of Music matriarch, regardless of her age), Richard Burton and then little-known Canadian entertainer Robert Goulet.
Celebrating its 50th year of operation (minus 2008–09 when it was closed for renovations), the O’Keefe/Hummingbird/Sony Centre has hosted a wide variety of events since its inception, including countless big-ticket national and worldwide ballet productions, travelling Broadway shows, plays, orchestra recitals and live concerts by many of the world’s top entertainers.
Some of the performers who have graced the centre’s stage over the years include Count Basie, Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Cosby, Judy Garland, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Elton John, Celine Dion, Anne Murray, The Clash and metal gods Tool (I’m still kicking myself for missing their gig).
Cause I got one hand in my pocket and the other one’s counting bags and bags of cash…
Proving disbelievers – who probably included those few aging fans still pining for a return to her former ’90s teen-dance-queen glory – wrong, Alanis Morissette’s first serious album, Jagged Little Pill, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 on October 2, 1995, a mere 15 weeks after its album chart debut. The staggering fame, fortune and critical praise that accompanied the release of Morissette’s third studio effort launched the then 21-year-old Ottawa native into superstardom, subsequently making her one of the most influential singer-songwriters of her generation.
Jagged Little Pill spawned six hit singles (Morissette co-wrote all 13 tracks with producer Glen Ballard), was the album champ in 13 countries, including 24 straight weeks at No. 1 in Canada, and sold 33 million copies worldwide (as of 2009), making it one of the biggest sellers of the ’90s. The album went on to win a barrelful of JUNO Awards, as well as four Grammy Awards and tons of international awards, essentially turning any lingering threads of her past dance-pop persona into nothing more than a mere curiosity. Regarding the latter: I’d love to see the collective “WTF?!” looks on the faces of her newfound international fan base the moment they first discovered her past fluffy-pop hits “Too Hot” and “Feel Your Love.” I believe I was one of the deaf, definitely dumb and blind fools who thought at the time that she’d forever be Canada’s version of Debbie Gibson.
On a related note (yes, I like related notes), I remember being totally distracted when I heard JLP’s bold leadoff single on FM radio for the first time mainly because Morissette’s voice, at least on “You Outta Know,” reminded me a lot of Maria del Mar from Toronto’s 1980s and ’90s goth-rockers National Velvet.
Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” may have been Billboard’s No. 1 pop song this year for nine straight weeks, but it can’t hold a candle to this Canadian singer’s feat…
Hank Snow’s “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” was the top-ranked tune on the Billboard country chart on October 6, 1954. It was the Nova Scotia native’s fourth No. 1 hit, but, more significantly, the Don Robertson and Jack Rollins–penned track spent a whopping 20 weeks at No. 1, making it one of country music’s biggest country singles of all time and one of the best-loved ditties in the singer’s six-decade hit-laden career.
Snow achieved another chart-topper later in 1954, but “The Singing Ranger” wouldn’t score another No. 1 until 1962 with a North American–centric reworking of “I’ve Been Everywhere,” his second-last claim as country singles champ.
A member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Association Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame, Snow remains one of Nashville’s best-loved talents and has sold an astonishing 80 million records worldwide.
Next week: k.d lang and Triumph
Jefferson Airplane Live at the O’Keefe Centre, 1967