By James Sandham
His memoir, Waging Heavy Peace, came out to critical acclaim this autumn, as did Psychedelic Pill, the first album of original material released by Young and his longtime band Crazy Horse in nearly 10 years. Plus, he played an explosive show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre last week, proving that, while he may be an old man, he’s still rocking in the free world. To celebrate the greatness that is Neil Young, I thought I’d do a brief retrospective of some of, if not his best or most well-known songs, then at least his most interesting ones.
The Squires – “The Sultan”
The Squires – also known as “Neil Young and the Squires” – was a surf-rock band that Young formed back in 1963, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he’d moved with his mother after his parents’ divorce. Along with Ken Koblun, Jeff Wuckert and Bill Edmondson, Young recorded “The Sultan,” a single that was released by V Records with “Aurora” as its B-side. Only 300 copies of the album were pressed and only 10 are known to still exist, making it one of the rarest 45s in the world. Both tracks were re-released on the 1965 Buffalo Springfield bootleg Down to the Wire.
The Mynah Birds – “It’s My Time”
Toronto band The Mynah Birds was active between 1964 and 1967. Though the group never released an album over the three years it was together, it consisted of a variety of talented musicians, most notably Neil Young and Rick James (he’s the one singing in this track). In 1966 the group signed a seven-year deal with Motown Records, recording a number of songs, but before anything could be released James was arrested for deserting the United States Navy. The Mynah Birds’ recordings were subsequently shelved and it wasn’t until relatively recently that they were rediscovered and released as part of the 2006 box set The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6: 1966. Young left the band after James’ arrest.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – “Helpless”
After leaving The Mynah Birds, Young headed to Los Angeles with the band’s bass player, Bruce Palmer, where they joined forces with Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Dewey Martin to form Buffalo Springfield. The group released three albums before breaking up, at which point Young signed a solo deal with Reprise Records.
Young released two albums with Reprise – 1968’s Neil Young and 1969’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (which is also credited to Crazy Horse) – before reuniting with Stephen Stills to form Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Helpless” was released on their first album, Déjà Vu, which came out in 1970, although it was originally recorded with Crazy Horse in 1969, before Young’s new CSNY band-mates convinced him it would suit them better. More recently, “Helpless” was the song 1,623 Canadians chose to strum when they packed Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto in 2009 to try to make it into the Guinness World Records as the largest guitar ensemble. While their attempt failed, the song remains great.
Neil Young and Pearl Jam – “Downtown”
In 1995, many years after CSNY, Young collaborated with some of the members of Pearl Jam to release Mirror Ball, his 23rd studio album. “Downtown” was one of the album’s most successful tracks, reaching number 6 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Charts, and it has always held a special kind of place for me. I was about 11 years old when it came out, just starting to really get into music and to develop my own taste, and this song opened my eyes to two great bands that I’ve enjoyed ever since.
Neil Young – “Heart of Gold”
Of course I have to end with this track, one of my favourite songs by Neil Young. It was released on his 1972 album, Harvest, but this version was recorded a year earlier at the BBC. I like this version mainly for Young’s pre-song banter and how unfamiliar he seems to be with this “new” song of his – which of course would go on to be one of his most iconic. As you’ll see in the video, “Heart of Gold” floors the audience – just like Young’s been doing for half a century.
By David Ball
I know I’ve given ’em a lot of love recently, but cut me some slack: it’s the freakin’ Band!
The 1989 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees struck gold for the first time with their self-titled second album on November 26, 1969. Shockingly, The Band’s 12-song masterpiece beat their equally brilliant and even more revered 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink, to the gold punch by several years.
It’s no surprise that The Band eventually sold well over a million copies of the album as it contains at least two of the 20th century’s greatest songs: “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek.” There’s not even an argument here, folks.
The recording was a Top 10 Billboard hit and ranked a solid No. 45 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 greatest albums of all time. Impressively, when The Band was re-released in 2000, it cracked Billboard’s Top 10 on its Internet Albums chart.
There must’ve been something in the holy water…
Toronto’s 1972 production of Godspell has taken on mythical status over the decades, not so much because of the hippy rock musical’s then–record breaking 15-month run, but more so because its original cast was loaded with rising talent on the cusp of stardom, including Gilda Radner, Jayne Eastwood and Victor Garber, as well as Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Derek McGrath and Dave Thomas of “SCTV.” Pulling the strings offstage was a rookie musical conductor from Thunder Bay, Ontario, by the name of Paul Shaffer. The future “Late Show with David Letterman” sidekick was born in the northern outpost on November 28, 1949.
With Godspell most likely at the top of his resumé, Shaffer secured his next gig tickling the ivories for the 1974 Broadway production of The Magic Show, starring Canadian magician Doug Henning. A year later he landed his first high-profile television job on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), as the pianist and leader of the show’s original house band, which was conducted by another rising Canadian talent of note, Howard Shore (who was formerly of Lighthouse and would go on to a career as an Academy Award–winning composer).
Shaffer got to show off his comedic chops every so often throughout his five seasons on SNL. His most notable performances included his spot-on impersonation of numbingly boring concert promoter Don Kirshner and his role as the piano player for Bill Murray’s cheeseball “Nick the Lounge Singer” character. The duo performing John Williams’ Star Wars instrumental theme with added lyrics is one of my favourite SNL moments ever: “And hey, what about that nutty Star Wars bar? Can you forget all the creatures in there? / And hey, Darth Vader in that dark and evil mask? Did he scare you as much as he scared me?!”
During his tenure on “Saturday Night Live,” Shaffer worked as bandleader on many of its music-themed skits, including the most renowned side project in the groundbreaking ensemble’s history: The Blues Brothers. He led Jake and Elwood Blues’ backing band both on record and on tour, but was dropped from the production of the John Landis–directed 1980 blockbuster feature film, The Blues Brothers, allegedly because John Belushi (a.k.a. Jake Blues) was upset that Shaffer was too busy double-dipping on other SNL side projects with Gilda Radner.
The diminutive and follicle–challenged composer and arranger became a household name in the early 1980s as the bandleader on NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman.” He jumped ship to rival network CBS in 1993 to conduct the CBS Orchestra on the “Late Show with David Letterman” following his on-air boss’ infamous contract battle with NBC and Jay Leno for Johnny Carson’s vacated Tonight Show chair.
Along with leading the heated music interludes in and out of commercial breaks, Shaffer’s most significant work on the award-winning CBS comedy variety program occurs when his chameleon-like house band collaborates with various guest performers. When called upon, Shaffer and his versatile ensemble rarely ever sound obtrusive. And when they aren’t tastefully accompanying a solo artist or group, they can often be heard providing some much-needed oomph to the crappy live lightweights performing on any given night – although, Britney Spears didn’t require Shaffer’s services for her blatant and brutal (but not surprising) lip-synched 2008 performance of “I’m a Slave For U.” Dave didn’t look impressed.
Here’s a snapshot of some of Shaffer’s other career highlights, beginning with the most important: he was the first to utter the “F-word” on SNL. Shaffer has been the musical director and producer of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction ceremony since its inception in 1986, and he was the musical director of the closing ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. One of his two solo albums received a Grammy nomination; he has recorded with B.B. King, Robert Plant, Warren Zevon, Bootsy Collins and Brian Wilson; and he appeared in one of the funniest movies of all time, This is Spinal Tap. Shaffer has received two honorary doctorates, including one from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, where he also has a street named after him. A spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada, Shaffer received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2006. Most important of all, he makes being bald cool.
This year and the next finds The Who embroiled on a 37-date North American tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of their landmark rock opera, Quadrophenia. Since the legendary British Invasion quartet is down to just two members of its original four, I think it’s totally reasonable and more accurate to refer to what is left of the band as: “The Two” or “Rog and Pete” or perhaps even “Combo Quadrophenia 40th Anniversary and Pete Townshend book tour.”
Anyway… I stumbled across a little-known Canadian content nugget regarding the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ first Quadrophenia tour and some of the cloudy events surrounding their show in Montreal on December 2, 1973.
By all accounts, The Who’s gig at the historic Montreal Forum was a good one. This was indeed surprising, as night after night the staging of the ambitious tour was afflicted with many onstage problems low-lighted by malfunctioning backing bed tracks (such as sounds of thunder and lightning, crashing waves, seagulls, etc.) along with Townshend feeling the need to constantly explain – in depth – the Quadrophenia/Mod storyline to audiences who just wanted to rock.
It should have come as no shock, then, that the messy tour led to the guitarist’s breakdown. Here’s what an increasingly frustrated Townshend said while introducing “I’m One” to an apathetic Forum crowd: “It’s all about – shut up for a minute and I’ll tell you what it’s all about – the song is all about a kid when he gets to that part of life when he feels he’s just not worth a dime. It’s like the f-ing French Revolution.”
Now, I don’t know all the particulars – and judging by The Who’s late great bassist John Entwistle in his song “Cell Number 7,” neither did he – but it seems that Townshend, Entwistle, Keith Moon and their hangers-on spent the night in a Montreal jail following some sordid post-show revelry back at their hotel. (Roger Daltrey wasn’t involved.) There’s little doubt the fuzz had just cause to throw these rock gods in the hoosegow to sober up for the night given that the ringleader was likely their irreplaceable wild man drummer, who fully embraced/earned his reputation for destroying hotel rooms (and drum kits, houses, cars, relationships and his poor liver).
According to Quadrophenia.net, Montreal’s celebrations involved lots of carousing and heavy debauchery at a suite in the Bonaventure Hotel: “Unfortunately, the last person to leave left the lights on and left the door ajar. This was spotted by a night porter who glanced inside and was horrified by the damage.”
The police were called and they jailed 14 individuals. The following morning, the indomitable concert promoter Donald K. Donald paid the police nearly $6,000 and everyone was released at 1:15 p.m. For more information, check out these excerpts from Entwistle’s “Cell Number 7” from his 1975 solo effort, Mad Dog (it actually reads better than heard):
“Six thirty in the morning, I’d just got to sleep / I felt so tired didn’t even count sheep / I woke up with six policemen standing by the bed.”
“Meanwhile in Boston the kids were queuing / Back in Montreal we were just stewing / In cell number 7.”
And my favourite: “The promoter’s tearing out his hair screaming ‘Where’s the band?’”
Next week: Wilf Carter and Lorne Greene
“Almost” by the Blues Brothers with Paul Shaffer, live 1979 (Downchild Blues Band cover)
By James Sandham
It’s nearly the end of November and many men have taken the opportunity to flex their follicular muscles by growing a ’stache as part of Movember, the burgeoning men’s health awareness movement. Men from all walks of life participate, but there is certainly one group among them that stands out particularly in this regard: musicians. As a group, musicians have been rocking the mo’ since time eternal. In fact, some of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s most auspicious members were mo’ bros long before Movember was ever heard of. So let’s take a look at some of their preferred styles.
Now here’s a hearty helping of facial hair. Not one, not two, but three of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2010 inductees were rocking moustaches on the cover of their 1979 Greatest Hits album – with beards to boot. From left to right we have Gary Moffet, sporting a short boxed beard; Brian Greenway (hairless); Myles Goodwyn (also hairless); Jerry Mercer, also rocking a short boxed beard – a classic style; and finally Steve Lang in identical moustache/beard combo. Overall affect: Dishevelled, hard-partying rock and roll.
Here we have English-born, Toronto-raised former Blood, Sweat & Tears vocalist David Clayton-Thomas, one of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1996 inductees. He’s photographed here at the 2010 Canada’s Walk of Fame ceremony in Toronto and, apropos of the occasion, he’s chosen a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard and moustache combo – still rugged enough for rock and roll, but classy enough for any occasion that requires a bow tie. Well done, Mr. Clayton-Thomas.
Here’s another CMHF inductee from 1996, Mr. Domenic Troiano. Born in Modugno, Italy, he was raised in Toronto and would go on to various musical achievements, perhaps most notably as a member of The Guess Who, playing guitar on their 1974 album, Flavours, and their 1975 album, Power in the Music. Troiano then went on to release two albums with his own eponymously named band – the first of which appears here. For the cover, he has adopted a fairly standard issue ’stache, paired with medium-length hair and a beret for an overall Che Guevara–esque portrait effect.
What was going on with the 1996 CMHF inductees? Here’s another one – Steppenwolf’s John Kay – and he too is rocking a totally legit ’stache, seen here luxuriating on his upper lip like a well-manicured caterpillar. Somewhat more reserved than Troiano’s hairy masterpiece, it is a testament to the ethos informing such Kay hits as “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me” and “The Pusher.”
And finally, I’d like to conclude with the late, great Zal Yanovsky, yet another CMHF inductee from 1996 and the guitarist for The Lovin’ Spoonful. He can be seen here at his beloved Kingston, Ontario, restaurant, Chez Piggy, buried beneath a veritable mass of hair, one aspect of which is, of course, the mighty moustache. This is kind of a Rasputin style of hair/beard/’stache, and while it’s hard to pull off, it seems to suit him well.
By David Ball
Canadian folk superstar Joni Mitchell married her new bass player, Larry Klein, on November 21, 1982. The two had met only a few months earlier, when Klein was hired as sound engineer for the recording session of Mitchell’s 11th studio effort, Wild Things Run Fast. It appears wild things get married fast, too.
The American musician continued to work with his Alberta-born wife until their divorce in 1992, co-producing and playing bass on her next four albums, including 1988’s Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm and 1994’s JUNO Award-nominated and appropriately titled Turbulent Indigo, which was recorded while their marriage was falling apart.
Although Klein was well established in the music biz throughout the 1970s, his creative association with his famous wife led to a string of impressive session jobs with artists including Don Henley, Peter Gabriel (on 1986’s So), Robbie Robertson (on the ex-Band leader’s JUNO Award-winning solo debut) and Tracy Chapman. His post-Mitchell career as a producer has seen his name attached to albums by a diverse array of talent, including the likes of Norah Jones, renowned Canadian diva Holly Cole, Herbie Hancock (on the jazz master’s Grammy Award-winning River: The Joni Letters) and American alt-rock gods, Dinosaur Jr. Klein and Mitchell teamed up again in 2002 for the singer-songwriter’s acclaimed double-album, Travelogue, featuring re-recordings of songs that span her entire career.
Nashville legend Hank Snow drove “I’ve Been Everywhere” to the top of the country singles chart in the United States on November 23, 1962. His Americanized cover of Geoff Mack’s 1959 Australian original was the second-last No. 1 hit for the Nova Scotia native and member of the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and Canadian Music Hall of Fame. In Snow’s version, the Aussie and New Zealand town and city names – including Wollongong and Geelong, both of which I’ve used as aliases in my past failed porn star life – were replaced with cities located predominantly in North America. For instance, the “Yodeling Ranger” subbed the previously mentioned Down Under cities with Louisville and Nashville.
Although Snow left Canada for good in 1945 to pursue a country music life in Tennessee, his cover of “I’ve Been Everywhere” showed that he didn’t forget his Canadian roots, as he gave a shout out to Ottawa, Toronto and the tune’s most wonderful, important and beautiful city, my hometown, Kingston, Ontario. As great as Snow’s recording is, my heart only ever skips a beat when I hear the word “Kingston” sung by the immortal Johnny Cash in the second verse of his faithful-to-Snow interpretation, from his terrific 1996 studio album, Unchained.
“Such a night, such a night / To steal away, the time is right…”
Dr. John hit the nail on the head when he belted out those well-timed lines during his guest performance at The Band’s landmark farewell concert in San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on American Thanksgiving, November 25, 1976. Whether their scores of fans liked it or not back then, after 18 years of playing together, the time was deemed right for one of the world’s best rock groups and pioneers of Americana to call it a career.
Dubbed “The Last Waltz,” the show was staged in the same venue where the four amiable multi-talented Southern Ontario–born lads and one good old boy from Arkansas debuted as The Band almost eight years earlier.
Winterland’s doors opened at 5:00 p.m., and those attending the historic event were served a generous holiday turkey feast before the Toronto quintet kicked off the night’s festivities at 9:00 p.m. And for once, I bet the tryptophan in the turkey didn’t have the power to induce even an odd yawn among the lucky ones packed into the 5,000-seat hall. The superiority of the music simply wouldn’t have allowed it.
After scorching through a 12-song set that spanned most of The Band’s illustrious eight-year legacy, including “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Life is a Carnival,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Rag Mamma Rag,” Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson stepped aside to accompany short one-to-three-song performances by some of their well-known guests, consisting of friends, collaborators and music heroes Dr. John, Ronnie Hawkins, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan.
The epic four-hour, 41-song celebration (including two loose all-star jams) was organized, naturally, by famed concert promoter Bill Graham and was filmed by Martin Scorsese. The famed director’s 1978 theatrical release – intercut with interviews and studio arrangements – was somehow whittled down to less than two hours. But even minus many key highlights – not to mention the decision to stick the quintet’s bittersweet encore, “Don’t Do It,” at the very beginning of the film, thus stripping away the emotional impact of watching the final moments all five original core members of The Band would ever perform together again – Scorsese’s The Last Waltz remains a rock documentary benchmark, with Levon Helm being one of the film’s few outspoken critics.
Unlike The Rolling Stones, who headlined their very own 1967 TV special/ego-stroke, “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” where Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the boys got sonically blindsided by The Who and a little-known bluesman at the time, Taj Mahal – causing the show to be shelved, in shame, for nearly 30 years – it’s a testament to The Band’s live prowess and stellar compositions that they didn’t get upstaged at their swan song by any of their invited guests. Check out the many releases of The Last Waltz for proof – and there’s several, including extended cuts of the film.
Although, watching an inebriated, pudgy Van Morrison doing non-Julliard-schooled jump-kicks while wearing a wonderfully tacky skin-tight brown suit during “Caravan” may be more entertaining than any episode of long-in-the-tooth “Family Guy” or longer-in-the-tooth “The Simpsons.” In fact, his powerhouse live rendition trumps the original Moondance album track by Van “The Man” chest hair. And, to these discerning ears, Dylan laid down his definitive “Forever Young” anchored by rock-solid support from his old backing band.
If you’re like me and are wondering what the hell Neil Diamond was doing there, well, his involvement was by all reports contentious. Even on paper his unique brand of easy-going adult contemporary folk pop seemed out of place amid an eclectic Winterland roster featuring hip singer-songwriters and revered bluesmen. As the story goes, Diamond was a personal invitee of Robbie Robertson. The guitarist produced Diamond’s 1976 LP, Beautiful Noise, and asked him to take part in the finale. None of this jived too well with the other members of The Band, though, especially not Levon Helm.
Ah well, Diamond did OK given who he was up against. On a sad footnote, Helm, the straight-shooting Arkansas singer-drummer, joined former band-mates Rick Danko and Richard Manuel in rock and roll heaven on April 19, 2012, after losing his courageous battle with cancer. The Band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1994.
Next week: Paul Shaffer and The Band, again
“Don’t Do It” by The Band @ The Last Waltz, Winterland Ballroom, November 25, 1976
By David Ball
An old friend of mine recently stated that he hates reading condensed biographies of famous people, as you can get all the pertinent info you need on “something called the Internet… No offence, Dave.”
Well, offence taken, but a part of me agrees with his slightly cutting statement. It got my creative wheels turning regarding what I was originally going to write this week about Neil Young. Instead of yet another short 500 to 700–word life summary of a Canadian artist of note, I’d like to try something different for a change: a heavily biased and non-eclectic decade-by-decade Best of Neil Young Top 5, ranked by yours truly.
Truth be told, I don’t think I can do the living legend’s life the justice it deserves in a few breezy paragraphs. If you want something more substantial, start with his new autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, or thumb through the hundreds of books written about the multiple JUNO Award and Grammy Award winner, member of Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and officer of the Order of Canada. Better yet, crank the heck out of any of his many solo albums and other music collaborations.
So here goes nothing. I’m sticking more to career highlights rather than his personal life. Don’t get upset if you don’t agree with the lists. I’m merely a fan.
Neil Young was born to Edna and Scott Young (a well-known sportswriter and journalist) in Toronto on November 12, 1945, but he didn’t start his musical journey until he was in his mid-teens living in Winnipeg.
Let’s start with a Top 5 of the 1960s:
5. Working as a solo artist after a brief stint in Winnipeg’s The Squires in the early 1960s, Young scored his first hit as a songwriter when The Guess Who recorded his “Flying on the Ground is Wrong.”
4. Young cut his professional teeth as the guitarist in the short-lived, but popular mid-1960s Toronto R&B outfit The Mynah Birds with pre-“Super Freak” Rick James and future Buffalo Springfield cohort Bruce Palmer.
3. Along with Stephen Stills, Young was the co-leader of Buffalo Springfield from 1966 to 1968. He wrote many of the band’s best songs including, “Mr. Soul.”
2. Young released his self-titled solo debut, containing “The Loner,” on November 12, 1968.
1. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Young’s first collaboration with Crazy Horse, released in May of 1969, is a masterpiece and one of the best rock albums of the 1960s.
Top 5 of the 1970s (it was tough to pick only 5):
5. Déjà Vu, the classic first LP by trio-turned-quartet Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, was released in March 1970. Young, a former resident of Omemee, Ont., contributed “Helpless,” an ode to life in rural Canada.
4. On May 21, 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded one of the angriest and greatest protest songs of the decade, “Ohio,” which was composed and sung by Young.
3. Harvest was released in the early winter of 1972. It became Young’s first RPM and Billboard No. 1 album and contains the chart-topping country-folk stunner “Heart of Gold.”
2. A bleak and beautiful effort with Crazy Horse – and the last with Danny Whitten – Tonight’s the Night was released in 1975.
1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse capped the ’70s with the anthems and punishing guitars of 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps.
Due in part to Young’s bitter court battle with his label, Geffen, most of his output in the 1980s was hit or miss, resulting in a bunch of allegedly intentional “non-Young-sounding” recordings.
With this in mind, here are the Top 5 of the 1980s:
5. Released in 1983, Everybody’s Rockin’ was a rockabilly record and Young’s second with Geffen.
4. Old Ways, a full-blown Nashville album produced during one of country’s least prominent eras, was released with Geffen in 1985.
3. This Note’s For You (1988) was Young’s first album with new label, Reprise. It contains the fantastic title track and its savagely hilarious companion music video.
2. Tie: Along with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, Young organized the first-ever Farm Aid on September 21, 1985. One year later, Young hosted the first annual Bridge School Benefit Concert.
1. Released in 1989, Freedom was Young’s comeback and return to angry anthemic guitar rock via his hit “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Top 5 of the 1990s:
5. Harvest Moon, released in 1992, is a wonderful companion to Harvest.
4. Young was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
3. Young, a.k.a. the “Godfather of Grunge” recorded Mirror Ball with star pupils Pearl Jam. The album’s success spawned a memorable 1995 tour.
2. Young produces the instrumental score to Jim Jarmusch’s allegorical 1995 revenge western, Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp and Robert Mitchum.
1. Working again with Crazy Horse, Young released Ragged Glory in 1990, showing the burgeoning grunge scene how it was supposed to be done.
Top 5 of the 2000s:
5. Silver & Gold (2000)
4. Young released the Grammy Award-nominated protest song “Let’s Impeach the President” on April 28, 2006.
3. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young go on the road with their politically themed “Freedom of Speech” tour in 2006.
2. Jonathan Demme’s acclaimed documentary, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, premiered in North American movie theatres on February 10, 2006.
1. Greendale, Young’s socio-environmental concept LP with Crazy Horse, was released in 2003.
Top 5 of the 2010s… so far:
5. Young performs “Long May You Run” on the final episode of “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” on January 22, 2010.
4. Jonathan Demme’s documentary, Neil Young Journeys, premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011.
3. Young’s Daniel Lanois–produced experimental rock solo effort, Le Noise, was released on September 28, 2010. It went on to garner Young both JUNO and Grammy Award.
2. Hitting the web and record stores in early November 2012, Psychedelic Pill was the first set of new Neil Young and Crazy Horse material in nearly a decade.
1. Young sang “Long May You Run,” the highlight of the closing ceremony of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
Finally, some maple-flavoured hip hop content…
Kardinal Offishall’s third studio album, Fire and Glory, was released exclusively in Canada on November 15, 2005. It’s too bad the Scarborough, Ontario rapper’s American-based label didn’t distribute the 14-song JUNO Award–nominated disc in the United States, though, because it probably would’ve been a hit just like it was on our domestic charts. The talented hip hopper and producer certainly deserved bigger and better, because his previous 2003 effort, Firestarter Vol. 2: The F-Word, touted as his U.S. breakthrough, was never released due to continual delays by Geffen. (I’m sure Mr. Young can relate.)
Fire and Glory found Offishall collaborating with several talented artists, including Estelle and Vybz Kartel, and the album garnered two hit singles, “Feel Alright” and “Everyday (Rudebwoy),” the latter which won three MuchMusic Video Awards. Of note, three cuts on Fire and Glory were originally supposed to appear on Firestarter Vol. 2, including “Whatchalike,” the excellent collaboration with the always nutty but entertaining Busta Rhymes.
TWIMH-speaking, I normally write in linear fashion, so because of my lengthy Neil Young feature the last story only gets a few paragraphs. So sincere apologies go out to the Biebs…
That’s right, Justin Bieber, the Stratford, Ontario–born former YouTube sensation, became a worldwide superstar on the heels of the November 17, 2009, release of his debut EP, My World. Actually, the fifteen-year-old was already a phenom when the EP’s first single, “One Time,” shot up the North American charts, earning platinum sales earlier that summer while the follow-up single, “One Less Lonely Girl,” was even more popular upon its October release.
Overseen and co-produced by Usher, the seven-song EP was met with favourable reviews, entering Billboard’s Album Chart at No. 6, and was the bestselling debut by a new artist for 2009. My World was a hit in 15 countries, but it only reached No. 1 in Canada. We all know what happened when the second half of My World came out just over four months later.
No? My World 2.0’s success had Bieber’s name being mentioned in the same conversation as The Beatles and Stevie Wonder.
Next week: Hank Snow and The Last Waltz
“Long May You Run” by Neil Young at the closing ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver
By James Sandham
Well, music lover, it was probably about this time last week that the world was breathing a sigh of relief that the latest American election campaign had finally concluded. Not that it wasn’t entertaining – in addition to the political performance of speeches and rallies it also included plenty of great musical performances, featuring a variety of artists from Jay-Z to Meatloaf.
Being a bit of a music aficionado, this of course got me thinking about campaign songs – campaign songs by Canadians in particular. There are actually quite a few of them – some that have worked, others that haven’t. Here are five that stand out.
Celine Dion – “You and I”
This one was used by Hillary Clinton back in the 2007 primaries. It was selected after Clinton asked the public to help her choose a campaign song by voting for one of nine songs on her website. Apparently this backfired a bit, with a slew of additional suggestions coming in, including Elton John’s “The Bitch is Back,” Foreigner’s “Cold As Ice” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” But I guess she set herself up for that one.
Of course, once the Clinton campaign did finally settle on this Celine Dion song, they were quickly lobbed with accusations of “outsourcing” by the Republicans. You can’t win for trying sometimes.
Tom Cochrane – “Life is a Highway”
This is the kind of feel-good song that seems like it was made for political campaigns – and, indeed, it has been used by several candidates from both sides of the political spectrum. Hillary Clinton used it in her 2008 primary campaign, while Republican primary dropouts Mitt Romney and Rudolph Giuliani used it later in 2008.
“I say, let everyone play it, it’s a popular song and you can’t stop them from playing it,” said Cochrane at the time. “Sure, Giuliani and Mitt Romney are playing it, but so is Hillary, so it balances out. If they’re using it in a documentary or for broadcast purposes, they gotta get permission, but otherwise, anybody can play your song.”
Now that’s the kind of non-partisanship we need.
Bachman Turner Overdrive – “Takin’ Care of Business”
Another campaign favourite by a Canadian artist is this classic by Winnipeg’s Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which, along with “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” has been used south of the border by such notables as Al Gore, George W. Bush and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.
As good of a song as it is, it’s a strange choice, really, for a political campaign. Just consider the lyrics! The whole song is sung from the point of view of a young slacker – to wit: “It’s the work that we avoid / And we’re all self-employed / We love to work at nothing all day.” Or is this just an elusive case of truth in politics?
K’naan – “Wavin’ Flag”
Somali-Canadian K’Naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” first came to mass international attention as the theme song of 2010 World Cup. With its hopeful message of rising to greatness in spite of all obstacles, it was also an obvious choice for the Romney presidential campaign. The campaign started using the song in February – that is, until K’naan tweeted his reaction: “Yo @mittromney I am K’naan Warsame and I do not endorse this message.”
K’naan did, nonetheless, previously consent to licensing the song to Coca-Cola.
Heart – “Barracuda”
Sarah Palin apparently used this song by Vancouver-based rockers Heart in her 2008 campaign because “Barracuda” was her nickname in high school. In spite of this touching sentimental connection, Heart was reportedly offended by the association. I guess they would be. After all, who wants to be connected with a political candidate who comes onstage to a song that includes lines like: “You lying so low in the weeds / I bet you gonna ambush me”? Fortunately, Palin’s ambush was one that never quite worked out, although it did lead to some interesting reality television.
By James Sandham
Well, music lover, it’s the first full week of November, the skies around here are looking gloomy and we had a HURRICANE brush by us last week, for crying out loud – so perhaps it’s no surprise that my thoughts have turned to rain.
Apparently I’m not the only one, though. There’s a whole slew of great musicians who have found inspiration over the years in what would otherwise be one of the most uninspiring things I can think of: gloomy weather. So let’s take a look at what they have to offer, and maybe this music can cast a bit of sunshine on this overcast month.
Billie Holiday – “Stormy Weather”
Ah, the lovely Ms. Holiday, laying down her interpretation of this 1933 classic, originally written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Her cover of this track was first released in 1952, and it’s still as sorrowfully beautiful today as it was then. As she makes clear, nothing goes quite so well with heartbreak as a bit of stormy weather.
Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”
Obviously we can’t talk about “November” and “rain” without mentioning the eponymous power ballad by hard rockin’ ’90s legends Guns N’ Roses. At nearly nine minutes in length, replete with full orchestral accompaniment and cinematic music video – the best part of which may be Slash smoking in the church during the wedding ceremony, before striding off in leather chaps to lay down the most epic of guitar solos on a wind-swept plain – it is self-indulgence in all the best ways. Keep an eye out for the scene in which the rain starts, the wedding party scatters and one quick-thinking guest dives through the tiered wedding cake in an attempt to avoid the water. Classic.
Black Lips – “O Katrina!”
Speaking of hurricanes, how could we ignore this one from the Atlanta, Georgia, quartet Black Lips? Released on their 2007 album, Good Bad Not Evil, it’s a garage-rock ode to the storm that was not just a storm, but an indictment of the whole socio-political approach of Bush-era cutbacks and economics. Somehow, seven years after Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2005, there are still people waiting to move back into their New Orleans homes.
Blind Melon – “No Rain”
As Shannon Hoon sings: “All I can say is that my life is pretty plain / I like watchin’ the puddles gather rain… / And I don’t understand why I sleep all day / And I start to complain that there’s no rain.” Yes, I think we all feel that way sometime over the course of November. Hello, seasonal affective disorder.
Bruce Cockburn – “After the Rain”
And as we weather the storm, here’s one to conclude. It comes from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2001 inductee, Bruce Cockburn. This particular recording is a live version from 1979, the same year the album from which it comes, Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, was released. It’s a good reminder that after the rain comes the rainbow. Or something like that. I think this song might actually be about a car crash. But… yeah. We’re heading into a long winter. Let’s hope we make it out alive.
By David Ball
The first time I ever heard a Bryan Adams tune was on a late summer night back in 1981. The boyish rocker’s second album, You Want It, You Got It, had just been released, and its debut single, “Lonely Nights,” was spinning on my favourite radio station: Syracuse, New York’s late, great WSYR-FM, better known as 94 Rock.
I was a close-minded tween know-it-all (weren’t we all?) and rock connoisseur (my music debates usually began – and ended – with: “Yeah, they’re good, but The Who is the best”), but I remember being quite impressed with “Lonely Nights.” I was also feeling pleasantly shocked after the station’s popular DJ, Tommy Nast (now a big-time live event promoter), mentioned that Adams was Canadian and from my hometown of Kingston, Ontario (94 Rock’s powerful signal always came in clear as a bell in K-town, especially through my beloved JVC ghetto blaster with the cool auto-reverse tape deck).
The Vancouver-raised singer-songwriter, producer, activist, photographer, army brat, officer of the Order of Canada, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee and 18-time JUNO Award winner (sorry, but my write-up doesn’t have room to list all of his many honours) was born in the “Limestone City” on November 5, 1959.
Adams’s parents emigrated from England in the 1950s. His father enlisted in the Canadian Army, spent some time as a United Nations peacekeeper and finally became a well-travelled diplomat. As a result, a young Adams was exposed to many foreign cultures before his parents divorced in 1973. The breakup found Adams moving with his mother to Vancouver, an area he still calls home.
For a good chunk of his teenage years, Adams worked a number of character-building jobs, including as a dishwasher and paper delivery boy, saving his pennies in order to buy his first real six-string. After getting good enough on the guitar (practising till his fingers bled, no doubt), he began looking to a career in music, playing in several bands, including Shock and former Nick Gilder band Sweeney Todd. (You can hear 16-year-old Adams singing lead on the glam band’s second album, If Wishes Were Horses, released in 1977).
By the late 1970s, Adams was a studio musician and singer, and briefly worked at the CBC in Vancouver before a chance meeting in 1978 with the man who would help galvanize his career path and, in turn, help put Canadian ’80s rock on the map.
That man, of course, is Adams’s longtime collaborator, Jim Vallance, ex drummer of Prism. Their creative partnership flourished throughout the ’80s, highlighted by Adams’s 1983 commercial breakthrough, Cuts Like a Knife, and 1984’s superstar-making masterpiece, Reckless. The multi-platinum LP catapulted the 25-year-old into one of the world’s biggest rock stars.
The Adams-Vallance team also played a major role in 1985’s Northern Lights for Africa famine relief project and its all-star single “Tears Are Not Enough.” Unfortunately, their winning relationship became increasingly strained, in part due to the underwhelming response to 1987’s Into the Fire, the followup to Reckless, and the duo went their separate ways in 1989.
Adams released only three studio albums in the 1990s, but he kicked off that decade in impressive fashion with Waking Up the Neighbours, another Billboard Top 10 hit and RPM No. 1. The album featured his much loved – and equally reviled – international chart-topping gazillion-selling Grammy Award-winning hit “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” (which was also featured on the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves soundtrack).
His other two albums that decade did well in Canada and the United Kingdom, but 1996’s 18 Til I Die was his first album since You Want It, You Got It, to not crack the Billboard Top 10. Incidentally, Adams and Vallance reconciled in the mid-1990s, with Vallance contributing three songs to Adams’s last studio effort, 11, in 2008.
Although Adams still embarks on Canadian and world tours every few years or so, his studio output has slowed considerably since the turn of the millennium (he’s released two albums of new material in 12 years). But this inactivity can partly be attributed to the nurturing of his many other pursuits.
Since the ’80s, Adams has thrown his support behind a diverse array of social and humanitarian causes, including Amnesty International, Farm Aid, Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. And for the past 20-plus years, he has parlayed his considerable talents as a photographer into a lucrative side career. His work behind the camera lens has been published in many top fashion magazines (he’s won two German Lead Awards) and he’s also snapped high-profile shots of many of his music peers, celebrities and even Queen Elizabeth II.
Kevin MacMichael, a co-founding member of the 1980s Canadian-British pop quartet Cutting Crew, was born on November 7, 1951, in Saint John, New Brunswick.
His pre-Cutting Crew life found the skilled guitarist plying his trade in a bunch of East Coast bar bands. While on a Canadian tour axe-swinging for Halifax’s Fast Forward, MacMichael became chummy with Nick Van Eede, lead singer of tour headliners The Drivers. The two decided to form a new band in Van Eede’s native England.
MacMichael moved to the United Kingdom in 1985 and Cutting Crew released their debut, Broadcast, the following summer. The album’s first single, “(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight,” shot to the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (reaching No. 1 in the United States and Canada), which led to a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist in 1988 (though Cutting Crew lost to Jody Watley).
MacMichael’s tenure with the band was just three studio albums long, as the group was dropped by its label when 1992’s Compus Mentus failed to engage the record-buying public. But he didn’t stay inactive for very long.
In 1993, MacMichael landed a gig with Robert Plant. The former Led Zeppelin frontman had been reportedly “blown away” by his audition, and the guitarist can be heard lending his chops to Plant’s Grammy-nominated 1993 album Fate of Nations and can be seen in the music video for “Calling to You.” Rolling Stone’s review of the album even singles out MacMichael’s guitar work on “I Believe” as “chimingly inventive.”
Tragically, in early 2002, MacMichael announced that he was battling lung cancer and succumbed to the disease on December 31 of the same year.
I don’t think he was talking about cruising down treacherous Highway 11 between Lac du Bonnet and Traverse Bay, Manitoba, Nova Scotia’s Cabot Trail or anywhere on the 401…
Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” skidded to a halt at No. 10 on Billboard’s pop chart on November 9, 1974. The second single from the influential Orillia, Ontario-born folk singer’s iconic 10th album, Sundown, peaked at No. 11 on RPM’s pop chart, but was an adult contemporary No. 1 in North America as well as a top Canuck country hit.
“Carefree Highway” is reportedly based on sleepy Arizona State Route 74, near Phoenix. I’ve never had the pleasure of driving that 50-kilometre stretch of road, which carves through undeveloped desert landscapes and tumbleweeds, so I’ll take Gordie’s word for it. Perhaps even some of the dozens of Phoenix Coyotes fans living in their suburban homes take this through route to and from games?
November 11 is Remembrance Day, so don’t forget to wear a poppy and pause for a moment of silence to honour all the brave men and women who died or were wounded in the line of duty protecting our rights and freedoms in wars and other conflicts around the world. Heck, crank up Bryan Adams’ poignant “Remembrance Day” from Into the Fire or check out the excellent unofficial music video below.
Next week: Neil Young and Kardinal Offishall
“Remembrance Day” by Bryan Adams