By David Ball
An asterisk should be pinned to this “one-hit wonder.”
Sheriff captured their only RPM Top 10 hit on February 28, 1983, with “When I’m With You” – a far more impressive finish than the song’s pitiful final ranking (No. 61) on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1983. That’s all she wrote regarding this lone album and lone hit from this rock band from Toronto, right? Nope. To rephrase a famous line from The Godfather: Part III: Just when you thought they were out, they pulled them back in.
With Sheriff long broken up and principal songwriter/keyboardist Arnold Lanni fronting his hot new project, Frozen Ghost, the failed arena rockers’ old power ballad had resurfaced as a hit all over again, this time as Billboard’s No. 1 single on February 4, 1989. What up with that? Well, the latency blame game goes to a Las Vegas DJ who took a shine to the song sometime in 1988. Other regional West Coast radio stations soon followed suit and Capital Records in its infinite wisdom decided to re-issue the single in late 1988, although it didn’t create much of a fuss the second time around in Canada.
Naturally, the song’s newfound notoriety and royalties led to a predictable comeback attempt spearheaded by ex-Sheriff members Freddy Curci and Steve DeMarchi, but they were unable to lure Lanni away from Frozen Ghost. It didn’t matter anyway since the duo went on to form a more successful group, Alias, with three members of Heart: bassist Steve Fossen, guitarist Roger Fisher and drummer Michael DeRosier. Remember Alias’ massive hit “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say”?
On the one-year anniversary of arguably the most glorious event in the annals of pop music history – that is, the official announcement that Wham was breaking up – four artists became the first-ever to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (CCMHF) at a ceremony in Edmonton on February 28, 1984. OK, perhaps I’ve exaggerated the Wham footnote just a tad. How about if I changed it to “the most glorious event in the annals of ’80s pop music history”? Yes? No? How dare I? Who’s Wham?
Anyway, there’s no argument regarding the no-brainer first picks elected into the CCMHF: Wilf Carter, Tommy Hunter, Orval Prophet and William Harold Moon. Carter, a.k.a. “Montana Slim,” is considered the father of Canadian country music; Hunter is a bestselling entertainer and host of the iconic CBC country music variety program “The Tommy Hunter Show”; Orval Prophet was one of the first performers to put our nation’s country music scene on the international map; and William Harold Moon was an influential music publisher, managing director of BMI Canada and chairman of the Performing Rights Organization of Canada, where he helped nurture the careers of Canadian songwriters.
On the surface, it’s a travesty that Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” one of his most important tunes and a bona fide guitar tour de force showcase, topped out at only No. 49 on the RPM singles chart on March 2, 1985. But given the fact that the angry Stealing Fire anthem was banned in several big Canadian markets due to its political pro-war subject matter (the song was a vitriolic call to arms against the counter-insurgency led by Guatemalan president/dictator Efraín Ríos Montt) and its controversial lyrics (“If I had a rocket launcher… some son-of-a-bitch would pay”) breaking into the Top 50 is still pretty damn remarkable.
The outspoken multiple–JUNO Award–winning singer-songwriter and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee has stated that he longs for a time where “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” will be irrelevant because war has been eradicated and he won’t have to perform it anymore. It doesn’t appear that Cockburn’s wish will come true any time soon, but at least the song will keep on kicking ass for the foreseeable future – make that eternity.
If I had a rocket launcher and an itchy trigger finger, there are a number of people, places and things I’d like to blow up real good, figuratively speaking of course. For starters: my neighbour’s sickly yellow self-made wooden shed, which looms over my front yard; the starting lineup of the 2012 New York Yankees; broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (a.k.a. “The Evil Three”); Canada Goose jackets; my dismal current 2012-2013 season playing for my beer league hockey team (the Parkdale Lads); speeders in school zones and neighbourhood streets; champagne socialists; Cambridge, Ontario’s horrendous soul-sucking Hespeler Road; power centres and big-box stores; massive above-ground parking lots, specifically the eyesore on the northeast side of Victoria Park and Eglinton Avenue in North Toronto; partisan politics; apathy and complacency; the last 15 seasons of “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” respectively; Speedos; Gewürztraminer white wine; voice auto-tune; Kings of Leon; and of course, Ke$ha’s performance at the 2013 NBA All-Star Game… along with all of her albums.
Nicolette Larson’s cover of Neil Young’s “Lotta Love” became a Top 5 RPM hit on March 3, 1979. The late vocalist began collaborating with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame legend on his 1977 effort, American Stars ’N Bars (Linda Ronstadt also lent her chops to the recording session). Larson produced a rough cassette demo of “Lotta Love” and played it to Young while they were driving around in his car in early 1978. He was so impressed by Larson’s interpretation that he straight up offered his backup singer the song and she subsequently recorded it for her 1978 solo debut, Nicolette. Young later cut his own version for his upcoming ninth album, Comes a Time, but due to studio delays, both LPs were released within days of each other (Nicolette came out first). Talk about coincidence!
If you don’t know one or both renditions – or if you think “Lotta Love” is by Linda Ronstadt – here’s a quick side-by-side comparison: Larson’s take is an upbeat blend of jazz and pop featuring string and brass accompaniment whereas the Young original is a sparse kinda cheery country-folk ballad. Both are excellent – however, Larson’s was the only one released as a single. The Helena, Montana–born singer’s “Lotta Love” was a Top 10 Billboard hit and did well internationally, especially in Austria and New Zealand, while her debut shot to the top of RPM’s album chart and made it into Billboard’s Top 10. Although Comes a Time is one of Young’s best efforts from the 1970s, only one number from the album was released as a single, a cover of Ian & Sylvia’s classic “Four Strong Winds” (featuring a duet with Young and an unbilled Larson).
Nicolette Larson is often seen as a rock tragedy. Following her debut’s commercial breakthrough her solo path never took off, although a switch to country in the mid-1980s did reap some dividends in a series of moderate-selling hit singles. Overall, Larson remained a reliable if not influential session singer, supporting many great artists over her professional career (including Emmylou Harris, Hoyt Axton, Doobie Brothers and Jimmy Buffett) until her untimely death at age 45 on December 16, 1997.
Next week: The Box and the JUNO Awards
“Lotta Love” by Nicolette Larson
By James Sandham
By this point you’ve likely heard that k.d lang was selected as the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2013 inductee – and no wonder, either. She’s won multiple JUNO and Grammy Awards, had a slew of hits, contributed music to movie soundtracks and worked with some of the industry’s biggest names. Plus, she’s an officer of the Order of Canada and an active campaigner for animal rights, gay rights and the Tibetan freedom movement to boot.
She’s packed more into her lifetime than a dozen lesser souls could ever hope to collectively pack into theirs, which of course is why she has ended up here. So, in recognition, I thought we’d take a little retrospective look at where this shining paragon came from.
k.d. lang – “Hanky Panky”
Anyone remember this? “Hanky Panky” was lang’s first single, from way back in 1984 when she released her second album, A Truly Western Experience. (Her first, released in 1983, was Friday Dance Promenade, a Patsy Cline tribute album.) While the single failed to chart, the album received strong critical reviews and, based on that attention, lang was selected to perform – somewhat strangely – at the World Science Fair in Tsukuba, Japan. But I guess any international exposure is good exposure. The album was re-released in 2010 with bonus tracks and a DVD.
Roy Orbison and k.d. lang – “Crying”
Fast-forward three short years and lang has gone from the Canadian prairies to doing duets with legendary musicians like Roy Orbison. This song was featured in the 1987 film Hiding Out and would go on to win lang and Orbison the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Collaboration. It was also due to the success of this song that lang won the Canadian Country Music Association Awards’ prize for Entertainer of the Year.
k.d. lang – “If I Were You”
Then came the ’90s – and, with them, a decidedly different sound from lang. This track, off of her 1995 album, All You Can Eat, reached No. 4 on the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart and made the No. 1 spot on the American Dance chart! This is an artist who does not pigeonhole herself!
k.d. lang – “Summerfling”
Cue the new millennium and k.d. lang is still going strong. This track comes from her 2000 release, Invincible Summer, and it too made it onto the Canadian Adult Contemporary chart (peaking at No. 2!) as well as the American Dance chart (No. 25). This was right around the time that lang was ranked No. 33 on VH1’s list of the “100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll,” and just before she was ranked No. 26 on CMT’s list of the “40 Greatest Women in Country Music” – one of only eight women to make both lists!
k.d. lang – “Hallelujah”
And then, of course, there’s this – lang’s stunning performance of fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. This performance blew minds around the world. Lang first covered “Hallelujah” on her 2004 release, Hymns of the 49th Parallel, an album of songs by Lang’s favourite Canadian singers. The Olympic version was released on her 2010 album, Recollection, a double disc retrospective on her quarter century-plus as a musician. It’s been one hell of a career and lang is certainly deserving of a spot among Canada’s best.
By David Ball
On February 20, 1982, Straight Lines found themselves on RPM’s Top 10 singles chart for the first and last time with their soft-rock ballad, “Letting Go.” The lead single from the Vancouver quartet’s second and final LP, Run For Cover (1981), earned the band 1983 JUNO Award nominations for Composers of the Year and Single of the Year, though they lost out on both awards to The Payolas and their song “Eyes of a Stranger.”
Though they were under the tutelage of manager extraordinaire Bruce Allen, the band decided to call it quits in the winter of 1982 after Run For Cover’s third single tanked. This failure was a blessing in disguise for the band’s co-leaders Bob Buckley and David Sinclair. Less than two years after Straight Lines’ demise the duo formed the fairly successful West Coast group Body Electric and released three critically acclaimed albums and eight singles before disbanding in 1987.
Buckley’s professional resumé also includes producing, arranging and conducting, as well as composing music for television, theatre, film and big international sporting events, including the 1994 Commonwealth Games and 2010 Winter Olympics. He has also collaborated with many prominent acts by the likes of Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Aerosmith. Sinclair’s solo career has been equally impressive. He has toured extensively with k.d. lang, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2013 inductee, and was part of Sarah McLachlan’s band for 10 years beginning in 1993. Sinclair is also a heavily recruited studio guitarist and has worked with a veritable who’s who in the Canadian music industry, including Michael Bublé, Bryan Adams, Rita MacNeil and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
This should come as no surprise…
VH1’s list of the “Top 100 One-Hit Wonders” is littered with artists who have had more than one hit. Sure, most of the acts appearing on the music-themed American cable channel’s compilation scored only one measly hit – but you can certainly argue that some of those one-hitters didn’t deserve to EVER be considered “top” (as in good), for instance: “Achy Breaky Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus (a.k.a. Miley Cyrus’s infamous mullet-head dad); “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie; the non-mambo eliciting “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega; and the terrifying one-off million-selling disco single “Makin’ It” by actor David Naughton, star of the equally terrifying horror classic An American Werewolf in London.
But clearly the influential music network didn’t do its homework because The Verve, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Cardigans, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Falco, Sinéad O’Connor, Eddy Grant and Twisted Sister all produced more than one charting single and have no business being aligned with the likes of Baha Men, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Right Said Fred. Also conspicuous by their inclusion is Men Without Hats.
Breaking news, VH1, but “Safety Dance” (No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983) wasn’t Men Without Hats only American hit. Nope, in fact, five years later, the Montreal-based new wave ensemble led by mercurial singer-songwriter Ivan Doroschuk landed another single in the Billboard Top 20. In fairness, “Pop Goes the World” made a far bigger impression in Canada, where it peaked at No. 2 on RPM’s pop chart on February 22, 1988, but c’mon! A Top 20 hit is a Top 20 hit, so your “Top 100” backhanded compliment is neither warranted nor deserved.
“Pop Goes the World” was the title track from their platinum-selling third effort and it also made the Top 15 in New Zealand and reached No. 1 in Austria. It’s news to me, but “Pop Goes The World” was not Doroschuk and company’s last kick at Canada’s pop chart. They landed another Top 10 in 1989 with “Hey Men,” the first single from the concisely titled album, The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century.
There’s no way that my late, great country-music-loving father was singing along to April Wine’s kickass driving tune, “Say Hello,” while cruising around Kingston in his ’67 Pontiac Beaumont on his birthday back on February 23, 1980 – the same day the single also stalled at No. 45 on RPM’s pop chart.
Nevertheless, the tight-grooving Myles Goodwyn–penned rocker is one of the legendary Halifax band’s greatest in their storied catalogue. The popularity of the Harder… Faster track (especially on rock radio) helped put April Wine back on RPM’s Top 25 album chart for the third time; it was also the band’s first LP to be certified gold in the United States. The 1979 effort’s other big singles include the bona fide rock anthem “I Like to Rock” and the instant high school slow-dance favourite “Tonite” (these songs also have the distinction of being banned from Dad’s Beaumont).
If I ever find the time to compile a list of “impossible to get sick of classic rock songs,” the Top 20 would certainly contain “Say Hello,” although many April Wine tunes could make the cut for that matter. On the other hand, songs that would be immediately eliminated from the tally because they are the MOST PUNISHINGLY OVERPLAYED in rock history include AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back in Black,” anything from Led Zeppelin II and IV, Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” anything by The Eagles (minus the Joe Walsh stuff) and Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” (the song’s ingenious music video also has the distinction of having been ruined by overplay on the groundbreaking television program “Friday Night Videos” as well as on the then fledgling networks MTV and MuchMusic). Last, but certainly not least – and the worst offender of them all – is “Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones.
Candita Pennella has been educating high schoolers in the Toronto area for nearly two decades. I know what you are thinking: Who dat? More accurately: Who the hell cares?!
Well, Pennella is actually Candi – yes, that Candi – the hit-making dance-pop queen from the late ’80s and early ’90s. Candi’s sugar-coated single, “Under Your Spell,” hardly made a ripple on RPM’s pop and dance charts, but that didn’t stop its video companion from maintaining a solid No. 10 on the MuchMusic Countdown for the week beginning February 24, 1989 (it twirled and gyrated its way to a Top 5 finish on the previous week’s tally).
I wonder if any of Pennella’s current crop of ADD-afflicted, gadget-addicted, old music–allergic students know that their diminutive raven-haired Italian-Canadian teacher is a JUNO Award–nominated artist seven times over. Even if Ms. Pennella’s blissfully ignorant Generation Y brats – I mean, pupils – don’t know a damn thing about her storied past, I bet some of their parents do. Heck, I suppose there are even a few of them who like to spin “Under Your Spell” when their kids aren’t around, not to mention the other big singles from her 1988 self-titled debut: “Missing You,” “Love Makes No Promises” and “Dancing Under a Latin Moon” (her only hit on the Billboard Hot 100).
Obviously inspired by Paul McCartney & Wings, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Tom Cochrane & Red Rider, Iggy & The Stooges and all the other solo hit-making dance-pop queens who famously conjoined with backing bands, Candi became Candi & The Backbeat to coincide with the release of her 1990 recording swan song, World Keeps On Turning. OK, maybe I’m off base regarding the motivation behind her name tweak (or the examples of other dance-pop queens), but it worked out OK since the album’s title track became another RPM charter and was nominated for a 1991 JUNO Award for Best Dance Recording.
Candi retired from the recording industry in 1992 and went on to marry her drummer Paul Russo, a “nice guy,” according to Russo’s old high school classmate Don Lucey, who’s also my good friend and a self-professed Backbeats expert.
Next week: Sheriff and Bruce Cockburn
“Pop Goes the World” by Men Without Hats
By James Sandham
It’s that time of the year again, when hearts turn to fire and store windows turn to fragrance collections and foil-wrapped confectionary. But there’s something else still that speaks more profoundly to love than perfume or chocolates do – and no, it’s not lingerie.
I’m talking, of course, about music. About the love song, in particular. Cheesy at times, but at other moments able to touch a part of us that may rarely otherwise see expression, the love song is a musical entity all to itself. So to celebrate it, here are a few that struck us as the sweetest.
Alex Pangman – “As Lovely Lovers Do”
This track by Toronto-based Alex Pangman, Canada’s “Sweetheart of Swing,” is the perfect accompaniment to any Valentine’s Day. Sweet, sincere, and with just a touch of sagacity, it plays the heartstrings with as much emotion as Pangman’s breathy vocals. This track comes from her 2011 album, 33, which was released on Montreal’s Justin Time Records.
Leonard Cohen – “Ain’t No Cure for Love”
Ah, the mighty Leonard Cohen, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1991 inductee. If there is one man who truly knows love it’s likely to be him – and as he sings in this classic, there ain’t no cure for it. This is a song of love unrequited, the enduring kind that can never be replaced. It comes from his 1988 release, I’m Your Man, but what does the release date matter when the song is as timeless as this one?
Loverboy – “Turn Me Loose”
But perhaps you’re less of an introspective lover. Perhaps the soft jazz croonings of Pangman or the poetic profundity of Cohen are less your cup of tea than, say, the raw vital energy of Calgary’s multi–JUNO Award–winning Loverboy? Well in that case, this may be the song for you. Admittedly, it’s not exactly about fidelity, technically… but when it comes to love – and music – it’s more about a feeling, isn’t it, than literal exactitude? Plus it’s by Loverboy. LOVERBOY. The sentiment du jour is right there in their name!
Shania Twain – “Love Gets Me Every Time”
Or perhaps you’re more of a country lover. In which case, how about a little Shania Twain, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2011 inductee and the winner of more music awards – JUNO and otherwise – than anyone in their right mind would know what to do with. This song comes from Twain’s third album, her 1997 breakthrough, Come On Over. It was the album’s first single and, interesting fact, was originally titled “Gol’ Darn Gone and Done It.” But I’m sure you’ll agree its revised title is much more romantic.
Bad Company – “Feel Like Makin’ Love”
And then… there is this. After the flowers, the champagne, the chocolates all gone soft and messy and smeared across the table, after your Valentine’s Day has been everything Hallmark made you think it should be, there is this, the perfect song to end any Valentine’s Day as you leave it all behind you and make your way upstairs. Good night.
By David Ball
It wasn’t by design (I’m not very swift), but this week’s TWIMH is all about firsts…
Rush’s “Closer to the Heart” peaked well outside of RPM’s Top 40 on February 11, 1978. This was truly an egregious affront considering some of the “quality” tracks that managed to obstruct the A Farewell to Kings standout from cracking even the bottom end of the weekly tally.
Some of the malodorous offenders include “Easy to Love” by hairy disco duck and hilarious album cover model Leo Sayer (No. 39) and “Hey Deanie” by teen idol and frequent Tiger Beat pin-up Shaun Cassidy (No. 36). I won’t even get into the Top 5 to 30, but keep in mind that this is the same seven-day listing that awarded Andy Gibb another Top 10 hit and placed “Short People” by Randy “I write the same song over-and-over again” Newman at No. 2. (That sound you just heard was me dry-heaving.)
And yet, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart still had good reason to celebrate, because “Closer to the Heart” qualified as the influential Toronto prog-rock trio’s first-ever Canadian and international pop hit (reaching the Top 40 in the United Kingdom and No. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100) after early singles “Fly by Night” and “Bastille Day” flopped.
Moreover, the song’s ongoing longevity outweighs any final chart placing. In fact, the relatively straightforward track is undeniably one of most recognizable arena rockers from the 1970s and remains a staple of album-oriented rock radio playlists to this day. It’s also one of the few legitimate sing-alongs in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees’ vast songbook.
Just two more points, if I may: First, the beloved fan favourite continues to inspire budding 12-string acoustic guitarists around the world to mimic hero Lifeson on its famous intro; and second, the live version on 1981’s Exit… Stage Left is even more transcendent than the masterful studio cut.
Be careful if and when you Google this group’s name…
Moist made history as the first Canadian rock band to perform a live gig on the Internet on February 15, 1995. The Vancouver quintet appeared on the same online Atlanta, Georgia, bill as other multimedia trendsetters Blues Traveler, Matthew Sweet and the universally revered… I mean, reviled… Hootie & the Blowfish. Ironically, there’s scant information about this landmark concert on the Internet. WTF?! But rest assured, it was more than likely a memorable affair, although I reckon more than a few computers were smashed to bits well before the end of Hootie’s set of Kootchypop and Cracked Rear View epics or their grating cover of 54-40’s “I Go Blind.”
Moist formed in Vancouver in 1992 and released their self-titled debut the following year. Interestingly, four of the original core members have roots in Kingston, Ontario. (I’ll always find a way to squeeze my hometown into TWIMH, so tough beans if you don’t like it!)
Lead singer David Usher and keyboardist Kevin Young moved from the “Limestone City” to the British Columbia metropolis in the late 1980s, around the same time that guitarist Mark Makoway and bassist Jeff Pearce first started jamming while attending Queen’s University. The latter duo later moved to Vancouver and eventually hooked up with Usher and Young, but not before cutting their on-stage teeth playing in the same bars as emerging Kingston bands from the late ’80s to early ’90s, including The Headstones, The Mahones, The Inbreds, The Arrogant Worms and “should’ve been bigger” The Pariahs (previously known by their very offensive, but still kinda cool moniker, Guyana Kool-Aid).
At the time of the online broadcast, Moist was one of the most promising young rock acts in the country. Their 1994 second effort Silver was a platinum-seller and contains three domestic hit singles, “Push,” “Believe Me” and the dark title track; plus, the album was still hanging around RPM’s Top 50 thirty-nine weeks after it first entered the charts.
Needless to say, few were surprised when Moist won the 1995 JUNO Award for Best New Group. Needless to say, many were surprised when they announced they were splitting up in 1999, not long after the release of the well-received LP Mercedes 5 and Dime, with Usher freed up to pursue a full-time solo career.
Arviat, Nunavut singer-songwriter and three-time JUNO Award-winner Susan Aglukark became the first Inuit artist to break onto Canada’s mainstream album chart when her sophomore album, This Child, entered RPM’s Top 40 on February 13, 1995.
Even more impressive was the surprising success of the record’s mid-tempo folk-pop ballad “O Siem.” Translated as “joy in community,” the ear-pleasing single climbed to No. 1 on both RPM’s adult contemporary and country charts, made it to No. 3 on our national pop survey and was nominated for a JUNO Award in 1996. The follow-up single, “Hina Na Ho (Celebration),” became another hit for this multi-talented artist and officer of the Order of Canada.
Aglukark’s professional career officially began in 1992 with Arctic Rose. The full-length debut captured two JUNO Awards in 1995 for Best New Solo Artist and Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Recording, while This Child went triple-platinum, topping RPM’s country album chart and peaking at No. 25 on the pop chart. Her latest studio effort, White Sahara, hit stores in 2011.
Move over Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Lee Lewis and other notorious serial knot-tiers. This next story is proof that celebrity marriages can indeed last longer than a few stormy years (or less)…
On paper this sounds like a relationship doomed to fail: Young pop star marries fashion model. Well, as famous couplings go, Paul Anka’s marriage to Miss World contestant Anne de Zogheb on February 16, 1963, should be considered a rousing triumph.
Sure, the Ottawa-born entertainer and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Belgian beauty finalized their divorce in 2000, but not before raising five daughters and one son (all of whose names begin with the letter A and one of whom, Amanda Anka, is married to Jason Bateman).
Thirty-seven years together is not too shabby a run in my non-expert opinion. But any celebrity relationship that lasts over 10 years should receive a citation. Even if you factor in Anka’s short-lived 18-month second marriage, which ended in 2010 following a messy divorce, the average still works out to over 20 years, so it still deserves a medal.
Next week: Candi (remember her?) and April Wine
“Closer to the Heart” by Rush from Exit… Stage Left (1981)
By James Sandham
The winter weather here in Toronto continues to oscillate between bitter cold and gloomy dampness, and as effective as staying in can be as a way to avoid it, sometimes you just need to get out and do something before the cabin fever settles in completely and refuses to leave.
Incidentally, we happen to be in luck, because there’s a bevy of noteworthy shows to explore, no matter what region of this country you’re living in.
Vancouver – Benjamin Francis Leftwich @ The Media Club – Feb. 8, 2013
Out on the best coast, we’ve got Benjamin Francis Leftwich starting the month off with a gig at The Media Club. He’s an English singer-songwriter who hails from Yorkshire, and he released his first full-length album, Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, not too long ago, in the middle of 2011. It was praised as a promising debut for the young troubadour, and it’s where the following track comes from.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich – “Atlas Hands”
Calgary – Jeremy Fisher @ Crescent Heights Community Club – Feb. 9, 2013
In Calgary that same weekend we’ve got Jeremy Fisher performing at the Crescent Heights Community Club. He’s an Ottawa-based musician and a two-time JUNO Award nominee, and he’s just released his latest album, Mint Juleps. If you’re into acoustic-driven folk, this may be the show for you.
Jeremy Fisher – “The Scar That Never Heals”
Toronto – Paul Anka @ The Sony Centre – Feb. 14, 2013
Well well well, if it isn’t Paul Anka, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1980 inductee, performing live at The Sony Centre for all of you lovers on Valentine’s Day. This will definitely be better than the last live performance I saw on Valentine’s Day, in which my wife and I went out for dinner to a local Italian place only to discover halfway through our meal that the restaurant’s “musical performance” was in fact an Elvis impersonator intent on drowning out all dinner table chatter. Meh, you live and learn, I guess.
Montreal – Slim Twig @ Casa Del Popolo – Feb. 21, 2013
So Paul Anka’s not your style? OK, how about something a little more off the beaten path, then? If you happen to find yourself in la belle province around the end of the month, then why not check out Slim Twig, which is the stage and screen name of the young artist otherwise known as Max Turnbull. Born in Toronto, he is what I believe would qualify as an experimental musician and he’s involved in many different acts, of which Slim Twig is but one. Check out the video below to get a better idea.
Slim Twig – “Gun Shy”
Halifax – Daniel Matto @ Stayner’s Warf – Feb. 16, 2013
And last but not least, let’s take a look at what’s happening on the East Coast. Why, hello, it’s Daniel Matto, Australian expat and current Nova Scotian, who will be jamming his brand of classic lounge jazz at Stayner’s Wharf. His debut album, I’m Old Fashioned, was nominated for a Music Nova Scotia Award for Jazz Recording Of The Year.
Daniel Matto – “Just One of Those Things”
By David Ball
Jann Arden’s “Insensitive” remained atop RPM’s pop chart for the week beginning on February 6, 1995. The track occupied the No. 1 spot in Canada for three straight weeks.
Unbelievable as it sounds, “Insensitive” remains the Springbank, Alberta native’s only international hit, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, making the Top 15 in Italy and achieving the No. 1 spot in Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi! … I mean, Australia. The song’s profile in the United States was buoyed by its inclusion on the 1996 soundtrack to the underrated Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson romantic drama Bed of Roses.
Squinty-eyed American pop-country singer and frequent tabloid fodder LeAnn Rimes cloned “Insensitive” on her million-selling fourth album Sittin’ on Top of the World (named after the Amanda Marshall track that is also on the album), but it wasn’t issued as a single. Her loss.
“Insensitive” is a bit of an anomaly because it wasn’t actually composed by the prolific singer-songwriter. Arden first heard the ballad performed by JUNO Award–nominated Ann Loree at a club in Calgary and was so impressed that she ended up re-recording it for her multi-platinum-selling second full-length effort Living Under June (1994). Hey, not only can the wisecracking Arden sing, write, produce bestselling albums, haul in JUNO Awards, act and support charities, but she has a keen ear for a catchy melody too!
You should be deported if you don’t love this guy. But then again, who doesn’t love him?
Stompin’ Tom Connors, one of the greatest Canadian storytellers – make that one of the greatest Canadians, period – was born on February 9, 1936. Like fellow icons Ian & Sylvia, Stan Rogers and Gordon Lightfoot, the Saint John, New Brunswick–born, Prince Edward Island–raised singer’s folk and country compositions are an intrinsic part of Canadian popular culture. Some of his appeal stems from the fact that that he’s an unabashed maple leaf flag–waver and one of the few homegrown artists who has chosen to stay put in the North (he’s never toured outside of Canada), thumbing his nose at the bright lights and bigger stages offered up in the U.S.
Truth is, Stompin’ Tom’s colloquial Canadian tales connect with people from coast to coast to coast, but don’t translate well outside of our borders. (In some parts of the land, you’ll find folks who argue that “The Hockey Song” should be our de facto national anthem and that “Moon-Man Newfie” is a true story.) Who cares?! He’s been chronicling colourful stories for almost 50 years and he’s not about to change. But, oh baby, wouldn’t it be freaking cool to see this uncompromising maverick give Nashville a go? The country music status quo wouldn’t know what hit ’em.
Armed with his 1954 Gibson acoustic guitar, Connors left home at age 15 and hitchhiked across our great land for the next 13 years. He managed to eke out a living doing odd jobs here and there, but hitting financial rock bottom in the early ’60s essentially pushed him into a career in music.
As the story goes, Connors tried to buy a pint at the Maple Leaf Hotel in Timmins, Ontario, but “found himself a nickel short.” The bartender “agreed to give Tom a beer if he would play a few songs. These few songs turned into a 13-month contract to play at the hotel, a weekly spot on the CKGB radio station in Timmins, eight 45-RPM recordings and the end of the beginning for Tom Connors.”
Although “Stompin’” didn’t appear on Connors’ 1967 debut album, The Northlands’ Own Tom Connors, his trademark board-stomp had developed years earlier at the aforementioned Timmins establishment. He was forced to stamp his boot heel on a two-by-four in order to be heard over the roomful of rowdy yahoos.
Stompin’ Tom’s productivity took off after he signed with Dominion Records in 1969, dropping twelve LPs in a stretch of 24 months, including the classics Bud the Spud and Other Favourites and Stompin’ Tom Meets Big Joe Mufferaw. He went on to form Boot Records in 1971 and with his new label produced 10 albums containing many popular singles, such as the Top 10 hits “The Bug Song” and “The Bridge Came Tumbling Down.”
Upon the release of 1977’s Stompin’ Tom at the Gumboot Cloggeroo, Connors went into a self-imposed exile for nearly a decade, accusing the Canadian music industry of not supporting “his homespun and fiercely patriotic brand of music,” as well as becoming increasingly Americanized. To drive his point home, he shipped his six JUNO Awards to the organization’s head office. Thankfully, Connors buried the hatchet and re-emerged in the mid ’80s with the formation of a new label, A-C-T, which also promotes regional and national talent, as well as his first studio album of new material in seven years: Stompin’ Tom is Back to Assist Canadian Talent. Indeed!
Before I forget, no Stompin’ Tom Connors write-up is complete without including this crucial tidbit: he has provided Canadians with our very own drinking songs. In fact, ALL of his over 300 songs are drinking songs. His finest tunes – “Bud the Spud,” “Big Joe Mufferaw,” “Tillsonburg” and dozens more – are best served, preferably with friends, in some noisy dive with a cold pint in hand. I’ll take it one further: In my not-so-humble opinion, “Sudbury Saturday Night” rivals the Irish pub anthem “Dirty Old Town” and any drink-filled Oktoberfest sing-along this side of Bavaria. I’m being stone-cold sober here. Moving along…
Connors has received countless accolades over the years: he was named an officer of the Order of Canada, he received an honorary doctor of laws from St. Thomas University, he has his very own postage stamp, and he placed a solid 13th on CBC’s list of Greatest Canadians, the highest ranking of any musician. If the “Mother Corp” ever decides to update its list, Stompin’ Tom may even crack the Top 10, as he should.
Do you remember the pioneering ’80s Russian progressive hair metal band Autograph – or as they’re known in their native tongue, Автограф or Autograf? I, unfortunately, do.
The Moscow quintet was the first Soviet rock act to achieve success (and significant attention) in the West. They are perhaps best remembered for their appearance at Live Aid in 1985, representing all of Eastern Europe.
Boo to Sir Bob Geldof for not also booking fellow Russian superstar and future Internet sensation Eduard Khil, better known as “Mr. Trololo.” If you are one of the few who don’t know Khil’s influential work, check out his mesmerizing TV performance on YouTube – he’s received over 18 million hits!
Back to Autograph! They never did garner any hits in the West, no thanks to Glasnost or the tireless efforts of their record labels, North American and European concert promoters (including the venerable Bill Graham), Frank Zappa’s management, videos airing in generous rotation on MTV and MuchMusic, headlining major international rock shows and perhaps a fair amount of payola via the KGB.
Autograph (not to be confused with the other ’80s hair metal band by the same name and their hit “Turn Up The Radio”) made their North American live debut performing at a big gig in Quebec City on February 10, 1987, as part of the NHL’s Rendez-vous ’87 All-Star Game. Appearing on the same concert bill at the Colisée in Quebec City were Glass Tiger and two members of the Bolshoi Ballet.
Instead of having to endure another unwatchable no-hitting love-in, a.k.a. the annual All-Star Game that pits the elite from the Eastern Conference versus their Western counterparts, Rendez-vous ’87 was a two-game matchup between the NHL selects and the Soviet National Team. Some of the players who competed in the series (which ended in a 1-1 draw) included Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Chris Chelios and future NHLers Igor Larionov, Sergei Nemchinov and the recently deceased Vladimir Krutov. I remember the series as being about as entertaining as a Yakov Smirnoff stand-up routine, meaning, not very.
Next week: Moist and Rush
“Sudbury Saturday Night” by Stompin’ Tom Connors (Live 2005)