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Archive for February, 2013

This Week in Music History: February 25 to March 3

Posted on: February 26th, 2013 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

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.

No, that’s not John Oates or a member of the Village People sporting a porno moustache and headband on the left. Also, FYI, the band’s blurred out pants are intentional, for dramatic effect.

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”?

The sleeve photo from Alias’ single is a marked improvement over the Sheriff album cover (which isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement)

 

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

Welcome to the Hall of Fame, k.d. lang!

Posted on: February 22nd, 2013 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

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.

This Week in Music History: February 18 to 24

Posted on: February 20th, 2013 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

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.”

The front and back album covers for Run For Cover (ah, the ’80s)

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.

Not Dad’s car, but pretty darn close (including the mag wheels)

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).

“Say Hello” by April Wine

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).

Candi & The Backbeat (love the sunglasses and beard look)

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

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