By Adam Bunch
THE CANADIAN BEHIND THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL MUSICAL EVER
It was one of the most famous, most groundbreaking and most controversial musicals of all time. It brought nudity to the stage, embraced free love and environmentalism, criticized the Vietnam War, showed characters using drugs and swearing, and even involved the burning of an American flag. Theatres refused to book it, church groups picketed, authorities tried to shut it down. At one point, while it was running in Minnesota, a priest released white mice into the lobby hoping they would scare the audience away. In Boston, the producers were sued. In Cleveland, someone bombed the theatre. In New York, famous astronauts walked out of the show in protest. In Norway, people formed a human barricade to keep the audience from getting inside. In Mexico, the government padlocked the doors and the cast members were forced to go into hiding.
But none of it stopped Hair. The musical re-wrote the rules for putting on theatrical productions. Taboos fell by the wayside. Laws were challenged and overturned. The musical racked up praise from all over the world: it won Tony Awards and Grammy Awards and rave reviews. It became one of the most famous musicals ever; it even got turned into a movie directed by Miloš Forman. Meanwhile, the songs from the production raced up the charts. They quickly became some of the most iconic tunes of the 1960s. Many of them are still familiar today: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Easy to Be Hard” and the title track, “Hair.”
The music for all of those songs was written by a Canadian: Galt MacDermot. He was born in Montreal, went to school in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and in Toronto, and then got a music degree in South Africa. Before long, he was living in New York City, writing the music for the musical that would go down in history. It was during this week in 1968 that Hair opened on Broadway.
“HAIR” FROM THE MOVIE HAIR
THE “GREATEST CANADIAN SONG OF ALL TIME” AT CARNEGIE HALL
It was during this week in 1967 that Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Ian and Sylvia took the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City for one of their most prestigious gigs. The folk-singing duo had started out by playing in the smoke-filled coffee houses of Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood and were soon helping to lead the folk music revival that swept the Western world in the early 1960s. Their best-known song, the wistful ballad “Four Strong Winds,” was a big hit at home in Canada as soon as it was released – and it gradually gained a following south of the border as well. Everyone from Bob Dylan to John Denver to Johnny Cash to fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Neil Young and The Tragically Hip have covered the song. Nearly 40 years after Ian and Sylvia took the stage that night in New York City, CBC listeners chose “Four Strong Winds” as the greatest Canadian song of all time.
NEIL YOUNG COVERS “FOUR STRONG WINDS”
By Adam Bunch
Image: Guy Lombardo (left); Sarah Slean performing with Symphony Nova Scotia (right)
A NOSTALGIC HIT FOR GUY LOMBARDO AND HIS ROYAL CANADIANS
It seems funny to look back on a song that is more than 60 years old to find that it’s looking back even further than that. But that’s exactly what you’ll find when you listen to “Dearie,” a sweet and wistful jazz tune that was spinning on everyone’s gramophones in the early months of 1950. The song’s lyrics are all about fondly remembering days gone by. “Dearie,” the vocalist sings in that old crooning tone, “life was cheery, in the good old days gone by.” It’s full of pop culture references that were already out of date by the middle of the 1900s: Charlie Chaplin, Henry Ford, crystal radio sets. “Do you remember?” the lyrics ask cheekily. “If you remember, well dearie, you’re much older than I.”
A pair of Americans wrote the song, but it was a band of Canadians who would make it famous. Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Guy Lombardo was born and raised in London, Ontario, where he formed an orchestra with his brothers when they were still just young boys in grammar school. Before long, Lombardo had moved to the United States and become one of the biggest names in jazz. It was during this week in 1950 that his version of “Dearie” – recorded with his band, The Royal Canadians – was sitting high on the Billboard charts.
THE EARLIEST ROOTS OF SYMPHONY NOVA SCOTIA
This is also a big week in the history of classical music in Canada. It was 117 years ago – on April 24, 1897 – that the Halifax Symphony played its first-ever gig. It was a memorial concert for the Austrian composer Franz Schubert. But that original orchestra wasn’t destined to last very long: the Halifax Symphony disbanded in 1908. Still, Halifax had an appetite for classical music, so the symphony was reborn in the 1950s. Eventually, the orchestra merged with the New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra to become the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra. Even then, its complicated history wasn’t over. A decline in support and a labour dispute forced the new organization into bankruptcy in the early 1980s.
That, finally, cleared the way for Symphony Nova Scotia. It was founded in 1983 and is going strong today, more than a century after that first orchestra played that first gig in Halifax. Symphony Nova Scotia has now earned a reputation as the most versatile orchestra in Canada, not only playing the big hits of the classical world, but also collaborating with a new generation of 21st-century Canadian talent, including Joel Plaskett, Buck 65, Owen Pallett, Basia Bulat and Sarah Slean.
By James Sandham
It comes but once a year, that special day dedicated to devout audiophiles everywhere: Record Store Day. This year’s event falls on April 19, and it just so happens that the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees, Blue Rodeo, will be serving as the official ambassadors for the Canadian celebrations.
“Growing up, records were our religion,” says Blue Rodeo vocalist and guitarist Greg Keelor. “They were our statements of cool. We carried them from party to party, rec room to rec room, symbols of our hipness. It’s funny, things haven’t changed that much.”
It’s true: vinyl is still just as hip as ever, but that’s not the only reason to love it. As any record aficionado will tell you, there are a slew of grounds for why vinyl is preferable. Here are our top five.
1. IT SOUNDS BETTER
This is always the first argument an audiophile will make, but what exactly does it mean? Is there really that much of a difference between digital and analog sound? The answer is a resounding “Yes.”
As HowStuffWorks explains it: “Original sound is analog by definition. A digital recording takes snapshots of the analog signal at a certain rate…. This means that, by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete sound wave. It is approximating it with a series of steps. Some sounds that have very quick transitions, such as a drum beat or a trumpet’s tone, will be distorted because they change too quickly for the sample rate.”
Or, as FastTopTen puts it: “Imagine fitting a closet into a single suitcase: as your wife jumps on the outside of the luggage while you attempt to zip it shut, you are forced to discard a few, seemingly negligible items.”
The bottom line? Vinyl gives you the full sound, the way the musician intended it to be, and digital formats do not.
2. IT LOOKS BETTER
Technical issues of music fidelity aside, there is no doubt that the vinyl format just looks better. Sure, you can still get cover art with digital files, but it’s not a complete cover package the way it is with records. The design of vinyl sleeves is practically an art form in itself, and Joni Mitchell, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 1981 inductee (and a self-described “painter derailed by circumstance”), is just one of the numerous artists who designed much of their own album artwork.
3. IT FEELS BETTER
Beyond looking and sounding better, a lot of record collectors claim that vinyl “feels better,” too. Most seem to mean that there’s something about the record’s actual physicality that lets the listener connect with it on an existential level. You can hold it, you can hear each pop and crackle from its physical surface, and there’s something warm and present about that immediacy. The fact that a record is right there in front of you means that it can generate a certain type of ambience. For proof, just look at how nice a record room – like the one in the photo above – can “feel.”
4. IT’S MORE FUN TO BUY
Digital files are easy to buy. You can get them whenever you want, wherever you are (as long you’ve got access to the Internet). They are supremely convenient. However, the inconvenience of vinyl is exactly what makes it so much fun to buy!
With vinyl, you actually have to go out to a record store. Most record stores these days are independently run. That means that the stock they carry is sort of like a curated collection. Plus, you’ll meet people there browsing through the same shelves as you and you’ll immediately know they share your taste. There’s a whole community that orbits around record shops. Check out these photos of Sound Central Record Shop in Montreal – way more unique than shopping at the iTunes store!
5. IT’S MORE VERSATILE
Finally, there’s just so much more you can do with a record. Ever seen someone make a bowl out of an MP3? I didn’t think so.
By Adam Bunch
Image: Nelson Mandela (left); a Lakota sun dance in the United States as portrayed by French artist Jules Tavernier (right)
HONOURING NELSON MANDELA
During this week in 1990, it had only been two months since Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa. He’d spent the last 27 years in jail as a punishment for his opposition to apartheid. Even then, his struggle wasn’t over: the racist policies he had been battling against for decades were still very much in place. But the tide had begun to turn.
On April 16, 1990, Mandela appeared on stage in London, England. A massive tribute concert had been organized at Wembley Stadium as a way to keep pressure on the South African government. The event was broadcast to millions of people in more than 60 countries around the world. The performers and speakers who appeared in front of the crowd of 72,000 included some of the biggest names in music and the arts: Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Denzel Washington, Jackson Browne, Chrissie Hynde. On top of that, there were two Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees: Neil Young and Daniel Lanois.
When Mandela first stepped out in front of the crowd, he was greeted by a standing ovation. It lasted for eight straight minutes. Then he gave a rousing speech on the need for the struggle to continue.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you that you chose to care, because you could have decided otherwise. Thank you that you elected not to forget, because our fate could have been a passing concern…. Dear friends, it will not be long now before we see the end of the apartheid system. The dreams of millions of people to see our country free and at peace will be realized sooner rather than later…. Let us continue to march forward together for the realization of that glorious vision.”
That night, he headed home to South Africa to continue the struggle. It took another four years, but it finally happened. In 1994, apartheid ended. Nelson Mandela was elected as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa.
BANNING THE SUN DANCE
When most people think about the early history of Canadian music, they usually don’t think back very far: maybe to the beginning of rock and roll in the 1950s or to the folk songs of the 1800s. However, people have been playing music in this place for much longer than that. The true history of Canadian music stretches back for thousands of years, to the ancestors of the First Nations and the Inuit.
In the late 1800s, though, the Canadian government didn’t see things that way. It was during this week in 1884 that the government of Sir John A. Macdonald passed an amendment to the Indian Act banning some of the traditional practices of the First Nations, including ceremonial sun dances and gift-giving feasts called potlatches. Those events form an extraordinary and important part of the history of our country, but the government was convinced that the First Nations should give up their own culture in favour of assimilation.
Anyone found guilty of performing either a sun dance or a potlatch would face months in prison. On top of that, the new law declared that “any Indian or other person who encourages, either directly or indirectly, an Indian or Indians to get up to such a festival or dance, or to celebrate the same, or who shall assist in the celebration of the same is guilty of a like offense, and shall be liable to the same punishment.” You could be at risk of spending six months in prison just for supporting the right to practice the sun dance.
It stayed that way for nearly 70 years. The Canadian government didn’t make sun dances and potlatches legal again until 1951.
Now, more than 130 years after the sun dance was banned, First Nations artists like A Tribe Called Red are helping to remind Canadians that the history of music in Canada didn’t just begin when the first Europeans arrived.
By Adam Bunch
THE MOST POPULAR POP INSTRUMENTAL EVER
You might not realize it, but you already know “Theme From A Summer Place.” The song was originally composed for a Hollywood movie – as you might guess, the film was called A Summer Place; it starred Sandra Dee – and it is one of the most instantly recognizable pieces of instrumental pop music ever recorded. It was recorded by a Canadian: Percy Faith.
Faith was born in Toronto all the way back on April 7, 1908. He started out as a young musician, performing violin and piano at venues including the prestigious Massey Hall. But after his hands were seriously injured in a fire, he was forced to turn to conducting instead. For years, Faith made regular appearances on the CBC, but he eventually headed south to the United States. That’s where he became one of the most popular conductors of the era – and where he recorded “A Theme From A Summer Place.” During this week in 1960, the song was sitting at the very top of the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed there for nine straight weeks. More than 50 years later, not a single instrumental pop song has ever broken that record.
“THEME FROM A SUMMER PLACE”
ANOTHER BIG HIT FOR THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS
The Mamas and The Papas were at the top of their game in the spring of 1967 – which was especially impressive considering they’d only been around for a couple of years. Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Denny Doherty had been an important part of the group from the very beginning. He’d been playing folk music for more than a decade by then, stretching all the way back to his days as a teenager growing up in Nova Scotia, where he founded a group called The Halifax Three.
It was while Doherty was on tour with that band that he first met an up-and-coming young folk singer by the name of Mama Cass. Before long, the two had started a new group, The Mugwumps (along with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Zal Yanovsky, a future member of The Lovin’ Spoonful who was also in The Halifax Three). Around that very same time, Doherty was asked to fill in as a vocalist for yet another new band: The New Journeymen. That’s how he started playing music with two members of that group: John Phillips and his wife Michelle.
An acid trip brought the two bands together. High one night on LSD, the four musicians bonded. Michelle Phillips threw a dart at a map and they all found themselves living on a beach in the Virgin Islands. By the time they returned to the United States, they had officially become The Mamas and The Papas, and they had already written some of the most popular songs of the 1960s.
Their first album produced two smash hits in 1965: “California Dreamin’” and “Monday, Monday.” A year later, their second album launched another pair of songs up the charts: “I Saw Her Again” and “Words of Love.” And it was during this week in 1967 that the first single off their third record in two years soared all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was already the eighth time they’d broken onto the singles chart. This time, it was with their version of an old Shirelles’ hit, “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
By Adam Bunch
THE GREAT Y2K CD HOAX
It was on April Fool’s Day of 1999 that a hoax hailed by some as one of the greatest music-related pranks of all time was pulled off in Canada. It started just after six in the morning. That’s when Rob Christie, the host of the morning show on Toronto’s Mix 99.9, made an announcement: because of the upcoming technological crisis caused by Y2K, he said, CD players would no longer work. They’d be unable to read the discs.
He assured his listeners that all was not lost. Record companies had developed a solution. He interviewed the presidents of both Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada on the air. They explained that if customers wanted to be able to listen to their music again, they would simply need to buy a holographic sticker. Once the hologram was put on their CDs, the players would be able to read them again. The stickers would be available for purchase at the low price of somewhere between $0.99 and $1.99 each.
Listeners were outraged. They flooded the switchboards. “We had hundreds of calls,” the vice-president of programming told the Toronto Star. “This one guy called me, he was in tears. He had 5,000 CDs and he was completely out of his mind. At $2 a CD he was ready to kill somebody.”
The radio station waited three hours before they finally pointed out that it was April Fool’s Day. But by then, the news had already gotten around. Calls continued to come in even after the hoax was revealed.
Luckily, Y2K passed without incident. Compact discs didn’t become obsolete – at least, not until a few months later when MP3s came along.
ANNE MURRAY’S BIG WEEK
This week was a big one for Anne Murray’s “I Just Fall in Love Again.” The song was originally written and recorded by The Carpenters. It was on their 1977 album, Passages, and while the band felt it would make a good single, the record company didn’t agree.
The very next year, it was covered by Dusty Springfield – but again, it wasn’t released as a single. And so, it was left to Anne Murray to cash in on the song’s potential. She decided to record her own version of the tune after hearing Springfield’s. It was featured on Murray’s 1979 album, New Kind of Feeling, and this time, it was finally released as a single as well.
It was a smash hit. “I Just Fall in Love Again” roared up the Billboard charts, hitting No. 1 during this week in 1979. It spent three weeks at the top of both the country and adult contemporary charts; Billboard would go on to name it the top country song of the year. A year later, during this week in 1980, the song would win best single at the JUNO Awards.