By Adam Bunch
THE BIRTH OF THE CHUM CHART
When 1050 CHUM first began to broadcast in the fall of 1945 – just a few weeks after the end of the Second World War – it covered a little bit of everything: news, music, sports. But during this week in 1957, the Toronto radio station made a change. It started to play nothing but music all day long, and every song was a hit. The entire playlist was composed of tunes sitting in the Top 50 of the pop charts. As such, 1050 CHUM had become the very first pop music radio station in Canada.
That wasn’t the only way the station was breaking new ground. For the very first time, a Canadian radio station was keeping track of its own pop chart. On the same day that CHUM changed formats, the station also launched what they called “The CHUM Chart.” The very first song that was played was also the first to hit No. 1: Elvis Presley’s “All Shook Up.”
But that was just the beginning. Over the course of the next few decades, the CHUM Chart became one of the defining institutions of the Canadian music industry, and 1050 CHUM became one of the most famous broadcasters in the country. By the time the early 1960s rolled around, the chart had even featured the first Canadian band to hit No. 1, when Richie Knight and The Mid-Knights’ song “Charlena” climbed all the way to the top.
“CHARLENA” BY RICHIE KNIGHT AND THE MID-KNIGHTS
THE GUESS WHO’S FIRST TOP 10 BILLBOARD HIT
By 1969, The Guess Who had already been around for more than a decade in one form or another. The band had also already found plenty of success, breaking into the Top 40 on the Billboard pop charts back when they were known as Chad Allan and The Reflections. “Shakin’ All Over” climbed all the way to No. 22 when the group’s American record company released it under the intentionally mysterious name of “Guess Who?” – and the name stuck.
Now they were about to release a single that would reach a whole new level of success. The Guess Who had added an important new member since the days of “Shakin’ All Over” – Burton Cummings – and on the new album, Wheatfield Soul, he sang lead the whole way through for the first time. The first single off the record was a track Cummings had co-written with Randy Bachman. It was a ballad with an unforgettable vocal hook and it soared up the Billboard charts to reach heights a Guess Who single had never reached before.
It was during this week in 1969 that “These Eyes” hit No. 6 in the Billboard Top 10.
By Adam Bunch
NEWFOUNDLAND’S NATIONAL ANTHEM
It’s easy to forget how recently the province of Newfoundland became a part of Canada. It was only a little more than 60 years ago that the people of “The Rock” chose to join Confederation. Before that, back when it was its own country – the Dominion of Newfoundland – they had their own national anthem.
The British governor of the Dominion, a fellow by the name of Sir Charles Cavendish Boyle, wrote the anthem in 1902. He was an Englishman and he only lived in Newfoundland for three years, but during that time he was deeply impressed by the natural beauty of the island. He wrote several poems about it. One of them was simply called “Newfoundland”; it started like this:
When sun rays crown thy pine clad hills,
And summer spreads her hand,
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land.
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, smiling land.
There were four verses in all. By the end of that year, music had been added and the song was performed in public for the very first time. It proved to be so popular that during this week in 1904 it was chosen as the official national anthem. Today, more than a century later, the island may be part of Canada, but the song – now known as “Ode to Newfoundland” – is still the official anthem of the province.
“ODE TO NEWFOUNDLAND” PERFORMED BY KIM STOCKWOOD AND DAMHNAIT DOYLE
TOMMY CHONG’S MOTOWN HIT
Tommy Chong is best known as half of the pot-smoking comedy duo Cheech and Chong, along with his more recent role as the stoner Leo on “That ’70s Show.” But his first claim to fame came all the way back in the 1960s as a musician and songwriter. The son of a Chinese truck driver, Chong was born and raised in Alberta, and by the time he was in his early 20s he was playing guitar for a local Calgary band called The Shades. It was during a trip to San Francisco that the band met an American musician by the name of Bobby Taylor. Inspired, they decided to form a new group. For a while, they cycled through a litany of controversial new names for the band, all of them playing on the mixed racial heritage of the group, but that just drove their fans away. In the end, after they had resettled in Vancouver, they picked a much less controversial moniker. Now they were known as Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers.
Then, one day in 1965, a couple of members of The Supremes came to a show. They were so impressed by the band that they recommended the group to their label. And that’s how Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers got signed to one of the most famous music labels in the history of the world: Motown. (In fact, it was Taylor who then recommended that the label sign a group The Vancouvers once opened for: The Jackson 5.)
Chong co-wrote the group’s biggest hit. It was called “Does Your Mama Know About Me” and it would eventually end up being covered by The Supremes. But it was Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers who took it all the way into the Top 40 of the Billboard charts during this week in 1968.
“DOES YOUR MAMA KNOW ABOUT ME” BY BOBBY TAYLOR AND THE VANCOUVERS
Photo of Newfoundland via Wikimedia Commons.
By James Sandham
Nostalgia for the 1990s has risen to new heights. These days it seems that if someone’s not in high-waisted jeans and a belly top, than they’re in a plaid flannel shirt with a Nirvana tee underneath.
It’s not just the fashion that has returned, though – it’s the music, too. Nine Inch Nails has a new album out and is touring, Nirvana was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and even Soundgarden is back at it (or they were until their drummer quit, and that was because he wanted to work on promoting the new album from Pearl Jam, another mega-group from the ’90s).
While these are all American bands, it strikes me that the ’90s were really a musical heyday for Canada as well. In fact, back at the turn of the century – which really makes it sound like a long time ago! – the charts were dominated by Canadian music: Treble Charger, Headstones, Rusty… the list goes on. This week, we thought we’d take a trip back down memory lane, dive right into this whole ’90s nostalgia thing and take a look at some of the best bands Canada was sharing with the rest of the world. And we of course have to start with…
HAYDEN – “BAD AS THEY SEEM”
The ’90s were a unique time. As Fred Armisen has pointed out, it was an era in which people were pretty much content to do nothing: happy to just work a couple of hours a week in a coffee shop or maybe go to clown school, which was actually considered a legitimate career choice then. Slacker culture was at its zenith and no one quite captures that mood like Thornhill, Ontario’s Paul Hayden Desser, better known as Hayden. “Bad as They Seem” was a slacker anthem revelling in its melancholy, celebrating almost as much as lamenting the travails of living at home, working a dead-end job and basically being stuck in the suburbs. This track is a snapshot of the era.
JANN ARDEN – “COULD I BE YOUR GIRL”
Another Canadian dominating the charts back in the ’90s was Calgary’s Jann Arden. Her critically acclaimed debut album, 1993’s Time for Mercy, brought her international attention. She followed it up the next year with Living Under June, the record that the above track comes from and that also features “Insensitive,” a huge international hit that was on the soundtrack of the Christian Slater film Bed of Roses (because no totally ’90s phenomenon is complete without a Christian Slater reference). For more ’90s stuff, watch the video for “Could I Be Your Girl” (above), which features brown lip liner, hacky sack and that semi-grainy over-exposed lighting esthetic that seemed to characterize so many ’90s vids.
ODDS – “EAT MY BRAIN”
Moving a bit farther west, here we have another ’90s staple: Vancouver’s Odds. Formed in 1987, the band rocked right on through to 1999 before finally disbanding. In that time they managed to conquer quite a few ’90s milestones, including the release of a music video that featured The Kids in the Hall in drag. Their drummer, Paul Brenna, would eventually go on to join Big Sugar, another Canadian music staple of the ’90s. He was replaced with Pat Steward, a friend of Odds bassist Doug Elliott who had previously played for Bryan Adams. And, because everything ’90s is back again, a modified version of the band reunited in 2008 under the name The New Odds.
AGE OF ELECTRIC – “REMOTE CONTROL”
Another unique facet of ’90s culture that can’t be overlooked is the “wet hair” look, which is employed to full effect here in the video for “Remote Control” by Lanigan, Saskatchewan’s Age of Electric. This track comes from the group’s 1997 release, Make a Pest a Pet, and was also featured on the iconic ’90s era compilation series Big Shiny Tunes (the diamond-certified BST 2, to be precise).
BLUE RODEO – “LOST TOGETHER”
Of course, any list of great Canadian tunes from the 1990s would be incomplete without something from the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees, Blue Rodeo. This track comes from the band’s 1992 release of the same name, which went double-platinum and peaked at No. 3 on the Canadian charts. Strangely enough, while this song does seem to encapsulate an era, there is really nothing particularly ’90s about it – which I guess means it’s timeless.
By Adam Bunch
CANADA’S HIP-HOP PIONEER
Before Drake, before K’naan, before Kardinal – even before Maestro Fresh-Wes – there was Michie Mee. She was born in Jamaica, but grew up in Toronto during the 1980s, where she learned to combine old-school hip hop with her Caribbean roots, switching between English and Jamaican Patois during rap battles. Before long, she’d attracted the attention of the legendary South Bronx crew, Boogie Down Productions. When KRS-One and Scott La Rock produced a compilation of early Canadian hip hop, they included a track by Michie Mee and L.A. Luv (who would later become a member of another pioneering Canadian hip-hop group, Dream Warriors). That tune, “Elements of Style,” is still considered one of the greatest Canadian hip-hop tracks ever.
The exposure helped take Michie Mee’s career to a whole new level. At the end of the 1980s she was signed by First Priority/Atlantic Records. That made her the very first Canadian rapper to ever sign a contract with a major American label. And during this week in 1991, she released her first full-length album with L.A. Luv. It was called Jamaican Funk—Canadian Style. The title track would go on to be nominated for a JUNO Award the next year, while Michie Mee was soon opening for the likes of Queen Latifah and Salt–n-Pepa. More than 20 years later, she’s still going strong – she even performed last week as part of Canadian Music Week – and is universally hailed as the Queen of Canadian hip hop.
“JAMAICAN FUNK” BY MICHIE MEE AND L.A. LUV
THE GREATEST JAZZ CONCERT EVER
They were five of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived. Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet. Charlie Parker on sax. Charles Mingus on bass. Bud Powell on piano. Max Roach on drums. When they got together to play, they called themselves simply “The Quintet.” They were one of the most impressive musical super-groups ever formed, but they only recorded together once. It happened in Canada during this week in 1953. That Friday night, May 15, the five musicians took the stage at the beautiful and historic Massey Hall in downtown Toronto.
They say the group wasn’t even at their best. Powell was drunk. Parker was playing on a plastic instrument. Gillespie kept leaving the stage to check for updates on a big boxing bout happening at the same time. In fact, the audience was thin for the same reason – they’d stayed home to follow the fight. But it didn’t matter. The immense talent collected on stage shined through. You can hear it on the live recording of the show, which was released under the title “The Greatest Jazz Concert Ever.” Even more than 60 years later, critics still agree: “The hyperbole is well-deserved.”
“SALT PEANUTS” BY THE QUINTET
By Adam Bunch
GLENN GOULD’S GROUNDBREAKING SOVIET TOUR
May 1957. The height of the Cold War. Just a year earlier, the Soviet Union had faced off against the West over the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Revolution. The Communist superpower was still a shockingly oppressive place to live, where free thought and artistic expression were actively suppressed. But now, the dictator Stalin was dead, and a new, more moderate leadership meant that Russia was at a crossroads. For a few brief years, the Communist regime began to give its people more freedom.
A Canadian musician seized the opportunity.
By the late 1950s, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Glenn Gould was already famous in Canada as the greatest classical pianist our country had ever seen. Thanks to his landmark recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, he was rocketing to stardom in the United States as well. This, he thought, was the perfect moment to use his talent and fame to do some good in the world. So he asked for permission to tour the Soviet Union. He would become the very first North American musician to play in the USSR since the end of the Second World War.
His first show was held in Moscow on May 7. As he took the stage in the great hall of the Moscow Conservatory, the room was half empty. The great Canadian pianist was unknown in Russia; most people in the audience had come simply because they were curious to see anyone perform Bach, an artist reviled by the Communist authorities for being too religious. The spectators had no idea what they were in for.
“A pale young man walked out onto the stage,” one of the audience members later remembered. “His face immediately overwhelmed us. He sat on a low chair, so low that we were astonished….”
And then Gould began to play. It was unlike anything they’d ever heard before. “The impression was that he was from Mars,” the woman recalled. “An alien. His articulation and inhuman evenness… a perfection which seemed unreal.” Others remembered “a strange sensation of exhilaration and something new… a phenomenon from another planet… everybody was in shock.” One person called it “a miracle.”
At intermission, the spectators rushed to the phones. They called their friends and told them that something extraordinary was happening. Drop everything, they said, come quick.
“I got dressed and I ran,” one man remembered. “And I saw that from every direction, people were hurrying to the grand hall for the second half of the concert.”
By the end of the performance, the Conservatory was packed. The crowd – including some of the most famous conductors and composers in Russia – roared to their feet, shouts of “Bravo!” echoed out across the hall and Gould was given one curtain call after another.
That was just the beginning of his two-week tour. Everywhere he went, Gould was hailed as a genius. Most important of all, he was playing composers that almost no one else in the Soviet Union dared to play – he even lectured about them, an unheard of liberty at the time.
“The Berlin Wall existed in music as well,” one Russian musician explained. Another remembered the catharsis of those performances: “We were allowed to applaud something that was not Soviet. And it was a great feeling of liberation.”
Sadly, that freedom was a fleeting one. As Gould returned to Canada to help educate our country about what he called “the idiotic repressions of Soviet musical life,” those he left behind were soon faced with a new era of government crackdowns. It would be another 30 years before the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The Russian people had a long struggle ahead, but the otherworldly pianist from Toronto had helped to sow the seeds that would eventually blossom into a new age for the country.
A Russian musician who attended one of Gould’s performances later assessed the importance of the tour: “It [provided] fertile soil for everything new – new in poetry, new in literature, new in music and movies and theatre.” Gould’s trip to the Soviet Union may have only been one small step forward, but it was a step forward.
So, by reaching out in friendship to people on the other side of the planet, Glenn Gould proved to be one of those rarest and most precious of artists: a musician who truly helped to change the world.
GLENN GOULD: THE RUSSIAN JOURNEY