By James Sandham
Is it too early to already be looking forward to the Canada Day weekend? That’s a rhetorical question, obviously; long weekends are what we live for in the summer! And what better way to get in the mood than with some great tunes by some amazing Canadian artists.
Here are five songs to get your Canada Day playlist started. If you’ve got any other suggestions, be sure to tell us what they are in the comments section!
THE TRAGICALLY HIP – “BOBCAYGEON”
So this one’s pretty much a no-brainer. A Canada Day weekend that doesn’t feature at least one rendition of The Tragically Hip’s “Bobcaygeon” would be like a Canada Day weekend without a barbecue, without a case of cold beer, without fireworks – practically inconceivable, in other words. “Bobcaygeon” comes from the Hip’s sixth album, the multi–JUNO Award–winning Phantom Power, and it won the 2000 JUNO Award for Single of Year. The band was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
BRUCE COCKBURN – “LOVERS IN A DANGEROUS TIME”
OK, so now that we’ve got the obligatory playing of “Bobcaygeon” out of the way (and let’s be honest: we’ll probably play it a few more times before the weekend’s over), we can move on to other musical delights. Few are more delightful than this gem from Bruce Cockburn’s 1984 album, Stealing Fire. Back in 2005, CBC Radio named it the 11th greatest Canadian song of all time – and here I was under the impression that it was written by The Barenaked Ladies!
BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE – “HEY YOU”
Now here’s a bunch of hirsute fellows! That look can’t be comfortable in the summer. Hairy commentary aside though, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2014 inductees, certainly earned their place among the greats, in no small part on the strength of songs like this one. “Hey You” comes from the band’s 1975 album, Four Wheel Drive, and was the record’s biggest hit, reaching No. 1 on the Canadian charts. All these years later, it still sounds great.
APRIL WINE – “ROLLER”
Well, after all that BTO, it seems this playlist’s taking our long weekend in the direction of the 1970s, which is awesome, because that’s where April Wine is. Specifically: this gorgeous track from 1978’s First Glance, the band’s first record to go gold outside of Canada. This just might be the secret ingredient needed to turn your Canada Day barbecue into a smorgasbord of flared-out excellence. Might want to make sure the beer pail’s stocked before this one comes on.
BLACK DUB – “RING THE ALARM”
Canada Day is the quintessential holiday of the Canadian summer. I like a good dose of reggae during my summers, and Tenor Saw’s short but excellent catalogue of old-school reggae riddims is often my go-to, which is why I was so intrigued to discover Black Dub’s cover of his hit “Ring the Alarm.” Black Dub is a collaborative project instigated by Daniel Lanois, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2002 inductee, which also features one of my favourite drummers, Brian Blade. What do you think of their take on this track? They definitely went in a fresh direction with it.
Hope your Canada Day is a happy one!
By Adam Bunch
NEIL YOUNG’S CONTROVERSIAL 1970 HIT
For three straight days in May of 1970, students were protesting at Kent State University in Ohio. They were demonstrating against the war in Vietnam and the American incursion into neighbouring Cambodia. And right from the beginning, the protests were rowdy. Beer bottles were thrown. Windows were broken. Fires were set. In response, the governor of Ohio denounced the students as un-American revolutionaries, “the worst type of people that we harbour in America.” He called in the National Guard and tried to ban the protests altogether.
But the protests continued. On the fourth day, 2,000 students showed up. The National Guard tried to disperse the crowd. It didn’t work. So the guardsmen advanced with their bayonets drawn. Students threw stones – later, the National Guard claimed they were attacked by a sniper – and that’s when they opened fire. Over the course of the next 13 seconds, they shot 67 bullets into the crowd. By the time it was all over, four students had been killed and nine injured.
It didn’t take long for photos of the shootings to be published in Life magazine, which is where Neil Young saw them. The Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee was so upset by the images that he set to work writing the lyrics to a new song, and he hurried to release the tune as quickly as possible. Less than three weeks after the day of the shootings, he was in the studio with his bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash recording the track. Their record label, Atlantic Records, rushed to release it as a single. So it was during this week in 1970 – only a few weeks after the students were killed – that the latest song from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hit the airwaves.
“Ohio” would cause plenty of controversy – some radio stations even banned it – but it was a hit. It soared up the Billboard charts and was recently declared one of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone.
CELEBRATING WINNIPEG’S ROCK HISTORY
This was also a big week for Neil Young in 1987, when a particularly special concert was held in Winnipeg. It was called “Shakin’ All Over” and it was organized to celebrate the history of rock music in that city, bringing together 10 bands who played an important role in the 1960s scene. Young appeared on stage with some of the other rock legends who have called Winnipeg home, including members of Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
By Adam Bunch
THE BIRTH OF THE BASEMENT TAPES
In the summer of 1966, Bob Dylan had an accident. He was riding his motorcycle near his home – just outside of Woodstock in New York State – when he hit a patch of oil and spun out of control. He came out of it in rough shape: with terrible road rash and a cracked vertebra.
It was a turning point. In the wake of the crash, Dylan not only cancelled his upcoming tour, but he also seized the opportunity to withdraw from public life. He was at the height of his powers – “Blonde On Blonde” had just been released – but the last few years had been gruelling ones. On top of all of the stress of being one of the most famous people in the world, his decision to go electric had earned him a chorus of boos from folk purists during his last tour. So Dylan decided to take a break from being a world-famous rock star and to spend some time with his family instead.
“Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race,” he later wrote. “Having children changed my life….”
But none of that meant he was going to slow down creatively. In fact, he’d just found some exciting new songwriting partners from Canada.
They were originally called The Hawks. Dylan discovered them in Toronto, where they’d made a name for themselves playing rock and roll in bars along the Yonge Street strip – originally as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins and then on their own. They were exactly what Dylan needed. He invited them to join him on tour, to back him up as he played those controversial new electric songs. From the fall of 1965 right through to the spring of 1966, they survived those long nights of folkniks booing them, heckling them and storming out of theatres.
“Don’t worry,” Dylan told the crowd at one show, “I’m just as eager to finish and leave as you are.”
On the road, they were billed as “Bob Dylan and the Band” and, eventually, that simple name stuck. The Hawks became known as The Band.
When Dylan went on hiatus, he kept right on working with them. They moved to Woodstock, too – rented out a pink house. During the months that Dylan disappeared from the public eye, they recorded more than 100 songs together, many of them in the basement of the house they called “The Big Pink.”
It’s not entirely clear when exactly they started the recordings, but it was sometime around this point in June of 1967. It marked the beginning of an extraordinary period; those 100 songs were something special. For a long time only a few people knew about the relatively secret sessions, but as bootleg recordings spread, the buzz grew.
Many of the songs that came out of that basement were destined to become hits. “Too Much of Nothing” was eventually covered by Peter, Paul and Mary, and ended up on the Top 40 of the Billboard charts. “Mighty Quinn” broke into the Top 10 when Manfred Mann recorded it. “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released” proved to be two of The Band’s most famous songs ever. They served as bookends to the group’s debut album, which eventually emerged from those basement sessions at the big pink house. The future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees called the record Music From Big Pink.
It wasn’t the only album that owed a debt to that basement. Eight years after Dylan and The Band recorded those 100+ songs, many of them were finally released by Columbia Records. The Basement Tapes turned out to be a hugely influential LP, inspiring everyone from Elvis Costello to Billy Bragg, foreshadowing the Americana genre, earning a place on Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest albums of all time, and climbing all the way to No. 6 on the Billboard record chart.
“I SHALL BE RELEASED” BY THE BAND
By Adam Bunch
MASSEY HALL TURNS 120
It all started with the death of Charles Albert Massey. He was a member of one of the richest and most famous families in all of Canadian history: in the 1800s, the Masseys ruled an empire driven by the sales of farming equipment. In his early 20s, Charles had essentially become the acting head of the entire company after his aging father, Hart, handed over the reigns. But as it turned out, the father would outlive the son. In 1884, when he was just 35 years old, Charles caught typhoid and passed away at his home in Toronto.
Charles’ grief-stricken father decided to build a memorial to his son. A big one. He bought up land right in the very heart of the city and hired an architect to design a beautiful concert hall. It would be a way to remember his son and a gift to the people of Toronto. In 1892, on the day after what would have been Charles’ birthday, the cornerstone was laid by one of the youngest Masseys: Charles’ six-year-old nephew Vincent, who would grow up to become the Governor General of Canada. Two years later, the city had a brand new venue, Massey Hall, one of the most beautiful and prestigious concert halls in the country.
It opened during this week in 1894, with a five-concert festival kicked off by a choir of 500 people singing Handel’s “Messiah.” Since then, the stage has played host to some of the greatest performers in the world, including Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees such as Neil Young, Glenn Gould, Rush and Oscar Peterson. On the 100th anniversary of its opening in 1994, it was honoured with a Centennial Celebration Concert featuring inductees Maureen Forrester and Blue Rodeo.
This week, Massey Hall turns 120 years old.
BRYAN ADAMS’ JOURNEY-INSPIRED POWER BALLAD
In 1983, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Bryan Adams was spending a lot of time with prog-rockers Journey. The American band was at the height of its popularity back then, selling millions of albums and sending one single after another into the Top 40 of the Billboard charts. Adams spent much of the year travelling around the United States with them, opening for the band more than 100 times on the Frontiers Tour, their most successful tour ever.
And he was paying attention. It was during that tour that Adams and his songwriting partner, Jim Vallance, sat down and wrote a song influenced by “Faithfully,” one of Journey’s big hits. The new tune was a slow-burning power ballad called “Heaven.” During this week in 1985 it was racing up the Billboard charts, about to become the very first Bryan Adams song to reach No. 1.
“HEAVEN” BY BRYAN ADAMS
By Adam Bunch
Image: The National Arts Centre (left, via Wikimedia Commons); SkyDome (right, by Adam Bunch)
A NEW NATIONAL CENTRE FOR THE ARTS
Canadians were feeling particularly patriotic in the late 1960s. The country turned 100 years old. Montreal played host to the world during Expo ’67. Huge, new skyscrapers and public buildings were rising all across the country. There was a growing sense that Canada was finally coming of age.
But, somewhat embarrassingly, there wasn’t a single major venue for the performing arts in our nation’s capital. Musicians, orchestras and theatre groups who came to Ottawa were forced to perform on the stage of the Capitol Cinema, which was originally designed to be a movie theatre, not a showcase for live performances by Canada’s most respected artists.
So the government decided to do something about it. In 1967 – the year of Expo and the Centennial – a new plan was announced. Canada would build a huge complex in the heart of the capital, designed to play host to the country’s most illustrious performers. When the National Arts Centre opened two years later, it boasted not just one theatre, but four. It would be a state-of-the-art home for symphonies, orchestras, operas, ballets, concerts, recitals and plays.
The NAC opened during this week in 1969. It kicked things off with an inaugural festival that lasted two whole weeks. There to help celebrate the opening of Canada’s newest artistic hub were two Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees: the operatic contralto Maureen Forrester and folk singer Gordon Lightfoot.
Nearly 50 years later, the National Arts Centre is still one of the most impressive buildings in Ottawa. It’s been declared a National Historic Site of Canada.
THE NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE ORCHESTRA PERFORMS MOZART’S “SYMPHONY NO. 32”
ANNE MURRAY OPENS THE SKYDOME
When it first opened, it was the most cutting-edge baseball stadium in the world. It had a retractable roof, an enormous Jumbotron screen and tens of thousands of fans selling out every single game. Over the next few years, it would be home to two World Series Champion baseball teams, it would witness one of the greatest moments in sports history – when Joe Carter belted his famous home run over the left field wall – and it would play host to more than a few amazing performances by some of the most famous musicians in the world. Heck, among the first things to ever happen at the SkyDome were performances of the opera “Aida.”
And it all started 25 years ago – during this week in 1989 – when the Toronto Blue Jays opened their brand new home. The team played its first game at the SkyDome on June 5 against the Milwaukee Brewers. But before the game began, there was the singing of the national anthems, and they were sung by none other than Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Anne Murray.