By Adam Bunch

ANNE MURRAY’S “URBAN COWBOY” NO. 1

John Travolta was still a fresh-faced young actor back in 1980. He’d only played a leading role in two films at that point, but they happened to be two of the biggest films of the 1970s: Saturday Night Fever and Grease. They helped to make him an international superstar – and music played a very important role in both of those movies.

His new film would be no different. Travolta had already done disco and 1950s pop, now Urban Cowboy would capitalize on the popularity of country music. While the movie raked in money at the box office, the soundtrack would rocket all the way up the Billboard country charts to No. 1 – thanks, in part, to a smash hit by Anne Murray.

“Could I Have This Dance” followed the Urban Cowboy soundtrack on its journey up the country charts, hitting No. 1 during this week in 1980. It was already her fifth country chart-topper and the 10th time she’d broken into the Top 40 on the pop charts. Murray was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1993.

“COULD I HAVE THIS DANCE” BY ANNE MURRAY IN “URBAN COWBOY”

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THE GODFATHER OF CELTIC MUSIC IN CANADA

They called him the Godfather of Celtic Music in Canada: a Cape Breton folk singer so popular, in fact, that he was named a member of the Order of Canada and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the East Coast Music Awards. There’s no doubt that John Allan Cameron left a deep and lasting legacy in folk music scenes from one end of our country to the other.

But it didn’t always look like he was going to have a career in music. In the 1950s, Cameron had started out thinking that he was going to become a priest, changing his mind and getting a papal dispensation only a few short months before his ordination was scheduled to take place. Instead, he found his true calling in the 12-string guitar. By the end of the 1960s, Cameron had released his first full-length album. Nine more would follow by the end of his career. He performed at the Newport Folk Festival and the Mariposa Folk Festival and for Canadian troops stationed all over the world. He also became a fixture on the CBC: first on the famous “Singalong Jubilee” TV program (which also helped to launch the careers of Catherine McKinnon and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Anne Murray) and then, in the 1970s, as the host of his very own shows.

His impressive career spanned an amazing five decades and is remembered by the profound influence he had on more than one generation of Canadian folk artists. It was during this week in 2006 that John Allan Cameron passed away.

JOHN ALLAN CAMERON TRIBUTE


By Adam Bunch

The Ugly Ducklings (left); Anne Murray (right)

THE TORONTO SOUND

It was the 1960s. Toronto was home to one of the most exciting music scenes on the planet. Every night of the week, the sounds of rock ’n’ roll, soul and folk music could be heard spilling out of the clubs in Yorkville and along the Yonge Street strip. Some of the biggest names in music called the city home over the course of that decade: early versions of The Band and Steppenwolf; solo performers such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell; and future members of The Mamas and The Papas, and The Lovin’ Spoonful – all of them future Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Along with them were countless other bands, from chart-topping stars to local kids playing high school dances.

“It’s a wonder there are any kids left to listen to music in this town,” journalist Bruce Lawson wrote in the Globe and Mail, “they’re all turning to do-it-yourself rock… forming part-time groups like locusts form swarms.”

Bruce Palmer, who would eventually head to Los Angeles and become famous as the bassist for Buffalo Springfield, called Toronto “the most hard-rocking city of its time.”

The city, in fact, developed its own distinct flavour of rock ’n’ roll: what they called “The Toronto Sound.” It was a fuzzy and raucous R&B that many found hard to pin down.

“Ask them to describe it,” according to Lawson, “and they shrug their shoulders, shuffle their feet and say it’s not as relaxed as Nashville; not as up tempo as New York or Detroit; a solid natural beat, something like the Coast. But different.”

Almost everyone did agree, though, that the sound had been deeply influenced by Robbie Robertson, who made his name with his raunchy guitar work on the high school dance circuit before heading to Yonge Street and joining the band that would eventually become The Band.

It was during this week in 1966 that the Toronto Sound had its biggest showcase. For 14 straight hours, 14 of the best rock ’n’ roll bands in the city took the stage at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Ugly Ducklings. The Paupers. Luke and The Apostles. The Big Town Boys. Little Ceasar and The Consuls. Bobby Kris and The Imperials. A song from every set was broadcast to listeners on CHUM Radio, while some of the most influential record producers in the business came to see it all in person. Maybe most important of all: 16,000 screaming fans crowded the city’s biggest hockey arena – more than had come to see The Dave Clark Five. Or The Beach Boys. Or The Rolling Stones.

“NOTHIN’” BY THE UGLY NOTHING

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A BIG HIT FOR ANNE MURRAY

It wasn’t Anne Murray who wrote it. It was another Canadian: Gene MacLellan, a singer-songwriter from Prince Edward Island who was a familiar face on the CBC. His work would be covered by legends such as Bing Crosby, Joan Baez and even Elvis Presley. But it was Anne Murray, who would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1993, who made the most famous version of his most famous song. It was during this week in 1970 that “Snowbird” peaked in the Top 10 of the Billboard charts.

“SNOWBIRD” BY ANNE MURRAY


By Adam Bunch

THE CREW-CUTS’ SMASH HIT

The Crew-Cuts were rock-and-roll pioneers. However, the group’s beginnings weren’t very rock and roll at all: the band was formed at a choir school. The four vocalists who made up the group all attended St. Michael’s Choir School in downtown Toronto (the same Catholic music school that spawned fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees The Four Lads), and after they graduated, they all worked as bureaucrats for the government of Ontario. They mostly played small clubs around Niagara Falls, and their first single didn’t do much at all.

But it was while they were at a gig in the frigid snows of Sudbury that they finally caught their big break. They were invited to play on a radio station in Cleveland, driving hundreds of kilometres through -40° weather to get there. But it was worth it. The radio DJ got them an audition with Mercury Records and they impressed the label enough to land a recording contract.

A year later, they released the smash hit that would make them famous. By then, “Sh-Boom” was already a well-known song: the original version by The Chords had climbed into the Top 10 on the Billboard charts just a few months earlier. In fact, it was the very first time an R&B single had crossed over onto the pop charts and climbed that high. But these were the days when covers were commonplace and when record companies were in the habit of taking songs released by black artists and having them re-recorded by white artists. When The Crew-Cuts released their own version of “Sh-Boom” it was an even bigger hit than the original. During this week in 1954, it was sitting at the very top of the Billboard pop chart and it would stay there for seven straight weeks.

The Crew-Cuts were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1984.

“SH-BOOM” BY THE CREW-CUTS

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CELEBRATING ANNE MURRAY’S SMALL-TOWN ROOTS

Today, Anne Murray is an international superstar who plays to sold-out crowds in some of the biggest cities in the world. But the story of her incredibly successful career started in the small coal-mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia. It was there that the Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee was born. It was there that she first learned to love music and to play the piano. And it was there that she caught a bus every Saturday morning to travel an hour away to the tiny village of Tatamagouche to take singing lessons.

Now, more than half a century later, Springhill still celebrates the early beginnings of one of the world’s most popular singers. It was during this week in 1989 that the Anne Murray Centre first opened its doors and it’s still going strong 25 years later. The not-for-profit organization tells the story of the artist’s career and how it all started in that small Nova Scotian community, while attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Anne Murray’s hometown.

“SNOW BIRD” BY ANNE MURRAY


By Adam Bunch

ANNE MURRAY’S FIRST NO. 1 COUNTRY HIT

The song goes all the way back to 1962. That’s when it was first released as a single by the legendary American country singer George Jones, who was already famous thanks to the songs “White Lightning” and “Tender Years.” The tune was called “She Thinks I Still Care,” and it would end up being the third No. 1 single of Jones’ career. It spent six weeks at the top of the Billboard country chart.

But that was just the beginning. The song has been covered over and over again since it was first released over five decades ago. The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith did one version. James Taylor has made it a frequent part of his live shows. Patty Loveless included it on an album just a few years ago. Elvis Presley made it the B-side to “Moody Blue” back in 1977. Bill Haley and His Comets even recorded a version in Spanish. And Connie Francis changed the title to “He Thinks I Still Care” and saw her recording climb up the charts just a few months after Jones’ did.

But there’s only one other artist who recorded a version of the song that followed Jones’ version all the way to the top of the Billboard charts. In the early 1970s, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Anne Murray recorded her own version of “He Thinks I Still Care.” She released it on her 1973 album Danny Boy and then as the B-side to “You Won’t See Me,” a cover of The Beatles’ tune. While the A-side would climb all the way up to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, that B-side had a life of its own. During this week in 1974, Anne Murray’s “He Thinks I Still Care” was sitting at the very top of the Billboard country chart.

“HE THINKS I STILL CARE” BY ANNE MURRAY

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GEDDY LEE’S ALL-STAR ANTHEM

If we told you that Geddy Lee, frontman for Canadian Hall of Fame inductees Rush and a huge baseball fan, sang “O Canada” at a baseball all-star game, you might assume it happened in 1991. That, after all, was the year the event was held in his hometown of Toronto, at the brand new SkyDome. But that year the honour actually went to Alannah Myles, while the American anthem was sung by Michael Burgess, star of Les Misérables. So Lee had to wait for his chance. It came three years later, south of the border, at another brand-new stadium: Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. It was during this week in 1994 that Lee stepped out onto the field and sang our national anthem in front of 60,000 baseball fans.

GEDDY LEE SINGS “O CANADA” AT THE ALL-STAR GAME


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”

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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.


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.

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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.


By Adam Bunch

A PLATINUM RECORD BEFORE THERE WERE PLATINUM RECORDS

It was one of the most popular songs during the terrible years of the First World War and it was written by a Canadian from Chatham, Ontario. Geoffrey O’Hara was born there in the late 1800s and seemed destined for a career in the military. As a teenager, he enrolled at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, and trained with the 1st Hussars. Before long, many of the men in that regiment would find themselves on the front lines of the First World War, fighting at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. However, the world had another fate in store for O’Hara: music.

After his father died, O’Hara was forced to retire from the military. He headed south to perform on the Vaudeville circuit in the United States and soon landed a job with Edison Records, working in the recording industry in its very earliest days. The American government hired him to record traditional First Nations songs and then – after war had broken out – to work as an instructor teaching patriotic tunes to the troops. O’Hara’s life was dedicated to music: he lectured about it, taught it, recorded it and performed it. But he’s best remembered for writing and publishing one particular song during this week in 1917.

It was called “K-K-K-Katy.” It told the story of a brave solider with a stutter who fell in love.

“K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy / You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore / When the m-m-m-moon shines / Over the c-c-c-cowshed / I’ll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.”

Today, the song might be considered too disrespectful to catch on, but when an American tenor by the name of Bill Murray recorded it in 1918 it became a hit. This was several decades before the Recording Industry Association of America started certifying bestselling albums as “platinum” if they sold a million copies. But in those early days before record players became a truly household item, “K-K-K-Katy” did the next best thing: O’Hara’s tune sold more than a million copies of sheet music.

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A BIG NIGHT FOR BTO

It was also during this week that the 1976 JUNO Awards were held. It was a big night for the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s latest inductees, Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The band went home with the award for Group of the Year, along with those for Best Selling Album (for Four Wheel Drive) and Best Selling Single (for “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” which also has a bit of a stutter in the chorus). Some other inductees did pretty well, too. Joni Mitchell won Female Vocalist of the Year, Anne Murray won Country Female Vocalist of the Year and Gordon Lightfoot won Folk Singer of the Year.


By Adam Bunch

The Dumbells (left); Alex Trebek hosting “Music Hop” (right)

THE DUMBELLS PLAY ON BROADWAY – AND AT VIMY RIDGE

The night of October 1, 1919, was a big one for a group of Canadian soldiers-turned-singers who called themselves The Dumbells. They had first formed as a theatrical vaudeville group in 1917. The idea was to provide some entertainment for troops fighting on the front lines of the First World War – and that’s exactly what they did.

The Dumbells would drag all of their costumes, curtains and sets – and even an upright piano – all the way to the trenches of bloody battlegrounds like Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge. They would then perform comedic sketches about life in the military and sing songs about the war on stages that might consist of nothing more than a few old crates and some makeshift footlights made of candles placed in biscuit tins. Many times the sounds of gunfire and artillery would be raging in the background. Once a German shell even shot across the stage. The Dumbells’ performances would often be one last moment of joy in the lives of the soldiers who were about to be sent over the top. They say Canadian troops could be found all over Western Europe marching into battle whistling “The Dumbell Rag.”

After the end of the war, the group stayed together for a while. They organized a touring musical revue and it was during this week in 1919 that it debuted on stage in Toronto after previews and rehearsals in Owen Sound and London, Ontario. The show was a hit. The Dumbells would tour Canada a dozen times over the next decade or so, release more than two dozen recordings and become the first Canadians to have a hit show on Broadway.

One of the most popular tunes the group sang was “Oh, It’s a Lovely War,” which you can still listen to on YouTube as recorded by another group.

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THE DEBUT OF ‘MUSIC HOP’ WITH ALEX TREBEK

It was on the Thursday afternoon of this week in 1963 that the CBC debuted a brand-new music show called “Music Hop.” It was Canada’s answer to the runaway success of “American Bandstand”: a show that would appeal to the nation’s youth while supporting Canadian musicians.

The host for that first year was Alex Trebek; it was the “Jeopardy” legend’s first-ever hosting gig. But it wasn’t until the show’s second year that it really took off. The initial weekly program filmed in Toronto was joined by four more shows broadcast from cities across Canada. Mondays featured “Let’s Go” from Vancouver, Tuesdays it was the francophone “Jeunesse Oblige” from Montreal, Winnipeg’s “Hootenanny” was on Wednesdays and “Frank’s Bandstand” wrapped up the week from Halifax on Friday afternoons. One million Canadians watched the show every week, most of them under the age of 20.

As psychedelic music took hold in the late 1960s, “Music Hop” would share the fate of most of the shows that followed the same format: it was finally cancelled during the Summer of Love in 1967. But for four of the most important years in the history of popular music, “Music Hop” was the televised voice of Canada’s contribution. By the time they went off the air, the shows under the “Music Hop” umbrella had featured international stars like Petula Clark right alongside our own homegrown talent, including some Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees. A young Anne Murray was a frequent guest on “Frank’s Bandstand” in Halifax, while you can still find Sylvia Tyson singing “Salty Dog Blues” on YouTube thanks to an episode of “Hootenanny” from 1963.