By James Sandham
Well folks, we’ve already got one autumn holiday under our belts – along with several pounds of turkey and a few thick slices of pumpkin pie. But hold on, because the celebrations aren’t over quite yet. You may have thought it was finally safe to put away the decorative gourds, but no, not so fast! You might as well keep ’em out, because it’s time to carve them into demonic semblances of our worst Thanksgiving table guests, which is to say that it’s almost Halloween. Call it the dessert course to Thanksgiving and give these tunes a spin to help get you in the spirit.
BUCK 65 – “ZOMBIE DELIGHT”
Well, well, what do we have here? It’s CBC Radio 2’s Rich Terfry (a.k.a. Buck 65) and a whole lot of zombies – many of whom appear to be played by Terfry himself. As do the zombie killers. As do the generals and news anchors. This tune has taken a turn for the terrifying, indeed!
ROBBIE ROBERTSON – “GHOST DANCE”
We’ve survived the zombies, so how about we check in with Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Robbie Robertson to see how we do up against the ghosts? This track comes from Robertson’s 1994 album, Music for the Native Americans, which was really his first foray into writing songs inspired specifically by his Mohawk heritage. Suffice it to say that this song isn’t so much about the sort of ghosts that go “boo,” but is more about the historic oppression of indigenous cultures in North America, which is really the more frightening of the two concepts.
WILL SMITH AND DJ JAZZY JEFF – “NIGHTMARE ON MY STREET”
Alright, let’s lighten things up – and what better way to do so than with the musical work of Mr. Will “Big Willie Style” Smith? This track, which bears a striking resemblance to a certain TV theme song, joins a long list of tunes that pay tribute to that king of 1980s horror Freddy Krueger. If you grew up in the ’80s, this will probably still give you the shivers (the vocal presence of Will Smith notwithstanding).
BRUCE COCKBURN – “GET UP JONAH”
Now let’s check back in with our Canadian Music Hall of Fame alumni. This little ditty comes from the CMHF’s 2001 inductee, Bruce Cockburn, and while it’s not exactly “scary” per se (that is, there’s no mention of zombies or ghosts or the suffering of our country’s Aboriginal Peoples), it does have some pretty dark imagery, including these lines: “There’s howling in the factory yard/There’s pounding in my head/I’m swollen up with unshed tears/Bloated like the dead….” And yet Cockburn manages to make it all sound so sweet.
MICHAEL JACKSON – “THRILLER”
Last but not least, what’s a Halloween playlist without Michael Jackson’s macabre mega-hit? “Thriller” is a must-have contemporary classic and it really brings us full circle with our songs: right back to those irrepressible zombies. In fact, I think it’s a safe bet that this song may have been something of an inspiration for Buck 65’s zombie tribute – specifically his line that when it comes to zombies, “there’s very little information and no answers/One weird thing is that they’re excellent dancers.”
Hope these songs get you dancing, too. Happy Halloween!
By Adam Bunch
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
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
Little Caesar & The Consuls Hit The Charts
Little Caesar & The Consuls were one of Canada’s very first rock ’n’ roll bands. They formed in Toronto all the way back in 1957 and quickly made a name for themselves on the high school dance circuit. That was thanks in part to their teenage guitar phenom, Robbie Robertson. His distinctive, raunchy playing would have a profound influence on the young musicians who saw him perform at their school dances in those early days – and it’s Robertson, more than anyone else, who gets credit for developing the gritty “Toronto Sound” that swept through the city in the 1960s. For the next decade, Yorkville and the Yonge Street strip would be full of guitarists trying to sound like him.
Robertson wasn’t with Little Caesar & The Consuls for very long, though. He would soon join another one of the city’s most popular early rock acts: Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks. A few years later – after leaving Hawkins, meeting Bob Dylan and re-naming themselves The Band – the former Hawks would become one of the most famous rock groups on Earth. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989.
Even without Robertson, Little Caesar & The Consuls made a mark on the Canadian music scene. They had a string of hits, including a cover of “(My Girl) Sloopy,” which was in the top 10 of the CHUM Chart during this week in 1965.
“Takin’ Care of Business” in the Summer of ’74
Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO) formed more than 40 years ago, in the wake of Randy Bachman’s departure from The Guess Who. Decades later, the band’s biggest hit is still a staple of radio station playlists and summer barbecues all over the country. But it was never more popular than it was during this week in 1974. That’s when “Takin’ Care of Business” sat atop the CHUM Chart.
The song would spend 15 weeks on the chart and become one of the defining songs of the summer of 1974, sharing the airwaves with other new hits such as “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton, “Waterloo” by ABBA, “Band on the Run” by Wings and “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. Even The Guess Who got in on the act with “Clap for the Wolfman.”
It actually could have been two hits for The Guess Who, as Bachman originally wrote “Takin’ Care of Business” for them. It was called “White Collar Worker” back then and it had a different chorus. Burton Cummings refused to record it, though, dismissing it as a ripoff of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” After Bachman left the band and started BTO he made some changes to the song – including a new, catchier chorus – and turned it into a No. 1 hit.
Bachman was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as a member of The Guess Who in 1987.
The Birth of Maureen Forrester
On July 25, 1930, one of Canada’s greatest opera singers was born. Maureen Forrester grew up in Montreal, the daughter of British immigrants. They weren’t a rich family; she was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13 in order to get a job. But through it all, she kept singing: in choirs, in church and eventually on the stage.
By the time Forrester was in her mid-20s, she was ready to make her concert debut. It came in 1957 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of one of the most revered conductors of the 20th century: Otto Klemperer. Before long, Forrester had established herself as one of the most talented contraltos in the world. She sang on five different continents by the end of her career, which lasted for decades.
Still, Canada always had a special place in her heart. Forrester spent years serving as the chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and she made sure to perform work by Canadian composers, bringing their talent to the attention of the rest of the world. She was made a companion of the Order of Canada in 1967, the very first year that honour was created, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1990.
By David Ball
If Trooper, Kim Mitchell or any other homegrown talent synonymous with this great country is headlining a big all-day outdoor party in a town (or open field) near you, it can only mean one thing: It must be Canada Day!
Hope you enjoy hanging out with family and friends, eating lots of good food (usually of the barbecue variety), enjoying hearty samples of your favourite adult beverages (I recommend supporting some of our fine local/craft breweries and wine from British Columbia, the Niagara Region, Prince Edward County and Nova Scotia’s Jost Vineyards), listening to lots of maple-themed music (my soundtrack will include usual suspects Stompin’ Tom, Neil Young, The Guess Who, Oscar Peterson, Gordon Lightfoot, Arcade Fire, Joni Mitchell and perhaps some k-os) and capping everything off with some fireworks, hopefully aimed into the sky (unlike the celebration I attended a few years ago at a park near Gravenhurst, where round after round of multi-coloured fireballs were inadvertently shot into a gathering consisting of children, their parents and retired vacationers, scattering the Canada Day revellers like it was a Second World War bazooka bombardment). And don’t forget to say hello to the mosquitoes!
Filming for the movie Carny wrapped in Hollywood, California, on July 1, 1979. This was the first major project for Canadian Music Hall of Famer Robbie Robertson after the official breakup of The Band in 1977; the influential guitarist co-wrote, produced and co-starred in the low-budget feature.
The transfer for the official trailer looks shaky for some reason, but is still good enough to make me want to revisit the movie.
Although Carny underachieved at the box office in 1980, reviews were generally decent upon its theatrical release. However, over time the film (which is about manipulative carnival operators – that is, “carnies”) has achieved cult status and features standout performances by Robertson (in his acting debut), Jodie Foster and Gary Busey (the once-respected actor is appropriately cast as an evil clown who ends up hooking up with 18-year-old Foster). Regarding Robertson’s portrayal of Patch, the film’s antagonist, AllMovie states that the Toronto-born musician “displays a cool charisma.”
Robertson’s name is attached to over 20 movies, most notably as a music producer in several seminal motion pictures by Martin Scorsese (including Raging Bull, The King of Comedy and The Departed). He also composed the score and contributed songs for Any Given Sunday and appeared with The Band in the important Canadian-themed rock documentary Festival Express. His only other acting role is in the decent Sean Penn–directed flick The Crossing Guard.
While every American celebrated Independence Day back on July 4, 1985, Bryan Adams also had reason to whoop it up – because this was the same day that “Heaven,” the third single from Reckless, made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Six singles became big hits off of the Vancouver-raised rocker’s 1984 landmark album, but only “Heaven” reached the top of the American pop charts. Count me somewhat shocked! The power ballad, written by Adams and longtime collaborator Jim Vallance (and apparently heavily influenced by Journey’s “Faithfully”), was his only single released during the 1980s to reach No. 1 in North America.
If I were assigned the task of ranking the best power ballads of the 1980s (note: this is not a hint to my employers), “Heaven” would certainly land in the Top 10, rivalling April Wine’s almost-forgotten 1981 gem “Just Between You and Me” and besting other contenders, such as Night Ranger’s one-hit wonder “Sister Christian” and the aforementioned Journey song. Everything ever released by Chicago bassist turned easy-listening balladeer Peter Cetera, the other “Heaven” by Warrant, plus 1980s wedding reception waltz and high school dance favourites by Whitesnake, Poison and Cinderella need not apply.
“Hey You” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive peaked at No. 21 on the American pop chart on July 5, 1975. The no-nonsense hard-driving single, written and sung by BTO co-leader and guitarist Randy Bachman, proved to be the final Top 30 Billboard hit for the popular rockers hailing from Winnipeg.
“Hey You” (reportedly written about Bachman’s former Guess Who partner Burton Cummings) fared far better in Canada, topping the RPM pop chart in June 1975. Given BTO’s string of bestselling albums and sold-out arena tours, it’s surprising that “Hey You” proved to be the second and final Canadian No. 1 during the band’s six-year incarnation (the other No. 1 of course is “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”).
Speaking of Bachman…
Exactly 24 years after “Hey You” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100, Bachman 2.0’s “She’s So High” maxed out at No. 3 on RPM’s weekly pop chart on July 5, 1999. Of course, the Bachman 2.0 in question is none other than Randy’s son, Tal Bachman, whose only big hit single from his 1999 eponymous debut (co-produced by Bob Rock) thrust the Winnipeg-born singer-songwriter on to the international stage for a good two years.
Written and sung by the younger Bachman, the punchy power-pop track was also successful south of the border, where it cracked the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 15 and became the American industry rag’s No. 1 hit on its adult contemporary chart. The single’s popularity helped land Bachman guest appearances on “The Tonight Show,” MTV and MuchMusic, and it went on to win BMI’s prestigious Song of the Year Award while earning the Vancouver Island resident two JUNO Awards in 2000.
On a related note, a straight-up cover of “She’s So High” by Norwegian “World Idol” winner Kurt Nilsen was Norway’s No. 1 single in 2003. I’m not sure what Tal thinks of Nilsen’s inoffensive version, but Nordic pop fans sure loved it, making the ultra-slick pop song one of Norway’s biggest selling singles to date.
Next week: Live Aid
“She’s So High” by Tal Bachman