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This Week in History: January 23 to 29

Posted on: January 24th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Canadians won BIG but surprised NO ONE at the American Music Awards…

Two of Canada’s hottest stars, Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette, took home trophies at the 24th annual American Music Awards, televised worldwide by ABC on Jan. 27, 1997. Twain won for favourite female country artist, handily beating out two of her rivals, Wynonna and Faith Hill. I said “handily” because the AMAs are decided by a music buyers’ poll. Nominations are based on sales, radio play and music video views, and nominees only qualify if their projects are released between December 1 of the previous year and September 1 of the current one. Although it was a full year since Twain’s mega-selling album The Woman in Me was released, the album was still going strong in 1996 with three singles reaching No. 1. Incidentally, the Timmins native lost to George Strait in the category for favourite country album.

Morissette’s breakout LP, Jagged Little Pill, won favourite pop/rock album, and the Ottawa-born singer-songwriter also walked away with the statue for favourite pop/rock female artist. Aside from collecting the 1992 JUNO Award for most promising female vocalist of the year, Morissette’s AMA twofer represented her first-ever honours outside of Canada. However, later in 1996, she went on to win four Grammy Awards, including album of the year and a whopping five JUNOs. Not to be outdone, Twain earned 36 other awards in 1996, including a Grammy for best country album and JUNO Awards for country female vocalist of the year and entertainer of the year.

Speaking of birthdays… I could devote several pages to one of Canada’s greatest exports, but alas, I’m not allowed to. So here’s a condensed bio.

One of the most important female singer-songwriters of her generation, Sarah McLachlan was born on Jan. 28, 1968 in Halifax. The multiple JUNO and Grammy award winner, Lilith Fair matriarch and Officer of the Order of Canada spent her early years taking music lessons including piano, guitar and voice. In her late teens, McLachlan finished a year of art training at the Nova Scotia School of Art & Design while honing her musical chops as the lead singer of local new wave band October Gain. The band’s popularity got McLachlan noticed and she signed her first record deal with Nettwerk in 1987. Soon after relocating to Vancouver in 1988, the 19-year-old songstress released her solo debut, Touch. Initially the album didn’t sell well, but it did lead to a new and more lucrative record deal with Arista. Touch was reissued by Arista internationally in 1989 and eventually went gold in Canada. Her follow-up LP and first with Arista, 1991’s Solace, was a mature 10-song effort that became her commercial breakthrough in Canada and included the singles, “The Path of Thorns (Terms)” and “Into the Fire,” the latter of which won the award for best music video at the 1992 JUNO Awards while McLachlan was nominated for female vocalist of the year.

In the fall of 1992, McLachlan, a philanthropist and passionate advocate for human rights, visited Cambodia and Thailand with a documentary crew from World Vision to expose poverty and child prostitution. When she returned home, she went into seclusion near Montreal and began composing material for her next album. The result was Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, her most realized work to date. Released in October of 1993, the album broke McLachlan into the American market. While it stalled at No. 50 on Billboard, it did garner Grammy and JUNO Award nominations and continued to chart for two years.

Her long-awaited fourth album, Surfacing, was issued in the summer of 1997 to coincide with the all-star, all-female Lilith Fair tour, with McLachlan as founder and co-headliner. Surfacing was an immediate hit, reaching No. 1 on Canada’s RPM chart and No. 2 on Billboard. Its success – four hit singles, four JUNOs and two Grammys – placed the singer into the superstar class.

But McLachlan was seemingly not satisfied with mere commercial success. She formed Lilith Fair, one of the most revolutionary tours in music history; a tour produced by a woman and showcasing all female acts. Despite cynical predictions, Lilith Fair grossed $16 million in 1997. After the tour wound down in 1999, McLachlan went on an extended hiatus, in part to start a family with her drummer and husband, Ashwin Sood (the couple later divorced), although she remained busy making one-off performances and collaborations, most notably “When She Loved Me,” an Oscar-nominated duet with Randy Newman from the Toy Story 2 soundtrack. She resurfaced in November 2003 with Afterglow, herfifth studio album; it peaked at No. 2 on Billboard and sold over five million copies worldwide. Wintersong dropped into record stores in 2006, an excellent collection of 11 new Christmas songs and several covers, including the excellent interpretation of John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” Also in 2006, she put out Mirrorball: The Complete Concert, containing the entire sets from her final two Portland gigs in 1998, expanding – and improving – upon the original 1999 truncated release. She returned to the spotlight in 2010, performing at the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and released Laws of Illusion, her first collection of studio material since 2003.

In the summer of 2010, McLachlan had a second go at Lilith, but the results were disappointing. The tour was plagued with sluggish attendance, cancelled gigs, negative press and the economy. However, she hasn’t ruled out bringing Lilith back at some point in the future. On a personal note, I had the pleasure of working on the crew for McLachlan’s “Intimate & Interactive” television special at MuchMusic in the fall of 1997 and she was professional and pleasant throughout. Also, her tireless and inspirational crusade for animal welfare through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspired me to adopt three cats.

 

Taking the cue from the shout-out TWIH gave to Sir John A Macdonald on his birthday: This is a new shout-out-only category I’m going to call “Not Music-Related, But Too Big to Ignore…”

 

Give it up to Wayne Gretzky, celebrating his 51st birthday on January 26! The Great One was born at the Brantford General Hospital in 1961 and his hockey greatness has been canonized in song by several artists, including The Pursuit of Happiness’s “Gretzky Rocks,” erroneously credited to Canuck music comedy troupe The Arrogant Worms.

 

Next week: Neil Young and Joni Mitchell

Video: “Gretzky Rocks” by The Pursuit of Happiness

 

More “This Week in History” here.

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