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This Week in History: January 30 to February 5

Posted on: January 30th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

February is Black History Month, so how about celebrating by listening to some Oscar Peterson, Maestro, K’Naan, Salome Bey and Divine Brown, or by reading Michael Ondaatje’s Buddy Bolden jazz novel Coming Through Slaughter and Esi Edugyan’s Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Half-Blood Blues.

Squires reunion perhaps?

The evening of Feb. 1, 1963, saw a 17-year-old transplanted Torontonian by the name of Neil Young (seven-time JUNO Award winner, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, Allan Waters Humanitarian Award recipient and Officer of the Order of Canada) perform his first paid gig at a Winnipeg country club with one of his earliest bands, The Squires. I couldn’t unearth a set list, but you can bet the folks at the club heard a bunch of the Ventures and Shadows covers that Neil Young & The Squires were wont to perform at the time, along with a smattering of surf and garage rock originals highlighted by their 1963 regional hit “The Sultan.” Speaking of that song, only 300 copies of the 45 were ever pressed, and they were sold only at their Winnipeg gigs circa 1963. According to the Neil Young fan page Thrasher’s Wheat, the whereabouts of only eight to 10 of the 45s are known today, making “The Sultan” one of the rarest 45s in the world. Young himself doesn’t even own one. The last known copy to be auctioned off sold for $3,000 in the late 1990s.

Neil Young & The Squires split up in 1965, at which point Young embarked on a brief solo career that landed him back in Ontario where he joined future funk legend Rick James’ R&B band, The Mynah Birds. The twosome also became unlikely roommates; if memory serves me correctly, I believe they shared a flat in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood (back then the now-swanky district was a bohemian music mecca). After James’ group disbanded, Young and Mynah Birds bassist Bruce Palmer relocated to California in the spring of 1966 and hooked up with Stephen Stills and Richie Furay, and Buffalo Springfield was born.

Thanks for yanking the blues back from the dead and scuffing the sheen off of rock ’n’ roll…

The faux brother-sister garage blues act The White Stripes announced they were breaking up on Feb. 2, 2011. Sure this was a tragedy, but you have to admire Jack and Meg White’s timing: The Detroit ex-married couple got out at the height of their powers. At the time of the announcement, the guitar-drum duo were one of rock’s biggest acts and, incredibly, were still managing to combine being edgy and influential with critical and commercial success. The White Stripes were one of the few acts of their era to rise to rock superstardom, a far cry from their modest late ’90s beginnings playing small clubs to sparse crowds. (Anyone who says they caught their gig at the Rivoli in Toronto in the late ’90s is either one of the lucky ones, or a fibber, since Jack White himself said there were only a few witnesses in the club.) During their 14-year run, the Stripes released six acclaimed, genre-bending studio albums, attracting an impressive fan base to their devolved rock-blues hybrid. Their breakthrough came in 2001 with the release of White Blood Cells – along with Michel Gondry’s incredible Lego-animation music video for “Fell in Love with a Girl.” But it was theirfourth LP that made the band a household name. Released in 2003, Elephant went double-platinum, won two Grammy Awards, reached Billboard’s Top 10 and received glowing praise from critics on both sides of the pond. The album’s loose, rock-heavy arrangements allowed Jack White plenty of room to shine, effectively introducing a brand-new guitar hero to the rock world. As great as all of The White Stripes’ albums are, including the quieter experimental effort Get Behind Me Satan, the pair were equally well known for their electrifying live prowess, as anyone who witnessed one of the shows from their landmark 2007 cross-Canada tour can attest. Captured on the acclaimed documentary and accompanying live CD, The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights, the massively ambitious and unprecedented rock expedition, in support of their swan song Icky Thump, was conceived as a kind of love letter to all of Canada. The duo performed in every province and territory, with surprise impromptu gigs along the way.

Joni Mitchell’s “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” stalled at No. 25 on Billboard’s pop singles chart on Feb. 3, 1973. But far more significant than the modest ranking was that the single marked Mitchell’s first big hit as a solo artist. Before its release she was known primarily as a songwriter, with some of her tunes becoming more famous recorded by other acts such as “Woodstock” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and “This Flight Tonight” by Nazareth. The song’s lyrics are “an extended metaphor where the narrator compares herself to a car radio and a radio station, hoping to please her listeners. The music mirrors the words – just as the singer notes that she’s a country station, the song has a country feel, and its romantic/sexual connotation is emphasized by the tune’s lazy sensuousness” (William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide). Mitchell said in an interview that she wrote the song in a deliberate attempt to get a hit. Mission accomplished! David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young took part in the original recording session, but only Nash made the final cut (he is credited with playing harmonica). “You Turn Me On I’m A Radio” was released in October 1972 as the leadoff single for For the Roses, preceding what would be her fifth studio album by a month. The single peaked at No. 10 on Canada’s RPM singles chart, but it wasn’t the Saskatchewan folk singer’s Canadian chart breakthrough. In 1970, the multi-JUNO Award-winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee’s best-known solo song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” cracked RPM’s Top 15, although it originally only managed to grab No. 67 on Billboard.

Better late than never…

 

Billboard Hot 100’s No. 1 single on Feb. 4, 1989, was “When I’m With You,” a seven-year-old power ballad by defunct Toronto band Sheriff. As the royalties began pouring in (by the millions), Arnold Lanni, the song’s writer and Sheriff’s keyboardist, restarted his music career with the formation of Frozen Ghost. The third single from Sheriff’s self-titled – and only – album was a No. 8 hit in Canada in 1983, but mustered a measly No. 61 stateside. How did it finally rise to greater heights in the United States? The story goes something like this: A Las Vegas DJ began spinning the tune in 1988 and other stations started doing the same. Capitol Records caught wind of this and decided to rerelease the single, but the delayed success didn’t rekindle a reunion. Lanni and Sheriff bassist Wolf Hassell were busy with Frozen Ghost while the other two Sheriff members, vocalist Freddy Curci and guitarist Steve DeMarchi, formed the band Alias.

Next week: Corey Hart and “Tears Are Not Enough”

“You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” by Joni Mitchell

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