Friday, December 19, 2008

Let The Good Guys Win

A year ago I wrote about Canadian Christmas songs:

I have spent many years looking for Murray McClaughlin's Let The Good Guys Win. Featuring the Payola$ Bob Rock and Tom Cochrane, it is among my favourite Christmas songs (along with the Pogues' Fairytale of New York and Otis Redding's Merry Christmas Baby). Marvellously sung, with the three stars sharing the vocals, this Celtic influenced guitar and mandolin piece is magical, if not actually a Christmas song...

It was a hard to find single, but you could see the video everywhere at the time. Here's the video for that great Canadian song, Let The Good Guys Win:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Singles Scene #12

Delivery: The good thing about writing about finding records is people know I'm looking. When somebody is getting rid of records, they think of me (my wife would say this is the bad thing about writing about finding records...). So it was a few months ago that my buddy Ron showed up with a stack from a friend of his, who was cleaning out a closet and found...45's. (Philistines didn't have their own record player).

The stack started with a little book, the kind that you use to get to hold 78's, except it's full of 45's: Frankie Laine with the Ray Conniff orchestra; The McGuire Sisters; Eydie Gorme: interesting all, but of no use for our purposes. These are all older, unfamiliar records and there's nothing Canadian.

After the book-thingy I dive into the little stack of records, hoping for some gold. There are 36 records in the pile (yes, I counted), and when I started this exercise I would have considered 1 CanCon out of 36 a small ratio but now it seems about right. There's a big differential here, 50's to 80's: Elvis to Wet Willy. Kung Fu Fighting and My Ding-A-Ling. The Platters, Janis Joplin, Village People and Robert Palmer. It's a wonderful cornucopia of good, and not so good, hits from AM radio from when AM radio mattered.

For all that there's one Canadian single, and not a favourite at that. In 1984 Some British singers, cajoled together by not yet Sir Bob Geldof sang a song about an African famine: Do They Know it's Christmas. It was a worldwide #1 hit, causing the American musical hierarchy to jump into the fray with the un-ironic We Are the World. The Canadian cultural elite of musical inclination took some time out from complaining about how much government revenue they receive (yes, some things never change) to say "hey, a bandwagon! Lets jump on." So Bryan Adams, Canada's biggest star of the day, wrote a song and David Foster, Canada's premier producer/arranger/behind the scenes guy produced it and they come up with Tears Are Not Enough.

Somewhere I already have this, although I can't find it. But I remember it, and I remember the cover: this is a different cover. This cover has signatures of everybody involved: Salome Bey, Eugene Levy, Lorraine Segato, Anne Murray, Mike Reno and &tc. From a condition standpoint, it's in good shape, and even if it wasn't, at the price who can complain. But it makes sense that the condition is good. This is one of those records everybody bought but nobody really listened to. The one I hold in my hand looks like a fine example of that.

Listening to all three Africa famine songs now it's clear that Tears are Not Enough falls in the middle of the two, Do They Know It's Christmas being a pretty good example of these kind of group pieces. The American We Are The World being a truly awful example of any kind of music - all 7 minutes and fifteen seconds of it. But none the less, it needs to be said: All of these song are loaded with real talent, and none of them are really very good.

Funny though, when I listen to this song now, I can't help but enjoy it. Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance and David Foster wrote a decent ditty and pulled together a lot of talent. The problem, really, is too much talent, not enough air time for each. But it was the fashion of the time, and it was a done well. I enjoyed remembering the time, remembering the song, remembering the hair.

But it must be said, I doubt I'll listen to it again any time soon.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Singles Scene # 11

Parry Sound: my wife's maternal home, although it should be said Parry Sound is not her childhood home. My mother-in-law moved up there about ten years ago. In a large log cabin overlooking a lake she has maintained a modern day settlers lifestyle: chopping wood and watching CNN; clearing a woodlot and planting daisies; wood burning stove and flush toilets. In short, the perfect getaway.

In one corner is one of those modern touches we all have: the entertainment centre. A corner cabinet within which sits a 27 inch TV, a small stereo, a VCR and DVD player and a pile of CD's/DVD's. Buried in the back of the bottom shelf is a gorgeous carved wooden box that's about 7" x 7": single sized. It's full of singles from just about every generation of singles, good stuff too: Elvis, The Beatles, Dave Clarke 5, The Police. Seventy-five or so singles from the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's. Unfortunately none of them have protective sleeves, which means that even if some of those Elvis or Beatles one's may have some value (I repeat, may), that value is eliminated by the small surface scratches on everyone of them.

My mother-in-law cites herself as a great fan of Canadiana. She watches CBC, reads Margaret Atwood, listens to Gordon Lightfoot because it's what good Canadians do. So how come all these singles and there's only one Canadian one? Another question: how am I supposed to listen to any of them? Seventy-five or a hundred records and no turntable. Their turntable is, in fact, hooked up a pre-amp and then the surround sound system in my basement 300KM away.

So I grab a few that strike my fancy to take home and listen too: Hermen's Hermits I'm Into Something Good, Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, Boney M's Rasputin and the lone Canadian single, The Guess Who's These Eye's. These Eye's was originally released in 1968. This single is the original, with Lightfoot on the b side.

I've heard this so many times through the years there's no surprise in it. As I noted back in June, I saw Bachman Cummings sing this song this summer. It was, I remember thinking at the time, a simple but brilliant song, the reason these two are still successful all these years later. The elegant intro chords were originally a non piano playing Randy Bachman composition. Burton Cummings has since said they were so simple that no self-respecting piano player would ever come up with such a thing (I could be paraphrasing here). It's true. The whole song is simple, pretty, and good.

The b side, Lightfoot, another song from the Wheatfield Soul album is a country-ish acoustic piece. The single is too scratchy to enjoy it, but it was not a hit and it probably doesn't deserve to be one. An alright song, but an add-on none the less.

A couple of days in Parry Sound of R & R and the best I can do is one Canadian single. It's too bad, but at least it's a classic of the genre, one of the best Canadian songs. A pretty good find all in all.

Milk Crate Classics #6: Dan Hill – Longer Fuse

I met Dan Hill a few times, before the fame set in. He liked to run cross country, as we called it then, and I belonged to a track and field club. One of the distance runners at the club was friendly with Hill, and he came out a few times. Then Sometimes When We Touch was released and the only other time I saw him was from the 2nd row at the Ontario Place Forum. He wasn't famous yet when I met him, but he had a few records out and we knew who he was. With the release of Longer Fuse in 1977, the album with Sometimes When We Touch, I heard him.

My copy of this album is pretty scratched up which is a testament to how often it was listened to. It's easy to pigeon hole a guy like Hill into someone like Celine Dion, who sings sappy love songs like Sometimes When We Touch, but the truth is something different. He was first off, a guitar player who wrote primarily on the guitar. He was, in fact, a folk singer not a balladeer. But fate gave him a huge hit with Sometimes... and he will always be known as a piano/ballad guy. And Longer Fuse will always be the album with that song on it. But like Dan Hill, it is very much more.

Listening to it now it holds up well. Nicely written songs with somewhat intelligent lyrics will often do that. Starting with the aforementioned Sometimes When We Touch, it's a song that, in my opinion, has gotten a bad rap. Yes it's sappy, but it's also finely crafted, passionate and smart. After that, the piano pretty much gets put away for the acoustic guitars. 14 Today is an old favourite, and comes back and wraps itself around me like a blanket. A mature song from a young man about the perils of growing up, it's both familiar and a discovery as it's been 20 or 30 years since I've listened to it.

Side one finishes out with more of the same, In The Name of Love and Crazy. The real treat of the side is the finale (this is true on side 2 as well) McCarthy's Day. A tribute to Hill's American parents, his black father and white mother left America for Canada the 50's - McCarthy's Day.

Way back in McCarthy's day
My parents left the USA
Young rebellious lovers
They left behind a nation far too proud
And powerful to say
That love transcends all colors
Some black men turned against my father
Some white men turned against my mother
Each race has their place they all would say

And with a past so battle worn
And a future begging to be born
They found a life that's growing still today songs

Side two starts off with a couple of weak songs. Jean and You are All I See are too familiar, too close in sound to the rest of the album without being as good. Things improve, marginally with Southern California before we get into the gems of the side, if not the album. Title track Longer Fuse is romantic, touching and a bit funky. Back to the sort of thing that made side one of this album good.

The album ends with my favourite song on it, Still Not Used To. A song about being a traveling musician with a growing audience, Hill's vulnerability as a performer is here for all to see, the same vulnerability that makes Sometimes When We Touch and Longer Fuse such wonderful songs:

Still not used to having people pay to hear me,
guess I'm still a child trying so hard to please
trying to seek approval through my songs...

Still Not Used To was recorded live at St James Cathedral and features a cello, mandolin, two acoustic guitars it's a pretty song. The live recording, in the beautiful sounding church give it a quality of sound that is rare, and is one of those songs that sounds so warm and beautiful on LP. Great closure of a decent album.

And that's what Longer Fuse is, a decent album. Half the songs are solid, very good songs, half less than stellar. The good ones make it listenable, and five more like it this might still be considered a classic.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

CD Review: Jeff Healey - Mess of Blues

I've never been comfortable with Jeff Healey's recorded opus. Anyone who seen Healey live will attest that he was a superior guitar player who had with chops and musicianship. His records (or rather CD's) always seemed restrained and insufficient, as if the record company was calling all the shots on it (they probably were).

Jeff Healey's final studio recording, the posthumously released Mess of Blues, is an example of how good Jeff Healey was when he was in his element, playing electric blues, R&B and standard rock and roll. Healey is an exceptional guitar player and a very soulful, under-rated singer and Mess of Blues lets him showcase both.

Starting with a couple of live tracks, I'm Tore Down and How Blue Can You Get showcase Healey the guitar-man rocking these two blues numbers. Later Mess of Blues has a fun side and it emerges at song #4 with Jambalaya. Healey plays this fun old gin joint jukebox standard with a fine pickin' grin and a blues-mans flair.

The albums risk is a cover of The Band's The Weight. A song that would be easy to butcher, Healey shows his artistry by delivering an enjoyable performance of a seminal rock song. The other classic rock song he covers is Neil Young's Like a Hurricane, the best version of this song I've heard.

From the title track, Mess of Blues to Shake, Rattle & Roll, Healey delivers some classic music without missing a step. He displays virtuosity and style and covers some great songs from the rock 'n roll/ blues play list.

If your taste runs like old rock 'n roll and electric blues then Jeff Healey's Mess of Blues is a CD you should get.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Bachman Cummings at Molson Amphitheatre: Review

Heading to the Ontario Place/CNE area to see Randy Bachman perform You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet, Hey You and Takin' Care of Business was, for me, like going home again. My first concert as a 12 year old budding rock fan back in 1975 was BTO at the old CNE Stadium.They were touring on Not Fragile and it cemented my burgeoning love of rock and roll as well as the guitar. A year later the same band at the same venue, this time on the strength of Four Wheel Drive, would host my second concert.

So here it is some 32 years later and I'm in the same area, this time for Bachman Cummings Overdrive at Ontario Place's Molson Amphitheatre last Thursday to re-love those early rock and roll nights, with a fair doppling of Guess Who thrown in for good measure.

Opening with American Woman 2007 the new, funkier version of the classic hit American Woman that Bachman Cummings used to close their last album, Jukebox, the set comprised eleven Guess Who numbers, four BTO and two covers fro the Bachman Cummings Jukebox. In all, seventeen songs, seventeen well known hits, 15 by the artists on stage.

If it's just hits you want there's many a bar with an unknown band playing lots of them every Friday and Saturday night. Bachman Cummings, however, are better than that. They played through the set with ease and agility, Bachman's renowned guitar playing shining through and Cummings' sharp beautiful voice still sounding great, even if it has grown nasally through the years.

Cummings' voice may, in fact, have been the shows one weakness. While he sounded fine, he shared the singing duties almost evenly with Bachman, leading one to think he may not have the vocal strength the carry an entire show any more. Since Cummings was lead singer on all those classic Guess Who songs, his solo work was completely ignored. It says a lot about these guys that they played wall to wall hits for 90 minutes and could leave songs like My Own Way to Rock, Break it to Them Gently and I'm Scared un-played. But the show would have been stronger with a few of them none the less.

I'm nitpicking: starting with American Woman 2007, which is better live than on disc, the show progressed to You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet with Bachman showing an improved voice, to surprising audience favourite Clap For the Wolfman, complete with audience hand clap. The fun included Bachman calling for cowbell playing Cummings to give him "more cowbell" Christopher Walken style, during Hey You.

Fun is the operative word. There was nothing fancy to this night: the lights were basic, there where no fire works, no over long solos. Just two talented performers, backed by a very competent band (The Carpet Frogs) having fun. And in turn the audience had fun, which is what a concert is supposed to be about.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bachman Cummings at Molson Amphitheatre

A full review to come, but meanwhile, here's the setlist and some pictures:

American Woman
Who Do You Love
Albert Flasher
These Eyes
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Clap For The Wolfman
Let It Ride
Hand Me Down World
No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature
--- Band Intros ---
Hey You
Little Queenie
Star Baby
No Time


Share The Land
Takin' Care Of Business

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Jeff Healey 1966- 2008

I first saw Jeff Healey play on the New Music back in the early 80's. John Roberts was J.D., and he did a story on a blind teenage phenom who played blues guitar with the guitar across his lap. He cited Jimi Hendrix as an influence and played in a very Hendrix style.

Five or six years later, in 1988, Jeff Healey was on the charts with the album See The Light. It included the hit songs Confidence Man, the title track and perhaps Healey's biggest hit, a wonderful version of John Hiatt's Angel Eyes. His second album two years later, Hell To Pay, featured a stunning version of George Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It takes a man among guitar players to tackle a classic Eric Clapton solo but Healey pulled it off.

Sadly, Jeff Healey has fought cancer all his life, losing his sight to Retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer, at age one. Last January (2007) it was announced that Healey had had been diagnosed with lung cancer surgery the previous December, and had undergone surgery to remove the cancerous tissue.

Jeff Healey passed away last evening at St. Joseph's Hospital Toronto. He was 41 years old and leaves a wife and two children, 13-year-old daughter Rachel and three-year-old son Derek. At Home in Hespeler offers condolences to the family of Jeff Healey, a great Canadian talent gone far too young.