Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Singles Scene #13

St. Jacobs: St. Jacobs is one of those little towns that have gone tourist by offering a supposed unchanged in 100 years world. The downtown offers everything from an old mill that's been renovated into a shopping outlet to a century house B&B. general-007The perfect place to find something like old records. Sadly, I have never had luck in St. Jacobs proper.

Outside of town is a farmers market/outlet centre. A great place to shop, buy fresh produce and meats, or get a cheap pair of jeans or watch strap. Beside this, there is an Antique Market, the Waterloo County Antique Warehouse. It seems like it might have records.

It is one of those place that have become so familiar, with many vendors selling their wares by way of stalls. You take merchandise from many stalls to a cash, and the guys who operate the Warehouse pays the vendors. It seems like a good business plan, but alas, they are going out of business in a month, and the last chance sale is on. Too bad too, because it does have records, and there's no hunting and pecking to find them either. The first couple of stalls have a box or two of albums, probably the fifth has a small box of singles. Lots here, but not much of interest: Glenn Miller, Pat Boone, Bobby Goldsboro. More my speed, Huey Lewis and Harry Chapin. There's even Tears Are Not Enough, the last Singles Scene I did. Other than that the Canadiana is limited to a David Foster song and Hagood Hardy's The Homecoming. I grab The Homecoming and move on, hoping I don't have to come back for the David Foster.

img0171I don't. A couple of stalls along I find "The Record Stall," one of three spread around the place. I don't need the other two as it turns out. They have stacks and stacks of albums, and a wall, A WALL of 45's. Mostly country, this discourages me, but it shouldn't. I'm here for Canadian music, not Canadian music that I like. They even have a section of Canadian country that must be 500 strong. Problem is, I'm not a big country fan, and don't have any clue who I should be looking for. I take the cowards way and look for Showdown's Rodeo Song without success. There's lots, and I do mean lots of Hank Snow, so I grab one that sounds interesting, The Wreck of the Old 97. I otherwise settle on Murray McLaughlan's The Farmer's Song.

Three songs, that's my usual haul, but this time I have gotten lucky: really lucky. Right beside the Country Canadian section is a rock section. Half the size of Canadian country, it yields a treasure of great memories.

Who remembers Shooter? I do, and I love the song I Can Dance. The Stampeders, another classic band, BTO's first single and Dan Hill with a b/side titled Canada. Great haul, and at the exit I discover the going out of business sale has me paying about half of the $2.00/record.

So I leave the Waterloo County Antique Warehouse with my greatest haul yet, seven singles and two LPS, including a Canadian entry, The Payola$ No Stranger to Danger, a really worthwhile trip.

On listening I start with the first song picked up, Hagood Hardy's The Homecoming. At 2: 29, this comes in fairly short and easy to listen to. A simple, mostly piano piece it reminds me that I haven't had a cup of tea yet today (and haven't had Red Rose in years). The Homecoming is an alright easy listening piece that inspires neither devotion or revulsion, which I guess is good when you are writing a song for a commercial.

I have little enough to say about Hank Snow, as it's not my kind of music. On Oh Brother Where Art Thou they would have called this old timey music. Wreck of the Old 97 is plain, straight forward acoustic country blues. A guitar, peddle steel and fiddle song about a train. The b/side, Hobo Bill's Last Ride is the same, if not even more of a country music cliche than the first. Not bad music, mark you, just a classic hobo riding the rails that someone mocking a country song write.

img019The Murray McLauchlan single Lose We b/w The Farmer's Song is more interesting. The Farmer's Song is one of McLauchlan's more famous pieces, but on this single, it's listed as the b side. A quick look around the internet, and it appears that Lose Me was released as a single before The Farmer's Song. So Lose Me gets listened to first. It's easy to understand why the record company thought this was the single: uptempo, more folk than country, very much of a style that people where having hits with at the time. Furthermore, McLauchlan is a quality writer, singer, musician, above many others. This song easily could have been a hit. The Farmer's Song, on the other hand, is drearier, more ballad tempo than Lose Me. It is a good song, probably a better song than Lose Me, but it's not an obvious hit. McLauchlan's ability to have a hit with such a song is a testament to his quality mentioned above.

Hold On is pre-Sometimes When We Touch Dan Hill, the first single off the album of the same name. A nice example of Hill the songwriter/guitar player, this song could be very good, but production and arrangement get in the way. One of those guys who's best when he just plays and sings, Hill lets whomever produced this mess to add far to much harmony vocals and assorted background noise. The b/side, Canada, is more along the lines. One guitar, one voice, one poignant, pretty song with no added production except a haunting background vocal on the fade out. I would take this song over the "hit" on the other side every time.

While I like Murray McLauchlan and Dan Hill, we now move on to the portion of the days find that I am looking forward to. We start the rock portion of this review with where I started as a music fan - BTO. It is not intentional that I haven't found a BTO single before now, in fact, I've been quite surprised not to find them up to now. Not just my beginning either, their beginning. Blue Collar was their first, and only single off their first album. It got the ball rolling, but it was not until their second album, released the same year, with Takin' Care of Business and Let It Ride that BTO became big. For now though, they were just another new band, with an album and a single.

Blue Collar is a curious choice for a single too. Soft, slow and jazzy, it's not an obvious hit, not in 1973, not now. That doesn't mean it's not a great song, truly a high quality musical piece that indicates this isn't just another band. But a single? If in charge, admittedly with the full perspective of hindsight, I would have chosen Give Me Your Money Please off of this album. But I wasn't, and they chose a four-and-a-half minute jazzy piece as their lead off single. A fine song that never had a chance.

img0181I actually saw BTO twice in their heyday. One of the time I saw them, good time party band Shooter opened for them. They arrived at the outdoor CNE stage in old limo, dressed like gangsters and firing off Tommy guns. A great intro and I have remembered Shooter like I have remembered no other minor opening act through the years. So it was a treat to find their one hit, Leo Sayer's I Can Dance (Long Tall Glasses). In Leo Sayer's hands it is a Vaudeville song, lacking seriousness or masculinity. Shooter take the Boogie Woogie piano, pairs it with a banjo, and turn this into a fun romp. A great little number about a traveller who happens upon a feats to find he can't eat until he dances. As the title suggests, he can't dance. He does, however, to discover he can dance, and it beats eating. Good fun, good music, good buy.

I finish off the days shopping with The Stampeder's 1974 hit, Ramona. Those un-familiar with The Stampeders and who know them only from their mega-hit Sweet City Women would be surprised by this song. A hard 70's guitar rocker, this was The Stampeders in their element. Sweet City Woman was the hit, Ramona is what they did, their day in day out music. They were, furthermore, good at it and a significant band who never made the final jump to stars. Why is anyones guess, and listening to all these years later, I have no more of an answer than before.

I leave the Waterloo County Antique Warehouse with seven Canadian singles in arguably four, maybe five different styles. My original intent of this site was to find the heart of Canadian music in the old single bins wherever they are, and what a joy to find it beating in the middle of Mennonite country.

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