Happy Canada Day and Independence Day! (2022)

 
 
When it comes to music there is a lot we here in Canada share with our American cousins to the south. There is also much we don’t directly share but have eagerly adopted such as Blues, Jazz, R&R and of course R&B/Hip Hop. When comparing things between the two countries the multiple of ten times often comes up, as the US has approximately 331 million people and Canada has 38 million, which is closer to 8.7 but we tend to round numbers. So given the disparity in population, despite the great music from Canada the US has always and continues to have considerable influence. If you are a Country Singer and or Songwriter sooner or later, you end up in Nashville. If you really want to know about the Blues, you must travel even further south.
 
Perhaps we Canadians have a bit of an identity complex when it comes to music, and for than matter a few other things, as there is no denying we have adopted a lot of music/musical styles from the US. Having said that we have some unique and original music in Canada such as several forms originating from our only officially French speaking province of Quebec, First Nations and Métis peoples. And although Newfoundland has Irish, Celtic and British roots you won’t find music quite like it anywhere else.
 
Without dropping some more statistics we here in Canada think we pull our own weight in terms of representation of most any musical genre compared to the US. As most of my regular readers will know I am stuck in the past, but despite by anachronistic musical tastes I can read a music chart from 2021 and 2022. Enough so that I see names like Drake, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, and The Weeknd among the top artists in the USA/ World. Many will recognize names like Alessia Cara, Jessie Reyez and Ruth B, Daniel Caesar with producer extraordinaire Jordan Evans and speaking of producers there is a long list here as well. 
 
In past posts I talked about the iconic names known internationally to come out of Canada like Celine Dion, Leonard Cohen, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Nickelback and going back a bit, Paul Anka. Many of these artists are still touring and making great music. Along the way I have likely missed mention of Avril Lavigne and Carly Rae Jepsen as well as dozens more, my point being Canada is not in the back seat when it comes to recognizable names. 
 
In truth, in popular music there’s no competing with the USA. However, it seems (from what I have read) that music is becoming much more international, in large part due to the accessibility via streaming and that silly app that sounds like a clock. Now, there is an argument that streaming has stifled the emerging artist and the traditional methods of touring small venues had all but dried up even before the global crisis. Having said that local music scenes continue to find a way to survive. But back to my point, if you are asked to name the most iconic names in music, your list will include Beyoncé, Bob Dylan, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Post Malone, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, or Kanye West, all from the USA. 
 
When it comes to lists and birthplace, I often see names like Rihanna, who is Barbadian, Nicki Minaj (Trinidad and Tobago) and Drake, The Weeknd and Joni Mitchell, listed as American artists. While some have become US citizens many origins get lost in the big American pie. The same can be said in other parts of the entertainment industry with many actors like Jim Carrey, Stana Katic, Rachel McAdams, the two Ryan’s (Reynolds and Gosling), Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, all born in Canada. I don’t have room to list the great actors to come from the USA.
 
We do share much more however, as there are dozens of well known songs and groups that have a US and Canada mix. Many iconic songs were written by Canadian Robbie Robertson while in The Band, and we also have; Arcade Fire, The Mamas and The Papas, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Blood Sweat and Tears and anything that Neil Young has been in like Buffalo Springfield and CSNY. The LA based Rock band Steppenwolf was founded by Canadian artists Jerry Edmonton, Goldy McJohn and German-Canadian John Kay, they would add American guitarist Michael Monarch and bass player Rushton Moreve.
 
Here are a few songs that you may not know have a Canada/US connection and as I am wont to do, let’s go back in time a bit first.
 
“Red River Valley” is listed as a Traditional song and has been a hit for several Country artists over the years, although first recorded by American singers, Canadian Folklorist Edith Folke has uncovered evidence the origins can be traced to Western Canada before 1896. This predates recordings by a couple of artists I have mentioned in past posts, Carl T Sprague (as “Cowboy Love Song“) and Bascom Lamar Lunsford (as “Sherman Valley”) both recorded it in 1925. There are many different lyrics that follow the same theme and certainly the melody. More modern versions, if I can use that term, follow the name, “Red River Valley” as first recorded by Hugh Cross and Riley Puckett in 1927. Google search will give you this wonderful version from Marty Robbins, released in 1961. Including instrumentals there are 225 recordings of this song.
 
I have mentioned Shelton Brooks before, he is Canadian born and is of African descent. His family moved to Detroit when he was quite young. A talented musician and singer best remembered for writing the song “Some of these Days” (covered over 300 times) first recorded by Sophie Tucker in 1910, released in 1911 on cylinder and she did it again in 1927, released on 78 rpm. Serena Ryder (2006).
 
Bob Nolan (Clarence Roberts Noble) moved from his birthplace (April 13, 1908) of Winnipeg Manitoba to New Brunswick with his mother sometime after his parents’ divorce. After a couple more moves at age 13, he ended up in Tucson, Arizona to live with his father. Nolan would write “Tumbling Tumbleweeds“, first released in 1934 by The Sons of the Pioneers, a group he co-founded with Americans Leonard Slye (Roy Rogers) and Tim Spencer. In high school Nolan would write a poem, later it became a favorite Cowboy song titled “Cool Water” first recorded by Bob Atcher in 1940, followed by The Sons of the Pioneers in 1941. Nolans songs have been covered by Dan Blocker (Hoss on Bonanza), Patsy Montana, Pete Seeger, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, and a boodle of Hanks: Williams, Shizzoe,Thompson and in 1938, Hank the Yodelling Cowboy, also known as Hank Snow.
 
At age 17, Montreal born Alex Kramer’s first gig was playing piano at a silent movie theatre in 1920. He would later travel the US as a Vaudeville and Nightclub performer. His sideline as a Vocal Coach would lead to him marry one of his American students, Joan Whitney. The pair would write several notable songs such as “High on a Windy Hill” which was a hit for Gene Krupa (vocals by Howard Du Lany) in 1940, they also wrote “Candy” with Mack David (Baby It’s You). “Candy” has been recorded over 70 times but the original by Jo Stafford and Johnny Mercer remains the standout. Other artists that recorded their songs are Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, and the Andrews Sisters. They also co-wrote Jimmy Dorsey’s #1 hit song “My Sister and I” (vocals by Bob Eberly) with another well known composer, Hy Zaret who co-wrote “Unchained Melody”.
 
I have blogged about Buffy (Beverly) Sainte-Marie, who was born in Canada February 20, 1941, She is described as an Indigenous Canadian-American singer-songwriter and musician. Her other endeavors include social activism, educator, and visual artist. She has done much to help preserve first nations culture in Canada and the US. Oh, and she is also a composer, and has an Oscar to prove it. I was fortunate enough to see her perform at the Aeolian Hall in London, Ontario in November of last year. She is still in top form and it was an incredible experience. Here is a clip from her 2018 show.
 
Singer Bobby Curtola of “Fortune Teller” fame was born in Port Arthur Ontario but perhaps his most lasting legacy to Canada and the US is the jingle he wrote, composed and sang, “Things go better with Coca-Cola” in 1964.
 
Speaking of teen idols, again I have mentioned Paul Anka before and the fact that he wrote the theme song for The Johnny Carson show, but he also penned one of Buddy Holly’s most enduring songs “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore“. It became a hit soon after Holly died in the plane crash of 1959. Covered to great success by Linda Ronstadt in 1974 and Serena Ryder in 2006.  
 
Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was the smash hit from the musical Hair. It spent six weeks at #1 in 1969. The lyrics were written by two Americans, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, and Canadian Galt MacDermot composed the music. It’s perhaps best known by the 1969 release by The 5th Dimension in 1969 in the medley format, “Aquarius” is the main song with “Let the Sunshine In” as an add on which has only been recorded once as a stand alone song.  Including instrumentals there are 180 versions of the song. The Original Cast recording of Aquarius is listed as Warren Burton and Company in 1967, first released recording was credited to the guy who actually sang the song in the play, Ronald (Ronnie) Dyson and Company.
 
An American band known as Blood, Sweat and Tears lost their lead singer Al Kooper so thanks to Folk music star Judy Collins they hired Canadian David Clayton Thomas. Their self-titled record released late 1968 contained the hit songs’ “Spinning Wheel”, “And When I Die” and “You Made Me So Very Happy”. It topped Billboards’ album chart for 7 of it’s of 109 weeks. The album won an unprecedented five Grammy awards in 1969/70. They were the first artists to have three U.S. gold singles on the same album. 
 
Montreal born Andy Kim moved to New York and the Brill Building to pursue a career in music. He had a hit covering the Ronettes song “Baby I Love You” in 1969.  Kim, along with American songwriting legend Jeff Barry wrote “Sugar, Sugar” that same year which was a hit for Don Kirshner’s studio creation of The Archies. The song featured Kim and Toni Wine backing up Ron Dante (The Cuff Links) on lead vocals. The song would hit #1 for four weeks and was the Song of the Year for Billboard Magazine for 1969. You will also know him from a song he wrote himself, “Rock Me Gently” which was a #1 Billboard hit in 1974.
 
Eddie Schwartz is a Toronto songwriter who wrote “The Doctor“, a #1 hit on the Mainstream Rock chart for the Doobie Brothers. He wrote “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” for Pat Benatar and many other songs recorded by International artists. The song title was featured on the Jeopardy clue title board the other day.
 
Well, that’s a good bit of the older stuff, there are many more American-Canadian collaborations in bands, songwriting and producing but perhaps another day.
 
Trivia
 
Eddie Schwartz’ song “Don’t Shed a Tear” (with Rob Friedman) would become a hit for British singer songwriter Paul Carrack known for his lead vocals on “How Long” (Ace), “Tempted” (Squeeze) and “In the Living Years” (Mike + the Mechanics). In 1987 my wife and I were at Paul Carracks debut for the album One Good Reason in Toronto, I think it was the El Mocambo but not sure on that point. Anyway, when Carrack started into “Don’t Shed a Tear” the guy beside me happened to be the above mentioned Eddie Schwartz and he said “I wrote that song”, oh the brushes with fame I’ve had! Schwartz has had hit songs recorded by Donna Summer, Meatloaf and many more. Also, of note that evening, at least it was for me! Carrack’s voice started to crack, and he said just one word, “Nick” and without missing a beat, his bass player, the one and only Nick Lowe started into “Half a Boy and Half a Man” and the place nearly fell apart. Clearly full of Nick Lowe nerds like myself. He was a big supporter of Carrack and they have played together for years, the two shared back-up bands on several albums and tours. Look for Paul Carrack as the keyboard player in the video clip from 1984. Still going strong in 2022 Nick Lowe is making a tour stop opening for his protégé, Elvis Costello in Toronto in August, yes I will be there!
 

Boodle: Old Cowboy saying for a crowd of people.

Read More »

Music stories and my Fourth Blogiversary

Year Four

I write this blog because I enjoy the subject matter and it interests me, last year I recapped some stats on my third anniversary; as of the end of April 2021, there were a record over 4,500 page views for the month and in total had just passed the 100,000 mark.  An increase of 44,000 over 2020 and the number of different countries went from 83 to 107. This is my “passion project” I guess you could say, a hobby that was not designed to make money. Nevertheless I will admit I was pleased enough with the growth that I continued to write in the past year. Now as of May 1, 2022, I have reached 122 countries and over 180,000 pageviews, representing an increase of 80,000 views and 13 countries in the past year. I exceeded my one week record of 13,000 pageviews. My updated post on The Most Covered Pop Artists and Songs of All Time not only continues to be the most popular but the pageview count has risen by more than 3,000 in one year. At nearly 8 thousand pageviews it is by far my most viewed post out my 159 written to date. That’s quite enough of a walk down vanity lane, I should get to the point. I have reached the 4 year mark and while that has surpassed my expectations I continue to struggle with the time and effort invested, so my posting may be less consistent going forward.

A little bit about Music Blogging

There are many blogs that talk about cover songs, but very few embrace the history of vintage music the way that I do. The majority of people are interested in current music, and that’s a good thing. But contemporary music, with several exceptions I will say, interests me much less. While I have no idea as to the demographics of my readers I suspect the vast majority are 50 plus. Which is of course relates more to the eras I talk about, for the most part stuff I know and familiar with, the added benefit is that I always learn something new during the course of my research.

So if we take any given song from any year from even the biggest stars in let’s say 2004 that may even have been covered a dozen or so times does not typically grab my attention the way a tune from 1904 might. Actually the most covered song from 2004 is a great tune from their first album Hot Fuss by the Rock Band The Killers, “Mr. Brightside” with an impressive 69 versions. However the history is not there and as far as I can see there’s not much of a story either.

Conversely, and this a great example of what I am talking about, the most covered song from 100 years prior has a story. Now I had just picked 2004 at random so I looked at what the most covered songs were from that year as noted. So now we go back to 1904 and the #1 most covered tune is one everyone will recognize. “Aloha Oe” written by Liliuokalani, this is the pen name for the last reigning Monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii which itself dates back to the 15th Century. Lydia Liliʻu Loloku Walania Wewehi Kamakaʻeha (September 2, 1838 – November 11, 1917) had her short lived reign of two years overthrown in 1893. I will give a very short version of a long and fascinating story. She had attempted to bring about a more democratic government and allow people to vote on their leaders. This was seen as contrary to American interests and with the help of the US Marines the country was seized and pro American leaders put in place. This, not surprisingly was mostly about money and resources. Though later exonerated she was put on trial and when her closest friends and family were threatened with hanging, she wrote a letter confessing to supposed wrong doings to help justify the coup. She served a period of confinement, albeit in the Palace. We all know how that turned out as eventually Hawaii was made the 50th State in 1959.

While under house arrest she continued to write several more beautiful songs. Liliuokalani composed “Aloha Oe” 1878 and in 1904 she recorded it in Hawaiian along with her sister Princess Likelike and two other ‘girl’s. Credited as the Quartet of Hawaiian Girls from Kawaihao Seminary. The first commercial version of the song was the English adaptation by Bing Crosby in 1936. Also recorded by Elvis Presley for the movie Blue Hawaii in 1961. Among the more than 125 recordings is a lovely version from Oregon native Evynne Hollens in 2019 for the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Now, while you may argue the merits of my writing, I barely scratched the surface of the story behind a tune that half the planet can hum along to nearly 125 years after it was written.

It’s stories like these that lead me to quite frequently go off on little tangents from the theme of a post. Believe it or not, I have used a fair bit of restraint in that regard. As a consequence I have had a few thoughts on songs I have talked about or as with “Aloha Oe”, newly discovered ones. I didn’t get to fleshing these out enough for a dedicated post and/or they got clipped out of post during the editing process. So here are some of them.

Terminology

We hear terms such as ‘legend’ or ‘icon’ to describe artists and I have used them myself several times. “That’s an iconic song” or “She is a music legend”, but what do the the terms actually mean? Often times when I read the terms from others writing or social media comments it is a substitute for “one of my favorites”. I have to say I am fairly well read on music history so when I come across the terms in reference to someone or a song that I have never heard of, well I question the use of the labels. But who decides whether a singer or musician or group is legendary? What makes a song iconic and worthy of the designation? Many times you will find the words in an Obituary or Biographical pieces, and the editorial nature of them opens the door for the use of the noun(s). The word icon for example has many meanings, such as the small picture on your computer screen or phone, a religious object, painting or a person that represents something in a larger or universal way.

This is an example of what it takes to be labeled an Iconic song. “Bésame mucho” (Kiss Me A Lot) originally written by Consuelo Velázquez in Spanish. First recorded in 1940 by Los Cadetes del Swing. Later the singer songwriter Selig Shaftel known by his stage name as Sunny Skylar would translate and sing an english version, so that “Besame mucho” was first recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1944. Also recorded by The Beatles, the most recent of the over 624 versions is by Martina Balogová from the Czech Republic in 2021. Songs that are currently very popular must stand the test of time to become iconic. Check out his interesting article on iconic songs, https://www.eonline.com/ca/news/699788/here-are-the-most-iconic-songs-of-all-time-according-to-science

The Culture Beyond the Music

In my recent post on the 1970’s I edit out this tangent from the topic of Punk Music; I can see the sway of Punk Culture, aside from the musical influences, in other art forms. From what I have read there is connection by way of more than just a coincidental use of the word or name “Punk” in the Sci-Fi book concepts/genre of Cyberpunk (coined by William Gibson in 1979, btw his Neuromancer is a great read) followed by Steampunk (author Kevin Jeter). They and others found their writing inspiration from earlier authors including HG Wells and the eccentric William S. Burroughs, a bit later also the likes of Michael Moorcock. But to my point, more recently when transformed into visual art such as comics, it comes out looking like Punk fashion and the characters persona reflects that renegade lifestyle. The stories themselves are often set in Dystopian environments with Victorian Era style ‘steam’ technology. There are many short stories, novels, comic book series and video games are designed in the Steampunk and/or Cyberpunk style. Although it is based on a 1968 Book by Philip K Dick (another odd man but a brilliant author I’d recommend) the ‘look’ of some of the characters in the movie Blade Runner from 1982 is an example. For video games there is the popular Borderlands series and yes (quilty pleasure time) I admit to owning that ;).

Sampling

Also from the 1970’s post I had researched a bit on the origins of Song Sampling; For example, if we look at Song Sampling which is not normally my thing, there are tens of thousands of excerpts taken from songs of this decade and inserted, for the most part into Rap, Hip Hop, Funk and R&B songs. Sampling by definition is the use of a previous recording in whole or part and inserted into a new piece of music. For the beginnings of this phenomenon we can look to pioneer James Tenney and his experimental “Blue Suede” in 1961 which incorporated clips of Elvis Presley’s version of “Blue Suede Shoes” along with audio distortions. One of the first commercial examples would be the use of a “Sousa” March from American composer John Philip Sousa, which had been previously recorded by George Martin and Geoff Emerick and inserted into The Beatles “Yellow Submarine” recording in 1966. Followed by the more well known use of a BBC King Lear broadcast into “I Am the Walrus” in 1967. However it was in the 1970’s when Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and others were more regularly using this technique. Sampling began to really impact the recording industry, particularly as new technology was created in 1970’s. While growing common among live DJ performances it was still a fairly sparse practice until the 1980’s, once the R&B/Hip Hop/Rap genres really got hold of it, a new art form was created. As far as songs from the 70’s that have had samples taken from them, “Think About It” (1971) by Lyn Collins (which was written and produced by James Brown) has been sampled 3077 times according to whosampledwho.com . If you include his singing and writing credits Brown is the most sampled artist in almost 14,500 songs. In Hip Hop, Drum beats are the most sampled sections of songs and Browns “Funky Drummer” from 1970 has been sampled 1750 times.

Conclusion

So this is just a short post today to make a mark for my four years of blogging and thanks to my buddy Shayne for his support and the note today acknowledging that bit of trivia. A special thanks to my family (aka my patient and understanding wife), friends and regular readers. Also thanks to those that take the time to pass on a note or comment, especially David and Darren, for without feedback I operate in a bit of a vacuum. Some of my FB friends share my blog posts, and to Judy-thanks for doing that every time. My dear friend Steve and I have talked about music almost every week for the last 45 years or so, and that helps keep me going as well. I would also like to thank all those you have visited my site and read a blog post or two. Happy reading and happy listening.

References: 123, 4,

100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

The next 25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #26-50

In part one I listed 25 of the greatest cover songs and to date it’s been one of my most viewed blog post. There are so many more added to the list so I’ve updated the posts on #’s 51-75 and 76-100 and will publish those as well.

This list in part comes from many of the songs that I have already posted since I started blogging. As for how songs make it on my list there are a few criteria, while I don’t dismiss music from more recent years a song has to have stood the test of time for me, hence much of the list are songs of some vintage and just plain old, like the writer. Next, the original song itself must have some character and some degree of popularity. And preferably the artist and or songwriters are of interest as well. I have read other lists of great cover songs from books, articles and google searches and you’ll find much similarity, but some of them contain songs I just don’t think warrant the attention or at the very least should be much lower on the ‘great’ scale. Last but not least I have to like the songs and most of these I put on my ‘songs I love’ list.Read More »

100 of the Greatest Cover Songs #1-25

25 of the Greatest Cover Songs-2022 update

Nothing quite grabs the attention more than a list of the greatest this or that, so at 85 posts about cover songs I did this one and now it’s been updated with new links. As I advised with my other ‘Greatest’ posts we all have our favorites so anytime there is a list, something or someone ‘great’ gets left off. And the debate ensues, why is this and that at #11 not #4 and vise versa. My list therefore, shall be no different for it is not scientific but subjective and it is biased by my own tastes and exposure to music. Having said that it’s hard for me to have missed many of the truly great cover songs of all time, indeed I think I’ve talked about quite a few:

Read More »

Ukrainian Music

The Ukraine is under siege and many around the world are witnessing the horrors of war in real time. Many of us are doing what we can be it financial contributions, political pressure or spiritual support. Some may debate whether we should be listening to music at this time but in truth life goes on for the rest of the world and if we keep the Ukraine and the people in our thoughts and prayers, that is at least something. I write a blog about Music and not that I think this post will change what is going on but for me personally the research itself gave me a new appreciation for the music of the Ukraine. Here in Canada we have a special relationship with the people as we are have the third largest population in the world of those with Ukrainian origin at approximately 1.4 million. For the most part I “stick to my knitting” in my choice of topics but today I felt compelled to go a bit beyond. For so many there is little time for music now, however as we all hope for the future of a free Ukraine, the spirit of the people will always remain and their songs will play a big part.

Read More »

Gospel Music

Gospel Music

What do you think of when you hear the words Gospel Music? It depends on your background to a great extent, such as religious ties and beliefs, geography, family, ethnicity, and what music you have been exposed to, not to mention personal preference. My interest leans toward the impact that Gospel has had on Popular Music. A brief look at the history shows us Anglican Church roots dating back over 250 years such as “Amazing Grace” (1772) written by the Cleric John Newton, or “Rock of Ages” (1763) written by Reverend Augustus Toplady. The term is believed to have been first printed in the 1874 publication by Philip Bliss, Gospel Songs: A Choice Collection of Hymns and Tunes. There is, as we all know many types of Spiritual Music that is tied to Indigenous Peoples around the world, not to mention ritual songs from many different faiths and beliefs. But today the music focus is about the Gospel rooted in the American South.

Read More »

Summertime Blues

Summertime Blues

Summer Songs

We here in the northern hemisphere are in spring, and summer is not too far off so I thought it a good time to talk about some sunny songs. As often is the case there are many ‘summer’ songs that I have mentioned along the way in prior posts. Summer songs do not have to have the word summer in the title or even the lyrics; sometimes it’s just a tune that seems to go with the season.

The definition of a summer hit is a song released during the summer months, typically in June or early July that seems to coincide with summer activities and becomes widely (and sometimes globally) popular. There is such a thing as “the song of the summer”, where a tune will rise like the sun everyday and perhaps every hour and become either the most annoying or the most memorable. I’m not sure how songs these days get the ‘honour’ as there are so many sources to get your music from, so the Spotify song may not be the same as the Billboard tune nor the same as the one from Apple Play. There was a time when the majority of our music came from the good old fashioned radio, whether at home, in the car or when gathering with friends. It was much easier to get a consensus on a song, albeit if you are a Metalhead you may not care about “Fancy” from Iggy Azalea et al.

Read More »

Third Blogiversary

 

 

My Third Blogiversary

Me and my #1 fan 💕

After 144 posts it’s a good time for some reflection, for me at least, on where this journey of writing about cover songs started and all the places in between. It all began over conversations with my dear friend Darren who after being regaled/bored with my stories about music suggested I write a blog. This chatty habit has tormented my lifelong pals and family for many years. During these three years, I have had a bit of growth, I’d like to think anyway. The quality of the writing has improved, and of course, the editing, since my oldest daughter began helping out. Although I make changes and more mistakes after she does her final edit! Read More »