This Week in History: December 12 to 18

Dec 11, 2011

By: David Ball

Here it is folks, the premiere edition of This Week in History: a roundup of interesting (I hope), significant and/or funny music-related stories that occurred during a seven-day stretch. Since this article was submitted last Friday, I wasn’t privy to the list of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame’s 2012 inductees. Not being a noted soothsayer (I bought stock in Heaven’s Gate and Battlefield Earth) nor a gifted gambler (I always bet on the grey horse), I won’t wager any money on any possible names for 2012. But rest assured that The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences selected only the most deserving inductees, since there simply aren’t any dubious artists honoured in the coveted Hall of Fame. Don’t believe me? I challenge anyone to a no-holds-barred bar fight (with Trooper playing on the sound system) if you take issue with any of the Hall of Fame’s past recipients, from its first inductees, Guy Lombardo and Oscar Peterson, through to 2011’s Shania Twain. ‘Nuff said.

Kicking things off is an item featuring Blue Rodeo.

When RPM released its December 12, 1987, Country Singles chart, the pioneering Canadian country rockers saw their biggest hit, “Try,” fall from the previous week’s coveted No. 1 position to the No. 6 spot. Penned by co-leaders Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, “Try” was the second single from the Toronto quintet’s stellar multi-platinum debut, Outskirts. Not only was “Try” a country hit, but it cracked the Top 10 on RPM’s Pop and Adult Contemporary charts as well. And to cap it all off, at the 1989 Juno Awards, “Try” captured the awards for single of the year and video of the year, and Blue Rodeo won band of the year. But perhaps most importantly, the aching torch ballad gave high school dances across our great country one of the best waltz tunes ever, and I ain’t kidding! Jump to 2011-2012 and nothing much has changed concerning Blue Rodeo. They are still going strong and remain as popular as ever while “Try” is a bona fide country classic.

Sorry about the sad change of pace in regard to this next story, but it can’t be avoided.

On December 14, 2000, Loverboy’s Mike Reno issued a heartfelt statement regarding co-founding band mate Scott Smith, who was lost at sea during a boating trip near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on November 30. Said Reno of his Winnipeg-born friend and bassist: “We do not know what the future will bring as a band, but we remain together in everything we do. It hurts so very much right now, but our goal is to get through this together.” Smith was 45 at the time of the mishap and his body was never recovered. True to Reno’s words, Loverboy did indeed get through this tragedy together. The surviving members began playing gigs again in 2001 and remained busy throughout the rest of the decade. Loverboy celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2005 with a series of select concerts, released a studio album in 2007, were elected into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame during The 2009 JUNO Awards and performed at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

I took this far too personally at the time.

December 17, 1982, was a tragic day: My parents wrongly deemed I was too young to travel to Toronto to see my favourite band and one of rock’s biggest acts ever, The Who, perform the last-ever concert of their “farewell tour” at Maple Leaf Gardens. The event was simulcast across North America on pay-per-view HBO and select closed-circuit arenas, and some local Ontario TV stations picked up the live feed too – but not CKWS-TV in Kingston, my hometown. I remember cradling a bowl of Hostess potato chips and being riveted to the TV in the basement of my family home moments before the concert was set to air on Channel 11. Since I wasn’t allowed to go to the concert, this was the next best thing, right? CKWS promoted the heck out of the gig and my excitement was higher than a kite because I’d be witnessing an important part of music history as it unfolded. But then something terrible happened. A video prompt flashed on the screen stating that the Who show was blacked out. NOOOOOOOO! Well, I soon recovered since my devastating disappointment turned out to be somewhat short-lived. Like professional boxers and politicians, rock bands don’t stay retired for very long. I managed to finally see my heroes in 1989 when the legends regrouped for a 25th anniversary tour and played in front of an audience 64,000-people strong at Toronto’s CNE stadium. It was a great concert and far better than what was recorded on December 17, 1982, and I have proof: Who’s Last, the universally panned double-live album of the farewell tour.

This deal paid off, and then some…

Perhaps buoyed by the commercial breakthrough of Celine Dion’s English-language debut, Unison (released in 1990; her 15th album), Sony Music signed the budding singing sensation to a $10-million contract in New York City on December 18, 1991. Unison, which was produced by Sony subsidiary Epic Records, went platinum in the United States and sold over three million copies worldwide on the strength of the hit single “Where Does My Heart Beat Now,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts. But even with Unison’s solid success, there’s no way Sony could have predicted how good this 1991 deal would turn out for the media giant. Under the new contract, Dion’s next four English-language studio albums were all worldwide blockbusters: 1992’s Celine Dion sold 5,000,000 copies, 20 million copies of The Colour of My Love were snapped up while 1996’s Falling Into You and 1997’s Let’s Talk About Love both exceeded 30 million in sales. And not to be overlooked are Celine’s three French-language LPs produced by Sony/Epic in the 1990s: they sold a combined 16 million units. I don’t know the terms of the contract regarding sales and royalties, but there’s little doubt that Sony made gazillions from the deal. In turn, Dion has become one of the richest and most admired singers of all time and a pop culture icon around the world.

Next week: Guy Lombardo and Oscar Peterson

Video: “Try” by Blue Rodeo