This Week in Music History: April 28 to May 4

Apr 29, 2014

By Adam Bunch

THE CANADIAN BEHIND THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL MUSICAL EVER

It was one of the most famous, most groundbreaking and most controversial musicals of all time. It brought nudity to the stage, embraced free love and environmentalism, criticized the Vietnam War, showed characters using drugs and swearing, and even involved the burning of an American flag. Theatres refused to book it, church groups picketed, authorities tried to shut it down. At one point, while it was running in Minnesota, a priest released white mice into the lobby hoping they would scare the audience away. In Boston, the producers were sued. In Cleveland, someone bombed the theatre. In New York, famous astronauts walked out of the show in protest. In Norway, people formed a human barricade to keep the audience from getting inside. In Mexico, the government padlocked the doors and the cast members were forced to go into hiding.

But none of it stopped Hair. The musical re-wrote the rules for putting on theatrical productions. Taboos fell by the wayside. Laws were challenged and overturned. The musical racked up praise from all over the world: it won Tony Awards and Grammy Awards and rave reviews. It became one of the most famous musicals ever; it even got turned into a movie directed by Miloš Forman. Meanwhile, the songs from the production raced up the charts. They quickly became some of the most iconic tunes of the 1960s. Many of them are still familiar today: “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” “Good Morning Starshine,” “Easy to Be Hard” and the title track, “Hair.”

The music for all of those songs was written by a Canadian: Galt MacDermot. He was born in Montreal, went to school in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and in Toronto, and then got a music degree in South Africa. Before long, he was living in New York City, writing the music for the musical that would go down in history. It was during this week in 1968 that Hair opened on Broadway.

“HAIR” FROM THE MOVIE HAIR

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THE “GREATEST CANADIAN SONG OF ALL TIME” AT CARNEGIE HALL

It was during this week in 1967 that Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Ian and Sylvia took the stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City for one of their most prestigious gigs. The folk-singing duo had started out by playing in the smoke-filled coffee houses of Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood and were soon helping to lead the folk music revival that swept the Western world in the early 1960s. Their best-known song, the wistful ballad “Four Strong Winds,” was a big hit at home in Canada as soon as it was released – and it gradually gained a following south of the border as well. Everyone from Bob Dylan to John Denver to Johnny Cash to fellow Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees Neil Young and The Tragically Hip have covered the song. Nearly 40 years after Ian and Sylvia took the stage that night in New York City, CBC listeners chose “Four Strong Winds” as the greatest Canadian song of all time.

NEIL YOUNG COVERS “FOUR STRONG WINDS”