By David Ball
An asterisk should be pinned to this “one-hit wonder.”
Sheriff captured their only RPM Top 10 hit on February 28, 1983, with “When I’m With You” – a far more impressive finish than the song’s pitiful final ranking (No. 61) on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1983. That’s all she wrote regarding this lone album and lone hit from this rock band from Toronto, right? Nope. To rephrase a famous line from The Godfather: Part III: Just when you thought they were out, they pulled them back in.
With Sheriff long broken up and principal songwriter/keyboardist Arnold Lanni fronting his hot new project, Frozen Ghost, the failed arena rockers’ old power ballad had resurfaced as a hit all over again, this time as Billboard’s No. 1 single on February 4, 1989. What up with that? Well, the latency blame game goes to a Las Vegas DJ who took a shine to the song sometime in 1988. Other regional West Coast radio stations soon followed suit and Capital Records in its infinite wisdom decided to re-issue the single in late 1988, although it didn’t create much of a fuss the second time around in Canada.
Naturally, the song’s newfound notoriety and royalties led to a predictable comeback attempt spearheaded by ex-Sheriff members Freddy Curci and Steve DeMarchi, but they were unable to lure Lanni away from Frozen Ghost. It didn’t matter anyway since the duo went on to form a more successful group, Alias, with three members of Heart: bassist Steve Fossen, guitarist Roger Fisher and drummer Michael DeRosier. Remember Alias’ massive hit “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say”?
On the one-year anniversary of arguably the most glorious event in the annals of pop music history – that is, the official announcement that Wham was breaking up – four artists became the first-ever to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (CCMHF) at a ceremony in Edmonton on February 28, 1984. OK, perhaps I’ve exaggerated the Wham footnote just a tad. How about if I changed it to “the most glorious event in the annals of ’80s pop music history”? Yes? No? How dare I? Who’s Wham?
Anyway, there’s no argument regarding the no-brainer first picks elected into the CCMHF: Wilf Carter, Tommy Hunter, Orval Prophet and William Harold Moon. Carter, a.k.a. “Montana Slim,” is considered the father of Canadian country music; Hunter is a bestselling entertainer and host of the iconic CBC country music variety program “The Tommy Hunter Show”; Orval Prophet was one of the first performers to put our nation’s country music scene on the international map; and William Harold Moon was an influential music publisher, managing director of BMI Canada and chairman of the Performing Rights Organization of Canada, where he helped nurture the careers of Canadian songwriters.
On the surface, it’s a travesty that Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” one of his most important tunes and a bona fide guitar tour de force showcase, topped out at only No. 49 on the RPM singles chart on March 2, 1985. But given the fact that the angry Stealing Fire anthem was banned in several big Canadian markets due to its political pro-war subject matter (the song was a vitriolic call to arms against the counter-insurgency led by Guatemalan president/dictator Efraín Ríos Montt) and its controversial lyrics (“If I had a rocket launcher… some son-of-a-bitch would pay”) breaking into the Top 50 is still pretty damn remarkable.
The outspoken multiple–JUNO Award–winning singer-songwriter and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee has stated that he longs for a time where “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” will be irrelevant because war has been eradicated and he won’t have to perform it anymore. It doesn’t appear that Cockburn’s wish will come true any time soon, but at least the song will keep on kicking ass for the foreseeable future – make that eternity.
If I had a rocket launcher and an itchy trigger finger, there are a number of people, places and things I’d like to blow up real good, figuratively speaking of course. For starters: my neighbour’s sickly yellow self-made wooden shed, which looms over my front yard; the starting lineup of the 2012 New York Yankees; broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (a.k.a. “The Evil Three”); Canada Goose jackets; my dismal current 2012-2013 season playing for my beer league hockey team (the Parkdale Lads); speeders in school zones and neighbourhood streets; champagne socialists; Cambridge, Ontario’s horrendous soul-sucking Hespeler Road; power centres and big-box stores; massive above-ground parking lots, specifically the eyesore on the northeast side of Victoria Park and Eglinton Avenue in North Toronto; partisan politics; apathy and complacency; the last 15 seasons of “The Simpsons” and “Saturday Night Live,” respectively; Speedos; Gewürztraminer white wine; voice auto-tune; Kings of Leon; and of course, Ke$ha’s performance at the 2013 NBA All-Star Game… along with all of her albums.
Nicolette Larson’s cover of Neil Young’s “Lotta Love” became a Top 5 RPM hit on March 3, 1979. The late vocalist began collaborating with the Canadian Music Hall of Fame legend on his 1977 effort, American Stars ’N Bars (Linda Ronstadt also lent her chops to the recording session). Larson produced a rough cassette demo of “Lotta Love” and played it to Young while they were driving around in his car in early 1978. He was so impressed by Larson’s interpretation that he straight up offered his backup singer the song and she subsequently recorded it for her 1978 solo debut, Nicolette. Young later cut his own version for his upcoming ninth album, Comes a Time, but due to studio delays, both LPs were released within days of each other (Nicolette came out first). Talk about coincidence!
If you don’t know one or both renditions – or if you think “Lotta Love” is by Linda Ronstadt – here’s a quick side-by-side comparison: Larson’s take is an upbeat blend of jazz and pop featuring string and brass accompaniment whereas the Young original is a sparse kinda cheery country-folk ballad. Both are excellent – however, Larson’s was the only one released as a single. The Helena, Montana–born singer’s “Lotta Love” was a Top 10 Billboard hit and did well internationally, especially in Austria and New Zealand, while her debut shot to the top of RPM’s album chart and made it into Billboard’s Top 10. Although Comes a Time is one of Young’s best efforts from the 1970s, only one number from the album was released as a single, a cover of Ian & Sylvia’s classic “Four Strong Winds” (featuring a duet with Young and an unbilled Larson).
Nicolette Larson is often seen as a rock tragedy. Following her debut’s commercial breakthrough her solo path never took off, although a switch to country in the mid-1980s did reap some dividends in a series of moderate-selling hit singles. Overall, Larson remained a reliable if not influential session singer, supporting many great artists over her professional career (including Emmylou Harris, Hoyt Axton, Doobie Brothers and Jimmy Buffett) until her untimely death at age 45 on December 16, 1997.
Next week: The Box and the JUNO Awards
“Lotta Love” by Nicolette Larson