This Week in Music History: October 22 to 28Oct 23, 2012
By David Ball
In last week’s TWIMH, I wrote that Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s Fred Turner is one of Canada’s most underrated artists. Well, I’d like to add another talented-but-chronically-under-the-radar act to the list: the Stampeders.
For whatever reason (and I certainly don’t know the answer), the JUNO Award winners’ important Canadian-rock legacy has diminished over the decades, certainly in comparison to their more famous homegrown rivals from the late 1960s and 1970s, Lighthouse and The Guess Who.
Formed in Calgary in 1964 as The Rebounds, the sextet changed their name to the Stampeders a year later and relocated to Toronto in 1966. By 1968 the lineup was trimmed down to a trio consisting of founding members Rich Dodson, Ronnie King and Kim Berly. They maintained a healthy chart presence in Canada during their initial 13-year run, which included seven Top 10 singles, but the Stampeders only managed to generate a measly one hit in the United States: “Sweet City Woman.”
The toe-tapping country-rock single from their 1971 gold-selling debut, Against the Grain (awkwardly retitled: Sweet City Woman in the U.S.), reached the No. 8 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 23, 1971. It fared far better in Canada where it conquered three RPM charts (pop, adult contemporary and country). From 1971 to 1976, eight Stampeders’ LPs were solid domestic sellers, but Against the Grain was the only record to do any sort of damage south of the border… although “damage” is subjective given the album’s 172nd Billboard finish (it reached RPM’s Top 10). Give the excellent Best of Stampeders album a spin and try to tell me they aren’t one of the best Canuck bands from the 1970s.
JUNO Award winners Crash Test Dummies released their most successful album, God Shuffled His Feet, on October 26, 1993. The Winnipeg folk rockers’ critically praised followup to their impressive 1991 debut, The Ghosts That Haunt Me, was an international smash highlighted by its first-place chart finish in both Austria and New Zealand along with a No. 2 chart finish in the United Kingdom and a Top 10 showing on Billboard in the U.S.
Somewhat surprising was its sluggish performance on Canada’s RPM album chart, stalling at an underwhelming No. 17. Don’t chew on the latter mini-disgrace for too long, though, because God Shuffled His Feet eventually shuffled up sales of over five million copies worldwide (including going three times platinum domestically), and four of its 12 songs, all penned by frontman Brad Roberts, charted in Canada, including the Billboard Top Fiver and Grammy and JUNO Award–nominated single, “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.”
Speaking of that Jerry Harrison–produced, almost-novelty, love-it-or-hate-it hit tune of theirs – which spotlights Brad Roberts’s quirky lyrics and distinctive, easygoing deep-as-Barry White baritone: it lost the coveted 1994 Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal to “I Swear” by All-4-One. The last time I was subjected to the inedible fat-free R&B-light ditty known as “I Swear,” it made me swear like an Oshawa-bound truck-driver, repeatedly, in a crowded mall… and I believe in front of nuns.
In another instalment of the semi-regular series: This Week in Celine Dion History…
On October 27, 1985, the burgeoning chanteuse was the big winner at the seventh edition of the Félix Awards, named in honour of legendary Quebec singer-songwriter, actor and poet Félix Leclerc. Dion took home five Félix trophies to sit on her fireplace mantel next to the ones she won in 1983, which included the awards for Best Female Performer and Discovery of the Year.
Statues are handed out annually to the Quebec artists deemed most deserving by members of the Association québécoise de l’industrie du disque, du spectacle et de la vidéo – and there’s little doubt the golden-voiced performer blessed with a five-octave range met Félix’s criteria.
By 1985 and at the tender age of 17, Dion was already a household name in la belle province and had already begun to make a name for herself across the rest of Canada and around the world with several hit French-language albums and international awards under her belt.
On a related note, Dion refused the 1990 Félix Award for Anglophone Artist of the Year for her English-language debut, Unison, because she believed she wasn’t an anglophone artist.
On October 28, 1977, Neil Young released his seminal 35-song triple-decker compilation, Decade, a comprehensive snapshot of the prolific singer-songwriter’s career from 1966 to 1976, including a couple of gems from his past affiliations and five unreleased cuts.
Compiled by the Canadian singer-songwriter and containing self-penned liner notes, the tome features selections from every Young-related release minus the live albums Time Fades Away and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 4-Way Street. Some of the unreleased gems are: “Down to the Wire” with Dr. John and two of Young’s old Buffalo Springfield band-mates, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay; Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s alternate version of “Like a Hurricane”; and the live solo acoustic FM radio staple “Sugar Mountain” (previously found on the B-side to 1968’s “The Loner”).
Long-suffering Young completists know this frustrating fact: For literally decades, Decade remained the only official career retrospective until a few minor compilations popped up in the 1990s. Young has long promised a Decade II, but we’re still waiting. With the “Time Waits for No One” pace he’s been taking, Decade III or even Decade IV seems more likely.
On a personal note, back in the early ’90s during the end of my Queen’s University years (man, I’m old), my friend Al accidently melted Disc 3 of my pristine Decade triple vinyl. I didn’t notice until I played “Cortez the Killer” one night and it sounded scratched to hell. The sly little bastard bought a used copy when I wasn’t home and sneakily tried to pull the wool over my eyes and ears. No dice, but to this day I still play the dinged-up Decade doppelganger with each pop, crack and skip committed to memory decades ago.
Next week: TWICDH (This Week in Celine Dion History) and Corey Hart
“Sweet City Woman” by the Stampeders