By David Ball
The Who brought their massive and yet ultimately premature farewell tour to Toronto with a sold-out show at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) Stadium on October 9, 1982. The venerable British Invasion quartet was calling it quits (for the first time) with one final 42-date hoorah, and the T.O. gig was the 12th on the first leg of their North American tour (the second leg concluded with the ballyhooed Maple Leaf Gardens show on December 17).
The good news for their legion of fans was that Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Kenney Jones delivered entertaining action-packed shows on most nights. The bad news was that the set lists for the tour, including the show at the CNE, featured selections from It’s Hard, the group’s generally limp 1982 swan song, minus the gritty anthem, “Eminence Front.” As a lifelong Who fan, I’ll go on record in stating that It’s Hard’s “Athena” may well be one of the most putrid 45s Townshend has ever written for his band, rivalling any sick-inducing single unleashed by other aging 1960s supergroups during the decade of the ’80s, including anything by Chicago/Peter Cetera, The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” and, of course, Starship’s “We Built This City.”
The Who’s followers are notoriously belligerent toward opening acts – and Toronto was no exception. The CNE stopover featured Joe Jackson, who was an unfortunate last-minute replacement for The Clash (the English punk pioneers had to cancel that night because they were booked on “Saturday Night Live”).
The amiable English pop crooner was jeered mercilessly throughout his warm-up performance and, as legend has it, walked off stage shortly after being struck by a perfectly thrown “loaded” hotdog. Poor Joe, but no doubt the feisty audience of over 60,000 would’ve greeted The Clash in a similar manner, perhaps minus the loaded hotdog soaked with mustard, ketchup, corn relish and heaps of onions. Case in point: Joe Strummer and company were booed throughout their notorious Shea Stadium shows on October 12 and 13, as well as during some of The Who’s other farewell tour dates. But if you’ve heard anything from The Who’s Last LP (“highlights” from the 1982 tour; I freakin’ own this) and The Clash’s excellent live compilation From Here To Eternity (featuring several explosive performances from the farewell tour), you’ll realize the crowds booed the wrong band.
“Constant Craving” became k.d. lang’s most successful foray into the American pop charts when it reached No. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 10, 1992. The single from the JUNO Award–winning album Ingénue was written by lang and Ben Mink, and went on to win the reformed Alberta cow-punker the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
After its success, the aching contemporary torch ballad was re-released internationally in 1993 and became an even bigger hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at No. 15. “Constant Craving” was a No. 2 hit on both Billboard’s and RPM’s adult contemporary charts, and also garnered an impressive Top 10 pop finish in Canada. Perhaps because the song is so darn catchy, The Rolling Stones unknowingly, allegedly, used part of the refrain in their not-as-good 1997 single, “Anybody Seen My Baby?” After Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were accused of plagiarism, Mink and lang were added to the song’s writing credits.
For whatever reason, the music world is littered with artists who peaked artistically and commercially on their first album. It’s a pity that The Knack, The Strokes, My Bloody Valentine and the Sex Pistols had only enough quality in their creative song catalogue to produce a great debut. Then there are those who started off rather modestly only to get bigger and better as their careers matured: Prince, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, The Who, The Kinks, Rush, Neil Young, U2, K’naan – and Triumph belongs in this distinguished group, too.
Before becoming one of the nation’s biggest rock exports of the late 1970s and 1980s, the JUNO Award–nominated Mississauga, Ontario–based power trio – comprised of bassist Mike Levine, drummer/singer Gil Moore and guitarist/singer Rik Emmett – released their eponymous debut through RCA to little fanfare on October 13, 1976.
Reviews were generally positive and the record mustered a solid domestic following, but distribution outside of Canada was nearly non-existent. The album was re-released internationally in 1984 and again in 1996 (the latter with a newly designed Uriah Heep–ish album sleeve and title: In The Beginning).
Produced by Levine and Doug Hill, the nine-song effort offers a decent intro template to Triumph’s brand of adventurous guitar rock and contains the FM radio-friendly single and concert favourite “24 Hours a Day.” Curiously, the proggy track, written by Emmett, marks the only time in the band’s 20-plus-year career that Levine can be heard singing lead vocals – and he does a pretty good job. The song, along with a couple of the other standout cuts from the debut album, was included on the international release of Triumph’s hit 1977 followup, Rock and Roll Machine.
Triumph formed in the summer of 1975 when Levine and Moore, armed with a newly signed contract from a local record company, persuaded a “brash, loud, and noisy” 21-year-old Emmett to record a demo with them (quote courtesy of triumphmusic.com). The threesome started gigging around the Toronto area in September of the same year. They cut their full-length debut the following autumn and scored their first hit single with a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” in 1977.
Known for their explosive live concerts, which literally included explosive pyrotechnics and cornea-scorching light shows, Triumph signed a new contract with RCA in 1978 and the partnership ushered in the trio’s most fruitful phase. By the early ’80s Triumph were rock gods on the strength of their live prowess (check out their star-making performance at 1983′s US Festival) and gold-selling twofer, 1981′s Allied Forces (with hit singles “Magic Power” and “Fight the Good Fight”) and 1983′s Never Surrender. But after the release of their ninth studio album, Surveillance, in 1987 with record company MCA, Emmett left in order to pursue a solo career. A rejigged version of Triumph bravely trudged on, assigning former Frozen Ghost axe-man Phil X with the unenviable and impossible task of filling Emmett’s shoes. However, following the 1993 release of the disappointing Edge of Excess, they finally called it a day and disbanded.
On a decidedly brighter Dio “devil horns” fist-pump note, Levine, Moore and Emmett reformed for a series of gigs in 2007 on the heels of the announcement that Triumph was to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the 2008 JUNO Awards. And in the summer of 2012 Triumph released the potent DVD/CD Live at Sweden Rock Festival, which captures the band’s 2008 reunion concert. Could a new studio effort be in the works?
Next week: Fred Turner of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Hair
“24 Hours a Day” by Triumph (1976)