By David Ball
I hear odds were better back when David took on Goliath…
Alan Thicke’s doomed syndicated late-night talk show, “Thicke of the Night,” debuted on select television stations across North America on September 5, 1983. Thicke decided to throw his hat into the American late-night TV ring after ending a successful three-season run as host and producer of CTV’s amiable Canadian daytime program, “The Alan Thicke Show.”
The multi-talented Canadian songwriter and actor’s new comedy-variety program was intended to rival NBC’s late-night king, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” So I guess you know how the head-to-head Thicke-Carson bout ended, right? If it had been a heavyweight boxing title match, Carson would have knocked out the Kirkland Lake, Ontario–born entertainer in the first round. Aside from his successful work as a TV theme song composer during the late 1970s and early ’80s (he composed the themes of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes” among others), Thicke was virtually unknown south of the border, whereas Carson was a multi-Emmy Award–winning host and beloved American icon who had ruled the post–11:30 p.m. North American airwaves for over 30 years.
Although MGM launched an extensive advertising campaign for “Thicke of the Night” and the program featured an impressive supporting cast of regulars, including big-name funnymen Gilbert Gottfried, Arsenio Hall, Richard Belzer, Charles Fleischer and Fred Willard, the upstart 30-minute broadcast was routinely (and gleefully) drubbed by critics and ratings were beyond terrible. It also didn’t help that “Thicke of the Night” just wasn’t a very good show. (Making matters even more difficult for R&B singer-songwriter Robin Thicke’s dad was that first-run syndication wasn’t the lucrative and groundbreaking broadcasting outlet it became in the late 1980s and 1990s, highlighted by hit series such as “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Babylon 5,” “Xena: Warrior Princess,” “Jeopardy” and more.)
With reviews going from bad to worse and nearly non-existent ratings, several local TV stations began dropping the program by mid-season. “Thicke of the Night” was eventually put out of its misery on June 15, 1984. But it didn’t take long for Thicke to find more work. In 1985 he landed the role of the patriarch in one of the ’80s most popular family sitcoms, “Growing Pains.” For many kids growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Thicke’s Jason Seaver was their TV dad (mine, of course, came a decade earlier with Archie Bunker).
If you can find the 1983 “SCTV” skit “Maudlin O’ The Night,” a parody of Thicke’s syndicated boob-tube bomb, then do so immediately! Joe Flaherty stars as host Sammy Maudlin, and his guests include a drunken Henry Kissinger played by Eugene Levy and buffoon Howie Soozloff, Martin Short’s thinly veiled send-up of Howie Mandel, complete with the Toronto prop-comic’s then-trademark giant handbag in the shape of a hand.
Ever wonder why Canadian rock radio still plays the heck out of early-era Heart?
Dreamboat Annie, the debut album by one-time Vancouver hard-rock band, Heart, went gold on September 8, 1976. This may come as a surprise to some, but for a couple of years in the early to mid-1970s, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson and the music they made with Heart fell under Canadian content parameters (more on this later).
Heart’s original guitarist, Mike Fisher, was a draft dodger who fled to Vancouver from Seattle, Washington, in 1971 and was soon joined by his lead vocalist girlfriend, Ann. The younger Wilson sister, Nancy, also relocated to Vancouver after dropping out of college in 1974 and joined Heart as its acoustic guitarist. The group began gigging around the Vancouver area and recorded a demo in late 1974 with local producer Mike Flicker and session musician and future Heart member, Howard Leese. After several lineup changes (keyboardist John Hannah and drummer Brian Johnstone joined the band, and Fisher was replaced by Leese), Heart recorded Dreamboat Annie in February 1975 at Can-Base Studios in Vancouver (later known as Mushroom Records).
Back to the CanCon: Dreamboat Annie met a couple of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s MAPL System Canadian content requirements. First, the album was recorded in Canada, and second, it was recorded by Canadian citizens/permanent residents. On a related note, some of the music produced by high-profile Canadian international stars who do not compose their own music and collaborate with Americans are not considered CanCon.
Since Dreamboat Annie was considered a Canadian recording (so much so that it won the 1977 JUNO Award for Best Selling Album and the band won that year’s award for Group of the Year), its title track and singles, “Crazy on You,” and “Magic Man,” all benefited from heavy rotation on radio across the country and in turn became domestic hits. Because of the Canadian groundswell in popularity, Heart’s debut achieved even greater success in the United States after it was released on Mushroom Records’ U.S. division (the record cracked Billboard’s Top 10 in the summer of 1976).
Heart recorded two more bestselling albums in Vancouver before moving back to the U.S. permanently in the late 1970s, but I can tell you this: Early era Heart destroys newer “comeback” Heart, especially when you compare “Barracuda” and “Little Queen” to the slew of slickly manufactured and over-sanitized – but extraordinarily popular – records the Wilson sisters released during their band’s commercial height in the mid-1980s to early ’90s.
For all of you big band chart aficionados (and who isn’t one?)…
Hugo Winterhalter and Eddie Heywood’s “Canadian Sunset” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s big band chart on September 6, 1956. Although neither jazz pianist Heywood nor his composer-arranger partner Winterhalter were Canadian you’ve got to give props to any quality song that pays homage to our great country. The song quickly became a much-covered standard, both as an instrumental and with lyrics.
Crooner Andy Williams’ version, with words by Norman Gimble and Eddie Heywood, peaked at No. 7 on Billboard’s singles chart in the fall of 1956. However, my favourite renditions include jazz master Wes Montgomery’s version and the live performance by late, great country-blues guitar whiz Danny “The Humbler” Gatton, live with Buddy Edmonds from 1977, as well as the 11-minute track from Gatton’s 1978 LP, Redneck Jazz.
Next week: Neil Peart and ABBA
“Canadian Sunset” by Danny Gatton and Buddy Edmonds, live December 1978