THE BEST OF THE BEST (Singles) – Part One

As the manuscript for my Music Express book is undergoing it’s final editing process in preparation for its April 2014 publishing date, I would like to spotlight a few chapters that were omitted from the final publication.

One of these chapters was a series of `Best Of’s’ from the time frame that encompassed Music Express (being 1976-1992). This first ‘Best Of’ list chronicles my personal favourite 12 single releases from that period along with an anecdote from each songwriter of that particular song.

Again, I stress this is MY personal list of favourites. Please feel free to send your favourite list and we will post a number of your responses.

If you want to skip ahead – here are the second set.

In no special order here are the first 6:

Single: `Mama Let Him Play’
Album: “Mama Let Him Play”
Label: Mushroom
Year: 1978
Reason: Quite possibly, the most rocking guitar solo ever committed to record. Still sounds as fresh today as it did when originally released in 1978. Should be a staple track on any Guitar Hero video game.

Comment: “My mama was a strict Catholic who was insistent that I stick to my studies, no boogie woogying, but I loved to play my guitar. We had moved from Montreal to Hamilton and my dad worked at Stelco steel mill. One day when I was eight years old , I was playing my guitar to some Buddy Holly records, when my Mama starts telling me off about not sticking to my books. My dad, who was on shift work at the time, had been fast asleep but all the commotion woke him up. So he comes into the room and says “Come on mama, let him play!” “Years later I am in Vancouver, starting to write songs for my debut album and I remembered that line. I came up with that opening guitar lick and the rest of that song took me like an hour to write, but the rest of that album took me about three months to write.” – Jerry Doucette.

Result: Album went Platinum (100,000 units), Single reached No.5 on the Canadian charts and Doucette won Most Promising Male Artist Juno in 1979.

JIM CUDDY (Blue Rodeo):
Single: `Try’
Album: “Outskirts”
Label: Risque Disque
Year: 1987
Reason: After Blue Rodeo unsuccessfully launched their debut “Outskirts” album with the title track single, radio discovered `Try’ and that was that! Jim Cuddy’s false alto vocal ballad is stunning and still stands as a highlight of any Blue Rodeo live performance.

Comment: “We were playing three sets a night at (Toronto’s) Horseshoe Tavern and we’d always get requests to play `Try’ again. When waitresses are requesting it, you know you’re on to something special. There weren’t a lot of false alto ballads on radio at the time so when we launched “Outskirts” we went for the title track as a single because that song seemed to better reflect the sound of our band. But when `Outskirts’ failed as a single, our label followed with `Try’ and next thing you know, we had a No.1 record. We were touring so much, we really didn’t realize what was going on but obviously the success of that song changed my life – Jim Cuddy.

Result: `Try’ went to No.1 on the Canadian Country Music charts and No.6 on the Canadian Singles’ chart. Blue Rodeo won a 1989 Juno Award for Top Single and Top Video for “Try”

Single: `Eyes Of A Stranger’
Album: “No Stranger To Danger”
Label: A&M
Year: 1982
Reason: Ever since they released `China Boys’ I loved this band’s brash street credibility and when their manager, Cliff Jones hustled me into his Vancouver office and played me that hypnotic percussive reggae intro for the first time, I knew they were on to something huge!

Comment: “In the early days of the Payola$, Bob (Rock) did most of the music and I wrote the lyrics. The music was a result of Bob listening to a lot of Bob Marley . When I was putting the words together , I asked myself, `What are the last words I would say to a girl to chat her up’, hence the line “Can I touch you to see if you’re real”. Followed by the equally awkward “Is it nothing this something I feel”. “I thought it was outlandishly corny but the listeners didn’t seem to mind. We both felt the song might not do well because, at that time, there was very little reggae being played on the radio. I am glad we proved them wrong.”- Paul Hyde.

Result: Single went to No.4 in Canada and No.22 on the U.S charts. Payola$ won Most Promising Juno Award in 1983.

Single: `Heaven’
Album: “ Reckless”
Label: A&M
Year 1984
Reason: Bryan Adams has penned an entire catalogue of classic songs, yet the one that sticks out in my conscience is `Heaven’. May be it’s because it was one of his first classic ballads, but for some reason, when I first heard the album “Reckless” this was the one track that hit me. It was no coincidence that `Heaven’ became Bryan’s first U.S No.1 single.

Comment: “Initially written for a terrible film “One Night In Heaven” , the song luckily went on to have international success despite the film.” – Bryan Adams

Result: `Heaven’ went to No 1 in both Canada and the U.S. Bryan won 1985 Juno Awards as Top Male Vocalist , Top Canadian Album and Top Canadian Composer (with Jim Vallance).

Single: `All We Are’
Album: “Akimbo Alogo”
Label: Alert.
Year: 1984
Reason: Even though Mitchell is associated with such hits as `Patio Lanterns’ and `Go For Soda’ anyone who has ever seen Kim perform live knows that a set highlight is his vocal duet with keyboardist Peter Fredette on `All We Are’, a song which ironically was never released as a single off “Akimbo Alogo” – yet in my mind is still Kim’s most outstanding composition.

Comment: “I wrote that song in my apartment at the corner of Queen and Woodbine. Tom Cochrane lived right above me and says he would hear me writing songs and would nick some of my ideas. I had started writing songs on keyboards so I came up with this melody , just hitting the black keys but I realized the song was way out of my vocal range so I shelved it for years. Then Peter Fredette came along and I realized he possessed the right vocal range so I dug it up and we recorded it for `Akimbo Alogo’. It’s Peter’s song, his vocals make that song and it wasn’t even a single off the album, I don’t know why it wasn’t . May be it had some weird time signature or something. To this day, it’s one of my favourite songs.- Kim Mitchell

Result: `All We Are” was never released as a single.

Single: `These Eyes’.
Album: “Wheatfield Soul”.
Label: RCA.
Year: 1969.
Reason: When I first came to Canada from England, The Guess Who’s `These Eyes’ was the first Canadian pop song which even remotely sounded like a British hit. The song’s trademark opening piano riff and vocals reminded me of The Zombies.

Comment: It was Randy Bachman who wrote the piano intro and his initial lyrics titled the song `These Arms’ . Burton Cummings then penned the middle eight arrangement and changed the lyrics to `These Eyes’. The rest, as they say, is history.

Result: `These Eyes’ went to No. 7 in Canada and to No.6 in the U.S singles chart.

Next week we will be publishing the final 6 – Stay Tuned!

– Keith Sharp

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