Monday, May 04, 2009

Canadian Cover Content #12: Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!

A week or so ago, I randomly happened across free concerts by BC rockers 54·40 on two consecutive days. First they were playing a free street concert in celebration of the re-opening of Cambie Street, which has been majorly disrupted for over 3 years as the SkyTrain was extended underneath the street to the airport in anticipation of next year's Olympics. The next day I went skiing up at Whistler and I guess they were playing a free show up there too. I have no idea how well they're known outside Canada, but they've been a staple of Canadian rock for well over 20 years with songs like One Day in Your Life, She La, Since When, and their biggest hit Ocean Pearl. One American band that was influenced by them was none other than rock punchline ("cheaper than a blank tape!") Hootie & The Blowfish who scored a major hit with a rote rendition of 54·40's I Go Blind. After watching 54·40 perform their own song live, I had semi-obscure originals on the brain (a fascination that naturally goes hand in hand with my cover song obsession)... with a Canadian spin, of course:

First, here's 54·40's Neil Osborne talking with Danny Michel and Emm Gryner on last year's Under the Covers. Amusing and honest answers about the impact of the Hootie cover. [link removed]

54·40 - I Go Blind
Hootie & The Blowfish - I Go Blind [originally by 54·40]
Perhaps I completely blocked out my high school social studies class, but I didn't realize it until recently that 54·40 takes their name from the 54°40′ N parallel, the border between BC and Alaska, which factored into a territorial dispute between the British and Americans in the first half of the 19th century. In overly simple terms, there was a strong public outcry urging US president James Polk to defend their claim of the entire Oregon territory up to 54°40′ N, hence the slogan "Fifty-four Forty or Fight!" Less excitingly, Hootie and Blowfish got their name from two friends, one that looked like an owl and one with chubby cheeks.

Original Caste - One Tin Soldier [written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter]
Me First & The Gimme Gimmes - One Tin Soldier [originally performed by Original Caste]
Listen children to a story that was written long ago... This anti-war song (valleyfolk vs. mountain men) brings back fuzzy memories from elementary school where this song was a staple of music class and I think was sung annually by the grade 6 kids in concert. Ah, how I don't miss recorders and glockenspiels. Apparently this wasn't unique to our school as I recently talked to a friend who also sang this at their school every year around Remembrance Day. Was this a local thing or all across Canada? I just found out a couple weeks ago that One Tin Soldier was first recorded by Original Caste, a folk group from Calgary, which may explain a proximity influence on classrooms throughout Alberta. It was later a hit for the American band Coven in the early 70s. Me First & The Gimme Gimmes do their usual thing... not that there's anything wrong with that-- in fact, I love it!

The Temptations - War [written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong]
D.O.A. - War [originally performed by The Temptations]
War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothin'! The most famous version was performed by Edwin Starr, though I was a little stunned to learn it was first recorded and released by The Temptations. Apparently the original version was withheld as a single because the label didn't want to invite any potential controversy for The Temptations regarding the anti-Vietnam War anthem, so it was re-recorded by labelmate Edwin Starr, for whom it went to #1 on the US Billboard charts. Seminal Vancouver punk band D.O.A. recorded this cover for their 1982 release War on 45.

The Eleventh Hour - Lady Marmalade [written by Bob Crewe & Kenny Nolan]
Don Gillis - Lady Marmalade [originally performed by The Eleventh Hour]
Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir? Growing up with mandatory French classes (our second official language), I doubt most Canadian kids need any help deciphering the chorus to Lady Marmalade, which was a hit for Labelle and was later revived in 2001 when Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mya, and Pink covered it for the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. However, the very first recording was by the Eleventh Hour, a downtempo funk version which is quite different when compared to later incarnations. The other cover is from Canadian composer/arranger Don Gillis, which I snagged from the It Came From Canada, an amazing site for ultra obscure Canadian acts. There are some cover song nuggets like this one if you dig around, but be prepared to lose yourself for a while. It should be noted that Don Gillis was also the musical director for Fraggle Rock and even had a Fraggle named after him! You should also check out Funky16Corners for an all-French cover by Québec-based New Yorker Nanette Workman, who once sang back-up for the Rolling Stones.

Otis Rush - Keep On Lovin' Me Baby
Colin James - Keep On Lovin' Me Baby [originally by Otis Rush]
Canadian blues rocker Colin James gets plenty of regular play on our rock radio stations with Keep On Lovin' Me Baby from his 1990 album Sudden Stop, but I just found out a few months ago it is actually a cover of blues guitarist Otis Rush. A little band called Led Zeppelin also covered the Otis Rush song I Can't Quit You Baby on their self-titled debut.

Indio - Hard Sun
Eddie Vedder - Hard Sun [originally by Indio]
Jon Krakauer 's non-fiction bestseller Into the Wild that later became the award-winning film of the same name tells the story of young Christopher McCandless who gave away his life savings to charity, hitchhiked across the US, then headed into the Alaskan wilderness to live off the land. Hunters later found his body in an abandoned bus where he starved to death, possibly after ingesting a poisonous plant. Sean Penn, who wrote and directed the film, had personally called Krakauer when the book originally came out, but waited 10 years to get permission from the McCandless family before embarking on production. He hand-picked Eddie Vedder to write the soundtrack, which featured a cover song Hard Sun with Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney on back-up vocals. Hard Sun was originally by Ontario singer-songwriter Gordon Peterson (AKA Indio) from his one and only album 1989's Big Harvest, which happened to feature Joni Mitchell on backing vocals. Here's an interesting article from last year about Peterson who retreated into a life of anonymity, whereabouts unknown...


monorail77 said...

Great post but...

It was May the 4th. What happened to the annual Star Wars related covers (May the Fourth Be With You)? It was two years to the day since I discovered your excellent blog (thanks to a handy IMDb link) and I even had the day booked in my Outlook calendar to check your blog. I thought for sure you'd do something Star-Warsy. I was hoping for it. I was counting on it. I didn't receive it. I was sad.

What happened? Did you run out of material or interest? Did those DMCA takedown notices awhile back have a chilling effect? Did you forget? I hope you just forgot and are busily working to remedy the oversight.

Still, you gotta love some CanCon. Go Oilers! Erm, I mean, Go Canucks!

Fongolia said...

Sorry to disappoint you, but I almost completely forgot! Well, I did completely forget until about 1am on May 4th when I looked at my watch and realized what day it was. By then, I had already committed to the 54-40 post (which coincidentally matched up with 05/04 kinda) and couldn't pull out a Star Wars post in time.

Tell you what, I'll try and cook something up for May 25th, the anniversary of the release of Star Wars. I'll mark it down on my calendar.

monorail77 said...

Sweet! May 25 it is.

Love the blog anyway. Thanks. Have fun in Vegas.

Shannon said...

Thanks for your post. I'm on the hunt for Canadian material to cover! :)

Fongolia said...

You're very welcome! I look forward to hearing whatever CanCon you decide to cover. I just listened to your cover of Just a Girl and loved it!