Friday, March 14, 2008

Guilty Pleasures Part Six - Worthwhile Canadian Initiative/Singles Band Edition

I'm sure someone has written a definitive treatise on Canadian rock and roll figures, but it won't be me. I do know this -- Canada has produced more than its share of very good acts, including major figures like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and The Band. Besides these luminaries, there were others, most notably Rush.

But in some respects, the quintessential Canadian band was The Guess Who, who came out of Winnipeg in the early 1960s and first hit it big in the U.S. with "Shakin' All Over" in 1965. While the lineup changed over the years, the key players were keyboardist Burton Cummings and guitarist Randy Bachmann, who were both exceptional musicians. It would be another four years before they hit the charts again with "These Eyes" in 1969, but after that they were a regular presence on the U.S. charts for the next five years. It's easy to forget how big an act they actually were and how many hits they had, but when you start to list them, you realize two things: they were very good and astonishingly consistent. Most casual rock fans know probably a dozen songs well -- "Undun," "No Sugar Tonight," "American Woman," "Laughing," "Hand Me Down World" and even their slightly sad swan song on the U.S. charts, "Clap For the Wolfman," a tribute the famous d.j. Wolfman Jack. If you turn on any classic rock station in America and listen for three hours, there's a better than even money chance you'll hear a Guess Who song. Other than maybe Three Dog Night or Creedence Clearwater Revival, I can't think of another band that was as successful during that era. Like most of the Canadian rock stars, these guys weren't especially fashion conscious, but they sure could play.

About the time the Guess Who started to fade from the scene, our second contestant emerged from the British Midlands. The Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) formed when Roy Wood of The Move joined forces with Jeff Lynne, who had been at the helm of another Birmingham band known as The Idle Race. Wood and Lynne had been heavily influenced by late-period Beatles music and were especially interested in adding orchestral elements to rock structures. It took a while for the project to mesh, but once it did ELO became a constant factor on the radio in the 1970s. Although ELO albums were filled with orchestral flourishes and concept album touches galore, they were, like The Guess Who, a singles band, consistently capable of coming up with 3-4 minutes of something interesting, beautiful and/or hook-filled. They hit the Top Twenty on the U.S. charts 15 times in their career, although interestingly they never got to #1. The band has been operating off and on ever since its founding, but their moment really was the 1970s. Jeff Lynne has also had significant success as a producer for other acts and was the secret weapon behind the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys.

So let's play. Here are your choices:

First, from late 1973, "Star Baby" from The Guess Who, as nominated by the intrepid Daria of Boots On fame.


From 1976, a favorite slow song at innumerable desultory high school dances that I attended, "Telephone Line" from ELO.

Cast your votes. Next up -- Moments of Pure Genius.


Right Hook said...

Have to go for The Guess Who in this case as the ELO selection is sleep inducing, but probably would have gone for ELO if their entry had been their cover of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven".

Maybe "covers" as future catagory?

Is there any doubt that Burton Cummings is a product of a Catholic school? I have never seen anyone maintain such perfect sitting posture, let alone at a piano performing a rather involved piece. Sister Digna would be proud!

Right Hook said...

...Or maybe "cover vs original" would be more interesting as it would be closer to the proverbial "apples to apples" comparison than just at the level of genre.

Mark said...

That's an excellent idea, RH. I can think of several relevant examples.

p.s. sorry I missed Knuthapalooza; I'm working on something this morning and can't be there.

Strolling Amok said...

Since this is a 'guilty pleasures' competition I'm have to go with ELO. I like them both, but ELO is the one I feel bad about liking. I've always wanted to hate them but I just can't. Although, if you'd really wanted to make me feel guilty about voting for something you should have used 'Xanadu'.

Daria said...

I intrepidly vote for the Guess Who.

The Knuthapalooza was about as expected but with a few more, shall we say non-supporters in the audience. She does not tap dance well.

- D