And Now, Some Canadian Content

(Pictured: Young Gordon Lightfoot, circa 1970.)

(Before we begin: our friend Tim Morrissey told one of the all-time great radio stories in the comments to this week’s post about weekend board operators. Go read it.)

Traveling years ago, I found a Canadian oldies station on the radio. Listening was a little like slipping into an alternate universe, where nearly everything is familiar but a few things are different, in significant ways. (Rather like it is for an American to visit Canada itself.) Canadian media is required to program a certain amount of Canadian content, which means that oldies stations up there are playing a few songs that sound absolutely right for the time period, but largely unfamiliar to an American listener. So, 45 years ago this week, CHWK in Chilliwack, British Columbia, would have sounded very much like an American Top 40 station of the moment, but with some interesting differences.

4. “Ten Pound Note”/Steel River. This Toronto band had been clubbing since 1965, although they didn’t go full-time or get a record deal until 1969. “Ten Pound Note” was their first single and a Top-10 hit across Canada. Although it doesn’t strike me as particularly distinctive in any way, it bubbled under in the States at #109 later in the fall of 1970, as did another single, “Southbound Train,” in the summer of 1971.

6. “Yellow River”/Christie. Another Canadian band. (Well, shit, I guess not. See below.) If you know “Yellow River” at all, you may own Rhino’s Super Hits of the 70s: Have a Nice Day, Volume 4, where it’s the first track. It made #23 on the Hot 100, but I first heard it on the country station my parents listened to, and it wasn’t a bad fit there.

7. “Wigwam”/Bob Dylan. From Self Portrait, an album nobody could figure out in 1970. We know now, of course, that Bob Dylan takes pleasure in confounding expectations, and “Wigwam” surely did. Were it by some other random dude named Bob, it would not have seemed nearly so weird. Despite widespread befuddlement, “Wigwam” became a Top 10 hit in Portland, St. Louis, Boston, Toronto, and Chilliwack, and just missed the Billboard Top 40.

13. “Me and Bobby McGee”/Gordon Lightfoot. A folk troubadour version of the song Janis Joplin would come to own within a few months. Lightfoot’s “Me and Bobby McGee” failed to make a dent in the States; all of the citations for it at ARSA come from Canada.

18. “Down by the River”/Buddy Miles. Canadian content by the back door—this is Neil Young’s song, from Miles’ album Them Changes. I had known about the album for years, but I’d never heard it until a couple of years ago, and holy smokes it’s great, one of the best rock and soul fusions ever made. If your musical experience has been similarly lacking, you can hear the whole thing here. almost all of it here. (“Memphis Train” is missing from the playlist.)

You may be interested to learn that Chilliwack, British Columbia, is not the hometown of the Canadian rock band Chilliwack. They came from Vancouver, which is not far from Chilliwack. It’s as if a band based in Chicago named themselves Schaumburg.

On Another Matter: Trunkworthy, a site I’d never heard of before, published a story earlier this week about the lost Motown works of David Ruffin. After leaving the Temptations (supposedly after being refused top billing, like Diana Ross got with the Supremes), Ruffin cut superlative versions of “I Want You Back” and “Rainy Night in Georgia” that ended up buried in the Motown vaults for 30 years; he also teamed with Stevie Wonder on “Make My Water Boil (Loving You Has Been So Wonderful),” a burner that should have been an enormous hit in 1971. Ruffin made music that could have healed the sick, raised the dead, and brought peace to the world, if it had only been heard. And that’s only a minor exaggeration.

6 responses

  1. “Yellow River”/Christie – ooh, nice.

  2. The Buddy Miles track is unavailable due to the ccount being cancelled.

  3. This is why I like listening to Canadian oldies stations – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogGFzJlRu1Y

  4. David Ruffin is probably my favorite male singer of all time. I’m a sucker for a good gravelly-voiced straight-ahead no-frills soul shouter, and he had that, plus a phenomenal range, topped off with an undercurrent of the deepest sadness that just breaks your heart. He was also, by all accounts, an amazing showman who could be nearly catatonic from drugs backstage, but when it came time to take the stage, he somehow always hit every mark, reached every note, and gave it all he had. That Trunkworthy article showed up as a suggested ad on my Facebook feed, and I wound up listening to his version of “I Want You Back”, and I was blown away by how great it is. (I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about that Stevie Wonder song, I thought it was good, but not really big crossover pop hit material. Still, a Stevie Wonder song written expressly for David Ruffin…how is it even possible that this wasn’t released at the time? Who was minding the store at Motown while Berry Gordy was chasing Diana Ross’s ass all around the globe?)

    Despite my fairly deep familiarity with 70’s top 40 pop hits, I have to admit I’ve never actually heard (though I have heard OF), “Yellow River”. I’ll get around to it one of these days. But not today.

  5. Christie is actually a British band. Jeff Christie had written “Yellow River” and pitched it to the Tremeloes (Christie drummer Mike Blakely is the brother of the late Trems member Alan Blakely) who recorded the song, but decided not to release it. That’s their original backing track on the Christie hit.

    This Dutch TV interview has the whole story:

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