vern's verbal vibe


Thoughts from Toronto singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Vern Nicholson. I pontificate mostly on music (of course), with a smattering of sports, language and other fun miscellany.

The (Nearly) Complete Woodstock 

This August marked the 50th anniversary of the iconic Woodstock Festival, and though the proposed commemorative concert failed to materialize, Rhino Records put out a nearly complete chronicle of the original this summer.

And I, noted Woodstock obsessive, couldn't afford it. And only 1,969 were made. And it sold out within weeks. And they're not making more. Ever. As stagehand Muskrat intoned on the original triple album, "Hmm. Bummer, bummer!" Want to weep along with me? Here's a glowing review of that 38-CD set.

But! The good Lord intervened just in time. First, I discovered a geeky forum replete with fellow obsessives: some who'd bought the box, others who wished they had. And a few days before the anniversary, some kind soul posted this magic sentence: "Full Woodstock recording to air on WXPN at exact time of original festival."

Like many FM stations, WXPN streams live, 24/7—one of the advantages of living in 2019, not 1969. The advance notice gave me a few days to figure out how to connect my Zoom H1, laptop and speakers. I also did a test to make sure my Zoom would record without shutting off for eight hours, because some sets would be broadcast while I was asleep. I was in it to win it. And on Thursday, August 15, 2019 at 5:07 p.m. EDT, 50 years to the second, my three and a half days of recording began with Richie Havens' opener, "From the Prison."

Variously dubbed "Woodstock as It Happened: 50 Years On" and "XPNstock," the extravaganza preempted much of WXPN's regular programming; they broadcast 37 of the 38 discs. (Disc 38 contains no music, consisting of stage announcements and other ephemera that the producers couldn't place in chronological sequence.) And thanks to WXPN, Rhino Records and whoever else conspired to create this wondrous occurrence, I captured it all. Yes, it's a compressed radio stream, not quite the pristine audio found on the CDs, but for zero dollars, I'll take it. Happily.

Little did I know that my raw recordings would be but the start of my odyssey. At a bare minimum I had to clean up the start and end of each set, having hit "record" early and "stop" late to ensure I got everything. I also brightened the sound a touch with some judicious EQ while rolling off some murk on the bottom end. The stream went down only once, during Arlo Guthrie's "Wheel of Fortune" on Day 1. Thankfully, I was able to patch that song in from my copy of the 40th anniversary box set. There were also numerous instances of stream stutter to fix. No audio was missing, but occasional gaps of silence, lasting anywhere from a tenth of a second to three seconds, needed repair. I stitched these gaps together in Audacity, which took a lot of patience and diligent listening.

Being a good citizen—and wanting to maintain their licence—WXPN silenced any profanity found within the 37 discs. To create an accurate facsimile of the box set, I had to find ways of patching in the dirty words whenever possible. In two instances, this meant finding missing songs: both Country Joe McDonald (solo) and Country Joe & the Fish did the infamous "Fish Cheer," and neither was broadcast on WXPN. (For the uninitiated, the word they spell isn't "fish" but another four-letter word beginning with F.) In addition, I wanted to excise the many station IDs and promos from my recordings, some of which obliterated the first or final few notes of a song. Deleting the IDs/promos was easy, but again, I had to patch in the missing material from other sources. Finally, perhaps because it's such a ramshackle performance, WXPN didn't broadcast Tim Hardin's 16-minute "Snow White Lady." I patched that in from YouTube.

You'll recall that off the top, I said "nearly complete." So, what's missing from the 38-CD box and, by extension, XPNstock? Three and a half songs. Half of Sha Na Na's "Little Darlin'" and all of "Teenager in Love" were not recorded in 1969. Yep, after almost four sleepless days, Eddie Kramer and his onsite team finally screwed up and let the tape run out, and if there's any Woodstock act for which that's forgivable, Sha Na Na gets my vote.

The other two missing songs are from Jimi Hendrix's set. Sung by rhythm guitarist Larry Lee, the Hendrix estate refuses to sanction their release "for aesthetic reasons." Now, I'm not one to lead you into the dark underworld of unauthorized recordings, but if you google "larry lee gypsy woman soundcloud," you might stumble on the rarest Woodstock recording of all. And were you to figure out a way to record that audio, you too would be in possession of a song absent from the 38-CD box. (I'm still hunting for "Mastermind," the other Larry Lee song.)

Words cannot express how grateful I am to WXPN for taking three and a half days out of their regular schedule to give us the gift of XPNstock. Kudos are also, of course, due the box set's producers/engineers Andy Zax, Brian Kehew, Dave Schultz for their yeoman's restoration of the entire festival. The deep dives these boys took knew no bounds: for instance, they sifted through photographic evidence to ensure that their instrument placement in the stereo field was accurate. Much of the music performed at Woodstock was magnificent, and thanks to Messrs. Zax, Kehew and Schultz, it has never sounded better.

In interviews, Andy Zax revealed that some audio material was salvaged by technical marvels that have only recently come into existence. Ever heard of de-mixing? How about polyphonic tuning? Me neither, but the former was used to create a stereo mix of Ravi Shankar's performance from a gritty mono soundboard reel. The latter helped Zax and crew take Blood, Sweat & Tears' horns, which were out of tune in different directions, and "nudge the tonality of the horns to get them back into a sound range that the human ear would prefer to hear." In both cases, the results are miraculous. Or as Zax said, "To me, this is like magic science fiction stuff. It's like the Great Gazoo descended down, waved a magic wand, and suddenly here's this remarkable thing!"

Oh, and while he was at it, the Great Gazoo, or God if you prefer, gave us XPNstock, enabling me to construct a poor man's version of Woodstock – Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive. I still wish I'd splurged for the box. But with copies now going for close to $3,500 US, that ship has sailed and in the end, I think I've ended up with something more worthwhile—tasty, cleaned-up recordings that I had a hand in creating. I like to think of my painstaking audio editing as a microcosm of the producers' stellar work.

Now that my work is done, I can sit back and enjoy Woodstock as a listening experience. I know I've babbled on a bit and not discussed the music much. Suffice it to say that the vast majority of these artists were at or near their peak in 1969, and most of this music is great. Some is truly staggering. I point to one stretch from late Saturday night into Sunday afternoon that's jaw-dropping when heard in sequence. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Joe Cocker not only wowed those lucky attendees in 1969, but gave us some of the most iconic moments in rock history. I heartily recommend you seek out their full sets; all but The Who have been officially released (beyond the now-unavailable 38-CD set).

Fundraiser: Keep Muswell Well 

As many of you know, my beloved cat Muswell was diagnosed with kidney disease last November. He was in rough shape then and was put on a regimen of pills, powders and injections. With loving care and extensive veterinary treatment, his condition has stabilized and he's maintaining an excellent quality of life. We have truly kept Muswell well. But this treatment is expensive, and that's why I'm fundraising for Muswell's care.

Muswell is 15 years old, and he's an adorable, affectionate orange tabby. I've often said that he's a puppy in a cat's body. I have come to realize that he's more to me than a beloved pet. Muswell is my emotional support animal. He brings joy, warmth and comfort to my often challenging life. I aim to keep him well, and you can help. Any amount makes a difference. $5 buys a month of amlodipine, his blood pressure medication. For $10, you can give Muswell a month's supply of antacid and laxative. $20 pays for two weeks of mirtazapine, the appetite stimulant that ensures he keeps eating.

To learn more and give a gift of any amount to keep Muswell well, visit our campaign page: GoFundMe is secure, easy to use and accepts credit and debit card donations. If you'd rather donate by PayPal, cash or cheque, let me know and we'll make arrangements. All donations will go directly to Muswell's vet and medical bills. You will give a precious animal the gift of health and provide much-needed comfort and peace of mind to his human companion. Thank you!

Rediscovering 1972 

"I listen to CHUM."

In the early '70s, my local Top 40 outlet had a contest whereby if you answered your phone in this way and they were the caller, you'd win $1,000. It struck me as ill-mannered to say anything other than "hello" when picking up the phone, and anyway, CHUM never called. But despite my reluctance to give them free advertising whenever the phone rang, I certainly spent 1972 listening to CHUM. So, for the final instalment in the music-of-my-youth trilogy, I present my Top 100 of 1972, the last great year of the Top 40 era. And as good as 1972 is, intimations of the decay to come were already festering. To be blunt, the goop was overtaking the gold, and things would only get worse from here.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the charts of 1973—and to a lesser extent, '74 and '75—contain many great songs. However, the goop-to-gold ratio had definitively tipped in the wrong direction, and by 1976 my Top 40 party was over. "Soft rock," an oxymoron if ever there was one, now dominated the airwaves, making them unbearably saccharine. If I recall, the last 45 I ever bought was "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band and I recall giving it a spin and asking, "Why did I buy this?" Sadder still, the dynamite, socially conscious soul and funk of the early '70s had now devolved into disco, which managed to dumb down the groove and the words. I suppose by then I had moved on in other ways, too. Like any self-respecting teenager in the mid-'70s, I'd discovered album rock and FM radio. Which, from this distance—scouring my collection for the Foreigner albums I parted with long ago—was no better than the Top 40; just a different flavour of slick, soppy pablum. All these years later, to paraphrase Mr. Johnny Nash, I can see clearly now why punk had to happen. That, though, is another post for another day.

If you've read this far, you may have noticed several number-one songs missing from my Top 100 of 1970, '71 and '72. I have nothing against chart-toppers as such, but especially then it seemed that the dreck rose to the top far too often. Countless killer songs stalled at #2 because The Osmonds, Tony Orlando & Dawn, The Bee Gees, Bread and their ilk hogged the top spot. When CHUM played any of these (and boy, they did), I changed the station, and you won't find them within miles of my Top 100. Anyway, for what it's worth, this time out I've bunched together five of 1972's number-one songs on my Top 100 below to give you a sense of what CHUM considered the crème de la crème, non-Osmond genus.

The songs are in no particular order, other than what makes sense to me as a playlist. Several singles released in 1972 didn't chart until 1973 on CHUM, and some very late in that year, too. Regardless, they properly belong to 1972 and so are included here. In brackets is the date the song debuted on the CHUM chart, followed by its peak chart position. Chart-topping songs are in bold. A few worthy songs didn't make the CHUM chart, but I heard them somehow. They may have charted on other regional stations I listened to. As for the rest, they're worthy tunes I encountered later that deserved a better fate. Explore, discover and enjoy the very best of 1972!

  1. Joy - Apollo 100 (1/15/72, #6)
  2. You Wear It Well - Rod Stewart (9/23/72, #11)
  3. Sweet Seasons - Carole King (1/29/72, #12)
  4. Doctor, My Eyes - Jackson Browne (4/8/72, #2)
  5. Treetrunk - The Doors (did not chart)
  6. Black and White - Three Dog Night (8/19/72, #1)
  7. I Believe in Music - Gallery (10/14/72, #12)
  8. Roundabout - Yes (3/18/72, #5)
  9. I Gotcha - Joe Tex (3/4/72, #7)
  10. You're Still a Young Man - Tower of Power (7/15/72, #17)
  11. I'm Still in Love with You - Al Green (8/5/72, #12)
  12. Hold Your Head Up - Argent (8/5/72, #6)
  13. Me and Julio down by the Schoolyard - Paul Simon (5/13/72, #19)
  14. Hello It's Me - Todd Rundgren (11/17/73, #7)
  15. Do It Again - Steely Dan (1/27/73, #7)
  16. Cousin Mary - Fludd (11/3/73, #19)
  17. Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels) - Jim Croce (12/2/72, #18)
  18. Old Man - Neil Young (5/6/72, #11)
  19. Ventura Highway - America (11/25/72, #5)
  20. Go All the Way - Raspberries  (8/12/72, #9)
  21. How Do You Do - Mouth & MacNeal (6/3/72, #3)
  22. Saturday in the Park - Chicago (8/5/72, #2)
  23. Walk on the Wild Side - Lou Reed (4/14/73, #9)
  24. School's Out - Alice Cooper (7/29/72, #1)
  25. Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple (6/30/73, #5)
  26. Long John Silver - Jefferson Airplane (did not chart)
  27. We've Got to Get It on Again - The Addrisi Brothers (1/22/72, #5)
  28. Superstition - Stevie Wonder (12/30/72, #3)
  29. Oh Girl - The Chi-Lites (4/15/72, #1)
  30. Could It Be I'm Falling in Love - The Spinners (2/3/73, #8)
  31. Too Late to Turn Back Now - Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (6/10/72, #5)
  32. Listen to the Music - The Doobie Brothers (10/21/72, #6)
  33. Bad Side of the Moon - April Wine (7/8/72, #16)
  34. Beautiful Sunday - Daniel Boone (7/15/72, #2)
  35. Changes - David Bowie (did not chart)
  36. Conquistador - Procol Harum (6/3/72, #7)
  37. Clean Up Woman - Betty Wright (1/1/72, #4)
  38. Superfly - Curtis Mayfield (did not chart)
  39. Let's Stay Together - Al Green (1/1/72, #2)
  40. Backstabbers - The O'Jays (8/19/72, #4)
  41. The Cisco Kid - War (4/14/73, #4)
  42. I'll Take You There - The Staple Singers (4/29/72, #10)
  43. Take It Easy - The Eagles (6/10/72, #12)
  44. Dunrobin's Gone - Brave Belt (7/1/72, #23)
  45. Guns, Guns, Guns - The Guess Who (did not chart)
  46. The Family of Man - Three Dog Night (3/25/72, #2)
  47. Someday Never Comes - Creedence Clearwater Revival (5/13/72, #15)
  48. Long Cool Woman - The Hollies (6/24/72, #3)
  49. The Lion Sleeps Tonight - Robert John (1/22/72, #3)
  50. Summer Breeze - Seals & Crofts (10/28/72, #1)
  51. Precious and Few - Climax (1/15/72, #1)
  52. I'm Gonna Love You Too - Terry Jacks (12/16/72, #12)
  53. Masquerade - Edward Bear (6/3/72, #14)
  54. (Make Me Do) Anything You Want - A Foot in Coldwater (7/1/72, #21)
  55. Rock and Roll Song - Valdy (10/21/72, #21)
  56. Sun Goes By - Dr. Music (7/8/72, #17)
  57. Day by Day - Godspell (7/8/72, #8)
  58. Time in a Bottle - Jim Croce (12/15/73, #8)
  59. Goodbye to Love - Carpenters (8/5/72, #6)
  60. The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face - Roberta Flack (3/18/72, #1)
  61. Betcha by Golly Wow - The Stylistics (3/18/72, #6)
  62. Bang a Gong (Get It On) - T. Rex (2/5/72, #8)
  63. Get Up, Get Out, Move On - Fludd (4/8/72, #18)
  64. Rocket Man - Elton John (6/24/72, #7)
  65. Beautiful - Gordon Lightfoot (5/27/72, #17)
  66. Suavecito - Malo (3/18/72, #8)
  67. If You Don't Know Me by Now - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (11/18/72, #4)
  68. You Ought to Be with Me - Al Green (12/9/72, #20)
  69. Lean on Me - Bill Withers (6/17/72, #1)
  70. Why Can't We Live Together - Timmy Thomas (1/6/73, #1)
  71. Heart of Gold - Neil Young (2/12/72, #1)
  72. Alone Again (Naturally) - Gilbert O'Sullivan (6/24/72, #1)
  73. I Can See Clearly Now - Johnny Nash (10/14/72, #1) 
  74. Sylvia's Mother - Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show (4/15/72, #2)
  75. Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) - Looking Glass (6/10/72, #3)
  76. I Saw the Light - Todd Rundgren (5/6/72, #18)
  77. Baby Blue - Badfinger (4/1/72, #12)
  78. Drowning in the Sea of Love - Joe Simon (1/8/72, #17)
  79. Get on the Good Foot - James Brown (did not chart)
  80. Troglodyte (Cave Man) - The Jimmy Castor Bunch (5/27/72, #3)
  81. Runnin' Away - Sly & the Family Stone (2/19/72, #19)
  82. Take the Blindness - Joey Gregorash (11/11/72, #17)
  83. One More Chance - Ocean (9/16/72, #15)
  84. Cotton Jenny - Anne Murray (2/12/72, #18)
  85. Daytime Nighttime - Keith Hampshire (11/18/72, #6)
  86. Runnin' Back to Saskatoon - The Guess Who (9/23/72, #5)
  87. City of New Orleans - Arlo Guthrie (10/14/72, #6)
  88. Use Me - Bill Withers (9/23/72, #9)
  89. Everybody Plays the Fool - The Main Ingredient (8/26/72, #6)
  90. Tumbling Dice - The Rolling Stones (4/22/72, #11)
  91. You Could Have Been a Lady - April Wine (3/11/72, #6)
  92. Mother and Child Reunion - Paul Simon (2/12/72, #4)
  93. America - Yes (did not chart)
  94. Isn't Life Strange - The Moody Blues (4/29/72, #17)
  95. Never Been to Spain - Three Dog Night (1/1/72, #4)
  96. Look What You Done for Me - Al Green (4/29/72, #19)
  97. Freddie's Dead - Curtis Mayfield (11/11/72, #17)
  98. Papa Was a Rollin' Stone - The Temptations (11/25/72, #1)
  99. Vincent - Don McLean (4/22/72, #5)
  100. Amazing Grace - The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (5/20/72, #1)

Rediscovering 1971 

In my previous post on 1970, I mentioned that the transistor radio I received at Christmas was nothing short of a revelation. By 1971, the artists were my prophets and local Top 40 outlet CHUM and its charts, my bible. Perhaps because 1971 was my first full year of tuning in and turning on, I run out of superlatives to describe this extraordinary year in the annals of popular music.

And yeah, I know: everyone believes the music of their youth is the greatest music ever made. Fair enough, but dip into the hundred awesome songs below and tell me I'm wrong. If you're still unconvinced, David Hepworth's Never a Dull Moment: 1971—Rock's Golden Year might sway you. I mean, come on: what other year in rock history has its own book? Now, Hepworth's 1971 is, on the surface, not much like mine. He's a Brit, and as a 21-year-old then, his album-oriented listening overlapped little with that of a nine-year-old Canadian kid grooving to Top 40 radio. Still, we agree that in his words, "1971 saw an unrepeatable surge of musical creativity, technological innovation, naked ambition and outrageous good fortune that combined to produce music that still crackles with relevance today." Right on, brother.

In a more esoteric way, you know a year is special when three distinct songs named "Superstar" hit the charts within seven months. Of course, I couldn't resist placing them back-to-back-to-back on my Top 100, for they showcase the diversity and raw creativity that exemplifies 1971. And locally at least, the introduction of Canadian content regulations (CanCon) that January was to influence the CHUM charts in 1971 and beyond. Canadian radio now had to play at least 30% homegrown music, and as a result a few fabulous obscurities charted, if just barely. (Example: "You're Gonna Miss Me" by Toronto band Wishbone, which should have been a bigger hit and not just in Canada.) In tribute, I've sprinkled my Top 100 with a few CanCon clumps.

As is customary for the early '70s, 1971's charts are graced with some spectacular one-hit wonders. Say hello/goodbye to Ashton, Gardner & Dyke, King Floyd, The Beginning of the End, Wadsworth Mansion, The 8th Day, The Glass Bottle and Daddy Dewdrop. And as someone who heard King Floyd long before Pink Floyd, I should note that at this point I still hadn't heard The Beatles. Fortunately, the music that came in their immediate wake was so stunning that had I known about them, I'd not have missed them much. Nor would I have fretted over hearing Richie Havens' "Here Comes the Sun" (April 1971, #8 on CHUM) well before encountering the original on Abbey Road. Regardless, the individual Beatles arguably peaked as solo artists this year as well, and you'll find all four in their very own John, Paul, George and Ringo section of my Top 100 of 1971.

The songs are in no particular order, other than what makes sense to me as a playlist. A few songs released in 1971 didn't chart until early 1972 on CHUM. Regardless, they properly belong to 1971 and so are included here. For similar reasons, "Your Song," released in late 1970, has been bumped into 1971. In brackets is the date the song debuted on the CHUM chart, followed by its peak chart position. Chart-topping songs are in bold. A few worthy songs didn't make the CHUM chart, but I heard them somehow. Some were double-A sides; others probably charted on regional Top 40 stations I listened to. Come explore, discover and enjoy the sweet sounds of rock's golden year, 1971!

  1. Sweet Hitch-Hiker - Creedence Clearwater Revival (7/17/71, #8)
  2. Joy to the World - Three Dog Night (4/3/71, #1)
  3. Brown Sugar - The Rolling Stones (5/1/71, #1)
  4. You're Gonna Miss Me - Wishbone (6/5/71, #22)
  5. Broken - The Guess Who (did not chart)
  6. Woodstock - Matthews' Southern Comfort (3/20/71, #4)
  7. Draggin' the Line - Tommy James (6/19/71, #2)
  8. Theme from Shaft - Isaac Hayes (10/2/71, #2)
  9. For All We Know - Carpenters (2/27/71, #7)
  10. Sunshine - Jonathan Edwards (11/20/71, #2)
  11. Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers (7/31/71, #6)
  12. Here Comes the Sun - Richie Havens (4/21/71, #8)
  13. Morning Has Broken - Cat Stevens (4/22/72, #2)
  14. Don't Pull Your Love - Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (6/12/71, #1)
  15. Groove Me - King Floyd (1/2/71, #5)
  16. Want Ads - Honey Cone (5/1/71, #4)
  17. Rock Steady - Aretha Franklin (11/6/71, #4)
  18. Funky Nassau (Pt. 1) - The Beginning of the End (5/15/71, #8)
  19. Get It On - Chase (7/3/71, #16)
  20. Resurrection Shuffle - Ashton, Gardner & Dyke (7/10/71, #7)
  21. Everybody's Everything - Santana (10/30/71, #10)
  22. It's Too Late - Carole King (5/22/71, #5)
  23. Anticipation - Carly Simon (12/18/71, #7)
  24. You've Got a Friend - James Taylor (6/26/71, #2)
  25. Signs - Five Man Electrical Band (5/29/71, #3)
  26. I'd Love to Change the World - Ten Years After (10/9/71, #4)
  27. Sweet Mary - Wadsworth Mansion (1/9/71, #2)
  28. Hey Big Brother - Rare Earth (12/11/71, #8)
  29. (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People - The Chi-Lites (5/29/71, #12)
  30. Imagine - John Lennon (9/11/71, #3)
  31. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey - Paul & Linda McCartney (7/17/71, #1)
  32. What Is Life - George Harrison (2/27/71, #5)
  33. It Don't Come Easy - Ringo Starr (5/8/71, #5)
  34. Albert Flasher - The Guess Who (4/24/71, #5)
  35. An Old Fashioned Love Song - Three Dog Night (10/30/71, #5)
  36. Me and You and a Dog Named Boo - Lobo (4/24/71, #7)
  37. What's Going On - Marvin Gaye (3/13/71, #10)
  38. Respect Yourself - The Staple Singers (11/20/71, #12)
  39. Turned 21 - Fludd (11/27/71, #16)
  40. Lovin' You Ain't Easy - Pagliaro (11/6/71, #9)
  41. Ain't It a Sad Thing - R. Dean Taylor (1/30/71, #21)
  42. Carry Me - The Stampeders (3/6/71, #10)
  43. Amos Moses - Jerry Reed (1/23/71, #5)
  44. It's a Cryin' Shame - Gayle McCormick (11/13/71, #22)
  45. Stay with Me - Faces (12/25/71, #7)
  46. One Fine Morning - Lighthouse (9/4/71, #13)
  47. Family Affair - Sly & the Family Stone (11/13/71, #8)
  48. If You Really Love Me - Stevie Wonder (9/4/71, #4)
  49. She's Not Just Another Woman - The 8th Day (6/19/71, #14)
  50. Treat Her Like a Lady - Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (4/24/71, #13)
  51. She's a Lady - Tom Jones (2/13/71, #1)
  52. Love Her Madly - The Doors (4/17/71, #7)
  53. Two Divided by Love - The Grass Roots (10/2/71, #3)
  54. The Story in Your Eyes - The Moody Blues (8/28/71, #14)
  55. Day After Day - Badfinger (12/4/71, #3)
  56. So Far Away - Carole King (9/4/71, #12)
  57. Fly Across the Sea - Edward Bear (12/25/71, #22)
  58. Carey - Joni Mitchell (did not chart)
  59. Fast Train - April Wine (6/12/71, #23)
  60. Rain Dance - The Guess Who (8/7/71, #3)
  61. Indian Reservation - Raiders (5/29/71, #1)
  62. Do You Know What I Mean - Lee Michaels (8/21/71, #7)
  63. Superstar - Carpenters (9/4/71, #3)
  64. Superstar - Murray Head (5/8/71, #1)
  65. Superstar - The Temptations (12/4/71, #13)
  66. Mr. Bojangles - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1/23/71, #10)
  67. One Toke over the Line - Brewer & Shipley (2/27/71, #11)
  68. Moonshadow - Cat Stevens (8/7/71, #23)
  69. Chick-A-Boom (Don't Ya Jes' Love It) - Daddy Dewdrop (4/3/71, #3)
  70. Trapped by a Thing Called Love - Denise LaSalle (10/9/71, #21)
  71. Have You Seen Her - The Chi-Lites (11/13/71, #1)
  72. Proud Mary - Ike & Tina Turner (2/27/71, #3)
  73. If You Could Read My Mind - Gordon Lightfoot (1/2/71, #6)
  74. Jodie - Joey Gregorash (4/10/71, #11)
  75. Absolutely Right - Five Man Electrical Band (10/9/71, #6)
  76. Oh What a Feeling - Crowbar (3/27/71, #14)
  77. I Ain't Got Time Anymore - The Glass Bottle (8/14/71, #17)
  78. Maggie May - Rod Stewart (8/21/71, #1)
  79. I Just Want to Celebrate - Rare Earth (8/7/71, #13)
  80. Sweet City Woman - The Stampeders (7/10/71, #1)
  81. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down - Joan Baez (8/21/71, #2)
  82. Wild Night - Van Morrison (10/30/71, #17)
  83. Your Song - Elton John (12/26/70, #4)
  84. Sour Suite - The Guess Who (10/30/71, #7)
  85. Liar - Three Dog Night (7/10/71, #4)
  86. Peace Train - Cat Stevens (10/9/71, #7)
  87. Tired of Being Alone - Al Green (10/2/71, #8)
  88. Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who (8/21/71, #6)
  89. Lucky Man - Emerson, Lake & Palmer (5/8/71, #7)
  90. American Pie - Don McLean (11/27/71, #1)
  91. I Feel the Earth Move - Carole King (did not chart)
  92. Heavy Makes You Happy - The Staple Singers (3/6/71, #19)
  93. You Are Everything - The Stylistics (12/25/71, #4)
  94. Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) - The Temptations (2/20/71, #13)
  95. Smiling Faces Sometimes - The Undisputed Truth (7/31/71, #4)
  96. Slippin' into Darkness - War (4/15/72, #4)
  97. Riders on the Storm - The Doors (7/24/71, #1)
  98. Put Your Hand in the Hand - Ocean (1/23/71, #1)
  99. One More Mountain to Climb - Dr. Music (did not chart)
  100. Wedding Song (There Is Love) - Paul Stookey (9/18/71, #7)

Rediscovering 1970 

On Christmas Day, 1970, I received a Westinghouse transistor radio as a gift from my grandparents. I was nine years old, and little did they know what they were about to unleash. I inserted the supplied AA batteries, turned it on and tuned in 1050 CHUM, Toronto's Top 40 powerhouse. I discovered rock 'n' roll, and my life would never be the same.

What I heard that afternoon was probably something like this J. Michael Wilson aircheck from December 23. And if perchance CHUM was playing something drippy like The Partridge Family, four alternatives were on offer: 790 CHIC (Brampton), 1150 CKOC (Hamilton), 1280 CHAM (Hamilton) and 1430 CKFH (Toronto).

Fast forward 49 years and with the help of the CHUM Tribute site, I'm rediscovering the music of my youth, creating my personal Top 100 for 1970, 1971 and 1972. I consider these the prime years. From 1973 onward, the music grew increasingly saccharine. Then came disco. Regardless, I just downloaded every CHUM chart from January 3, 1970 till they stopped publishing them in mid-1975. I consider them pure gold: touchstones of my youth that I never expected to see again. I've been scouring the charts, especially their lower reaches, for obscurities I missed when I first assembled my playlists for the big three years, and I found some gems that fleshed out my Top 100.

So ... what can I say about 1970? I feel rather unqualified to discuss the year as a whole because I only signed up in the last week. I'm in the strange position of having heard The Beatles' debut solo singles before I'd heard of The Beatles. I remember thinking, sometime in 1973 maybe, "You mean John, Paul, George and Ringo were all in the same band once? Wow. I should check them out." And that, of course, sent me on another wonderful journey. Certainly, the breakup of The Beatles is the single biggest musical story of the year, followed by the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. But 1970 is, as you'll discover below, so much more than that. Here you'll find pile-driving rockers, bubblegum classics, killer pop songs and the first stirrings of soul mutating into funk, not to mention a few oddball novelties. This was a time when white and black musics sat side by side on the charts in their many guises: soul, funk, rock, gospel, pop, folk, country and more. Music wasn't segregated and segmented as it is now. From fuzzed-out guitars to funky grooves to lush orchestral passages, 1970 has it all.

My Top 100 is in no particular order, other than what makes sense to me as a playlist. The nine songs that kick it off are among the first I ever heard, which is why I've given them prominence. A few songs released in 1970 didn't chart until early or even mid-1971 on CHUM. Regardless, they properly belong to 1970 and so are included here. In brackets is the date the song debuted on the CHUM chart, followed by its peak chart position. Chart-topping songs are in bold. You'll note that a few songs in my Top 100 didn't chart at all. Some may have charted on the other Top 40 stations mentioned above; as for the rest, they're worthy tunes I encountered later that deserved a better fate.

But enough rambling—here's my Top 100 of 1970. Explore, discover, and enjoy the great sounds of a terrific year!

  1. Games - Redeye (12/12/70, #10)
  2. Love the One You're With - Stephen Stills (12/19/70, #1)
  3. My Sweet Lord - George Harrison (11/28/70, #1)
  4. Born to Wander - Rare Earth (1/9/71, #8)
  5. I'm Eighteen - Alice Cooper (3/27/71, #6)
  6. Express Yourself - Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (9/26/70, #15)
  7. Stoney End - Barbra Streisand (12/12/70, #6)
  8. Hey Tonight - Creedence Clearwater Revival (did not chart)
  9. We Gotta Get You a Woman - Runt (12/19/70, #7)
  10. Evil Ways - Santana (2/7/70, #5)
  11. Are You Ready - Pacific Gas & Electric (5/30/70, #24)
  12. Celebrate - Three Dog Night (3/7/70, #16)
  13. Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine - James Brown (did not chart)
  14. Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) - Edison Lighthouse (2/21/70, #3)
  15. Make Me Smile - Chicago (4/18/70, #5)
  16. Bus Rider - The Guess Who (did not chart)
  17. Spirit in the Sky - Norman Greenbaum (2/28/70, #4)
  18. The Witch's Promise - Jethro Tull (did not chart)
  19. Do What You Wanna Do - Five Flights Up (10/10/70, #22)
  20. Turn Back the Hands of Time - Tyrone Davis (4/4/70, #11)
  21. Tears of a Clown - Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (10/24/70, #3)
  22. Blue Money - Van Morrison (2/27/71, #16)
  23. Who'll Stop the Rain - Creedence Clearwater Revival (1/31/70, #1)
  24. Ohio - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (7/25/70, #6)
  25. Hitchin' a Ride - Vanity Fare (5/2/70, #4)
  26. As the Years Go By - Mashmakan (7/4/70, #1)
  27. We've Only Just Begun - Carpenters (9/26/70, #2)
  28. Black Magic Woman - Santana (11/14/70, #2)
  29. Cecilia - Simon & Garfunkel (4/25/70, #2)
  30. Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell (6/27/70, #3)
  31. In the Summertime - Mungo Jerry (7/18/70, #4)
  32. ABC - The Jackson 5 (3/21/70, #3)
  33. Somebody's Been Sleeping - 100 Proof Aged in Soul (11/14/70, #12)
  34. Give Me Just a Little More Time - The Chairmen of the Board (1/24/70, #5)
  35. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours - Stevie Wonder (7/11/70, #14)
  36. Mr. Monday - The Original Caste (4/25/70, #3)
  37. No Time - The Guess Who (1/3/70, #9)
  38. One Man Band - Three Dog Night (1/2/71, #20)
  39. Travelin' Band - Creedence Clearwater Revival (1/31/70, #1)
  40. Who Needs Ya - Steppenwolf (1/16/71, #17)
  41. Mexico - Jefferson Airplane (did not chart)
  42. You, Me and Mexico - Edward Bear (3/14/70, #3)
  43. Temptation Eyes - The Grass Roots (2/20/71, #7)
  44. My Baby Loves Lovin' - White Plains (4/11/70, #2)
  45. 25 or 6 to 4 - Chicago (8/8/70, #1)
  46. The Letter - Joe Cocker (5/2/70, #2)
  47. Tighter, Tighter - Alive and Kicking (6/20/70, #6)
  48. Corrina, Corrina - King Biscuit Boy & Crowbar (9/12/70, #23)
  49. Band Bandit - Tundra (did not chart)
  50. Yellow River - Christie (7/25/70, #5)
  51. Wild World - Cat Stevens (did not chart)
  52. All Right Now - Free (9/12/70, #2)
  53. You're the One - Little Sister (4/11/70, #12)
  54. Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) - Sly & the Family Stone (1/24/70, #1)
  55. The Long and Winding Road - The Beatles (5/23/70, #1)
  56. No Sugar Tonight - The Guess Who (3/21/70, #1)
  57. Reflections of My Life - The Marmalade (3/14/70, #7)
  58. Question - The Moody Blues (5/9/70, #7)
  59. Come Saturday Morning - The Sandpipers (5/2/70, #16)
  60. Come Running - Van Morrison (4/4/70, #8)
  61. Up Around the Bend - Creedence Clearwater Revival (5/2/70, #1)
  62. Fire and Rain - James Taylor (10/3/70, #6)
  63. Love on a Two-Way Street - The Moments (5/16/70, #3)
  64. Ball of Confusion - The Temptations (5/30/70, #7)
  65. I'll Be There - The Jackson 5 (9/26/70, #1)
  66. O-o-h Child - The Five Stairsteps (6/28/70, #9)
  67. Mama Told Me (Not to Come) - Three Dog Night (5/30/70, #2)
  68. American Woman - The Guess Who (3/21/70, #1)
  69. Vehicle - The Ides of March (3/28/70, #2)
  70. Lucretia MacEvil - Blood, Sweat & Tears (10/24/70, #11)
  71. Up the Ladder to the Roof - The Supremes (3/14/70, #13)
  72. Go Back - Crabby Appleton (8/15/70, #10)
  73. Lola - The Kinks (10/3/70, #2)
  74. Ride Captain Ride - Blues Image (5/9/70, #8)
  75. Teach Your Children - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (6/13/70, #5)
  76. Oye Como Va - Santana (3/13/71, #19)
  77. No Matter What - Badfinger (11/21/70, #3)
  78. Indiana Wants Me - R. Dean Taylor (7/25/70, #4)
  79. Joanne - Michael Nesmith and the First National Band (8/15/70, #6)
  80. I Hear You Knocking - Dave Edmunds (1/16/71, #3)
  81. Instant Karma! - John Lennon (2/28/70, #1)
  82. Me and Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin (2/20/71, #9)
  83. Immigrant Song - Led Zeppelin (12/5/70, #2)
  84. (They Long to Be) Close to You - Carpenters (6/28/70, #1)
  85. Hand Me Down World - The Guess Who (7/11/70, #3)
  86. Out in the Country - Three Dog Night (9/12/70, #11)
  87. Spill the Wine - Eric Burdon & War (7/4/70, #4)
  88. Neanderthal Man - Hotlegs (9/5/70, #18)
  89. Hey Lawdy Mama - Steppenwolf (did not chart)
  90. Venus - The Shocking Blue (1/3/70, #1)
  91. If I Were Your Woman - Gladys Knight & the Pips (12/26/70, #6)
  92. 5-10-15-20 (25-30 Years of Love) - The Presidents (11/28/70, #7)
  93. Colour My World - Chicago (7/7/71, #3)
  94. One Tin Soldier - The Original Caste (1/3/70, #1)
  95. War - Edwin Starr (7/18/70, #1)
  96. Have You Ever Seen the Rain - Creedence Clearwater Revival (2/20/71, #16)
  97. Domino - Van Morrison (11/21/70, #4)
  98. Bridge over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel (2/7/70, #1)
  99. Share the Land - The Guess Who (10/17/70, #3)
  100. Let It Be - The Beatles (3/21/70, #1)

Go Forth with New Strength 

You know, you can go years without giving a thought to your high school. I certainly did until Tuesday, May 7, when the lead item on the morning news was a six-alarm fire at York Memorial Collegiate Institute, a day after its 90th anniversary. For most Torontonians it's a tragedy, but one from which they might feel rather detached: some old high school in the west end caught fire. Sad, but oh, well, right? Well, it's a punch in the gut when it's your old school—even when we're talking almost 40 years ago.

Ironically, just days before I'd joined a Facebook group for YMCI alumni. We had a reunion scheduled for May 25 at the school, and I'd been waffling about going. There's now no school at which to hold a reunion. Yes, the building is still standing, but the roof is gone. The centre of the structure, including its magnificent auditorium replete with stained glass windows, is completely blown out. You can see right through it if you stand at the front doors. (Alternate, unofficial gatherings have been arranged for May 25, including a day-long open stage at the Cadillac Lounge. That's where you'll find me.)

I was surprised at how deeply the fire affected me. My memories of the place, and my high school years in general, are neutral. High school wasn't the best time of my life nor the worst. Yet there I was last Saturday, school sweater on, heading up to Keele and Eglinton on the TTC because I had to see it. As an "active investigation" in fire marshal parlance, the area is fenced off so it was hard to get too close. Around back, I noticed a woman standing at the fence. She turned to me and I said, "Mrs. Henery?"

Now, Mrs. Henery has been retired for 25 years. She taught geography and math, I believe. I never had her as a teacher, but it's amazing how 40 years melted away in that flash of recognition. And there we stood, each fumbling to express an unspeakable sadness. I spent five years of my life there; she, perhaps 20 years of her working life. "You were in Miss Manson's class, weren't you?" she said. "Yes. Grade 11 history." "Well, I'm still in touch with her. I'll say hi to her for you. What was your name again?"

I never thought in a million years I'd write a song about my old high school, but I had to ... just to process the sudden onslaught of strong, unexpected emotions. Simple as that. And soon after I began I realized it wasn't really about me, though it's filtered through my particular lens. It's about York Memo and all of us who studied and worked there, through the many decades. The school motto—something my teenage self would likely have snickered at—was a perfect focal point for what I needed to express. It also gave me the song's title. And with that, I humbly present my demo of "Go Forth with New Strength," for Mustangs everywhere:

Red-and-gold fire trucks, a six-alarm blaze
My best friend Dan had his name on that wall
Murals and stained glass they just couldn't save
Flames tore through what once was the hall
They did all they could do
Now it's come down to me and you to bring it all back

Go forth with new strength and the love that remains
Battle-scarred and fire-charred, let's save the grand old dame
Go forth with new strength, Memo strong, Mustang proud
And shed a tear or two 'cause you're allowed

Met Mrs. Henery down by the back fence
Came all this way to salute her old school
Ashes, brick and cinder, it's so hard to make sense
We stood agape as only the helpless can do
"Say hi to Miss Manson"
And I'd pay you a king's ransom to bring it all back

Come on, you red and gold
Weave all the tales you've told
And all the lives you mould
Into a common goal
We want a new rebuild
Let's see that dream fulfilled now

Go forth with new strength and the love that remains
Battle-scarred and fire-charred, God bless the grand old dame
Go forth with new strength, Memo strong, Mustang proud
And shed a tear or two 'cause you're allowed
And shed a tear or two 'cause you're allowed
Don't forget to mourn, 'cause you know you're allowed

© 2019 Vern Nicholson (SOCAN)

Real Chords #6: Teenage Fanclub, "Shock and Awe" 

I've always loved this band, and I suspect most power-pop aficionados would agree that they don't get much better than Teenage Fanclub, once famously called "the best band in the world" by Kurt Cobain. Over the course of their first four albums the proto-grunge impulses melted away, leaving only the luscious, catchy tunes we power-poppers know and love.

In recent times, their records have consisted of four songs each from talented songwriters Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love, with each bringing unique melodic gifts to the proceedings. Sadly, Love has left the band and for me, their carrying on without him is like Paul, George and Ringo continuing as The Beatles without John. It's that big a loss. Yes, Blake's and McGinley's songs are usually good and occasionally great. But in my estimation, since Grand Prix Gerard Love's contributions have been uniformly stellar, the highlights of nearly every Teenage Fanclub album from that point on.

"Shock and Awe" is from 2010's Shadows, an album that for Gerry marked a minor slump—only two of his songs made my "greatest hits" playlist instead of the customary three or four. As always, it floors me what he's able to do with just a few chords and an achingly beautiful melody. Online transcriptions for this were in the ballpark, but yet again, the infamous fear-of-capo led the transcribers astray. I'll say it once more: most rock musicians, especially those I look up to, are songwriters first and virtuosos second, if at all. This means they're in search of the easiest and most natural way to play what they've written. So yes, you could attempt this without a capo and end up with F, Am/F and Gm9 in the verse and a gnarly A# in the choruses. (We'll overlook the fact that the Gm9 is really Gm7 and Am/F, a truly hideous chord, should really be a C/E. Oh, and in the key of F, the fourth is called Bb, not A#.) Capoing at the third fret not only makes the song easier to play but lends itself to some tasty rhythm licks, unavailable in the open position unless you're Andrés Segovia.

Here, then, are the real chords to "Shock and Awe," written by the magnificent and greatly missed Gerard Love:

Capo 3

  • Intro and verse: D A Asus4 A Em7* Em E7sus4 Em
  • Chorus: F#m G Em G D

* Fingering, low to high: 022033. There are other ways to play Em7, but this fingering enables you to play the rhythm guitar lick exactly as Teenage Fanclub does.

Notes: The intro/verse chords given here are the advanced version, containing all the rhythm licks that they do. If you want to simplify, you can easily get by with D A Em7. The instrumental bit in the middle is a variation on the intro/verse chords. I haven't worked it out because as a solo performer, I'll be ditching that part and heading straight to the intro. For what it's worth, during that bit they seem to hang out on the Em7 for long stretches. The G in the chorus sounds better to me with no third in it, which really makes it a G5: fingering 3x033. I play G like this 95% of the time anyway, but it's a matter of personal preference.

In closing, let me point you to a great resource that's helped me figure out the names of the wacky chords I play. JGuitar's chord namer lets you punch in the fingering you're using, then tells you what the chord is called. The reverse—where you know the chord's name but have no idea how to finger it—is their chord calculator, which threatens to give you "every mathematically possible fingering" for the chord you specify. Of course, you know to try the easiest ones first, right? Or as they warn, "Be careful when adjusting the advanced options as they may result in chords that are very difficult to play." And we folk/rock rhythm guitarists want none of those, thanks very much.

Play Ball! 

Well, not here, not yet. But soon enough: opening day is March 28. Anyway, down in Florida and Arizona, all 30 MLB teams are playing ball in what's rather oddly called spring training. I say that because the first game took place on February 21. That's winter on any calendar, no? Regardless, I relish the arrival of spring training every year because it signifies the beginning of the end of winter.

Now, up here in Toronto, we've had more snow than we know what to do with, it's bitterly cold, and winter can hang around till mid-April. That's why I said beginning of the end. But the mere fact that baseball, that quintessential summertime sport, is being played somewhere means Old Man Blizzard and his good buddies Ice Storm and Wind Chill are on their way out. Good riddance, I say.

Baseball and radio go together like peanut butter and jam, and every year at this time I celebrate the return of my favourite broadcast teams: Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper (Giants); Dan Dickerson and Jim Price (Tigers); Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson (White Sox). As for the hometown Blue Jays crew, I miss Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth, but Ben Wagner and Mike Wilner do a decent job and their chemistry is good.

One pet peeve, and this is not confined to Blue Jay broadcasts, is the incessant use of player-specific adjectives. Examples:

  • "Three outs, all on fly balls. Now, that's an un-Marcus-Stroman-like inning."
  • "He just flailed at it. What an un-Miguel-Cabrera-like swing that was!"
  • "He's already issued five walks, which is so un-Sam-Gaviglio-like."

I've never understood this. Why invent new words when you've got old ones that work fine? It's as though they feel they must conjure up fresh adjectives for each player, because of course un-Marcus-Stroman-like is completely different than un-Sam-Gaviglio-like.

Newsflash, boys: there's an elegant, simple word that encompasses un-Marcus-Stroman-like, un-Miguel-Cabrera-like, un-Sam-Gaviglio-like and un-Insert-Player-Here-like. That word is "uncharacteristic." If it seems unwieldy, try "unusual." And you can even use "unlike" sans player name in the middle, like so: "He's already issued five walks, which is so unlike Sam Gaviglio."

I'm happy to report that things are looking up, though. Why, on a broadcast last week Wilner said of some pitcher, "He's just not himself today." Yeah! Beautiful. See? Pithiness is next to godliness.

But whatever your quirks, all you broadcasters out there, I thank you profusely for bringing the old ball game to us season after season, 162 games a year. Baseball is the sound of summer, even in these un-baseball-like frigid temperatures.

Autumn Micro-Tour 2018 

In the fall of 2018 I embarked on my second micro-tour, a venture cut short by my cat's illness—from which, I'm happy to say, he's largely and miraculously recovered. Nonetheless, I played enough shows to produce a few audio highlights, which I've posted on my music page. Before we get into the meat of it, I give you the stats:

  • Duration: 6 weeks, plus the final show a month later
  • Shows played: 9
  • Unique venues: 7
  • Songs played: 30 (15 originals, 15 covers)
  • Songs repeated: 1
  • Songs debuted: 5
Micro-touring at Free Times Café, November 17, 2018. Photo by Brian Gladstone.

"This Magnificent Dare" (Stop 2—Don Heights Coffeehouse, Toronto ON, October 13, 2018)

It took over an hour to get here by transit, and due to my late arrival I was lucky to grab a spot (10th). I'd hoped to go on first, as always, but a few performers were far more eager—the sign-up sheet had a 0 and -1 as write-ins. Anyway, that 10th spot, which was really 12th, came after the feature's opening half-hour slot, so it was a long wait. Said feature (an accordion/sax duo) played impeccably, but I'm afraid I was born far too late to appreciate what sounded like a pared-down Lawrence Welk. I did, though, enjoy the host's singalong version of The Beatles' "All Together Now." Still schmaltz, I guess, but at least of my era.

I brought the dulcimer along to accompany myself on "This Magnificent Dare," which I've also performed on guitar. I really wanted to play the dulcimer at an open stage before the outdoor humidity dropped too low. Flubbed part of a verse but recovered quite well. It's taken a while, but over the years I've learned to shrug off the mistakes and carry on.

"Let Love Strum You"/"On the Bus" (Stop 3—The Tilted Dog, Toronto ON, October 18, 2018)

I didn't feel like playing tonight, but TTD is walking distance from home and I promised the host I'd show up, so no excuses. This, by the way, is almost always the right decision. In 30 years of live performances, I can count on one hand the shows I wish I hadn't played.

The cover I cannot shake—and will never attempt, as I can't stand it—appeared in the midst of an otherwise pleasant set by a mid-twenties singer/songwriter. Yes, folks, it's Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," one more time. On the plus side, the crowd was treated to two Dylan covers tonight. A charming old hippie played a truncated "Desolation Row" with wildly varying tempo, while a nylon-string guitarist did a nice job on "Tangled up in Blue."

As for me, well, is one of your old band's originals not penned by you a cover? I say yes. That band was Sour Landslide, and way back in the 1990s I accompanied my brother's killer tunes on bass and harmony vocals. I've always wanted to try one of, um, their songs, and this one seemed the quickest way in ... after I changed the key. See, I often joke that my voice didn't change till I turned 50. Not only were my high harmonies on the 1994 recording unreachable; I couldn't even sing Vince's lead vocal in the original key! So, my version is lower and slower, as befits an aging indie musician. I also did a little tinkering to make it my own. I managed to up the tempo a bit for my original this evening, "Let Love Strum You," the chorus of which was shamelessly lifted from a radio commercial.

"Groping to Victory"/"Skyway" (Stop 4—Hirut, Toronto ON, October 21, 2018)

This small, intimate open mic, hosted by the friendly, funny and talented Nicola Vaughan, is a little far-flung but right on the subway line (Woodbine, for you Torontonians). Unfortunately I have other commitments in the Sunday 3-6 time slot, so can rarely make it out. I feel a few pangs of guilt because this open stage needs support that I can't really give, but I enjoy coming when I can.

After Nicola regaled us with a few obscure Monkees songs, up came a parade of talented folk, blues and jazz players ... and me. Sometimes I envy the technically proficient, but I try not to compare. They do what they do, I do what I do, and it's all good. How dull these open stages would be if we all sounded the same, right? Now, I was quite taken by the jazzer's gear: an Ibanez electric with F-holes and a Bigsby vibrato, a tasty digital delay and a looper pedal. I was dying to hear him give the Bigsby a workout, but he barely touched it. Why, if I had a Bigsby, I'd be John Cipollina! (That's my delusion and I'm sticking to it.)

Delusions of guitar-hero grandeur aside, "Groping to Victory" went down well this afternoon, as did Paul Westerberg's delicate "Skyway," long a favourite of mine.

"Have I Been Expecting You"/"A Glimpse of Heaven" (Stop 5—Legends Sports Lounge, Toronto ON, November 1, 2018)

Tonight was supposed to be an out-of-town jaunt to Markham, but 25 mm of rain put a damper on those plans, you could say. I settled instead on this place, a block or so from Pape Station. Acoustics were a bit dodgy, as you hear on the recording, but I'd say overall this was my best show of the tour. As often happens at open stages, I was playing to two distinct (and small) audiences: fellow musicians waiting to play, attentive listeners all, and oblivious regulars chatting away, the latter faithfully captured by my Zoom H1.

I navigated my way through "Expecting," my somewhat tricky new song, then launched into this Strawbs cover that I do every now and then. For posterity I've preserved my exchange with a fellow musician at the end, who not only knew the tune but first heard it the same way I did, on an eight-track "best of" purchased at Woolco, circa 1981. Man, no one ever recognizes my obscure covers. I'm slipping.

"Mon Vrai Destin" (Stop 6—The Birch Bistro & Lounge, Bowmanville ON, November 8, 2018)

I took the 4:30 express train (no stops till Pickering), which was jammed. First time I've had to stand on a GO train. Even travelling express to Oshawa, it took the better part of two hours to reach Bowmanville. After a nice dinner at the local Mr. Sub, I head to the venue, early for once, and sign up to play first so I can get home at a reasonable hour. Unfortunately, the place started to fill up after I'd finished playing. So it goes.

The Birch has a pleasant, warm, almost-elegant ambience—far from the rough-and-tumble bars I associate with small towns. I'm allotted five songs, which is quite generous, and the stage sound is pretty good once the host turns down the guitar amp midway through my first number. I play reasonably well, though not at my blinding best. Halfway through "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party," my new Beatles cover, I realize I should sing it an octave higher or change the key. Too late. This one, a Peter, Paul & Mary chanson, comes off much better.

Speaking of obscure covers, Sam, the young guy who follows me, tells the crowd that he traffics in them. I practically wet my pants when he announces "Broken," but no, it's not The Guess Who B-side from 1971. This is another "Broken," by ... Jared Somebody? Beats me. Then he says, "Here's a Catfish and the Bottlemen tune." Right. Uh, so, you know any Juff Gleento? Rufus and the Juts? The Ked?

"Liza Radley" (Stop 8—Dr. B's Acoustic Medicine Show, Free Times Café, Toronto ON, November 17, 2018)

Boy, that 1:00 start time is tough for me. I arrive late and sign up 13th, which is fitting. This has not been a good day. My front bicycle tire went flat around St. George, and I had to walk the bike from there. As I sip on the obligatory decaf coffee—at the Free Times you must order at least one drink, "no exceptions" as the sign says—I'm preoccupied not with my set but how I'll get home. It's possible to lug a guitar on the Carlton streetcar. Transporting a bicycle is more awkward, but I've done it. A guitar and a bike? No way.

Maybe I'll take the guitar home first, then come back for the bike. Or maybe not. That's four fares and besides, I'd like to get the bike in to my local shop before it closes. The other option? A 45-minute walk home, and the shop will be closed by the time I get there anyway. Unless I luck out with an empty streetcar that stays empty? Keep dreaming, pal. Not likely on a Saturday afternoon on College Street.

It's a good crowd, mostly performers, and Dr. B's is one of the city's higher-profile open stages. Hey, no pressure on a day that I'm feeling lousy. A grizzled poet named Dark Cloud takes the stage. I'm momentarily distracted from my dark cloud by his natty suit, walrus moustache, pork pie hat and ... seven-string guitar? I chat with him afterwards and yes, it's the G that's doubled with an octave string. He says it's a Martin, made specially for Roger McGuinn, king of the 12-string guitar. Roger must have tired of tuning the other five strings.

By now, I'm resigned to walking home. Wish I'd stayed in bed. When my turn comes, the host is genial, the sound fantastic—as the recording proves—and I play reasonably well. My stage patter is minimal, and I wisely decide not to whine about my flat tire. Inflicting a bad mood on innocent bar patrons is never a good idea.

What goes around comes around, I suppose, and this story has a happy ending. I unlock my bicycle and am maybe one minute into my long, dreary trek when I gaze up at a storefront and see the sign: Urbane Cyclist. A bike shop!

"We Howl" (Stop 9—The Tilted Dog, Toronto ON, December 20, 2018)

This was the gig I didn't expect to play, as a few days after the Free Times gig I cancelled the rest of the tour due to Muswell's worsening condition. About a month later, he'd made such a stunning recovery that I was able to make this, the scheduled final date. Kudos are due my veterinarian, clinic staff and the various medicines my cat has been on since late November, to be sure; but I'd also like to offer my thanks and gratitude to God for answering my prayers. I'm not a preacher, so I'll leave you with the words of James 5:16, should you feel so inclined. But I will say that in my experience prayer really works, often when nothing else does.

As seems to have been my custom this tour, I arrive just after everyone else has signed up. I'll be on seventh, which is a long way down the line because everyone gets four songs. It's a small crowd gathered here this Thursday evening, mostly performers. Host Robert Labell kindly dedicates "Embryonic Journey" to me, and continuing the Jorma Kaukonen theme, finishes his set with a couple of songs off the first Hot Tuna album. I really must offer to accompany him on bass sometime. Way back when, I learned how to play by copping licks off that record, among others, and I'd love to revisit it and get back into playing bass. I miss it.

Among my four numbers this evening is "We Howl," one of my older songs and probably the first thing I wrote that I actually liked. Some songwriters are innately gifted; the rest of us have to write a slew of bad songs before we start writing good ones. This was my first good one, and I'd never played it live till tonight.

And there you have it: my latest adventures in micro-touring. Look for my next micro-tour this spring, which will be upon us all soon enough.

Another Imaginary Box Set 

This time we set our sights on the quiet Beatle, George Harrison, an artist who's for the most part been ill-served by compilations. Isn't it a pity, too, as of the Fab Four, George's solo career is arguably the most consistent.

Of those compilations, the first, The Best of George Harrison (1976), was assembled by former label Capitol without his approval. The song selection, as far as it goes, is excellent; but only half the record (roughly 24 minutes' worth) covers George's solo career to that point. The entire first side consists of Harrison-penned Beatles material. Great stuff, of course, but misplaced on what is nominally a solo artist's greatest hits album.

We'd have to wait until 1989 for the second collection, Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989. As the title suggests, this isn't a comprehensive career overview; it covers only George's work on his Dark Horse label. George was involved in this one, and it shows: in the quality of material chosen, the fact that all period albums are represented, and the two new songs specifically recorded for this project. That said, I'd quibble with a few of his choices, and have duly replaced the questionable songs with better ones on my homemade compilation.

Which brings us to Let It Roll (2009), touted as George's first true career-spanning compilation. According to the album's Wikipedia entry, "the track list was selected by George's widow Olivia with some assistance from close friends and family." Finally, the man has been given his proper due, right? Wrong. Sure, Let It Roll spans Harrison's entire career, but with gaping holes—three consecutive mid-'70s releases (Dark Horse, Extra Texture and Thirty Three & 1/3) aren't represented at all. Neither is 1982's Gone Troppo or the 1992 Live in Japan album. As a result, key singles are missing, like "Bangla Desh," "Dark Horse," "You" and "Crackerbox Palace." Worse, the compilers have managed to sneak The Beatles in again, through the back door this time (the three tracks from The Concert for Bangladesh are all Beatles songs).

So, this brings us to the compilation-that-should-be, namely mine. (I'm telling you, some record label really ought to hire me.) It's not that hard. Take all the artist's albums, cherry-pick the best three songs from each, add the odd soundtrack contribution and non-album single and put it all in chronological order. Oh, and toss in a couple of Beatles numbers when you have no other choice (Live in Japan). And here you have it: a truly representative, career-spanning compilation that easily fits on three CDs.

Disc 1 (69:44): Apple Years—1970-1975

  1. My Sweet Lord
  2. Isn't It a Pity
  3. What Is Life
  4. Bangla Desh
  5. Wah-Wah (live)
  6. Awaiting on You All (live)
  7. Beware of Darkness (live)
  8. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
  9. Don't Let Me Wait Too Long
  10. Living in the Material World
  11. Dark Horse
  12. So Sad
  13. Far East Man
  14. You
  15. This Guitar (Can't Keep from Crying)
  16. Tired of Midnight Blue

Disc 2 (61:35): Middle Years—1976-1987

  1. This Song
  2. Crackerbox Palace
  3. Beautiful Girl
  4. Blow Away
  5. Love Comes to Everyone
  6. Here Comes the Moon
  7. All Those Years Ago
  8. Writing's on the Wall
  9. Life Itself
  10. That's the Way It Goes
  11. Mystical One
  12. Circles
  13. I Don't Want to Do It
  14. Got My Mind Set on You
  15. This Is Love
  16. When We Was Fab

Disc 3 (43:20): Final Years—1988-2002

  1. Heading for the Light
  2. Cheer Down
  3. Poor Little Girl
  4. Cockamamie Business
  5. I Want to Tell You (live)
  6. Here Comes the Sun (live)
  7. Devil's Radio (live)
  8. Any Road
  9. Rising Sun
  10. Stuck Inside a Cloud

If you'd like to try on this box set ("playlist," as the kids would say) for yourselves, all the material is available on YouTube and probably various streaming services, too. Enjoy the soulful, melodic sounds of George Harrison.