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Best tunes of 2003: #23 Sloan “The rest of my life”

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“One thing I know about the rest of my life
I know that I’ll be living it in Canada
I know I said I’ll share the rest of my days
But I was only going through a phase”

In spite of myself, I became a fan of Canadian alt-rockers, Sloan, in the mid-90s, especially with the release of their 1996 album, “One chord to another”. Like many Canadian rock fans, I was seduced by their jangly pop hooks, Beach Boy harmonies, and the brilliance of their three pronged attack of songwriters. Hits like “Coax me”, “People in the sky”, “The good in everyone”, “The lines you amend”, and “Everything you’ve done wrong” were universally acclaimed and loved, and I count myself among the many that still consider these timeless classics.

Shortly after 1997, though, I stopped buying their albums for a while and was really only familiar with their radio singles. I was aware of their continued success and indeed, still adore many of the tracks released around this time. But when I started to wean myself off of commercial radio in the early 2000s, I began to lose track of Toronto-based quartet.

Then, one day, at some point in 2005, my wife Victoria* was humming a song around our apartment and I asked her what it was.

“You don’t recognize it?”

“No,” I laughed. This was a game that played out between us often when she got a song in her head. She rarely knew the name of it or who performed it and I could never unpack her attempt at the melody. This time, though, she actually knew who it was. Or, she thought she did.

“It’s one of your bands. Suede. Or is it Sloan?”

She always got those two mixed up, even though they sound nothing alike. Nevertheless, over we went to my desktop computer and I gamely started cycling through all the Suede and Sloan songs that I knew. However, none of them fit the bill. After a while, I ran out of Suede songs released before their 2003 breakup and I started going through Sloan songs that I’d heard of but with which I wasn’t too familiar. Finally, I landed upon a track called “The rest of my life” and this was it.

The channel call opening, the jaunty drum beat, the early Beatles’ pop simplicity, the singalong and the over-the-head hand-clapping chorus. Penned and led on vocals by Chris Murphy, “The rest of my life” was the first single to be released off of Sloan’s seventh album, “Action pact”, the group’s concerted and last ditch effort to break into the States. It’s a feat they likely never satisfactorily accomplished but they did manage to start reeling this particular music fan back into the fold.

And it’s all because of this song introduced to me by Victoria: “Someone with whom I’ll spend the rest of my days…”

*Back then, though, she was still just my girlfriend, partner, and best friend, marriage was still a few years off.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 1993: #20 Spirit Of The West “And if Venice is sinking”

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Three important life events happened in the fall of 1993 and they will be forever linked in my thoughts and memories. First, after taking a year off after high school, I started my first year of post-secondary education at York University in Toronto. Second, I finished my road lessons with Young Driver’s of Canada and passed my road test in the sleepy town of Port Hope, Ontario, beating the implementation of the new graduated licensing rules by a mere two and a half months. Finally, I purchased a CD copy of “Faithlift”, the sixth and most recent (at the time) album by Canadian alternative folk rock band Spirit of the West.

The reason they are linked for me is because I decided to continue living at my parent’s home in Bowmanville while attending that first year of university to save money. And after getting my driver’s license, I switched my mode of travel from the long and tiring GO transit bus voyage to a sturdy and slightly more comfortable Chevrolet Chevette borrowed from my mother. It was a trek I made three times a week and took more than an hour each way by car, so almost 20 hours of music listening time. That CD was pretty much immediately recorded to cassette tape to be played on the deck in my mother’s car and it was on many of those trips in October and November that I fell in love with “Faithlift”.

My introduction to Spirit of the West came with their previous album, 1991’s “Go figure”, an album that saw the group add a drummer and transition from a mostly folk-influenced outfit to something that blended the sound with rock. “Faithlift” completed their transition to a rock band with only some hints of the folk sound remaining. It became the group’s best selling album and this, mostly off the back of least rocking tune on the album: “And if Venice is sinking”. It is their highest charting single, is these days runner up to their best known song*, and also happened to be my fifth favourite song when I counted down my favourites by the group on these pages back in 2017.

As I mentioned in that post, “And if Venice is sinking” is a joyful tune, perfectly reflecting the elation and wonder frontman John Mann and his new wife, Jill Baum, must have felt as they explored the winding laneways and bridges of Venice for their honeymoon. I can certainly attest to this feeling, given that my wife and I also spent part of our honeymoon there, exploring that living museum and falling in love with the galleries, the churches, and the piazzas – the trifecta of art, history, and food. Just like Mann and Daum, we didn’t want to leave, believing we might never see it again.

“And if Venice is sinking
Then I’m going under”

The song is as much a carnival as its subject. It dances and prances along the cobblestone streets, a parade led by the pace-setting tuba, but followed closely behind by Linda McRae on the accordion and Hugh McMillan on the mandolin. The rest of us just gather in behind, joining our voices to that of the incomparable and unforgettable John Mann.

*At least, here in Canada.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1993 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2003: #29 Sam Roberts “Where have all the good people gone?”

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The sun is at its brightest just as it’s getting ready to dip behind the horizon line. There is a yellow film over everything and it is still damn hot and humid. Clothes are sticking to bodies and bodies are writhing and jumping and dancing chaotically, all tribal and ecstatic. This is how it is on the final day of a ten day music festival. You’d think the crowd tired but great performers know how to breathe life into the weary and of course, adrenaline does the rest.

It is Sunday, July 13, 2014, and there is a large crowd at the second largest stage at the Ottawa Blues festival. All age groups are well-represented. Men and women and all, and all from a myriad of different backgrounds. And everyone is into it. Of course, they are. The singer/songwriter on stage with his recently minted, full-fledged band are a good, hard-working group, truly representative of his Canadian identity and he has a cross-genre appeal.

Sam Roberts is six songs deep into his set, decked out in black denim jeans and a black denim jacket, under which you can just catch a glimpse of the black Clash t-shirt. He is sinewy and muscular, a short man with a powerful exuberance, his short brown hair and rough and tumble beard are soaked in sweat. His face is red and he is giving it his all.

“Oh the Milky Way has gone a little sour
The leaves dried and the flower fell away
I’ve been sitting, I’ve been waiting for a sign
Inhuman beings taking up all of my time”

The song is “Where have all the good people gone”. It was originally recorded for his now legendary debut EP, “The inhuman condition”, and then, re-recorded for his debut album, 2003’s “We were born in a flame”. It was a huge hit for the Montreal-born musician, the 12th most played song on Canadian rock radio between the mid-90s and the mid-10s. So everyone here knows the song and yes, they are singing along, nay, yelling and screaming along with Sam, especially every time he gets to the lines: “Montreal to Hong Kong – Where have all the good people gone?”

The crowd is one, no matter the differences between us, we are united with Sam against the “not” good people. And I’m right there with them, jumping up and down, screaming together with a bunch of quebecois that I had never met before and will likely never see again. The funky bass and drums, the dirty and groovy guitars, and Sam encouraging us all to join in the chants. And the crowd responds, deafening in its approval and belonging.

And for just a brief moment, I stop, look around in amazement, and think that good old Sam might have just joined The Tragically Hip as one of Canada’s favourite live acts. Then, I take another gulp of draft beer from my plastic cup and dive back into moment.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.