Best tunes of 1990: #4 Spirit of the West “Home for a rest”

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Happy Friday! At spot number four on this list, we’ve got the perfect song to end off the week: “Home for a rest”, easily Spirit of the West’s best known song. And though it missed out by one song to “Political” when I ranked my top 5 songs by the band back in the spring, I’m willing to concede it’s a very, very, very close second.

I’m sure it’s funny to the band now, after its massive popularity growth over the years and the accolades heaped upon it by Canadian music media, that it was never released as a proper single and the producer for “Save this house” even had to convince its writers, John Mann and Geoffrey Kelly, to record it for inclusion on the album. Imagine if he had failed? The Vancouver-based, Celtic folk rock band might have never gotten as big as they did. They would have had to find another track to close out all their shows since the early 90s. Canadian Saint Patrick’s day ceremonies across the country over the last three decades would have had a big gaping hole in their evening play lists. I would have had to have found another favourite drinking song, a song to request and dance to at weddings. And just maybe, I might not even be married to my wife Victoria, given that we got together at one of Spirit of the West’s concerts in the late 90s.

“Home for a rest” really is a rollicking good tune, regaling the stories, whether true or not, of the band’s first tour in England and their many visits to pubs across the country. It warns of the perils of too much drink and bemoans being away the comforts of home but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming so well-known as a drinking song. Indeed, the chorus is shouted along with like a badge of honour:

“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best
I’ve been gone for a week (month), I’ve been drunk since I left
These so called vacations will soon be my death
I’m so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest…”

The band incorporates the melodies of traditional folk reels into the song, fleshing out the vehemently played acoustic guitar with accordion flourishes and head-spinning flute solos. It begs to be jigged to with abandon on any dance floor anywhere and I’ve done so many times. I had gotten so proficient at it that I had proper dancers thinking I had the jig mastered and asking where I’d learnt it. It wasn’t skill, I assured everyone. It was just plain earnestness and plenty of beer.

So raise a glass with me to this iconic Canadian song, the now-defunct band who wrote and performed it so many times over the years, and to John Mann, the lead singer, who is now courageously battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Cheers!

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1990 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2010: #14 Diamond Rings “Wait and see”

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Number 14 on this list marks the third artist, following P.S. I Love You at #30 and Library Voices at #25, that I discovered at the 2011 edition of Ottawa Bluesfest. Like the two others, Diamond Rings, one of the many performing names for John O’Regan, hails from Canada. His set that year was part of his tour supporting his debut album, “Special affections”, and took place early on a Sunday afternoon on the festival’s smallest stage. I had heard the album in advance, which was the only reason I had made such a special effort to be there so early in the day, but I wasn’t at all prepared for the Diamond Rings experience.

I’m also reasonably sure the early, sun-baked crowd weren’t sure what to make of the skinny white dude with bleached blonde hair and a swath of rainbow coloured makeup swiped across his eyes. And the confusion likely increased when he started, using loops, drum machines, programming, and other trickery while strutting and dancing across the stage with his guitar, brimming with all the confidence of a glam rock hero performing in front of a stadium of adoring fans rather than a handful of people scattered around on the hill facing him. His performance was infectious, though, and he had the crowd, which grew substantially, by the end and it turned out to be one of my favourite sets of the year. Two years later, when he returned to the festival in support of his sophomore album, it was also on a Sunday but this time, it was the headlining set on the medium sized stage. And now, he fittingly had a full band backing him, smoke machines, cool lighting, and a bigger, more adoring crowd.

“Wait and see” is the second track from that debut album, which I went out and bought for my vinyl collection early on. It’s a phenomenal track that you really have to listen closely to in order to guess that it’s a one man show. The sensibility is post-punk revival with a touch of darkness and a whole load of glam. The guitars are like chain saws messing with the industrial beat but it’s O’Regan’s silky baritone vocals that raise this track up to the rock heavens. You can hear and almost taste his persona in the song. He’s like a time traveller from the eighties, a forgotten rebel that had fallen asleep behind a stage, waking up almost thirty years later, and decided to wreak havoc on his new reality.

I loved this song and album and even the next one but lost track of O’Regan, and his Diamond Rings persona, after hearing he was touring with OMD in 2013. It seems like I wasn’t the only one because putting his name into google resulted in a handful of articles titled “Whatever happened to…” and one by Exclaim from last year that talked about a newish, yet still mysterious, project that had nothing to do with Diamond Rings called JG Ballad.

It is a bit of an unfortunate and unfinished story, but I feel like Diamond Rings was never really meant to be anything more than an experiment for O’Regan. Whatever he had to prove, though, I’m sure he did… and then some.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.

 100 best covers: #98 Great Big Sea “End of the world”

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“It’s the end of the world as we know it…. and I feel fine.” What a great line and an incredible tune.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve heard R.E.M.’s original version. From their 1987 album “Document”, “End of the world” is considered one of the band’s best-known and best-loved songs and is definitely up there among my own personal faves by Michael Stipe and company.

Fast forward to 1997 and we have Newfoundland-based folk rock band, Great Big Sea, releasing a cover of said song for their third studio album, “Play”. If you’re not from Canada, it’s possible you’ve not heard this band but they were pretty big here in their home country. I say “were” because they’re broken up now but in their heyday in the 90s, the four-piece of Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, Séan McCann, and Darrell Power put out a string of albums that were filled with high energy rock tunes with a Celtic folk bent and more than a few of these were perfect soundtracks for hoisting a pint or three. I didn’t like all of their songs, favouring those where their traditional background was more evident, but they had a talent for putting a rousing Celtic folk touch on the songs they were covering.

Great Big Sea’s version of “End of the world” is a full minute and a half shorter than the original. But don’t you go thinking that they cut out a verse or something. No. It’s all there. It may be unbelievable to you R.E.M. fans but they actually did it by speeding up the already frenetic pace set by Bill Berry’s drumming in the original. Fiddles are a-whir and the mandolin on a tear but it’s Alan Doyle’s valiant vocal effort here that really makes this song, sounding off each syllable of Michael Stipe’s lyrics with his own hoarse Newfoundland roar.

Both versions are great in their own right (though I still prefer the original) and both are ripe for a rowdy dance floor, but where R.E.M.’s is made for the pogo, Great Big Sea’s is one more prone to jigging. Oh and be careful, that dance floor is likely quite sticky from all the spilt beer. Carry on.

The cover:

The original:

For the rest of the 100 best covers list, click here.