Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – In The Air Tonight

CamIt’s time to take another trip around the alphabet and what better mode of transportation than the airplane. In the eighties and nineties I felt that I lived on a plane. Whether it was a quick over-nighter to Montreal to see a showcase or a two-week promo tour of Europe it seemed I was always in an airport, and, more often than not, nursing a pint and cigarette watching sports at an airport bar waiting for a long-delayed connecting flight. My passport has the eerie distinction of being stamped on 9/11 as I arrived at Heathrow in London early that morning. We were stuck for a week as nothing was flying out and after that day flying was not nearly as fun or carefree. Seeing the tanks outside of the London airport on the day we were finally allowed to leave and having my nail clippers confiscated at the gate heralded the arrival of a whole new level of security.

Air accidents have played a big part in the history of rock’n’roll and taken away some of our biggest talent. In December of 1944 we lost the “King of Swing” when Glenn Miller’s plane went down over the English Channel en route to entertaining the troops. On February 3, 1959 just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa, rock’n’roll lost three of its brightest young lights when a plane carrying Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens went down in a field. Four years later we would lose country legend Patsy Cline in another traumatic crash. The movies “The Buddy Holly Story” (with a terrific Gary Busey), “La Bamba” (maybe Lou Diamond Phillip’s best role) and “Sweet Dreams” (with Jessica Lange fantastic take on Patsy Cline) offer an entertaining look at these earlier stars taken far too soon.  As flights became more integral to the touring artists the tragedies increased and we lost the likes of Otis Redding and members of the Bar-Kays, Jim Croce, Ricky Nelson, Lynyrd Skynryd, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Aaliyah while freak accidents took the lives of Canadian drummer Mark Caporal (Eye Eye) and John Denver. The near crash in the tour plane in “Almost Famous” is one of the most gripping scenes in the film.

Jefferson Airplane airplaneBands are not averse to using “flight” inspired names and Canada can claim both “In-Flight Safety” and “Air Traffic Control” while San Francisco is responsible for Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. New Zealand chips in with “Flight Of The Conchords” and Keith Moon has always been given credit for naming Led Zeppelin.  Athens, Georgia can call The B-52’s their own, as well as REM but they have nothing to do with flight and is probably the last thing you would want to be happening to your pilot. Pilot of course were from Scotland and featured former members of The Bay City Rollers. To my knowledge Pilot never toured with Bristol’s The Blue Aeroplanes.

When I am thinking about flying and music these are some of the songs that instantly pop into my mind.

“The Letter” – The Box Tops

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane, I ain’t got time to take a fast train” growled the incredibly mature sounding 16 year old Memphis singer Alex Chilton. Sixteen! The song would soon top the charts, and be covered three years later by Joe Cocker, and The Box Tops looked like they would be the next big thing. After a few minor hit follow-ups Chilton packed his bags and headed to New York but returned to Memphis to form the incredible (but totally commercial failures “Big Star”). A damn near perfect powerpop band they would influence as generation of songwriters and inspire the likes of The Replacements, Cheap Trick and The Posies. The Replacements would immortalize Chilton in the song “Alex Chilton” and let us know they “would never travel far without a little Big Star”.

“This Flight Tonight” – Nazareth

If I was a pilot this would be one of my flying songs. Much like driving songs make you want to get heavy on the pedal this would make me want to fly higher and faster. I must ask the next pilot I meet if they do indeed fly to music. Penned by Joni Mitchell the Scottish foursome brought the rock to the proceedings and scored a massive hit here in Canada. Sadly, much like contemporaries AC/DC, Nazareth are coming off the road as singer Dan McCafferty is no longer well enough to tour. Hats off to them for forty years of hard touring and bringing it every night on every stage.

“Christmas At The Airport” – Nick Lowe

This was released last year and almost instantly made it to the top of my Christmas playlist. Something about “The Jesus of Cool” singing a holiday song sits very well with me. If Basher had written this a few years earlier it may have fit well in the closing scenes of “Love Actually”.

“Airport” – The Motors

I have mentioned The Motors quite a few times over the years in this column and still find it rather bewildering that they never achieved the success that seemed destined for them. With Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster from Duck’s Deluxe and, with the inclusion of Bram Tchaikovsky in 1977, the band had a pedigree that few of their contemporaries could claim. They struggled on until 1982, with “Airport” being their biggest hit in 1978, until Bram went solo and scored a moderate hit with “Girl Of My Dreams”. Cheap Trick covered The Motor’s “Dancing The Night Away” on their 1983 album “Next Position Please”. Cheap Trick has very good taste in covers as they also cover Big Star for the opening credits of “That 70’s Show”.

“Flying” – The Faces

This was from the debut album by The Faces “First Step” in 1970. Far from being a hit this was the poorest selling album from the band and was recorded when the remnants of The Small Faces (Ronnie Lane, Kenney Jones and Ian McLagan) joined forces with guitarist Ronnie Wood and vocalist Rod Stewart who had both just left The Jeff Beck Group. With Rod’s solo success in the seventies Jones would replace Keith Moon in The Who and Woody would join the Rolling Stones even though he somehow still seems like the new guy in the band.

“Enola Gay” – Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark

For some reason I was never comfortable calling this band “OMD”. When I bought this single in 1980 they were known as Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark and the name stuck with me. The Enola Gay was B-29 bomber and was the first plane to drop an atomic bomb in combat which was the beginning of the end of the Second World War and the cause of the Cold War. I try not to think about that when listening to the song.

“Learn To Fly” – The Foo Fighters

I was working with The Foos when we received the final cut of this video. The band were in Toronto and doing the morning show at CFNY when a package arrived at reception. As the band were touring they needed to approve the final edit from the road and once they were finished with their interview we huddled in a board room at the old Dundas Street West offices and watched it a few times. Working with the Canadian arm of their label I had no idea what the premise of the clip was but cracked up on the first viewing with the various band members playing multiple roles (both male and female) along with Kyle Gass and Jack Black (Tenacious D). Too bad all early morning radio calls weren’t this much fun.

“The Airport Giveth (The Airport Taketh Away)” – Rick Derringer

I loved the “All American Boy” album, which contained the classic “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo”, but this song has always stuck with me for its incredibly stupid title, and, because it was the lamest song on the album. Rick was 17 years old when he had his first hit with his band The McCoys with “Hang On Sloopy” and was a contemporary of 16 year old Alex Chilton.

“Fly At Night” – Chilliwack

This is from their 1977 “Dreams, Dreams, Dream” which was on Mushroom Records and distributed by A&M Records in Canada. I could very well have been at the old A&M offices on Warden Avenue in Scarborough picking this album up for review when I first met Bob Segarini hanging around the office pool table. Maybe not, but maybe. The one constant in the band was Bill Henderson and it seemed that the band would be changing labels and band members every year but you could stack their greatest hits up against almost every other Canadian band at the time and chances are Chilliwack would win.

“Fly By Night” – Rush

With radio hits as the barometer Chilliwack would still win this greatest hits war. “Fly By Night” was the second album by Canada’s “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” inducted power trio and the first to feature drummer Neil Peart who would introduce the band to a whole new way of thinking (and writing). Novelist Ayn Rand was a huge influence on Peart’s lyrics and fantasy themes would also start to evolve on this record. It was also the first album to be produced by Terry Brown who would continue to work with the band up until 1982 and their album “Signals”.


Cam’s column appears every Wednesday.

Follow Cam on Twitter @CC59.

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Cam is very anxious to plant his butt on the roof of the Bovine and soak up a few rays. Soon.

The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll are proud to be presented by The Bovine Tiki Bar and The Bovine. There are heaters on the Bovine patio and great bands downstairs at the legendary rock bar. Fill up next store at The Rock Lobster and then get your rocks off at The Bovine. 

DBAWIS ButtonCameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener, The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY, New Canadian Music, NXNE Magazine and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

One Response to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock’n’Roll – In The Air Tonight”

  1. Strummer Says:

    Nice column as usual Cam. I have to agree about Nicks Christmas CD, It was played heavily this Xmas..Hadn’t seen the video of Christmas at the Airport, loved it…Cheers.

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