JAIMIE VERNON – CIRCULAR IMPRESSIONS, 7 INCHES AT A TIME

Jaimie_CapeCod_2004
There once was a band called The Extras. They were an amalgam of players that used to back up the late, great BB Gabor. When they went off on their own they released a debut album called ‘Bit Parts’ and had themselves an FM radio hit with a novelty tune called “Circular Impression”.

Extras

As member Denis Keldie explains the track: “I got that title from a newspaper article about the History of Contraception Museum, at Ortho Pharmaceuticals in Toronto, which opened in 1966. (It) had all kinds of wacky things like chastity belts and condoms made out of pig bladders, and the writer suggested that the only thing missing was an old wallet with a circular impression in it.”

Last Words

The song was a paean to prophylactics. It still makes my wife giggle when she hears it. Recently, it occurred to me that the title could also be used to perfectly describe the device that made Canadian bands like The Extras into household names in the first place – the 7” single. As a delivery system for teasing people with great tunes the 45 RPM single (and occasionally the 33.3 RPM single) was a musical litmus test for the masses. A standard deal with a major label back in the 1960s was for 6 sides: three a-sides, three b-sides. The success of the singles would be a gauge by which the labels would decide to invest in the artist further – hopefully with a full-length LP.

orval-prophet

For many a Canadian act the bump-up to full LP (that’s a Long Player for you kids out there) was a rare commodity. Folk and country artists got a get-out-of-jail-free card by starting as an album act, but pop bands and solo artists were almost always put through the Hit Parade chart barometer first. Blame it on the Beatles. Everyone wanted what the Beatles had – instant success with both non-LP and album generated singles. Canadian artists were battling the sirens of British and American acts and their respective charts. Traction was tough for Canadians because we didn’t have the distribution, marketing or even the recording studios to compete with the international sounds of the day. But the pioneers of Canadian music – especially British émigré producers like Terry Brown – were determined to make Canada a competitive territory (especially knowing that the Beatles had been getting traction here in late 1963).

Staccatos
One such ex-pat was Capitol-EMI’s very astute Paul White who grabbed two Ottawa bands early on – an instrumental group called The Esquires and a vocal group called The Staccatos (better known in a later configuration as Five Man Electrical Band) – proceeded to leap frog the Canadian talent with those of the British Invasion and beyond. Radio was still resistant.

Guess Who
Quality Records, with money poured into it from CHUM-AM, also attempted to create content so that there was plenty of material to feed the ears of the nation and cut short the cries that radio was ignoring Canadian talent. It’s quite possible that Quality may have released more singles than any other label in Canada during the 1960s – including 18 of the 22 earliest singles by the Guess Who pre-Burton Cummings. There was also REO, Sparton, Franklin, Eagle, Gaiety, Apex, Red Leaf, Roman, London, Arc, Sir John A., and dozens of other long forgotten independent labels all around Canada pressing singles in very limited quantities just to tap into the growing pop radio markets – many relegated to nowhere else but the home towns the artists lived in.
Lords of London
Then the Lords of London did the unthinkable when their Apex single “Cornflakes & Ice Cream” went to No.1 on the much lauded CHUM-AM chart on August 28, 1967. They were whisked off to New York to record an album’s worth of material in a bigger studio. Turmoil from within scuttled the plan for a cross-border success but it was clear that the American money machine was interested in the record market in Canada, if not the talent itself. Capitol, RCA, Uni (later MCA), Warner Brothers and Columbia were already here in various forms but the focus was only on the distribution of imported releases. Signing domestic acts was still a matter of risk and had to be approved by the American head offices. What Canada lacked was a star system to make the labels invest in the farm teams already in play.

Guess Who_These Eyes
The flood gates finally opened when The Guess Who – signed to Jack Richardson’s Nimbus Records and distributed through RCA – struck gold with “These Eyes” in February 1969. Lighthouse was signed to RCA Records in response to this but floundered for two albums as an album-only FM staple in Canada. And yet, they followed The Guess Who successfully into the US market. They were well received as a concert band in the south, but radio was promptly ignoring them as had been the case in the Great White North. When the group returned to Canada at the end of 1969 drummer/spokesman Skip Prokop was tapped by a Commission led by Trudeau wing-man Pierre Juneau (the person whose name graces the JUNO Awards) to look into increasing the support of homegrown talent in Canada and abroad. Part of Prokop’s testimony – which is a matter of record in the National Archives – at Parliament Hill was used in the creation of what would become the Canadian Content Regulation governing radio (and television).

Crowbar
From those hearings, the MAPL system was created by RPM Magazine’s Stan Klees and through it CanCon was officially launched in January 1971. The first recognized single containing 100% Canadian content – music, artist, performance and lyrics – was Crowbar’s “Oh What A Feeling” (“it’s got one chord and the words go “Bah bahda bah”) on Frank Davies’ brand new independent Daffodil Records label. From there Daffodil would have a successful run at the singles charts with acts like Fludd, A Foot In Coldwater, King Biscuit Boy, Tom Cochrane, Klaatu, Christmas, Joe Probst, and even Ronnie Hawkins briefly.

Brutus
Other labels were already gearing up for the leap – Yorkville, Aquarius, MUCH (another CHUM off shoot), MWC, Goldfish (Terry Jack’s label), Axe, Syndrome (Tom Northcott’s label), True North and fledgling GRT Records from the USA who were smart enough to pick up Lighthouse’s option and the benefits of feeding bite-sized morsels to radio with one 7” record at a time. It changed Lighthouse’s classification from Carnegie Hall filling rocking jazz ensemble to AM hit makers. Others would reap success with the label as well including Mainline, Doug Riley’s Doctor Music, jazz great Moe Koffman, Everyday People, Myles & Lenny, Ian Thomas, Klaatu, Joshua, Prism, Greaseball Boogie Band (later Shooter), Downchild, Cathy Young, Aarons & Ackley, James Leroy & Denim, Brutus, and so many more.

Ken Tobias
Attic Records wasn’t far behind either with Tom Williams and Al Mair taking what they learned at Warner Brothers and firing up their own shop in 1974. Attic would pump out nearly 400 7” singles before the death of the format in 1989 making them possibly the most prolific Canadian independent label for singles alone. Artists like Ron Nigrini, Fludd, Debbie Fleming, Triumph, Ken Tobias, Shirley Eikhard, Patsy Gallant, Hagood Hardy, Greg Adams, The Nylons, Killer Dwarfs, Haywire, Lee Aaron, Émigré, Downchild Blues Band, The Rovers, Teenage Head, Dutch Mason, Michaele Jordana, Goddo, Anvil, The Bopcats, and dozens of other Canadian and international acts got their radio legs from singles released on Attic.

Rush
Meanwhile, Rush manager Ray Danniels and partner Vic Wilson built Anthem Records which was another front runner in creating radio worthy singles from artists usually relegated to late-night FM radio by such acts as Rush, Aerial, Zero One, Max Webster, Wireless, Bob Segarini (who had already had success on indie label Bomb Records), Boys Brigade, Ian Thomas (who had his earliest success on GRT), BB Gabor, Mendelson Joe, Coney Hatch, Bob & Doug McKenzie and, later, Gowan, The Spoons, Clean Slate and Images In Vogue.

Bomb3
The late ‘70s and early ‘80s found a new explosion of independent labels putting their best seven inchers forward – Ready, Star, Alert, Mo-Da-Mu, Nettwerk, Bomb, YUL, Og, Zulu, Bumstead, Unidisc, Nash the Slash’s Cut-Throat, Fringe Product, Duke Street, Cargo, Audiogram, Intrepid among them – who would redefine not just radio, but television as well especially in conjunction with the newly launched MuchMusic video channel. Burlington’s Spoons would make a name for themselves with this synth-pop anthem on Ready Records alone.

Shaking The Foundations
All of these records would be written off as loss leaders by the labels’ accountants in an effort to drive both concert sales and album sales. By 1986 the Canadian Top 40 hit parade was no more. By 1989 the single was all but dead. With the devolution of the song as the driving force behind consumer consumption, the full-length CD sprang up and showed us a very clear picture of the future – one where the 7” single would be sorely missed. For those heralding the return of vinyl in 2014, be mindful that the thing that made vinyl initially appealing still hasn’t been embraced – the songs that were minted into pocket-sized circular impressions of the albums themselves.

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL FIND:

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL OLDIE:

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

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Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

2 Responses to “JAIMIE VERNON – CIRCULAR IMPRESSIONS, 7 INCHES AT A TIME”

  1. Jim Chisholm in Cambell River Says:

    Great article Jaimie. A few comments. First, Oh What A Feeling has a second chord, the one that takes the harmony up a major third (C up to E) during the rave up guitar solo and then back for the hippest chilling rap section. Of course, you may be listening to the version where said guitar solo was brutally chopped out for commercial radio play. OMG what a travesty!

    I’m adding a pic of the first Canadian single by a band that helped change my world.
    http://www.45cat.com/record/1841xca

    The Haunted had regional success out of Montreal after winning a talent contest. They released many singles and a couple of LPs on Quality records. Their first was called “1,2,5” and became a must-play song for all up and comers, rivaling “Gloria”, “Louie Louie”, and House Of The Rising Sun” for garage band play time. The first batch of product listed the band as The Hunted on the label. I had that single and lost it over the years. I wonder how much that would fetch today? In any case, once in a while I still listen to 3wk Classic underground radio on the web and hear all kinds of great old tunes that surprise me. In the last couple of weeks, they actually played The Haunted’s “1,2,5” from The Nuggets anthology. I was thrilled.

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