Flashback Friday Playlist: The Best Of The Can80ns!

On this most joyous of Flashback Fridays, we shine our love light on the often ignored and largely marginalized contributions of the Canadian music scene during those halcyon days we know and refer to lovingly as "The Eighties".

Keep in mind that Canada gave us the first North American new wave music festival in August of 1980. Billed as "Heatwave", the fest took place just outside of Toronto and featured the likes of Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, the B-52's, Rockpile, and The Rumour (minus Graham Parker) as well as homegrown acts like Teenage Head and the Kings.

If such a festival had taken place in, say, California, we would be talking about with the sort of reverence as, say, the US Festival, but as it stands, most folks remain completely unaware of its existence.

The first band to make a noticeable impact on the US airwaves in this exciting new musical decade was Red Rider, whose "Lunatic Fringe" was a staple of AOR radio stations in 1981. The band's ambitious third album Neruda included AOR staples "Power (Strength In Numbers)" and "Human race" but failed to break into Top 40 formats. Sadly, the band is regarded mostly as a footnote in the US as the band Tom Cochrane was in before he went solo and became known for "Life Is A Highway".

Much like in the UK and USA, Canada's new wave seen sprang out of the DIY punk movement led by the likes of DOA, who spawned legions of like-minded bands that took matters into their own hands. This gradually morphed into a burgeoning synth-wave scene led by Images In Vogue, who are best known for their 1983 hit "Lust For Love", and Strange Advance, whose "We Run" actually managed to gain some traction in the US thanks to MTV airplay.

Neither of those bands were able to match the massive stateside success of Men Without Hats' 1983 hit "Safety Dance". Before the band could be written off as a one-hit wonder, though, they scored yet another US hit with "Pop Goes The World" in 1987.

With a sound that mixed hard rock and new wave to near perfection, Honeymoon Suite scored a huge MTV hit with "New Girl Now" in 1984. Their second album, The Big Prize, also gave us "Feel It Again", "Bad Attitude", and the underrated power ballad (!) "What Does It Take". Their big push at breaking the US market came in 1987 when they supplied the song "Lethal Weapon" to the Mel Gibson-Danny Glover buddy cop movie of the same name.

Of course, no Canad80n playlist would be complete without mentioning the band that was the Canuck version of both the Police and Duran Duran. We're speaking of Platinum Blonde, whose Standing In The Dark album launched four smash hits, "It Doesn't Really Matter," "Standing In The Dark," "Take It From Me", and "Not In Love". The latter became an international hit in 2010 when covered by Crystal Castles with guest vocals by The Cure's Robert Smith.

By '86, the music of Platinum Blonde and Images In Vogue had become as slick as a Slip 'n Slide, leading to some disenchantment in the ranks. This would lead the latter band's Kevin Crompton to quit the band, change his name to cEvin Key and devote his full attention to Skinny Puppy, who, along with Front 242 and Chicago's own Ministry, would go on to play a pivotal pioneering role in defining the industrial music genre.

By 1988, a sense of disillusion had set in on the once-vibrant '80s scene, with synthesizers falling out of fashion and bands taking on a "big hair and loud drums" aesthetic made famous by Bryan Adams' Reckless album. Perhaps the best statement of jaded detachment from all that used to fun and cool was made by The Pursuit of Happiness, who teamed up with legendary singer/songwriter/producer Todd Rundgren on their debut album Love Junk and gave the world the hilariously resigned smash hit "I'm An Adult Now".

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1 comment:

  1. I’ve always been fascinated with Canadian bands, beginning with Bill Henderson’s Chilliwack (on A&M here in the states) in 1970, whose 1972 LONESOME MARY contains one hell of a guitar solo, and whose 1975 ROCKERBOX album is a Top 20 of-all-time straight-ahead rock album, and one still unavailable in CD or digital forms. While driving across Canada during the summer of 1978, my then-wife and I actually stopped in Chilliwack, BC on our way to Vancouver from Brooklyn, NY. Upon arrival in town, I recall noting that Chilliwack's no Chicago as a city. Or a band, but both have their strong points.

    I’m glad you mentioned Moe Berg’s TPOH, another favorite band of mine, and Men Without Hats, whose MESSIAHS DIE YOUNG is one of the catchiest warnings to empty populism ever recorded, but God! How I wished you had included Martha and the Muffins, whose 1981 WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD AT WORK is a sublime political smoker that rocks like few others.

    And that’s just the 1980s.