I was always curious about Canada. It goes back way before my several-year-period of following ice hockey and getting attached to a lot of players who by now must surely have moved on to saner, quieter lives. I got into Canadian bands with 25e Regiment (pronounced "25th Regiment) and their rare masterpiece ECOLOGY which could have led to huge success if they had followed it up. I was obsessed, completely immersed in ECOLOGY and since it still sounds amazing to me now and since it is the longest kept record in my collection well I don't think I need to groove you any further about what a groove it is. Then it was Klaatu and their brilliant music and it just took off in a big way after them.
-The Long Standing Love For Montreal And Canada-
I've been to Montreal more times than any other place in a foreign country in the world- even more times than England if I'm right. I still feel that Canadians and Canadian bands are both underrated and brilliant music and people. They get put down all the time by Americans of the over-patriotic queasily nationalistic kind who are the avid tea party fox news fools, but a lot of good Americans go up there like me and have a great time. I have been treated very respectfully up north and find it very heartwarming the reception I've gotten from the people up there. For quite some time I had best friends who are Canadians and though we are no longer in touch I think of them a lot. Montreal is amazing. You can essentially go to Europe in a car. I feel like I'm in a completely different land up there and you know what? I am.
-Dodgy Business And Narrow Minds-
Now let's get to the music which is the main thing here. If you were a Canadian band in the 60s, 70s, or 80s and you signed out of your own country not America the chances are you were digging your own commercial grave. That is why there are so many rare and obscure Canadian records that no one's ever heard of here who had hits up North and huge national success. It's almost as bad as it is for the Germans and just like German music Canadian music is a taste that I've acquired amidst much consternation from other collectors/dealers. Some people will even think this write up is nuts. Well, too bad for them.
-Copperpenny- A Classy Canadian Band-
Unlike Germany some Canadian artists and bands signed out of America and made it, but I'd argue that the best got screwed over up in Canada. Copperpenny is a perfect example of that. They actually signed the deal for their first release out of America and were buried alive here. It was probably too far out and too commercial at the same time for narrow minded American radio. Not much was done by RCA to promote ANY bands on their label so it could be blamed on them for Copperpenny's fast descent into the bargain bin in 1970 when their self titled debut was released. That was not the case in Canada. Formed in the late 60s in Kitchener Ontario (a mainly Canadian German community) and recording all the way up to the mid/late 70s they had many successes in their own country including some of the most memorable hit singles to come out in Canada. While the albums tended to get ignored the singles did brilliantly for them and this probably culminated in 1973 when they came up with one of the best soft pop tracks ever laid down in "You're Still The One-" a song right up there with "Precious And Few" by the American band Climax Featuring Sonny Geraci who attained a huge hit with their classic here.
-Their First Album Revealed-
Where things get most interesting with Copperpenny is their first album which was released in America and Canada in 1970 by dreadful RCA. RCA signed up several excellent Canadian bands including the also brilliant Cat, but just like Cat Copperpenny went nowhere here. The album sold well in Canada, in fact very well thank you. At the time of their debut the band centered around the talents of Rich Wamil (vocals lead and backup, keyboards, bass, guitar, trumpet,) Laverne McDonald (lead guitar, vocals lead and backup), Ken Hollis (lead vocals), Bert Hamer (drums, percussion, backup vocals), and Paul Reibling (bass and backup vocals). Their stunning five part harmonies and the unique combination of Hollis's soaring Vanity Fare like tenor and Rich Wamil's soulful bassy baritone are just the start. On the 9 tracks featured here 2 are dark and foreboding epics including the ultimate bad acid trip psychedelic nightmare turned psychedelic masterpiece "Stop The World' and a dreamy, creepy track about mortality/the life cycle of death and rebirth called "Castles Of Sand." The texts to their songs whether they are long tracks or short pop catchy tracks are uniformly excellent and the performances are top level professional from all 5 of Copperpenny. My copy has serous h20 damage to the record so alas I still don't have a clean one of this album, but how many records am I gonna write about right after the day I get them and first listen to them? Not a whole lot.
Something about the between-songs crackle is kind of nice if I think of it in a weird way, but thankfully the songs themselves here play great and Jack Richardson's production job is amazing. The first track on the album is the two part "I've Been Hurt Before/Ritchie's Party" and it tips you off that this is going to be a really good one to listen to. I love Ken Hollis and Rich Wamil. They sing brilliantly and especially Hollis with a voice that may melt your heart. He sings "I've Been Hurt Before" and most of the other material. Rich Wamil aptly sings "Ritchie's Party" and rocks out on it too. There are straightforward arrangements less than big baroque ones on Copperpenny's 1st and this album therefore should really appeal to British pop and American baroque pop fans.
"Stop," the second track on Side One is a reworking of one of their earliest Canadian chart smashes "Stop Wait A Minute" and one of the best songs ever written by anybody. Copperpenny had a lot of great material in them and there are no covers allowed here. If you wish Vanity Fare or White Plains wrote more challenging material and at the same time were outdoing themselves for pop brilliance this is the album to have. I love White Plains, but not all their material was as amazing as Vanity Fare who may be my favorite straightforward British pop/rock group of the same era that Copperpenny recorded in. I always wish that harmony pop bands would go just that one step further and rock out or write something really bizarre- Copperpenny do that. "Stop" is the pop/rock side of their sound and you won't find a more beautiful voice than Ken Hollis. Then they clobber you with a spine tingling track at the end of each side. This is a band who can effortlessly go from pop to progressive to heavy psychedelic rock. They can beat the living shit out of Jefferson Airplane, but I'll admit I don't think that's hard to do. I hate most American west coast big name groups and just the same way think the worst Canadians are the ones who made it really big down here. Blood Sweat And Tears I can live without thank you. However, the success of great bands like The Guess Who and The Band opened the door to bands like Copperpenny gaining a recording contract only to have their fortunes change on them in a really bad scenario of broken promises and poor promotion. Listen to songs here like "It's A Happy Day," the perfect pop soul of "Just A Sweet Little Thing," the sad yet bouncy "That Was The Game," and "It's A Rainy Day" and you like me will find that Copperpenny should have been huge in America and worldwide.
-Copperpenny Get Way Out There And Show A Progressive Side-
If you are about to start moaning about them as an out and out pop group then the two long closing tracks on each side prove you way wrong. "Castles Of Sand" is really a pretty freaky, haunting song with beautiful sad baroque vocals and dreamy uncertain mood changing music. The whole text is about how man comes from dust to return to dust to be reborn again as a baby playing with "the sands of you and I-" pretty deep stuff. "Stop The World" is the ultimate bad acid trip song- a warning and a 9 minute epic of paranoid psychedelic magic-making. Hollis can sing both the really pop stuff and the really out there stuff brilliantly and I think it's a bit of a shame that Copperpenny went out and out pop after this album. Quality pop definitely, but they just as easily could have gone progressive. "Stop The World" has made compilations and briefly had this album going crazy with collectors on the strength of the most unrepresentative track. "Stop The World" sounds like they purposefully wanted to close this album out with a huge epic attack on the ears and ill-advised drug use at the same time. The trip you're on starts ominously enough, but some of what goes on in this track reminds me of the far out German bands like Virus!!!!!! Wild!!!! Laverne McDonald plays some scathing fuzz guitar and Hollis gets really dark sounding- a pop psych Arthur Brown or Jim Morrison in tenor instead of baritone range. I've got to find a better copy of this album eventually as I love this record a lot you can tell! I'd give this a really high rating and you definitely should go after it. It will be easier to find than the other band dealt with here- Crosstown Bus.
-Crosstown Bus Are One Of The Most Overlooked Bands From Canada-
Crosstown Bus came out of Vancouver and were arch rivals in the late 60s with 49th Parallel and my good friend Doran Beattie hates them not just for that, but for how the band's leader Jeff Boyne was brought into the band post 49th Parallel Painter became Hammersmith. His stay was short before the group booted him out, but that is where I'm afraid Doran and I will have to differ. Jeff Boyne was a very talented man, but definitely the wrong guy for Hammersmith. His abilities as a songwriter, guitar player, and singer were the driving force behind Crosstown Bus and this album has always been near the top of my Canadian list with much jeering at me for it. Well too goddamned bad for you narrow minded record dealers!! I don't have a clue as to why this album is hated by a lot of people as there is nothing to hate and a lot to love.
Crosstown Bus may have been popular in Vancouver and to a certain extent Canada, but their 1971 one-off HIGH GRASS is really hard to find and especially really rare in good condition like almost all Canadian albums. For pop psych it's a monster. I love to love bands that record dealers love to hate. I don't do it as a perverse thing where it isn't based on the merits of the music and is based just on loving a band no one else seems to like- I do it because the music is of a really high quality that is overlooked in the face of vastly inferior hype jobs. Crosstown Bus came out in 1971 with an album that sounds closer to 1968 and I love the British/Canadian/late 60s amalgam of styles that is to be found on HIGH GRASS. There are two fuzz guitar blasters in the form of two covers of obscure songs "Pretty Millie" by Canadian band Houston and "Rochester River" by Rockin' Foo, an American group. Both of these songs are done much better here than the originals.
-Crosstown Bus HIGH GRASS In Full-
Crosstown Bus have a sound that is a group production not just one guy so while Jeff Boyne is the main writer and has a very special, very strong voice he isn't the entire reason why this album is so good. The band line up is Boyne (lead vocals, guitar, congas), Rob Sommerville (organ, congas, vocals), Frank Ludwig (piano, guitar, organ, vocals), Brian Anderson (bass, vocals), and Mike Killeen (drums and vocals). They didn't last very long after recording HIGH GRASS, but what an amazing album it is! I love British influenced bands and as a commonwealth country Canada could turn out some real winners who also had a very Canadian sound. That would be the case here. I love the moodiness of some songs like "Overcoats" and the title track. Then I love the bright sunlight-through-the-window vibe of other ones like "In Ten Years Time" and "Too Many Mornings." There also is in the closing track a great version of the Van Morrison classic "Caravan." I love Van Morrison's voice and I love his music even though I've heard he's a really disgusting person. I don't want to find that out. He doesn't sound disgusting to me, but a big voice like his could definitely be a big ego trip. Jeff Boyne sings in a similar range to Van Morrison and other deep voiced melodic and strong singers, but he has a quavery vibrato that is closer to the late Robin Gibb or on "Overcoats" a mellower Family's Roger Chapman. While Robin Gibb and Van Morrison had/have serious personality issues you don't get a sense that Jeff Boyne is on an ego trip. He doesn't once over sing even at his most dramatic which also brings to mind not just vocally, but musically the Swedish band Blond.
-More On Crosstown Bus And Don't Pass Up The Brilliance Of Canada-
There isn't a note I'd change here. There isn't a word or phrase or twiddle of the engineer that I would change here either and the "live" sound of five very good musicians augmented with tasteful Beatlesesque string and horn arrangements make this a top Canadian masterpiece. Every song is great. "Too Many Mornings" has a very Beatles circa 1966/1967 sound and to counteract that "Overcoats" and the title track sound very much more of a progressive dramatic kind of pop that is more like that of other UK bands. I don't know what there isn't to like here. The cover art is very psychedelic, but although this album isn't a psychedelic trip out it's got a strong late 60s vibe to it and there is nothing to complain about. I've always been able to pick up on whether a band or album is real or if they waste my time going through the motions of something they most certainly are not. This album is no fake out like The Frederic or any number of overhyped American non-psych "psych" records. Even bands as great as British North American Act were always getting blown off by a lot of American dealers, but I never came across that one which now fetches over $500! I hope that somebody can also appreciate Crosstown Bus as they come across as an honest and very talented group who focused on great songs in an era that was veering off into a lot of self-indulgence. They didn't try to keep up with the times and the quality of 1966-1968 in 1971 I find very appealing in their songs. "Pass This Way Again," and "Renie" are both songs that convey polar opposite time frames and polar opposite kinds of bands, but the album never becomes disjointed. "Pass This Way Again" is moving into the early 70s, but "Renie" is a good 1966 beat meets 1966 bubblegum pop song. "In Ten Years Time" is catchy and evocative. The whole album flows together beautifully and I really don't see what there is that some people find to adamantly hate about such a wonderful record. I guess you'll have to make up your own mind if you are lucky enough to find a copy of HIGH GRASS. I'd say give this a few spins and it should make you be the one laughing at narrow minded dealers and collectors not them laughing at the fact that you have an open mind. As for me, this may make my top 5 and I'll leave the rest up to whether it makes your top 5 or your top 10. I like to think that I know a whole lot more than most other dealers/collectors and what makes me happiest is that I know I do know a lot more than they do. Just keep an open mind and don't let other opinions influence your own. Canada is a country you shouldn't overlook. Overlook Canada and to me that's overlooking half the world. Especially for the musical part of things.