This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #66: Snowbird by Anne Murray.
Anne Murray had her first big hit, “Snowbird” when I was eight years old. Her voice was part of the soundtrack to my childhood. A great many mornings, my family and I would start our day sitting around the dinner table, eating our breakfast while listening to the local radio station, CJCB. I swear I heard “Snowbird” play almost every morning. Like me, Anne Murray was from Nova Scotia. She was one of our own and, as such, we were all very proud to hear her sing on the radio. Truth be told, we all thought that everyone who was a singer back home was automatically famous all across Canada and around the world. But, in reality, our worldview was quite limited so, when “Snowbird” actually went Gold in the US, many of were surprised that Anne was the very first Canadian female to have achieved such a heady accomplishment. But, she was. In fact, Anne Murray was the first Canadian female to accomplishment many worldly goals such as winning Grammy Awards and Country Music Singer of the Year Awards in the US, too. Anne Murray was, actually, known the world over and, because of her successes, she helped pave the way for the wave of female stars that followed such as Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne and many more. Someone had to be the first and, luckily for those of us listening to her while we ate breakfast each day, it was her.
Anne Murray was born in Springhill, Nova Scotia. The fact that she was born there was another factor that strengthened the ties that bind when it came to how she was viewed in my house. You see, Springhill is a coal mining town. Glace Bay, where I grew up, was a coal mining town, too. The families who lived and worked in both towns all knew what it meant to do dangerous work, to have coal dust under your nails and in your wrinkles around your eyes and to pack lunches in steel lunchboxes so the rats in the mine wouldn’t get your lunch before you had a chance to eat it. Both towns prospered because of coal. Both towns suffered when mining disasters struck. We were born atop seams of black gold and so was Anne….she was one of us.
When Anne was in her late teens, she applied to sing on a television show from back home called, “Singalong Jubilee”. Initially, she was rejected for a singing role. So, instead, she graduated from high school, applied to TEacher’s College and became a high school Physician. Ed. teacher. She worked as a teacher for a year or so and then, was encouraged to apply again to “Singalong Jubilee”. This time, she was accepted and offered a singing spot on the show. Appearing with her was a young man named Gene MacLellan. Like Anne, Gene was just a young man in his twenties. He liked to sing and was just starting to try his hand at songwriting. One of the very first songs he managed to write was “Snowbird”. He wrote the song while walking along a beach in his home province of Prince Edward Island. He wrote the song based upon the idea of a man wanting to be able to get away from life and be free, like the birds, to up and travel somewhere new at a moment’s notice. As many of you may know, one of the telltale signs of the approach of Winter in Canada is the migration of birds to the more warmer southern locales of the US and South America. Well, birds aren’t the only creatures who migrate, lots of Canadian citizens do, too. Thus, the term “Snowbird” holds a dual meaning in Canada. So, when Gene MacLellan wrote of snowbirds spreading their tiny wings and flying away, he was using a dual perspective, too. MacLellan and a host of others have recorded and released versions of “Snowbird” over the years but, it was Anne Murray who made this song her own and took it to the very top of the charts.
Since the release of “Snowbird”, Anne Murray has been one of the giants of the Canadian music scene. She has had other big hits abroad and at home, including, “You Needed Me”, “Can I Have This Dance?”, “Danny’s Song”, “Sing High, Sing Low”, “Cotton Jenny”, “A Love Song”, “What About Me?”, “Shadows in the Moonlight” and many more. Ten #1 hit singles overall, 55 million in album sales worldwide. Anne Murray has won four Grammy Awards, multiple Country Music Association Awards and a whopping 24 Canadian Juno Awards. She, along with Leonard Cohen, were the inaugural inductees to the Canadian Songwriting Hall of Fame. She is an Officer of the Order of Canada and has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto. For some, she is best known as the lady who sang the national anthem at the very first baseball game ever played by the Toronto Blue Jays…..in the snow, of course.
But, for all her accomplishments, the one I remember most vividly was the time she was the musical guest on the tv show, “Saturday Night Live”. The host that week was actor Burt Reynolds who, at the time, was one of the biggest names in Hollywood. When he introduced her, he did so by saying that he was presenting “the sweetest voice in the universe”. We all swooned that a famous Hollywood celebrity knew our Anne. But, in those days, that was how many Canadians measured the worth of our national celebrities….by how well they did south of the border. But, Anne was different. For us, we were so proud to hear Burt Reynolds speak so highly of her but, she was OUR Anne. We would have continued to be proud of her no matter what. But, he was right…..she did have the sweetest sounding voice in the universe. The magic that voice wove! Anne Murray was a star in my childhood home, as well as, being a star and a difference-maker across Canada. That she was known and respected and socialized with A-list American celebrities was merely icing on an already delicious cake. Anne was simply terrific. And in the end, she was all ours.
So, without further delay, here is Nova Scotia’s own, Anne Murray, with the Gene MacLellan-penned song, her first #1 hit, “Snowbird”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Snowbird”, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Anne Murray, can be found here.
The link to the official website for the Anne Murray Centre Museum in Springhill, Nova Scotia, can be found here.