In this edition of The Great Canadian Road Trip we find ourselves in Toronto, but more than being a specific geographic location, we find ourselves in Toronto during a very specific time in music history. Today’s pit stop takes us back to the time of the “Hair bands” during the 1980s. As you may recall, with the dawning of the 1980s came the beginning of the music video era. It was a time when image was as important, if not more important, than the actual musicianship of the bands being featured. The Glam rock of 1970s era David Bowie transitioned into a new chapter in music history where the rock gods on stage all donned makeup and sported hairstyles that would have turned Farrah Fawcett green with envy. However, not only did the 1980s hair bands have a look, they also sported similar trends when it came to the timeline of their own existence. Whether the band was a US juggernaut like Foreigner, Journey, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Warrant, Poison or countless others, these bands all followed a familiar musical path that saw them initially make a name for themselves as rockers only to end their careers a few years later in that blaze of musical glory known as the power ballad. All of these bands had big hair, big songs with big sounds, and all of them ended with the big emotive signal flare in the sky that was a power ballad. For Foreigner, it was “I Want To Know What Love Is”. Journey had “Faithfully”. Bon Jovi had “Bed of Roses”, and on and on it went. While not exactly the same thing, there were many fans of Metallica who thought the end was near for their favourite band when Metallica released the Black Album and shifted away from speed metal toward more of a rock sound. For the purposes of this post, we are going to focus on three Canadian bands that were actually the same one band and feature three songs that are actually the same one song, as well. Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce you to one of Canada’s most famous power ballads ever, “When I’m With You”, and the band who created it, Sheriff.
Sheriff formed in Toronto in the late 1970s and released their one and only self-titled album in 1982. While Sheriff started out with dreams of being rock stars in the video age, they only managed to have one hit before calling it quits. That hit was a power ballad entitled “When I’m With You”. At the time that Sheriff released “When I’m With You”, they were made up of lead singer Freddy Curci, guitarists Steve DeMarchi, Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel, along with drummer Rob Elliott. At the time of its release, “When I’m With You” was only a moderate hit, reaching as high as #8 on the charts and not even cracking the top fifty in the US. The success of the song was to happen years later. In the meantime, the members of the band became disillusioned and decided to split up.
Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel left and formed a new band that some of you may recall named Frozen Ghost. This band won the Juno Award for Most Promising Group in 1987. While they had a few rock songs of note, they are best remembered for their epic power ballad “Dream Come True”. The song went to #1 on the chart and became a staple of weddings and high school slow dances. Then, the band broke up. Just like that.
When Lanni and Hassel left Sheriff to form Frozen Ghost, the remaining members of Sheriff reorganized themselves into a new band called Alias. Just like their former bandmates, the members of Alias started out of the gate with a few rock songs that gained some airplay across Canada, but they ended up their career as a band the exact same way that Frozen Ghost did, and that was with a memorable power ballad. In their case, the song was “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say”. For a brief moment in Canadian musical history, you had Arnold Lanni from Frozen Ghost singing “Dream Come True”, Freddy Curci from Alias singing “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say” at the same time as “When I’m With You” by their original band, Sheriff, made a surprising return to the charts.
As mentioned earlier, when Sheriff had their one hit with “When I’m With You”, the song had its moment on the charts in Canada but never made a dent in the US. However, all that changed the way it is supposed to…by word of mouth and by authentic people power. The story goes that in 1987, a couple of local American radio disc jockeys liked the song and started throwing it into their musical lineup each week. As listeners became familiar with the tune, they began requesting it be played more often. The more “When I’m With You” was requested, the more it gained airplay. The more airplay it received, the greater the demand for it to be played. A cycle of positivity took hold for the song. Before anyone knew it, “When I’m With You” developed a second life and ended up going all the way to #1 on the charts in the US, making it the first Canadian song to do so since Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” 1974. The song was also noteworthy because it was one of the very few #1 US songs to not have a music video to help sell the song. It made it to the top on its own musical merit. Just as the original members of Sheriff had wanted to achieve when they first formed back in Toronto in the late 1970s. With “When I’m With You”, “Dream Come True” and “(I Need You Now) More Than Words Can Say” all on the charts at the same time in the mid-late 80s, people could be forgiven for thinking that power ballads were becoming a big trend in Canadian music. However, upon closer inspection, the truth is revealed that this supposed trend was actually the work of one band lineup that became three, all singing the same basic song.
Regardless as to whether the band name was Journey, Mötley Crüe, Foreigner, Alias, Sheriff or Bon Jovi, there was a very real love from the general public for the power ballads each band produced. All of the power ballads possessed similar storylines and musical structure. Each spoke to the power of love and how reeeeeeeeeeeeeally strong the feelings are that come with it. If you were to check out the viewer comments on YouTube for any of these power ballads, you will find nothing but happy remarks and fond recollections of people having the best and/or most memorable moments of their lives. The comments range from “This was our wedding song”, “I remember this from high school dances and getting my butt grabbed/grabbing butts during the slow dances”, all the way to, “This song was my Mom’s favourite so we played it at her funeral”. Regardless of the specific case, power ballads often help to form the soundtrack of the lives of many people. They may have been cheesy and formula-driven, but power ballads rank as some of the songs that have ended up connecting best with actual listeners and fans. At the end of the day, that is all most bands would have wanted to achieve. It is a legacy I am sure they are proud to have their band name attached to, regardless of whether that band name is Sheriff, Frozen Ghost or Alias. One band. Three names. Three songs that are one song. Thousands of life-defining memories created for fans. One lasting legacy. Job well done!
So, let’s get ready to tease our hair, toss it about dramatically and get our power ballad grooves on! Here are all three songs by all three bands. Enjoy them all. See you next time when we continue on with The Great Canadian Road Trip.
The link to the official websites for Sheriff, Frozen Ghost and Alias cannot be found. They do not seem to exist. Sorry.
Since Sheriff was formed in Toronto, let’s make our pit stop there. The link to the official website for Canada’s biggest city can be found here.
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