KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #9: Truly by Lionel Richie (as Nominated By Bonnie McQuarrie).

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.

Honourable Mention Song #9: Truly by Lionel Richie (as Nominated by Bonnie McQuarrie).

You know how there are some people who are part of you life for only a short while but, in that time, they end up making a lasting impact for years to come? Well, Bonnie McQuarrie is someone who is like that for me. I met Bonnie during my second year of teaching. I started off in downtown Toronto but, I had dreams of being a homeowner and having a nice yard, etc., and knew that wasn’t going to happen in downtown Toronto. So, I joined a new school board an hour or so to the east and went to work at a little Jk-3 school in Courtice, Ontario. I was hired to teach a Grade 2 class. To be honest, at that stage of my career, I was not yet a good teacher. Not many brand new teachers are. But, I had two things going for me that saved me in the end. First of all, I had some really sweet kids in my class…..kids who put a smile on my face and helped give me the courage to keep fighting my way through it all each day. Secondly, I was surrounded by good colleagues, like Bonnie. Teaching can feel like a lonely profession, at times but, in a good school, you are never truly alone. For me, I got to watch a whole group of excellent role-models, like Bonnie, practise their craft. Because of their professionalism, I grew as a teacher. Because of their calmness, I steadied myself. Because of their friendship, I felt not so alone and, moreso, I felt welcome and included. Bonnie was a big part of helping that to happen. My gratitude to her and to everyone else is infinite.

The funny thing about it was that, all throughout that year, in the background, was the fact that a brand new school was being built and that all of us, as staff, were going to be divided up among three schools for the following year. Bonnie and I ended up going different ways after that one year. In due time, I got my act together and turned into a reasonably competent teacher. But, the kindnesses shown toward me that second year of my career saved me and made all else that followed possible. In subsequent years, my involvement as a Union Steward, as well as, being a Mentor for teacher candidates by hosting them in my classroom, were all activities that developed as a direct result of my gratitude to my profession and my desire to give back to it now that I was in a better position to do so. So, Bonnie McQuarrie, it may have only been one year of time together as colleagues but, it was a lifetime of respect earned. Thanks for being there when I needed you to be. It gives me tremendous pleasure to share your favourite song with everyone today.

Bonnie has nominated the song, “Truly” by Lionel Richie. Lionel Richie has enjoyed one of the most successful careers ever. He has sold over 100 million albums, placing him in the Top Ten all-time for album sales by a solo artist. But, Lionel Richie was not always a solo artist. He has enjoyed two distinct phases to his career. He first came to my attention as a member of the Funk/Soul/R&B group known as The Commodores. They started out with Funky hits like, “Brick House” but really found fame and fortune with ballads such as “Sailing” and “Three Times a Lady”. Lionel Richie left the group and embarked on a solo career that saw him continue to release ballads such as “Truly” and “Hello”, along with dance-oriented Pop songs such as “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “All Night Long”. He has won numerous Grammy Awards, had many #1 songs and has settled into latest phase of his career by being a judge of music reality shows such as American Idol. In fact, there are also a whole generation of folks who know him more for being Nicole Richie’s adoptive father than as a singer. *(Nicole Richie gained fame being the partner of Paris Hilton in the reality/comedy series, “The Simple Life”. When Nicole was a toddler, she was adopted by Lionel Richie and his wife).

In any case, the song, “Truly” was Lionel Richie’s first song that he released as a solo artist and it went straight to #1 on the charts. It is a very romantic ballad about a man committing himself to loving his partner “Truly” and forever. It is a song that has been at the centre of many a romantic moment between couples, such as being played with proposals of marriage are being offered…..as was the case when Bonnie’s husband, Ian, proposed to her. So, as it turns out, “Truly” has become one of those songs that, long ago, ceased being a Lionel Richie song and has, instead, become a Bonnie McQuarrie song. It has often been said that one of the prime reasons we have music in the first place is to have stories that touch our hearts and change our lives. Sometimes, we have people to do that for us, as Bonnie and the staff at Courtice South Public School did for me. At other times, we have Pop superstars like Lionel Richie to do it for us with their heartfelt melodies and lyrics, as he ….and Ian….did for Bonnie. I am happy, either way.

Thank you, Bonnie, for trusting me to share your story. I also wish to thank you for all of your comments, shared stories and general support of this countdown project since Day #1 when it all began with Song #500: “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley and the Wailers. But, most of all, thanks for throwing me that lifeline of friendship, along with all of the others, when I was so very much in need of support back in those early days. It meant the world.

So, without further delay, here is a song that has touched a great many hearts along the way, “Truly” by Lionel Richie. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Truly” by Lionel Richie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Lionel Richie, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #7: La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf (as Covered by Louis Armstrong) and (as Nominated by Deb Wilton).

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.

Honourable Mention Song #7: La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf, (as Covered by Louis Armstrong) and (as Nominated by Deb Wilton).

“La Vie En Rose” is a French song that was written during WWII during the German occupation of France. It translates, quite literally, to “the Pink Life” or, more accurately, to viewing life through rose-coloured glasses or having a positive outlook on things. “La Vie En Rose” was written by a lady named Edith Piaf, who is known in France as “The Little Sparrow” because she stood less that five feet tall. Edith lived a colourful life; living, in and out of brothels and bordellos in her youth. As a very young girl, the beautiful nature of her voice brought her to the attention of important people in the musical community and thus, she began singing in public while still a teenager. Over time, she began to gain fame across France. But, just as her fame was about to spread across borders and around the world, the Second World War broke out and France was quickly conquered by Germany and Piaf found herself, along with all French citizens, living under Nazi rule. During the time of occupation, Piaf regularly performed for German officers and agreed to go on singing tours in Germany which, in the eyes of many, made her a collaborator and a traitor. However, unbeknownst to all but a select few, Piaf was actually working for the French Resistance. By taking advantage of her access to high ranking German officers, Piaf was able to relay many important pieces of information to Resistance fighters. As well, she often toured prisoner of war camps and always insisted on posing for “celebrity photos” with inmates. What the Germans didn’t know was that Piaf was turning those photos over to the Resistance who, in turn, were using the inmate’s image to make new official papers for them use if they were able to escape from captivity. The final thing Piaf did to buoy the spirits of those under Nazi rule was to write the song, “La Vie En Rose”. This song is a beautiful, haunting, lilting song that speaks of a life filled with Joy and Happiness. It was a song that was sung all throughout France by ordinary citizens, all of whom were living a nightmarish existence and all of whom who were praying for better days to come. “La Vie En Rose” filled a much needed void in French life by becoming an anthem of Hope at a time when things looked their darkest. After the War was over and the Nazis were vanquished, Edith Piaf was celebrated for her role as a singer and as an agent provocateur.

The song “La Vie En Rose” captured the imagination of people beyond the borders of France, as well. As a result, there was a stampede of well known singers who all raced to cover this song. In fact, in 1947 alone, “La Vie En Rose” charted twelve different times, by twelve different singers; ranging from unknown singers getting their big break, all the way to musical titans such as Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. Even Edith Piaf charted in America with her new, updated version of “La Vie En Rose” that was now in English, as well as French. That so many singers all laid claim to this song caused me to have to reach out to my friend, Deb Wilton for clarification, when it came time for me to do the research for this post. I asked her whose music she heard in her head when she listened to this song. She replied that the Louis Armstrong version was her favourite so, I will continue with our story by talking a bit about Armstrong and his connection to this glorious song. I will, also, soon discuss why Deb nominated this song, too. It is quite the story.

Louis Armstrong is one of the giants of Jazz in America. He was born in New Orleans and was lovingly called “Satchmo” for most of his career. Like Sister Rosetta Tharpe and later, Little Richard, Louis Armstrong was a black musician who found favour with white audiences. Armstrong’s concerts were generally a multi-racial affair, which was noteworthy for the times because usually the races didn’t mix that often in public venues. But, Louis Armstrong’s exuberant personality and his repertoire of songs made him a fan favourite regardless of colour. But, having said this, Armstrong was a black man in a country where that could be a problem so, racism was something well known, even to someone as famous as Satchmo. Thus, when he heard the joyous strains of “La Vie En Rose”, its’ hopeful message resonated within his heart, too. In Armstrong’s skilled hands, “La Vie En Rose” was given a Jazzy, bluesy, almost soulful adaptation that retained all of the original beauty of the song but made it one that sounded uniquely like an Armstrong composition, too. Louis Armstrong’s cover of “La Vie En Rose” became one of his biggest hits and signature tunes throughout the rest of his career.

This brings us back to my friend, Deb Wilton. Deb is someone who has made a difference in the lives of me and my family members (and many others, for that matter). Professionally, Deb works as an Educational Assistant in schools. In her role, she helps students in need of additional assistance to navigate their way through their school day. It takes a lot of patience and kindness and compassion to do what Deb and other EAs do each day. Over the course of her career, Deb has worked alongside by wife, Keri, when she was a classroom teacher and Deb has worked alongside me, when I was still a classroom teacher. *(I wrote about how she helped me to gain a better understanding of a very special Christmas song in a post from this countdown that you can read here). In her family life, Deb, her husband, Larry and her two daughters, Rose and Jules, have an “open door” policy whereby they will welcome in the lonely and the friendly, alike, in good times and in down times, too. They are all very generous in spirit and in deed. In fact, Deb’s daughter, Rose, has successfully organized a project called, “The Rose Quest”, whose aim is to deliver toiletries, socks and other assorted items to people who find themselves on the margins of society. By placing a small kit of wellness items in the hands of those who often have nothing, Rose and her family and friends bring hope in a time of darkness, if even for just that short period of time. The impact of letting people feel seen and valued cannot be underestimated. That’s what Rose does, along with her entire family. In many ways, the essence of the spirit behind the song, “La Vie En Rose” runs through the veins of Deb and all her family members. It is a mantra that they have taken to their hearts and have put into action in ways that make a positive difference. So, to Deb Wilton, “La Vie En Rose” is not just a piece of music, it is a piece of her heart as well. Thus, you can imagine the scene a few years ago when, after years of scraping and saving, Deb and her family got to go on a “trip of a lifetime” to England and then, a day or so in Paris, France. It was while in France that Deb’s daughter, Jules, took out her phone and found the Louis Armstrong version of “La Vie En Rose” and played it for her Mom, with the Eiffel Tower in the background. I am sure that there were hugs and smiles and tears and, maybe even, a dance, as the words to “La Vie En Rose” filled the air in Paris that day.

Such is the power of music to heal and to inspire and to move hearts and shape minds. “La Vie En Rose” is such a song.

Thank you, Deb, for nominating such a wonderful piece of music. Thank you, as well, for trusting me with such a treasured family story. Finally, thanks for all of your stories shared and comments given throughout the course of this musical countdown. It helped make this journey better.

So, without further delay, I will post the original Edith Piaf version of this song, along with the cover version by Louis Armstrong that Deb so adores. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “La Vie En Rose” by Edith Piaf, can be found here.

The link to the official website of “The Little Sparrow”, Edith Piaf, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “La Vie En Rose”, as covered by Louis Armstrong, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Louis Armstrong, can be found here.

The link to the official website for the organization run by Deb’s daughter, Rose, called, “The Rose Quest” can be found on Facebook. Simply search for “The Rose Quest” and you can find the page dedicated to this important project. Please feel free to check it out. If you wish to contribute to it in any way, I know Rose and her family would be most appreciative.

The link to the video for the trailer about Edith Piaf’s life called, “La Vie En Rose”, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #4: Northwest Passage/Barrett’s Privateers by Stan Rogers (as Nominated by Me for my lovely wife, Keri).

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.

Honourable Mention Song #4: Northwest Passage/Barrett’s Privateers by Stan Rogers (as Nominated by Me for my lovely wife, Keri).

So, the story goes like this……approximately two months ago I was all set to drive my eldest daughter to work. Just before leaving, my wife called out and asked me if I would please stop off at the Post Office on the way home and get some stamps because we were almost out. Because I love my wife, I readily agreed to her request. So, off my daughter and I went.

Upon entering the Post Office, I approached the counter. The gentlemen on the other side asked how he could help me. I told him I was there for some stamps. I was offered the regular pack of ten or, for the same price, perhaps I wanted a specialty pack. Well now…..I wasn’t planning on getting fancy stamps but, if they were the same price then I’d be a fool not to check them out so I asked the man to show me what he had. First, he showed my a ten-pack of stamps honouring Queen Elizabeth for some milestone of hers. I asked to see what else he had. Next, he showed me a pack of stamps with pictures of wild flowers on them. Next! Then, he placed a pack of stamps on the counter that had on the front, a photo of a man I recognized right away.

“Oh wow! Stan Rogers! I’ll take those!”, I exclaimed in a voice that was little more high-pitched with excitement that the occasion probably warranted but, there it was.

The man raised one eyebrow and asked if I was sure this photo was of Stan Rogers because, prior to me coming in, not one single person that he had shown the stamps to had known who he was.

“What!? Stan Rogers was one of Canada’s greatest folk singers. His music is legendary.” Needless to say, I was in a state of total flabbergastation! So, I grabbed my stamps, paid my bill and got the heck out of that post office who, I told myself, must serve an awfully lowbrow clientele! Then I drove home.

Everyone was busy when I came home so I just tossed the stamps onto the table, next to my wife’s placemat where she would be sure to see them. A short time later, she arrived upstairs and noticed the stamps. She picked them up and then laughed, “Who is this guy? Why did you buy these stamps?”

“What!? What ya mean, who is this guy? That’s Stan Rogers!”

She shook her head as if hearing his name for the very first time. I groaned. But, to be honest, Keri and I don’t share the same musical taste so, being truthful here, it didn’t completely surprise me that she didn’t know the name and the story behind someone who has been awarded the Order of Canada for his contributions to the culture of our country. We may be a happily married couple but, at times, there is a generational divide between us when it comes to our base of general knowledge and life experiences….which isn’t a good nor bad thing but, it is a thing…..and so, I wrote off her lack of awareness of who Stan Rogers was as being just another example of said divide.

A few days later, Keri’s Mom and dad arrived for a visit. In the course of our pleasant conversation, the topic of the new stamps came up. Now, my in-laws are great people and, although older than me, I tend to share more in common with them when it comes to Boomer knowledge than I do with my wife so, when the topic of the stamps came up, I proudly turned to my Father-in-Law, Bruce and asked, “You know who Stan Rogers is, don’t you!?”

He looked at me and replied, “Who?”

“What!? Not you, too!”, I replied with a groan.

Maybe it wasn’t a generational thing after all. Maybe it was an Ontario thing. That would be funny though because Stan Rogers was born in Hamilton, Ontario. He became interested in music; particularly Folk Music, in Ontario. It was while he spent his summers vacationing in Guysborough County in Nova Scotia (which is located not far from where the mainland of NS meets the Island of Cape Breton, where I grew up), that he began writing his famous songs about the sea and about the history of Canada. Many people consider Stan Rogers to be a Maritimer by birth but, truth be told, he is an Honorary Maritimer of the highest order. His songs about sailing and about fishing have made him one of the most famous musical figures in our country. His deep, rich baritone voice is unparalleled.

Stan Rogers has had many hits but is most famous for two…..”The Northwest Passage” and “Barrett’s Privateers”. You are going to get the opportunity to listen to them both. I’ll start with “The Northwest Passage”, first. A decade or so ago, a survey was undertaken as to what were the best songs in all of Canadian music history. “The Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers finished as Song #4. The only songs rated above it were “Heart pf Gold” by Neil Young, “If I Had a Million Dollars” by The Barenaked Ladies and “Four Strong Winds” by Ian and Sylvia Tyson. Many of those who took part in the poll stated that “The Northwest Passage” could easily be our national anthem, should we ever wish to change our current one, for whatever reason. The song is an homage to those explorers who sought a trade route through the fabled Northwest Passage across the roof of the land that was to become known as Canada, all the way to China on the other side. The song speaks of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition, who became lost in the sea ice and who all perished in the aftermath. The song also references places like the Beaufort Sea, The MacKenzie River and the Fraser River, too. Rogers plays narrator of this song and speaks of his own efforts to replicate the journey; of the beauty of the land and of the hardships found along the way, as well. It is a rousing song; one that is unusually patriotic for a country that normally shrugs off its own attempts at myth-making. Rogers sings this song a-capella, with much forcefulness and fervour. He sings the verses alone and shares the chorus with others, which lends the rousing touch to the song. “The Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers speaks of a history that is woven into the tapestry of our land and, as such, it is one of the most famous and important songs any Canadian has ever produced. If one is unaware of it, that should change today because once you hear Rogers’ powerful rendition of this song, it is difficult to ever not here it in your mind again; especially, each time you see images of our beautiful North.

The song, “Barrett’s Privateers” is a different type of song altogether. It is more of a shanty, to be sung in public places, most often with a cool drink in one hand. The song is based on the coastal legacy of pirates and those who sought to profit from stealing the wares of other ships. This tale speaks of a young man who sought a life of adventure on the sea, only to find himself on the “scummiest ship” of all-time, sailing in search of plunder that is never found. In the end, he remains at sea for many years and finally arrives back on land, in Halifax, a broken man with nothing but a song to sing and a tale to tell. The east coast of Canada is famous for their kitchen parties and rowdy pubs. It is almost a rite of passage to sing aloud Stan Rogers, “Barrett’s Privateers” in a beer-soaked, hotter than Hell, pub, arm-in-arm with dozens and dozens of your very best friends, whose names are all “Buddy” and “Pal”! Once again, Stan Rogers has written a song that captures the essence of a segment of the cultural life of those who grew up out east, as we say. Many people claim that The Tragically Hip were the first to really write songs about Canada but, truth be told, they were as inspired to do so by the work of Stan Rogers as they were by anyone else. Stan Rogers was one of Canada’s original troubadours. He is on a stamp for a reason.

But, the story of Stan Rogers is not one that is confined to his music. He made news in how he died, as well. Stan Rogers had been appearing at a Folk Festival all the way down in Texas. He boarded an Air Canada flight in Dallas and began to fly back to Toronto. Along the way, a fire broke out in one of the lavatories. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati, Ohio. By the time the emergency doors were opened and the evacuation chutes deployed, the airplanes’ passenger cabin had filled with toxic smoke; killing 33 people in all, with Stan Rogers being one of them. As a result of this incident, smoking was banned in lavatories on all airplanes. As part of those safety tutorials we all see as an airplane is preparing to depart, they always mention that smoking is not allowed and that all lavatories are equipped with smoke detectors, should someone wish to take a sneaky puff or two in the loo. The installation of smoke detectors in airplane washrooms is a direct legacy of the accident that took Stan Rogers life.

Hopefully, I have done my bit and have introduced Stan Rogers to any of you who, like my wife and her family, may not have known who this great Canadian was. When people speak of a “Canadian identity or culture”, Stan Rogers plays a prominent part in that conversation. His songs speak of the land and of those of us who live in all parts of it. As such, he is somebody every Canadian should know. Hopefully, now you do. Take this newfound knowledge and head directly to your nearest Postal Office. Ask for the Stan Rogers stamps by name. Dazzle the posties there with your profoundly grand base of general knowledge of Canada.

As for the videos you are about to see, I am going to share three. First, Stan Rogers will sing, “Northwest Passage” a-capella. What a tremendously inspiring song this is! The song was filmed in the 1970s so the video is a bit grainy but, the sound quality is excellent. Crank the volume and watch the goosebumps form. The second video is of Rogers and a few friends sitting around a dining room table singing, “Barrett’s Privateers”. Again, the vocals are powerful and the song is fun. But, for my money, the better version of “Barrett’s Privateers” is video three. This is a live performance from a Halifax Pub called The Lower Deck. It features a cast of Maritime musical royalty, along with a rowdy, enthusiastic and inebriated audience. The singers include, Alan Doyle from the band, Great Big Sea, Bruce Guthro, a legendary Cape Breton Celtic singer, Dahmnait Doyle, one of Newfoundland’s favourite daughters, a man named Stuart Cameron, who is an accomplished Celtic singer, as well as, the son of the Godfather of Cape Breton music, John Allan Cameron. There area few others, too but, unfortunately, I don’t know their names. But, this performance will give you all a taste of how important and popular Stan Rogers was and how his music lives on, lo these many years after his death.

So, without further delay, here is Stan Rogers and a cast of hundreds, with “The Northwest Passage” and “Barrett’s Privateers”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “The Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Barrett’s Privateers” by Stan Rogers, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Barrett’s Privateers”, as sung at The Lower Deck Pub in Halifax, Nova Scotia, can be found here. ***If you can’t feel the culture and the passion in this song then, check your pulse. You might already be dead. I don’t know what else to say.

The link to the official website for Stan Rogers, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #3: I Melt With You by Modern English (as Nominated by Jeanette Sage).

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.

Honourable Mention Song #3: I Melt With You by Modern English (as nominated by Jeanette Sage).

I met my wife at a staff meeting. A brand new school was being built in a neighbouring town. It came to my attention that the Principal of this new school was, in fact, going to be the same man who was my Principal at the very beginning of my career. Since I had enjoyed our time together, I gave him phone call and asked if he had any room on his roster for me. He did. Thus, I ended up helping him to open a new school which, obviously, entailed becoming a member of a brand new teaching staff. At the time, my wife, Keri, was not my wife. She was another young teacher on a staff populated with young teachers. I was a decade older that most of my new colleagues but, because I was single, I got included in getting to know everyone in a social way, as well as a professional way. In doing so, I met the woman who was to become my wife. But, in addition, I got to enjoy the privilege of forming friendships that have lasted beyond my time at that school and which continue to this very day. One of those new educators that Keri and I got to meet way back then was a smart, talented teacher named Jeanette Sage. One of the great things about meeting other young people, like Jeanette, when we did was that we have been able to grow into our adult lives together. Our timelines have generally followed a parallel course. There have been marriages, the purchasing of new homes, the birth of children and, as time has gone by, we have been able to watch each other’s children growing up and moving on into the world. Not too long ago, via Facebook, Keri and I got to watch Jeanette and her husband take their eldest daughter around on the university tour because she will be ready to start attending post-secondary school very soon. In a year and a bit, Keri and I will be doing the same thing for our Leah. Where does the time go?!

Regardless of what has transpired over the course of the several decades we have known Jeanette and her family, we have remained connected in ways that work for us all. As a consequence of that, Jeanette has been able to offer her support and her commentary all throughout this countdown. As it turns out, we share a similar taste in music. I can always count on Jeanette to chime in with an enthusiastic “thumbs up” whenever I post about an Alternative song and/or songs from the 80s/90s. Therefore, I was not surprised when she replied to my call for Honourable Mention songs with an 80s classic, “I Melt With You” by Modern English.

Modern English were a band from Colchester, Essex in England (which is about an hour and a half northeast of London, on the seaboard, almost directly across the English Channel from Dunkirk). They started out in the late 1970s, as many UK bands did, by playing Punk music. They never envisioned that they would achieve lasting fame by way of a pop gem but, they did. At that time in history, the Cold War between Russia and the US was still in full effect and there was much talk about the US “Star Wars” missile defence system and about “mutually assured destruction” and other ominous such topics. That the world could end at any moment was a very real possibility. So, one day, as the boys in the band were travelling from one town to another for a gig, they started talking about the state of the world and wondered what they might be doing the moment that a nuclear bomb struck. Someone mentioned that they hoped they would be making love at the time. Then, it occurred to everyone that if that, in fact, was the case, the two bodies would probably melt into each other. As soon as that was mentioned, the idea of melting together and being as one for all eternity was born and “I Melt With You” became a song. That song was the only notable hit for Modern English but, what a success it has been. “I Melt With You” topped the charts the world over and is universally-regraded as being one of the songs that most characterizes the sound of 80s new wave music.

I have always liked this song. I liked it for the musicality of it but, as well, the idea of forming a perfect union with your beloved for all eternity is a romantic ideal as well. It is an ideal that has shown up in literature throughout the ages; everything from the famous ending of Shakespeare’s, “Romeo and Juliet”, all the way to the climatic speech given at the end of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy by Phillip Pullman, which was my favourite book series that Leah and I read together when we were doing that sort of thing together. That speech by the girl, Lyra, to her friend/soulmate, Will, speaks to the core concept of the idea being expressed in “I Melt With You”. It goes, as follows:

I will love you forever, whatever happens.

Till I die, and after I die,

And when I find my way out of The Land of The Dead, I’ll drift about forever,

all of my atoms,

Till I find you again.

I’ll be looking for you, Will. Every single moment.

And when we do find each other again, we’ll cling together so tight

that nothing and no one will ever tear us apart.

Every atom of me….every atom of you…

We’ll live in the birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those specks of light floating in sunbeams…

And when they use our atoms to make new lives,

They won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two;

One from me and one from you,

We’ll be joined together so tight.” – Phillip Pullman, “The Amber Spyglass”

So, as you listen to Jeanette’s nominated song, look past the pop sensibilities of it all. It is a poppy, catchy tune and that is, in large part, what has made it so successful over the years. But, what has really helped “I Melt With You” become the enduring classic it has is the deeply romantic idea that forms the core of this song. “I Melt With You” is a song about the, literal, fusing of two hearts into one in a way that lasts for all eternity. So, for all you lovers out there, as well as, those of you with friendships that have withstood the test of time, too,…..as Keri and I have been able to do with Jeanette…..then, this song is for you. Thanks, Jeanette, for bringing “I Melt With You” to our attention. It is a terrific song. Thanks, as well, for all of your supportive comments and stories along the way. Your input has made this musical journey so much better.

So, without further delay, here are Modern English, with their one big hit, about dying in a nuclear meltdown while making love……”I Melt With You”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “I Melt With You” by Modern English, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Modern English, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #2: Round Here by Counting Crows (as Nominated by JoAnne Teal).

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.

Honourable Mention Song #2: Round Here by Counting Crows (as Nominated by JoAnne Teal).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

It is my hope that, over the course of the next few weeks, you will all be introduced to some of the wonderful people who make up my world. As well, we will learn the back story of some songs that may or may not be famous but, in one way or another, all hold a special place in the hearts and minds of those who nominated them to me for inclusion in our countdown. So, without further delay, here is our second Honourable Mention song….”Round Here” by Counting Crows” as nominated by my friend, JoAnne Teal.

To borrow a line from my boy, E.B. White…..it is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. JoAnne is both.

JoAnne and I first met about eight years ago while involved in a writing community known as Trifecta. As part of this community of writers, JoAnne and I and our peers would respond to weekly writing prompts and create 100-word or 33-word stories. These stories would be posted online in a central location for everyone else to read and to respond to. It was a glorious time because of how we all enjoyed the act of creativity but, more than that, we all got to read really good work by a lot of talented writers each week. One of the best parts of being in a creative environment is the opportunity for personal growth. At Trifecta, it always amazed me how many different ways people would respond to the exact same prompt. The variety of responses always encouraged me to try my best to view life as being filled with a myriad of possibilities, too. But, the thing I took from Trifecta that has enriched me the most is the friendships I made there as a result of all of the interactivity built into the site. It was terrific to be able to comment on the work of others and have my opinions respected. Conversely, it was awesome to have such talented writers view my work and comment in ways that reinforced a belief in myself and/or offered tips on how to be even better at my craft. Well, eventually, all good things must come to an end and such was the case for the Trifecta writing community. Those who acted as moderators decided to move on to other things and those of us who were members went our own ways, too. But, before leaving, I reached out to a dozen or so people from the group and asked to be allowed to stay in touch. And so, in my list of Facebook “friends”, I have a group of folks who I lovingly call, “My Writer Pals”; all of whom are talented wordsmiths and even more importantly, all of whom are wonderful human beings, too. One of “My Writer Pals” that I interact with the most is a lady from Vancouver named JoAnne Teal.

JoAnne is a beautiful writer. I have been a fan of her writing ever since the first time I read her work on Trifecta. JoAnne is a different kind of writer than I am. While I feel my strength comes in the form of commentary or essay-style writing, JoAnne is a truly gifted creative writer. She can create whole worlds out of a single idea. But, the thing that has always really impressed me about her writing is that she tends to favour characters who exist on the margins of our society. She is a realistic writer but, at the same time, JoAnne always gives her characters a sense of dignity and worth that is quite moving. Whenever I meet a new character that she has created, I always leave with the sense that she has created a fully-realized person and that she cares about that character and how they are to be treated. ***At the end of this post, I will include a link to JoAnne’s website so that you can read some of her work, if you feel so inclined. You can even sign up to have her work sent directly to your inbox, just as some of you have arranged with me and this website.

So, when I put out the call for song submissions, it did not surprise me that someone like JoAnne would pick a beautifully-written song. “Round Here” by Counting Crows is from their one really big album called, “August and Everything After”. “Mr. Jones” was the big hit that launched their career into the stratosphere, with “Round Here” being the follow-up release. The crux of this song is about growing up and leaving the people and beliefs of your younger years behind, as you move forward with your life. In some cases, you are better off having discarded ideas and folks who may have been weighing you down. But, life isn’t always as simple as that. Sometimes, the leaving behind becomes hurtful and a sense of loss follows like a contrail. All in all, in our journey through life, we are constantly shedding our skin, as it were and having to reassess whether we now like what we see when we look in the mirror. That, in essence, is what “Round Here” is about, according to lead singer, Adam Duritz.

But, the strength of “Round Here” lays squarely in the poetry and lyrical imagery of its lyrics. The song opens with a scene in which Duritz’s character walks out of a home and leaves behind a partner/parent who has played their part in his journey and is being left behind as he goes forward with his life. In the hands of a gifted writer, that scene plays out like this:

“Step out of the front door like a ghost into the fog

Where no one notices the contrast between white on white”

I could write until the cows came home and never come up with something so concise and image-laden as that opening line. I have always been an admirer of writers who can say so much using so few words. Adam Duritz does this all throughout “Round Here”. The song is lovely. It was released at a fortuitous time because the early 1990s was a time in American music when Grunge was blowing up and dominating the airwaves. So, a poetry-esque story about personal growth and self-worth contrasted nicely with the energy of Grunge. Thus, Counting Crows found themselves with a spotlight all of their own as the 1990s unfolded. Duritz always modelled himself after the Singer-Songwriters of the early 1970s such as Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Joni Mitchell and so on and, as a result, the music of Counting Crows was greeted with relief by fans who were looking for a calmer, more reflective style of music to enjoy.

So, thank you JoAnne for reminding us all about of a song that is so wonderfully written. I am confident that many who read this post will welcome the chance to hear it again. And, as for you, thank you for your support of this project and of my work, in general. It means a lot to have an ally of your calibre in my corner. For everyone else, I will remind you that the link to JoAnne’s website will be listed below. I will close by sharing a small detail about JoAnne and I that, when you come to think about it, shouldn’t come as a surprise……we are Wordle buddies. Each morning, JoAnne and I and a few other friends take the Wordle challenge and share our results and the strategies we used to solve the puzzle before the puzzle solved us. It is a nice way to begin my day, each day. Thanks, JoAnne. I don’t know if that makes us nerds who love words but, whatever the case, I am happy that I get to spend part of my day with such a wonderful, creative, thoughtful person. I am happy that the rest of you are having the chance to meet her, too.

For now, let’s get to JoAnne’s choice of songs…..here are Counting Crows with their hit, “Round Here”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Round Here” by Counting Crows, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Counting Crows, can be found here.

The link to the official website for JoAnne Teal, writer extraordinaire, can be found here. ***Btw, writers often gain inspiration from other writers so, once you find out what JoAnne calls her website you will see why I chose to call mine what I did. 🙂

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Honourable Mention Song #1: Say What You Will by Justin Hines (Nominated by Linda Hebert).

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.

Honourable Mention Song #1: Say What You Will by Justin Hines (Nominated By Linda Hebert).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

It is my hope that over the course of the next few weeks, you will all be introduced to some of the wonderful people who make up my world and, as well, learn the back story of some songs that may, or may not, be famous but, in one way or another, all hold a special place in the hearts and minds of those who nominated them to me for inclusion in our countdown. So, without further delay, here is our first Honourable Mention song….”Say What You Will” by Justin Hines, as nominated by my friend, Linda Hebert.

I have known Linda Hebert for a very long time. We first met when I was in the very earliest stages of my teaching career in Courtice, Ontario. I was a nervous, inexperienced young teacher, trying to figure out how to be an adult and a professional educator, at the same time. Linda was the Secretary in our school office which, in practical terms, meant that she was the face of our school. It was her voice that parents heard first when they called to speak to me about something to do with their child, our class, etc. It was Linda who kept a roster full of educators on track when it came to deadlines and daily tasks such as attendance and the completion of report cards. Perhaps, most importantly of all, it was Linda who kept tabs on the various school Principals who occupied the Big Chair which could be, in reality, a full-time job all on its’ own. All of our school’s community of educators, support workers, administrators, students, parents, volunteers and interested community members all dealt with Linda and, as such, all were very lucky to have done so because Linda was, not only enormously capable but, she was also, enormously kind and caring. But, you don’t have to take my word for that. Let’s spend a few moments looking at the song she chose to nominate for inclusion as an “Honourable Mention Song” for our countdown.

Linda was one of the very first people to contact me with a nomination. I am not sure what I was expecting to find in my in-box but, “Say What You Will” by Justin Hines was not it. If I am being honest, I have to admit that I had never heard of Justin Hines but, because of Linda, I now know who he is and I am the better for it. Justin Hines is an Ontario man who was born with a condition known as Larsen’s Syndrome. The short strokes of this disease are that it causes problems with bone growth and joint structure which, as a result, means that those who have Larsen’s Syndrome are often wheelchair bound and have many challenges with mobility throughout their lives. However, one thing that Larsen’s Syndrome does not usually affect is the voice. As a child, Justin had to develop strategies to help him gain the attention of others. One of the ways he discovered that worked best for him was by singing. Justin grew up singing in Churches. As he entered his teens, he tried out for a contest with the Toronto Raptors basketball team…which he won….that saw him sing the national anthem to start one of their games. One of our faults, as humans, is that, whether we like it or not, we are quick to judge others. So, when Justin Hines rolled out on to the basketball court in his wheelchair, the first instinct of many of those in attendance was to pity him. But, then he opened his mouth and began to sing. Oh my! The power of the voice that poured out of him. He blew that arena away and, in doing so, opened the door for a lifetime career as a singer and as an advocate for those with physical disabilities.

Justin Hines has travelled the world to spread his message of love and acceptance; he has helped raise money for schools and hospitals in South Africa, he has travelled all throughout Europe and, back home, he has been awarded the Order of Ontario and regularly speaks/performs at schools and churches all throughout the province. It was at one such performance that Linda came to meet Justin for the first time. According to her, he was incredibly uplifting and motivational. But, more than anything else, Justin Hines wishes to be known as a singer. And what a terrific singer he is! When you get to hear him in a few moments, I guarantee you that you will be as impressed with his voice as I was after Linda introduced him to me.

So, I will end this first Honourable Mention song post by inviting you to sit back and meet a truly inspirational man named Justin Hines, who is using his gifts to make a positive difference in the world. Thank you, Linda Hebert, for introducing Justin to me and, by extension, to all those who are reading this post. And, as always, thank you, Linda, for being you. I am more than grateful to have you as a presence in my life. I look forward to many more years of friendship and good chats between us.

For now, let’s all hear some great music! Here is Justin Hines with his hit song, “Say What You Will”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Say What You Will” by Justin Hines, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Justin Hines, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #26: I’ll Be There by Walk Off The Earth.

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 #26: I’ll Be There by Walk Off The Earth.

If you have been a faithful follower of these music countdown posts then you will be well aware that these posts were not so well-received by my daughters way back in the beginning. I believe their comment was something like, “This is old music for old people”. So, I challenged them to come up with their own list of, what they believed, were the Top Ten most important songs for them. Then, every 25th post, I turned the countdown over to them and we all got to see what they thought constituted a good song.

So, in keeping with tradition, this post is dedicated to my first-loved…Leah. Unlike her sister, Sophie, Leah’s ten song choices covered many genres and eras of music. She liked musicals such as Hamilton, as well as Momma Mia. She opted for two Christmas songs….”Christmas in Killarney” by The Barra MacNeils and “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” by The TransSiberian Orchestra. She did mention some newer artists/songs such as “Love Story” by Taylor Swift, as well as, Canadian up-and-comers, Walk Off The Earth, with their hit, “Gang of Rhythm” and fellow, Canuck, K’naan, with “Waving Flag. Leah rounded out her picks with “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train and the Just Dance favourite that started her picks all off, “That Power” by will i am (featuring, Justin Bieber). This leaves us with one final song from Leah’s personal Top Ten list and that song brings us back to Walk Off The Earth again, with their song, “I’ll Be There” from their album, “Here We Go!”, released in 2019. Here is the story of “I’ll Be There” by Walk Off The Earth, according to Leah.

Up until 2019, Walk Off The earth consisted of five members: singers, Gianni Nicassio and Sarah Blackwood (who are married), singer, Ryan Marshall, Drummer/Percussionist, Joel Cassady and guitarist, Mike, “Beard Guy” Taylor. The quintet out of Burlington, Ontario, had been on a career trajectory that had seen their fortunes steadily improving; in terms of record sales, video downloads/views and awards (such as “Group of the Year” at the Juno awards). The future looked golden until one day, completely out of the blue, 51 year old Mike Taylor passed away. His health had been good up until that point in time and there was no indication that anything was amiss. Naturally, when you rise together as a tight knit group, bonds are formed that make you seem as much family to each other as you are bandmates. Needless to say, the death of their friend, Mike Taylor, devastated the four remaining members of the group.

As is often the case when such a tragedy occurs within a band, a decision has to be made as to whether or not to continue. In the case of Walk Off The earth, the four remaining members decided that the best way to honour the memory of their friend was to continue on. So, in 2019, they released a new album of all-original material called, “Here We Go!”. From that album was a song called, “I’ll be There”. “I’ll Be There” is a song that celebrates some of the most important aspects of Life including, friendship, loyalty, commitment and love. It is a song that rose out of the grief that Mike Taylor’s death caused but, it does not wallow in sorrow or self-pity. Instead, the four remaining members offer up a statement that says how devoted they are to each other and how much stronger they are because of those very bonds and how, most importantly, they are going to soldier on.

I asked Leah why this song meant so much to her that she opted to chose it as her top pick overall. She replied that the message from, “I’ll Be There”….. that there are people in all of our lives that we can depend on to be there for us, no matter what…. is very important and reassuring for her as she goes through her teen years. I know that she feels this bond from within her own family. That she seeks to find this in those she considers her peer group ends up being reassuring in reverse for her mother and I, as parents. As our children grow up, we all hope that we have done enough as parents to set them on the right path in life. For us, knowing that Leah sees great value in people who possess such character traits as being loyal, dependable, trustworthy and faithful, gives us hope that she will surround herself with good friends, just as the members of Walk Off The Earth have with each other, too. As the old saying goes, “Friends are family that you get to choose for yourself.” and, from my point of view, there is nothing more important than family.

So, please enjoy Leah’s final musical selection in our countdown. It has been a pleasure for me to watch her make her ten selections and set them free, out into the world for your evaluation and judgement. I am grateful that you have all shown such kindness and generosity toward her, in reply, with your kind and supportive comments and stories. If there is anything I am learning about Leah as she grows up, it is to trust her judgement. She has a good value system and makes good choices with the books she chooses to read, the friends she opts to socialize with and, as this countdown has shown, she knows a thing or two about music, as well. Thanks for being such an integral part of this musical journey, Leah. It would not have been the same without your input and support. As I am sure you know, you are deeply loved.

So, without further delay, here is Leah’s final musical selection……”I’ll Be There” from Walk Off The Earth. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “I’ll Be There” by Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Leah MacInnes, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #130: Christmas in Killarney by The Barra MacNeils.

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 #130: Christmas in Killarney by The Barra MacNeils.

At the beginning of this countdown….when I first asked Leah and Sophie to create their own Top Ten song lists….Song #3 on Leah’s list has always been, “Christmas in Killarney” by The Barra MacNeils. It is just a case of pure, fortunate timing that takes us to this song on this day, less than 24 hours before Christmas arrives on our calendars, in our hearts and in our homes. So, let’s spend a few moments together on this Christmas Eve while I tell you the story of a song that comes as close as can be to describing the Cape Breton Christmases of my youth and, as well, setting the mood for the Christmases of today, here in Ontario. Here is the story of “Christmas in Killarney” by The Barra MacNeils.

The story begins in Scotland. Just off of the western coast of Scotland lay the Outer Hebrides, which are a series of small islands. The second, southern-most of these islands is a small, rocky, windswept island called Barra. The island of Barra is home to barely one thousand inhabitants. The first language on Barra tends to be Gaelic, with a bit of English thrown in for good measure. In the history of Scottish clans, the island of Barra is home to the Clan MacNeil.

Across the Atlantic Ocean is the province of Nova Scotia or “New Scotland”, as it is also known. From a geographic point of view, Scotland and Nova Scotia share many of the same features such as rolling hills, rugged, rocky coastlines and a climate that is often at the finicky mercy of the sea. Nova Scotia has been home to a thriving Indigenous population since Time Immemorial but, several hundred years ago, they were joined by visitors from across the Sea, who settled in various places around the province. One of the spots that became home to many Scottish settlers was the island of Cape Breton. Once settled, many of these new settlers began to practise their own cultural traditions; one of the most prevalent of which has been the playing of Celtic music. As many of you know by now, I was born and raised on Cape Breton Island and, as such, I lived my formative years in an environment in which fiddle music, step dancing and singing songs of Scotland were all quite common and, in fact, were a source of pride and cultural identity for those of us who lived there. So, it is not surprising to learn that there were families who formed their whole lives around Celtic music. One such family was the MacNeil Family. The MacNeil’s had six children (Sheumas, Kyle, Stewart, Lucy, Ryan and Boyd); all of whom played the fiddle or other instruments, they all could step dance and, most importantly, they all could sing really well together. After gaining a reputation on Cape Breton as being sought-after group to perform at kitchen parties and local dances, the MacNeil Family decided to record their music, professionally so, they needed a formal name for their group. They decided to honour their Scottish roots by naming their musical group after the Home of their clan, the island of Barra, in Scotland and thus, this fabulous musical family became officially known as The Barra MacNeils.

Even though I have not lived on Cape Breton Island since 1982, it is still the place that I call Home. I may not be much of a fiddler or a step dancer but, I have always enjoyed Celtic music and I enjoy going to Celtic concerts whenever I can, up here in Ontario. There are a great many of us, as Cape Bretoners living elsewhere, who are able to maintain contact with Cape Breton because groups like The Barra MacNeils (along with The Rankin Family, Natalie McMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, The Men of the Deeps and, when she was alive, the Queen of Cape Breton, herself, Rita MacNeil) tour Canada relentlessly. I have been fortunate enough to have seen The Barra MacNeils live several times since Ontario became my current home. Each time I get to hear them play live, it reminds me of my roots and rekindles that spark of cultural connection.

Leah has always been someone who is interested in History. She loves learning about the history of the world but, she is just as interested in her own, family history. As such, whenever we go Home to Cape Breton as a family, Leah throws herself into learning the stories of my childhood. Together, we have been to museums, we have toured the neighbourhoods where I grew up and the schools I attended, we have spent time at the seaside collecting seashells and dodging jellyfish and we have listened to Cape Breton music, too. While Leah is an Ontario girl by birth, a rich part of her own family history involves Cape Breton so, it is not surprising to me that the sound of Celtic music pulls at her heartstrings a bit, too. This brings us to her pick of “Christmas in Killarney”.

One of the aspects of my own history that I wanted to ensure that my girls got to experience was the feeling of a Cape Breton Christmas. Growing up in Cape Breton, Christmas was very much a time of warmth and good cheer and, more than anything, it was a time for Family. By definition, the term “Family” in Cape Breton does not refer exclusively to your biological kin. Back Home, the term “Family” casts a wide net and includes your actual family, your extended family, your neighbours, your friends, those folks you went to Church with, school mates, co-workers….you name it! Anyone and everyone was welcome in my home growing up and we, in turn, were welcome in theirs. Showing up uninvited at someone’s doorstep……just because you were in the neighbourhood….was an everyday thing and even moreso at Christmas time. Our door was always open. Hot tea was always at the ready. A tray of sweets, close at hand. Good talk always followed. My childhood was filled with adults tussling my hair and kissing my cheeks, as they talked and laughed and sang with my Dad and Mom. As much as anything, for me, Christmas has always been more of a feeling than an event. It has always been about warmth and fellowship and about sharing it all with those we hold dear….our “Family”, in the Cape Breton sense.

Leah longs for these things, too. So, when she first heard the songs on The Barra MacNeils Christmas cd, it was when we were setting up our own Christmas tree a few years ago in our family home in Cobourg. Christmas is always a magical time for most children and we have tried very hard, as parents, to ensure that this is the case for Leah and Sophie, too. So, I have tried as much as I can to re-create that feeling of a Cape Breton Christmas here. Part of that effort has been the playing of Celtic music throughout the Holiday period. Leah has grown quite familiar with the song stylings of The Barra MacNeils and feels that “Christmas in Killarney” comes closest to replicating the mood in our home at this time of year. It is a song that speaks of family gatherings, of neighbours “paying a call”, of the wonderful smell of fresh pine and holly and, of course, of good food and drink shared with pleasure. It is a song that, for Leah, helps give her a sense of belonging and a link to a part of her own identity as an honourary Cape Bretoner. It, also, gives her a sense of Family, which is very important to her, as well. And so, this Christmas song by The Barra MacNeils, has become more than just a song to be played in the month of December, it is a song she listens to throughout the entire year. “Christmas in Killarney” is the song on her Top Ten list that most closely speaks to who she is, as a person. It is a song that always makes Leah smile. Consequently, it is a fitting song for this final post before December 25th.

As you watch and listen to The Barra MacNeils sing “Christmas in Killarney”, do so with the knowledge that you are all considered part of our family, too and, as such, are all wished the merriest of Holiday wishes and the most love-filled of Blessings for you and those you love. Thanks for bringing warmth and friendship into our lives. And always remember that our door is always open and a hot cup of tea is always at the ready should you ever wish to pay us a call. Until then, from our family to you and yours, Merry Christmas this year and for all the years to come.

The link to the video for the song, “Christmas in Killarney” by The Barra MacNeils, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Barra MacNeils, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #44: Lola by The Kinks.

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.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #44: Lola by The Kinks.

I met her in a club down in ol’ Soho

Where they drink champagne

Tastes just like Cherry Cola

C-O-L-A, Cola.”

And, so begins the story of one of Modern Music’s most dramatic, hilarious, scandalous and/or empowering characters of all-time……Lola. L-O-L-A, Lola.

The Kinks are a bit of a funny band in the sense that, all throughout their career, they have gone through periods of great success, followed by periods of fallow. The Kinks blasted out of the gates in the early 1960s with hits like, “You Really Got Me”, “All Day and All of the Night” and “Waterloo Sunset”. But then, they went through a few years of poor sales which, coupled with infighting between brothers, Ray and Dave Davies, brought the band to the edge of collapse. As they began writing songs for their next album called, “Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One”, they decided to draw upon their own, personal experiences as musicians who were living a bit of a rock n’ roll lifestyle. Specifically, the late 1960s were a time of growing experimentation and acceptance of gender fluidity and of different sexual/gender orientations. Songs by Lou Reed, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” and David Bowie’s whole “Ziggy Stardust/Starman” themed album all pointed to a breaking down of barriers when it came to promoting lifestyles that were an alternative to the standard norms of the day. So, the Davies Brothers thought it a good time to write a song about their manager and his encounter with a transvestite named, Lola. Thus, the song, “Lola” was born.

In the song, Lola”, we follow the “narrator” who, in this case, was the manager of The Kinks, Robert Wace, as he entered into a swinging Soho nightclub and starts having a wonderful evening with the very alluring and inviting and aggressive Lola. Throughout the song, Wace ignores the signs that Lola is a Drag Queen, such as the deep voice, the extra strong, firm hug and the growing stubble on Lola’s face. At the end of the song, the great dramatic surprise is revealed when Wace sings,

I know what I am

And that I’m a man

And so is Lola. L-O-L-A, Lola.

The key component of the big reveal is that Wace accepted the news for what it was. There was no revulsion, no anger, no embarrassment at all. In fact, there is acceptance and even, a hint of happiness and pleasure. That reaction was important and went a long way toward de-stigmatizing alternative lifestyles; especially, way back a half century ago.

However, not surprisingly, reaction to the song was decidedly mixed. The song raced up the charts and became a Top Ten hit. The success of “Lola” helped The Kinks to right the ship, as it were, and get their career back on track. The timing of the release was important because its’ success gave them leverage in contract negotiations with the RCA label and enabled the band to sign a much more lucrative contract, going forward. That financial flexibility allowed The Kinks to build their own studio and rehearse/record songs at their convenience, as well as, renting the space out to other bands and artists.

On the flip side, the BBC banned the song but, not for the reason you might be thinking. As it turned out, no one was really bothered by the sexual shenanigans going on throughout “Lola”. What got “Lola” banned, initially, was the unauthorized use of a product name in the song. You may recall the opening verse which speaks of a drink called, “Cherry Cola”? Well, the original version of the song had the drink being, “Coca Cola” which is, of course, a well-known soft drink. The BBC had a policy that banned the use of commercial product placements within songs and so, when “Lola” aired, it was banned for that reason. The timing of the ban was problematic, as well as, advantageous. For starters, the ban came down just as The Kinks were beginning an American tour in support of their new album. So, Ray Davies had to fly all the way back to the UK in order to re-record the first verse; changing “Coca Cola” to “Cherry Cola” before the albums were pressed for final distribution and sale. However much work it was, it paid off handsomely for the band because, like most bans, it spiked interest in the song so, record sales soared. In the end, “Lola” sold several million copies and went on to become one of The Kinks signature songs.

However much all of this background may be true and important, in my home, none of that means anything as far as why “Lola” is a special song for us. One of the things that Keri and I have done all throughout our marriage is to share time together with our favourite tv shows. We don’t watch tv as much now as we once did but, simply being close to each other and winding down from a busy day with a few comedies is something we have found works for us. So, back in the day, one of the shows we watched was a comedy called, “Family Ties”. On that show was a family called, “The Keatons”. The Keaton daughter was named Mallory. As the show went along, we got to watch “Mallory” grow up from a teenage girl, into a young woman, ready to take on the adult world. As part of her maturation process, “Mallory” fell in love with a leather jacket-wearing, earring dangling guy named, “Nick”. The character of “Nick” was gruff and unsophisticated and was meant to act as a foil for “Mallory’s” straight-laced younger brother, “Alex”, as played by Michael J. Fox. At first, the shocking contrast between “Nick” and “Alex” was the comedic point of it all but, as time went on, audiences grew to like “Nick” and the writers of the show gave him some background depth that made his character more stable and likeable. Eventually, as viewers, we could see where this all was headed, as “Nick” and “Mallory” fell in love and eventually decided to get married. To make a long story short, “Nick” and “Mallory” were discussing wedding plans, including what song they would walk down the aisle to. Without missing a beat, “Nick” replied that he voted for, “Lola” by The Kinks”. We all laughed and still smile about it to this day.

So, whether “Lola” makes you think of the social acceptance of alternative lifestyles, the problem of corporate product placements or else, “Nick and Mallory” from the TV show, “Family Ties”, the song often brings a smile to the faces of those listening to it. It helped save The Kinks, as a band which was a good thing because, after another long musical drought, The Kinks roared into the 1980s with the song, “Come Dancing” and became famous all over again for the third time!

***Just for a bit of trivia, as you watch the video for this song, note that Ray Davies is playing a shiny, National guitar…..the same guitar that Paul Simon talked about in the song, “Graceland” and the same guitar that Mark Knofler used while playing “Sultans of Swing”. In both cases, Davies use of the National guitar pre-dates Simon and Knofler.

For now, let’s get this show on the road. Here are The Kinks with one of their biggest and most recognizable hits, “Lola”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Lola” by The Kinks, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Kinks, can be found here.

The link to the video for the scene from the TV show, “Family Ties”, where “Nick mentions the song, “Lola”, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #175: Gang of Rhythm by Walk Off The Earth.

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 #175: Gang of Rhythm by Walk Off The Earth.

As you know, every 25th song goes to one of my daughters. Today we have Song #4 on Leah’s Top Ten countdown. It is “Gang of Rhythm” by Canada’s own, Walk Off The Earth. Here is the story of why Leah likes this song so much and thinks that you may like it, too.

Like many families, getting organized and out of the door in the morning can be quite a production. The story of how Leah came to know this song, begins with a story from our family routine on a school day morning. There was a time, before I retired from teaching, when the four MacInnes family members would leave our home and travel to three different schools to start our day. I would take the girls and drop them off at their elementary school and then, drive off to my own school across town to teach. Keri would leave on her own and drive to her school in the neighbouring town. Most mornings, our timing would be good and we would all get where we were going at the appointed time. But, every so often, in a fit of enthusiasm, the girls and I would find ourselves in the car with oodles of time to spare. When those rare moments happened, I would often take “the long way” to their school in order to kill a little time. The “long way” usually involved taking a meandering drive through town “just to see what was going on”. 99% of the time there would be absolutely nothing going on but, driving would sync up our timing better and all would be well.

However, one day during one of these short, time-killing early morning drives through town, we came upon an intersection that, if we turned left, would have taken us to the Marina. Normally that intersection is empty and it is no problem to make that lefthand turn but, on this morning, there were two police cars blocking the way and yellow barricades were erected, too. The girls and I looked to see what was happening and could only see that some commotion of sorts was going on, way down at the end of the pier that juts out a couple of hundred meters into the harbour. With the presence of the Police, along with the commotion at the end of the pier, it seemed, at the time, as if something tragic had happened. So, we went to school that day thinking dark thoughts; hoping that there wasn’t a dead body on the pier.

It wasn’t until later in the day that we learned that, what we thought may have been a crime scene was, in fact, a film location for a music video. The band shooting the video turned out to be an up-and-coming Canadian band named, Walk Off The Earth. The video they were shooting was for a new, original song of theirs called, “Gang of Rhythm: Punch Buggy Edition”. As a family, we were very excited to know that Walk Off The Earth was filming in our town. We had come to know them for their viral video of a song by Goyte that they covered called, “Somebody I Used to Know”. In that video, all five band members played the same acoustic guitar simultaneously; using the guitar in differing ways to create all of instrument sounds needed for the song. The video was very creative and slickly done. Walk Off The Earth earned several million views on YouTube with this video and ended up overshadowing Goyte’s original version because of how innovative their take was. In the time that followed, Walk Off The Earth released several other cover song videos that were all incredibly unique and innovative; earning them much praise from viewers and fellow musicians, alike. As popular as they were becoming, it was a lack of original material that seemed to be standing in the way of them really hitting the big time so, a song like “Gang of Rhythm” became a very important to them in helping to establish the band as a serious band, in their own right and not just a cover band. So, when we learned that they were making a video for their song in our home town, we were all very excited.

The video was one of two separate videos that were made for “Gang of Rhythm”. There was the “official” video, which had the band members dressed in prison costumes and working as a chain gang in the fields along the side of a road. For our home town version….which ended up being called, “Gang of Rhythm: Punch Buggy Edition”, the band members used a car to sit in for the instruments used in the song. The action involved opening and closing doors, sliding levers back and forth and so on, all in time with the music. Just like the video for “Somebody I Used to Know”, Walk Off The Earth showcased their incredible talent for making music wth found objects. The video is super cute and shows off our town and, specifically, our beach and pier, to great effect.

Walk Off The Earth were the first “real” band that we ever took the girls to see play live in concert. They were the opening act for another Canadian band, Marianas Trench, at a concert in nearby Oshawa so, the girls got to see them in person, which was a hoot for them. At home, we have watched many of their videos on YouTube together and always marvel at the skill level employed in covering a wide range of existing songs, along with creating videos for their own original work. We all agree that Walk Off The Earth are a band worth knowing. We hope that you like them, too. In the video below, I will play the “Punch Buggy Edition” of “Gang of Rhythm” that was filmed in our hometown of Coburg, Ontario. I will, also, post a few of their other videos below so that, if you have never watched their work, you can get a good taste for how creative and talnted Walk Off the Earth actually are.

So as you watch this video, do so with the knowledge that the girls and I are driving through town on the way to school as this was being filmed. What we thought was a crime scene turned out to be anything but. How cool our detour that day turned out to be! Leah has good taste in music. “Gang of Rhythm” by Walk Off The Earth is but one example. We all hope that you enjoy this musical peek at our lovely hometown.

The link to the video for the song, “Gang of Rhythm” by Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Someone That I Used To Know” by Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Little Boxes” by Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Hello From the Other Side” by Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Walk Off The Earth, can be found here.