This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM 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, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.
KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Honourable Mention Song #22: Oowatanite by April Wine (as Nominated by Allister Matheson.
Allister Matheson and I both went to the same high school…….Morrison High School in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. At the time, we were not best friends or anything but we knew of each other and, more importantly, we knew many of the same people and, as such, we swam in the same social waters and have many of the same type of memories from our younger, teenage years. Even though we may not have fully known it at the time, both Allister and I shared a love of music back then in the late 1970s/early 1980s. So, this post is about the music of the day, how we listened to it and who we were listening to as our high school days marched on by.
The first thing to know is that back when Allister and I went to high school, there was no Internet, no YouTube or any streaming services such as Apple Music or Spotify. In fact, the digitization of music hadn’t happened yet, either, so there were no iPods or wireless earbuds or anything like that. For us, if we wanted to listen to music, we needed to do so in person to a live band or else, we had to take our music with us…..physically…..in the form of albums, 45s, 8-track cartridges or else, cassette tapes. If we were playing our own tunes, we did so in our homes, on stereos with speakers the size of small refrigerators. In cars, the most important thing was the depth and clarity of the bass. In those days, for most guys, the bigger the home or car stereo you could afford, the better it was. Music was everything! Volume was King!
For those who may not be up on their geography, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, sits directly on the coastline that meets the Atlantic Ocean. Fishing and coal mining were the major industries in Glace Bay during my high school days. Glace Bay wasn’t a fancy town but it was a great place to grow up. For most of us, our access to music “from away” came from local radio stations and from television. But, the opposite side of that coin is that the cultural foundation of Glace Bay lay in the form of Celtic musical, as well as, a hybrid of Country, Rock and Blues. It was not hard to catch local bands in some of our watering holes around town. Consequently, whether it was Celtic music or something else, Allister and I both grow up knowing talented performers such as Matt Minglewood, Bruce Gouthro, John Allan Cameron, Buddy McMaster, our singing coal miners, The Men of the Deeps and, of course, the Queen of Cape Breton, herself, Rita MacNeil. So, our teenage years were spent listening to local bands in person while listening to bands “from away” on our stereos. Every once and awhile, those two worlds would align and one of those big bands “from away” would tour down our way. Those times were always very exciting. One of those bands that graced our local stages on a consistent basis was April Wine.
April Wine were a Canadian band that formed in Halifax as the 1960s were drawing to a close. In the early 1970s, they moved to Montreal and signed a record contract. Throughout the next two decades, April Wine were one of Canada’s most successful and prolific bands. They had a steady string of hits including, “Could Have Been a Lady”, “Tonite Is a Wonderful Time To Fall in Love”, “Roller”, “You Won’t Dance With Me”, “Say Hello”, “I Like To Rock”, “Just Between You and Me”, “Sign of the Gypsy Queen” and, the subject of today’s post, “Oowatanite”. April Wine won several Juno Awards and had 8 Gold and Platinum albums. They, also, had several hits in the US market and achieved Gold and Platinum status there, as well. The classic April Wine line-up consisted of singer Myles Goodwyn, Brian Greenway, Jerry Mercer, Jim Clench and Steve Lang. While April Wine became headliners and toured the country many times on their own, they began as opening act for some of the biggest bands in the world. The most famous opening experience the band ever had occurred in Toronto at the famous El Mocambo Night Club. The were opening for a group that, on the bill were listed as “The Cockroaches” but, come show time, turned out to be The Rolling Stones. Both bands ended up recording live albums from the El Mo show.
So, with that history in mind, you can imagine how exciting it was to make the half-hour or so drive from Glace Bay into neighbouring Sydney, to see April Wine play at the old Sydney Forum, which was a hockey rink, back in the day. The willingness of a major Canadian band like April Wine to come down and see us on Cape Breton Island was always appreciated by people like Allister and me. As a result, we always supported April Wine in absentia by buying their albums and blasting their tunes in our basements and in our cars. One of the tunes that sounded best; especially coming out of quality speakers, was “Oowatanite”. This song came from an album called, “Stand Back”, which was released in 1975. “Oowatanite” is one of the most distinctive songs in the entire Canadian musical canon because of how it starts……with the loud clanging of a fire station warning bell which, after a few seconds, is joined by an awesomely loud electric guitar and then, the vocals kick in and away we go! Never mind this “more cowbell!” stuff from Blue Oyster Cult. We wanted more Fire Station warning bell in Glace Bay! Allister and I both still smile when we hear the opening to “Oowatanite”, even today.
For me, one of the very best things to come out of doing this musical countdown is that I have gotten to know Allister a lot better. We love sports, we love music and we both love Cape Breton Island and are proud to have that background as part of our personal heritage. Part of being a Cape Bretoner or, Caper, as we call ourselves, is having a love of all kinds of music. Allister and I are just as proud of our local music stars such as The Barra McNeils and the Rankin Family, as we are of our favourite bands “from away” such as The Rolling Stones or Canadian bands such as Trooper and April Wine. Music formed a big part of our high school years and I think I can safely speak for Allister when I say that we wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. So, thanks, Allister, for all of your comments and stories that you shared throughout this musical countdown of ours. I have loved hearing about them all, as I am sure many other readers have, as well. Your input made this journey far more interesting for me than it would have been otherwise. For that, I am most grateful.
So, without further delay, set your volume on high and get ready for one of the best openings to any Canadian song ever! Here are April Wine with “Oowatanite”. Enjoy!
The link to the video for the song, “Oowatanite” by April Wine, can be found here.
The link to the official website for April Wine, can be found here.