The Great Canadian Road Trip: Song #14/250: Nowhere With You by Joel Plaskett Emergency

The stories behind great Canadian songs that mention great Canadian places.

If you are familiar at all with the history of modern music then you will know that musical innovation and change has appeared at regular intervals over the last seventy-eighty years. Here is a general overview that I paint with very broad brush strokes.

Modern Rock n’ Roll all began with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and her introduction to the world of a Blues-based form of guitar rock that would be emulated by the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and others. In the 1950s and into the 60s, Rock n’ Roll became the dominant music genre with folks like Elvis Presley taking the lead. As the 1960s unfolded, musical innovation came in the form of longer songs and the use of a wider variety of instruments under the stewardship of folks like The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan. The 1960s gave way to psychedelic and prog rock of Early Genesis, Rush and Pink Floyd and the rock operas of The Who. In opposition to a form of music that was viewed as bloated and pompous, Punk Rock emerged and shook the world out of its complacency. As the 1970s ended and the 80s unfolded, more and more forms of musical expression came forth such as Hip Hop, New Wave, Alternative and Goth. Before we knew it, the musical landscape was a varied and exciting place indeed.

As the decade of the 1990s began, “the next big thing”, according to the music industry, came out of Seattle, Washington. The media labeled it as Grunge. Bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and so on all burst on to the scene and raced to the top of the musical charts. These bands rose to the top in tandem with a record label that seemed to eschew traditional music industry practices and, instead, was integrated into the fabric of the very Seattle music scene, itself. That record label was known as Sub Pop. Like all emerging music scenes, the Seattle scene felt organic and true to the spirit of artistic expression. But, like all emerging music scenes, the greedy fingers of corporate rock eventually took hold and it all became a business scene. While we may never truly know what drove Nirvana lead singer, Kurt Cobain to take his own life, one of the things we do know for sure was that he was dismayed that the price tag for Nirvana’s success was having to deal with “the suits” who promoted music based upon financial considerations, first and foremost. I mention all of this because that is how the world of rock n’ rock tends to be. For every fresh-faced innovator, there are countless others sitting behind desks figuring out ways to turn that new form of magic into money. It is sad, in a way that Art and Commerce are so intrinsically intertwined but, they are.

As the Seattle Grunge scene exploded in the early 1990s, record executives scoured the planet for similar, local scenes that were quietly incubating, ready to emerge. In the UK, that saw the creation of the media-inspired sensation known as Britpop. Britpop gave us bands such as Blur, Oasis, Suede and Pulp, along with a boatload of rivalries and controversies, many of them contrived and staged. Britpop aimed to be the antithesis of the supposedly dour nature of what many perceived Grunge to be. To paraphrase Oasis frontman Noel Gallagher said when asked for his views on Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, why does it have to be all doom-and-gloom?! We’re effing rock n’ roll stars! Have a little fun, why don’t ya!? So, while Britpop attempted to answer the challenge laid down by Grunge, elsewhere in the world, record executives were scouring the rest of the world for pockets of creativity and enthusiasm. This is how a record executive from Seattle-based Sub Pop Records found themselves in, of all places, Halifax, Nova Scotia…which is where our story begins.

In the early pre-Internet 1990s, Halifax was still relatively isolated in terms of its geographic location. When bands set out on cross Canada tours, that often meant traveling from Vancouver to Montreal. Halifax was considered a smaller market so not many bands made the extra effort to travel another fifteen hours east past Montreal to get to Halifax. As a teenager who grew up on Cape Breton Island, I remember how grateful we all were to bands such as April Wine, Trooper, The Stampeders, etc., who played in our biggest centre, Sydney. Not many others did. There are pros and cons to this, as there are with all things. For Halifax, it meant that their music scene was allowed to develop in relative freedom, emerging almost whole and intact when it was finally “discovered” by Sub Pop and brought forward to the rest of the world. Of course, to anyone familiar with this scene, giving Sub Pop all of the credit for putting Halifax on the musical map is a gross oversimplification of what really happened. But, for the sake of brevity, I will start there.

The first breakthrough band from Halifax in the 1990s was Sloan. *(I profiled them in a previous post which you can read here). As Sloan became a bigger name in the Canadian music industry, they did their best to help their local music scene develop by touring with local bands as the opening act, as well as playing in as many local venues as possible in order to help create and then solidify the infrastructure of a local scene. Many bands opened for Sloan such as October Talk (in which a young Sarah McLachlan was the lead singer), Eric’s Trip (out of Moncton), Jale (an all-girl band), Hardship Post (out of NFLD) and Thrush Hermit (fronted by singer/songwriter Joel Plaskett). Of these bands, Sub Pop signed almost all of them except for Sloan, who turned them down and October Talk, because Sarah McLachlan’s parents forbid her from leaving highschool before graduation. There were many more bands, singers and personalities behind the scenes in Halifax but, when Sub Pop blew through town and signed some of the most popular bands around, it gave an air of legitimacy to an organic scene that had been developing in fits and starts over the previous decade or so. But, a funny thing happened to the Halifax Pop Explosion, as it came to be known…Sloan moved out of Halifax, settling in Toronto, Sarah McLachlan was courted by numerous labels and ended up moving to Vancouver after signing with Nettwork Records. The bands signed by Sub Pop were all invited into the world of studio recordings and business meetings and tour planning, many of them heading off to the US to do so. As it turned out, Eric’s Trip, Jale and Hardship Post…although they carved out a legendary place in Canada’s Indie music scene, they never survived their Sub Pop experience and, one after the other, they ended up breaking up. The only person who never left Halifax was Joel Plaskett. He stayed behind of his own accord. To his credit, he has gone on to enjoy a solid, successful career operating out of Halifax. To those who live there, Plaskett remaining in Halifax makes a statement that counts for something.

Joel Plaskett.

Joel Plaskett started recording as a teenager in Halifax. Initially, he helped form Thrush Hermit with a few friends. Thrush Hermit had a great deal of local success but, as the boys in the band finished highschool, differences in ideas for their future musical direction caused the band to split up. Joel Plaskett then regrouped with some other local players, becoming the Joel Plaskett Emergency. In that band or as a solo artist, Joel Plaskett has made a name for himself as a songwriter of note in Canada. He has won several Juno awards for his music including a number of awards for his biggest selling single, “Nowhere With You”. Plaskett often includes references to local places in his songs. In “Nowhere With You”, he begins with a reference to riding on the Dartmouth ferry. For anyone unaware, Halifax has one of the best harbours on the eastern seaboard of North America. On the south side of the harbour rests the city of Halifax. On the north side of the harbour sits the city of Dartmouth. There are two big bridges that allow people to travel back and forth between Halifax and Dartmouth by car. But for many, the most convenient way to get from one side to the other is by ferry. The Dartmouth ferry is a low-cost service and, as such it allows people of all socio-economic brackets to make use of it. Thus, in “Nowhere With You”, Plaskett taps into a scenario familiar to many young people just starting out in the world, with only a few dollars in their pockets. The practice of “bumming around”, as Plaskett calls it, is a rite of passage for most teenagers. Exploring the world on a pauper’s budget was a factor in the development of the Halifax music scene, as it is with most organic music scenes around the world. Music scenes tend to develop out of the public eye, in small clubs and bars, growing by word of mouth by those with small budgets to live by and all the time in the world to do the living. In “Nowhere With You”, Joel Plaskett captures the freedom inherent in having all the time in the world and no financial constraints limiting your actions and your decision-making process. As such, the song stands as a shining example of a moment in Canadian musical history when Halifax was “the next big thing”.

My family and I, along with my photo-bombing sister in the background in Halifax during the summer of 2022. Whenever we visit with my sister, she takes the Dartmouth ferry over to meet with us. In this photo, we are saying goodbye with a family selfie.

Of course, claiming that Halifax’s moment in the spotlight is unique is stretching the truth a bit. All major regional centres in Canada can claim their own form of an organically-created and supported music scene. Toronto has had multiple eras where their scene was the most happening in the land. Montreal has always had an interestingly unique and vibrant music scene. Vancouver has produced some of Canada’s best music because of the geography of their location which is similar in many ways to that of Halifax. Winnipeg has had a scene. Alberta has had their own scene. On and on it goes. Music scenes come and music scenes go. What is most important is the music itself. For me, music isn’t about record sales, internet streams or Spotify downloads. For me, music is about sharing stories and building a sense of community. It is creativity and energy and escape. I have always been an Art-before-Commerce kind of guy. Because of that, it puts me in the initial phases on the developmental spectrum of local music scenes. I have always championed bands before they break out into the big time. That having been said, I have no beef for those who get “discovered” and decide to go for it by signing with a major label. I still like Nirvana and respect them as a band. I still love Sloan and respect them as a band. As John Mellencamp once sang, “I’m still hayseed enough to say, “Look who’s in the big town”. But, for those who stay true to the roots of their local music scene and continue to thrive, I have an extra amount of respect and admiration. So, to Joel Plaskett, I salute you, sir! Thanks for growing up in Halifax and believing that all of the beauty you require can be found along its shores.

The link to the video for the song, “Nowhere With You” by Joel Plaskett Emergency can be found here. ***The link to the lyrics version can be found here.

The link to the official website for Joel Plaskett can be found here.

The link to the official website for the Halifax Regional Municipality (of which Dartmouth is a member) can be found here.

***As always, all original content found within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post may be reblogged, copied or shared in any form without the express written consent of the author. ©2022

Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Hits of Today…Aug. 24, 2022.

As usual, I have consulted the following music charts to help me compile the songs in today’s post: BBC Radio 1, CHUM-FM and Indie88-FM (from Toronto), Spotify, Billboard Magazine and radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle, Washington. In this week’s post, I looked at songs found in the #1 position on each chart. So, let’s stop with the prelims and get to the main event! Here are the songs in Today’s Top 40.

Super Freaky Girl by Nicki Minaj (Billboard Magazine).

The Queen of Hip Hop…Nicki Minaj.

This song is debuting on the charts at #1! It is not very often that a song does this. In doing so, Nicki Minaj has knocked Harry Styles, Lizzo and Beyonce all down a notch or two on the charts. Needless to say, there is a lot of buzz about Minaj and her return to the world of music. She had taken some time off because she became a mother just as the pandemic was starting. But she is back in a big way with “Super Freaky Girl”. For those who may not know, Nicki Minaj is highly regarded in the world of Hip Hop music. There are many who call her the “Queen of Hip Hop”. It is a title that is well-earned. Minaj has made quite the career for herself, with hit after hit, selling over 100 million albums in a genre of music that is typically known for male performers. One of the ways she has managed to make herself heard above the masculine din is because of the utter and unwavering sense of self-confidence she projects. Whenever she performs, she exudes power and strength. Thus, it is no surprise that she would mark her return to the music world with a song like “Super Freaky Girl”.

In order to set the musical tone for “Super Freaky Girl”, Minaj freely samples from the classic Rick James funk song, “Super Freak”. In addition to using a throbbing baseline, “Super Freaky Girl” hangs its musical hat upon the GOAT-mentality that shines throughout the lyrics. Let me be clear about the lyrics, they are extremely profane and sexually explicit. My age must be showing because, for the life of me, I cannot imagine this song being played during the morning drive time on any radio station. It is a filthy song…which, in turn, is used as a badge of honour. I won’t repeat the lyrical content in this post but, rest assured, if I sat down next to someone in a restaurant or other public venue who was talking aloud like Minaj sings in this song, I would move away. For me, I have no sexual interest in any woman beyond my wife so, when it comes to someone like Nicki Minaj, her sexual forwardness has no impact on me. In the end, all that is left for me is her music. To my mind, I don’t care for it. This is in addition to criticisms that she is using her position of influence to breathe new life into the career of a convicted sexual predator like Rick James.

However, there is no denying that she is a powerful female presence in a genre where strong women are not that easy to find. I wish her luck and am curious to see how “Super Freaky Girl” gets played on public radio. I know that there are “explicit” and “clean” versions of some songs but, in the case of “Super Freaky Girl” by Nicki Minaj, if you take away the explicitness of the lyrics, I am not sure there would actually be anything left except a constant series of bleeps. Maybe this is just me talking. What do you think of “Super Freaky Girl” by Nicki Minaj?

It is the #1 listed song in the US as you read these words.

***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Big Energy by Latto (CHUM-FM).


Sigh! I feel old as I listen to yet, another new song by a female Hip Hop singer that is cloaked in profane expletives and sexual explicit lyrics. “Big Energy” is the sanitized-for-public-consumption title of this song. The real title is “Big D*ck Energy”. Latto is the former winner of a reality show in the US for aspiring Hip Hop artists. At the time of the competition, she went by Miss Mulatto. Then, she shortened her name to simply, Mulatto. Now she goes by Latto. The “Big D*ck Energy” she sings about is meant to refer to self-confidence and swagger. Latto states that many men exude this privileged air on a daily basis but that it is more difficult for women to do the same and not be labeled in some negative manner. So, she sings about sexual confidence and the fact that the men surrounding her need to up their game in order to earn her attention and affection. The lyrics to this song are very explicit, almost as if Latto is daring the music industry to censor her words and prove her point. Again, whether the singer is male or female, I am not generally a fan of songs built on a foundation of locker room talk. That may just be me. To some, having a woman speak boldly about her prowess in the bedroom is the height of feminism because she is claiming ownership of her body and how she uses it. Admittedly, there is power in that. As with Nicki Minaj and “Super Freaky Girl”, I will enjoy seeing how ”Big Energy”, in all of its frank sexual talk, appears on the public airwaves.

***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Mistakes by Sharon Van Etten. (KEXP-FM).

Sharon Van Etten.

Like too many young women, Sharon Van Etten found herself in an abusive relationship. She entered that relationship as someone with aspirations of becoming a singer/songwriter. However, as part of the abuse she endured, she was not allowed to sing, write nor to attend public music concerts by her partner. Eventually, Van Etten summoned the courage to leave and strike out on her own. She is now five albums into a journey that began with her simple desire to have her voice heard. I first became aware of Sharon Van Etten because of a standout performance she gave at the Glastonbury Music Festival in 2019. The performance was of a song of hers called, “Seventeen” which is basically a song written in the form of a letter to her younger self. *(You can watch that performance here). Like many performers, the pandemic sidelined her career for a while but now she is back with a brand new album called We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong. The first single from this album is a song called “Mistakes”. The performance you will see in the video is from a recent appearance on the Late Night With Stephen Colbert Show. Van Etten recently performed at Massey Hall in Toronto. From all reports, she was excellent.

***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Afraid To Feel by LF System (BBC Radio 1).

LF System: Larkman and Finnigan.

LF System is the name of a DJ duo from Scotland composed of Connor Larkman and Sean Finnigan. They are known for producing House music, which is a style of electronic dance music in which song lyrics are sampled and used in rhythmic, pulsating ways that drive an emotional response in those who are listening. In the specific case of the song, “Afraid To Feel”, Larkman and Finnigan sampled liberally from a 1979 song by Silk that was called “I Can’t Stop (Turning You On)”. *(You can listen to Silk here). In this sample, Deborah Harry from Blondie lends vocal assistance during the chorus. What Larkman and Finnigan did was to play around with the samples in ways that caused them to sound soulful, at times and, at other times more like a Disco vibe. All in all, “Afraid To Feel” has a good beat and is easy to dance to as they used to say on American Bandstand. It is definitely a song that will get your toes a-tapping. Enjoy.

***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.

I Ain’t Worried by One Republic (Spotify).

One Republic on the beach as part of their video shoot for “I Ain’t Worried”.

“I Ain’t Worried” is the second single to be released from the soundtrack of the Top Gun movie sequel. *(The first song was “Hold My Hand” by Lady Gaga. It was reviewed in a previous post that you can read here). The story behind “I Ain’t Worried” is that Top Gun star Tom Cruise was heavily involved in compiling the music that was to be used throughout the movie. For one particular scene that was being shot on a beach, Cruise went searching for music that would lighten the mood of the film and lessen the tension from all of the action and danger being portrayed on screen. The band, One Republic were made aware of his desire for a “fun, carefree song” and set about creating an original song for the film. Their record label submitted “I Ain’t Worried” to Cruise for his consideration. He loved it and thought it captured the essence of that particular scene perfectly. When you watch the official video for this song, you will see it used as Tom Cruise had envisioned it in the movie. For those interested, One Republic has been around for over a decade now. They had a huge hit a few years ago called “Counting Stars” which was a favourite of my own family for a while. You can listen to “Counting Stars” here).

***The link to the lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Scratch the Surface by Sloan (Indie88-FM).

Sloan: Murphy, Ferguson, Pentland and Scott.

Sloan have been one of Canada’s premier Alternative/Indie bands for over three decades now. They formed in Halifax in the early 1990s and quickly became one of the most loved bands in the country. They had a string of hits including “Underwhelmed”, “Coax Me”, “The Good in Everyone”, “Money City Maniacs” and many more. One of the funny things about Sloan is that, despite their success, they are still relatively unknown outside of Alternative music circles. For instance, in a household like mine that is filled with Pop music lovers, I am reasonably confident that I am the only one who has ever heard a Sloan song before. They are under-rated only in the sense that their songs are not written in a Pop formula and therefore don’t usually end up in the rotations of many Top 40 radio stations. But make no mistake, Sloan have been bringing it for many years now and are easily one of the most respected bands in all of Canada.

Which brings me to today’s song, “Scratch the Surface”. The term “to scratch the surface” usually refers to someone or something that has only just begun to realize their potential. The term indicates that only a small amount of what is possible has been shown and that there is much more waiting to be discovered. In a funny way, “Scratch the Surface” perfectly encapsulates Sloan’s career. After taking a brief hiatus for a few years, Sloan reformed, moved from Halifax to Toronto and released a new album. The video for “Scratch the Surface” shows Toronto at its glitziest, all the while the various members of Sloan (Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland, Jay Ferguson and Andrew Scott) walk around the city unnoticed by the public. The band pokes fun at itself and at its position in the social media landscape all throughout this video. My favourite part of the video (among many parts that I liked) was Jay Ferguson riding a bicycle through a park and discovering a box of records that were being thrown away. Needless to say, as he flips through the stack, many of the records relate to Sloan and/or to bands and singers who influenced them). The video displays a sense of humour and intelligence that has always been a hallmark of the songs Sloan produces. Sloan definitely has a trademark “sound” and “Scratch the Surface” fits seamlessly into their musical catalogue. Enjoy.

***Unfortunately, the link to the lyrics video for this song cannot be found here. So, in its place, here is one of my favourite Sloan moments…”Coax Me” with the folks from Choir, Choir, Choir. Enjoy.

***As always, all original content found in this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post can be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022