This country took care of its own music scene back in the '60s and '70s, thanks very much. The British Invasion was fading and the U.S. was a mess, but the charts up here were cooking with hits by homegrown talents - hailing from right across the country. We didn't need the Summer of Love and we hardly noticed Woodstock. American woman, get away from me. Up here in the Great White North we were happily grooving to that fine Canadian sound - and eventually the whole world was listening right along.
If you were a Canadian kid back then, you were likely into the music scene and flag-waving proud of it. And we had every reason to be proud of artists like The Guess Who, or Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, The Band and, yes, Anne Murray. They were music icons who rocked the world and they were ours.
Those good times come flooding back in Shakin' All Over, a remarkable time capsule of Canadian music's golden era. The documentary traces the timeline of Canadian musical brilliance from roughly the mid-'60s to the early '70s and along the way makes the striking creative connection to today's Canadian music stars. If you were a real fan of Canadian music, viewing the film might make you dizzier than the air at a Crowbar concert (and if you have to look up Crowbar, you're nog a real fan).
Shakin' All Over is the best TV adaptation of a book in recent memory - and certainly the coolest. Base on the book Gold Rush - Flashbacks to the Dawn of the Canadian Sound by Nicholas Jennings, the film pays very affectionate homage to the aforementioned Canadian legends, and a few dozen more, and quite a few of them show up to talk about those heady days.
All told, there are more than 60 interviews with Canadian artists in the two-hour film. There are memories from Lightfoot, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sylvia of Ian and Sylvia and Steppenwolf's John Kay - hands down the baddest-looking rock dude to ever come out of this country. There are interviews with the original band members of The Collectors, The Ugly Ducklings, Mahsmakhan and at least a dozen other Canadian artists whose albums you may have in a milk crate stashed somewhere in your garage.
Those memories are deftly juxtaposed with commentary from current Canadian musical names, like Sarah Harmer, Hawksley Workman, Sarah Slean, Maestro and Sloan's Jay Ferguson, each offering personal acknowledgment of the era's unmistakable influence on their music. There are several update renditions of classic Canadian songs: Ron Sexsmith does proper justice to Lighfoot's If You Could Read my Mind; Diana Krall delivers a haunting version of Joni Mitchell's A Case of You. The musical lineage appears intact.
The interview segments provide proper context but are kept brief wherever possible to accommodate the astounding collection of archive film clips in Shakin' All Over.
The music was happening all over Canada in those days: If you lived in Vancouver, you were at the clubs on 4th Avenue. In Toronto, it was Yorkville - at one point there were more than 40 clubs with live music - or Yonge Street, where patrons lined up at Le Coq D'or to see Ronnie Hawkins - parents at night and daytime matinees for the kids. The Canadian sound was rolling out across the land and thankfully there were very often cameras rolling and someone saw fit to store the footage.
Among the more outstanding musical moments in the program: Leonard Cohen performing Suzanne in a live outdoor concert, before a rapt crowd of hippies; Quebec superstar Robert Charlebois doing his angry-young-Frenchman thing in a TV special, with his Afro-hairstyle covering nearly half the screen; John Kay and Steppenwolf grinding out Magic Carpet Ride and Born to be Wild on what appears to be The Ed Sullivan Show; the infamous Crowbar concert where the band decided to bring out a stripper (while a dour-looking security guard glowers nearby); and a TV special performance of Heart of Gold by Neil Young that could break your heart.
In a lighter, or surreal, TV moment, there's a clip of the Canadian band Blood, Sweat and Tears appearing on the American top-of-the-pops program Hullabaloo, circa 1966. Singer David Clayton Thomas is on a miniature hockey rink set, adorned with NHL logos, while lovely models / go-go dancers, wearing hockey sweaters and brandishing hockey sticks, gently gyrate behind him. So that's how Americans used to think of us.
Shakin' All Over is best absorbed as an exhaustive tribute to those days, with appropriate time devoted to short profiles on Bruce Cockburn, The Band, Chilliwack, Murray McLauchlan and other towering musical luminaries who paved the way for today's artists. The program is an unabashed celebration of what was arguably the most fertile period in our musical history. It was a rare shared experience that captivated people from coast to coast. Even now, there's no way to explain or define the uniqueness of our Canadian sound. Like Woodstock, you simply had to be there.
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