Saturday, March 22, 2008

Nuggets Of The North: Canadian Gems Part I: 60's Garage

If the only thing that comes to mind when you think of Canada is mounties, maple syrup and snow - lots of snow, you'd only be half right.

Canada also has a very active music scene and one that's been going strong for a long time. These days it feels like the indie band of the day comes from Canada. Arcade Fire? Death From Above 1979? Broken Social Scene? Peaches? Feist? Crystal Castles? Yep we're bursting with talent up here. In case you just noticed, we're going to explore the "BedRock" of the country and look into the nooks and crannies and explore some real vinyl treasures from our home and native land.

First up, but in no particular order are a couple of garage records that have collectors in a tizzy every time they come to market.

("Somewhere Outside", Yorktown 50001, 1968)

Toronto's own The Ugly Ducklings are perhaps the best known Canadian garage band. Formed in 1965 they played coffeehouses in the Yorkville area, which in its day drew artists like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell among others. Yorkville was ground zero for the burgeoning folk, hippy and rock scenes in 60's Toronto (Haight Ashbury North? Lower East Side North?). My how times have changed. Now, it's arguably one of the most exclusive shopping districts in the country.

Anyway, the band started off as a Rolling Stones cover band but branched out and began writing their own songs. Their first single "Nothin'" on Toronto's Yorktown label became a hit.
This lead to the band opening for the Rolling Stones in 1966 in Maple Leaf Gardens (one of the holiest hockey rinks in the country). Both Elvis and the Beatles played there! You couldn't really play a bigger venue.

Next in 1967 they had a hit with "Gaslight" on the Yorkville label. Their full-length LP "Somewhere Outside" followed in 1968 (again on Yorktown). In the same year Mick Jagger proclaimed that The Ugly Ducklings were were his favourite Canadian band! Things were looking up!

(The Ugly Ducklings in 1966)

Well here's the sad part. They failed to get national distribution even though they sold well in the Toronto area. Given no marketing and no real airplay anywhere else in the country that was pretty much that - they broke up not long after.

They did however leave behind a vinyl treasure in "Somewhere Outside". Among garage collectors this is considered to be a holy grail of sorts. I've seen mouldy copies with pizza toppings go for more than $100. In fact pristine copies can command much much more. I've seen at least two label variations and I've seen one variation listed at $2,500 (if you know send the info along!). It might have been a promo copy and if so would be extremely rare as promo copies from this period in Canada are scarce to say the least.

Still if you want to award Canada's most pricey garage artifact the honour would probably have to go to Montreal's The Haunted.

("The Haunted", TRANS-WORLD 6701, 1966)

The short history of the band goes like this:

In 1965, the Haunted entered a Battle of the Bands competition in the Montreal Forum and they won! The prize was a recording session where they cut the single "1-2-5" which became a hit in April 1966. This single was so popular it was also picked up in Europe and Australia!

Early Canadian pressings of this single have a misprint and erroneously spell the name of the band as "The Hunted". These pressings fetch higher prices than the correctly spelled ones which typically sell for $50-$100 or more. "Land of Make Believe" is another 45 that is quite sought after and so is the band's French version of "Purple Haze"!

If you're lucky enough to find a copy of the band's self-titled LP from 1966 on the Transworld label, be prepared to spend $1,000-$1,500+ for a mint copy.

BEWARE, many counterfeits exist of this album. The genuine article has a colour cover. It was never issued in a black and white cover - those are most definitely counterfeits. This is one of the holy grails for garage collectors around the world so bootleg copies are bound to turn up.
In fact, this LP is so highly coveted I heard that a band member has had a copy stolen from his home - twice!

(The Haunted group members)

Well that's a little info on two influential Canadian bands and we've just touched the tip of the iceberg. Be prepared for next post where I'll explore some lost psych-folk nuggets from the North.

Confessions Of A Vinyl Junkie

If you're like me, you spend an inordinate amount of time hunting down records in music stores, thrift shops, yard sales, flea markets, people's basements etc. You just can't walk by a box of records without taking a peek. There's always some elusive holy grail that you need in your collection. Ever spent money you had for the phone bill on a record instead? If this sounds remotely familiar, chances are you're a vinyl junkie. If this sounds irresponsible, chances are you're not.

I'm also a thrift store junkie and that kind of feeds the vinyl junkie. If I win a million dollars I'm sure to spend it all on records at the Goodwill. I just can't resist the urge to go in and sneeze myself to death! Kleenex is cheap. Vinyl is precious. And who doesn't love a bargain? I just can't believe what people throw away! So in a certain way I'm recycling old unloved gems from the dustbins of history and giving to charity! I should be a saint.

Over the coming months, I want to share my love of vinyl culture with you. I'll be posting some thrift store scores from over the years and posting some shit that interests me. Hope you find it interesting!


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