Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #17

Chilliwack – My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)

I never much cared for Chilliwack, or most of the other Canadian groups that got lots of airplay, like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Trooper and April Wine, when I was growing up in Cape Breton in the 1970s. (Rush was the notable exception.) Their songs were fine, but that’s a pretty mealy-mouthed bit of non-praise. I never bought any of their albums or singles, and only rarely recorded them off the radio for replay. I didn’t leave the room when they came on: I was simple apathetic about their existence.

I wonder if Canadian content rules hurt some artists creatively while helping them fiscally. It certainly gave lots of acts a boost, guaranteeing that more of them got on the air. But sometimes that protection granted an unearned spot that could have gone to a better, non-Canadian band. As an example, I coincidentally (because I would never play it on purpose) heard “California Girl” by Chilliwack while browsing in a Halifax thrift shop just two days ago. I hated this song in 1977, and I still think it sucks in 2022. My local rock station could’ve used that time on a whole bunch of classics that never made it to their airwaves: Television’s “Marquee Moon” on its own could’ve replaced two plays of “California Girl” (though radio stations everywhere were missing out on this particular masterpiece in 1977). On the flip side, if those MAPL protections are the reason for “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” coming along four years later, I guess it was worth it. I guess.

Nope, it was totally worth it, because “My Girl” still kicks ass 41 years later. As a measure of this, I bought the album it came from, “Wanna Be A Star”, and the one that came after it a year later out of pure continuing good will. I first heard the song in the basement of Jay Galpin’s house. Jay and I were in the same grade, but ran in different circles. (Well, Jay probably ran – I hung near the back and slunk in when I saw a gap.) I briefly dated his younger sister Jill, and one Saturday night, as Jill and I were hanging around in their basement listening to music, Jay came in, barely acknowledged our presence, and commandeered the stereo. He played two songs – “Destroyer” by The Kinks and “My Girl” – then fucked off without another word. It was pretty gangster, in retrospect, and I had heard two amazing new songs.

“Destroyer”, which I hadn’t listened to in years, is still fantastic, but we’re here to talk about “My Girl”. There’s a real ‘50s doo wop feel right out of the gate, like a bunch of guys standing in a tunnel over a trash can fire or scattered around a high school washroom, snapping their fingers to set the beat for the echoey “gone, gone, gone” intro. It’s a song that was made for singing along to. It quickly turns into a modern pop song, with a really solid toe-tapping backbeat, but never loses that air of nostalgia, including a nice Beach Boys-esque “woo ooo” just before the 1:00 mark. The obligatory guitar solo is pleasant enough, and they get it out of the way early, so you haven’t lost interest by the time the chorus kicks back in at 2:13, upping the drama with just the tiniest uptick in tempo. Then, right when they should be winding down, the energy kicks up just before 3:00, and it becomes a balls out race to the fade out.

One thing that makes it great is the interplay between the lead and backing vocals. And while it hasn’t been covered widely, all three versions that made an impression on me were completely faithful to the original, while taking advantage of that dynamic. The Stanford Mendicants, the Treblemakers of this particular tale, though hopefully less dickish than Bumper, do a classic a capella take, and Bailey Pelkman has a gals only countrified version that feels like this is a song The Andrews Sisters and their ilk could’ve knocked out of the park. But the version that really reveals the song’s strength comes from a dedicated ‘80s covers act, The B.A. Baracus Band, who hit it with their unique blend of acoustic guitar, djembe and kazoos (the singer is no match for Bill Henderson – he’s game as fuck though, so major props to him). Pity the fool who doesn’t appreciate the effort.

This was Chilliwack’s biggest hit by far, though “I Believe” from the same album also did well. Amazingly, “Fly at Night”, a Canada-only hit from 1976, is more popular than “My Girl” on Spotify, and I don’t understand that at all. In 1982, they tried to recapture the magic with “Whatcha Gonna Do?”, and it sort of worked, but it was no “My Girl” and had nowhere near the success. By the next year, they were a band in name only. But they left us one perfect 4:14 record of their time on our airwaves.

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