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.

Classic Songs of My Youth Revisited #13

The Oak Ridge Boys – Elvira

Nostalgia can be very dangerous. It can easily lead you down a path where you greatly overstate the awesomeness of some past thing. But I don’t think it’s nostalgia when I say that I had more fun in the summer of 1981 than any other.

The linchpin of this was one Calvin Hood, who decided in the fall of 1980 that I was his friend, so I (after some brief hesitation) gladly jumped on for the ride. He was several years older, back in high school on a part-time basis to finish an aborted diploma now that he had figured out his path in life. Calvin might have been the most essentially decent person I ever met – and one of my aunts is a nun. He made decisions for his own life based in part on how they might impact YOUR immortal soul. He was unabashedly Christian, but never preachy or pushy – he just lived his life in a way that you couldn’t help but admire.

The highlight of that summer would come on Sunday nights. An ever-changing group of four to six of us would go to the drive-in for the midnight double feature, a carful of rowdy late teens and young adults who were usually too busy trying to crack each other up or visiting friends in other vehicles to pay much attention to the movie (mostly cheesy action or detective flix and soft core erotica (I think Calvin took a pass on those nights) from the 1960s and early 1970s – I (sort of) saw “Vixen!” and “Supervixens” in one night). After­wards, we would drive into the nearby city, play “spy” on the dark empty streets (basically, chasing each other around) or have Chinese fire drills, then head to Tim Hortons, where we would consume most of a large portion of Timbits before heading out to play tennis badly as the sun was coming up. We did this for several weeks, then Calvin left town for a new job and Doug Maxwell – the only decent tennis player among us (and I better not hear from anyone else who was there trying to defend their tennis game) – left to join the military, and the rest of us drifted off to other activities. As stupid as it all sounds now, it was a blast, and that was really more about who I was with than what we did. To paraphrase the narrator at the end of “Stand by Me“, I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 16.

On CJCB radio, lords of the soundtrack to our summer, the biggest song – or at least the one that seemed to always be playing that year – was “Elvira” by The Oak Ridge Boys. Sometimes, we would request it, timing our call so that it came on the air while we were at the coffee shop. But it was better if it played when you weren’t expecting it. You would be rolling along, laughing about something stupid or ragging one of the other guys (or being ragged on), and then you’d hear that intro and – boom! – a car full of idiots were singing along in full voice.

It’s such a fun song to sing along with. Maybe it’s a karaoke standard by now but I expect it’s better to have the Boys as your backing track. Those giddy ups and oom poppas are delightful – I defy you to sing along and not feel happy. It’s almost entirely corn, like good bourbon mash, and that’s also part of the fun. A lot of the best country music doesn’t take itself too seriously – think of people like Brad Paisley or Toby Keith, or consider a song like “I’m Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate our Home” or “You’re the Reason our Kids Are Ugly” or “It’s Hard to Be Humble”. This makes them a buttload of fun to sing along with, to give in to the ridiculousness of the thing, and let loose and just have fun with it. “Elvira” tapped into that, and for a group of rock-loving boys – I was at a party on prom night that June where we kept playing the same Minglewood Band album over and over and over until we were too drunk to care anymore – The Oak Ridge Boys owned an awful lot of our aural real estate for that brief window in time. I’ll never be able to separate that song from the love I felt – never expressed, of course, because I was a male teenager of a certain generation – for the friends I sang along with. I’ve had a lot of great summers since, with a lot of great songs, but I don’t think any of them can compete with 1981 and “Elvira”.