Tag Archives: Bonnie Dobson
Montréal’s The Beau-Marks have been credited with releasing the first hit rock recording made entirely in Canada. The song was “Clap Your Hands” and the year was 1960. It quickly scaled the charts all the way to number one. It was also released in the U.S., Europe, and Australia where it was the 5th biggest song of the year. A French version was recorded too, called “Frappe Tes Mains”. The following year they scored a big hit with “Classmate”. The Beau-Marks differed considerably from 50s vocal ensembles The Crew-Cuts, The Diamonds, and The Four Lads in that they were a pure rock band that composed most of its own material. Unfortunately, despite incredible popularity and performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall and TV’s American Bandstand, the group disbanded after releasing only three albums.
Rock bands sprang up all over Canada, perhaps most notably in Québec where rock and roll was called by the French name Yé-Yé. Music historian Richard Baillargeon noted that there were 500 yé-yé bands in the province, 50 of which had significant careers. The Mégatones kicked things off with their album Voici les Mégatones in 1962. The single “Rideau S.V.P.” became a classic.
While Canada, as a federation, was struggling to establish its own unique cultural identity in the midst of strong British and American influences, Québec was striving to define its own character within Canada. One of the most important musical figures that helped sculpt such a distinctive portrait was folk artist Gilles Vigneault.
Other big stars in Québec were folk singer Claude Gauthier (“Ton Nom” and “Le Grand Six Pieds”), Claude Léveillée, Clemence Desrochers (though better known as an actress), and Donald Lautrec. Pianist and composer André Gagnon was instrumental in accompanying and writing for many of these stars, especially Léveillée. We’ll talk more about him later. Monique Leyrac performed covers of these singers’ songs on TV, bringing them to the attention of English Canada.
Canada‘s subsequent pop stars after Paul Anka were Ginette Reno, who went on to release over 60 albums in both French and English over the years, and Canada’s next teen-idol, Bobby Curtola, who ended up releasing some 50 singles, many of which made the Top Ten. His biggest hit, “Fortune-Teller” came in 1962, selling millions of copies worldwide. Terry Black also appeared and, though less successful than Curtola, managed several hits, including “Unless You Care” and “Only Sixteen”. Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights had one of the biggest hits of the early 60s: 1963′s “Charlena”. Also big that year was Jackie Shane‘s “Any Other Way”. Shirley Matthews scored a major hit the following year—“Big Town Boy”.
Celebrated Canadian actor Lorne Greene enjoyed a brief signing career spawned by the popularity of his role as Ben Cartwright on the long-running Western television series “Bonanza”. In 1964, his hit, “Ringo” topped the charts. Another country artist in the early 60s was Lucille Star who scored several hits, some with her partner Bob Regan (the duo was dubbed The Canadian Sweethearts). Her “French Song” was the 22nd biggest hit of 1964.
Homegrown folk artists starting out in the early 60s were Buffy Sainte-Marie, Canada’s first high-profile First Nations musician, the husband-wife team of Ian & Sylvia (“Four Strong Winds”), and Canada’s polka king Walter Ostanek. Folk-pop superstar, Gordon Lightfoot, made his debut in 1962 with the hit “Remember I’m The One” and struck again five years later with “Go Go Round”. But, because his huge international success came in the 70s and the Canadian Pop Encyclopedia cites him as Canada’s most popular male vocalist during that decade, we’ll profile him later.
With the growth of Canadian music, artists from other countries began covering Canadian songs. Bonnie Dobson‘s 1961 hit “Morning Dew” was covered by Lulu in 1968. “Universal Soldier” (1964) by aforementioned Buffy Sainte-Marie was covered by Scottish artist Donovan.