Tag Archives: Prism
Years Most Active: 1977-1982
Genre: Progressive Rock
- 6 Platinum albums, including 1 multi-Platinum
- Juno Award for Group of the Year (1981)
Ron Tabak, lead vocals
Lindsay Mitchell, guitar, vocals
John Hall, keyboards
Rocket Norton, drums
Allen Harlow, bass
Other Members and Associates:
Rodney Higgs [aka Jim Vallance], drums 1977-78
- later formed a successful songwriting duo with Bryan Adams
- as a soloist wrote hits for Aerosmith and others
Ab Bryant, bass 1977 only
- later joined Chilliwack and the Headpins)
Tom Lavin, guitars, vocals 1977 only
- later formed the Powder Blues Band
Henry Small (keyboards, vocals) 1981-82
- Took over after Tabak’s departure
Jimmy Phillips (keyboards) 1981-82
Bruce Fairbairn, Horns and the band’s Producer
- later one the industry’s premier producers, working with the likes of AC/DC, Kiss, Yes, Loverboy, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith.
Bruce Allen, Band Manager
Tom Keenlyside, Horns
- later to the Powder Blues and solo career
1979 Night To Remember
1980 Young And Restless
Some Other Hits:
1977 Spaceship Superstar
1977 Take Me To The Kaptin
1977 Open Soul Surgery
1977 It’s Over
1978 Take Me Away
1978 See Forever Eyes
1979 You Walked Away Again
1980 Cover Girl
1981 Don’t Let Him Know
1981 Turn On Your Radar
1988 Good to be Back
1. Prism, 1977
2. See Forever Eyes, 1978
3. Armageddon, 1979
4. Young and Restless, 1980
Pseudo-Prism Studio Albums:
5. Small Change, 1981
6. Beat Street, 1983
7. Jericho, 1993
8. Big, Black Sky 2007
Prism was formed from members of the older rock groups Seeds of Time and Sunshyne. On the strength of their song “Open Soul Surgery”, Prism landed a deal with the now-defunct GRT Records during a gig at Vancouver’s nightclub The Body Shop. They chose the name Prism to reflect their various musical influences. Jim Vallance enrolled at the University of British Columbia did not want his classmates to learn he was involved in a rock band, so he adopted the alias “Rodney Higgs”. He helped write radio charting anthems from their debut album: the classic “Spaceship Superstar”, “Take Me to the Kaptin”, and “It’s Over”. But Vallance did not find concert tours his cup of tea, so he was replaced on drums by Rocket Norton.
Their sophomore release, See Forever Eyes went Platinum, spawning three big hits. The title-track for the band’s third album was conceived during a concert in the American city of Memphis. City police were on strike so the National Guard was handling the commotion surrounding the first anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. The band looked down on the visually apocalyptic scene below them from a helicopter: frenzied mobs were swarming around Elvis’ shrine in Graceland. The album was to be called Armageddon. Bryan Adams, who was 19 at the time contributed to a couple of tracks. Impressed by his work, Prism’s manager Bruce Allen signed him. Smart move!
Armageddon attained double-platinum status while the record company they shared with Dan Hill, facing executive problems fell into receivership in 1980. In one of the biggest worldwide contracts of the time, Capitol Records signed the band boosting sales of the album to over a million copies worldwide. Single “Night to Remember” received the SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers Of Canada) Song of the Year award. Subsequent concert tours broke sales records in many of the major Canadian venues and the band developed a reputation for being one of the best at live performances. South of the border, Prism opened for such acts as Meat Loaf, The Beach Boys, and Cheap Trick.
Young and Restless was to be the title of the band’s fourth studio album. Its title track, one of the band’s most successful songs, was nominated for Song of the Year at the Junos and the band took home the Group of the Year award. Bruce Fairbairn was given Producer of the Year honours.
The band decided to release a “Greatest Hits” album entitled “All the Best from Prism” and grace it with a new song—“Cover Girl”—to honour the memory of Vancouver starlet Dorothy Stratten, murdered by her estranged husband.
The same fate that greeted many rock bands came Prism’s way. At the pinnacle of the band’s success, conflict broke out. Differences flared up between Tabak and Mitchell leading to the firing of the group’s lead vocalist at the end of 1980, followed by the departure of Hall and a switch of producers from Fairbairn to Los Angeles-based John Carter who had worked with Sammy Hagar and Tina Turner.
Tabak and Hall were replaced with Henry Small and Jimmy Phillips respectively. Although the band’s next album, Small Change, received critical praise and housed a couple of noteworthy singles, including the Japan-honoured “Don’t Let Him Know”, composed by Adams and Vallance, Prism fans, accustomed to the unique, boyish singing of Tabak, which gave the group its signature sound, did not warm to the band’s new vocalist, a singer who admitted that his joining Prism was simply a means by which he could realize his aspirations of becoming a soloist.
It had become clear to the band’s members that a dead-end had been reached and they disbanded in 1982. Henry Small with Prism’s management recorded what was, in essence, a solo album, but under the band’s name, called Beat Street. The fans weren’t fooled by this and the album didn’t sell.
Two years later, Tabak and the original members of the band cleared up all their issues and resolved to reunite. But tragedy on Christmas eve 1984 dashed all plans of a reunion. Tabak was cycling across Vancouver, at night without a helmet, to spend Christmas with bandmate Harlow at the latter’s Kitsilano apartment. A passing vehicle knocked him off the snow-covered, icy road and he fell, striking his head on the pavement. Hospital doctors told him there was no sign of injury, when, in fact, he was suffering a brain aneurism, which was causing him to behave violently. He had a history of running into trouble with the law. So police showed no hesitation in escorting him from the hospital to spend the night a jail cell, assuming he was drunk. He fell unconscious in jail and was returned to the hospital. Doctors, in a more thorough examination, discovered the blood clot in his brain and prepared him for emergency surgery. But it was too late. He never regained consciousness and passed away on Boxing Day.
One can only imagine the regretful anguish of the other band members; that they remained silent for the next four years is understandable. In 1988, having come to terms with their grief, Norton, Harlow, and Mitchell entered the studio with singer Darcy Deutsch and keyboardist Andy Lorimer to record “Good to Be Back” a new single composed by Harlow, Vallance, and Bryan Adams lyrically reviewing the band’s history and paying tribute to Tabak. The song was included in a compilation album called Over 60 Minutes with Prism.
The single’s success gave the team enough confidence to record a new album in 1993 called Jericho. The likes of Randy Bachman and Rick Springfield lent a hand in the composing. But tracks from the album received negligible airplay at home, doing better in parts of Europe.
Prism was notable for launching the careers of both Jim Vallance, one of the foremost composers in the international music industry, as well as Bruce Fairbairn, one of the foremost producers. Alas, Fairbairn died in 1999. Band members worked on various projects while Harlow kept the torch of Prism burning and took over as the band’s vocalist for the 2007 album Big, Black Sky.
While the early to mid 70s were bustling with popular Canadian acts, things had slowed down by the late-70s. There were perhaps three reasons for this. The first was that, while the rest of the world became swept up in disco fever, Canadian artists remained aloof from this genre of music with the odd exception like Patsy Gallant or the T.H.P. Orchestra. Coinciding with this was the decline in popularity of folk music, the style that had been Canada’s specialty. Furthermore, the big names in music were sliding into retirement. Things were to pick up and surpass previous prominence of Canuck music, however, in the 1980s, which saw the first Canadian album to be certified diamond.
The late-70s were in fact a crossroads of artists retiring and new ones emerging who didn’t skyrocket to prominence until the following decade. One of these was the rock band Rush. Though their debut came in 1974, they didn’t score a major hit until 1978′s “Closer to the Heart” and steadily rose to notoriety in the early 80s. Rush is one of the longest-lived and most popular Canadian rock bands. Though never scoring a lot of radio-played hit singles, they have remained a highly successful album-oriented act, as 13 of their studio albums have gone platinum. They are considered the fifth best-selling rock band in history internationally after The Beatles, Rolling Stones, KISS, and Aeorsmith respectively.
A band that often worked and co-wrote songs with Rush was Max Webster. They managed a Platinum album in 1979. In the 80s, member Kim Mitchell embarked on a solo career and did much better.
In terms of bands that scored hits, Vancouver’s Trooper was king in this period with ten Top 40 hits (3 more after 1979). Their album Hot Shots was the first Canadian album to go 4x Platinum in Canada. Toronto’s Triumph didn’t do as well, as their popularity remained mostly in eastern Canada where they scored the 1979 hit “Hold On” and “Magic Power” in 1981. But, unlike Trooper, they have managed to become inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Prism arguably faired better than Triumph with six platinum albums, two major hits (“Night to Remember” and “Young & Restless”), and Juno Award for Group of the Year in 1981. Regina’s Streetheart rose to fame with their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”. Randy Bachman, after his departure from B.T.O., formed a new band, Ironhorse. They released only two albums and scored one Top 30 hit: “Sweet Lui Louise”.
Other bands in this period were Harlequin and the new wave outfit Saga who managed several minor radio hits. Canada was heading into more progressive electronic rock thanks to Nash the Slash and FM.
Because they started out in Canada, it is worth mentioning the American band Heart. Sweeney Todd released the huge hit “Roxy Roller” but disbanded quickly, two of their members going solo. The first, Nick Gilder, scored a couple of huge hits, one being the biggest of the late-70s, but faded into obscurity after. The second, Bryan Adams, did not see success come as easily, but once he found his signature formula, he became the biggest Canadian solo artist of all-time. We will profile him in the 80s.
The biggest solo artist of the late-70s was former Guess Who front man Burton Cummings. His first hit was “Stand Tall” in 1976. Success came for Angèle Arsenault in 1977 with the multi-platinum album, Libre.
Though he debuted in 1970, folk-pop singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn‘s big breakthrough came in 1979 thanks to “Wondering Where the Lions Are”. Paul Piché’s solo album went platinum the same year. Martin Stevens’ single “Love is in the Air” went gold while Claudja Barry‘s “Boogie Woogie Dancing Shoes” went Platinum. Respected guitarist Pat Travers churned out some his best material during the late 70s. (Jerry) Doucette‘s debut release, Mama Let Him Play, earned platinum status. Bells’ former pianist Frank Mills released his “Music Box Dancer” instrumental, the sheet music of which has sold in excess of 3 million copies. Diane Tell and Véronique Béliveau both released debut albums in 1977. They became highly successful in the 80s, and we will take a look at them later.
Number One singles in the late 70s were Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, Burton Cummings’ “Stand Tall”, Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch”, Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me” and “I Just Fall in Love Again”, and Gino Vannelli’s “I Just Wanna Stop”. Nick Gilder departed from Sweeny Todd after their Number One smash “Roxy Roller”, and came out with the biggest Canadian song of the late-70s: “Hot Child in the City”, 7th biggest song of the year 1978 according to CHUM FM. “The Theme from S.W.A.T.” by the T.H.P. Orchestra, which earned them the Most Promising Group of the Year Juno in 1977, was also a number one single. Patsy Gallant’s “Sugar Daddy” won the Song of the Year Juno in 1978. Pianist André Gagnon took home the Album of the Year Juno in 1978 for his Neiges, breaking B.T.O.’s three-year streak in the category.
Outside the realm of pop, some big names at this time: celebrated jazz trombonist Rob McConnell, classical pianist and composer André Gagnon, Nova Scotian female country singer Carroll Baker, earthy folk singer Stan Rogers, and hugely successful children’s music trio Sharon, Lois & Bram.
In 1979, due to the Juno Awards’ lack of attention to fracophone artists, Quebec launched the Felix Awards. For more on this, click HERE.
Below are mini-profiles on Heart, Streetheart, Sweeney Todd, and Nick Gilder.
Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson who have hitherto sold over 30 million albums worldwide, started out in Vancouver, Canada, so we will take a brief look at them here.
In 1967, Roger Fisher formed a Seattle-based band called The Army that went through a number of personnel and name changes. In late-1970, Ann Wilson joined. Roger’s brother, Mike, was set to be recruited, against his will, into the army to fight in Vietnam. When he failed to show up for duty, American authorities raided his home. He jumped out of a rear window and escaped to freedom in Canada. The Americans labeled him a “Vietnam War Draft Dodger”.
One day in 1971, Mike snuck across the border back to the U.S. to visit family. There he met Ann Wilson and the two fell in love. This prompted Ann to follow Mike back into Canada. This led other band members to follow suit. They reformed in Vancouver, and changed their name to Heart. Ann’s sister Nancy joined in 1974 and began a love affair with Roger.
The band, augmented by some Canadian studio musicians (one of whom permanently joined the band as their drummer) released Dreamboat Annie on Vancouver’s Mushroom Records label. Singles “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man” helped the album to eventually sell over a million copies.
In 1977, The American government returned to policies more in keeping with democracy and granted amnesty to Vietnam draft evaders. This led the band to break its contract with Mushroom and move back to Seattle.
This band from Regina, formed in 1977, is best known for their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” as well as “Action”, “What Kind of Love is This”, and “One More Time”. Four of their albums attained platinum status, one going multi-platinum. In 1980, they received the Juno Award for Most Promising Group of the Year. They disbanded in 1983.
Sweeney Todd / Nick Gilder
This glam rock band that formed in Vancouver in 1975, with Nick Gilder on vocals, scored the #1 hit “Roxy Roller” winning them a Juno Award for Best Single in 1977. Gilder quickly left the band after its success to pursue a solo career. He was replaced by Clark Perry, an arrangement that was short-lived, and Bryan Adams, then only 15 years old, took over on vocals. The band’s second album was finally released but was unsuccessful, resulting in Adams’ departure. Chris Booth took over on vocals but Sweeney Todd had, by then, run out of steam and disbanded before recording any further albums.
In the meantime, Nick Gilder, born in London, England in 1951, was enjoying a hugely successful solo career. His “Hot Child in the City” topped the charts for weeks and won the 1979 Juno for Single of the Year. It was the 7th biggest song of 1978 according to Toronto’s CHUM Radio. It performed equally well in the American Charts. Gilder’s “Here Comes the Night” made the Top 30 and “You Really Rock Me” the Top 40. In 1980, “Wild Ones (Feeling Electric)” and “Catch 22″ made the Top 30, but further success proved unattainable. He began composing for other artists, most notably Patty Smyth, Bette Midler, Joe Cocker, and Pat Benatar. In 1984, he co-wrote the song “The Warrior” for the band Scandal, which made the Top 10 in the U.S.