COVER

Seeking Pop’s Promised Land

RUTH ATHERLEY July 6 1987
COVER

Seeking Pop’s Promised Land

RUTH ATHERLEY July 6 1987

Seeking Pop’s Promised Land

Canadian ?'ock acts have been heading to the United States for years, from Neil Young and The Band in the 1960s to Rush and Loverboy in the early 1980s. Now a new wave of talent is rolling southward to break into the world's most lucrative market in rock 'n ' roll. The groups ' strategies differ as much

as their degrees of success, but key elements include a chance to play as an opening act on a big star’s tour, a clever manager—and sheer luck. With 10 songs by Canadian artists now holding positions on the Billboard chart, Bryan Adams may soon have company. Some contenders:

Rock and Hyde

Bob Rock and Paul Hyde know all too well the importance of a name. As leaders of the Payola$, the popular Vancouver punk band, they discovered that the music business found their group’s name—with its reference to the industry’s bribery scandals of the 1950s and 1960s—too inflammatory. On one occasion, producers abruptly cancelled a scheduled appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand television show because the word “payola” alarmed them. Frustrated, the group softened the name to Paul Hyde and the Payólas and brought in producer David Foster to develop a more commercial sound. But it failed to attract fans, and A&M Records terminated their recording contract. This spring the band leaders resurfaced as Rock and Hyde, with a new album on Capitol-EMI Records, Under the Volcano. Their return to the tough sound and thought-provoking lyrics of their Payola$ days has paid off: the first single, Dirty Water, crested at a respectable No. 66 on the Billboard charts. Rock and Hyde are now headlining shows in Canada, while trying to get a part in a U.S. star’s tour. But Rock insists that “the American Dream is not the only thing in the world.”

K. D. Lang

She wore heavy glasses, had cropped hair and came from Consort, Alta, (population 672). And she claimed to be a reincarnation of country great Patsy Cline. But in 1985, when her first single, Hanky Panky, started winning airplay on national radio, Canada took notice of the eccentric who calls herself K.D. (for Katherine Dawn) Lang. Now the United States is following suit. Lang boasts an enviable U.S. record contract with Sire Records—the same label that carries new wave bands The Pretenders and Talking Heads. She has appeared in Rolling Stone magazine and on television, including CBS’s Hee Haw and NBC’S Late Night with David Letterman. Her new album, Angel with a Lariat, has won rave reviews verging on the breathless. Produced by respected rock guitarist Dave Edmunds, the album features Lang’s version of the 1970 Lynn Anderson hit Rose Garden, which her record company has shrewdly chosen as her first single. Although she is currently riding high among rock fans, she knows that exposure in Nashville and other country music circles is critical to her. “I’m really interested in being part of that community,” said Lang. “I want to bring country music to the forefront.”

The Parachute Club

For years Toronto’s Parachute Club has been drawing reviews that are the equivalent of a high-school yearbook’s “most likely to succeed.” Praise from Canadian critics for such hit singles as Rise Up and At the Feet of the Moon has been steady—last year Maclean’s called the band “intelligent, passionate and inventive”—and the six-member group has won almost every Canadian music award available. Despite that, the Club has still not broken into the U.S. market. Last year its members enlisted the support of U.S. superstar John Oates, of the pop duo Hall & Oates, to produce their third album, Small Victories. Oates, a 15-year veteran of Top 40 hits, took the band’s trademark Caribbean beat and blended it with his own more mainstream style of blue-eyed soul. But the anticipated U.S. airplay and record sales never occurred. Now the Club has retained a Canadian manager based in New York, Sandy Castinguay of The Big Jump Management Co. Said Castinguay: “To break an act in the United States is like beating a bush. But the bush is so big you need nuclear weapons to get attention.” A re-armed Parachute Club is now beginning work on a fourth album.

The Nylons

Canada’s best-known a cappella quartet, The Nylons, got its start at a party in Toronto in the late 1970s when four friends started singing along to a record. When the record stopped, they simply kept singing. Soon the four—Marc Connors, Paul Cooper, Claude Morrison and Arnold Robinson—were taking their act to cabarets and clubs. Then, in 1981 Toronto’s Attic Records signed them to a contract. Because the group includes such classic rock hits as Bruce Springsteen’s Fire and the Turtles’ Happy Together in their repertoire, critics have nicknamed their sound “rockapella.” With the release of their current album, Happy Together, The Nylons are now gaining international recognition. American sales of more than 400,000 have been boosted by the single Kiss Him Goodbye, which last week was No. 24 on the Billboard charts. In the past The Nylons have opened for The Pointer Sisters and Hall & Oates. Now headlining their own U.S. shows, last month they sang to a sold-out audience at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. But their rise to fame has been a matter of patient work, according to Attic vice-president of sales and marketing Lindsay Gillespie, who added: “Developing international exposure is a long, arduous process. It just takes time.”

Partland Brothers

In 1984 after years of playing to drunken audiences in smokefilled rooms, a Toronto bar band called Oliver Heavyside entered a radio-sponsored song contest—and won. Soon after the band drifted apart. But the creative forces behind the group, brothers Chris and G.P. Partland, had been encouraged enough by that break to press on. Luck struck a second time. A 20-year veteran of the music industry, impresario James Martin, encountered the two, now working as the Partland Brothers and liked their breezy, polished sound. He brought them to the attention of a major record company, Capitol Records. Their first album, Electric Honey, has all the markings of a runaway success. An upbeat collection of light pop tunes, it contains the thumping good-humored hit single Soul City—No. 26 last week on Billboard. Already, the brothers are winning favorable reviews in the American press and have z just completed a two-month U.S. tour with the veteran EnI glish pop band The Moody Blues. Now the Partlands are 1 helping Americans celebrate their national holiday: they are y heading to Memphis to play before an estimated 250,000 people I at a Fourth of July celebration.

Frozen Ghost

The brown-paper package had humble contents: a tape, made in a basement by an aspiring duo. The parcel sat on the desk of WEA Music’s director Robert Roper for three weeks before he listened to it. When he did, he decided that he liked the performers’ gritty sound. Still, he wondered about the background noise. As Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel, who call themselves Frozen Ghost, explain it, that sound was the rinse cycles of their laundry churning next door when they made the recording. Despite those added rhythms, Roper offered them a record contract. It was Lanni and Hassel’s second bid for pop stardom. They had enjoyed a previous deal, with a band called Sheriff, until the group broke up. Then, in 1985 they formed Frozen Ghost, and this spring they released a self-titled album that has sold a promising 100,000 copies in the United States. Lanni and Hassel have just completed a North American tour with British pop star Howard Jones, which put them in front of large audiences in Los Angeles and New York. Said Lanni: “If you want to make a living in music five or 10 years down the road, you must break these markets.”

RUTH ATHERLEY