"Tired Of Waking Up Tired" by The Diodes


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1970s punk from the Queen Street scene

The Diodes may very well be the most important punk band in the history of Toronto. They were formed in 1976 — playing together at the Ontario College of Art just as the Queen West punk scene was about to become one of the greatest punk scenes on Earth. And The Diodes played a founding role.

It was The Diodes and The Viletones who quickly became the giants of the scene: their infamous rivalry pitted the art school background of The Diodes against the working class thuggery of The Viletones. But it was still a tightly-knit community. In 1977, The Diodes turned their rehearsal space in the basement of a small office building (on Duncan just south of Queen) into a punk club called the Crash 'N' Burn. That summer, they invited all the best punk bands in the city to come play — The Viletones included. For a few, brief, glorious months, bands like The Curse, The Dishes and Teenage Head shook the building to its foundations. But it didn't last: The Liberal Party of Ontario had an office upstairs; by the end of the summer, their complaints about the noise and rowdiness forced the club to shut down.

By then, word had gotten around. That August, The Diodes became the very first Toronto punk band to sign a deal with a major label. The year after that, they started playing a brand new song. "Tired Of Waking Up Tired" would prove to be one of the most popular tracks to ever come out of the Queen West punk scene. Chart even put it at #17 on their list of the Top 50 Canadian Singles Of All Time.

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Listen to more Queen Street punk here.

You can find links to buy Didoes records here.

Special thanks to Ralph Alfonso (The Diodes "manager, designer, lighting guy, roadie, publicist" and co-founder of the Crash 'N' Burn)  for his help with this post.

"Charlena" by Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights

Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights at The Edison Hotel (Yonge & Gould), 1962

LISTEN: "Charlena" by Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights

1960s rock & roll from the Yonge Street Strip

This catchy tune from Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights was the very first #1 single in Canadian history. The band had been around since the late 1950s (originally formed with a different name and a different line-up), but as "Charlena" hit the airwaves during the spring of 1963, the group was launched into a whole new level of stardom. Now, they were one of the most famous bands in Canada. They were in high demand at high schools dances, got invited to play dance halls all over Southern Ontario, and even landed a couple of gigs at Maple Leafs Gardens — one of them opening for The Rolling Stones. Not only that, the fact that "Charlena" had climbed all the way up to the top of the CHUM Chart proved that Canadian bands could get air play too; the song marked the beginning of a whole new era for Canadian music.

And they didn't stop there. Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights were far from one hit wonders. After the success of "Charlena", they released a whole slew of excellent songs — from the rowdy rocker "That's Alright" to the slow burning ballad "You Hurt Me" to the bluesy chain-gang tune "Work Song."

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Listen to more songs from the Yonge Street strip here.

Photo via Garage Hangover. 

Special thanks to Richie Knight & The Mid-Knights bassist Doug Chappell for his help with this post.

"Soul Bird" by Jackie Mittoo

1970s soul from the Jamaica-to-Toronto scene

Jackie Mittoo was one of the greatest Jamaican musicians ever — which is really saying something. He was discovered as a teenager in the 1960s by Coxsone Dodd, the legendary record producer who founded Studio One and also discovered Bob Marley. Mittoo played keyboards for some of the best bands in Jamaican history: The Skatalites, The Soul Vendors and Sound Dimension; Pitchfork calls them "three of the greatest house bands of the 60s... anywhere not just in Jamaica". But by the end of the decade, he was ready for a fresh start. And so Mittoo joined a growing wave of immigration heading north from the Caribbean to the booming Canadian metropolis of Toronto.

Here, he started playing local clubs — like the expat West Indian after-hours joint, Club Tropics (on Queen just east of Yonge). While he always kept close ties to home — returning frequently to record in Jamaica — he also became a leading figure in Toronto's suddenly incredible reggae scene. It was in 1971 that he recorded an album called Wishbone, which was recently listed by NOW Magazine as one of the greatest albums in the history of our city. It included this track, "Soul Bird", one of many joyous, horn-drenched tunes on a record Mittoo himself once called "a blast of sunshine from the islands":



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You can buy Jackie Mittoo's Wishbone as part of Light In The Attic's amazing "Jamaica To Toronto" series of reissues here.

Listen to more from the Jamaica-to-Toronto scene here.

"Honkin' At Midnight" by Frank Motley & His Motley Crew

LISTEN: "Honkin' At Midnight" by Frank Motley & His Motley Crew

1960s R&B from the Yonge Street strip

Frank Motley started off his career in the United States, learning to play the trumpet from jazz legend Dizzie Gillespie. And not only that: soon, he could play two trumpets at the same time. In the late 1950s, he headed north to Toronto, where he made a name for himself playing bluesy jazz and swinging R&B in downtown clubs like the Zanzibar and the Sapphire Tavern. That made him one of the pioneers of our city's very earliest rock scene, which would soon be shaking the Yonge Street strip to its foundations, earning Toronto a reputation as the hardest rocking city of its time.

"Honkin' At Midnight" may very well be Motley's greatest track, but it's far from his only memorable tune. His version of "Hound Dog" is at least as good as the version Elvis recorded — maybe even better. And when his next band — The Hitchhikers — backed singer and drag queen Jackie Shane at the Sapphire, the result was one of the best live albums Toronto has ever produced.

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You can buy Frank Motley's "Honkin' At Midnight" CD here.

Listen to more songs from the Yonge Street strip here.

All songs are posted to promote the artist and the history of Toronto. When possible, I've sought permission from artists, but if you're the copyright-holder and would like the song removed, please contact me here and I'll be happy to do so. 

"The Toronto Subway Song" by Ozzie Williams

LISTEN: "The Toronto Subway Song" by Ozzie Williams

1950s swing music from the Lake Shore scene

Ozzie Williams started his career all the way back in the early 1930s, when swing and jazz were all the rage. He made his name as a band leader leading orchestras at popular dance halls like Club Kingsway near the mouth of the Humber River. He seems to have been particularly fond of performing songs about our city. In 1950, he released "Sunday In Toronto" — a satire of the "blue laws" which effectively shut the city down every Sunday. A copy of the record was sent to every member of City Council, but it didn't quite work: the last of the laws, banning Sunday shopping, wouldn't be repealed until 1992.

The b-side of that single is actually better-remembered. Back in those days, construction on Toronto's very first subway line was in full swing. The chaos it caused on Yonge Street was making people cranky. That's what inspired "The Toronto Subway Song", poking fun at the city while looking forward to the day the subway finally arrived: when the Yonge line opened on March 30, 1954.

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Listen to more Torontonian swing music here.

All songs are posted to promote the artist and the history of Toronto. When possible, I've sought permission from artists, but if you're the copyright-holder and would like the song removed, please contact me here and I'll be happy to do so. 

You Should See: The Last Pogo Jumps Again

Well, thank fuck: it seems as if people may finally be ready to start paying a bit more attention to the history of music in Toronto. It's about bloody time. Recently, there have been a whole series of popular projects exploring the city's music scenes from days gone by: from the sounds of 1960s Yorkville (Before The Gold Rush) to the rock and soul of the Yonge Street Strip (Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories) to 1970s Queen Street punk (Treat Me Like Dirt). Not to mention, *ahem*, the Toronto Historical Jukebox.

And now there's the epic, three-hour punk doc The Last Pogo Jumps Again. It's playing on the big screen this week for what may very well be the last time. You can catch it at the Royal tonight (Feb. 26 at 9pm) and on Sunday afternoon (March 2 at 4pm).

[continue to read the full review on the Toronto Historical Ephemera Blog]

"High School Confidential" by Rough Trade

1980s New Wave pop

Carol Pope and Kevan Staples first started playing together in Yorkville in 1968, but it would be another six years before they officially became the New Wave group Rough Trade. They quickly developed a reputation for their sexual live shows at Grossman's Tavern (on Spadina south of College) and later at the Horseshoe (on Queen West). Pope made a habit of wearing bondage gear on stage and made no secret of her homosexuality.

"High School Confidential" became their biggest hit in 1981. It's hailed as a landmark in Canadian music history — it told the story of a lesbian high school crush at a time when that was still a ridiculously controversial thing to do. Plenty of radio stations banned the song or censored the lyrics, but it still climbed all the way up into the Top 20 on the Canadian charts.
 


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You can buy Rough Trade's album Avoid Freud here.

Listen to more Toronto New Wave here.

"Mr. Heartache" by Pat Hervey

LISTEN: "Mr. Heartache" by Pat Hervey

1960s Toronto pop

Pat Hervey was still just a teenager in the early 1960s, but she was about to become one of the biggest pop stars in Canada. She'd been born and raised in Toronto, where she sang at high school dances until she finally caught the attention of Al Boliska, the popular morning DJ on 1050 CHUM. Hervey was only 5'3" but she had a powerful voice — it earned plenty of favourable comparisons to the American superstar Brenda Lee. Before long, she was a regular on the CBC, making repeated appearances on six of the TV network's music shows.

Her Canadian success, in turn, helped to attract the attention of one of the most famous guitarists of all-time: Chet Atkins. He was now a record executive at RCA Victor, responsible for signing some of the biggest country music stars in the world, including Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Waylan Jennings. He signed Hervey, too; even produced a bunch of her singles himself, along with her full-length debut.

Hervey recorded a wide variety of songs over the course of her career, everything from bubble-gum pop to fiery soul to melancholy country ballads. But one of her biggest hits was the very first single she ever released: "Mr. Heartache". It soared up the CHUM Charts during the summer of 1962.

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You can buy Pat Hervey's Girl Next Door here.

All songs are posted to promote the artist and the history of Toronto. When possible, I've sought permission from artists, but if you're the copyright-holder and would like the song removed, please contact me here.   

"Your Money Or Your Life" by Ishan People

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Reggae from the 1970s Jamaica-to-Toronto scene

Jamaican music has had a huge influence on the musical history of Toronto. A lot of that is thanks to the new Canadians who helped build a thriving reggae scene here in the late 1970s. One of the most successful groups was Ishan People.

Their lead singer, Johnny Osbourne, had already made a name for himself back home in Jamaica, recording his first single at the legendary Studio One. But on the day he finished his first album, he left Jamaica behind, moving to Toronto to be with his family. Here, he sang for a bunch of bands before finally ending up as the frontman for Ishan People. They helped to pave the way for reggae artists in Toronto, playing their laid-back tunes in clubs like the Horseshoe Tavern back in the days when Queen Street was still full of notoriously angry punk music.

"Your Money Or Your Life" was one of the tracks on their debut album, Roots, which came out in 1976 and was produced by David Clayton-Thomas (who had been part of the Yorkville scene in the '60s before becoming the lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears).

After Ishan People broke up, Osbourne headed back to Jamaica. But he wasn't the only great reggae artist to come to Toronto: immigrants like Jackie Mittoo and Jojo Bennett made sure that our city's reggae scene would be producing amazing albums for years to come.

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You can buy a copy of Ishan People's debut album here.

Listen to more from the Jamaica-to-Toronto scene here.

Listen to David Clayton-Thomas & The Bossmen here

All songs are posted to promote the artist and the history of Toronto. When possible, I've sought permission from artists, but if you're the copyright-holder and would like the song removed, please contact me here and I'll be happy to do so.   

"Elements Of Style" by Michie Mee & L.A. Luv

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Early Toronto hip hop

Michie Mee is known as Canada's first famous female MC and the first Canadian rapper to ever be signed to a major American label. She was born in Jamaica but moved to Jane & Finch as a kid, where she started rapping as a teenager in the mid-1980s. Soon, she'd developed her own unique style, combining early North American hip hop with raw Jamaican reggae and dancehall. She teamed up with Toronto producer L.A. Luv and they released their first single — "Elements of Style" — in 1987.

The duo got plenty of support from legendary hip hop artists like KRS-One and Scott La Rock from Boogie Down Productions, but they broke up after releasing just one full-length album: Jamaican Funk—Canadian Style in 1991. L.A. Luv would go on to join Dream Warriors, while Michie Mee still has her own solo career, is an actor, and was a founding member of the rap metal group Raggadeath.

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You can buy Jamaican Funk—Canadian Style here.

Listen to more early Toronto hip hop here.

All songs are posted to promote the artist and the history of Toronto. When possible, I've sought permission from artists, but if you're the copyright-holder and would like the song removed, please contact me here and I'll be happy to do so.