Canadian Wonder # 3 - Alannah Myles

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've had a few requests to shoot this blog up with a little estrogen before things get weird, but I didn't want to do an entry JUST cause someone is female, cause I feel that's some sort of political affirmative action I'm not ready to deal with, and it's unfair to the other artists. However, I am more than willing to write about someone just cause they're Canadian so here goes.

What comes to one's mind when the name Alannah Myles is uttered? Raven-haired? Beautiful? Sexy? Sensual? Smoky? Bewitching? Actually a witch? Canadian? All of the above?

Or maybe you have no idea who I'm talking about.

Born in Tornonto and reared on a ranch in Buckhorn, Ontario, Alannah Myles spent her early years riding horses and learning guitar, and at age 18 began performing covers and originals at music clubs in Southern Ontario, where she met future songwriting partner Christopher Ward.

According to Wikipedia, sometime in 1984, she appeared on the classic Canadian teen melodrama Kids of Degrassi in an episode entitled "Catherine Finds Her Balance." Myles was typecast as an aspiring singer.

After years of digging deep in the music clubs and A&R Great White North and coming up empty handed, Myles tried her hand at breaking into the US. Quite ingeniously, Myles came up with the idea of recording a video to go along with the demo of her song "Just One Kiss" that she was shopping around to various labels. Recognizing the quality of her songwriting and possibly being turned on/frightened by the fear that Myles might cast a spell on them with her sexy witch powers (these were men who had dealt with Stevie Nicks after all) , she was eventually signed to Atlantic Records.

Released in 1989, Myles self-titled debut landed big in Canada, led by the first single "Love Is" going to #5 on the Canadian charts. The album spawned another three singles, including the mega-hit "Black Velvet," propelling it to DIAMOND status in Canada, (like the US Platinum)--selling 1,000,000 copies, which means that a sizable chunk of the Canadian population was rocking out this album while ice fishing, curling, making a disproportionate amount of kids shows and movies for Nickelodeon, watching Kids in the Hall, chopping down trees, speaking French, being cold, or doing at least half a dozen other Canadian activities.

The album also sold a million copies in the US, though it had less reason to. The only song that was a bonafide hit in the US was "Black Velvet"--but lord a mercy, what a hit it was, hitting #1 on the Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock Tracks in March of 1990--unofficially making Myles the first one-hit wonder of the decade. Yet another glass ceiling broken, ladies.

Like another ultimate one-hit wonder before it ("American Pie") "Black Velvet" is a tribute to a dead rock star--in this case, a ballad tracing the tragic life of one Elvis Aaron Presley--the title referring to the the brand of product Presley used to dye his hair and give it that trademark black sheen. The track's production is all rootsy with a noirish vibe to it and a huge hook in the chorus. Myles' strong, husky vocals are quite gorgeous, even if they are hard to differentiate from other husky voices songstresses (Bonnie Tyler, Kim Carnes). The song is legitimately great and deserving of its success. It's well-written, memorable, nicely played and nicely sung.

The video was of course another reason for the song's huge success. All black tendrils, black studded leather jackets, black leather belts and big (black) eyebrows, Myles is all about some early '90s hotness. The look is country and rock n' roll all at once--basically she looks like a B-movie biker chick. Hot. But in all honesty, I'm not even sure this is really Alannah Myles. I'm thinking this might be Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio playing Alannah Myles as a biker chick for the video.

And of course, her band looks like they just got kicked out of the hair-metal group Extreme, save for the lead guitarist who clearly thinks he's in a Def Leppard cover band.

The song was so huge, it got covered the very same year by country artist Robin Lee. Unlike the great Marc Cohn, Myles song wasn't able to break into the country charts, the reason seeming to be that Myles version was a) not quite bland enough and b) lacking pedal steel guitar. Other than that though, there's no real reason for this remake, except maybe they thought country fans would be scared of Myles. I can see that. Looking at Robin Lee, it's obvious why she appealed to mainstream country fans at the time--she's sort of like the home version of Myles--cute, but about as sexy as a mannequin at A Pea in the Pod. But damn, check out the Glamor Shot!

Substitute the black leather for a pink sweater--perfect. Safe, bland--just the way we like it.

The cover peaked at #12 on the country charts, becoming Lee's biggest hit.

"Black Velvet" had been Myles debut single in the US, so the record company went back and released her first Canadian single, "Love Is" as her second US single. Gone is the smoky, acoustic based blues-country sound of "Velvet" in favor of a more classic rock sound. It's a fine, catchy rock song and it's not hard to see why it was a hit elsewhere. Why didn't it hit here? Who knows? It almost sounds like a female version of Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway" which would come out a couple of years later, and it's not dissimilar from the slick blues rock Bonnie Raitt would achieve success with in 1991. Not to mention that she looked like a hotter version of ER's Julianna Margulies in the video. Maybe Myles was just ahead of her time.

Like the other Canadian Wonders, Myles went on to become a big star in Canada, winning all kinds of Juno awards and continued charting until 1997, including a number one hit "Song Instead of a Kiss" released in 1992--impressive considering "Black Velvet" had only reached #2 in Myles' home country. The hit came off of her second album, Rockinghorse, which sold 200,000+ copies in Canada, and I think I can see why.

Alannah Myles = horse porn pioneer?

Again, way ahead of her time. It would take Harry Potter at least fifteen years before he had the balls to get naked with a horse on camera. Amateur.

Alannah left Atlantic Records in 1997, and released one album on the ARK 21 record label, A-lan-nah.

After the release of the album, 11 years of silence followed.

The ensuing decade was brutal.
My dog died. War broke out. Natural disasters ravaged the US. Crash won an Oscar."Black Velvet" started to be dropped from "mix" stations. Mr. Rogers died. Britney Spears went batshit crazy. Ashton Kutcher shot to stardom. Katie Holmes married Tom Cruise. Arrested Development got canceled. I'm not saying these events were connected, but I'm not saying they're not either.

So thank god Alannah Myles returned in 2008 with a new album entitled, you guessed it, Black Velvet, which includes a re-recording of the title track. It's become popular for one-hit wonders
to re-record their big hit, probably under conditions that would enable them to receive more money than they get from the original recording. Naming her new album Black Velvet, most likely realizing that the uninformed consumer won't know the difference is a dubious practice at best, but whatever, it's also kind of genius. The version available on iTunes entitled "Black Velvet 2007" is a terrible techno remix, an approximation of Tatu or some other terrible, vaguely electronic group. Myles clearly hasn't lost her voice (unless they just used the original vocal track, which is possible), but the song's choice of direction is a weak attempt at injecting new life into a song that doesn't really need it in the first place.

While the album does offer up ten new tracks, the intent is clear: "if we use my one hit as the album title, suckers will buy the new, shitty version and I'll make some dolla billz, ya'll" (direct quote).

Now Myles she sits and waits for her big comeback, her hair now with a skunkish white streak, making her look even more sexy witchlike--or Lily Munster-like, really.

Download: Alannah Myles - Black Velvet
Download: Alannah Myles - Love Is
Download: Alannah Myles - Black Velvet (2007)
Download: Robin Lee - Black Velvet (cover)

Buy Alannah's stuff here
Visit her MySpace here


Anonymous said...

Did you really have to bring Rusty into this? You know, the part about what changed in those post-1997 years?

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that because of legal suits for black velvet by the Presley estate? or others, that Myles did not get any money for Black Velvet all of these years. You also left out that she won a Grammy and was nominated many times afterwords. I also understand that she went from multi-millionaire to poverty due to poor financial decisions.

The Second Single said...

Do you have a link to where she talks about that? I found what you're talking about on Wikipedia but can't find a link. I don't recall that information being readily available when I was doing my research back in Oct. But what you say is very intriguing and I will be glad to post an update if I can find the interview.

And for future reference, if I leave out someone winning a Grammy, it's probably because a Grammy is possibly more worthless than the MTV Best Kiss Award.

Anonymous said...

Hi, There is a photo who is not Alannah Myles, but Mary Elisabet Mastrantonio.

The Second Single said...

Indeed, nyergk, if you read the post, you will see why.

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Starfish422 said...

She had some decent singles as well (here in Canada at least) in the early to mid-90s - Sonny Say You Will, Song Instead of a Kiss, and Lover of Mine.

The bizarre thing about Black Velvet is that, almost the second it came out, it was covered by an Alannah Myles-lookalike country singer, Robin Lee. Ms Lee also made a video that was almost identical to Alannah Myles' video...same outfit, same moves...same rabbit boiling in a pot. Oh, wait.

Many of us who were teenaged girls at the time pictured ourselves as Paula Abdul in the video for "Rush, Rush" or The Bangles in "Eternal Flame"...except Robin Lee actually sang and filmed the darn thing, and got play on the country music video station. Which ranks high on my stalker radar.

Creepy, CMT-endorsed stalker.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Alannah Myles. Found a very interesting opinion on her guestbook page awhile back before it got removed. Here's what it said:

*start message*


Alannah, I like you and your music, but that right there makes you look like a complete control freak asshole that is yet just another reason of what's wrong with the music industry and why it's off to hell!

It doesn't help that you are cocky and arrogant...like Britney Spears as pointed out perfectly by Amiannoying.com! Obviously, you let the success get to your head and yet you can't/don't realize that your popularity flamed out in the 1990's.

And what's up with disabling the ability to see how many thumbs up/down on your videos but yet allow ANYBODY to comment? So seeing how many thumbs up is a no-no, but allowing the occasional hater to flame you to pieces is? So sad.

Perhaps it's time to have one of those NoDQ or ACWL video game wrestling leagues to book a match with you fighting Freddy Krueger and Freddy makes you his bitch! In fact I could see Freddy's promo now...

"Alannah Myles, when you stuck your nose in my business you committed a Deadly Sin! On, (insert date of the match) whether it takes fire, lightning or the kiss of death, you will be my bitch! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha! ha!...HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!"

PS - On the bright side, you are nowhere as bad as these "people":


These no talent, waste of space dipshits who can't tell their assholes apart deserve to have their heads blown off even more so than the Rodney King protesters!

*end message*

Wow. Just wow.