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


One Hit and That's It: Willi One Blood

Note: The "One Hit and That's It" will feature people who, for whatever reason, didn't have a second single--or not one to speak of--and seemed to virtually disappear from the music business. This is the first entry.

As a teenager, my friends and I wiled away our Saturdays at boarding school by taking the bus to the Hamilton Place Mall in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The suburban mall is a melting pot of every social group of teenage society: rednecks, skaters, goths, preps, sluts, indie kids, Anime/Dungeons & Dragons kids, stoners, hippies, etc. My friends and I watched from the food court, munching on warm pretzels and Chik-fil-A, wasting time until the next showing of Blade by fitting everyone who walked by into one of the above groups.

When the ultimate mall rat--the wigger--walked by, decked out in Tommy jeans and red FUBU shirt, his fitted hat turned to the side, tag still attached, with wispy hairs scattered across his upper lip and chin--a sad but earnest nod to a real goatee. We all groaned.

"Wiggers have got to be the worst ever," my friend said.

"Without a doubt," we all agreed. What could beat a wigger?

"Hippies," another friend said. I didn't agree. I had friends who could be considered hippies, they weren't bad, though I knew deep down that hippies at their worst could easily rival even Snow himself.

As if to silence our conversation, walking past the Great Wraps gyro place at that moment was a young man with light brown, shoulder length dreads tucked into a beanie, his skinny frame covered in an XXL tie-dye shirt with the sepia-toned visage of Bob Marley printed on the front, shorts so long they almost touched his Birkenstocks, and a kinky chin beard that reached his chest. He carried a bag from Camelot Music, no doubt stuffed with drug paraphernalia and black light posters.

He was a White Rastafarian. The worst of wiggers mixed with the worst of hippies to create the ultimate cultural insult.

And what goes with White Rastafarians? Reggae music. The problem is, the White Rastafrian's knowledge of reggae extends no further than Bob Marley's greatest hits album Legend.

By 1994, the white guy dreadlocks had made their way into mainstream rock music through Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, but, mercifully, the white guy reggae was still held at bay--until our hero came on the scene with the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack.

The Dumb & Dumber soundtrack is like a time capsule of flash in the pan bands from 1994-95--The Proclaimers, Green Jelly, Pete Droge, Deee-Lite, Butthole Surfers, Deadeye Dick, and, as previously covered, the Crash Test Dummies all appear, some playing hits, some playing covers or b-sides. Quite an amazing collection for anyone who was incredibly impressed with that year's modern rock output.

Then there's our hero, Willi One Blood's (aka William Harbour, Jr.) "Whiney Whiney (What Really Drives Me Crazy)". Mr. One Blood is an artist who came out of nowhere, as if his sole purpose was to have this song appear on this soundtrack and later disappear into a cloud of ganja smoke and incense. The song starts out with the sound of a door closing, some cowboy sounding guy saying "hold it stranger!" and then a cartoon sound effect leads us into Willie making proclamations about a "New dance! It's an old dance come back again!" over a vaguely Middle Eastern Indian melody, he then gives us a cliched "Lord-a-mercy!"--leading one to think he might actually be Dave Chappelle's Rasta character from Half-Baked-- before the song's beat breaks in with a saxophone goofily doubling One Blood's vocal melody. The song then begins to borrow heavily from '60s music, filling up several measures with at least two classics--"The Locomotion" and The Kinks "You Really Got Me," but screwing both up with unnecessary Willieisms. The song even credits Henry Mancini as a songwriter, although I'm admittedly not knowledgeable enough to know which parts are him ripping off that great composer.

Mr. One-Blood might defend his choice of using other songs as sampling, but really, it sounds closer to a reggae version of one of "Weird Al"'s famous polka medleys in which he runs together ten or so popular songs, all played as traditional polka. That's actually the best comparison I can come up with for Mr. One Blood. He's like a reggae White Rasta version of "Weird Al"--and yes, that's as good as it sounds.

But here's the problem--I don't think he's joking. Sure, he means for the song to be fun, but not quite for it to be the joke that it came out sounding like. The song's lyrics (and video) really seem to be calling for people to start doing this new "Whiney Whiney" dance that he's proposing. He desperately wants this thing to catch on, although, strangely, he never gives instructions, except for explaning that a) It's a new dance, and b) it really drives him crazy.

Here, in all its glory, is the video featuring Mr. One Blood, many stereotypical looking Indian people, some scantily clad women doing what I assume is the "Whiney Whiney" dance, and some random clips from Dumb & Dumber (by far the best part):

The song went to #34 on the Top 40 charts, #62 on the Top 100 and #34 on the "Rhythmic Top 40" which is something new to me, but which apparently leans towards rhythmic (key word) R&B, hip-hop and dance based music. The Dumb & Dumber soundtrack peaked at #62.

But that's not quite the end of Willi One Blood--first he appeared as "1st Stansfield Man" in Leon aka The Professional opposite Gary Oldman, Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. Um...I think you'll be able to pick him out.
Caution: ultra violence in this clip

"The fuck you know about music?" -- Willi One Blood, The Professional.

And did you see the way he shot that gun at that little kid? That deserves at least an Independent Spirit Award. One Blood continued his acting career in the box-office smash that turned Jerry O'Connell into a mega-star, MTV Films' Joe's Apartment.

Also, somewhat surprisingly, he did release a second single in 1996 called "It's True," but I'll be damned if I could find any evidence that it actually existed beyond an entry on AllMusic.com. That's right, no second single this week, I have failed you, dear readers! Regardless, the song--if it was even released (and I do have my doubts)--failed to do anything and saw Willie drop off the planet for a good, oh, 14 years.

What was One Blood doing all those years? Did he take the cash from his one hit, skip down to Kingston and blow it all on weed and Wailers bootlegs? Probably. Did he travel to different countries, with nothing but a turntable and microphone (perhaps two turntables?) singing his one song, and trying in earnest to teach his "Whiney Whiney" dance to hundreds of people in war torn, third world countries? Man, I hope so.

However, the picture to the left suggests a Hook-like scenario wherein Willi got amnesia, forgot he was ever a white rasta/hip-hop/reggae singer, and instead married, had children, settled down in Coral Gables and became an accountant or PR rep. Whatever he's been doing, Captain Hook must have captured his kids 'cause he's back in action, crowing his ass off and reggae-rapping like nobody's business.

Like all other has-beens or never-weres, One Blood has a MySpace page that reveals him to be, among other things, 104 years old, female, currently residing in Miami and a self-described "true original." It would also seem from the pictures that he's decided to spit in the face of all women by going and cutting off his lovely dreads--so as to just look like a normal white guy singing reggae.

The songs range from the sub-Sean Paul to sub-Wyclef Jean. Try not to roll your eyes at the sample heavy awfulness of "Best of One Blood" or "Life is Like a Road" (paging Tom Cochrane), both of which sound like they were made using Windows 98 versions of Audacity and Acid Music. Maybe this just isn't my type of music, but the vocals sound more like a parody of reggae than respectful. According to the page, these songs all come from the aforementioned forthcoming album, Blazing, a title which I can only assume is a social commentary on the devastating forest fires California has experienced over the past few ye--what? Oh. He's talking about weed again, isn't he? Damn these White Rastafarians!

I will leave you with a question for today, followed by a quote from Mr. One Blood:

Dumb & Dumber's soundtrack CD was only the second CD I ever owned. I'd also count reggae as one of the two or three genres of music I've never managed to get into. Coincidence? Is Willi One Blood to blame for my reticence to experience Lee "Scratch" Perry or Burning Spear?

"One thing I've learned in my travels is that people have more in common than they want to admit. So we might as well learn to live together. One world, one love, one blood."
--W. One Blood, MySpace page

Download: Willi One Blood - Whiney Whiney (What Really Drives Me Crazy)