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Thursday, December 11, 2008

GMVW # 49: "Luck of the Draw?"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 49:  Luck of the Draw?
Song: If I Had a Million Dollars by Bare Naked Ladies
(Songwriter: Ed Robertson)
December 11, 2008

A number of years ago, Mom asked me if I thought the Beatles success was mostly luck.  Great question, as I have since pondered it quite often.  If the Beatles were lucky though, was Mozart?  Al Jolson?  Judy Garland?  Billy Halliday? Ted Williams? Andrew Carnegie? Albert Einstein?  Why do some hit the big time where many others who try do not?  Is it simply hard work, ambition, and talent, or is there something else at play, like being in the right place at the right time?  For musicians in particular, does staying grounded help?  Can this be done by somehow avoiding as long as possible the pitfalls of fortune and fame? (Pete Townshend did a pretty good job of staying in the red much longer than he should have by smashing his guitars and amps on a nightly basis).  Does the lap of luxury come with a price?  Is this why there are so many one-hit wonders?

Regardless of how it happens, much of the reason for a musician’s long term success can be traced back to his/her roots.  Some of the best stories, photos or footage of great musicians, are the ones that precede fame.  This is where you can get insight into how the seeds were sown.   The stories can reveal lives filled with wanderlust, adversity and surely some luck, while the photos or footage can show a confidence or talent that is beginning to gel. The early years of the Beatles had its share of character-building struggles including:  Borderline poverty in Hamburg, Germany; deportation (Harrison); and death (Lennon’s Mom and the 5th Beatle, Stu Sutcliffe).  Neil Young left his home in North Ontario and landed in Los Angeles where one of his first acts was purchasing the only car he could afford:  A used hearse to port around his equipment (probably not that far out of place in mid-60’s L.A.).  Garth Hudson had to tell his mother he was a music instructor for the other members of the Hawks (later The Band) so he could leave home and school for a chance to make it in the blues-rich Deep South.  Johnny Cash lost his only brother. 

I’m not all that aware of the stories behind the original two guys that make up the Canadian band ‘Bare Naked Ladies’ (BNL for short):  Steven Page and Ed Robertson.  But I love this pre-fame video link (below), which shows them performing one of their first songs, this week’s Gem ‘If I Had a Million Dollars’, later to become a minor hit in the States.  In the years following the filming of this video, BNL would release a series of hit songs that would lead them to stardom. I was searching for this great song and found a number of big-stage live versions, but none compare to the spontaneity of this earliest of videos, which is a snippet from a talk show they appear on.  Part of what I like about this video is the ‘Wayne’s World’-like host.  He’s somewhat annoying (laughing at almost everything Page and Robertson say/sing), but he has that Mike Myers thing going for him… only in Canada!  One other thought on BNL: Were they aware of the implications of searching their full name on YouTube?

Back to Mom’s question:  Were the Beatles lucky?  I guess so, but I think there are degrees of luck for each individual member.  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a mixture of skill and luck and 10 being pure luck:

John: 3
Paul: 4
George: 5
Ringo : 11 (actually, I change that to an ‘8’, now recalling Ringo shouting out “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!” at the end of Helter Skelter (after the 18th and final take) ).

- Pete

Gem Music Video: If I Had a Million Dollars

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About the Video:  Early video of BNL on a Canadian Show that reminds me of Wayne’s World

Video Rating: 1

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Best Feedback:  Jen

Hi Pete,

Interesting write up. I like the part about Neil Young and his hearse, and I was curious to read what you'd rate Ringo on the luck scale...I took a guess at "9", before I scrolled down, to the 11. Funny. When my Joe was really little, like 1 or 2, he used to like to hear, "If I had a Million Dollars" come on the radio, in the car. I think he found it fun and easy to sing along to.

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And: John

Good video find, Pedro.  That clip must be 18 years old, and it shows what a gifted musician Robertson really is.  I saw them 3 years ago, and they interact and improvise just like that on stage, still.

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