Friday, July 4, 2008

Pure Canadian Comedy With The Spirit Of Rush

The song ‘Take Off’ was a uniquely North American hit in early 1982. I don’t recall hearing it or seeing anything connected with it at the time here in Australia. The song didn’t chart here or in Britain, but was a substantial hit in both Canada and the U.S. where it peaked at #16. I discovered the song via one of my regular forays into U.S./U.K. related chart history publications. As 1982 was then, and still remains, my favourite year in popular music history, the song title ‘Take Off’ by Bob & Doug McKenzie caught my eye. I tracked down a copy of ‘Take Off’ and found it to be a comedy style novelty song, which featured an outstanding chorus. But who were Bob & Doug McKenzie, and secondly who was delivering the searing vocals on the chorus?
The answer to the first part is that Bob McKenzie and his brother Doug were comedy characters, whose aliases were Canadian comedians Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. Both (characters and actors) were regulars on the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV (equivalent to ‘Saturday Night Live’). One of the most popular regular sketches became Bob & Doug hosting the cable show ‘The Great White North’ (not unlike the concept of Wayne & Garth’s ‘Waynesworld’). The dim witted beer swilling characters took just about every Canadian stereotype to its comic extreme in an exercise of self parody, and they quickly became cult favourites both north and south of the border (now I know where The Red Green Show got its inspiration). Such was the popularity of the McKenzie brothers characters that Moranis and Thomas recorded a comedy album entitled ‘The Great White North’. The album combines regular banter between the McKenzie brothers with a series of guest appearances on tracks such as ‘Coffee Sandwich’ and ‘School Announcements’.

But the track that would take off as a hit was ‘Take Off’. ‘Take Off’ was in fact one of the duos most popular catchphrases, along with “beauty eh” and “you hoser!”, and the song featured vocalist Geddy Lee of legendary Canadian power rock group Rush. And there you have the answer to the second part of my previous question - well actually if you listen to the song the answer reveals itself in the banter between the McKenzies and Lee but I wanted to make you read through another paragraph to find out. My favourite comedy line from the song is when the McKenzies thank Lee for coming in to do the track and he replies by saying “Well ten bucks is ten bucks”. In comedy terms the record probably leant itself to that same North American audience that enjoyed the characters on television, but musically I think it stands up quite well though Moranis and Thomas had some assistance from songwriters Kerry Crawford, Marc Giacomelli and Jonathan Goldsmith.

Moranis and Thomas soon took the McKenzie brothers to the big screen with the 1983 comedy flick ‘Strange Brew’ AKA ‘The Adventures Of Bob & Doug McKenzie’ accompanied by a soundtrack album and later revived them in a campaign of beer and pizza commercials during the 90s. Of course I don’t have to tell you that Moranis became a big name comic actor through the 80s and 90s, appearing in both ‘Ghostbusters’ and the ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Kids’ franchise along with a string of other box office hits. I think his role as Dark Helmet in the Mel Brooks film ‘Spaceballs’ is by far and away his best effort. Dave Thomas meanwhile continued a solid career in television, hosting his own network series on CBS in the early 90s and becoming a regular on the sitcom ‘Grace Under Fire’. He is now the executive creative director for Animax Entertainment which is developing an animated series based on the Bob & Doug characters. Geddy Lee meanwhile is still going strong as front man for Rush.


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