Thursday, October 30, 2008

Oh My Aching Head!

In 1981 a song called ‘Wasn’t That A Party’ by The Rovers summed up in its light hearted lyrics the collective experiences of most of us who may have, at one time or another, overindulged in our consumption of certain alcoholic beverages. I can recall hearing the song at the time of its original release, but it wasn’t until many years later that I came across the song again on a compilation album, and rediscovered its mischievous charm and appeal.

‘Wasn’t That A Party’ was written and originally recorded by renowned folk singer Tom Paxton. The Rovers, I later became aware, had evolved from the 60s folk ensemble The Irish Rovers. Indeed their up-tempo southern style rockabilly version of ‘Wasn’t That A Party’ completely belied the Irish-Canadian origins of the band.

During 1963 a bunch of Irish born folk singers joined forces in their adopted home town of Alberta, Canada and called themselves The Irish Rovers, in reference to the traditional folk song ‘The Irish Rover’. The original line-up comprised brothers Will (vocals/drums) and George Millar (guitar), their cousin Joe Millar (bass), and Jimmy Ferguson (vocals). All four had been born and spent a good part of their childhood in Ireland before emigrating to Canada. By 1966 Wilcin McDowell (keyboards) had joined the line-up and the group had relocated to California. The latter half of the 60s saw The Irish Rovers score a string of mainstream hits with quirky renditions of folk standards. The most notable among their hits were ‘The Unicorn’ (1968-US#7/OZ#1), ‘(The Puppet Song) Whiskey On A Sunday’ (1968-US#75/OZ#2) and ‘The Biplane, Ever More’ (1968-US#91/OZ#27). They maintained a huge following in their adopted Canada throughout the 70s, and released another half a dozen studio albums. They also consolidated their popularity in Australia with regular tours down under, where other Irish folk acts like the Chieftains and Foster & Allen enjoyed like popularity. The Irish Rovers’ boisterous and high-spirited stage shows established them as a huge live drawcard, but album sales were waning and by the late 70s it was evident they needed a new approach to score another hit single. So they dropped the ‘Irish’ from their name and recorded a country rock version of ‘Wasn’t That A Party’.

Lyrically ‘Wasn’t That A Party’ was a very clever, tongue in cheek account of those times when celebrations and sometimes accompanying hi jinks are taken, well…maybe just a little too far - most often under the encouragement of an inebriated state of mind. And it’s only upon awakening the next morning that the fragmented recollections of the night before give rise to a pause for reflection, often coupled with a sense of mild (or maybe not so mild) embarrassment - not to mention having a head that feels like a “football” that encourages a vow “never to do that again”. Sometimes popular music can and should be simple and straight forward in its style and intent, and frankly it can be refreshing when it is. ‘Wasn’t That A Party’ by The Rovers was one such instance where the listener didn’t have to delve between the layers of music, or ponder over the intricacies of ambiguous lyrics in search of a hidden meaning or theme. It’s simply a catchy and engaging bit of fun that achieved what it set out to do - entertain. It entertained sufficient numbers of record buyers to reach #37 on the U.S. Hot 100, and #61 on the Australian charts during 1981.

The Rovers had some further moderate success in the U.S. with a few more novelty country-rock styled folk tunes, including ‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer’. But by the 90s they had returned to their folk roots and re-adopted the ‘Irish’ in their name. George Millar, Joe Millar and Wilcil McDowell are still performing with the band who have continued to tour well into the 00’s.

There are a few ‘homemade’ YouTube videos to accompany ‘Wasn’t That A Party’, but the following is, well, at least you can have a listen to a great song (must have been made by a Starsky & Hutch fan - terrible example for our law enforcement officers to set!)

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