Sunday, March 3, 2013

Handle With Care

I don’t consume as much commercial radio as once I did, but  I still find that it’s sometimes ‘better than the stereo’ (see previous Members’ post).  Though I still have an appreciation for some of the contemporary fare on offer, I do have a penchant for the aural timewarp served up by classic hits radio  One such nugget of commercial gold that recently jogged the memory, and put a smile on my dial, was ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’ by Glass Tiger, a song that first hit the airwaves in Australia almost 27 years ago.

It’s safe to say that Canada has produced more than its share of successful popular music acts, particularly during the 1980s (see evidence contained within previous Retro Universe posts - eg. Men Without Hats, Rough Trade, Chilliwack, Martha & the Muffins etc.).  One such Canadian act to break internationally was the Ontario based pop-rock quintet Glass Tiger.  During the summer of ‘84 (not so long after the summer of ‘69), a young band from Newmarket, Ontario found themselves in Toronto performing as the opening act for Culture Club.  Less than a year previous, the quintet of Alan Frew (vocals), Sam Reid (keyboards), Al Connelly (guitar), Wayne Parker (bass), and Michael Hanson (drums), had put a band together, originally called Tokyo.

Such was Tokyo’s reputation as a vibrant live act, that soon a bidding war broke out between record labels, eager to sign the band.  By 1985, Capitol (Manhattan) had brokered a deal and obtained the signatures of five talented musicians.  But before proceedings went any further, the quintet renamed themselves Glass Tiger.

The lads soon found themselves working alongside acclaimed producer/songwriter Jim Vallance (worked with Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart to name a few).  By mid ‘86, the collaboration had a collection of eleven pop-rock gems, ready to be unleashed upon the pop music world.  The brightest of the gems lifted from the ‘Thin Red Line’ album was a lively little track called ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’.  In addition to the tight, surging sounds of the core quintet, and the guest vocals of Canadian rock superstar Bryan Adams, the song also featured a bold, bombastic brass backing, which elevated it beyond a straight out pop-rock piece, and imbued it with a soulful edge.  Both single and album rocketed up the Canadian charts, ‘Thin Red Line’ setting a record at the time in Canada for notching up the fastest gold accreditation on the Canadian charts by any debut act.

Like so many Canadians before them, Glass Tiger also broke into the massive U.S. market just across the border.  ‘Thin Red Line’ surged into the US Top 10 (OZ#77), and set up camp at #1 in Canada (where 4 x Platinum sales were achieved).  The fuel behind the rocket like performance came via the initial single ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’, which established itself in a very memorable #1 on the Canadian charts, #9 in Australia, and #2 in the U.S. (it ranked as the #42 biggest Billboard hit for 1986).  The band filmed two music videos for ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’, one for the Canadian market, and one for international release.  It’s safe to say that both, when viewed retrospectively, have a certain cringe factor, mostly provided by all manner of mid 80s hairstyles, but then that’s also part of the nostalgic appeal.

‘Thin Red Line’ yielded four more charting singles, the mellow ‘Someday’ (OZ#97, UK#66, US#7, CA#14), ‘Thin Red Line’ (CA#19, OZ#91), ‘You’re What I Look For’ (CA#11), and ‘I Will Be There’ (CA#29, US#34).  Needless to say, Glass Tiger dominated the Juno’s (Canadian music awards), for both 1986 and 1987.  The band hold the honour of winning ‘Single of the Year’ awards in two consecutive years, for songs released from the same album (‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’ and ‘Someday’).  Glass Tiger also notched a Grammy Award nomination for ‘Best New Talent’, and went on a jaunt around Europe in support of Tina Turner during 1987.

Like so many before them (and since) Glass Tiger found matching the monumental success of their debut album a bridge (or riff) too far.  But in their sophomore album ‘Diamond Sun’ (CA#1), the band at least managed to remain near the toppermost of the poppermost on the Canadian scene.  The double platinum 1988 album yielded for Canadian hits; ‘I’m Still Searching’ (CA#2), ‘Diamond Sun’ (CA#5), ‘My Song’ (CA#19 - featuring Irish band The Chieftains), and ‘(Watching) Worlds Crumble’ (CA#27).  Only one of the hit singles quartet managed to crack the U.S. Billboard charts (‘I’m Still Searching’ - US#31).  Soon after the release of ‘Diamond Sun’, one of the Glass Tiger cubs, drummer Michael Hanson, left the group.  But Glass Tiger didn’t shatter, and opted to carry on as a quartet.

What may have seemed a simple mission, turned into a three year odyssey, at it took Glass Tiger that long to write and record the 1991 album ‘Simple Mission’.  The first single lifted from the set re-established the band’s Canadian chart credentials, with ‘Animal Heart’ pulling the heartstrings at #4.  The love them continued with ‘Rhythm Of Your Love’ (CA#8), both singles helping to land ‘Simple Mission’ at #1 on the Canadian album charts.  The albums third single, ‘My Town’, was a beautiful crafted Celtic styled duet with rock legend (and sometimes producer Jim Vallance cohort) Rod Stewart.  ‘My Town’ shone with appeal that took the single to #8 in Canada, and #33 on the British charts.  Not that Glass Tiger needed any rescuing at that point, but the fourth single ‘Rescued (By The Arms Of Love)’ (CA#8) rounded out a classy quartet of single releases.

It’s surprising then that ‘Simple Mission’ proved to be the last full studio release from the Canadian outfit.  In 1993 a ‘best of’ compilation, titled ‘Air Time’, reinfused Canadian airwaves with the best Glass Tiger had produced during the previous seven years.  But aside from the new single ‘Touch Of Your Hand’ (CA#34), and limited touring, the 90s has seen the last of Glass Tiger, the band effectively going on a long hiatus for the remainder of the decade.  Singer Alan Frew (solo albums) and the other core members worked on other projects.  By the mid 00s, Glass Tiger, like so many of their contemporaries, couldn’t resist the lure of reforming.  A retrospective album, ‘No Turning Back’, belief its name and invited listeners to turn back to a golden era for the band, who also hit the tour circuit, reminding themselves and nostalgia seeking audiences just how good they really were back in the day (resulting in a ‘Live’ set).

According to the band’s website, Glass Tiger are still performing, albeit on  an infrequent basis.  And doubtless several generations are enjoying the experience.

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