July 01, 2010

It's a beauty way to go

It is, once again, Canada Day: Canada's 143rd birthday. As I write this, I can hear the sound of fireworks at Parliament Hill - which, supposedly, I would be able to see if not for the block of townhouses adjacent to the back yard. As always, downtown Ottawa is closed to traffic and becomes the location of a massive street party. This year is particularly special, as the Queen arrived in Halifax on Tuesday, and was present in Ottawa for the day's festivities.

It has been my tradition every year to post a short history about some Canadian patriotic song. I hope no one minds if I'm a little tongue-in-cheek this year, but while posting a week of Rush hits, I couldn't resist this opportunity.

In 1980, the CBC network asked the producers of the sketch comedy program SCTV to include two minutes of specifically Canadian content. In response, cast members Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis created "The Great White North," a mock talk show in which two dimwitted brothers wore toques, drank beer, ate back bacon, spoke in Canadian slang, and basically parodied every Canadian stereotype there was. Amazingly, the segment became the most popular part of SCTV, and Bob and Doug McKenzie became not merely caricatures, but genuine Canadian cultural icons.

Since the characters became inexplicably popular in the United States, Bob and Doug became cultural ambassadors of a sort, and are probably as responsible as anyhing else for the notion that we Canadians say "Eh?" and "Take off" and "Beauty!" a lot. In addition to SCTV, the Bob and Doug phenomenon spawned a hit comedy record, a cult movie, a set of ads for Pizza Hut, an animated TV series, and, of course, a hit comedy album. The Great White North was like an audio-only version of the TV show, discussing such topics as Doug's ability to make sound effects with his mouth or why donut shops never have enough parking spaces. It even included a hit single: "Take Off," which even broke the top 20 in the U.S. It features Rush's Geddy Lee singing the chorus - because, as he says on the album, "Ten bucks is ten bucks." (Moranis and Lee actually attended public school together as children.)

Here it is. Enjoy. (And happy birthday, Canada.)

Previous Canada Day songs: