“Now I wonder, just into whose dream, did who walk?” -From “Dark Angel”
It was hard to choose one Blue Rodeo song for this blog, because they are about as overlooked as a great band can be in the US. For Canada, it’s a different story, as the band has been a mainstay on the Canadian charts since their first album, Outskirts was released in 1987.
I remember clearly the first time I heard this band. It was 1994 and I was still into mainstream country, but I had found a new magazine called New Country that didn’t limit its features and reviews to just the mainstream “hat acts”. This was also the era when the alt country movement was going strong, as Uncle Tupelo would soon splinter into Wilco and Son Volt, while out there artists like Cowboy Mouth and the Rev. Horton Heat put out a cigarette in the fabric of mainstream country. New Country Magazine included a sampler CD with every issue, and was always chock full of the alt stuff. I soon figured out that this music was head and shoulders better than most of what Nashville was turning out of its hit factory at the time. One sampler disc included Blue Rodeo’s “Bad Timing”. One listen and I caught a brisk wind out of the north that didn’t sound like anything on the radio. I purchased the album, Five Days in July and proceeded to wear it out for anyone who would listen.
Five Days in July to date, has been Blue Rodeo’s most successful album in the US, with good reason. The entire album is a rich blend of folky blues with a couple of eerie atmospheric tracks that don’t seem to fit into the album at first, until they sink into your consciousness (Sarah McLachlan’s haunting vocals on “What is This Love” don’t hurt either).
Out of this watershed album, the song that demanded my spins the most (and still does today) is “Head Over Heels”. While it’s hard to pull any song out of the context of this album, it represents the peak of positivity on a set of tracks that pull from the playful (Cynthia), to fearful (‘Til I Gain Control Again), to downright spacy (Dark Angel). Before the band takes us down in the depths of the last three tracks, this song busts right out of the gate with a quick tempo and joyful harmonica that don’t let up through the last note.
From the outset, a clean guitar lick sets up quick tempo for a lead harmonica that sustains its own melody throughout. These opening instrumental lines practically scream that this is the high point of the album. Many times, for good or bad, verses are intentionally less catchy to set up a big show for the chorus, but this song accents every line like it were a payoff. In a way, the song itself is the payoff for whole album, and does the job masterfully, especially in the pre-chorus where Cuddy goes falsetto for “…tossing and turning…”. Just try not to get that stuck in your head!
From the first line (sun breaks, I can’t wait), the anticipation is palpable in the lyrics. The previous song, “English Bay” tells the same tale of missing someone, but with a more subdued, lonely feel. “Head Over Heels”, picks up where English Bay leaves off and makes the reunion sound imminent. Lines like “I’ve been standing for days, and now I get to fall down with you” are contrasts between the singer’s current state and the one he anticipates. Hints are thrown around that the woman in question is hard to hold onto, with some avian imagery (“…like birds in the sky…how gracefully you lie). In the end, he doesn’t mind being head over heels when she flies back to him.
Give Head Over Heels a listen in the clip below and hear Canada’s best kept musical secret for yourself.