Twelve releases. Over one million plays on CBC3. I know that you can torture stats to make them confess to almost anything, but when you look at the career of Halifax song writer and National treasure, Joel Plaskett, the numbers are a bit mind blowing.
Precious few artists are more deserving of a celebratory purge than Plaskett, and his new collection of rarities,EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations, finds Plaskett rummaging through the cupboards and finding a bounty of delicious, forgotten morsels.
Covers, demos, b-sides and unreleased songs dating back to 2001, EMERGENCY’S… is a decade long look back at the inauspicious beginnings, influences and good times that helped shape one of Canada’s most recognizable songwriters. Instead of trying to hash our way through the differences, attempting to identify new lyrics or augmented arrangements, we thought it best to get the information from Joel himself. Come for the knowledge, but stay for the unexpected Van Halen references.
On the Rail - I recorded this for CBC’s songquest. I’d just seen Springsteen in Philly and CBC commissioned me to write a tribute to the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. I started writing this from the perspective of John Cabot, getting ready to set sail out of Bristol, but it gradually turned into a rocker for anyone with an adventurous spirit.
Make a Little Noise – I dig the “demonstration” of this tune. The album version ended up sounding very different but this was the band’s first instinct and I think it holds up nicely.
Extraordinary – This was the demo the Emergency recorded at Ultramagnetic Recording (aka The Mullet) in the Khyber building. I kind of like this more than the album version because the guitar at the end reminds me of Van Halen or something.
Money in the Bank – Written and recorded around the time of Million Dollars and Make a Little Noise, this tune borrowed some lyrics from Snowed In for the first verse and then Bonnie and Clyde show up. Dave Marsh is right in his groove and I had a good time tearing my voice to shreds at the end.
Blood in my Veins – An outtake from Ashtray Rock, we wanted this to sound like ‘Return to Sender’ by Elvis. It was in the original running order after The Glorious Life but I cut it because it was too much of a left turn for Side 2. This tune goes back to the Hermit days so it seemed to make sense on the Ashtray. Rebecca even did a comic panel for it.
Come on, Teacher – The whole song is pretty damn dry but I like this version, particularly the way the guitar solo kicks out the jams. I figured there might be a Van Halen lawsuit at the end so the lyrics eventually shimmied on the album version.
A Million Dollars – A much rougher version of the mini epic we ended up recording with Gordie Johnson but I like fuzzed out bass and the spirit of the tune is really captured in this first approach.
Please Don’t Return – We tracked this for Down at the Khyber but it ended up as a b-side on the Clueless Wonder UK 7″ single. Still one of my favorites and Timmy Brennan’s Cape Breton piano melody at the end is right purdy.
Romantic Riot – An outtake from Ladeda that never worked in the running order. I wrote this one after witnessing some friends split up after a long relationship. It’s a simple little number that still comes to mind now and then.
Nothing More to Say – The second recording of this tune. The first Emergency version was for Truthfully and never felt right and the final one ended up on Ashtray Rock. This one was tracked in Arizona for Ladeda and had a perspective change in the lyrics. The stark quality would have dragged side two down but I’ve always found playing this song in a stripped down arrangement to be effective, so I included it here.
Cold Blue Light – I think this one owes something to Vic Chestnutt who is one of my favorite lyricists. My sister played French Horn. A lonely little number but I like the words. The next version ended up on the limited 14 song version of Truthfully but this one hits the right notes too.
When I Go – I started writing this near the end of tracking Three and it took me a while to finish. I wrote it thinking Rose Cousins could sing it. Maybe she will someday. I have fond memories of tracking it at Abbey Road with Peter Elkas and Ana Egge.
Drunk Teenagers – This is a really scrappy first version of this tune with me playing all the instruments. I like to think it evokes the subject matter. This song was initially set on on the side of the highway outside Thunder Bay where I saw some graffiti on a rock that got me thinking about teens partying in rural places. I relocated it to Clayton Park/ Fairview for the Ashtray Rock.
Snowed In – Same session as Drunk Teens. The Hermit initially played this in 1998-99 and I started wanting to revamp it around 2003. I like the sludgy guitars. The version on Ashtray is the definitive one but this one has the blurriness of a hard rockin’ snowstorm.
Black Sheep Boy – Initially recorded and released for the British magazine, Comes With a Smile, this is the Emergency’s take on a fantastic Tim Hardin tune.
The Hurt’s All Gone – A cover of an Irma Thomas song we recorded for Down at the Khyber, whose album title was much inspired by Irma’s Down at Muscle Shoals. It didn’t make the album but it came out on the Multiball single of Clueless Wonder in the UK. I sent it to Irma and she listened to it. Too cool.
True Patriot Love – I recorded this rough version on the Hermit 8-track in 1999 while we were in the midst of breaking up. My drumming is foolish but I was excited about the song. Still one of my best.
Clueless Wonder – Same as True Patriot Love except a different song. Only song I’ve ever written in open A tuning on guitar. Every time I try to write another it just sounds like Clueless Wonder.
My Failing Health – Written around the time my low white count and our cancelled Thrush Hermit tour. Should have been on In Need of Medical Attention but it was recorded to late in the game to make the release. Owes a debt to Howe Gelb and Vic Chestnutt.
Waiting to Be Discovered – The Hermit started playing a version of this tune in 1999 and I recorded this on our 8 track by myself. When I showed it later to the Emergency, Tim Brennan turned the bass line around accidentally and it sounded better so we rolled that way on Down at the Khyber. This early version has different verses and a stolen lyric from the great Quebec City band, Les Pichou: “How long will we stay here before you tell me you desire me?”