Punk bands have been called dangerous and have been accused of challenging every establishment with which they come into contact, but the truth is that such claims are often pretty overstated. Really think about it, reader – as rough and tumble as The Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and Television may have looked, there wasn’t much in the way of content in any of their songs which couldn’t be cleared by the censors. Outside of a couple of F-bombs (“Fuck this” and “Fuck that” in “Bodies”), even the Sex Pistols were pretty clean from a “could this music make it past the PMRC’s standards and dodge a warning label” standpoint. In that regard, it has often been the bands who aren’t the biggest targets who end up challenging the norm the most – take Young Canadians, for example.
Established in 1978 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Young Canadians fit the press-generated stereotype of a punk band to a T. Originally together as a band for just under two years (they called it quits in 1980), the band released its first great blast, the Hawaii EP, in 1980 – and the first words listeners hear from it are, “Let’s go to fuckin’ Hawaii” – and their fate was sealed. There’s no question or doubt about what singer Art Bergmann is saying, it’s just as plain as fuckin’ day.
Good luck slipping that past the fuckin’ censors.
The undeniable genius of “Hawaii” was (and remains) the fantastically infectious nature of it. The song combined rebellion (because, hey – “Let’s go to fuckin’ Hawaii” for the first verse, then “Let’s go to fuckin’ Tahiti” in the second, “Let’s go to fuckin’ Miami” in the song’s third verse and “Let’s go to fuckin’ Las Vegas” for the final verse all sound like calls to arms as much as they sound like calls to get out of town) with sun and fun in a way that no SoCal punk band ever quite managed and kept it light and boisterous; the profanity included underscores the spirit like every kid having the time of his life, and the song is repetitive like every great Ramones song is – but also intoxicating because it moves at a saunter instead of a sprint. The results are of a sort which just can’t get made on purpose – it can only be made when you’re young and don’t know what you might have to lose. Here, Young Canadians introduce themselves not by trying to shake listeners violently in order to get them behind the band’s banner, they’re just having all the fun in the world as the tape rolls.
After “Hawaii,” Young Canadians get a little more boozy and slightly off-balance with “Well Well Well”. There, Art Bergmann drawls deliriously having a job and having money but needing more of it like every first year co-ed who got ploughed at the barfly bar in town rather the college establishment. The band’s focus is a little looser, of course, but really feels like it should be and will have listeners rushing to flip the record over in hopes of discovering more substantial fare after this song ends and the needle lifts.
…And then the band sort of inverts the equation presented on the A-side of Hawaii for its’ B-. “Hullaballoo Girls” opens the B-side of the EP with a very new wavey but energetic flourish. The rhythm and flavor of the song is definitely on a similar wavelength to Adam Ant but still works and can hook listeners hard as Bergmann sings about whales and dancing girls. On the right day, “Hullaballoo Girls” could even be called ahead of its time in 1980, but the really solid entry on Hawaii‘s B-side is the second cut, “No Escape”.
Featuring an incredibly tight and focused rhythm section for a punk band from the Seventies, “No Escape” remains something of a fantastic oddity within the punk aesthetic of the era. The cut could be looked upon as being reminiscent of New Wave if it featured more synths, but plays more like proto dance-punk because Jim Bescott’s busy bass instantly sets pulses racing, prodded and punctuated as it is by Bermann’s guitar and Barry Taylor’s drums. At the same time, the lyric sheet straddles the music’s desire throw listeners out of their comfort zone as it echoes Elvis Costello on one hand (the verses sound very New Romantic) as well as The Doors (“They got the guns and the numbers”) through the chorus. The results are a thin (only two and a half minutes) slice of genius; “No Escape” leaves listeners aching for more when it ends and the needle lifts after it, and the world feels that much colder because listeners know there isn’t much more music to find from Young Canadians. After Hawaii was originally released, the band had one more EP in them and then they’d be done (other than a post-humous live album and some other odds and ends, but nothing substantial).
Reading it back, there’s little question that this review doesn’t feel like it’s reading the right way. Reading through this review, it seems as though Young Canadians had so much promise; the songs on this EP range in quality from “fairly good” to “transcendent and spectacular,” so how didn’t Young Canadians take the world by storm? Unfortunately, there is no easy way to answer that – the time and place simply did not afford the band a chance to do much more than they did. Sure – Art Bergmann would go on to release lots of great music (the guitarist continues to do so), but Young Canadians’ story remains short. Happily, this reissue – pressed into a twelve-inch platter of translucent orange vinyl as it is – pays the band’s minute a stunning tribute which should, by rights, appear in every punk’s record collection.