Listening again to the exhilarating space rock oscillations of Simply Saucer's Cyborgs Revisited (Sonic Unyon), it's incredible to think these modern-sounding recordings were made more than 30 years ago.
What makes it even more mindblowingly bizarre for me is that this was all going down in Hamilton, where I grew up. In fact, half the album was cut live on the roof of Lloyd D. Jackson Square, directly above where my mother happened to be working for the Bank of Montreal.
So Simply Saucer have the unique distinction of being the only group to (partly) record an album on top of a shopping mall and have it considered to be one of the finest Canadian albums ever issued. At least that's according to the forthcoming book The 100 Top Canadian Albums (Goose Lane) currently being put together by Fredericton, New Brunswick journalist Bob Mesereau. He assembled the list from a Canada-wide survey of 600 or so highly opinionated Canuck music experts, including label personnel, writers, radio personalities, managers, promoters, record collectors, and a sizable cross-section of musicians from various genres.
Although Mesereau's surefire argument-starter won't be available until October and the titles of those 100 celebrated recordings that appear by consensus aren't being disclosed, Simply Saucer main man Edgar Breau has it on good authority that Cyborgs Revisited will be among them when the book is published.
"Bob Mesereau called me up the other day to tell me about his book," explains Breau. "He said, "I can't tell you where your album appears on the list, but you guys finished fairly high up.' He then went on to say, "I want to devote a chapter in my book to Simply Saucer.' So he interviewed me for about an hour, and afterwards he told me it was quite a story."
Mesereau's got that right. The whole crazy tale of Simply Saucer recording their Velvets-inspired original songs with engineer Bob and brother Dan Lanois in the basement of their Ancaster home back in 1974 only to have the tapes taken by a former manager and vanish for some 20 years before turning up in a closet would make for an intriguing mystery novel. And there's an unexpected twist.
When Simply Saucer's music finally surfaced in 1989, a full decade after the group split, it was met with the sort of gushing critical acclaim they'd never experienced. Even Julian Cope and Thurston Moore were raving about Simply Saucer.
More media buzz accompanied Sonic Unyon's expanded re-release of Cyborgs Revisited in 2005 which wound up on Uncut magazine's top 20 reissues of the year list. Now that the rest of the world is catching up with Simply Saucer, the time might finally be right for a relaunch.
"During the 90s, I'd mostly given up performing altogether. But then all these people started coming up to me talking about all the Simply Saucer stuff they were seeing on the Internet.
"After hearing that we were in the Uncut top 20 and then getting a positive review in the London Sunday Times, I started thinking maybe I should try again."
The revitalized Simply Saucer with original bassist Kevin Christoff have been in the studio working on a new album, Half Human, Half Live, which they'll be previewing at Ciao Edie Friday and Saturday.
"Because I hadn't picked up an electric guitar since Simply Saucer stopped, my playing never developed in a different direction. So returning to the old songs feels strangely familiar to me. It's like I'm reclaiming my past."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
How Simply Saucer's MIA noise generator Ping Romany (aka John LaPlante) came to join the band in 1974 is revealed by Edgar Breau
Breau recalls how Simply Saucer's space rock innovations weren't always welcomed on the Southern Ontario club scene of the mid 70's
Music from Simply Saucer
Like many Canadian music fans, Bob Mesereau has long been frustrated by having his favourite Canuck recordings left off lists of all-time great albums generated by publications based in the US and UK. Only Mesereau is no longer content to just gripe about the dilemma with his buddies at the CBC (where he works as an arts editor in New Brunswick) - he's doing something constructive. The long-time music journalist came up with the idea of putting out a book of his own, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (Goose Lane) as a way of addressing some of the glaring oversights and to serve as a handy reference guide to the great music that this country has produced since confederation.
"Rolling Stone did this huge book of the Top 500 Albums," snorts Mesereau, "but the only recordings you'll see by Canadian artists is five Neil Young albums, two of Joni Mitchell's and I think one by Alanis Morissette. That's about it. I've got nothing against those artists, but it's not a very good representation of what Canadians have done. What about Glenn Gould and Oscar Peterson?
"Then again, you can't really expect Americans to get the cultural significance of the Guess Who, Voivod or Eric's Trip. I mean, they wouldn't have a clue why the Tragically Hip doing a song about Bobcaygeon or Bill Barilko might be important."
Although Mesereau sounds ticked off enough to have knocked out the top 100 list himself, he instead sought the expert opinions of a nationwide jury made up of other music-obsessed writers, radio jocks, label reps, club and concert promoters and retail staff in addition to many active artists, each of whom contributed a weighted list of what they feel are the 10 greatest recordings ever made in any genre. Since polling closed March 31, Mesereau has had a chance to consider the voting patterns and assess the results. Evidently there were a few surprises.
"There was much more consensus than I anticipated for a Canada-wide survey. Some people were saying, 'None of the albums I pick are gonna be on anyone else's list,' but out of all the submissions I got - and there were over 600 in total - only two of the lists didn't have any albums that wound up in the top 100.
"In selecting jurors, I wanted to include the whole gamut of people who are involved with music 24/7 in this country; not just those working in the business for a living but those who really love music. So I had a hiphop artist selecting a Shania Twain album and a 60 year old radio personality choosing Cyborgs Revisited by Hamilton space rock group Simply Saucer. There were lots of surprises like that."
During my recent conversatoin with Simply Saucer's Edgar Breau, he mentioned being interviewed by Mesereau for the book, which includes a chapter-long entry on each album on the list. So it's easy to deduce that Cyborgs Revisited made the cut... although Mesereau will neither confirm or deny it.
"Well, I'm trying to keep who is on the list quiet for the time being because the book won't be out until October. I'm not telling anyone, even the artists. But I can say there's a lot of interest in some 70s groups that people might consider 'forgotten.' This process proved they're not. In fact, I think many readers will be surprised to find that a lot of albums which weren't big sellers made the list and also that many platinum-plus recordings didn't.
"Along with a bunch of additional specialty lists, like Rush's Neil Peart listing the 10 albums that most influenced his drumming, and Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea selecting his top 10 Newfoundland albums, I'm also going to have a hockey card-style checklist at the back which will hopefully encourage people to investigate the great albums they haven't heard."
Speaking of huge selling artists getting shut out, I'm probably not alone in wondering whether there are enough Simply Saucer-type cult favourites to keep superstar Celine Dion off the list. Mesereau remains tight-lipped but I think we can read between the lines of his response.
"I don't have any particular bias towards her either way but let's just say, if you're a person who doesn't like Celine Dion's music, you will enjoy this book."