Dynamism Defined: Canada's Chilliwack and Their 1981 "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)" Single
"Precision Pop" from the MTV era doesn't just roll off the assembly line.
The dictionary defines dynamism as “great energy, force, or power; vigor.” In pop music, it can be expanded to mean elements of a song that span the highs and lows on a music staff, the sounds a producer and engineer can squeeze onto a record’s groove (and there is only one), or how one song can simply end up sounding like no other. Like this one:
GetSongKey.com gives this Chilliwack song an 82 ranking for “energy.” With four other characteristics (including danceability, acousticness, and liveness), that number is far and away “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)’s top score, with positiveness weighing in at a relatively distant 50 (I have no idea how they arrived at these numbers…like most numbers, they apparently just exist for comparison purposes).
That same website gives Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” its highest ranking in the energy department, as well, but only gave it a paltry 40, tying it with danceability! Too bad they didn’t offer a “bombast” category; record-setting triple digits would likely have resulted. One more? Boston’s certainly dynamic 1976 “More Than a Feeling”? 69 for energy, while only scoring an imaginary single-digit bombastic rank.
So, however fine a line there may be between “energy” and “bombast,” the distracting presence of the latter may snuff out any clever and attractive nuances that otherwise might be present.
By the way, this “My Girl” is not in any way to be confused with The Temptations’ monumentally iconic (and certainly dynamic in its own right!) 1964 song of the same name (which helps explain Chilliwack’s well-placed parenthetical title device).
Brief Band Bio
Chilliwack (a town just east of their hometown) began in the members’ home of Vancouver, British Columbia, and were originally active between 1970 and 1988. They initially changed members as frequently as record labels in the ‘70s, which was often. In fact, their first five albums appeared on four different Canadian labels.
To add to the confusion (in the US, at least), they had three albums issued as self-titled through 1975! They were apparently setting the early trend for Peter Gabriel and his late ‘70s/early ‘80s consecutive streak of four self-titled albums!
For members, we’ll focus on the two who not only wrote “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone),” but produced it, as well: Guitarists/vocalists, Bill Henderson and the late Brian “Too Loud” MacLeod. The song was included on the band’s 1981 LP release (their ninth), Wanna Be a Star, on RCA affiliate, Millennium Records.
“RCA was really not very co-operative in the promotion department.”--Bill Henderson
In a recent interview with Gary James on ClassicBands.com, Henderson, now 77, discussed the promotion that album and the single got from Millennium and its parent:
“Well, not as much as it should have. It did get some. We were on Millennium, which was distributed by RCA. RCA was really not very cooperative in the promotion department. Millennium did bust their balls on it really hard. They did a good job. They did the best they could. They were a small company.
“They just didn't get the co-operation from RCA. I think the song could have gone much higher, but it really would've taken a lot more effort.”
In Canada, the song spent four weeks at #3. In the United States, it peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. In their native Canada, writers MacLeod and Henderson were nominated for the Juno Award (Canadian equivalent of the Grammys) for 1982 Composer of the Year, as well as Single of the Year for "My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)."
In January 2019, the song became certified Platinum as a single in Canada (signifying more than 100,000 units sold).
With All This, How’d I Miss It?
Thirty-six years passed between the 1981 release of Chilliwack’s “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and my hearing it for the first time.
That may not seem like a life-altering revelation, but the band’s compelling slice of precision pop (as Henderson has called it) was a Top 20 hit in five countries, (and had the advantage of being released mere weeks after MTV debuted on August 1, 1981). The video above, in other words, dropped just in time.
I was working in an L.A. record store at the time, and I don’t recall any RCA rep telling me where and how to display the album (nor did I receive a promo copy of the single). Whatever Top 40 AM stations in Los Angeles were playing it at the time, I never heard it.
I even remember the year and place I first heard it, Sirius/XM Satellite Radio will be happy to hear. Surprising to few, it was on the “Yacht Rock” channel in 2017. So enamored of the song when I heard it, I even took a stab at it in karaoke, where it was routinely met with thunderous indifference by club-goers every time I dared to sing it in between the countless mind-numbing renditions of “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
For the incredulous, I’ve been a singer all my life, first fronting a rock band, Brimstone, in high school, then countless choirs and choruses, and even taking my act on the road the past decade, singing while backed by karaoke CD-Gs in nursing homes pre-pandemic.
Chilliwack Live Highlights the Song’s Dynamism
It’d be easy to assume that the song (which is in the key of A, by the way) benefits from studio trickery or studied knob-twiddling by Henderson and MacLeod to produce the record’s particular sonic dynamics.
Indeed, the work Henderson and MacLeod put into producing and mixing “My Girl” was nothing short of arduous. Here’s Bill recounting those efforts to Canada’s FYIMusicNews in 2019: “We spent more time just mixing ‘My Girl’ let alone recording it. So the fastidiousness grew with age. And, yes I did find magic and discovery often started to happen after many hours of studio work.”
But, here, in this 1982 live Vancouver performance, MacLeod’s basso profundo starting “gone-gones” become a jarring contrast to Henderson’s helium-filled falsetto, especially toward the end.
Meanwhile, the muscular MacLeod goes nuts on the fretboard, with a couple of fast-finger soloing turns, and befitting his “Too Loud” nickname, unleashing some brutally chunky barre chords toward the end, for metal fans who always thought this song was just a little too light-weight for their tastes.
It still may be, but even metal-heads gotta give mad props to that stirring acapella crescendo with the chord modulation two-thirds in:
Here’s head Chilliwack-er, Bill Henderson, in a recent interview, giving us the lowdown on the making of the song (including why “we weren’t allowed to record”), and from whom we got the “Gone-gones,” and how they were born on a boat:
“When you say OK, you just had a hit, shouldn't that mean you could have more?”
Going back to the Gary James interview, Henderson was asked about the logic in being able to easily write a follow-up once you’ve written one hit song:
“The problem is knowing where the hit songs come from. With the really big songs that really capture people, very often, now not all the time, there are plenty of exceptions, but a lot of the time writers have been writing for years and years, and have hundreds of songs and all of a sudden one comes along. It just sort of happens.
“Boom! It comes out of nowhere. It's done in the amount of time it takes to sing it and it's a hit. All the work they've done, and it feels like they didn't have to do any work on that song, which is not true. All the work they've done is actually building 'em up to that point.
“When the songwriter looks at that experience and says ‘Wow, that song did great! I wish I could do that again. How'd I do that?’ It's really hard to know how you did that, 'cause it just came to you. When you say OK, you just had a hit, shouldn't that mean you could have more?
“Certainly it could, but you can't track it using logic. It doesn't respond that well. Songwriting doesn't respond that well to logic, not that there isn't any. There is, but there's more to it than that. There is a spiritual element to it that is undeniable.”