The Canadian Sun Sets on the Western
Eddie Heywood & Norman Gimbel, “Canadian Sunset” (1956)
It was reading the Sylvia Plath poem “Two Campers in Cloud-Country” that reminded me of the song “Canadian Sunset,” about a couple who escape for a “week-end in Canada, a change of scene.” I first heard (and saw) it on the Lawrence Welk Show when some channel was showing re-runs years ago; I’m pretty sure this is the version I saw:
I’m not in love with the novelty-song aspect of the singer impersonating a trombone, but it’s Lawrence Welk – you have to expect that kind of thing. At least there aren’t any bubbles blowing across the stage.
Unfortunately, she drops out an important verse. We’ll have to go to the Andy Williams version (with a bizarre conclusion) to pick up a key reference:
Here are the relevant lyrics, just for the record:
Cold, cold was the wind
Warm, warm were your lips
Out there on that ski trail
Where your kiss filled me with thrills.
A weekend in Canada,
A change of scene
Was the most I bargained for.
Then I discovered you
And in your eyes
I found a love that I couldn’t ignore.
So essentially, an American couple finds love on the ski trails of Canada, that convenient getaway just a short distance to the north. Of course, it would be on a ski trail – what does Canada have to offer the vacationing American besides access to winter sports?
Not a lot – except a sunset:
Down, down came the sun.
Fast, fast beat my heart.
I knew, when the sun set,
From that day we’d never part.
No doubt the Canadian sunset was much more glorious than anything they could have seen in their urban American homeland. And naturally the Canadian sunset will be forever special to them, because it sealed their love. Sigh.
I think this is the original, “hit” version (it went to #2 on the Billboard chart in 1956!):
It’s difficult to see exactly why this song would have had such a strong appeal to Americans in 1956. It’s an instrumental version, so the lyrics, suggestive of a bucolic escape, can’t have anything to do with it. Was the evocative song title, redolent of slightly foreign romanticism, enough to push it almost all the way to the top? Or was it just a catchy melody? Difficult to tell at this remove.
For those with more sophisticated musical tastes, here’s a version by Wes Montgomery:
Or maybe Gene Ammons is more your style? He’s done it too:
And finally,here’s an interview with Aretha Franklin, where she plays it on the piano but (alas) doesn’t sing it:
It’s interesting that the song was used in a lot of Westerns; it does have a sort of loping rhythm that suggests cowboys cantering over the sagebrush plains, but how odd that a song about falling in love while skiing in Canada should provide the soundtrack to a genre as quintessentially hot, dry and American as the Western.