An Appreciation of “Chilliwack”

I’ve always been a fan of the Canadian rock band “Chilliwack“, which had several hit songs on the charts starting in the early 70s. They went through several stylistic changes, starting in a kind of progressive-influence rock, then settling into a straight ahead rock style by the mid-seventies.

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They weren’t the kind of group to hit high in the charts, but don’t take that to mean they lacked something in what they did. They favoured more complex chords and instrumental arrangements. (Check out the intro to “I Believe“). If you’re looking for a classic rock band that worked to be creative within a standard rock genre, Chilliwack is worth the time exploring. They rate high in the esteem of the people who know them, but I still think they’ve been underrated over the years, certainly outside Canada.

My favourite Chilliwack song has always been “Fly At Night“, from their 1976 album “Dreams, Dreams, Dreams”.

I think what I love about this song is that it provides a solution for singer-songwriters who want to write pop/rock, but who also want to nudge that genre a little bit toward prog rock. As you can hear, it uses a fairly standard chord progression at its start (D G Em C), but it’s not the chords that make this a creative song: it’s the form, and the way the song continually changes as it moves.

We hear a quiet, melancholy start, then it becomes a double-time rocker about a minute in. Sure, that’s not rare… lots of songs do that. But in “Fly At Night” we hear a downplaying of the verse-chorus format, and instead the changing musical energy levels with low vocals, high vocals, guitar solo, morphing back to quiet nostalgia, and on it goes.

In that sense, the only thing that really makes this song stand out as a kind of non-standard rock tune is the creative way it keeps changing moods, key and musical energy. Everything prog rock offers, but in a smaller package. Prog-lite, in the best sense of the term.

Chilliwack had bigger hits (“My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)“) and “I Believe“, but to me, “Fly At Night” stands out as a jewel. If you want to discover a classic band that you might have missed, check out their discography on their Wikipedia site. As with most good bands, their Greatest Hits album will only give you a fairly incomplete picture.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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