A Million Vacations in running for top song of all time
By PAUL MORDENThe one song drummer Gary McCracken wrote and sang for the 1970s rock band Max Webster has turned out to have legs.
A Million Vacations is one of the 100 nominees that Universal Music picked for the Canadian Rock Songs of all time contest currently running in the Toronto Sun newspaper.
Visitors to the Canoe internet web site can vote for their 20 favourites through June 29. A list of the top 20 will be published July 2 and there are plans for a compilation album to be released in the autumn.
"To me, just being on the list is a buzz," said the Sarnia native who spent several years in the last half of the 1970s touring and recording with Max Webster.
"Half the people in Canada don't even realize I sing the damn song."
It's on the list alongside songs by Bryan Adams, BTO's Takin' Care of Business, The Band's The Weight, American Woman by the Guess Who, Alanis Morissette's You Oughta Know, Neil Young's Heart of Gold, Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild, The Tragically Hip's New Orleans is Sinking and others.
"I'm just totally freaked it's on there."
The other songs with Sarnia content on the list are Patio Lanterns and Go For A Soda from the solo career of Max Webster front man Kim Mitchell.
McCracken went to Sarnia Collegiate and became friends with Mitchell when they were teenagers.
Mitchell and Pye Dubois, a childhood friend from Sarnia, formed Max Webster in the early 1970s with some other Sarnia musicians.
Around that time, McCracken was playing drums with the Windsor band Zing Dingo and he wrote a song called Small Town Blues.
Around 1976, he got a call from Mitchell who asked him to join the band. McCracken came on board in time to play on the album High Class In Borrowed Shoes.
When it came time to record an album in 1979, McCracken submitted Small Town Blues for consideration. "Everyone agreed we would do that song," he said, but Dubois was assigned to take its lyrics and make them more "Max Websterish."
It was a song about being stuck in a small town and wanting to escape. The theme and the music remained the same, as did McCracken's line You can only drive down main street so many times.
The song was renamed A Million Vacations and released as a single. It also became the name of the album and a song the band played on tour for the next year while it promoted the album.
That album sold platinum and was one of the band's strongest. McCracken said the song itself got some airplay but wasn't a big hit at the time.
Then, a couple of albums later in 1981 Mitchell left Max Webster and the group disbanded.
McCracken went on record with Triumph and others. He toured with bands like Klaatu and Tres Hombres but decided to leave the world of rock and roll in 1985. He got married, returned home to Sarnia and began teaching music.
Over the years, the song found a home on radio around the country and the world as one of those tunes that fits the summer time.
"It seems to have a life of its own."
He still gets royalty cheques from places like Germany and Holland, plus from Canada where its heard each year in cottage country and places in the east and west.
McCracken said one of the places it doesn't seem to get played is on his hometown radio stations.
"It's the only song I did sing in Max Webster," McCracken said. It's also the only one he submitted to the band for any of its albums. Looking back now, he wonders what might have happened if he had written a few more.
McCracken, Mitchell and other members of the band got back together in the early 1990s for a reunion tour that sold out venues around the province. A Million Vacations was on the play list for those shows and always got a good response, McCracken said.
"I'm glad I did it," he said about the decision to take up Mitchell's invitation to join the band back in 1976. "We did quite well for a band that was so weird."
The fact that it was weird on purpose, and avoided taking itself too seriously, was probably the reason why the band did so well, McCracken believes.
"And, everyone played really well. Max Webster was always a really good live show."
A mystique about the band has also grown over the years. "I think we got more popular after we broke up," McCracken said.
As of this week, A Million Vacations had just over 300 votes in the Sun poll. While it isn't threatening American Woman which has over 2,300 votes, McCracken's song is doing better than entries by Lee Aaron, Barney Bentall, Saga and Gowan.
"I can't believe my song's on that list, but I'm sure glad it is," McCracken said.
"You never know what's going to happen in the music business."