Albums by Van Halen, Def Leppard and George Michael were among Billboard’s No. 1 albums in 1988, but the most popular album at Fred’s Records in the St. John’s area around the same time was something of a little more traditional.
All the Best: Folk Music from St. John’s, Newfoundland was such a hit, says Fred’s Records executive Tony Plowman, that it remains the store’s best-selling album of all time.
“Everyone bought it.” said Plowman. “Locals, tourists, all ages.”
“People who worked here [at Fred’s] 32 or 33 years ago, this is the soundtrack to their summer.”
After several years of exhaustion, All my wishes was reissued by Atlantic Music in one of its original 1988 formats: the CD.
‘I want to choose your brain’
The unlikely juggernaut was the brainchild of famed traditional musician Kelly Russell.
Russell was part of a wave of Newfoundland and Labrador musicians in the 1970s and 1980s who were updating local traditional music with a contemporary sound and introducing it to a wider audience.
“He stuck his head out and said, ‘I want to go to the ship [Inn pub] for a pint? What time do you get off? “, recalls Plowman. “” I want to choose your brain. “”
Russell said there were many artists and songs that were directly tied to St. John’s.
“I thought a themed album, based on music from this town, would be a great idea,” Russell said.
Russell, Plowman and a few others huddled at a table at The Ship and quickly made a short list.
Russell, through his music label Pigeon Inlet Productions, dug up funding from government and private industry and began recording artists and songs at a local recording studio in St. John’s.
The musical fabric of St. John’s
All my wishes features some of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most well-known, now long-established musicians: Pamela Morgan and Anita Best, Jim Payne, Tickle Harbour, Christina Smith and Jean Hewson in all their late ’90s glory 80.
“Everyone who was part of the musical fabric of St. John’s is here,” Plowman said.
Ron Hynes recorded what became the definitive version of The Saint-Jean waltz. Frank Maher and Art Stoyles have brought urban accordion music to mainstream ears with their versions of run the goat and Portuguese Waltzes.
Russell has fond memories of tenor John White’s whimsical recording on Signal Hill.
“John had been up for years by this time,” Russell recalled.
“He did about 10 or 12 takes of the songs, and we took all the best parts.”
Plowman credited All my wishes kicking off the modern Newfoundland and Labrador recording industry.
According to Russell, All my wishes was the first CD recording made in Newfoundland and Labrador, featuring artists and music from that province, and more local musicians were taking notice.
AM weekend13:21All the Best – an all-time favorite NL folk music album – is being reissued
“Whether All my wishes can date all these artists on it, so why not someone else?” Russell said.
Soon after, new bands such as the Irish Descendants and Great Big Sea recorded and released their first locally produced CDs. The rest is history.
“You only have to look at the front rack of Fred’s Records to see the proliferation of music coming out of Newfoundland and Labrador today,” Russell said.
A timeless recording
A lot has changed in the 34 years since All my wishes has been freed. The internet and digital technology have completely transformed the music recording industry.
Fred’s Records is one of the few physical record stores still standing, as most people access recorded music online through digital downloads and playlists.
Tracks of All my wishes have stood the test of time. They are still on rotation in public spaces across the province and on radio stations across the country. The album became a calling card for its star artists, giving them enough recognition to tour internationally.
Today, Newfoundland and Labrador’s folk music scene is larger and more diverse, with artists bringing influences from around the world.
Who would be on All my wishes today?
“Kelly and I will have to go to the ship and plan a four-disc vinyl box set,” Plowman said.
“It would have to be a [digital] playlist, and very long,” added Russell.
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