#948: Vancouver Town ’71 by Rolf Harris

Peak Month: July 1971
5 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #5
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart

Rolf Harris was born in Western Australia in a small town near Perth in 1930. He moved to London, England, in 1952 and got work with the BBC the following year. He was featured in a children’s one-hour TV show called Jigsaw, offering a regular ten-minute cartoon drawing section with a puppet called “Fuzz” made and operated on the show by magician Robert Harbin. Harris went on to illustrate Harbin’s Paper Magic programme in 1956. In 1954, Harris was a regular on the BBC TV show, Whirligig, which featured a character called “Willoughby,” who came to life on a drawing board, but was erased at the end of each show. Concurrently, Harris performed his piano accordion at an expat club for Australians and New Zealanders in London called Down Under. While there Harris wrote his signature song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” which became a hit in Australia and New Zealand in 1960 and in North America in the summer of 1963.

In 1961 Harris charted a Christmas single in Australia that also made the Top Ten in Vancouver called “Six White Boomers.” The song was about Santa coping with the blazing heat in an Australian December, choosing to replace reindeer with kangaroos to deliver his toys to children. In 1963 Rolf Harris was on the same billing for a Christmas show with the Beatles at London’s Finsbury Park Astoria which ran for 16 nights which featured the Beatles singing backing vocals on “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.” One of his most popular tunes was “Jake The Peg” with the suggestive lyric: “I’m Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um/With the extra leg… diddle-iddle-iddle-um,” in 1966. From 1967 to 1974 Harris was host on the BBC programme, The Rolf Harris Show. In 1969 his song, “Two Little Boys,” spent six weeks in the #1 position on the UK charts. Harris is credited with inventing a simple homemade instrument called the wobble board. As well as his beatboxing, Harris went on to use an array of unusual instruments in his music such as the Jew’s harp. He was among the very first to feature a didgeridoo on a pop recording.

In 1971 Rolf Harris, who had visited Vancouver on numerous occasions wrote a song dedicated to the city.

Vancouver Town '71 by Rolf Harris
I hit Vancouver in the blazing sun,
on the 9th of February ’61.
And from the 10th of February through ’til May,
it rained in port all night and day.

(Chorus) The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

(What happens here, it’s incredible how this works.
Finally, the applause dies down and disappears altogether,
and you can hear the words. It’s incredible how it works).

Ten years almost to the day,
I caught my first glimpse of English Bay.
I’ve travelled here from Perth to Rome,
but coming back here’s like coming home.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

I can see those tankers sailing down,
with Alaskan oil all shlurpping round.
They’ll take a sip from Trudeau’s cup,
and leave our coast all fuddle-cuddled up.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

I passed a church and I had a grin,
there’s a sign said “Tired of sin, come in.”
And written in lipstick loud and clear,
“well, if not, phone this number here.”

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

To lots of chaps t’was a terrible blow,
but the topless waitresses had to go.
The problem was, when you come to grips,
they had no place to put their tips.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

Ding dong dell, pussy’s in the well.
Been down there for more than a year.
No wonder the water tastes blooming queer.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

The Lions need a quarterback,
the Canucks are glad to get Kurtenbach back.
But are they Australian teams, I wonder?
They always seem to be right down under.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

The film: Ned Kelly, strike me dead,
Mick Jagger playing the part of Ned.
Can you see it, galloping on his horse,
riding side saddle, of course.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

Special verse:
Now there were two wild Kelowna boys,
and Bennett was their name.
They bought some land and sold some land,
and made a capital gain.
And when their daddy spoke to them,
in accents loud and shrill.
They said we merely followed the lead
of the sons of Flying Phil.

The more they try to keep me down,
the better I live in this here town.
Yeah, the more they try to grind you down,
the better I like Vancouver Town.

In “Vancouver Town ’71” Harris mentions Vancouver’s gloomy rainfall during the winter, how the city is like a second home for him, the poor standings of the BC Lions football team and the Vancouver Canucks hockey team, then in the Western Hockey League. For example, after winning the Gray Cup in the 1964 football season, the BC Lions had a string of seasons where they underperformed:
1965: 6-9-1
1966: 5-11
1967: 3-12-1
1968: 4-11-1
1969: 5-11
1970: 6-10
So the live audience who heard the reference were well familiar with the Lions (and Canucks) professional seasonal woes. However,  in the case of the Western Hockey League, the Vancouver Canucks had actually won the league’s championship Lester Patrick Cup in both the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons. Nonetheless, Canuck fans still recalled a drought of winning seasons between 1960-61 and 1967-68 where they’d only been competitive in the 1961-62 season.

“Vancouver Town ’71” also refers to some naughty graffiti signs outside a church that made the headlines earlier that year, Vancouver City Hall legislation to outlaw topless waitresses, and a western film starring Mick Jagger. The final, “special verse” was a dig at local British Columbia politics. Phil Gaglardi was the Minister of Highways in the Social Credit Government. He was also given responsibility for BC Ferries and its rapid expansion soon after it was nationalized in 1960. What really got him noticed was the way he managed to convince a reluctant Premier W.A.C. Bennett to buy the government a Learjet (hence, “Flyin’ Phil”). Premier Bennett was travelling in a newly inaugurated government-owned ferry to Prince Rupert. To demonstrate that the ferry was too slow for government business, he convinced a pilot friend to fly him to Prince Rupert in a Learjet, thereby managing to get there before Bennett did. Gaglardi waited on the dock to greet the Premier with a purchase contract for the plane. The plane was quickly purchased. Another explanation of Gaglardi’s nickname was his propensity for getting speeding tickets whilst driving in large-engined cars around the province checking on the progress of road construction or in his own words “testing the curves.” In 1968 Gaglardi came under fire in the legislature over re-occurring allegations of preferred highway access to property owned by his sons, use of departmental facilities to provide sign material and construction to benefit their properties, and departmental work performed on his private property. He announced his resignation in March 1968 after revelations of him having his daughter-in-law and grandson in the government jet. A similar scandal regarding nepotism of Premier W.A.C. Bennett regarding his sons, the Bennett boys, was in the news in the early 1970’s.  It seemed that the Comedian, Rolf Harris, was more effective in highlighting the egregiousness of the scandal then many columnists in the local papers. The song was released during British Columbia’s centennial.

In 1993 Harris did a cover version of the Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway To Heaven,” which became a Top Ten hit for him in the UK. Between 1955 and 2012 Harris starred in five movies and appeared in eleven TV series. In 2005, Harris was commissioned to paint a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for her 80th birthday. During his career Harris received the highest orders bestowed on civilians in both Australia and the United Kingdom. However, after a 2013 conviction for having sex with several underage girls and was convicted of 12 counts of indecent assault. He served time in jail from 2014 to 2017 and lost his titles for Order of Australia and Order of the British Empire.

For more song reviews visit the Countdown.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter