Edward Bear frontman shares his inspiration for the song, talks about its success and fills us in on what he’s up to now.
It’s been more than 40 years since Canadian pop-rock trio Edward Bear conquered the airwaves and music charts with their global hit Last Song. Although the Toronto band had earned recognition with their songs Masquerade and You, Me and Mexico, the group reached new heights with Last Song, taking home a Juno Award in 1973 for single of the year, and a gold record for selling over 1 million copies.
Now there’s a new reason to celebrate this hit song: It was recently (2015) inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) and honoured by a tribute performance by singer-songwriter Matthew Barber as a part of the CSHF’s “Covered Classics” series.
We had the privilege of chatting with creator of Last Song, Canadian songwriter Larry Evoy.
When and where did you write Last Song?
I usually have the song already in my head. At the time I wrote Last Song, I was living in a rooming house with the entire band (Edward Bear) on Davenport Avenue (Toronto). I had gotten a piano with the intention of learning how to play, although I still haven’t learned how to play! (laughs) And so, I tried to translate what I was hearing in my head onto the piano as much as I could. The song meant exactly what it said, you know “the girl is gone,” and that “I’m sort of over it now.” I don’t know how many songs were about her, six at least. Close Your Eyes was also about her.
What inspired the song?
That one girl. It was written over a period of time and was literal. I would actually go to sleep with my light on, hoping that she’d think I was still awake and would drop by, and she did. There is also the analogy of one’s own light and not just the physical one in the lyric “two years go by and still my lights on.” I did have a fan come up to me at some point and tell me exactly how much it cost to leave that light on for two years!
How long did it take to write the song and what was the songwriting process like?
I used to have these black spiral books from Grand & Toy that I would write in. It always had to be that same type of book. I would have the lyrics and melody in my head and then I would write them down. I think I made a couple of changes, but usually it wouldn’t be very much. It may have taken me a week to complete the song from start to finish.
What where your thoughts after listening to the finished recording for the first time? Did you have a feeling that the song was going to become a hit?
Yes, absolutely. Once it was fully written and after I started rehearsing it with the band, in my mind it was definitely that kind of song. I’ve always been pretty optimistic but in this case, it really was a strong song. The record company showed some interest but weren’t like “Oh My God, this is a killer song;” and so, I had to push them because I had a strong feeling that it was. It took a few weeks for the song to catch on after its release, but eventually it did, and the phones at the radio stations just started ringing.
One of the bigger stations at the time was out of Windsor. Once they started playing the song on high rotation, it beamed straight into the States, even before the song had been released on the American label. In those days, if the station received a good response from the song they would keep playing it; however, if there was no stock for people to buy the record in the States, they would drop it. So a guy by the name of Bill Bannon, who worked for Capitol Records in Canada, drove down to Detroit by himself with a trunk full of Last Song records and salted the record stores with free records for them to have in stock. We had no idea that he did this at the time. If Bill wouldn’t have done that, the station would have probably dropped the song and it wouldn’t have picked up as much as it did in the US. I thought that was pretty cool.
How did it feel learning that your song was becoming such a big success?
This is the part that’s really funny because in movies it’s always that instantaneous hit. When in reality, it takes time. Every week you kind of just agonize and hope that the song continues to go up the charts. Last Song never went past No. 3 on Billboard but I’m fine with that because I thought that was really “Canadian” of it. We were behind Paul McCartney on the Billboard chart and I thought to myself, that’s fine with me! (laughs) When the song hit certifiable gold that was also very exciting.
Why do you think people connected with the song so well?
I have a theory for this. I think this is true for a lot of songs. If you hit a certain emotional frequency with people, it resonates with them, kind of like a tune fork. Last Song obviously doesn’t resonate with everyone in the world, but whatever is communicated in that song is universal and a lot of people can relate to it. It’s like a frequency of emotion. I really felt what I wrote, they were real emotions, and I think that became apparent to other people.
Is it true you initially offered the song to Terry Jacks?
No. Terry offered Season’s in the Sun to me, which was originally a French song. He said it was a song that he thought I‘d do really well with, and I was interested because I liked the original version myself. But it’s just one of those things that never happened and so he decided to record it for himself. I’m happy for him because he went on to sell millions of records with it. I did call him at one point to get him to listen to the recording of Last Song. He called back to tell me that he thought it was a great song and wished me luck with it but that I should drop it down one half-tone… so, I did. In the end, we both ended up with hits, which is pretty cool.
Walk us through a typical day in the life of Larry Evoy.
I don’t think you want me to do that (laughs). A little relaxed and very farm oriented. It involves dealing with donkeys, a horse, barn cats and chickens on my farm.