Toronto – The latest entry into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame is a song that few realize is Canadian.
“To Sir With Love” was the signature hit for Scottish singer Lulu, who hoisted the tune to No. 1 for five weeks back in fall 1967. The song soundtracked the British drama of the same name, which cast Sidney Poitier as an inspirational teacher of troubled teens in London’s tough inner city.
Montreal-raised composer Mark London wrote the sweeping tune with lyrics by Don Black, who co-wrote several of the most memorable James Bond themes.
“To Sir With Love” was recorded in Britain for a British movie with a Scottish singer — so most people always assumed it was written by a Brit, London explained.
“No one knows,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think anyone thought it was Canadian.”
London moved overseas from Montreal in 1965. It was there that he was approached with the opportunity to write the music for “To Sir With Love” — the catch being that he had less than a day to do it.
London sat down to the piano that night and wrote the song in about a half hour.
“To Sir With Love” began a long creative partnership between London and Lulu, who was managed by London’s wife Marion Massey. Another bit of trivia: Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones provided the song’s string arrangement.
With the song’s induction, Montreal’s Nikki Yanofsky and Toronto guitarist Dan Kanter recorded a cover for CBC Music, which they describe as a “campfire” rendition with “funked up” acoustic guitar.
Kanter, musical director for Justin Bieber and a music academic, calls the “romantically haunting” song subtly, astoundingly complex.
“I wonder … if it came out today, if people would respond to it?” he said in a telephone interview.
The tune has been covered by Al Green, Jann Arden, Tina Arena, Soul Asylum and Luscious Jackson.
“To Sir With Love” has also been belted out by characters on TV shows including “Sons of Anarchy,” “Boy Meets World,” “The Golden Girls” and “Glee,” whose cast performed it “beautifully,” London said.
So it remains relevant — to everyone but millennials, perhaps.
“I would imagine it’s played a few times every day, because the royalties I get from BMI in America — it’s quite a bit,” London said. “They keep having new versions coming out constantly. Everyone knows it.
“The funny thing is, young people don’t know it,” he added. “If you’re like under 30 or so, most of them haven’t heard the song.”
Nick Patch, The Canadian Press
Retrieved Feb 03, 2015 12:19 PM ET