Sappy Song Department
"Right Before Your Eyes", Ian Thomas (1977)
There is a certain innocence/loneliness about Ian Thomas’ brilliant song writing. He seems to have somehow been overlooked, and yet his lyrics with their objective sensitivity, and heartfelt delivery, have a way of making you identify with what he is talking about. Why wasn’t he more popular?
I had many 45s of his including some of my favourites: “Mother Earth”, “Pilot”,”Liars” and “Painted Ladies” - they were staples of the Canadian music landscape in the 70’s. Some of the biggest names in music have done covers of his songs including Chicago, Santana, Manfred Mann, and Bette Midler.
Singer, song-writer and actor born in Hamilton, Ontario, Ian is brother to Dave Thomas, most famous for playing Doug to Rick Moranis’ Bob, of Bob and Doug McKenzie fame, poking fun at “The Great White North”.
The first single I remember Ian putting out was 1973’s “Painted Ladies”, which was his highest ever charted song in Canada at #5. It was pretty much ignored elsewhere.
The fact is, his music is difficult to pigeon-hole; it has almost a country feel to it at times, based in folk, but really not straight-forward rock. It definitely did not have the outright country rock feel of bands like America, who covered “Right Before Your Eyes” in the U.S. Ian’s music may have been a bit too light and deep in an overly-sensitive Canadian sort of way for mainstream American radio. He was not afraid to expose who he was and how he felt in his songs – he is a sensitive sort of guy.
In 1974 he was awarded the “Most Promising Male Vocalist of the Year”, but has never had the great commercial success of his contemporaries such as Bruce Cockburn, who also initially struggled (but who is still much underrated!) Commercial success is only one measure, and to some not as important a measure, but certainly he has not even been recognized for his contribution to song-writing.
“Right Before Your Eyes” has a ‘film noir’ feel to it with Greta Garbo and Rudolph Valintino as role models for the characters in the fantasy of an everyday commute. The song has a sentiment much like Tal Bachman’s later “She’s So High”. There is a girl who is seemingly unattainable. He is mustering his courage to talk to her - he has put her on such a high pedestal that she cannot possibly be interested in him, or even aware of his existence. This is a very common theme in any male’s world at one time or another. Some get over it and ask the girl out. Others never quite make it, and are possibly left wondering ever-after, “What if?” He does not have to be Valentino because she is not Garbo, but man it sure felt like it sometimes...
Currently Ian performs with Murray McLauchlan, Marc Jordan and Cindy Church, in a group called “Lunch at Allen’s”, which seems like it might as well be called “The Forgotten Canadians”