The 1990s were a good decade to be a Canadian female singer! Celine Dion’s heart – and voice – would go on to become an AOR superstar, Shania Twain set sales records on country charts, Sarah McLachlan created Lilith Fair and essentially a whole new genre of music (“adult alternative”) and Alanis Morrissette created the anthem for spurned women everywhere in the form of the 30-million selling Jagged Little Pill. But before all that, another Ontario lady with the initials “AM” had her moment in the sun – Alannah Myles. She hit #1 in the U.S. this day in 1990 with her song about Elvis, “Black Velvet”. It had been a top 10 hit at home the year before, but curiously it did better elsewhere – not only did it top the charts in the U.S., but it did in Switzerland, Sweden and some other lands and got to #2 in the UK and New Zealand! However, it still won the Single of the Year Juno Award in Canada.
Although women might have been doing it for themselves then, Myles owed some to her then boyfriend Christopher Ward. Ward was a well-known radio DJ turned TV VJ in Canada, and had minor success as a singer himself. He helped finance her demo record, get Atlantic Records to sign her and wrote this massive hit. He was inspired after visiting Graceland in Memphis on the 10th anniversary of Elvis’ death as part of his TV job. Atlantic also got a country singer, Robin Lee, to do a country version of it, but Myles was the one which hit paydirt. According to ASCAP, it was the most played song on radio in the U.S. in ’90 and it won her the Grammy for best rock performance by a female. Her debut album went diamond at home and platinum in the U.S. Her career went downhill somewhat after; she kept fluctuating between hard rock and adult contemporary pop which probably didn’t help the marketers at Atlantic. Although she did score a #1 song in Canada in ’92 (“Song Instead of a Kiss”) ; her website seems to indicate she’s not been very involved in performing or recording for the last eight years. Thus she is considered a One Hit Wonder elsewhere. But when your one hit is the biggest hit ever written about Rock’s biggest star… that’s not bad!