Anne Murray on Christmas, Travel and Always Coming Home to Canada

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Before Shania shook up Nashville, Celine belted her way to Vegas and Sarah McLachlan brought her Lilith squad abroad, Anne Murray was the only major Canadian female pop act to live life as a travelogue. The Halifax‑born talent won the world over by singing feel‑good hits such as “You Needed Me,” “Snowbird” and “Could I Have This Dance?”, touring extensively from the 1960s to the early 2000s. Hardcore Murrayphiles know that the six Christmas albums she recorded throughout her career are an intrinsic part of her trajectory. Which is why, at the age of 75, Murray has released The Ultimate Christmas Collection, a compilation of her favourite carols plucked from each merry era. From her new home in Nova Scotia, Murray spoke to us about some of her favourite subjects: jet setting, crowd pleasing and snow birding.

December 9, 2020

enRoute With all that’s happening in the world, are you planning on toning down your holiday traditions or kicking it up a few notches?

Anne Murray Well, as anyone knows, I’m very resilient. So yes, I will be going all out this year. I start decorating December 1 because I love Christmas and I have so many ornaments that fans, friends and family from around the globe have given me as gifts throughout the years. I have the whole world on my tree because I also collected them while I was on the road.

A snowy path between a Christmas tree farm
   Photo: Thomas Lipke

ER You were on the road for nearly 40 years. When you sing a song like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” what city do you think of?

AM My hometown in Springhill, Nova Scotia, where I grew up. It was chaotic because there were six kids, but my mother loved Christmas too. We’d go out with dad and get the Christmas tree late after dark because he worked all day. The next morning, when we looked at that tree, it was usually awful, like a sad Charlie Brown tree. We’d stick branches, ornaments and leaves in the middle of it, trying to get it to look half decent. We always got such a laugh out of dad’s trees because he couldn’t see them when he was cutting them down.

ER I was watching the old Christmas specials that you had on the CBC. You and your family had cameras in your living room well before the Kardashians…

AM Oh yeah, I remember many occasions sitting around the table with my parents and they’d be reluctant to partake. My brothers were, and they still are, just so mean to each other. They are all about [using] deprecating humor… we all would get it but who knows if anyone else did? That would be a little stressful with the cameras rolling.

ER One of your biggest hits, “Snowbird”, has become the quintessential Canadian traveller’s anthem. What places in the world were you living your best life as a Snowbird?

AM Well, I was mostly taking work holidays when I could between work. You call it bleisure now, right? I’d tour and we’d take extra days to relax. The best sunny vacation we had was when we toured all over Australia and went to Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. We brought the kids, my mother, a couple of brothers and their wives, and we also had a film crew with us! When we stopped in Hawaii for three or four days on our way, that was heaven! And we have it all on video.

Colourful houses lined up along the water's edge in Brisbane, Australia
Brisbane, Australia.   Photo: Shelia Regita Pasaribu

ER You’re a known golfer and played with a team called Chicks With Sticks. If you could bring your team to one golf course in the world, where would it be?

AM The Cabot Cliffs in Cape Breton. It’s just breathtaking. You don’t even care about the golf because it’s beyond beautiful there. I love those courses.

Aerial view of the Cabot Cliffs golf course in Cape Breton
Cabot Cliffs, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.   Photo: Cabot Cape Breton/J. Sjoman

ER Celine Dion, Shania Twain and K.D. Lang have all said that you paved the way for them. Is that something you agree with?

AM Yes, but Celine and Shania have taken it to a whole other level. Things were different when I started out. In those days, if you had a gold record, that was the pinnacle of the music business. Now if you don’t have platinum or double platinum or triple platinum... I would love to have cracked that European market a little more like they did. It seemed monumental for me to have to travel all over the world and try to establish a career in those countries. Now, you’ve got social media, so there are many different ways to get to audiences all over the world.

ER Some of your more obscure recordings like “For Baby” and “David’s Song” and “Some Birds” are having an afterlife on TikTok. Kittens, parrots, puppies and monkeys are prancing around to these tracks. Are you hoping an Anne Murray TikTok challenge breaks the internet?

AM Bring it on! I don’t even know the words to those songs anymore so for a new generation to find them and make them into something else is so cool.

ER If Google Maps could locate which songs came from which cities, where would the drop pins land?

AM Most of my recordings were done in Toronto – the city had so much energy and life. Recording is such focused time for me. When I needed a break, I loved to be able to drive up the Don Valley Parkway – that was such a great release. I did record albums elsewhere, like Nashville, which is a singer’s dream, but it was never the same as Toronto.

A view of Toronto's high rises and CN Tower from the docks
A snowy path through the trees of Don Valley, Toronto
Toronto.   Photo: Juan Rojas
Don Valley, Toronto.    Photo: Andre Gaulin

ER You famously said, “if I went to New York or Los Angeles, then I would become someone I wouldn’t like.” How did Canada keep you sane through the fame?

AM Canada was my blankie. I always had someplace to escape to. It didn’t matter where I was in the world, that wasn’t home. Canada was it. And as soon as I got across the border, I felt safe again. I always felt like a foreigner everywhere else, that’s why I could never move.

ER Throughout your career, you have often said that you wonder if you set the bar too high for yourself. At this point, have you accomplished everything you wanted to accomplish?

AM I have nothing left to prove. I certainly achieved everything that I ever could imagine, and way more. I think that’s why it was so easy for me to retire. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but at least if I made a mistake, it was mine. In the early days, it seemed monumental for me to have to travel all over the world and try to establish a career in countries outside of Canada. In those days it wasn’t so easy but I did it!