New England Whalers Victory March (‘Brass Bonanza’), 1976

Exhibit / July 31, 2017

Object Name: “Brass Bonanza,” a.k.a. “Evening Beat”
Maker and Year: Originally Jacques Ysaÿe & His Orchestra, 1967; rereleased circa 1976 as a single by the New England Whalers
Object Type: Song/45 rpm single
Video Source: lojosol/YouTube
Image SourceDiscogs
Description: (Michael Grasso)

In 1972, the World Hockey Association (WHA) was established to compete with the National Hockey League (NHL). The NHL, much like Major League Baseball in the early ’70s, was dealing with its labor market’s rebellion against the unjust reserve clause. The WHA offered players better salaries and an opportunity to sign contracts as free agents, and the insurgent league offered major league hockey to regions and cities that were underserved by the NHL’s monopoly. Ten cities and regions received franchises at the WHA’s outset, including the New England Whalers, who played their first few seasons in Boston, second fiddle to the NHL’s Boston Bruins, one of that league’s Original Six. In 1974, the Whalers moved a couple of hours down the highway—first to Springfield, Massachusetts, and then to Hartford, Connecticut—where they would establish their identity, in large part thanks to a little piece of library music.

Legend has it that the newly relocated Whalers’ front-office employee George Ducharme found the bombastic track “Brass Bonanza” by Belgian composer “Jack Say” on a collection of library music, and played the track for guests. It was an instant hit. Interestingly, both Say’s name and the song title were changed on this compilation for American audiences; Jacques Ysaÿe originally wrote the tune in 1967 and named it “Evening Beat” on his Color in Music 1 album. Ysaÿe’s other work with his orchestra, like the track “Shish Kebab,” fits well into the 1960s obsession with exotica and lounge music.

The thunderous tones of the opening and the insistent horns throughout made it a perfect theme for celebrating the Whalers’ success on the ice starting in the 1975-6 season. The team’s new fans took it to heart, and it was even released as a 45 rpm single, with a B-side presenting the Whalers’ playoff game against Minnesota in which the teams set the WHA record for most penalty minutes in a single game, 217. This kind of tough, take-no-prisoners hockey was celebrated by fans and was extremely common in the 1970s (the two Boston Bruins brawls from 1970 and 1979 neatly bookend that era), celebrated in the classic film Slap Shot (1977).

The WHA eventually folded and merged into the NHL in 1979, following in the footsteps of the ABA merger with the NBA three years earlier. Four teams, including the Whalers, joined the NHL in 1979. This was a common tale in 1970s North American sports: insurgent, independently-owned-and-operated leagues would do pioneering work on improvements in labor policy and play style, only to be crushed and absorbed by the monopolies held by the major leagues. But to a large extent, the innovations begun by the ABA and WHA would live on within the leagues that gobbled them up. The real casualties of these mergers were the fans in Midwestern and Southern cities where franchises weren’t deemed lucrative enough to make the transition.

The now-Hartford Whalers’ management eventually abandoned “Brass Bonanza,” supposedly because players were embarrassed by its 1970s dated-ness. The Whalers replaced it with bland sports arena song clichés like Buster Poindexter’s “Hot, Hot, Hot” and Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2.” Eventually, the Whalers themselves could no longer resist the inexorable movement of the NHL away from the traditional homes in the north of the U.S. and in Canada, relocating to Carolina in 1997.

As a postscript, Jacques Ysaÿe passed away just a few weeks ago in Belgium at the age of 94.

3 thoughts on “New England Whalers Victory March (‘Brass Bonanza’), 1976

  1. This was interesting and brought back a college memory. A college acquaintance entered a Hartford Whalers Logo contest, sometime in either late 1988 or 1989–I think he got an honorable mention for it. He was from Connecticut and a hockey fan and pretty excited about it. Even though I hailed from a hockey town — I wasn’t really a hockey fan, but two of my friends were from NJ (Devils) and Pittsburgh (Penguins) and so I got schooled pretty quickly.

  2. Pingback: Heartbeat of America: The Chevy Camaro IROC-Z, 1985 – 1990

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