Tuesday, March 15, 2005


The OTHER 50: Day One

Ok, before we start, an addition to what some had pointed out was a pretty phalo-centric club. The panel of Your's Truly, Aaron (Pop) Wherry, Peter (Simpy) Simpson, Mike (Kenny Shinkle) Forbes and Carl (Zoilus) Wilson has grown to include Carol (museink) Harrison. Carol is a former DJ at CIUT in Toronto and the mighty CKCU here in Fat City, she also - like most of us - spends too much of her time thinking and talking about music. Now a little insight into the rules. Each of our panelists will be asked to forward their choice for Canada's OTHER 50 tracks at the rate of about a track a day. Each member of the panel will also have three vetoes to eliminate tracks he or she feels don't belong. It should result in some interesting flame wars. So, without further ado, here's a (slightly edited for flow) transcript of today's panel discussions. We made our picks almost alphabetically so that means we start with: Mike: Do you remember back in grade school when you had to sign-up to make a presentation? In my school, nobody ever wanted to go first. The teachers would always try to sell us on going first by feeding us a line like, "If you go first, you'll have it out of the way." Or, "It will be over before you know it." I never bit. The way I figured it, if you went near the middle or end, you could figure out what worked and what didn't work. You'd rip-off the good stuff from the early presentations (like three sided bristol-board displays) and leave the weak stuff behind (Star Wars figure dioramas, sock puppets). Unfortunately for me, thanks to Keith's alphabetization process I find myself going first and I have no idea if I should go the bristol board route and get all fancy pants with explanations, anecdotes and chord tabs, or if I should just go the traditional hockey pool route and shout out a player's surname, not even bothering to mention his team as that's for the beginners and the guys gripping the Fan forecasters... Well, at least I'll have it out of the way. My first pick is Hockey, by Jane Siberry from 1989s Bound by the Beauty. (Listen to Hockey) I'm picking it for a host of reasons. I think it's the best song about Canada's alleged passion for hockey, a double whammy given the terms of reference for this list of 50. More importantly, the song makes me smile and think about why I love hockey so much whether it's a heat-wave in July or if I'm on my way to the local shinny rink. There's also a sadness/poignancy to it, like the last goal has been scored, the street lights have come on ("someone else just called for dinner") that perfectly captures my memories of endless road hockey games and the immediate eager anticipation of the next one... In the spirit of full disclosure, I also wanted to start this process off with a song that wasn't likely to get vetoed right out of the gate. Hope I'm not wrong on that count. FC: Outstanding pick. That song gives me chills. Kick ass. I especially like it when the image turns to pushing and shoving ("This stick was signed by Jean Beliveau, so don't fuckin' tell me where to fuckin' go") you can almost see the protagonist getting that scar his girlfriend asks about in the first verse. No veto here, though the rest of the guys have their 12 hours. Peter: I guess I knew that Everything Reminds Me of My Dog wouldn’t make it to the list. But I’m glad we got Siberry on there so early. Carl: (This) pick (is) not my favourite Siberry song by any means, but it's one I can live with, it has more populist appeal than, say, "Mimi on the Beach," and Siberry definitely belongs on this kind of list. FC: Ok, no rioting so I guess that makes it my turn. My first pick is also (hopefully) a sure-fire veto dodger. It's Neil Young's Helpless, originally recorded on the original soundtrack to a 1970 movie called Strawberry Statement (thank you All Music) and most memorably collected on 1977's Decade. To my mind, Helpless has all it needs to be one of – if not THE – best/most important tracks in Can Rock and not just because Neil takes the time to sing about Thunder Bay in the first verse. Helpless is also a clear commentary on what must be going through the mind of someone young and talented who feels that they have to leave home to become what they need to become (can you get any more Canadian than THAT debate?). Oh, and it's also frickin' beautiful. Peter: It’s not the Neil song I’'d pick (Powderfinger's, also very Canadian), but it’s a great track, Neil at his plaintive best. Carl: "Helpless" to me is one of the few musical articulations of all the concerns that were afoot in Canada in the late 60s and early 70s that more or less invented a Canadian culture out of scattered fragments - the birth of "Can lit" and "Can con" and the long debate about Canadian identity that's now basically over, both mercifully and sadly. Keith's right to point to its anguish around the necessity of leaving home - you can hear the post-emigration echoes acutely on Joni Mitchell's Blue album, on "A Case of You" ("I drew a map of Canada... oh Canada-ahhh!") and in "River" ("But it don't snow here/ It stays pretty green/ I'm going to make a lot of money/ Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene/ I wish I had a river/ I could skate away on") - which has it all over the CBC panel's choice "Big Yellow Taxi." "Helpless" is the set-up for the California disillusionment both of our pivotal northwestern emigres would meet. Joni's dealing with consequences, which is her specialty, and Neil's dealing as usual with dreams and frail vanities, which are his. But in addition Neil's got some kind of Peggy Atwood "Survival" shit going on here, with the stars and the birds and the sky all conspiring against the people, wrapping their chains across the doors of our past and leaving us barely able to muster a voice: "Baby sing with me somehow" - since there's no real love story in this song, or at least not without some really excessive lyrical hermeneutics, I choose to take "baby" as just the audience, "baby" in a hippieish vernacular sense and chosen over "brother" both for its sheer sexiness and because this song is not about machismo. That, in fact, is what's most Canadian of all in it. Since when was helplessness - real existential helplessness, rather than just love-passion helplessness - a fit subject for a pop song? (Well, okay, when since Frank Sinatra's fifties concept albums, anyway.) But unlike some Canadian songs we could name, it doesn't express that weakness weakly. This song has the power to repeatedly, around a campfire or on stage at the end of any kind of mass Canadian pop-star benefit, sing the words "helpless helpless helpless" in chorus as though it were the equivalent of "hallelujah." It's the true Canadian-north gnostic hymn, a paean to the personality's meagerness in the vast material universe. I couldn't agree with this choice more. "Heart of Gold" is the coward's way out. FC: Well said, though I think you just hijacked my second round pick (Hallelujah). Carl: This song has the power to repeatedly, around a campfire or on stage at the end of any kind of mass Canadian pop-star benefit, sing the words "helpless helpless helpless" in chorus as though it were the equivalent of "hallelujah." that should have been "to repeatedly.... make crowds sing the words 'helpless helpless helpless' ..." that's what i get for writing about music in strings of jamesian subclauses. FC: Pete's Turn! Peter: Anybody with any exposure to the inner nature of the music industry won’t lose much time to wondering how so many middling songs sell millions, while so many magnificent songs are all but ignored. At times, though, a song will be so good that you can’t help but be stumped as to why it never became a monster hit. I Go Blind, by 54-40, is a masterpiece of compact pop. (Listen to I Go Blind) The hook, like so many brilliant hooks, is straight simple. The lyrics - “Every time I look at you/ I go blind” – are big dumb romantic love, the love rock does best. They come together vividly at three times in my life. I October, 1988, Jubilee auditorium, Oshawa: I’m visiting town and 54-40 are playing that night down on the lakeshore. Any tickets left? I ask the ticket people at the mall. Oh ya, they say. No doubt. There are no more than 25 people in the place. The band plays like it’s packed. I’'ve never heard I Go Blind before, and I can hardly believe how good it is. Another thing you must know is that the guitar player was wearing an Art Bergman tour T-shirt. On the back of the shirt in very big letters it said, Fuck Art. Go Saturday afternoon in the rock shop at Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street, c. 1990. I Go Blind comes over the PA at maximum volume. Immediately the CD starts to skip in that robotic metallic way that is never so entertaining as a skipping LP. But it skips right on the I in I go blind, so it goes I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I- . . . , and everybody in the store looks antsy until it finally stops. I could say that I thought of yelling out loud, "Damn you people, don’t you realize how good that song is? Buy the damn record!" But what I really though was, That was really funny. It sounded like a stoner ululating. It’'s a great song, though. Blind Midnight, 2003, Barrymore’s, Ottawa: The rest of the band takes a break. Neil Osborne picks up an acoustic guitar and starts picking out the simple chords of I Go Blind. This time the bar really is packed. Osborne is obviously enjoying himself, and I'’m impressed that he'’s still smiling after more than 15 years as a working band on the road. The crowd is singing along with every word of the song, literally. I'’ve never seen anything like it. At one point Osborne stops singing and playing and lets the crowd go, and not a beat is lost. I'’m standing to the left of the room, at the right angle to see Osborne turn his head and look off stage, where the rest of the band is hanging, and he gives a little laugh and a nod toward the crowd that clearly says, Can you believe that? It’'s a Canadian hit but, as I was saying, it should have had the world singing along. At least the lads got lots of money when Hootie and the Blowfish did their limpid cover, probably enough to put the kids through school. A place on this 50 list would make it all worthwhile, though. FC: No argument here (though I prefer Baby Ran). Anyone? Anyone? Ok, Aaron, you're up. Aaron: Hear a tapping noise? That's Wilson's itchy trigger finger eagerly anticipating a need to hit the veto button. I kid. Unless of course I don't. And he does. And then it's so on. To be honest, I was having a hard time this morning coming up with something for my first pick. I was just about in Grade 9 when the Barenaked Ladies came out with Grade 9. So I can claim no great personal or generational connection with the Jonis or Leonards or even Neils. I realize now that most of the Canadian music I heard when I was younger came from MuchMusic. So I saw and heard way too much Tom Cochrane and Kim Mitchell. I will refrain, for the most part, from mining those influences too eagerly. But one of the videos I saw at the time did pop into my head this morning. And the fact that I remember it at all is reason enough to make it my first pick. CBC's expert panel (Full disclosure: I was very nearly part of it as a last minute fill-in for someone. At least until that someone re-appeared, my invitation revoked.), in making their token Maestro Fresh Wes track, went with, of course, Let Your Backbone Slide. Can't really debate that. For all the obvious reasons we'll spare you here. But my favourite Maestro track - or, at least, the one that I still come back to in my head from time to time - is Nothing At All (FC's Note: I try to post what I own, and I don't have any Maestro . . . sorry y'all). I was about 12 when I heard it. Didn't understand half of the references. But I knew he was talking about Canada. And I knew he was saying some heavy stuff. In hindsight he was spitting the sort of shit we're not supposed to worry about in Canada; sounding like we're not supposed to sound. Angry and defiant. Shouting out names like Egerton Marcus and Rushton. Talking about racism and oppression and double standards. With this stark, darkened video (chains hanging down from the ceiling if I recall correctly) and that mournful, sung chorus. Heavy, indeed. Here was Canada's (sole) hip-hop hero turning his tongue on the homeside. And it was on MuchMusic. Beside all the folksy warm and fuzzies. Anyway. If nothing else, it was a smack upside my 12-year-old head. Carl: Ah, well, I can't dispute that one because your reasons are so good, Aaron. Yes, my finger twitched for a second at the thought of having Fresh Wes appear on *both* tracks lists, but you pulled it out. (In my case his time on the charts was exactly at the time in my life when I knew and cared the very least about what would be on the charts, so I can't really even address knowledgeably his generational impact.) In any case: Sorry to gum up the works on Day 1, everybody, but I have a 9 a.m. deadline for a story about some very current Canadian music, so can't enter the fray as yet, but I'll do so as soon as possible after the all-nighter I'm about to pull. FC: That means its over to, Carol. Carol? Carol: Hi guys! So far I have no issues the picks and have no reason to further wax poetic on them; you've outdone me. My very first pick is "Tired of Waking Up Tired" by the Diodes (FC's Note: Another one not in my collection, but you can get clips here). WHY this didn't show up on the CBC milquetoast list, I don't know. Nevetheless, this snotty, slacker, whiny punk (now) anthem rocks. Plain and simple. It has resonated first thing Monday morning (hell any morning) whether I dragged my ass to school, work, or the unemployment office. It didn't epitomize a specific Canadian experience; no trees, tundra or hockey rink in sight. For me, it recalls a particularly frigid January in Ottawa when I took the bus to DND in Hull. Brrrrr... FC: Ok, that's it for day one. Tired of Waking Up Tired (The Best of the Diodes) can had here. Maestro's Black Tie Affair is out of print Baby Ran is available on these records Hockey is on Jane Siberry's Bound by the Beauty You don't need me to tell you where to buy a copy of Decade. Do you? Go check out DAY TWO.
Mmmm. Some tasty Canajun cookin' here, panel. But what's the recipe? The Corpse's 50 Tracks is organized by decade. Perhaps, in the interest of commensurability, you might consider tweaking the format (hey: CBC does it all the time) to have each round tackle either a) a particular era in Canadian music (organized by Prime Ministerial regimes?); or (more fun) b) particular genres. You might leave out the debates over Canada's great tenors, but you could compare and debate the best: folk, pop, country, punk, metal?!?, hip hop, rawk, and electronica/dance tracks. That would really put some sparks into head-to-head debates over the landmark status of this or that track. Just a suggestion.
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Hey, TT.

Thanks for the suggestion, but believe me, this "organized chaos" is actually the result of no small amount of debate.

Enjoy the ride.

BTW, There's a clip of Tired of Waking Up Tired available here:

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A late comment, but watching KD Lang belt "Helpless" in a satisfactory and emotionally-committed manner at the Juno awards couldn't stop me from getting silly and singing along using Dylan's alternative chorus: "knock knock knocking on heaven's door". Which song came first? It's a shame, 'cause I love "Helpless" and dislike Dylan for the most part, but can't hear one song without thinking of the other. Around these parts it's usually A Lavigne who is aired a rendering of this melodical chorus (guess that's better than G&R, though).

Why not go with "Cinnamon Girl" in place of "Helpless"?

I find Young's songs seem to be a target for music overlaps. For instance, "Hey Hey, My My" chord progression and basic tune in the verse are so close to REM's "The One I Love"
hey brother were asking the same question. who had the chord progression first?

its our research topic for our final and were fucked. man help us out
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