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|Neil Young tops Canadian album list|
A few years ago, The Top 100 Canadian Albums wouldn't have existed. The book, released Thursday, is author Bob Mersereau's compilation of the best albums recorded by Canadians in the last 50 years. Like any such book, many favourites are excluded and a few dark horses are included, but it's a beautiful, hefty tome in which Mersereau plays umpire, and egalitarian as well as editor.
It wasn't long ago, though, that Canadian media, primarily, ran from anything Canadian, as though embarrassed. There was an unspoken assumption that if it originated in Canada it couldn't be any good. We tried to emulate the Americans or British and looked second-rate.
Yet that Canadian attitude has done a 180-degree turn. There is a pride now and Canadiana is embraced. We want to know about our history and culture, and a book such as Mersereau's feeds that appetite.
"The biggest thing is that we wouldn't have had the new breed of artists — Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Ron Sexsmith, Feist, Rufus Wainwright," notes Mersereau, if the idea for the book had been accepted earlier. All of these acts figure in the top 100 and are indicative of the reappraisal of Canadian music that's happening not just domestically but internationally. "That pride has been so instilled. ‘We can't be Canadian' is an attitude that's gone. There is no rush to cross the border anymore."
To arrive at his top 100, Mersereau polled nearly 600 music journalists, retailers, musicians and DJs — of all ages — from across the country. The list is based on a tally of their top ten selections.
"One of the things we tried to avoid was a music-geek book," he explains. "I wanted to be sure that it reflected popularity — it is pop music, after all. I wanted as many people as possible; I wanted all corners to be heard. There is a lot to be said for popularity but I didn't want the book to be primarily about popularity."
For this reason, many acts who enjoyed great record sales in their heyday aren't included. They might have sold, but they didn't make great records of impact or influence. Mersereau, who had half of his selections in the 100 and experienced a moment's heartbreak when Odds weren't included, is pleased that Westerners voted for Maritimers such as Joel Plaskett or Sloan, while older participants voted for younger acts such as Arcade Fire. The book has achieved a balance between the monumental and the unexpected, records that have stood the test of time and those that might have staying power.
"A few of them will go up and down," Mersereau realizes. "This is just a snapshot of where we are now in 2007. Who can say that Arcade Fire won't be around?"
"That's a hallmark of Canadians," he adds. "We're very open-minded."
How else do you explain the presence of Simply Saucer? People might know the name, but not the group's album. It wasn't an official release, but tapes were pressed as an afterthought and the record has been reissued at least once. It has acquired mythological status, enough that it is included in the top 100. Mersereau, who hadn't heard of Simply Saucer, finally found a dusty vinyl copy in an Italian thrift shop. That's how rare it is.
"That shows you what the underground and music critics can do," he reasons.
Otherwise, The Top 100 Canadian Albums is a confirmation.
Neil Young has the number-one album, Joni Mitchell the number two. Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot and Ian Tyson also figure.
"That might be our country music," he says. "Sitting around a campfire singing songs. You have to broaden your definition of the singer-songwriter."
Bands such as The Guess Who, Rush and The Band — all of whom were pioneers in their way — are also prominent.
It isn't perfect. What collection of this sort could be? But it was due.
If there is one thing of which Mersereau is most proud it's that musicians have come up to him and said, "It's about time."
The best, eh: top 100 albums, according to Bob Mersereau's book
1. Harvest, Neil Young (1972)
2. Blue, Joni Mitchell (1970)
3. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young (1970)
4. Music From Big Pink, The Band (1968)
5. Fully Completely, The Tragically Hip (1992 )
6. Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette (1995)
7. The Band, The Band (1969)
8. Funeral, Arcade Fire (2004)
9. Moving Pictures, Rush (1981)
10. American Woman, The Guess Who (1970)
11. Songs of Leonard Cohen, Leonard Cohen (1967)
12. Reckless, Bryan Adams (1984)
13. Five Days in July, Blue Rodeo (1993)
14. Twice Removed, Sloan (1994)
15. Up to Here, The Tragically Hip (1989)
16. Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Neil Young with Crazy Horse (1969)
17. 2112, Rush (1976)
18. Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell (1974)
19. Whale Music, Rheostatics (1992)
20. Acadie, Daniel Lanois (1989)
21. Day for Night, The Tragically Hip (1994)
22. Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young & Crazy Horse (1979)
23. Gord's Gold, Gordon Lightfoot (1975)
24. You Were Here, Sarah Harmer (2000)
25. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, Sarah McLachlan (1993)
26. Road Apples, The Tragically Hip (1991)
27. Gordon, Barenaked Ladies (1992)
28. You Forgot it in People, Broken Social Scene (2002)
29. I'm Your Man, Leonard Cohen (1988)
30. Tonight's the Night, Neil Young (1975)
31. Decade, Neil Young (1977)
32. Miss America, Mary Margaret O'Hara (1988)
33. Surfacing, Sarah McLachlan (1997)
34. One Chord to Another, Sloan (1996)
35. Songs of Love and Hate, Leonard Cohen (1971)
36. Cyborgs Revisted, Simply Saucer (1989)
37. Ingenue, k.d. lang (1992)
38. Melville, Rheostatics (1991)
39. Love Tara, Eric's Trip (1993)
40. On the Beach, Neil Young (1974)
41. Not Fragile, Bachman-Turner Overdrive (1974)
42. The Best of the Guess Who, The Guess Who (1971)
43. Let it Die, Feist (2004)
44. The Last Waltz, The Band (1978)
45. Night Train, The Oscar Petersen Trio (1963)
46. Down at the Khyber, The Joel Plaskett Emergency (2001)
47. Harvest Moon, Neil Young (1992)
48. Cuts Like a Knife, Bryan Adams (1983)
49. L'heptade, Harmonium (1976)
50. Teenage Head, Teenage Head (1979)
51. High Class in Borrowed Shoes, Max Webster (1977)
52. Hejira, Joni Mitchell (1976)
53. The Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould (1955 and 1982)
54. Forgarty's Cove, Stan Rogers (1977)
55. Wheatfield Soul, The Guess Who (1968)
56. Si on avait besoin d'une cinquieme saison, Harmonium (1974)
57. Dancing in the Dragon's Jaw, Bruce Cockburn (1979)
58. Frantic City, Teenage Head (1980)
59. Hymns of the 49th Parallel, k.d. lang (2004)
60. Hot Shots, Trooper (1979)
61. Robbie Robertson, Robbie Robertson (1987)
62. The Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkies (1988)
63. Ron Sexsmith, Ron Sexsmith (1995)
64. Nothingface, Voivod (1989)
65. Come on Over, Shania Twain (1997)
66. Everything I Long For, Hayden (1995)
67. Outskirts, Blue Rodeo (1987)
68. Joyful Rebellion, k-os (2004)
69. Sit Down Young Stranger/If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot (1970)
70. Love Junk, The Pursuit of Happiness (1988)
71. Jaune, Jean-Pierre Ferland (1970)
72. Somewhere Outside, The Ugly Ducklings (1966)
73. Electric Jewels, April Wine (1973)
74. Sundown, Gordon Lightfoot (1973)
75. Left and Leaving, The Weakerthans (2000)
76. Clumsy, Our Lady Peace (1997)
77. Harmonium, Harmonium (1974)
78. Share the Land, the Guess Who (1970)
79. Greatest Hits!, Ian & Sylvia (1970)
80. Steppenwolf, Steppenwolf (1968)
81. Ladies of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell (1970)
82. Bud the Spud and Other Favourites, Stompin' Tom Connors (1969)
83. Shine a Light, Constantines (2003)
84. Shakespeare My Butt, The Lowest of the Low (1991)
85. Clayton Park, Thrush Hermit (1998)
86. Smeared, Sloan (1992)
87. Living Under June, Jann Arden (1994)
88. The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell (1975)
89. Bad Manors, Crowbar (1971)
90. Official Music, King Biscuit Boy With Crowbar (1970)
91. Lightfoot!, Gordon Lightfoot (1966)
92. Mad Mad World, Tom Cochrane (1991)
93. Rufus Wainwright, Rufus Wainwright (1998)
94. Face to the Gale, Ron Hynes (1997)
96. Hobo's Taunt, Willie P. Bennett (1977)
97. Cowboyography, Ian Tyson (1986)
98. Favourite Colours, The Sadies (2004)
99. The Way I Feel, Gordon Lightfoot (1967)
100. A Farewell to Kings, Rush (1977)
One man's top-10 list may not equal another's.
If asked again, the list would be be different.
I was one of the 600 people Bob Mersereau surveyed to compile his 100 top Canadian albums. I love making lists. It's a chance to take stock and to evaluate priorities. Making lists, though, has challenges, and this one — name your 10 best/favourite Canadian albums — had plenty.
For one thing, music is marketed differently these days and there is so much of it. A good contemporary record is easily overlooked and doesn't get the time to be appreciated fully. Each era has turned out great records. Each era has turned out vastly different acts, too. Some well-respected artists that I like a lot didn't make records I liked all the way through; some great records were quickly buried by the inferiority complex that existed in Canada until a few years ago. Some just hit me at the right time in my life. Some I just didn't want to be forgotten, but some you couldn't ignore.
I chose records that stood the test of time or that influenced me. There was a West Coast bias that couldn't be avoided and choices that reflect juvenile susceptibility. I was shocked by how old the records were, but they are timeless and still fire the imagination. Before I knew it, there were 10 and I found myself asking, "But what about ... ?"
Ultimately, my 10 are a mixture of the above. In no particular order:
• Collectors: first LP.
• Chilliwack: first LP.
• Neil Young: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
• The Band: Music From Big Pink.
• Klaatu: First LP.
• King Biscuit Boy and Crowbar: Official Music.
• Five Man Electrical Band: Coming Of Age.
• Guess Who: Canned Wheat.
• Ronnie Hawkins: 1959 LP.
• Thundermug: Strikes.
Here are a few that were considered: Kensington Market: Aardvark; McKenna Mendelson Mainline: Our Home And Native Land; Jesse Winchester: First LP; Ugly Ducklings: Somewhere Outside; Tom Cochrane: Hang On to Your Resistance; Pagliaro; Max Webster: First LP; Riverson: Brave Belt Two; BTO; first LP; Art Bergmann: Crawl With Me; Bim: Thistles; Ferron: Shadows On a Dime; 54-40: Show Me; Hans Staymer Band: First LP; Neil Young: After The Goldrush; Blue Rodeo: Casino; Tragically Hip: Fully Completely; Sons Of Freedom: First LP; Skylark: First LP; Payolas: No Stranger To Danger; Tom Northcott: The Best Of; Mother Tucker's Yellow Duck: Homegrown Stuff; Crowbar: Bad Manors; Five Man Electrical Band: First LP.
It's a long story but no: Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, Rush, Bryan Adams, Cano, Sloan, Diodes, Cowboy Junkies, Fludd, Goddo, Harmonium, Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, McLauchlin, Jane Siberry, Rheostatics, Leonard Cohen, Trooper, April Wine, New Pornographers or Arcade Fire.