Time to wake up

The Top 100 Canadian Singles hamstrung by CanCon

A couple of weeks back, I complained about the Polaris Prize and its penchant for focusing mostly on a Canadian indie sound that was firmly entrenched in the mid part of the '00s. I stand by it, but whatever the Polaris' faults, at least it's only five years behind the times: The Top 100 Canadian Singles, recently compiled by Canadian music listmaker Bob Mersereau, may as well have been completed in 1979.

Any big list like this will provoke some kind of debate—always a convenient excuse to hide behind—but this moves well beyond "slightly objectionable" to "just fucking ridiculous." Most obvious point: there is only one song in the top 50 from the last decade of Canadian music, Arcade Fire's "Wake Up," and it sits at 29, below such timeless masterpieces as Martha & the Muffins' "Echo Beach" and the Stampeders' "Sweet City Woman." Not only is this list woefully behind the times, it also leans heavily on easily-digested, dumb pap.

I'd be less worked up if I thought that this would correct itself in, say, 10 years time, but it seems to me that 30 years is already more than enough time to get over the '70s, the most represented decade, even if the jury is mostly on the downhill side of 50. This is indicative of a largely mainstream system that is remaining consciously out of touch.

The place to lay blame is on commercial radio and their pathetic enaction of CanCon regulations. The over-represented '70s coincides with the advent of CanCon rules for radio, but the problem isn't with the rules: it's with the fact most commercial radio stations have followed the letter without the intent, and will keep playing a lot of the same ancient Canadian artists that rose to prominence in the first wave, maybe interspersing a Kim Mitchell or Bryan Adams here and there.

Where they could search out new bands—local or otherwise—and give them airplay, they're content to sit back and spin the same iconic-by-way-of-repetition tracks, and sometimes let the major labels tell them what new bands to play. Thus, "new" music is bland, focus-grouped garbage—Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, the Biebs, etc—and the old lights continue to get shone far after they've burned out.

In this light, the Polaris and Radio 3 are at least bastions of something new and different. It might only be comparative progressiveness, but I'll take that over the Guess Who on endless repetition. V

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