Bob Mersereau's list of top 100 Canadian songs will please some, infuriate others

Does anyone really remember the song “Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy” by Pagliaro? And does anyone need to be reminded of Mashmakhan's “As the Years Go By”? Those are two of the tunes dredged up by Bob Mersereau in his new book The Top 100 Canadian Singles (Goose Lane Editions, $35), his follow-up to 2007’s The Top 100 Canadian Albums.

Mersereau, a veteran East Coast music writer and CBC arts reporter, acknowledged in his earlier book, as he does with his latest, that such lists are bound to stir controversy and debate. Rage, even. He maintains, though, that it’s all good, and that the most important thing is just to get people talking about and listening to Canadian music.

That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s also the sort of excuse you’d expect from someone who arbitrarily chose the 100 songs himself. Mersereau, though, polled hundreds of people nationwide—most, but not all, in the music biz—and then ran the results “through a statistical formula” to come up with his final list. That formula isn’t revealed (and it might not make much sense to anyone but a statistician), but, apparently, it is allergic to Jane Siberry.

Regardless, each pick is accompanied with a short article explaining the choice, usually with an interview or interviews with those responsible for writing, producing, or performing the song. There are some nice nuggets of trivia to be mined here, and the book is interspersed with “celebrity” lists for those who must know what Trailer Park Boys’ Bubbles listens to as he cruises in his shopping cart. (One guess as to his number-one band.) A list of the top 100 French-Canadian singles (sans articles) is included, as Mersereau’s first book took more than a few critical hits for its inclusion of only four French-language albums.

As could be expected, the singles list is well-represented (some might say overrepresented) by the likes of such Canuck icons as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Tragically Hip, the Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Bryan Adams, Gordon Lightfoot, and Leonard Cohen. Trooper and Loverboy put in appearances, and, perhaps most surprisingly, Sloan gets three nods. A few of the chosen are double threats, i.e., two songs (formerly called the A-side and B-side on the old 45s) that were marketed as simultaneous hits by a record company, such as Young’s “Old Man” and “The Needle and the Damage Done” or The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.

Then the fun starts.

You’ll have to buy or steal the book to peruse the full list, but we will disclose the top 10 singles and leave it up to you to decide if record sales, talent, critical praise, radio play, novelty, or just the times themselves were the determining factors for placement. One thing is for sure, people remember the past fondly (or maybe it’s more indicative of the average age of those contacted for their selections): of the top 10 hits, three are from the 1960s, five are from the ’70s, and two proudly represent the ’80s.

Not one from the past quarter-century.

They are, in order from number one: “American Woman”/”No Sugar Tonight”, the Guess Who; “Heart of Gold”, Neil Young; “The Weight”, The Band; “Summer of ’69”, Bryan Adams; “Hallelujah”, Leonard Cohen; “Born to Be Wild”, Steppenwolf; “If You Could Read My Mind”, Gordon Lightfoot; “Takin’ Care of Business”, Bachman-Turner Overdrive; “Four Strong Winds”, Ian & Sylvia; and “Snowbird”, Anne Murray. There are some small mercies. Terry Jacks’s “Seasons in the Sun” (you knew you couldn’t outrun that one, didn’t you?) doesn’t make an appearance until number 50, and its antichrist, Rough Trade’s “High School Confidential”, actually made the list (at 26).

The unforgivables?

Well, there is the aforementioned absence of anything by Jane Siberry, one of the most intelligent and talented Canadian songwriters ever. Almost anything from her albums No Borders Here and The Speckless Sky could have made this list.

And even though Robbie Robertson is represented with a few nods from his days with The Band, not to have something from his solo efforts, such as (especially) “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” from his debut—with Daniel Lanois’s brilliant and semi-surreptitious production—is an offence in the eyes of whatever sky pixies to whom you pray.

Similarly, Joni Mitchell is represented by the usual suspects (“Big Yellow Taxi”, “Help Me”, et cetera), but there is nothing to reflect the genius she flirted with in her jazzy, orchestral experimentation represented by the songs of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, for example.

Too much to hope for, I know, but the inclusion of the more mainstreamish “In France They Kiss on Main Street” could have led more Canadians to consider the brilliance of “The Jungle Line” from that largely overlooked album.

Tom Cochrane gets props for “Life Is a Highway” (17), but to exclude his Red Rider days—“Don’t Fight It”, “White Hot”, “Lunatic Fringe”—is just short of insanity. Really.

You want more? How about four Tragically Hip tunes without one of them being “Nautical Disaster”?

And no matter what you think about Heart’s “Magic Man” and “Crazy About You” not making the grade (notwithstanding their hit status and the fact that the album Dreamboat Annie sold more than a million copies), how could “Barracuda”, the group’s drivingly insistent answer to Nazareth’s “This Flight Tonight”, crap out? And forget the Seattle angle: the group formed in Vancouver, was signed in Canada, and was eligible under Canadian-content regulations.

Downchild Blues Band deserves recognition just for slaving away in the anonymous blues arena for decades, but to overlook Richard “Hock” Walsh’s version of Big Joe Turner’s “Flip, Flop and Fly” is to commit an offence against the natural order of things.

The same goes for almost anything from Doug and the Slugs’ Cognac and Bologna, especially “Too Bad”, Chinatown Calculation”, and “Drifting Away”. I mean, sweet zombie Jesus!

Then there’s “Superman’s Song” from Crash Test Dummies’ The Ghosts That Haunt Me.

And the beautiful “Looking at a Baby” from the Collectors before they were even known as the Collectors (later to become Chilliwack).

Don’t get me started.

The voters, collectively, did show some themselves to be uncommonly united in one aspect of their choices, however.

Despite the group having sold more than 30 million albums, not one Nickelback song cracked the list.

Comments (27) Add New Comment
Jess
The list is also mercifully free of any Celine Dion. I think this proves we still have a small shred of dignity left.
8
7
Rating: +1
Brettro
Sarah McLachlan did not make the cut either. But thankfully, neither did Justin Bieber.
11
7
Rating: +4
Blair R. Kerr.
It would be impossible to please everyone but I think Bob did a fine job.It generally represents Canada.No Shania Twain? No Celine Dionne? Who's a better singer than Celine?April Wine has had more hits that any other Canadian band,only one song! Ever hear of a song called "Tonite Is A Wonderful Night To Fall In Love"? "I'm On Fire For You Baby"?"Wouldn't Want To Loose Your Love".Also Aldo Nova's" Fantasy" would be a must.The "Stampders" deserve alot more credit."Tonite I'm"On The Loose" by Saga.How about the Top100 Underated Songs Of
Canada?
13
4
Rating: +9
Jude
Heart (ie: Ann and Nancy Wilson) are American you moron
6
9
Rating: -3
Martin Dunphy
Jude:

Thanks for your comment. However, if you read the paragraph to the end, you will see that I am quite aware of this fact. Heart was eligible under CanCon regs, and that is all it takes. Officially, at least.
Have a nice day.
8
7
Rating: +1
East Van Arts
And what about MY song?

He left out "Bigbronc Anibelle Leap Coastin' to the Left on 410 North by Day in an Old Shoe". The nerve!
11
4
Rating: +7
Brave Scot
East Van Arts is right!

"Bigbronc Anibelle Leap Coastin' to the Left on 410 North by Day in an Old Shoe" is a GREAT song.

It's not too late to amend this defective and self-serving list.
10
6
Rating: +4
Brian in Nova Scotia
Clearly such a list is incredibly subjective, and as result totally irrelevant and useless. But if you're going to go there, at least don't skip a couple of decades - I haven't seen the full list but it's immediately apparent the 80's and 90's are sparsely represented. How old is this Bob Mersereau guy? 60? So many great memories for me from those decades: Northern Pikes, Honeymoon Suite, Glass Tiger, Platinum Blonde, Gowan, Gino Vanelli, Strange Advance, Kim Mitchell, Sheriff, Saga, Triumph...I bet none of those artists are represented. You know what? Who cares - I'll make my own list.
7
8
Rating: -1
dreadnugent
Truly awful .. it just proves that CANCON is a CON ... most of of that crap on the list is forcefed garbage .... Tom Cochrane ... Tragically Hip ..what an embarrassment.... may the corp radio with it's tight payola playlists and 2 dimensional " radio personalities" finally go down in flames.... the day "Bro Jake" retires will be a good day to buy drinks for total strangers .... keep on downloading real music and help destroy all of this mass marketed nonsense...

7
6
Rating: +1
Mack
"Will You Ever Love Me Again" by Gary and Dave

That's all
11
3
Rating: +8
R U Kiddingme
Bad Men by Slow
The River Below by Billy Talent
I'm Running After You by Major Hoople's Boarding House
F'd up Ronnie by DOA
Slave To My Dick by The Subhumans
Laika by Arcade Fire
5
6
Rating: -1
uncle rob
I didn't think it would be top 10 or anything, but I'm really surprised that Slow's Have NOt Been The Same, or SOMETHING from Joel Plaskett, Matt Mays or The Trews should have been there as well, if fact all three should have been represented.
I'm still looking forward t.o reading it though...congrats on the book Bob
7
8
Rating: -1
Bill
This book will be on the clearance shelf almost as soon as it's printed....
To make a proper list you have to keep the music you are listing to the same genre..this guy is all over the place...No Max Webster, No Kim Mitchell, No The Box, No Toronto...so on and so on...Idiot...weak mind that followed the trend...
9
2
Rating: +7
C-Man
Chilliwack's "Fly At Night" has to be there. Who hasn't heard "Four men in a rock and roll band / Fly at night in the morning we land..."?
11
4
Rating: +7
salmongang
where's the canadians of colour???
9
4
Rating: +5
Alex Paterson
The author doesn't remember Lovin' You Ain't Easy? A super top ten hit across Canada
for Michel Pagliaro and it also hit the charts in the UK back in 1972. As Years The Years Go By was a huge hit across Canada and number one in Japan. Just because Lovin' Ain't Easy and Mashmakan's hit weren't popular in the US doesn't mean they aren't worty of being on the top 100.
8
5
Rating: +3
T. Murley
I admit when I read the list, although I do recognize the musicians, it does seem many were chosen by a crowd whose tastes represent, at minimum, ten years before mine, (I am in my early 40's) Were mostly baby boomers surveyed?
7
6
Rating: +1
Al Lee
Well it seems many here have missed the fact that these 100 songs are a compilation of the votes of some 750 fans and industry people from right across the land. So to lay blame on anyone is pure folly and utter nonsense. This cross section of musical Canadiana grabs songs which were both regional and national in scope. Missing songs and artists may well have been included on SOME lists but not enough [clearly] to propel them into the top 100.
The distinct lack of representation from music recorded and released post 1995 suggests many things about the state of the more recent music, radio and TV video industry. So too does the ever shrinking sales figures. And artists who play into the hands of these industry types...thinking that they're on the cutting edge...have now discovered that they are deemed pretty much irrelevant...if not annoying.
'Hit' radio plays television music. [music recorded for video...ie: for the EYES] Television is abandoning these very videos in a hurry. Current 'hit' radio looks totally lost as it attempts for months and months on end to deliver the same old tripe ad infinitum to the masses who are generally sick of the songs which they never really latched onto to begin with. It's a scam. a song spends what...6 - 9 months on the 'current' playlist? That might save the music companies some money in terms of producing some-what costly videos. No sense going too deep into shallow albums anyway. Still the choice and variety being offered to the listening public....particularly MUSIC lovers is totally deplorable.

Obviously the contributors to the Mersereau book weren't fooled.
7
6
Rating: +1
bb
Glaring ommissions from the book

Sarah McLaghlan: Building a Mystery (remeber the Quinlan Quints laying claim to writing this song on 22 Minutes, ha!);

Crash Test Dummies: Superman Song (Superman invented by a Canadian, according to the Heritage Minute);

Glass Tiger: Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone (apparently some did);

Nelly Furtado: I'm Like a Bird/Promiscuous/Say It Right (any of these would have been ok).
10
5
Rating: +5
jrob644
I was at the bookstore, read quickly through the list last night and was a bit disappointed. I wrote my own list earlier, stumbled upon this site looking for songs i missed, and i'm remembering many songs that have been overlooked. One thing i've noticed reading the above comments is that there are a lot of people out there with bad taste in music. Don't get me wrong, but if you like Glass Tiger, April Wine, and shit like that then you really don't have much taste in music. This guy's list is far from perfect, but at least it didn't ignore great bands like Sloan, Blue Rodeo, Ron Sexsmith and Arcade Fire. I would much prefer the true greats like Young, Mitchell, and the Guess Who be celebrated than Platinum Blonde or Triumph. This isn't a cheesy hair metal list, it's one celebrating Canadian artists. The people who polled must also be old because polled Canadians would not be so stuck in the past and forget the last 25 years like they never happened.

So where was Angel by Sarah McLaughlin, Bridge to Nowhere by Sam Roberts, Rain Delays by Crash Parallel, Cocaine Cowgirl by Matt Mays and El Torpedo, Push by Moist, 4 Am by Our Lady Peace, Rockstar or How You Remind Me by Nickelback, Gold In Them Hills by Ron Sexsmith, Through Through Through by Joel Plaskett, Heaven Coming Down by The Tea Party, Black Black Heart by David Usher, Superman's Song by Crash Test Dummies and Have You Really Ever Loved A Woman by Bryan Adams. These might be personal ones i subjectively think should be there but at least 50 percent of this 'recent' stuff could easily replace 50 percent of Mersereau's list.

And where were So Long, Marianne by Leonard Cohen, Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell, and 2112 by Rush. Classics left out above and beyond Loverboy, Honeymoon Suite or Kim Mitchell.
8
5
Rating: +3

Pages

Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.