Not any more

Guess Who’s on the list? New book lists Canada’s top 100 songs

In Canada on October 1, 2010 at 13:15

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Gun control? Fuggedaboutit. The long-form census? Count yourself out.

There a new debate and it’s got nada to do with Parliament Hill.

A new book by author and “music nerd” Bob Mersereau ventures into the risky territory of listing the top 100 Canadian singles of all time, with American Woman by The Guess Who at top spot.

And who’s on it and how they rank — and perhaps especially who’s not there — are sure to heat up the atmosphere at water coolers from Cape Spear to Kelowna.

“If one of your own favourites is not on this list,” Mersereau writes in his introduction to The Top 100 Canadian Singles, “go ahead and fight among yourselves. Call me names; I can take it.”

And there’s plenty to talk about, says Mersereau, on the phone from Toronto Thursday where his cross-Canada release tour began — with music courtesy of Ron Hynes (No. 40, for Sonny’s Dream).

“Somebody told me about two weeks ago she bought a copy of the book to take with her on first dates so she would have something to talk about with the guy in case they were having a hard time striking up conversation.

“And if he wasn’t interested in the book or in music, she wasn’t interested in him,” he says with a laugh.

“The serious purpose for me was to get more interest in Canadian music — in any way possible — debate it, argue the merits, whatever,” he says. “The history of a lot of these songs just wasn’t available in bookstores, especially in a hardcover coffee table kind of thing . . . I was looking for a reference book and I guess, in the end, I just went ‘Well, I guess I’m going to have to write it.'”

Mersereau polled 800 musicians, broadcasters, members of the music industry and fans to come up with what surely will be a debated list. Compiled and written by the veteran music columnist, The Top 100 Canadian Singles (publisher Goose Lane) is a lavishly illustrated, full-colour followup to his Canadian bestseller The Top 100 Canadian Albums.

It includes interviews with many of the musicians who made the list, including Bryan Adams, Randy Bachman, Levon Helm of The Band, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson, Anne Murray, Neal Peart of Rush and many more.

The Guess Who laid claim to the title of No. 1 single, but the band had three others on the list, too, with These Eyes (No. 18), Shakin’ All Over at (No. 37) and No Time (No. 91).

Co-founder Randy Bachman “is the king of Canadian pop,” Mersereau said, with eight songs on the list — four with The Guess Who, two with BTO and two that he produced with Trooper.

“He just has a way of creating that sort of ear-worm song that gets inside your head and won’t leave,” Mersereau said.

American Woman was the definite winner “by quite a good margin,” he added.

“First off, it’s a great, rockin’ song. Listen to that one again and you realize ‘Hey, this . . . thing is really scorchin’.’ It’s a classic riff, it’s a great song, you listen to it today . . . and it hasn’t dated.

“The other thing is they’re Canada’s band in many ways. They were the first ones that ever stayed in the country and became worldwide popular. They were able to live and breathe and do it out of Winnipeg.”

Rounding out the top five were: Heart of Gold, Neil Young (No. 2); The Weight, The Band (No. 3); Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams (No. 4); and Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen.

Cohen’s inclusion there was a bit of a surprise, said Mersereau.

“I never doubted that Suzanne (No. 16) would be there. What surprised me the most was how high Hallelujah got because this song came out years ago and only in the last little bit has it grown in popularity and other musicians stated covering it and now it’s an iconic Canadian song.”

For Mersereau, personally, there was some joy and a little sadness, at the outcomes.

“I was pleasantly surprised at a lot of stuff that got through, like at No. 100, right at the bottom was Wintersleep’s Weighty Ghost.” he said.

“I was thrilled that Stompin’ Tom (The Hockey Song at No. 86) got the kudos that he deserves . . . He’s a man who creates new folk songs for Canada alone and he’s so proud and so determined and is absolutely 100 per cent all about telling us about Canada,” he said.

“There were others, too, I was sad for. I would have loved for Valdy to be in there, Murray Mclaughlin, Edward Bear — these are bands from my childhood . . . And there’s second and third songs I would have liked to get through — there’s only one Stampeders in there . . . one April Wine song.

“(But) when it comes down to it, there’s only 100 places.”

Alan Cross, a longtime Toronto radio host, known across the country for his Ongoing History of New Music radio series, said he thought the list did a fine job of sifting through thousands of potential inclusions.

“The problem with narrowing something down to 100 songs, is that we’re dealing with more than 50 years of music here, and we’re dealing with all genres. And a list is a snapshot of a moment, and its very difficult to weigh more recent songs when they haven’t had the test of time,” said Cross, who was one of the contributors to the list.

“A lot of these songs have to be battle tested over many many years. I think it’s fairly representative of where we are at the moment.”

More than the song selection, however, Cross said the book is a welcome addition to the slowly growing body of Canadian music history and criticism, a field that he says has been left largely untended for decades.

“Canadians have done an absolutely crappy job of documenting their own musical heritage. Everything has been written from an American point of view or a British point of view,” said Cross. “The histories are written by the victors, and we haven’t really stood up and documented ourselves on the world stage.

“We represent about two per cent of the world’s music market, but at the same time, we certainly export more music than we have a right to for a country of our size,” he said. “We definitely punch above our weight.”

Cross, a Winnipeg native, said he felt American Woman was a fine choice for the top, despite the irony of the best Canadian song being about Americans. “American Woman is very Canadian in the sense that it defines Canadianness by not being American,” he said.

For the record, though, he thinks Young’s Heart of Gold might be the better song.

“I’d like to see Neil Young and Burton Cummings get into a boxing ring and decide it once and for all.”

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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