American music, stay away from me. American music, mama let me be. Bob Mersereau has written another list-based book, following up his previous debate-stirrer, 2007's The Top 100 Canadian Albums, with an equally commendable coffee-table companion.
Not for nothing was American Woman (with its unsweetened B-side, No Sugar Tonight) voted by a cast of hundreds of musicians, disc jockeys, music fans and journalists as the very best Canadian single. It's a vote for a great rock song, undoubtedly. But it's also a chest-out statement - a big, red maple leaf in a sea of stars and stripes.
Where Americans make lists of great songs, Canadians make lists of great Canadian songs. CBC Radio hosted a listener survey in 2005 that resulted in Four Strong Winds by Ian & Sylvia winning the top rank. As Mersereau points out, that 1963 folk song (No. 9 here) was distinctly north of the border.
"Bravely," he writes, diminishing that adverb somewhat, "[Ian]Tyson kept the song in Canada, famously naming Alberta in the lyrics, a place most Americans couldn't point out on a map."
Americans are savvier about Canadian music now than they were in the sixties and seventies. I grew up in the United States and I doubt I knew in 1972 that Neil Young was Canadian. That's the year of Heart of Gold (voted No. 2 here). Same with the Band, whose The Weight (No. 3) came out in 1968. One year later, a young Bryan Adams got his first real six-string. His Summer of '69 polled fourth.
Mersereau's poll was based on "singles," as opposed to songs. The journalist reasons that, for many people, "there's magic in their youthful memories" of hearing those iconic singles on the radio.
Certainly that kind of nostalgia clouded the minds of those who championed the list's 50th-best tune, Terry Jacks's brainwashing hit from 1974, Seasons in the Sun. Disc jockey Anna Zee, who remembers her joy and her fun, is quoted blandly: "I love the seventies music and have many fond memories listening to my AM radio and hearing this one."
Is Seasons in the Sun a great song? God, no. Is it a great single? A case could be made, if not by Zee, than someone else. (Someone like Mersereau, who adroitly provides a few hundred words of illuminating background and passionate explanation on each winning single.)
Of the long, thin, partly defended 49th parallel, Canadians are more aware of it than their southern neighbours, who view things with a more superpowered, international eye. Voted top tune on Rolling Stone magazine's recent list of 500 songs was Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone. But ranked 2 and 3 were made-in-England tunes: The Rolling Stones' (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction and John Lennon's Imagine, respectively.
Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do? For some, it's harder than others.
Brad Wheeler writes about music for The Globe and Mail.
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