Back in 2007 Canadian music writer Bob Mersereau wrote The Top 100 Canadian Singles, a book compiled from submitted top-ten lists by around 600 music writers (including yours truly), musicians, and industry insiders. At the same time thoughtfully written and argument-inciting, it had readers across Canada vehemently debating the book’s inclusions and exclusions, whether it was complaining about its baby boomer-heavy slant or the fact that far too many Tragically Hip albums made the cut. Either way, it had Canadians talking about its musical history more than ever before, and coming from a country that doesn’t usually like to blare its own horn regarding its contributions to popular music as much as its neighbors to the South, that was no small feat.
So considering the success of Mersereau’s book, a sequel was an inevitability, and three years later he’s returned with the aptly titled The Top 100 Canadian Singles. With the list of voters even larger than the previous book (again, yours truly was all too glad to participate), one would hope for a broad selection of songs that spans the past 50 years or so, and it does so, at least to a certain extent.
The fact of the matter is, like the albums book, the bulk of the top 20 of this list still leans very heavily toward the over-50 set. Not to discount the top selections, either, as the top ten features such timeless tunes as the Guess Who’s “American Woman” (surprisingly edging out Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” for the top spot), the Band’s “The Weight”, Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”, Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind”, and Ian & Sylvia’s “Four Strong Winds”. All are richly deserving, but the book truly starts to get fun the deeper readers delve into the list, each title getting a superb write-up by Mersereau. It’s when we get into numbers 20 to 100 that we realize just how unique Canadian pop music was and continues to be, providing us with a playlist so wildly eclectic that you’re bound to be scratching your head in bewilderment one minute and nodding in agreement the next.
Those “deep cuts” run the proverbial gamut. You’ve got Canadian hip hop innovators Maestro Fresh-Wes and K-OS. Criminally underrated punk gems by the Diodes, Teenage Head, and the Demics. Early-’80s faves Payola$, Spoons, Rough Trade, and Martha and the Muffins. Strange yet lovable Québécois inclusions by Robert Charlebois, Jean Leloup, Pagliaro, and Malajube. And even deserving songs by 2000s acts like Arcade Fire, the New Pornographers, and Feist. Factor in the usual suspects (Rush, Tragically Hip, Bryan Adams, Blue Rodeo), a few nauseating boomer inclusions (“Sweet City Woman”, “Snowbird”), some wonderful surprises (Ron Sexsmith), some groan-inducing inclusions (“My Heart Will Go On”), and some glaring omissions (whither Jane Siberry? D.O.A.? Max Webster? Triumph? Shania?), and you’ve got another wonderful portrait of Canadiana that will have some debating until they’re blue in the face, and many more discovering some fantastic music they haven’t heard before. Either way, the enormously entertaining The Top 100 Canadian Singles is a testament to the charming eccentricity of this crazy country, and is a must-read for any pop music enthusiast, Canadian or otherwise. And if there’s one thing many of us can be thankful for, there’s no Billy Talent, Our Lady Peace, and, mercifully, Nickelback to be found.