It seems everywhere I go for music lately, Bob Mersereau is standing there waiting. Polaris grand jury, we battled it out together. M for Montreal? Seated next to him for media day. Now, with the release of his latest book - The Top 100 Canadian Singles - I’ll be standing waiting for Bob, to get a copy of this gorgeous tribute to the history of Canadian music.
I was fortunate enough to be asked to help decide the songs, and although some of my favorite artists and songs were left off the final list, I realized that love it or hate it, Mersereau’s book forces Canadian music fans to not only think about the artists they love, but triggers the anger and pride that helps keep fans passionate about the fantastic artists that paved the way, blazed the trails or currently, lug the gear and drive the highways.
Bob is speaking as part of Halifax Pop Explosion and Sloan will be playing an acoustic set. I’d highly recommend you head down, hear him talk about music, hear some great tunes and leave with something that will spark debate amongst your music loving friends.
HH:: Lets get the obvious points of contention out of the way early… how were jurors selected and how did you weight regions to eliminate bias?
The jurors weren’t selected as much as asked.. I had a huge data base, thousands of people involved in music across the country in some fashion: musicians, famous or just regular working ones, from Sam Roberts to Joe Schmoe who gigs in your town every weekend. But there are no bigger fans of Canadian music than Canadian musicians. Writers, DJ’s, record label people, retailers, roadies, instrument makers… I asked all I could, the more the merrier. Also there were just plain fans, big fans though, people who asked if they could vote after hearing from their friends, etc. I tried to keep a running tab of how many from each province, language, gender, etc., to get as close to the correct population balance in Canada as possible. Obviously, since it was voluntary, i would never get it exact, but it’s very close.
HH:: What was different this time around? Were you able to learn from the positive and negative critiques of the first book?
I learned a lot from the first book, mostly that people really liked the idea. Sure, the list was fun and brought about a lot of debates and arguments but for the most part people appreciated the fact it was all-Canadian, and was a great-looking coffee table book that treated Canadian music with full respect. The major criticism of the albums book was the low amount of Francophone music. It surprised me that people in Quebec were so keen on reading the book! It was, after all, in English, for an English audience. And, in truth, the Quebec music scene is completely different than the rest of Canada, with its own stars and, obviously, the language difference. One of the major reasons of the lower-than-expected turnout of Quebec artists is that when Quebec people were asked to vote, they know lots about English music, so they would vote for several English acts, while English Canada knows very little about Francophone music, so they would almost never pick a french song. So for this book, I worked especially hard to make sure there were enough French voters, and I also separated out the French-language songs into a stand-alone list of the Top100 Francophone songs. I’ll be thrilled if the English Canadian music fans learn something about these artists, and get to know the music of French Canada a little bit better.
HH:: Obviously, you made sure to address the history and success of francophone artists and poll an appropriate number of French jurors. With a number of French singles making the list and a francophone band winning the Polaris, do you feel the greater music community is paying more attention to French music?
I think it’s a little better lately with anglos hearing French music, but not much really, and not enough. The biggest change is that there are more kids with immersion courses now, or at least enough school french to understand the lyrics. But understanding the words is not the same as understanding the culture, the humour, the musical tastes. There is still a lot of movement to happen.
HH:: Have to ask, what were your Top 5?
Arggh, I can’t quite remember! I left the list at home, it’s been awhile. My number one was Secret Heart by Ron Sexsmith, I know Snowbird was on it, The Odds Someone Who’s Cool, I think Crowbar Oh What A Feeling was #2, Rheostatics Claire, Stompin’ Tom Bud The Spud, Hank Snow I’m Movin’ On, Pagliaro Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy, Valdy RocknRoll Song..one other
HH:: Were you sad that any particular songs didn’t make the cut?
Lots. I really wish I could have done 150 or 200. There are so many great stories, and artists not on there..Murray McLauchlin, Valdy, Edward Bear, Odds, lots of new bands. And 2nd and 3rd songs from acts who had one song on there: I would have loved to see another Pagliaro such as Some Sing Some Dance, or Stampeders Wild Eyes. Terry Jacks had Seasons In The Sun, but for my money, the best of his stuff is Poppy Family, Concrete Sea. No Joel Plaskett here, my favourite contemporary songwriter.
HH:: For the casual music fan, it’s probably fairly eye opening that so many great songs have been written by Canadian artists. Do you see your book more as a promotional piece for these artists, or a historical document to preserve these songs as we move farther and farther away from a community that celebrates the act of buying music?
I see both of those things, and more. I see it as the rare book that celebrates all-Canadian music, is a high-quality art book style, a coffee table work. Most Canadian music books come out in soft cover, not music in the photo department. There are some brilliant photos in it, many of them previously unpublished or rarely seen before. When I look at the book, its the visual quality that grabs me, and that’s testiment to the design people with Goose Lane Editions. I have felt since the Albums book project that it’s very important to have these kinds of Canadian music books, to get that rich history out there more. Most popular music histories are written by British or American music people, and of course they look at their own countries. So lots of these excellent artists and songs don’t have much in print or even on line about them, the stories haven’t been reported in some cases in years. I don’t see it so much as a promotional work for the artists, but rather all Canadian artists. That’s why I like the debate and controversy surrounding these books, and the list of 100. It means when people conplain, “where’s Downchild Blues Band?” or “What about Chilliwack?”, they get talked about too.